By Vera Abah in Abuja & Amos Aar, in Makurdi
THE BENUE State Government on Wednesday announced the suspension of the Benue State Executive Council (SEC) of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and constituted a caretaker committee of the union to pilot its affairs for a period of three months.
This actions are in clear breach of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which places all legislative powers on labour and trade union matters under the Exclusive Legislative List.
In a public announcement suspending the elected leaders of the Benue State Council of NURTW, and setting up a caretaker committee to run the council, co-signed by the Special Adviser to Governor Hyacinth Alia on Unions/Labour Relations, Hon. Jonathan Iyoo Igbondo, and Senior Special Assistant to the Governor Youth Mobilization and Empowerment, Hon. Mkeenem Moses, dated November 29, 2023, the Benue State Government stated that the suspension followed the lingering crises that have rocked the union as a result of the expiration of tenure of the current SEC.
The state delegates conference of NURTW which was scheduled to hold on Thursday, November 30, 2023 (today), was also suspended by the state government.
The government’s announcement reads:
“Following crises that have engulfed, the Benue State Chapter of the NURTW as a result of expiration of tenure of the present State exco on the 23rd of October, 2023, and that of all the branches and units on 19th, November, 2023, in addition to peaceful protest coupled with agitations by members and other sundry overbearing activities that negate the spirit of unionism, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Rev. Fr. Dr. Hyacinth Iormem Alia has approved the appointment of a fifteen (15) member caretaker committee to run the affairs of the Benue State council of the union for the period of three (3) month from today being 29th November, 2023. Therefore, the proposed Benue State delegates conference of the NURTW slated for Thursday 30% November, 2023 is hereby suspended.” [sic] (Their emphasis.)
The announcement listed the 15-member caretaker committee to include: Julius Agbatar as State Chairman, Vandeikya LGA; Emmanuel Abu, State Deputy Chairman, from Apa LGA; Terna Ayu, Treasurer, Kwande LGA; Simon Igbawua, State Vice zone B, Gboko LGA; Igoche Egbe, State Vice zone B, Gboko; Gandepuun Tyopuu Tsenge, Vice zone A, Logo LGA; Richard Abu, Financial Secretary, Ukum LGA; Joseph Abanyam, Organizing Secretary, Buruku LGA; Nigie Aba, Member, Kwande LGA; Ova Bunde, Member, Ushongo LGA; Ejeh Jasper, Auditor, Oju LGA; Valentine Igbatuha, Assistant Secretary, Gwer East; Kelvin Ugba, Trustee, Konshisha LGA; Steven Lawal, member, Makurdi LGA, and Akeran Oryinga, Trustee, Katsina-Ala LGA.
The announcement further reads: “Government cannot close eyes against any breach of public peace that tends to have adverse security implications and complications.
“It is instructive to note that unions are not run by factions, so government cannot allow what is happening in NURTW to escalate to a dangerous dimension, the end result no one can foretell.
“As a consequence, therefore, all concerned are enjoined to ensure a peaceful transition to the caretaker committee, as the present State Executives, branches and units stand suspended forthwith.
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“The caretaker committee is hereby directed to constitute branches and units executives with immediate effect.
“The special Adviser to the Governor on External Security and Strategy to ensure peaceful transition and total compliance.”
The state has no role to play in the matter
Lagos-based lawyer and veteran labour leader, Comrade Ivor Takor, when asked his opinion on the action of the Benue State government, told National Record that the state government has no power to dissolve the state exco and set up a caretaker committee.
He also added that even the federal government lacks the power to dissolve the exco of a union because it is not the owner of the union.
“The point is that industrial relations matter is on the Exclusive Legislative List; so state governments don’t have roles to play in labour matters.
“That’s why you find Labour Offices in all the states of the federation, and those Labour offices are departments under the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. The point remains that trade union matters are under the Exclusive Legislative List; state governments don’t have control over industrial relations matters in the country,” Comrade Takor stated.
Takor, who was a two-term President of NASU as well as a two-term National Treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) between 2000 and 2008, said under the Nigerian constitution, even the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment lacks the power to dissolve the leadership of any union and set up a caretaker committee.
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He said: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 Constitution (as amended), Second Schedule, Legislative Powers, Part 1, Exclusive Legislative List are powers that are exercised exclusively by the Federal Government.
“Number 34 on the list deals with Labour, including trade unions. It provides that “Labour, including trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of Labour; industrial disputes; prescription of a national minimum wage for the Federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitrations.”
“On the issue of setting up caretaker committee, even the Ministry of Labour and Employment doesn’t have the right to do so. The union is run by the owners of the union in accordance with its constitution. If there is going to be a caretaker committee for any industrial union, it can only be put up by the union, not an outsider.
“The Ministry may have the right of withdrawing the licence, the registration certificate of an industrial union because he who gives certificate has the right to withdraw, if there is or are infractions of the law.
“Let me give you an example. When Maritime Workers Union had serious issues with the federal government in the early 2000 and they were destabilising the whole system; this was during the leadership of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the federal government dissolved the exco of Maritime Workers Union and set up a caretaker committee; but we, as NLC, came out forcefully to argue that they don’t have the power.
“While we agreed that the exco of Maritime Workers Union, as it was then, was in the hands of miscreants; that is the truth; we argued with them on the basis of the law and government realising where Labour stood, removed their own caretaker committee and the NLC as the Labour Centre to which Maritime Union is affiliated, set up a caretaker committee, which administered the union for one year; organised a delegates conference from which the Comrade Onikolise Irabor leadership emerged.
“Why should Governor Hyacinth Alia allow this type people to give him a bad name.
“Flowing from above, no state government has a right to dabble into trade union(s) disputes, be it inter or intra.”