July 22, 2024

Workers Day: How workers protested, booed governor over poor welfare

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Ofonime Honesty, Uyo

The 2023 Workers Day celebration in Akwa Ibom State was not a well-attended one, as the Ibom Hall Grounds, the venue for the event, was sparsely occupied.

What used to be a huge state function, where solidarity with workers is celebrated, paled into a low-key affair.

A major absentee was the state Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel. The low turnout was worsened by the drab mood at the Ibom Hall Arena along IBB Way, Uyo.

The mood seemingly mirrored the growing government-related inadequacies of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – the umbrella bodies of all the labour unions.

The governor’s representative at the event, Deputy Governor Moses Ekpo, couldn’t help but pause intermittently as boos and jeers swarmed the atmosphere as he delivered the Governor’s address.

NLC for some years running has been venting frustration over increased taxation of workers, irregular payment of leave grants, non-payment of pension arrears of retired primary school teachers, gratuities, death benefits, poor implementation of the signed agreement on 13-point demand by the NLC in 2020, refusal to inaugurate labour nominee for the State’s Fiscal Responsibility Council, as provided for by the Fiscal Responsibility Law (2020), among other concerns.

At the event, the NLC State Chairman, Comrade Sunny James wasted no time in re-echoing the Congress’ concerns.

He insisted on the implementation of a 5-Point Agenda bordering on living wage/ prioritisation of workers’ welfare, education, healthcare, industrialisation of the state economy and physical security, social protection and good governance.

But he sounded like one who has lost hope that the Udom Emmanuel administration would implement the charter. He appeared to hang the union’s hopes on the next administration expected to set sail in 2023.

According to him, NLC will support a candidate that will alleviate their plights.

“A few days ago, as part of the activities to mark 2022 Workers’ Day, Organised Labour in the State held a Workers’ Political Conference with a major Agenda of unveiling the Charter of Demands to the public as our expectations from the upcoming or would-be leaders in our State.

“The conference resolved to invite all flag-bearers of Political Parties after the primaries to the Labour House for adequate engagement on our Charter, in order to deliberate and exchange their manifestos and establish time-lines on all items which will bring the needed good governance to our people,” the NLC Chairman disclosed.

He particularly emphasized that “only the Candidate that honour our Invitations and agreed with workers to resolve issues as contained in our 5-points Charter, shall be supported together with our families during the elections of 2023.”

James equally implored Governor Emmanuel to assent to all pending Bills including the Youths Development Fund Bill and Bill Establishing Akwa Ibom State College of Science and Technology, among others as well as encourage full implementation of financial autonomy of Local Government, Judiciary and the Legislature in the state.

Analysing Comrade James’ speech at the event, a Public Affairs Analyst, Mr Unyime Ubong, in a chat with our correspondent said it was more like a cry for help.

“Comrade Sunny James whom I have known right from when he used to patronize my computer business centre back then, has always been a leader to reckon with. He does not bend his virtues nor does he mince words. He sounded like one who has given up on this administration. It was more like a cry for help to the next administration that will take over from Udom Emmanuel. I’m glad he seized the occasion to address the issue headlong rather than playing to the gallery.”

Governor Emmanuel, whose remark on how his administration has made workers’ welfare a top priority drew boos and jeers from the crowd at Ibom Hall.

Represented by his Deputy, Mr Moses Ekpo, he, however, urged workers to be hopeful for better days ahead.

NLC, at the event, sent a rescue plea to the next administration, as two governorship aspirants, Senator Ita Enang of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Rt Hon Onofiok Luke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), were there to address workers.

Both took turns to salute workers on their immense contributions to state-building and promised to better their welfare if elected.

March passed by various labour unions added a few minutes of little fun to what was largely a joyless event which was the second to the last Workers’ Day Udom Emmanuel would witness as governor.

The event was definitely not a glittering rehearsal for the governor’s eventual farewell to workers during Workers Day of May 1st in the electioneering year of 2023.

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