The federal government said it will wade into the labour impasse currently rocking Kaduna State following commencement of 5-day warning strike by organised labour in the state, which on Tuesday took a violent turn.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, said the government will invite labour leaders for a dialogue while calling on the Kaduna Governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai to also extend the olive branch.
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Thugs on Tuesday disrupted the peaceful procession of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and affiliated unions in Kaduna, after pelting the protesters who had converged at the NEPA roundabout in the city centre.
The labour activists were in the streets as part of the second day of 5-day warning strike to protest the mass sack of workers in the state when they came under attack.
Security agents were forced to use teargas and shot severally in the air to disperse the thugs. The workers were also forced to retreat.
The Kaduna State Government came under attack over attack on the unionists with the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) threatening to shut down all of its facilities nationwide if any of the labour leaders are hurt.
Daily Trust reports that the day had started amidst palpable tension following a tweet by Governor El-Rufai, declaring the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and other union leaders wanted for economic sabotage and attack on public infrastructure.
According to El-Rufai, a “handsome reward” awaits anyone who knows where the labour leader was hiding and sends a message to the Kaduna State Ministry of Justice.
However, less than two hours after the tweet, the governor came within 100 meters of the union leaders when Wabba led a large procession to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House had lingered at the NEPA roundabout where the governor’s siren blaring convoy passed beside them.
The governor’s convoy passed beside the protesters to the nearby gates of the headquarters of Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, about 100 from the NLC members.
The gates of the distribution company were quickly opened and the governor’s convoy moved in. Ten minutes later, El-Rufai’s convoy emerged from the premises of Kaduna electric and left through an opposite route avoiding the protesters who were still at the NEPA roundabout.
How thugs attacked unionists
While the protest was ongoing at the NEPA roundabout, thugs believed to be hired by the state government arrived the area around 12:21 pm. The thugs who were crammed in two small seven-seater buses were seen alighting and brandishing sticks and knives before they began to pelt at the protesters.
Some of the thugs covered their faces with handkerchiefs but openly brandished their sticks, knives and stones, despite the presence of security agents around the protesters.
Our correspondent who observed the situation reports that some of the protesters at some point began to retaliate with stones but were prevailed upon by leaders of the union to ignore the thugs.
However, as the thugs intensified their action, journalists and protesters began to scamper for safety which gave the thugs more impetus to advance.
Policemen who were trying to calm the situation began to use teargas to disperse the crowd and had to shoot severally in the air to disperse thugs.
Speaking after the incident, the NLC president alleged that the thugs were hired to attack the protesters.
“They were hired to come and attack us. We thank God, we have dismantled them, we have chased them away because we have the number, we are not thugs and we are not using thugs, we are using Nigerian workers and we told them we are going to catch them alive and dismantle them,” he said.
El-Rufai sack nurses, equates strike to banditry
In the midst of an ongoing warning strike to press on the government to rescind the mass sack of workers, the governor on Tuesday announced the dismissal of all nurses below Grade level 14 in the state.
A statement issued by the Governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye linked his sack of nurses to a report from Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital where it was reported that nurses had disconnected oxygen from a two-day-old baby in an incubator on Monday when they joined the NLC strike.
“Apart from referring the nurses involved to the Ministry of Justice to initiate prosecution, the government also announced the dismissal of all nurses below Grade Level 14 for the illegal strike,” it stated.
It directed the Ministry of Health to advertise vacancies for the immediate recruitment of new nurses to replace those dismissed adding that: “The government has directed all its ministries, departments and agencies to submit their attendance registers to the Head of Service while Kaduna State University should submit same to the Secretary to the State Government and the Commissioner of Education.”
El-Rufai also linked the strike action embarked upon by the NLC as that of a mob equivalent of bandits kidnapping and menacing citizens in the state adding that: “Bandits illegally use arms, but the NLC’s mob action is for similar ends: to hold hostage freedoms, economic interests, livelihoods and resources of the people of Kaduna State.”
He said Kaduna State Government cannot ignore the illegal pressures brought to disrupt the operations of banks and other private businesses whose staff and customers do not have any industrial dispute with the state or any other government.
The governor reiterated that Ayuba Wabba and “his senior confederates in the NLC have been declared wanted and will be vigorously prosecuted for violations of the Penal Code of Kaduna State, the Miscellaneous Offences and the Trade Dispute (Essential Services) Acts.
Wabba dares El-Rufai as nurses say “we are not intimidated”
The National President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba has dared Malam Nasir El-Rufai to arrest him saying: “The strike is not about me, but let him come and arrest me. We are here and waiting for them.”
On their part, the Kaduna State chapter of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives said the body was not threatened by the pronouncement by the state government adding that the local chapter of the association had joined the strike based on the directive from its national body.
The state chairman of the association, comrade Isiaku Yakubu said: “It is a national strike in solidarity with what is happening in the state so the issue of sack is something we are not threatened of. If the governor wants to sack all the nurses in Kaduna let him go ahead and sack them, it is not the National Association of Nurses and Midwives in Kaduna that will respond to them, but the national leadership of our association.”
On the allegations that nurses had locked the gates of hospitals and discharged patients on admission, he described it as false saying because nurses have no business with closing gates or discharging patients. He also called for a probe into the allegation that nurses removed incubators on an infant at Barau Dikko Hospital.
Fuel stations, banks offer skeletal services
Our correspondents who went round Kaduna on Tuesday reports that despite the palpable tension between government and labour, few banks and some filling stations offered skeletal services to customers in secret.
Daily Trust observed that though banks kept their gates shut and directed customers to use their e-channels, major customers were directed through the back door and attended to in the ban
Also, some fuel stations along the Kaduna-Zaria road as well as some on the Western bypass were seen dispensing petrol to customers.
You lack powers to declare labour leaders wanted, Falana slams El-Rufai
Senior lawyer and Interim Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Femi Falana, SAN, knocked the Kaduna State governor for declaring Wabba and other union leaders wanted.
Falana described as “laughable” El-Rufai’s claim that the labour leaders had contravened the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offences Act.
“By the combined effect of the Trade Union Act and the Nigerian Constitution, Comrade Wabba and other labour leaders have the unquestionable rights to participate in the peaceful warning strike and mass protests against further retrenchment of workers in the Kaduna State public service.
“The Miscellaneous Offences Act is not a state statute but a federal enactment. To that extent, if Governor El Rufai has evidence that Comrade Wabba and other labour leaders have contravened any provisions of the Act he is required to lodge a complaint in any of the police stations in Kaduna State.
“The governor lacks the power to declare any alleged offender wanted under the Act or any other law whatsoever,” Falana said.
Use of thugs against workers immoral – Shehu Sani
The former senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani has condemned the use of thugs to disrupt Tuesday’s procession by the Nigeria Labour Congress in Kaduna saying strikes and protests are constitutional and fundamental rights of the Nigerian workers.
Senator Sani also stated in a statement that the declaration of the NLC president wanted by the Kaduna State Government is needless adding that: “The use of thugs to disrupt the workers’ peaceful protest in Kaduna today stands unreservedly condemned. It’s immoral and unconscionable to use thugs against trade union leaders.”
He said since the NLC action was a warning strike, it is an indication that window for dialogue to resolve the issue of the mass sacking of the Kaduna workers exist adding that a strong and proactive labour union is needed to protect and safeguard democracy.
PDP, govs ask El-Rufai to resolve face-off
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and governors under the banner of the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) and the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) yesterday tasked the Kaduna State governor to go embrace dialogue as a way of ending the stalemate.
PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in an interview with Daily Trust, faulted the governor’s approach describing the plan to sack workers as worrisome and irresponsible.
“Development must have a human face. You don’t push people to the fringes just because you want to develop a society. That is totally irresponsible,” he said.
He also condemned the attack on unionists in Kaduna, accusing El-Rufai and the All Progressives Congress (APC) of trying to gag Nigerians from expressing their views.
On their part, the Northern Governors in a statement by chairman of the Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Bako Lalong, expressed concern about the impact of the strike on the state and its citizens.
While calling for dialogue and negotiations a long-standing dispute mechanism in labour relations, the Northern Governors called for restraint and de-escalation of the situation to enable for amicable settlement of the issues in question.
The APC Governors, through their Chairman, Senator Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State asked Governor El-Rufai to resolve all contentious issues with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
The governors appealed to the NLC to demonstrate more commitment towards engaging governments at all levels in addressing challenges.
“Noting all the challenges facing all our states, especially given dwindling revenue, we appeal to all patriotic Nigerians, including the NLC, to demonstrate more commitment toward engaging governments at all levels to address problems. This is not the time for muscle-flexing.
“Nigerians are already overstretched with many challenges. At this critical point of our democratic journey, there cannot be limits to engagement between all governments and citizens,” the statement reads in parts.
Speaking on the matter, the Executive Director, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa (PAACA), Ezenwa Nwagwu, said the actions of the governor are condemnable.
He said they consider the action as “uncharitable, irrational, and insensitive, especially at a time when Nigerians in all states, are battling with harsh economic realities coupled with hunger, insecurity, unemployment and poor governance.
“The state’s intention to cut back on expenses in other to meet its financial obligations to the good people of Kaduna is highly commendable, but to do that at the expense of the ordinary Nigerians whose income can only do so much for them and their families can be considered cruel and therefore unacceptable,” Nwagwu said.
Also, the executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said that Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s actions stand condemned.
“This high-handedness gives the impression that the government lacks the capacity to dialogue and use soft power approaches to resolve the issues with labour. It is antithetical to the democratic ethos for a leader to act with such an iron fist approach when dialogue and compromise can easily resolve issues,” Zikirullahi said.
The duo also condemned the governor for announcing the sacking of nurses below level 14 for joining the strike action and for describing the labour leaders as bandits.
By Lami Sadiq, Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, Mohammed I. Yaba, Abdulkadir Shehu, (Kaduna), Saawua Terzungwe, Abbas Jimoh, Idowu Isamotu, Hamisu K. Matazu (Abuja) & Ado A. Musa (Jos)