By Victor Ahiuma- Young
WHAT could have made a Police commissioner who allegedly commended a group for its peaceful conduct, interacted with it, and above all, praised it for its constitutional behaviour, to suddenly after a private â€œmeetingâ€ with the another group, turneround and declare leaders of former wanted for alleged criminal conspiracy, theft, attempt to commit culpable homicide, mischief and inciting disturbance?
This is one of theÂ posers the National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, leather and Non-Metallic Products Employees (NUCFRLANMPE), wants the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), to investigate and call the said Police Commissioner to order.
In a petition to the IGP signed by the unionâ€™s President, Comrade Boniface Isok, NUCFRLANMPE is accusing the Kogi State Police Commissioner of unwarranted intimidation, criminal blackmail and threat to arrest unionâ€™s officers over an industrial dispute between the union and the management of Obajana Cement company, Kogi State.
Labour Vanguard gathered that theÂ Police Commissioner on October 12, 2009, declared the General Secretary of the union, Comrade Matthew Momoh, and about five workers of Obajana Cement Company, said to be unit leaders of the union in the company wanted.
According to Labour Vanguardâ€™s investigation, the union had since 2008, be battling the management of Obajana Cement Company over alleged refusal to accept and recognise union .
Lamenting the union officersâ€™ ordeal from the hands of the Kogi Police Commissioners, Comrade Isok, said: â€œThe process of unionisation of Obajana Cement Company started sometime in 2008. We served a notice of meeting to the management of Obajana Cement Company on September 2, 2009, and a meeting was scheduled for September 16, 2009.
Following the said notice of meeting as agreed, national officers of the union led by the General Secretary arrived the company, but were surprisingly denied entry by the management on a spurious reason that the management was no longer ready to hold the said meeting.
The workers whose legitimate right it is to form a union according to section 40 of 1999 Federal Republic of Nigeria constitution, assembled themselves at Kabba junction and a branch election was conducted. Consequently, a letter of introduction verifying the names of the elected officers was duly forwarded to the management and a copy was made available to the Commissioner of Police, Kogi State Command.
There afte, the Police Commissioner, Alhaji A. Magaji, commended the efforts of the National union for the peaceful conduct of the branch union election, admitting ‘no individual company is greater than the countryâ€™s constitution. Allowing a registered trade union at workplace is a matter of right, not a matter of choice.
Thus, the apparent â€˜turn aroundâ€™ on the part of the police commissioner to declare the same officers as vagabonds and criminal is highly suggestive of a man who is not in-charge of his constituency and one in need of re-orientation on what constitutes security breaches to warrant such high handed approach.â€
Genesis ofÂ the problem
Giving details of what transpired after the branch election, Comrade Isok noted that â€œwhen the management got a copy of the letter of introduction of branch union officers on September 17, the management embarked on a mass termination of the workers including the entire elected branch executive between September 30 and October 1, respectively.
The entire workers viewed the management’s action as provocative and clearly inciting and thus embarked on peaceful demonstration on October 1, 2009, for the recognition of the branch union and called for full reinstatement of about 60 workers whose appointment were terminated.Â The workers through their representatives promptly notified the national secretariat of the union for intervention, but were characteristically turned back on October 2, 2009, by the management.â€
â€œAt this point, the Commissioner of Police invited national officers of the union to his office, along with the branch officers, and the management of Obajana Cement Company on same date, in the presence of the deputy Controller of Federal Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Kogi state.
To our dismay, the management restated their opposition to holding a meeting with national officers except their workers along with the deputy controller of labour in the state, an apparent recourse to divide and rule tactics. The commissioner of police thereafter asked the national union’s representatives to wait at the reception.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioner agreed with the management that demonstration by the workers should be suspended to pave way for a meeting at the company premises on Monday, October 5, 2009. Also the commissioner agreed with the management that all letters of termination earlier issued to the workersÂ be withdrawn before the said Monday.
It would interest you to know that the management refused to comply with the decision reached at the instance of the commissioner of police, while the workers complied by suspending their demonstration. The meeting that was agreed to hold on Monday could not hold, as the management maintained their hard line position.
We are aware that though the commissioner has no legal competence to mediate over industrialÂ matters, we agreed to honour his invitation to further demonstrate our respect to the rule of law and not out of cowardice. Despite the national union’s showÂ of immense sense of maturity, it was thus surprising that the commissioner embarked on a massive arrest of some of the workers, while the union executiveÂ including the National Secretary of the union were declared wanted.
The Federal Ministry of labour, Kogi state in her reaction, wrote to the managementÂ Obajana cement intimating it that the action of the union was legal and not criminal in nature. We request your timely intervention by prevailing on the commissioner of police, Kogi state, command to drop all criminal allegations against the defenseless workers, and also to withdraw all the public advertsÂ on those declared wanted as the said publication was made in bad faith.â€
Ministry futile attempts at intervention
Labour Vanguard gathered that the Kogi state office of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, made several efforts to resolved the dispute, but to no avail.
In one of such efforts, the state controller of Labour, in a letter to the Managing Director of Obajana, titled â€œRe-Unionisation of Workers of Obajana Cement Company Plc, advised the management to allow the workers to join union because such right is guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution.
According to the Controller, â€œThe attention of this office has been further drawn to the formal organisation (unionization) of employees of Obajana Cement Company Plc.Â Obajana site of the company, copy of formal introduction of elected officials of which has been sent to this office for information, record and further necessary action.
Following from the above therefore and line with the provisions of Trade Unions Act Cap 437 of 1990 and the labour Act Cap 198 0f 1990 as they relate to workersâ€™s unionsation in any establishment/workplace, this office is satisfied that the aforementioned Trade Union (NUCRFLANMPE) has fulfilled all the procedures/ stages required by law as captured in the following underlisted sections of the Labour and Trade Union Acts viz; section 5 subsections 1, 2,3 a & b and sections 22, 23 and 24.
Consequently,this office by virtue of the powers conferred on it by the various Acts highlighted above hereby strongly advises you to accord prompt recognition to NUCFRLANMPEÂ as well as the in-house branch executive officials of the union recently elected to operate peacefully and responsibly at Obajana Cement company without hindrance.
This is because, recognition of duly registered Trade Unions by established corporate organisation in consonance with the subsisting Trade Unions Act and the relevant conventions of the International labour Organisation (ILO) is a matter of law and not choice. And for further information and compliance of management, appropriate check-off dues are also to be deducted as per individual workerâ€™s who are eligible members of the unions as enunciated above please.