THE PRESIDENT of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, was on Wednesday, November 1, battered in Owerri, Imo State by armed hoodlums, some in security uniform. He was about addressing a rally of unarmed workers when the group was set upon by the assailants who came in several vehicles.
Some of the labour leaders and workers sustained various degrees of injury and the attackers also dispossessed their victims of various sums of money, phones and other personal belongings.
Apart from Ajaero being the President of NLC, the largest labour organisation on the continent, as a human being, the severity of the attack on him deserves empathy; no human ought to be subjected to such an attack in which he could easily have lost his life.
While there are disputes about the identity of the attackers which the state government claimed are aggrieved workers but the NLC says are thugs of the government aided by the police, the above facts on the actual attack, are indisputable.
What any human being ought to feel or express, is empathy with the victims of the attack. Tragically, what came from the Imo State Government under whose jurisdiction the crime was committed, was a display of glee.
Hope Uzodinma, the state governor who should be concerned that such daylight savagery took place in a state he claims to be the chief security officer, showed neither sympathy nor concern. Rather, at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa where he had gone to receive a flag from President Bola Tinubu as the gubernatorial candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, he sought to rationalise, if not justify, the attack.
He said: “What has happened in this ugly coincidence is that the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress is from Imo State and has not been able to demarcate the difference between being a national leader of an organisation and an interested party in local politics.” Assuming, without conceding that Uzodinma’s claim is correct, what is criminal in the national leader of an organisation being interested in local politics, especially when he is an indigene of the state? If truly Ajaero is interested in the local politics of the state, is the penalty death sentence by jungle justice as the attackers tried to do?
Uzodinma went on: “I understand the sensitivity of this event (strike). But I want you people to be careful because there is an attempt to mix up partisan politics or an attempt to blackmail my government.” If indeed, there is “an attempt to mix up partisan politics” with the denial of workers’ rights in the state, what is the crime in it? Who says at the approach of elections, workers’ rights must be buried and resuscitated only after elections?
If the claims of the governor is that he is not owing salaries and had surpassed workers expectations, why is he jittery that workers issues are being amplified? If he were telling the truth, he should be happy as this should fetch him more votes. If, as he claims, there is an attempt to blackmail what he calls “my government”, what he needed to do was not to take the law into his hands or justify lawlessness, but to report this to the appropriate security agency for investigation.
Uzodinma then proceeded to make a most ridiculous assertion: that the NLC State Council disagreed with the national body and: “In the process, they decided to dissolve them to put in a caretaker. Of course, I’m the Chief Security Officer and I have a responsibility to intervene. I encourage the national leadership not to dissolve a management team that their tenure has not expired, and that was what they did.”
Wow! Uzodinma is not a member of a trade union, but as the Chief Security Officer of the state, he decided to intervene in the internal affairs of an independent labour centre whose legitimacy and independence derives from Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution which he swore as governor to uphold! What law or constitutional provision gives the governor of a state powers to intervene in the internal governance of a trade union or labour centre?
If you carefully reflect on Uzodinma’s claim of an alleged split in the labour leadership, you will realise that it is an unimaginative and poorly scripted attempt to claim that the vicious attack was an internal one by local Imo State workers against their national leaders.
It is tragic that Uzodinma was allowed to use hallowed halls of the country’s Presidential Villa to spew such nonsense. His clear acts in Imo State endangers democracy in the country. If he were to belong to the opposition, he might have been accused of attempting to bring down the federal government. But since he belongs to the ruling APC, his principals must have an agenda to deny the country democracy. So, who exactly is Uzodinma; what is his agenda and who is he working for? Certainly not the Nigerian people.
Elections in the state are due for this weekend, November 11. Ordinarily, Uzodinma would have been punished at the polls, but unfortunately, the votes may not count. They did not count four years ago, when Uzodinma came fourth. I am certain they will not count now. Tragically, while our entire democratic structure is endangered by people like Uzodinma, the rest of us seem to be mere onlookers.
A main part of the unfolding tragedy is the misuse of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). It is a major instrument in the hands of anti-democratic elements like Uzodinma.
In the savagery we witnessed against the labour leaders, the NLC accused the police of being the instrument of perpetration.
The police however claimed it intervened just “to ensure the protection of his (Ajaero’s) life that he was not lynched in the scuffle that followed”. Is it not interesting that the labour leaders could not distinguish between their attackers and the police and would accuse the latter of the unlawful arrest of their leader?
The Imo State Police Command under Commissioner Mohammed Ahmed Barde also claimed that the attack was a result of “scuffles and heated arguments” during the strike planning meeting. This of course is false; there could have been no disagreements at a meeting that had not commenced.
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The police also said there is a court order barring the proposed NLC strike. This to me is trying to justify the attack. It is not in the place of thugs or the police to physically attack persons suspected of an intention to disobey a court order.
If we were to continue in the path of executive lawlessness as displayed in Imo State, there will be no hope for democracy in Nigeria.