There was confusion in Kaduna, the Kaduna State capital, on Tuesday when thugs attacked workers at a rally organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress as the strike in the state entered the second day.
The NLC, in a statement by its Acting General Secretary, Ismail Bello, condemned the attack and threatened to embark on a nationwide strike.
Earlier, the state Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, had declared the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, wanted for economic sabotage.
The state workers had on Monday begun a five-day strike over the governor’s retrenchment of 45,000 workers and the alleged anti-labour policies of the government.
The strike paralysed the state on Monday as civil servants, aviation and rail workers joined the industrial action.
On Tuesday, the workers, as early as 7am converged on the state NLC secretariat along the Race Course Road, Ungwan-Rimi, Kaduna, from where they marched to NEPA Roundabout at 11am.
It was learnt that the NLC planned to march to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House, along Sokoto road in the metropolis.
But trouble started at 12pm when hoodlums in hundreds with dangerous weapons such as clubs, knives and stones attacked workers and labour leaders.
Suspected thugs who came in two vehicles hauled stones at the workers, chasing them to the other side of the Ahmadu Bello Way before the NLC members, who were more in numbers retreated and chased them (thugs) away.
But for the police Special Force that accompanied the NLC members, who swiftly moved to avert the crisis, it would have snowballed into a bloody clash.
Other police operatives stationed by the side of the roundabout fired teargas canisters to disperse the hoodlums while the NLC mobilised its members to chase the thugs away. The attack lasted for less than an hour.
Speaking at the rally shortly after the confusion, the NLC president alleged that the state government hired the hoodlums to attack the peaceful rally, saying that “we have dismantled them.”
Wabba said, “I called the Department of State Services headquarters, I called the DIG Operation. I also called the State(Kaduna) Director of the DSS, I gave them the information.
“While we are here (NEPA roundabout), they(thugs) came but we thank God that we have dismantled them. We have chased them away because we have the numbers.
“We have no thugs and we are not using thugs but we have Nigerian workers. And we thank God that we will catch them alive and we are going to dismantle them.”
El-Rufai had earlier on Tuesday declared the NLC president and other officials of the union wanted for sabotaging the economy of the state.
The governor tweeted, “Ayuba Wabba & others of @NLCHeadquarters declared wanted for economic sabotage and attacks on public infrastructure under Miscellaneous Offences Act. Anyone that knows where he is hiding should send a message to @MOJKaduna KDSG. There will be a handsome reward!”
But curiously, the NLC President was at the rally at the NEPA roundabout, which the thugs interrupted.
When asked about the order of the governor declaring him wanted, Wabba laughed it off, saying he was not hiding as claimed by the governor.
He said, “I am here sound and direct. Is he (El-Rufai) court?”
Earlier at the launch of the Kaduna State Agricultural Policy held at the late General Hassan Katsina House, Kawo, Kaduna, the governor said he would not compromise with the labour leaders over the sacking of workers.
El-Rufai claimed that the union had attacked facilities in the state as such risk being prosecuted.
He said, “They have attacked facilities. They have engaged in economic sabotage. That’s an offence under the miscellaneous act and we want him (NLC President) .
“We bring him to justice. We are looking for him. He should report to the nearest police station or report to us. He will be prosecuted for economic sabotage.”
When asked if the two parties had reached compromise, El-Rufai said, “There are no grounds for compromise. They have used their last ultimate weapon. It will not change anything. It will not change our position and that’s it.”
Meanwhile, as of the time of filing this report, the train station located at Rigasa in the Igabi Local Government Area of the State, was shut to passengers and the railway workers.
Some schools both public and private complied with the directive to withdraw their services. This was just as banks and other financial institutions fully complied with the directives of the national body of the NLC.
Also on Tuesday, the state government dismissed all nurses below Grade Level 14 for their “illegal participation” in the strike.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Muyiwa Adekeye, disclosed this in a statement titled, ‘Kaduna not tolerate criminal acts disguised as industrial action.’
The statement also likened the action of the NLC to those of bandits ravaging the state.
It alleged that nurses disconnected oxygen from a two-day-old baby in an incubator on Monday at the Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital, when they joined the strike.
It added, “Apart from referring the nurses involved to the ministry of justice to initiate prosecution, the government also announced the dismissal of all nurses below Grade Level 14 for the illegal strike.
“Ministry of Health has been directed to advertise vacancies for the immediate recruitment of new nurses to replace those dismissed’’
Besides, the statement directed all government’s ministries to submit their attendance registers to the head of service while the Kaduna State University should submit same to the Secretary to the State Government and the Commissioner of Education.
The government noted that salaries that could have been paid to the dismissed nurses would be given as extraordinary occupational allowances to the health workers who were at their duty posts to fill the gap of those absconding from duty.
The special adviser likened “The actions of the NLC to the actions of the bandits kidnapping and menacing our citizens. Bandits illegally use arms, but the NLC is deploying mob action for exactly the same ends.
‘’Efforts to dress up a criminal activity as industrial action do not change the reality of lawbreaking that has unfolded, including their persistently ignoring the prohibition against impeding essential services.”
The NLC acting secretary, Bello, in his statement, vowed that the congress would continue its protests.
In the statement titled, ‘Mr Nasir el-Rufai lives up to his name, cowardly instigates street violence against innocent protesting Nigerian workers,’ he explained that the street protest which was in response to the sacking of workers by the state government started peacefully on Monday and continued on Tuesday with Wabba and other labour leaders leading the workers’ march.
He said, “Just towards the end of the address of Comrade Ayuba Wabba, a convoy of the Kaduna State Governor approached the NEPA Junction, at the heart of Kaduna metropolis where today’s protest was staged.
“Immediately the governor’s convoy beat a retreat from the sea of human heads that had shown up in solidarity with Nigerian workers, busloads of thugs and hooligans drove into NEPA Roundabout from the axis where security operatives supposedly had cordoned off. What happened next can only be described with words apt for a war front.
“The weed-smoking hoodlums disembarked from the buses that brought them, brandished all manner of weapons and surged towards the protesters who were by this time seated under any available shade and listening to the speeches made by their leaders.
“To our greatest consternation, while the hired killer squad attacked the workers, the initial response of the security operatives who were there presumably to protect the protesting workers was “siddon-look”, and subsequently, entreaties with the criminal mob.
“It was only when the workers began to defend themselves did the security operatives get into the fray – and their first action was to fire tear gas canisters at protesting workers.”
The congress said it was consulting with its organs on the next line of action, noting that a declaration of nationwide strike was not excluded from their considerations.
It noted, “We are already consulting with the organs of our movement on the next line of strategy in our struggle given Mr El-Rufai’s disdain for social dialogue and peaceful resolution of issues. An immediate declaration of national strike is not excluded from our immediate considerations.
“Another attack by Mr El-Rufai will most likely automatically activate a nationwide solidarity action with Kaduna State workers.”
But the Chairman of the Nothern Governors’ Forum and Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, in a statement on Tuesday by his Press and Public Affairs, Macham Makut, called for calm saying that only dialogue would resolve the issues between the two contending parties.
“While calling for dialogue and negotiations which is a long standing dispute mechanism in labour relations, the Northern Governors called for restraint and de-escalation of the situation to enable for amicable settlement of the issues in question,” he stated.
Meanwhile, some senior lawyers have described the threat by El-Rufai to arrest Wabba as dictatorial and unconstitutional.
A human rights activist and lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, in an interview with The PUNCH, said El-Rufai’s action was dictatorial and despotic.
He said, “El -Rufai should not dare arrest the NLC chairman or dismiss the nurses. He has suddenly become dictatorial and despotic, reminding us of Hitler and Mussolini.
“The right to freedom of expression, movement, association, right to liberty and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, etc., are basic human rights guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, and universally recognised under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter On Human And People’s Rights, the European Charter on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other international instruments.
“The right to protest without even seeking Police permission has been serially upheld by Nigerian appellate courts.”
In a similar vein, legal practitioner, Remi Olatunbora, SAN, described the declaration as an empty threat.
He said, “The right of the NLC to withdraw their services, which is what we call strike, is guaranteed under the Constitution of Nigeria and extant labour law.
“The governor’s pronouncement is an empty threat. It is as empty as it was pronounced.
“It has no legal basis and does not hold any water in law. No law enforcement agency can enforce that.
“Such pronouncement has no place in a democratic regime. Only a dictatorial regime can make such pronouncement.”
On his part, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) said the governor was misunderstanding the extent of his powers as “the Chief Executive of Kaduna State.”
According to him, a protest is part of the rights that citizens enjoy in a democracy, so the people of Kaduna have the right to call for a strike if they believe that they are not being served well.
He stated, “Declaring the leader of the Nigeria Labour Congress wanted is misappropriation of power as a governor. It is not one of the attributes of democratic governance. Declaring people wanted for embarking on a strike action is misconceived.
“Therefore, I do not think that what the governor has done is right. The matter ought to be resolved in a court and luckily for us, El-Rufai will not be the judge.”
The Federal government has asked the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Kaduna State Government to avoid escalating the crisis.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige made the appeal in a statement by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the Ministry, Charles Akpan, on Tuesday.