Owerri, the Imo State capital, was Tuesday, August 25, 2015 shaken to its very foundation following protests by workers of ministries and parastatals over non-payment of their salaries for several months now.
The aggrieved workers who appeared in black attire, with placards bearing such inscriptions: “Stop this greed and pay us our salaries;” “Stop this impunity, pay local government medical and health workers;” “Owelle, pay retired primary school teachers their outstanding gratuities from 1998 to date;” “Our children are dying of hunger;” “We say no to Imo State House of Assembly passing a bill on privatizing state parastatals.” They barricaded all major roads within the city and later proceeded to the State House of Assembly where they kicked against the passage of the obnoxious law legalising and privatising all parastatals in the state.
The Speaker of the House of Assembly, Acho Ihim, who addressed the workers however dismissed the allegation as baseless.
Chanting solidarity songs with invectives on the government for alleged insensitivity to their predicament, the protesting workers later converged on the Freedom Square adjacent the popular Orlu road/Warehouse junction where the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Austine Chilakpu, and his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart, Paul Akalazu, jointly addressed them.
The duo, who decreed that no weapon fashioned against the workers would prosper, wondered how workers in the state could survive amid the nation’s economic down turn without salaries. They lamented that the economy of the state had been grounded as a result of non-payment of their salaries.
“How can we survive without salary and if they slash your salary, do not accept it”, they counseled.
The trade unionists, who gave a breakdown of the unpaid salary arrears owed workers, advised them to remain calm and not to be intimidated by the antics of the State Head of Service (HOS), Mr. Calistus Ekenze, who according to them, had compiled list of workers absent from their duty posts for necessary action.
However, reacting to the protest, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo, leaders of organised labour in the state should be patriotic and avoid being tools in the hands of “some elements.”
Onwuemeodo’s words: “One had expected the leaders of the organized labour in the state to appreciate the concerted effort the state government has been making to totally deal with the issues of salary and pensions. The labour leaders are also expected to show understanding knowing fully well what the general situation is at the moment across the nation.
“The fact remains that the state government has been able, even without the much expected bailout fund, paid the civil servants, teachers and local government workers up to June salaries. The government had also repeatedly made its position known on some of the parastatals, while steps are also being taken to handle issues of salaries in the parastatals once the panels reviewing their cases finish their jobs.”
Source: Daily Independent