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Uzodimma Has Done so Much For Imo Workers


Uzodimma Has Done so Much For Imo Workers

■He Deserves Much Better From Joe Ajaero

By Collins Ughalaa KSC

On Monday, May 1, 2023, workers in Imo State joined their counterparts all over the world to celebrate the 2023 May Day, otherwise called Workers Day. It is a day set aside to celebrate workers and discuss issues around workers and their welfare. Imo State is known across the country for the excellence of its civil service, but over the years, successive administrations paid lipservice to the plights of the workers and the civil service itself, leading to a lowering of standard, low output and poor welfare package. The workers were seen as second class – or third class members of the society who could barely fend for themselves. The civil service became a cesspool of corruption.

By the time Senator
Hope Uzodimma became governor in January 2020, the entire civil service had decayed while retired civil servants had not been paid their gratuities for over a decade. Now, it is over 16 years since the last time gratuities was paid in 2007, and it now amounts to over N169BN. Fulfilling salaries and pensions obligations became a serious challenge. The first step the governor took was to cleanse the payroll system and remove the corruption that has ravaged the civil service and to restore its battered glory. While restoring the morale of the workers that had gone down by providing the permanent secretaries with official cars – the first time in over a decade – the governor embarked on a verification exercise to determine the actual number of civil servants and pensioners in the state, and the attendant wagebill.

It was, therefore, emotional listening to the workers reel out reasons they filed behind the governor, gave him an award, and assured him of their unwavering support for his second term bid. Unsettled by the positive outcomes for the governor, some agents of confusion and anarchy have taken to the media to expose their fear for their impending defeat in November. But speaking through the Chairman of the State Public Service Negotiating Council, Comrade Basil Iwu, the workers testified they have benefitted the most from the Uzodimma administration, as they mentioned the governor’s goodness towards them, including cleansing the payroll system and instituting an automated payment system, resulting to prompt payment of salaries and pensions; free transportation for Imo workers; renovation of the state secretariat, promotion of the civil servants who were last promoted about 10 years ago; approval for service age elongation of 65 years and 40 years of service for Imo teachers and approval of check-off dues to Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP).

It should be noted that a few days to the May Day celebration, the governor had promised that he would commence the payment of gratuities to retired Imo civil servants, which now amounts to over N169bn. The governor assured that the retired civil servants who had passed on would have their gratuities given to their next-of-kin. He had also promised the workers that those who were not captured in the verification exercise would henceforth receive their salaries and pensions in arrears. Beside all these, the governor had two years ago began the payment of 13th month salary to Imo workers. As part of his continuing efforts to have a harmonious relationship with the Labour in the state, the governor also approved the payment of the consequential adjustment arising from the nationally approved N30,000 minimum wage as well as approved compliance on the payment of the three percent check off dues to industrial unions in Imo State. To cap it all, the governor appointed a special adviser on Labour Matters as a way of creating a harmonious labour-employer relationship. It is worthy of mention that the governor on Thursday, May 4, flagged off a free healthcare programme for Imo workers and the vulnerable.

The May Day celebration featured its traditional march past and salute received by the governor. Appearing in different colourful attires, the various labour unions took pleasure in participating in the march past and salute. A bosom friend and colleague of mine who attended the May Day celebration had joked to me saying that the workers had turned the May Day celebration into a carnival. It was fun. Labour leaders took turns to speak on the significance of the day and as well ask the governor to do more for the workers. It has become a tradition for Labour to behave like Oliver Twist and ask for more. The Labour leaders also took time to clarify some of the issues raised by Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin Dada of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero. In one of his infantile outbursts against the Uzodimma administration, he made false claims about payment of workers’ salaries as well as the sack of workers.

Knowing the facts of the matter, the NLC in Imo did not allow the false allegations to slide. They spoke the truth for all to hear. Setting the record straight, the NLC said that contrary to the allegation of interference with the botched NLC election in the state a few months ago, the “Nigeria Labour Congress elections in Imo State, was a labour affair. It is a matter of a Nigeria Labour Congress which the government had no hand in organizing, rather it was the NLC president Joe Ajaero who is bent on instituting his own brother and schoolmate as the NLC Chairman for Imo.”

On Ajaero’s false claim on salaries and sacking of workers, the NLC in Imo said: “It is on record that the present government has never sacked any worker in Imo State, I am the Chairman of the Joint Council, and I testify to it. Therefore, accusing the government of sacking workers is unfounded. Instead, his Excellency, the governor, has directed that some workers who refused to participate in the verification exercise be paid all their salaries.”

The NLC went ahead to recall that “On January 21st, 2021, NLC and TUC committee headed by Comrade Emma Ugboajah visited Imo State and gave the government a clean bill of commendation for the prompt payment of salaries of workers and pensioners even in difficult times. This was in agreement, which they signed with the government. It, therefore, surprises that the same Emma Ugboajah, who is the General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, will come back after 18 months to say that Imo is owing eleven thousand workers. Workers, is it true?” The answer to the question from the workers was a thunderous “No!”.

But smarting from the bloody nose of May Day, the Adolf Hitler of the NLC accused the state government of sending thugs to disrupt the May Day celebration. One wonders which Workers Day celebration was disrupted when everyone saw the peaceful and convivial atmosphere in which the May Day was celebrated. But because he had a predetermined end in mind, Ajaero went on to declare a strike. Imo workers have since ignored the strike action declared by Adolf Hitler and Idi Amin Dada of the NLC and have carried on with their duties because the NLC is not on strike in Imo.

The Chairman of the NLC in Imo, Comrade Philip Nwansi, has since said that Ajaero’s strike action would be resisted. In a press conference on Wednesday, Comrade Nwansi urged Ajaero to call off the strike because Imo workers are not willing to embark on strike and are rather enjoying a robust industrial harmony with the governor and government of Imo state and as such, there was no need for a strike action. “For your records, Governor Hope Uzodinma is not owing any salary arrears. The Governor, in his magnanimity, had earlier directed that the few workers who deliberately refused to participate in the verification exercise be paid their salaries. Similarly, the governor has paid 90% of pensioners in the state. This is according to the state chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners, NUP. The governor has set all machineries in motion to commence the payment of gratuities to the retirees way back from 2007. This is no mean feat. No government in the Southeast has done it. The Organized Labour in Imo state has been engaging the government in robust discussions, and the results of the engagements were the litany of achievements listed here.”

It is worrisome that Joe Ajaero does not care about what the governor has done to better the lives and working conditions of Imo workers. Rather, he is preoccupied with mundane pursuit of agradizememt. No serious Labour leader would gloss over the good efforts of the governor, including the payment of N169bn worth of gratuities after 16 years, payment of salaries to workers who refused to be verified during the verification exercise, among others, to embark on a strike. Such a leader must be on a wild goose chase or on a selfish mission to actualize an agenda antithetical to the interest of the workers.

Collins Ughalaa
Special Adviser (Public Communications) to the Governor.

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