The first day of a 5-day warning strike embarked upon by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Kaduna State, recorded mass disruption of economic and social activities as banks, schools, hospitals, railways and other essential services remained shut.
The state also recorded the second day of blackout yesterday since electricity supply was cut off in the early hours of Sunday.
The labour unions had declared the strike action as a way of compelling Governor Nasir El-Rufai to reverse the recent mass sack of civil servants in the state.
Daily Trust reports that at least 14 affiliated unions of the NLC including the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), the National Union of Electricity Employees of Nigeria (NUEE), National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers among others joined the procession of the strike, which started from NLC secretariat in Kaduna at 7 am chanted solidarity songs, displaying placards with various inscriptions.
Other unions that joined the procession include the National Association of Nurses and Midwives, Aviation workers Union, Construction Union, National Union of Local Government Employees among others. The aviation unions under the aegis of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP) were also part of the strike action.
Enforcement officers of the unions had locked up the gates of Kaduna State secretariat as well as other premises housing civil servants including the Obasanjo House on Monday morning.
The secretariat was later forced open by security agencies even though civil servants, who were caught between the fears of disobeying the government or the labour unions, only loitered about.
There was heavy security presence at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House on Monday as Daily Trust observed men of the Police Operation Yaki units, soldiers, Kaduna State Vigilante Service (KADVIS) and the Federal Road Service Corps (FRSC) were deployed at the main gate of the Government House.
Addressing members of the unions at the NLC secretariat, the National President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, emphasised that there will be no retreat nor surrender by the organised labour to ensure their demands are acceded to by the governor.
“The decision has been communicated to all security agencies of the government. It is the beginning of the struggle of labour and we hope our politicians will cooperate with us to ensure we protect our democracy by delivering its dividends to the citizens including workers.”
Wabba disclosed that more than 90 per cent of Nigerians are living in abject poverty, which was why insecurity and other social vices have increased in the country.
According to him: “Organised labour is in Kaduna to tell the world the truth of what the workers, pensioners, students and other citizens in the state are going through besides the lies being peddled by media platforms on El-Rufai’s payroll.
“The situation of the workers in the state is so pathetic that thousands of them have been laid off from their sources of livelihood without the state government making any effort to pay them their entitlements.
“Worst still, El-Rufai has gone further to increase school fees in public state school thereby making the children of those sacked from their working place without payment to become dropouts.”
The labour leader lamented that workers in the state were being sacked from their jobs without following due process, adding that no constituted labour union was contacted by Governor El-Rufai before taking the action.
“It is only Kaduna State out of the other states in the country that throws workers out of their jobs without any regards for the labour law and that is why we are here,” he said.
He explained that political elites are elected to respect the law of the land and uphold the provisions of the land, lamenting, “Here, we have a governor that is not respecting the law but violating the law with impunity.
“He has sacked thousands of workers in the state. Over 20,000 workers in the state have not been paid their April salary.
“The unfortunate downsizing of workforce in Kaduna State was not done in accordance with the statutory Labour law, with the keen examination of its activities from 2017 till date, over 50, 000 workers were affected.”
Our correspondent reports that the procession of affiliated labour unions led by the NLC president marched through Independence Way to the Kaduna State House of Assembly chanting solidarity songs but they met a deserted House of Assembly.
The procession caused heavy traffic gridlock as motorists pushed their way through the crowd to get to their destinations.
El-Rufai threatens workers
It was business as usual for Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El-Rufai even as labour officials went around the metropolis to enforce compliance with the strike action.
The governor had tweeted that the state’s Commissioner for Local Government, Ja’afaru Sani was to appear Monday morning on Channels TV where he insisted that the state government pays minimum wage.
At 1 pm, El-Rufai tweeted that the state’s Executive Council was holding its regular weekly meeting with himself presiding but did not mention the strike action.
The state government last night asked all workers from level 14 and above to resume work or face sanctions.
A statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Communication to the governor, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye warned that “government is documenting all these violations of the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the Trade Union Act.”
He said the Kaduna State Government has noted that the conditions that compelled its decision to right-size its work force have not been altered by the NLC’s “campaign of economic and social sabotage”.
He pointed out that government’s resolve “is only reinforced by the desperate actions undertaken by the NLC to unlawful trespass on government facilities, and prevent officers from signing attendance registers.”
He added that, “Despite these actions, the state government has guaranteed access to the State Secretariat and other government offices.
“The government intends to continue running its operations in service to the people, despite the futile efforts of the NLC to impede it.
Adekeye said the government welcomed the visit by leaders of the Trade Union Congress to the Head of Service, Bariatu Y. Mohammed. Hajiya Bariatu has reported on the constructive attitude of the TUC delegation led by Barrister Musa Lawal, its Secretary-General,’’ he said.
He said the TUC team included Comrade Isa Mohammed of PENGASSAN, Comrade Bulama Haruna, Comrade Ebere Okpara, Comrade Yunusa Zubairu, Comrade Aliyu Yunusa and members of the Kaduna State Executive of the TUC.
Residents of Kaduna State were yesterday stranded at various banks and the train station at Rigasa, which remained closed following the 5-day warning strike.
Our correspondents report that though the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees have decided to join the strike, bank staff remained within the banking halls even though services were suspended.
A customer at one of the banks, Mustapha Mohammed, said he came to the bank for documentation but was not able to do so due to the strike action.
“It was inconvenient for me to come all the way from Millennium City only to find that the banks were closed. But then, what can I do since they are fighting for their rights?
“The government should see the need to call for a consensus,” he said.
On her part, Ladi Bulus, who came to the bank to pay her children’s school fees urged the government to have a listening ear to bring a quick end to the situation.
“I was so frustrated when I came to the bank and saw it was closed. Since last week, I have been trying to pay the fees but due to the queue in and out of the bank, I have not been able to do so. I thought with the strike, the crowd will be less unknown to me, the banks will not open,” she lamented.
At the Rigasa train station, our correspondent observed that a few passengers who bought tickets online to board the 10 am train were stranded when they were told that the railway services have been suspended due to the ongoing strike action.
However, the passengers were told by the management that their tickets remained valid as long as they use them on the day the strike action is called off.
One of the passengers who preferred to remain anonymous said he had bought the ticket around 9 pm on Sunday hoping to resume work in Abuja Monday morning.
He said though he was aware of the strike action and was oblivious of the fact that it would affect federal government agencies and parastatals.
“If they knew they were going to join the strike action then the Nigeria Railway Corporation should have blocked all ticket sales, but to allow us to buy tickets when they know there is no room for refund is extortion.”
Hospitals, schools remain shut
Major government hospitals across Kaduna metropolis were shut down on Monday following the ongoing strike action in the state.
Our reporter who visited Yusuf Dantsoho General Hospital and Barau Dikko Teaching hospital in Kaduna observed that the hospital premises were deserted and patients who had medical needs were left stranded.
As at 9:40 am at Yusuf Dantsoho General Hospital, Daily Trust observed that the consulting rooms were locked, male and female wards were also locked while patients on admission were said to have been discharged on Sunday.
The hospital staff were seen in groups within the premises as they discussed the situation while others sat under a tree at the entrance gate.
A patient who identified her name as Maman Aisha said she had brought her granddaughter who recently had surgery for a medical checkup only to be told that hospital staff were on strike.
The situation was the same at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital where patients were seen leaving the hospital premises because there were no doctors to attend to them.
“We are leaving because the staff and doctors are not here to attend to us,” a patient caregiver was heard lamenting.
Speaking with our correspondent, the Kaduna State NMA Chairman, Dr. Aliyu Sokomba confirmed that the NMA was in support of the strike action even though it is yet to officially declare.
“We have a health workers union that has appealed to us to support them and though we are yet to declare full compliance, we are giving it all the necessary support to ensure it succeeds,” he said.
Some public and private schools in Kaduna have also remained shut. Some private schools had informed parents and guardians to remain home with their wards for safety as they observed the direction of the strike action.
Our correspondent who visited LEA Kagoro Tudun Wada, LEA Chawai Road, LEA Unguwar Sunusi, Government Girls Secondary School, Maimuna Gwarzo as well as LEA Nuhu Bamalli, LEA Saint Augustine, among others, reports that the schools were shut with no pupils or teachers.
A parent, Salisu Suleiman whose children were at home lamented that the strike had affected the educational pursuit of his children adding that, “In as much as we are not in support of the state government’s policies, we are equally not happy with the strike because the whole thing still affects the poor man,” he said.
He urged the government and labour to sheath their swords and move to the negotiating table for the betterment of all.
Small businesses groan
Residents and owners of small businesses in Kaduna State are groaning over the shutdown of electricity following the commencement of the strike action directed by the NLC.
Residents tell Daily Trust correspondents that they were forced to dispose of perishable items because they could no longer refrigerate them while many communities say they have resorted to buying water from water vendors who have increased the price of water cans from N360 to N600.
Business owners especially those who sell perishable commodities like yoghurts and seafoods say they may record losses if the strike action persist as they may not be able to sustain the use of generators.
Obi Danladi, who sells yoghurt at Kawo Motor Park, said the lack of electricity is detrimental to their business.
“We use ice blocks to make our yoghurt cool as nobody will buy it if it is not cold and it may equally spoil.
“However, between yesterday and today, I have lost half of my expected profit because those who produce the ice blocks are having electricity challenge.”
At Unguwan Kanawa, our correspondent learnt from Abdulrahman Abdulmalik who sells iced fish and other seafoods that since electricity was cut in the early hours of Sunday, there have been low sales as residents fear any bulk purchase could be a waste of money.
“The demand is very low as people buy only for their immediate needs because there is no electricity.
“That leaves us in a dilemma because we also do not have electricity and rely on ice blocks but the ice bloc companies are also complaining of shortage at the moment,” he said.
At the Bakin Dogo market in Kaduna where vegetables are sold, Daily Trust gathered that there is a glut of tomatoes even as traders say they have asked farmers to suspend any supply until the end of the strike action.
Abdulmumini Rabiu, a tomato seller, said “People are not coming to the buy, we have crashed the price but yet people are not buying and we don’t know what to do with the tomatoes.”
“Two days ago, a basket of tomato sold between N18,000 and N20,000 but today it is between N10,000 and N6,000.”
IGP deploys more cops
The acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has ordered police officers not to allow new threats to lives and property to thrive in Kaduna State following the protest and ongoing strike embarked upon by labour unions.
Baba, who gave the order in a statement made available to newsmen, on Monday, said the deployment of additional police operatives and crime prevention assets became important to ensure public safety and strengthen security along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway.
The statement signed by Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, noted that Assistant Inspectors-General of Police (AIGs) and Commissioners of Police (CPs) in the zonal and state commands should ensure safety within their Areas of Responsibility (AoR).
“Consequently, the IGP has directed the Assistant Inspectors-General of Police and Commissioners of Police in Zonal and State Commands with jurisdictions straddling Kaduna – Abuja Highway and its environs to ensure no new threat to lives and property thrive within their Area of Responsibility (AoR) as a result of the industrial action,” the statement read.
It added, “Similarly, the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of the Force Intelligence Bureau has been directed to immediately deploy covert operatives from the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) and the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to prevent any untoward situation along the expressway.”
NGF urges NLC to exercise restraint
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to exercise calm and restraint in its engagement with the Kaduna State Government.
Chairman of the NGF and Ekiti state governor, Kayode Fayemi in a statement Monday night said; “The calls for cautious introspection on the part of Labour as no meaningful progress of any kind has ever been achieved in an atmosphere of conflict and chaos.
“The NGF also wishes to remind the NLC that its actions could become counter-productive especially as the last year 2020, had adversely affected workers socially and economically.
“Therefore the NGF advises the NLC to explore the already open avenue of rapprochement that the Kaduna state government has provided to resolve the matter and join the state to evolve a convivial working environment that is befitting for all.”
From Lami Sadiq, Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, Mohammed I. Yaba, Abdulkadir Shehu, (Kaduna), Idowu Isamotu & Saawua Terzungwe (Abuja)