Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, yesterday, bowed to the superior force of labour and recalled the over 3,000 workers he summarily sacked mid January, 2016. Organized labour had made good its threat to shut down Imo State over the sack of 3,000 workers and months of unpaid salary arrears among others, with the commencement of a three-day warning strike.
Addressing workers at the State Secretariat of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, before leading a peaceful procession into the heart of the town, the factional President of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, explained that all the labour leaders in the country emptied into Imo State, to enforce the shut down of the state government activities.
“This is just a three-day warning strike. The leadership of labour will again meet and re-strategize, if the state government fails to reinstate all the workers it summarily sacked without following due process,” Wabba said.
According to the NLC boss, “labour is sending a warning signal to other state governors, who may be getting ready to key into Okorocha’s bad system, about the readiness of NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to stoutly resist such cruel, obnoxious and anti-labour policies.”
Comrade Wabba also warned that labour would be forced to cut off electricity supply to Government House, Owerri, if Okorocha refuses to recall the sacked workers tomorrow (today). Some of the placards carried by the aggrieved workers, who also spotted black attire, read: “Failure to pay salaries equals failure of government”; “Okorocha is hereby sacked for lack of productivity”; “Failure to pay workers is criminal offence”; “Imo workers reject sack and closure by radio announcements”; “Rochas must respect labour laws,” and “Rochas is the Pharaoh of our time.”
The industrial action, which hard earlier generated palpable tension and anxiety among residents in the state, led to the closure of a number of establishments and institutions. Vanguard investigations revealed that the establishments closed by the aggrieved workers, who were irked by the summary dismissal of over 3,000 of their colleagues by the Rochas Okorocha administration, included the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, the judiciary, public schools, local government council secretariats and ministries.
It was also gathered that several prominent supermarkets, filling stations and fast food centres, shut down on their own volition, for fear of the unknown, even as all the major streets, strategic junctions and the local council secretariats were manned by heavily armed security personnel. Although, normal business activities continued in the major markets within Owerri municipality, Vanguard, however, noticed low patronage as most residents remained at home. Similarly, bank customers were seen making panic withdrawals yesterday, even as they explained that they were preparing for the unknown. Vanguard observed that while the aggrieved workers chanted all manner of unprintable and derogatory songs against Okorocha, they also picketed the Government House.
No government official addressed the protesting workers while the picketing lasted, but Vanguard gathered that Governor Okorocha and his visiting National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, were busy addressing youths in Government House Chapel.
Bowing to superior force
But rattled by the unfolding scenario, Okorocha swallowed his pride and recalled the sacked workers. Announcing the news yesterday, when he addressed workers that peacefully processed to Government House, Owerri, the factional President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the governor has recalled the embattled workers unconditionally.
“The Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, has accepted to recall the over 3,000 innocent workers he summarily terminated their appointments without following due process,” Comrade Wabba said. He also announced that since the governor has recalled the sacked workers the warning strike, which ought to have lasted till Friday, was called off and urged all workers,to resume work tomorrow (today).
Speaking also, the Imo State NLC Chairman, Comrade Austin Chilkpu, said: “Since the Imo State Government has bowed to the demand of the organized Labour, the issue of concession would also be jettisoned, as this would ensure that the workers were not unnecessarily victimized by anybody or organ of government.
“Labour is reminding the governor that other issues affecting the workers were not only on the table for discussion, but would be pursued diligently in the days ahead. Similarly, I would like to assure the workers that their rights would always be protected by the organized labour.”
Show of solidarity
Meantime, the national leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, also yesterday aligned itself with Governor Rochas Okorocha and urged the organized labour to sheath their swords and support the state government. The APC bigwigs, who were led to Owerri by the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, told journalists yesterday that they were in the state to have first-hand information and assessment of the raging labour crisis.
Chief Oyegun, who called on the Labour leaders to cooperate with Governor Okorocha in his effort to make things work in the state, further explained that his team had the opportunity of discussing with the labour leaders and agreed on a number of issues that led to the calling off of the strike.
“Labour should put the realities on ground into consideration while negotiating with government, especially when considered that the government took proper care of the workers when things were well. The APC took power when the state of the nation was in a total collapse”, Chief Oyegun said.
While saying that there was the need for sacrifice, the APC boss also argued that whatever Nigerians were experiencing now was temporary, adding the APC was poised to take the nation out of the current economic crisis. “APC as a party, agrees with the governor that it is not proper to borrow money for salary payment as that will be a dead end and totally unsustainable,” Oyegun said.
The APC National Chairman stated that his team was convinced that the governor’s action was in the overall interest of the people of the state, but however, enjoined both the government and the labour leaders to demonstrate flexibility in their dialogue aimed at resolving all the issues. Speaking also, Governor Okorocha said his “action was not for personal benefits, or to enhance his political career, but for the overall interest of Imo people.”