INTERVIEW: Why Kogi workers won’t return to work now – NLC Chairman, Edoka Onu

Photo: KogiReports

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Aminu Adamu, the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress in Kogi State, Edoka Onu, speaks on why civil servants in the state will not call off their strike now. 
He also speaks on the policy of the government restricting the accounts of civil servants to only two banks, namely Zenith and Access Banks.

PT: The industrial action in Kogi has lasted for three to four weeks now and nothing has been done to call it off. What exactly is going on?

Onu: Strike action is a legitimate means of pressing home  workers demands. The workers, under the auspices of the NLC and TUC embarked on an indefinite strike to press for series of demands from the state government.  Being the norm and practices globally and nationwide, when workers embarked on strike the next stage is for the two sides to call for meeting and seek for lasting solution.
I can assure you that ever since the organised labour union in Kogi state embarked on an indefinite strike, the government in the state hasn’t deem it fit to call us for a meeting or set up committee to meet with the leadership and discuss on how to find a lasting solution to the ongoing strike in the state. Governor Yahaya Bello is yet to show any remorse hence, we must not be tired of staying at home. 

Our stand remains that we ignore Zenith bank and Access like a leper and our schools are to remain closed to all activities. Ignore government lies and propaganda, we are workers not political movements and it is unfortunate that the governor is treating civil servants like political opponents. The directors and permanent secretaries have been placed on compulsory leave since December. Till now, no salaries and nothing and for the offence we don’t know.

We have a case of workers intentionally omitted from the screening exercises carried out by the government. We know of some that have done so many years in services and ended up being declared ghost workers.
We are not in support of any ghost activities in the civil service, the organize labour frowned at it, but a situation where government is carrying out retrenchment and labelling some of them ghosts and deny them their pay and backlog of salaries is unjust and unacceptable. 
It is unthinkable and unacceptable that the state government can go to the extent of opening bank accounts for workers without their permission and signature, next of kin, or their choice of bank. Government, without any consultation, imposed Access Bank and Zenith Bank on workers and Access Bank has branch only in Lokoja, Kogi state’s capital.
The workers across Kogi East, West and Central have to converge on Lokoja to have access to the state government’s choice of bank and in the process some of them have been robbed on the road, kidnapped by kidnappers and died in the road accident.
The situation is more of slave and servant relationship. The governor has never invited organized labour union for any dialogue or any trace of any official communication from the state government to the union even as at this time of the interview.

PT: Some civil servants in the state have accused NLC of needlessly extending the industrial action in spite of government meeting the terms of agreement entered into with Labour. 
Onu: Who are they? The leadership of organized labour union were elected. We are not fighting for our own personal interest, but common goal, common interest of the state workers, though we are aware of the government’s plans to force the workers back to work with the instruments of coercion, threat and blackmail and possible weaken and divide the organize union in the state. But based on the facts that our stand is known and clear and truth will always prevails, the union remains one and speaking in one language.

Saying that government has met the terms is a hoax, a charade and mere propaganda. We have never held any meeting and so how can he meet our demands? There is no official communication neither has the governor invited the union for any dialogue. Saying they have met up with the terms is a sign of hypocrisy from the side of the government.
Bailout fund is our money. It is strictly for civil servants. Where is the 20Billion Naira Bailout fund released to the state?  Do they tell? Where is the bailout fund? The bailout fund was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the purpose of settling workers salaries and backlog of arrears. The president has warned on the diversion of the bailout fund. Today where is Kogi state bailout fund? The state has been collecting allocation.


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PT: Economic activities in the state are witnessing a serious meltdown as a result of this industrial action. What will be the way forward if the strike persists?
Onu: It is the government that is supposed to put that into consideration. We are aware of the economic implication of the strike but we can’t kill ourselves for that purpose as workers can’t even get transport to their various working places.
Currently FCMB Bank is in court now with the state government. The concerned citizens and the civil union groups in the state have made several appeals to the state government on the need to have a common ground and resolve this industrial crisis amicably but we can’t force ourselves to a meeting. We can’t invite him the governor. He is the father of the state, the chief security officer of the state and whose duty it is to ensure everything is moving fine and have the interest of the common man at heart.
But if he chooses to do it the other way round best known to him…….. We call on media house like yours to also join in making this appeal and inform the government of Kogi state on the implication of a lingering strike.

PT: It was gathered that you did not submit your Bank Verification Number (BVN) as part of government policy to tackle fraud and ghost workers.

Onu: That is part of the blackmail we are talking about. I and other leaders submitted Bank Verification Numbers as requested by the screening committee. I have mine and I submitted it.

PT: You said the government is blackmailing you and other leaders of the state’s organized labour.

Onu: Calling it blackmailing is small. We have received several threats, to my life and that of my immediate family and others union leaders. As at last three weeks, pictures of gigantic beautiful duplex was circulated on the social media by the new media team of the governor that the house belongs to me. They even went to the extent of informing the people of Kogi state that I am demanding the sum of N100m from the bailout fund as a requirement for calling off the strike. It is so amazing and surprising that the state government has descended and degenerated to that low level and given me and other leaders of the union a bad name.  We are not in any personal war with the state government, we are only demanding for what is our right, our entitlement.

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