By Johnson Ikechukwu
The strike by the members of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress brought about different hardships to Nigerians, with many of the state capitals in the country engulfed in mass protests and civil unrests.
The removal of fuel subsidy is a vexed issue which generated heated arguments in the past and will continue to be a source of debate for sometime because of its many faceted differences and speakers, especially against the background that those who insisted on the removal have been accused of not doing enough to show transparency in their dealings.
While there was conflagration in many parts of the country, observers that have shown keen interest in Abia State have described the strange departure of the organised labour unions and its affiliates as something worth investigating. Aside from the industrial action of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU last year, the last strike that has been witnessed in the state since then has been the one embarked on by the South East arm of the ASUU insisting on receiving the same pay packet as their colleagues in federal universities.
Since the enthronement of the present administration for a second and final tenure last May 29, the state has never witnessed any industrial unrest. While the entire country was engulfed in strike over the new minimum wage, Abia State remained largely free of such strike.
Labour unions shunned the strike based on the agreement with Governor Theodore Orji that he would pay the new wage. In the same way, leaders of organised labour unions though in support of fuel subsidy protest did nor participate in street protests and demonstrations.
Before the commencement of the strike, the union led by Sylvanus Eye had meet with other unions and affiliate bodies to intimate them of the strike and the need to ensure that all directives issued by the national leadership were carried out to its letters. He had said mass protest was an option.
Following a meeting between union leaders and Governor Theodore Orji, the groups decided to call off street marches. The commercial city of Aba, noted for its anti-government decisions chose to remain quiet and not only embark on its usual business as the days of the strike spread, but to also remain adamant to the issues at stake speaks volume and a lesson in leadership and statesmanship.
Aba, the commercial nerve centre is a mixture of all the tribes in the country, majority of them largely limited in their education, whose major concern is buying and selling. It also has handful of entrepreneurs for which the city is often called the Japan of Africa as these local and national entrepreneurs can match the products of their peers across the globe with ingenuity and wisdom.
The group has always spoken out in matters of national discuss and champion several protests on poor infrastructure, insensitivity of government towards the governed, insecurity and such other issues as the removal of fuel subsidy. The analysts explained that in the early days of the insecurity in Abia State when kidnappers and armed bandits turned the area into home of disorder and brigandage, the entrepreneurs not only spoke out and demonstrated, but also started relocating their businesses from the commercial city.
When the issue of infrastructural decay especially the hardship on all the federal and state roads became unbearable for them, the traders demonstrated. Before now, the government of Abia State had embarked on the rehabilitation of the Aba/Owerri road and the Port Harcourt, all federal roads in the commercial city. It also embarked on the reconstruction of state roads and therefore doused the tension that had already been generated.
Dr. James Ukachukwu, a university don insists, “The significance of what is happening in Abia State must be seen as a departure from the natural, where events would have been concluded to have taken place even before it started. I see a new turn of events in Aba and Abia State and the only conclusion I have reached so far is that there is a strange departure from the style of governance in the state, which in turn has ushered in a new style of doing things.”
According to him, “I remember that when insecurity was high in the state, these people took the bull by the horn and told government the truth about the matter. Without prompting, Aba residents take to the streets to support labour and its affiliates. I can tell you authoritatively that during the strike action by ASUU in the South East universities, the help of the residents of Aba had been solicited in order to give the strike an unprecedented hype.
“It would have become a reality if government in its wisdom had not quickly stepped in and done our bidding. So for them to choose to go about their businesses and not demonstrate on the streets is an indication that they have seen something different and are happy now.”
Dr. Ukachukwu explained that from the point of view of analysts, Governor Theodore Orji has done well and did not need to ban street demonstrations as a way of keeping people in their homes. “What we have observed is that Nigerians are not difficult people. All they want are the necessities of life and to be told the truth. We have observed this trait largely in Abia State. In all major decisions that the present administration has taken, consultations have been very broad and stakeholders allowed making their inputs.
“Once you enjoy the confidence of the people and carry them along in the scheme of things, then you can be rest assured that when you speak, the people will listen but if you chose to become a tyrant, of course the people of Enyimba city will rise to say no.”
In conclusion, let me say that the massive road reconstruction and rehabilitation, the return of shops to the deserving owners and the turning of the state into one big construction site is largely responsible for the followership the governor enjoys today and it will remain so as long as he does not depart to the left or to the right. If he maintains the tempo of the delivery of democracy dividends, embarks on constant interaction with the people and putting his cards on the table for all to see, I see him not losing the confidence of the people.”