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Ogun Government, workers face off: The politics behind the scene

By Charles Coffie Gyamfi Abeokuta
13 November 2016   |   3:30 am
Again the workers are worried that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed at the meeting, was silent on the 16 of their colleagues dismissed, as well as, the 19 suspended during the strike.
 Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State.

Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State.

The 15 days quarrel between Ogun State government and its workers came to an end, as the workers and the government reached a compromise on their disagreement.

The workers suspended the strike and resumed work. But there are apprehensions among the workers that it is not yet Uhuru.

According to them, though their leaders signed an agreement with the government, believing that their demands would be met; they had no cause to rejoice yet. Their reason is that, the government reneged on three past agreements both sides entered into, so they are not sure this one would be different.

Again the workers are worried that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed at the meeting, was silent on the 16 of their colleagues dismissed, as well as, the 19 suspended during the strike.

The agreement followed the outcome of a nine and half hours meeting between the national leaders of five unions with the government in Abeokuta, the State capital. Those who met the government’s team to dialogue for peace were the National Presidents of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Bala Kaigama, National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Ibrahim Khaleel, Joint Public Service Negotiating Council (JNC), Kiri Mohammed and National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Alani Adeniji.

State chairman of the NLC, Comrade Akeem Ambali and the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) chairman, Comrade Dare Ilekoya were among the 16 of the workers who had been dismissed for their role in the dispute.

That Amosun’s government and Labour leaders are fighting surprises many observers. This is because it was Amosun’s administration that built the ultra-modern secretariat for the union, which they are currently using. The strike was the climax of lingering disagreements between the two parties.

In February, the workers concluded plans to begin an indefinite strike. But that was the month President Muhammadu Buhari was to visit, to commission some projects to mark the state’s 40th anniversary.

The government succeeded in persuading the workers to suspend the strike with a pledge to meet their demands later. Both parties, government and workers signed an agreement to that effect. But the government failed to fulfil its own part of the agreement, so they went on strike in March.

Their demands include, “Immediate payment of outstanding 12 months unions’ check off dues, outright stoppage of the contributory pension deductions and immediate payment of 12 months of global deductions, which include (bank loans’ repayment, Co-operatives’ savings, Ileya/festivals savings and gradual payment of retiree gratuity).”

A civil servant who prefers anonymity told The Guardian, “My total salary is N50, 000 and I am contributing N30, 000 monthly to my co-operative society because of the rainy day. But the government, every month deducts the N30, 000 from my salary without paying it to my co-operative society. I decided to stop being a member of the cooperative society but government says no.”

Governor Ibikunle Amosun has accused the labour leaders of allowing themselves to be used by his political opponents. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) spoke in the same vein.

A statement by the party’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Sola Lawal, insisted that the face-off between the government and the workers was the “handiwork of instigators outside the labour circle for purely political reasons.”

Amosun and his party might be basing their allegation on a drama that occurred during the celebration of the World Teachers Day in Abeokuta on Wednesday October 5. The Guardian investigation revealed that, to be able to carry out their plan through, the union leaders, through a consultant had approached some political leaders in the state for support. Among those they approached were Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, alias Yayi, Prince Gboyega Nasir Isiaka, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate in the 2015 Governorship election and Prince Olatunde Rotimi Paseda, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) governorship candidate also in the last election. The Governor was invited as the Guest Speaker.

The education commissioner, Mrs. Modupe Mujota who represented the Governor was reading the Governor’s address when against protocol, Isiaka entered the NUT hall, venue of the ceremony and immediately the atmosphere changed as the audience hailed him with sound ovation. The hired musician, Wole Papa did not help matters as he began praise-singing him to the heavens. Mujota had to stop reading the Governor’s address until sanity was restored. Though Mujota finished reading the Governor’s address, she stormed out in anger.

Isiaka later apologised saying, “I did not know the Governor’s speech was being read, if I knew, I would have waited.”

Immediately after Isiaka finished his apology, Paseda and his entourage entered the venue, resulting in another confusion as the audience began praise-singing him also.

Ilekoya, the NUT Chairman made matters worse when he took the microphone to announce that Senator Adeola (Yayi) was the one who donated a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) to the union as an award to the Most Outstanding Teacher of the year. Besides, he disclosed that Yayi gave the union N5million as his contribution towards the celebration. The applause that greeted the disclosure was deafening.

It must be pointed out that Yayi is one of the top contenders for the state’s governorship Election in 2019. In fact, he made moves to contest the Ogun West Senatorial District Seat under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the 2015 election, but was frustrated.

Few days after the drama at the NUT hall, Governor Amosun had a stakeholders meeting in Abeokuta, during which he accused the labour leaders of playing partisan politics. He made veiled reference to what occurred on the Teachers Day celebration and urged any worker “who wants to play partisan politics” to resign his position and join politics because the political terrain still had wide space to accommodate anyone.

The State Council of Traditional Rulers attempted to persuade the workers to shelve the strike, but the workers shunned a meeting the Monarchs convened.

The workers were still waiting for the government to call them to the negotiation table when on Monday, October 31, the government announced the dismissal of the State NUT and NLC Chairmen together with 14 others.

Ambali, reacting to the dismissal and suspension, warned, “We only want to warn that they should not set this state on fire, even as we urged our members to remain calm and just stay at home. Aluta continua!”

“Our cause for this strike is legitimate, just and right. They have only shown their true colours and this new approach is unprecedented in the history of this country, as no State Governor has done what they are doing to us in Ogun state. Their past draconian efforts have never yielded any fruits, so also will be this move to cage us in Ogun state.”

Ambali who was until his dismissal a deputy director, Community and Social Development, Sagamu Local Government Area, insisted that the government was the one behind their dismissal. But the government has stoutly denied the allegation, saying it was their employer, Civil Service Commission that dismissed them.

A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor, Mr. Olajuwon Soyinka explained, “The allegations against the affected persons, include the fact that contrary to extant public service rules, they got involved in partisan politics by publicly admitting receiving money from a politician and also hiring a musician with whom they sang praises of the said politician while chanting political slogans in the course of World Teachers Day Celebration.”

According to Soyinka, based on the complaints, the Civil Service Commission set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the “complaints and recommend appropriate disciplinary action in line with Civil Service rules and regulations.”

The statement insisted that all proper procedures were followed and all parties given fair hearing.

“The Civil Service Commission only acted in fulfilment of its statutory responsibility and it has nothing to do with Governor Amosun or the ongoing strike,” Soyinka affirmed.

But the factional state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bayo Dayo believes the leaders were sacked on the orders of the government.

In a statement, signed on his behalf by the party’s Publicity Secretary, Mr. Bolaji Adeniji, Dayo said: “The Peoples Democratic Party is using this medium to call on responsible citizens and elder statesmen from Ogun State to call this faltering administration to order and immediately reverse the draconian decision to sack civil servants for exercising their rights.

“This impunity must not stand and Ogun State must not be allowed to drift further down in the hands of an overlord. Surely the regime of the locust shall come to pass.”