BY GEORGE ONAH, VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG & TONY EDIKE
ENUGU— Commercial and government activities were paralysed in Enugu, yesterday, as thousands of workers in the state civil service and their counterparts from Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo and other states in the South-South zone, led by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Mr Abdulwaheed Omar, staged a protest march through some major roads in Enugu to register their anger over the government’s failure to implement the new minimum wage for workers in the state.
The state government, in its reaction, however, described the labour’s action as uncalled for and unfortunate.
The workers, in a long procession, marched from the Upper Chime Avenue, New Haven, under police escort through Artisan, Ebeano Tunnel, Okpara Avenue and finally converged at the Freedom Square of the State Secretariat.
Labour leaders detained
The labour leaders including Omar; Deputy President, Mr Mohammed; President of TUC, Mr Esele; Mr Owei Lakemfa and Secretary General of National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Mr Joe Ajaero, who arrived Enugu, Wednesday, for the rally, were held hostage for over three hours by a combined team of heavily-armed soldiers and policemen at the Gold Value Hotel, New Haven, Enugu.
Following the intervention of the Inspector-General of Police, who was alerted by the labour leaders, the policemen led by an Assistant Commissioner of Police from the state Police Command allowed the labour leaders to come out of the hotel, where they were held hostage between 7am and 10am.
Condemning the detention of the labour leaders in their hotel in Enugu, chairman of Rivers State TUC, Chika Onuegbu, said the Gestapo-like action of the security men was unacceptable and a gross infringement on the rights of the labour leaders.
Enugu govt reacts
Reacting to the development, the Enugu State Government, in a statement by Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chuks Ugwoke, faulted NLC’s directive to the workers to proceed on an indefinite strike over the minimum wage rift even when Enugu was the only state in the South-East zone that had fully complied with the implementation of the new wage.
The statement reads: “The attention of the Enugu State Government has been drawn to the reports that the NLC had ordered workers in the state to embark on an indefinite strike action over the implementation of the minimum wage. This is, to say the least uncalled for and quite unfortunate.
“It beats the imagination why the labour leaders should give such a directive even when it is on record that the Enugu State Government remains the only one in the geo-political zone to have fully complied with the implementation of the payment of the minimum wage. The implementation was reflected in the payment of the workers’ salaries for the month of August and this is verifiable.
“As a matter of fact, Governor Sullivan Chime had even approved N18,500 as the minimum wage payable in the state. Furthermore, in the implementation of the minimum wage law, the salary of every civil servant in the state was also upwardly adjusted, just as the administration has paid the April to July arrears of the minimum wage. Therefore, the issue at stake cannot be about the payment of the minimum wage.
“Government urges the workers to ignore such an ill-motivated directive by the NLC and continue with their duties because external forces acting out the scripts of people envious of the peace and progress in the state will not be allowed to dictate how we shall function as a state on a non-existent issue.