Strike: Police Beat, Teargas & Arrest Labour Leaders In Ebonyi
•NLC chairman sustains leg, head injuries
•Labour demands release of members
•Strike paralyses states
•Labour demands release of members
•Strike paralyses states
The police yesterday descended on labour leaders in Ebonyi State for organising rally to protest the hike in the pump price of petrol from N86 to N145 per litre. Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ikechukwu Nwafor, was beaten and injured by the police in Abakaliki during a peaceful rally in support of the on-going strike declared by a faction of the NLC. Nwafor, who was teargassed by the police, sustained leg and head injuries.
He was bundled into a police Hilux van and whisked to police headquarters in Abakaliki, the state capital. Other labour leaders also sustained varying degrees of injuries during the rally. The labour leaders had gathered at the NLC secretariat located along Ugwuachara Road, Abakaliki and commenced the rally.
On getting to Bishop Mcgretrick Pastoral Centre along old Enugu Road, the labour leaders were intercepted by a team of policemen, who were in three Hilux vans and who immediately fired teargas on them, leading to pandemonium in the metropolis as people scampered for safety. This was as some policemen threw teargas while others descended on the labour leaders.
The labour leaders were later arrested and taken to the police headquarters, where they were detained. Addressing reporters, Nwafor, who was in police custody alongside other labour leaders, said: “We were on a peaceful rally over the fuel price increase and electricity tariff when we were attacked and it is a protest that is on-going all over the country and we notified the police of the protest.
“We gave them a letter on the protest. After I called the Commissioner of Police and she didn’t pick the call, we made sure that the letter was delivered to the commissioner and then commenced the rally. “We were marching peacefully when policemen came and attacked us. They tear-gassed and beat me up.
Five policemen bundled me and threw me into their Hilux van and that was why I broke my hands and legs like this. “As you can see, I can’t walk, I’m being assisted to walk and yet, the police refused to allow me to go so that I can go for treatment,” he said. In a reaction, the state Commissioner of Police, Ibekwe Abdallah, noted that the labour leaders were organising illegal meeting that could spark off violence in the state when police got to know about it and dispersed them. Abdallah added that she received a letter from the labour leaders over their planned protest and that the letter was brought to her office at the time the labour leaders were on the rally.
Workers in the state were seen at their duty posts when our correspondent visited different government offices in the state.
The leadership of the NLC has demanded for the release of the labour leaders. While demanding for the immediate release of the arrested labour members, the Congress said it would not allow any distraction to take it off the struggle path. NLC General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, in Abuja, warned that overzealous security personnel should not escalate the protest, which has been peaceful. The Labour body said that the struggle continued, no matter government’s intimidation.
“We urge overzealous police personnel who arrested and detained some of our members in Ebonyi State to unconditionally release them immediately. “We would use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all overzealous security personnel. “This has been a peaceful protest and we intend to keep it so.
They should do nothing reckless to escalate it,” Eson said. The protest, which took off at the popular Berger Roundabout, Abuja moved through Area I and Central Business District with improved participation.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the NLC may call off its two-day old industrial action anytime from today. This is even as the NLC yesterday agreed to resume negotiation with the Federal Government on the strike action over deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry. The agreement was reached at a mediatory meeting with Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, last night in Abuja, according to a statement by his media adviser, Turaki Hassan.
Dogara and the NLC leaders, led by the national president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, met behind closed doors for one hour where the agreement was reached. During the meeting, the speaker made passionate appeal to the labour leaders to consider national interest over and above all other interests even as they deliberate to take decision on the current strike action. The speaker urged the NLC to, in the interest of the nation, consider suspending or calling off the strike action while negotiations continue.
Responding, Wabba thanked the speaker for his interest in resolving the crisis through mediation and assured that they will report the discussions to the larger body of their members.
Consequently, the NLC resolved to communicate the new development to the larger body comprising of all its affiliate unions because “we have absolute confidence in the leadership of the speaker.” Speaking after an earlier meeting with the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, Wabba said that Labour was open to negotiation with the Federal Government on the dispute. The NLC President, however, insisted that the strike embarked upon by the union would continue.
Wabba, who is leading a faction of the NLC, also clarified that the union had never staged a walk out on the Federal Government delegation, contrary to media reports.
However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joe Ajaero-led NLC faction which controls the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Electricity Employees and others refused to participate in the strike, calling for support for government.
Saraki said that the NLC had shown commitment for dialogue, assuring that the National Assembly would play its role in resolving the crisis.
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