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2 April 2019
The national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), made good the resolution of the 12th national delegates' conference, held last February in Abuja, and embarked on a day's protest on 5th March in Abeokuta to press home the demands of the Ogun state workers. This was in spite of the threats issued by the state governor to the labour leaders. The governor had warned labour leaders to steer clear of the state else, he would disgrace them, should they proceed with the protest as planned.
The governor Ibikunle Amosun (APC) led government had failed to meet the demands of the workers despite signing a MOU with the labour leaders, which he went on to consistently renege upon, notwithstanding repeated calls on him to respect the letters of the agreement he signed. The agreement was on the non-remittance of statutory deductions from workers' salaries for pensions, cooperative, Sallah, Christmas amongst others over a period of 105 months; the non-utilization of the last tranche of the Paris Club refund for the payment of gratuity for both state and local government workers since 2013 despite signing a collective bargaining agreement with organized labour in Ogun State; refusal to pay workers at the Tai Solarin College of Education salary arrears that have accumulated for the past 10 years and now grosses to a financial liability of about N9 billion; and the sacking of the State Chairman of the NLC from his employment for standing firm in the defence of the rights of workers in Ogun State.
Workers arrived at the secretariat of the state chapter of the NLC, as early as 7:00am in preparations for the protest. But unknown to them, both the national and state leaderships of the Congress had arrived at the state house the previous day, and had commenced meeting with the governor at 4pm. However the governor did not concede to any of the workers' demands, but got a commitment from the labour leaders to dissuade the workers from proceeding on a rally on the streets of Abeokuta. The recalcitrant and unyielding attitude of the governor, dragged the meeting till 10pm, and was later adjoined to the second day (5thMarch, 2019). The meeting had resumed at the at the governor's office, the next day, while the workers were converging at the state secretariat!
Members of the DSM/SPN arrived at the secretariat at 8:30am, with copies of Socialist Democracy, paper of the DSM and a megaphone (a product of donations to SPN election campaign for Ogun state house of assembly, Odogbolu constituency). The workers had divided themselves into various small groups discussing in low tones and appeared rudderless. The atmosphere had to be charged by SPN/DSM members who took gave leadership, leading solidary songs and chanting anti-government slogans. This immediately rallied the workers, and the songs were met with massive echoes by the workers, while some of them joined the comrade leading the songs on the platform. The environment became electrified and a comradely atmosphere was created among the workers. The workers then insisted on proceeding on a protest match to the governor's office. By this time the rented mobile public address system quartered in a vehicle had commenced operation, and the DSM comrade leading the songs took charge.
The protest match commenced. But just a few metres from the NLC secretariat gate, the procession halted, and comrade Abiodun Aremu, Joint Action Front (JAF) Secretary, addressed the workers on the need to be decorous and disciplined. He later introduced Emma Ugbuaja, from NLC's national secretariat, whom he said would like to address the workers before the match could proceed.
Comrade Ugbuaja took the microphone, and admonished the workers not to behave like the Roman mob by proceeding with the protest match. He said that the protest couldn't continue without the national president of NLC who had called for the action, and so must personally lead it! Anything short of this, he added, would amount to illegality. And so the workers must remain where they were until he got signals from the leadership, which he said he was in communication with, and they were on their way to Abeokuta, and would join the workers in no time, and as such, the workers should remain calm, and be patient!
The workers obeyed and remained where they were: occupying one lane of the dual carriage ways, with the riot police at the head, while vehicular traffics continued on the other lane.
This was apparently intended to demobilize the workers by wearing them out, so as to prevent them from continuing with the protest match to the governor's office at Oke Mosan. This plan seemed to have succeeded, as some affiliate union leaders went back to the secretariat's beer parlor, and started quashing … beers! But the workers remained at the spot, dancing to the Afro beat songs of Fela Anikulapu-Kuti blearing from the public address system.
This continued for over 45 minutes. After sometime the workers started agitating, insisting that the protest match most continue to the governor's office as planned. At this point, Eko John Nicholas the DSM/SPN comrade who had led the songs, seized the initiative, addressed the workers insisting that the protest must continue. He told the workers not to allow themselves to be deceived and blackmailed, maintaining that the workers must not repeat the mistake they made the other day when they were kept at the NLC state secretariat by the leadership for over 10 hours, while negotiations were ongoing with the governor. Although, at the end of that day, the workers read in the news media that the government had promised to accede to the workers' demands the governor later denounced these reports, something that prompted the suspended state chairman, Akeem Ambali to head to the national industrial court to challenge his unlawful dismissal.
The DSM comrade's speech was greeted with overwhelming supports by the workers. The comrade admonished the workers to be orderly, after which we provided leadership and the protest march started in earnest. The procession continued and stopped over at the NNPC under Bridge, a distant of about 500 metres. At this point some of the trade union leaders again tried to stop the workers from continuing their march to the governor's office. Attempts were made by some them to seize the microphone from Comrade Eko, which the workers resisted, declaring that the march must proceed and that Eko should remain in-charge. When they failed in their attempts to stop protest, the trade union leaders resulted to appealing, asking the comrade to delay the martch, while they tried to get in touch with the leadership, adding that the governor had stationed thugs at gate, and that the security situation wasn't favourable! At this point, Eko, again addressed the workers, telling them that the leaders aren't in support of going ahead with the protest, but declared that, the match must continue. This was again greeted with shouts of approval, and the workers insisting that Eko mustn't release the Mic to anyone, when one of the union leaders wanted to address the workers. The protest march took off again.
But just some few metres to the governor's office gate, the national leadership led by Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, and Akeem Ambali, Ogun State Chair of the NLC, hurriedly met the workers, stopped the protest march and ordered everybody on the vehicle with the public address system to come down, and everyone alighted. The leadership then took charge, and Akeem Ambali quickly addressed the workers, obviously to calm down the angry workers and douse tension, stating that he had been reinstated by the governor. This announcement produced the needed calming effects on the workers and the tension doused, and Ayuba Wabba afterwards took charged, introducing all the leaders of NLC present. He then proceeded to chide the workers for "indiscipline" by not obeying directives not to proceed on the protest march. He revealed that the leadership arrived the state capital the previous day and commenced the meeting with governor immediately, which was later postponed and resumed the following day. He said, the governor should be commended for granting them audience, unlike other governors who would have absconded, and added that one of their demands had been acceded to (the reinstatement of comrade Akeem Ambali) and that the governor had also promised to "look into the other remaining demands in due time". He told the workers that the MOU would have been signed save for their march to the governor's office gate, which made them to suspend the signing in order to meet the workers so as to dissuade them from coming to the Governor's Office.
While Wabba was haranguing the workers, they got wind of the coming of governor, apparently to attend the celebration of the former president Olusegun Obasanjo 82nd birthday at his presidential library just few metres from where the workers were being addressed. The governor was booed by the workers and some of them threw sachets of water at him, while he drove away in a hurry. Wabba who paused his speech, now resumed it, saying that congress would continue to engage the government in ensuring that other demands were met as promised, and that Ambali should lead the workers back to the NLC secretariat, while Wabba said himself and the other leaders would return to the governor's office to sign the MOU!
The workers later learnt that, but for the protest match, the governor wouldn't have conceded to any of the workers' demands. The governor had reportedly maintained an unyielding posture, untill he learnt that the workers were advancing towards the gate, and hurriedly conceded to the reinstatement of Akeem Ambali. This has again demonstrated the powers of the workers, and their determinations to always fight back, when they are provided leadership. Moreover, it once again shows the disturbing role labour leaders have often played in holding back the workers from fighting back attacks to win their legitimate demands and thereby also gaining confidence in their own power and strength.