COVID-19 BATTLE: IMPUNITY BY RIVERS GOVERNMENT MUST END NOW!
We condemn in very strong terms the arrest and incarceration of Nigerian workers discharging their lawful duties in Rivers state. That Pilots and Oil and Gas worker’s despite being on essential service and at the frontline of the nation’s battle against COVID-19 pandemic would be languishing in jail at this time is most unfortunate and horrendous. If this does not negate and defeat this effort, nothing else would.
The national president of united labour congress Comrade Joe Ajaero in press release dated 9th of April 2020 said ‘’We had at the beginning of this battle against the Pandemic alerted governments at all levels of the danger of the actions of their agents in the field who have continued harassing our members carrying out their lawful duties in our effort to collectively defeat the Coronavirus outbreak. We had informed Nigerians that reports reaching us suggest increased threat to the lives and liberties of our members in many parts of the country by overzealous security agents of the state.
Our cries perhaps were not heeded and may have allowed the drama taking place in Rivers state to unfold. We do not understand the idea behind the arrest and prosecution of Aircraft Pilots and Workers of the Oil and Gas sector by the Government of Rivers state. These workers were not on their own frolic but were on assignment for their employers and were also fortunately in their duty posts when arrested by the agents of the state government.
These hardworking men were properly cleared by the relevant Aviation authorities and appropriately instructed by their Employers – Caverton helicopters and the Oil and Gas Company moving their workers to fill gaps in their operations in Rivers state as our investigations have shown in these past days.
We do not therefore see where they have erred to warrant the very irresponsible actions of the agents of the state government. If the state Government wants to arrest anybody at all, we believe that Caverton Helicopters and the Oil and Gas Companies should have been the target and definitely not these hardworking and obedient workers. Leaving the powerful to arrest the weak is always an unfortunate game in Nigeria and any action that is stripped of morals suffers irretrievably.
We do not know whether the state government ever considered carrying out investigations into the status of the flight and the workers who are the passengers? If it did, what were their findings? Did these findings justify their actions against these men?
All the same we are forced to conclude that the agents of the state may have been in an indecent hurry to punish the perceived offenders and that may have explained this very callous action against the workers. We are sure that proper investigations were not conducted as clearly shown by the sequence of events.
The Pilots and others were arrested nearly in the afternoon, rushed to a Magistrate Court that was hurriedly convened despite the COVID-Lockdown of all Courts by the CJN, charges read and case adjourned to May, 2020 while remanding them in Prison custody that is already congested.
It becomes clear that the Script and magic behind this unusual efficiency by the nation’s judiciary may have been written by individuals who care less about the Rights and Liberties of other fellow citizens and who may have been out to achieve objectives that are less than honourable using the workers as pawns.
Anyway, ULC states that the Rivers state government clearly acted beyond its Powers. The nation’s Airspace is in the Exclusive List in the constitution and can only be controlled by the federal government. The workers arrested in the place of work makes it an Industrial Relations matter thus a Labour matter which is also in the Exclusive List under the purview of the federal government. What these foregoing portends is that the state government may have acted without due caution thus allowing itself to be misled into jumping into territories that are clearly not theirs.
When we look at this within the context of the COVID-19 national strategy, it is still clear that these workers were not in any way endangering the battle but were risking their lives in maintaining skeletal services throughout the nation so that most of us can comfortably stay at home in observance of the Lockdown. Instead of therefore detracting from the battle, the workers were contributing positively to a successful outcome in the battle against the disease therefore, deserves the commendation of all and especially the Rivers state government instead of imprisonment.
ULC therefore demands the immediate and unconditional release of these Workers and the Pilots. This will go a long way in showing Nigerians that the state government is not pursuing other agenda and is not anti-workers and truly anti-labour. This is given the fact that the Rivers State Secretariat of a sister labour centre has been under lock and key by the state government for the last few months without proper explanation.
In any case, we want the state Governor to personally ensure that justice is immediately done where it concerns these Pilots and workers who are the members of the United labour Congress of Nigeria (ULC). The Governor must personally demonstrate that he is not anti-labour and did not approve the actions of his agents. He must show courage by correcting the anomaly unless he is telling Nigerians that it would be better that the Hospitals do not operate, the Filling stations do not operate, the tanker Drivers do not transport products, and our generators do not run, our Aircrafts and Airports do not operate and of Course, that Electricity to our homes are not supplied since refusal to release them criminalizes the provision of these services by Nigerian workers across the nation.
We are not that other Labour centre and do not have any grouse with the state government and would appreciate if this apparent error is corrected immediately. We want to assure the state government of our commitment to our affiliates and their members and our determination to articulate, protect and project their interests wherever and whenever needed. Any circumstance that threatens or jeopardizes these interests compels us as a responsible labour centre to rise up.
The Electricity workers, Oil and Gas workers and the Aviation workers to mention but a few are some of our members on essential services within the COVID-19 engagement framework as declared by the federal government. Unless the Government of Rivers is claiming superiority over the federal government directive on this, we urge respect for these categories of workers. They must be allowed to discharge their duties unfettered and this is not a very difficult thing to demand of Rivers state government and indeed other governments that may be thinking of doing the same.
We are surprised at the silence of the federal government on this matter though some half-hearted comments have come out urging the state government to release the workers. Perhaps, the federal government is afraid or something else! Since they cannot resolve it, we cannot continue allowing our people suffer because they have chosen to play brinkmanship with them. Our actions will no longer be announced. It will be sudden and it will be compelling if nothing is immediately done by those concerned. We cannot be working while they sleep and they turn around to punish us. That is unacceptable.
This is not the time to make threats but we must protect our members all over the nation if these harassment and intimidation continues. We will be left with no option than to withdraw our members from their duty posts pending when their lives, rights and freedom are guaranteed by the various governments. This we shall do without recourse to any process as it impinges on the lives of these workers and will amount to negligence if we allow them to continue being exposed to abuse and violations as they go about serving the nation and rendering services so that we can successfully defeat COVID-19 Pandemic.
If our demand is not immediately heeded, we want to put the state government on notice that we shall not accept the hiding of any one under the cover of the COVID-19 to abridge the rights of citizens as such, we shall embark on actions that will shut down Rivers state now and after the Lockdown under the code name ‘’PINDOWN RIVERS’’
The People of Rivers state should hold their government responsible for any consequences that may arise out of our effort to protect the rights and liberties of fellow Nigerian workers as a result of the government’s refusal to heed the laws of the federation and its wrong-headed insistence of trampling with impunity such fundamental rights.
it is important that we state that the state Government has every right to protect its citizens especially at this time and we do not have any problem with that. Our problem starts from where in its exercise of such rights, it tramples on the rights of workers and affiliates. If it has issues with Caverton Helicopters, it must pursue that but leave workers out of it. That is our candid advice to the government of Rivers state.
Rivers state Government must demonstrate goodwill and fellowship at this time by correcting its mistake. That is the only way we can all see ourselves as partners in this collective battle against the COVID-19 and in the overall journey towards building a great nation.
Comrade Joe Ajaero (President – ULC)