The Nigerian Labour Congress and its affiliate organizations on Tuesday came out in their numbers in Lagos State to protest non-payment of their members’ salaries in over 20 states across the country.
The workers specifically singled out Governors of Imo, Nasarawa and Benue States; Rochas Okorocha, Tanko Al-Makura, and Samuel Ortom respectively, for ridicule, accusing them of behaving like slave masters.
“This protest is to make a point that our governors, some of them, are becoming slave masters. They are no more governors”, said former NLC Vice President and General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Comrade Isa Aremu.
“These three governors who are behaving like slave masters, namely Rochas Okorocha, Al-Makura, Ortom. I think we should use today to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to call these governors to order.
“Because Labour issues are federal issues, they are on the exclusive list, not on the concurrent list. No governor, no private employer should tamper with Labour issues. When it comes to salaries and terms of employment, it’s a federal law, and Nigerian laws are clear, it’s unconstitutional”.
The workers, who wore black armbands, marched through Maryland to Ikeja roundabout, grounding vehicular traffic as songs from the late Afrobeat maestro and social crusader, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, blared from giant loudspeakers.
The black armbands were in mourning of two civil servants in Nasarawa State, who were allegedly shot and killed by the police during a meeting with Mr. Al-Makura, last month.
A minute silence was observed for the late workers.
“In Nasarawa, in July, Governor Al-Makura who we used to like, a progressive governor, and in a sense he was quite progressive – he was paying salaries as at when due – but all of a sudden, he decided to cut the workers’ salaries by 50 percent, without negotiation, without proper consultation with organized Labour”, Mr. Aremu added.
“Or even if he had done the consultation, you don’t consult people to kill them. You can’t consult on the cutting of salaries. So what Al-Makura has done is illegal and it’s criminal.
“Not only that, he threatened the workers. That if they refuse to accept the wage cut, he will sack all of them and replace them with what he called fresh graduates. And I was wondering, which fresh graduates will accept salaries that will be cut by 50 percent.
“The leadership of the NLC decided to intervene. And when they went there, the meeting was going on at the Government House, some police opened fire on the workers who were waiting for the outcome of the discussion. In the process, two workers were killed, and about three or four were seriously injured”.
The NLC leadership demanded that the Nasarawa governor pays full compensation to the survivors and dependants of the killed workers.
“I also want to reaffirm that immediately Governor Al-Makura should withdraw the criminal 50 percent reduction in salaries of Nasarawa workers”, Mr. Aremu said.
“And that will be the condition for the suspension of the strikes that is going on today in Nasarawa”.
The protesters also criticized the three-day work and two-day farm policy recently introduced by Mr. Okorocha.
The Imo State governor had announced a reduction in the working days of the week, from five days to three days to enable civil servants to cultivate the land for farming.
“Comrades, let me reaffirm here that Nigerian workers are Nigerian workers, they are not emergency farmers”, Mr. Aremu said.
“You gave workers letters of appointment as a clerk, messenger, driver, supervisor, nurses, teachers. You have not given them letters of appointments to become farmers.
“In any case, how can a governor remain in Owerri, in the Government House, and ask all the workers to return back to the farms? He himself should be in the farm first. So if the governor is not a farmer, a worker is not a farmer”.