By Afam Echi
Strike is a phenomenon that connotes many negative implications. It is a willful effort of workers to withdraw their services in protest against actions of employers in order to drive home a demand. Strike is an ill wind that blows none any good including those who institute it. It attracts all manner of negative comments especially from all those who are hurt by it. There are always the two sides of a coin. Looking at the flip side the Imo NLC strike has some positives that is if you chose to see it.
Recall that in the effort to call the bluff of the never do well government of Senator Hope Uzodinma that has held Ndi Imo captive for three years the Imo chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress, (NLC) embarked on a strike withdrawing services of its workers from some critical sectors. This followed the usual meddlesomeness of the government in seeking to impose its loyalists on the leadership of the State labour unions
The union had checked the government intervention which got it infuriated leading to attack of NLC officials by hired thugs of the government. In protest the union kick started the strike to attack the impunity of government in controlling the labourers in the state. Uzodinma’s stranglehold on labour is the reason workers have suffered untold hardship because it continues to impose those loyal to it, that it can dictate to and control
For once Uzodinma’s government can cry. One of the principal officers was heard barking like a mad dog seeking to turn the matter against the NLC. This one got them really hard and I can’t but burst into the song popularized by the loquacious vindictive and holier than thou Rivers State governor, “as e dey pain them e dey sweet us” (Timaya). Uzodinma has bestrode the state like a colossus muscling down forcefully all manner of opposing forces yet claiming with all manner of lies that he is a democrat.
The statement goes that darkness can never comprehend light, at least never forever. There seems to be a wind of change blowing across the nation seeking to emancipate the people. The entry of Peter Obi into the national political space and the huge support he has amassed in so short a time is a confirmation that there are still very many good Nigerians lurking by the corner and waiting for the appropriate moment to salvage the situation for a people. And so it appears too that the new sheriff in town in the Nigerian Labour Congress in the person of Joe Ajaero may have come to liberate Imo workers. He refused to go to bed with the vindictive Imo government.
Hitherto, Uzodinma has pocketed and compromised the leadership of the state labour union and continues to impose its loyalists in virtually every branch of the workers union. This is to ensure he has a seamless process subduing the workers that he has owed arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities leave allowances, promotions, and all other entitlements. They dare not open their mouth to talk. Since assumption of office this is the first time the workers has gone on strike. Any attempt to protest any issue is greeted with force as he would unleash his thugs on the protesters.
We have not forgotten and posterity will ever judge him for using his thugs beating up pensioners in the state for asking for their dues. When the industrial court gave a judgement against the government in favour of a former deputy governor he unleashed his aide notably known for violence among other thugs to attack officials of the court manhandling them. The court was shut down for 5 months because the officials felt unsafe to operate until the government guaranteed their safety.
For sometimes now, crises has rocked the leadership of the Imo chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. The crisis has remained intractable and unresolved simply because government has continued to fuel it. Of a truth, the media space at all levels in Imo is polluted by government interference in creating parallel leadership. The NUJ, the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) and the Imo Newspapers Publishers Association of Nigeria (INPA) all have factional leadership orchestrated by the current regime.
The Imo chapter of the Correspondents’ Chapel though not fragmented also has its leadership imposed by the government. Very sad and unfortunate is the fact that the mastermind of these evil machinations is the super commissioner called Declan Mbadiwe Emelumba who superintends over information, who is himself a media person. Journalism practice in the state has suffered the worst reverses under this government. It is under the Uzodinma regime that Imo journalists were freely assaulted by state legislators including his own brother who assaulted the publisher of Nigerian Watchdog newspaper, Comr.Precious Nwadike.
Uzodinma’s government is synonymous with destruction and torpedoing the rule of law even though he emerged as a product of the law which many observers have described as the worst injustice ever meted to a people. Many people are still in shock over the inexplicable Supreme Court ruling that added over 100,000 votes from nowhere to impose him on Imo. When he assumed office there was no single APC legislator but he compromised the lawmakers elected under the AA, APGA and some PDP’s who jumped ship to APC which now has 21 APC members and 6 PDP members in the 27 member legislature.
He has the worst record of governance as a chief executive with blood stains all over the state. Imo has been writhing in the pains of unceasing violence unleashed on the citizens some of who have deserted their homes. How does a violent prone government attract foreign investors to patronize the state that its own citizens are not sure of their own safety? His own security outfit, the so called Ebubeagu has been fingered in the series of attacks in the state but the governor would deny all of that. The government would lie all the way to deceive people that Imo is safe.
The strike in the state is a welcome development in the state and is being celebrated in some quarters if anything to indicate that Imo is not entirely swallowed by Uzodinma. Imo needs urgently a breath of fresh air. Imo is a conquered territory by Uzodinma who is suffocating its citizens rather than liberating them. He has weaponized poverty and compromised some privileged ones, reason people can fall for anything to sell their conscience or turn a blind eye to the evil of government
In this state, the major stakeholders the labour, traditional rulers, the church, the students union, the town unions, markets associations etc are not speaking up on the issues in the state either because their leadership are government stooges or they are compromised. If any want to talk they just mumur through their pocket. It is painful yet shameful that the victims of the bad governance are the members of the various stakeholders. Some fear for their lives lest their homes be visited with conflagration.
Many have complained against the strike on account of its suddenness because it took people by surprise. Some claim it is worsening the plight of the already exasperated workers groaning under the weight of the crunchy cash swap system. This may sound correct but it should be understood that if the opportunity that presented itself to fight off Uzodinma’s stranglehold on the state now is not grabbed he will perpetuate the workers’ slavery. Imo people should sacrifice more now to chase the despotic governor away than allow him build structure that will keep him in power in November 2023.
We celebrate the NLC officials who refused to be compromised in this instant and appeal to them to remain steadfast in their struggle for workers freedom. They should endeavor to write their names in gold because the good they are doing now will attract them huge dividends in the future, Good name they should remember is better than silver and gold. Liberating Imo from the jackboot of a despotic government is a task for all. Imo is a state under siege.
Dr. Afam Echi, a journalist, public affairs analyst and commentator on national issues writes from Owerri