ON WEDNESDAY, the 1st day of November, 2023, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, was abducted by officers and men of the Imo State Police Command (at the behest of the State Governor) from the NLC state council secretariat in Owerri while waiting for his colleagues to join him for a peaceful protest rally. They came in a convoy of vehicles and gun trucks, hooded and armed to the teeth.
Comrade Joe Ajaero was blind folded, beaten to a pulp, brutalised, humiliated, and violated by the police personnel and taken to an unknown destination where he was subjected to more battering and torture as well as threatened with death before “help” came his way via the National Security Adviser; Mr Nuhu Ribadu, who ordered for his immediate release.
However, due to the severity of his injuries, the police had to take him to the Police Hospital where we made contact with him at 3:30 pm. At the time of our first contact with Comrade Joe Ajaero, his right eye was puffed, black and shut, one of his ears has tiny trace of dried blood, his speech was slurred and incoherent. He had welts all over him. He did not recognise the people around him and could not walk without being aided or supported. Inevitably, he had to be taken to Federal Medical Centre, Owerri for more investigation.
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At, FMC, Comrade Ajaero, after he was stabilized, was referred for ophthalmic investigation, a head and brain scan, a full body scan, Chest X-Ray, a full body scan and cervical spine therapy among other investigations and promptly fitted with a neck collar.
Ladies and gentlemen, Comrade Ajaero was not the only one beaten and arrested by the police but he was the major target thus received the most bestial and reprehensive treatment. He was stripped of his dignity as a human being and as President of the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC). He was also stripped of his personal items including phones, money and other electronic gadgets. His Vehicle was smashed and Tyres ripped open.
Others who were also beaten by the police included workers, the TVC Crew who were arrested and detained, they had their cameras seized for filming and being in possession of evidence the police would not want the world to see. The Arise Tv crew narrowly escaped being brutalised.
Earlier, hoodlums sent by the State Governor had stationed themselves around the streets leading to the Secretariat, were beating up workers who had reported at the secretariat and dispossessing them of their personal items including money, phones and Laptops.
We are worried that it has become criminal for workers in Nigeria to gather for a peaceful protest when Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution and the International Conventions like the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights including ILO conventions 87 and 98 guarantees the rights to Freedom of Association and the Right to Bargain collectively. It is more absurd that these infractions will even happen at all and still continue to happen especially when Nigeria seats as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the ILO.
Concerned about the deteriorating health condition of Comrade Joe Ajaero;
Outraged by the bestial treatment meted out to workers (including Ajaero) and journalists by the police and Imo State Government;
Stunned by the complicity of a federal agency such as the Nigeria Police Force;
Irritated by the defence of the Imo State Police Command that they only took Comrade Joe Ajaero into protective custody (from where he emerged, battered, concussed, puffed-eyed, debilitated and condemned);
Worried by the conspiratorial silence of the Federal Government; and the aloofness of the various Security Agencies who were formally notified of our presence in Imo State but refused to take steps to offer protection;
Flabbergasted by the audacity and arrogance of Hope Uzodinma who feels emboldened and endorsed by the Nigeria Police;
The Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria resolved as follows:
1). The Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command; CP Ahmed Barde should not only be investigated and deployed out of Imo State for his serial complicitous and unprofessional behaviour and conduct immediately;
2). The Area Commander of the Nigeria Police Force and all other Officers and Men in Owerri through whom the Police Commissioner supervised the brutalisation and humiliation of Comrade Ajaero and other workers be relieved of his office and stripped of his commission;
3). Mr Nwaneri Chinasa, Adviser on Special Duties who supervised the terror on workers and bestial brutality meted out to Congress President; Comrade Joe Ajaero be arrested immediately and prosecuted for his crimes against workers and the President.
4). We demand an immediate, independent and unbiased thorough professional medical examination of Comrade Ajaero in light of the physical and psychological injuries inflicted on him.
5). Other workers and journalists subjected to this inhuman treatment by the Police and the Hope Uzodimma’s goons be treated by the State and all the properties lost be restored immediately.
6). All the outstanding Industrial Relations issues as previously agreed with the Imo state Government be implemented immediately.
We further resolved that in the event the Government fails to comply with any or all of the conditions above-stated, NLC, TUC and their affiliates will no longer guarantee industrial peace in Nigeria beginning Wednesday the 8th of November, 2023 while a joint National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the two Labour Centres will meet to decide on the next course of action.
We find it appropriate to let Nigerians know the sequence of events that led to our going to Owerri for a peaceful protest but which was aborted by the police and hoodlums recruited by the State Governor. This has become necessary so they do not fall victim to government’s propaganda or Police’s disinformation and misinformation.
We heard police fiction that we disobeyed a court order but we want to know which court order. Our lawyer was in court last week and the matter was adjourned to today.
Let us assume there was a court order. When was it granted and where was it granted? How was the order obtained and on whom was it served and when?
Now back to the sequence of events that led to our going to Owerri:
1). Government repeatedly observed in breach agreements it voluntarily reached with Labour amongst which was the January 9th 2021;
2). Non-payment of salaries and pensions for upward of 22 months ….in some instances, 44 months;
3). Declaration of 11,000 hard-working workers as ghost workers and diversion of their salaries or emoluments to other uses;
4). Serial vandalism of Congress secretariat for no just cause;
5). Non-implementation of the National Minimum Wage Law causing distortions and pains among the working class in the state;
6). Implementation of discriminatory pay policy or practice which deepens poverty;
7). A backlog of gratuity arrears stretching to 8 years;
8) Government’s continued harassment Intimidation of workers or their executives;
9). Non-remittance of check-off dues or misappropriation of check-off dues by government;
10). Frequent interference by government in internal matters of trade unions to the point government wants to dictate who occupies which post;
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11). Systematic intimidation of trade unions and trade union leaders, dismantling of trade union structures, regular bullying and beating of workers and denying them access to the fruits of their labour.
What they are accustomed to is the butcher’s solution which we are better off without. Let us not pretend that we have democracy in Imo.
Being the Text of a Press Conference addressed by NLC and TUC on the abduction and brutalisation of Comrade Joe Ajaero, President of NLC and others on the alleged directive of the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, in Owerri.
Comrade Prince Adewale Adeyanju, Deputy President of NLC, and Comrade Etim Oko, Deputy President of TUC, signed the text dated November 3, 2023.