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Save us from hunger, workers cry out during protest

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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We are hungry, come to our rescue” was the cry of workers under the umbrella of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) as they joined their counterparts all over the country on Tuesday to stage a peaceful protest over the ongoing economic hardship in Nigeria.

The protest which took place in the early hours of the day began at the NLC state secretariat in Alagbaka, Akure, where the State Chairman, Comrade Victor Amoko, addressed his fellow workers, telling them that the protest became necessary after the meeting of NLC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) with the Federal Government the previous night ended without an agreement being reached.

While assuring that the protest was going to be peaceful, even as law enforcement agents were on ground to ensure that it was not hijacked by hoodlums, Comrade Amoko reminded the workers that the protest was a national affair, not against the Ondo State Government.

With their placards conspicuously displayed, and music going on at the background, the workers matched from their secretariat to the  Governor’s office in Alagbaka. The placards contained inscriptions such as “Fix local refineries, end subsidy;” “End insecurity, create jobs and economic prosperity;” “Stop the profligacy in governance, subsidise the poor;” “Health is wealth, remove tax on drugs;” “Stop the hunger, lower food prices;” and “₦ save the naira, stop school fees increase, fund public education;” among others.

The workers who protested amidst cheers from passers-by and bystanders arrived the Governor’s office where the Ondo State Head of Service, Pastor Kayode Ogundele, was on ground to address them on behalf of the State Governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa.

Addressing the representative of Mr Governor, Comrade Amoko stated that workers embarked on the peaceful protest because they had tried all necessary means and discovered that that was the only way out.

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While emphasising that the protest was a national issue and not against the government of the State, Comrade Amoko said, “This is a national issue. I believe that our message will be delivered to Mr president and he will do the needful. We are saying no to hunger and poverty; we reject IMF, World Bank policies. We ask for an end to naira devaluation, support for local production, an end to insecurity, and a stop to prolifligacy in governance.

“Tax the rich subsidise the poor; we agree with the government to remove subsidy but our refineries must work. When you increase school fees, you are telling the poor not to send their children to school. Free education is what we want, not student loan, because student loan is for few people. Only free education will reach everybody. Remove tax on drugs; health is wealth. That is what we have and it has been showcased on our placards. Mr Governor, we are sending you to convey these to our amiable Mr. President for speedy action,” he added.

Addressing the workers on behalf of Mr Governor, the Head of Service, Pastor Kayode Ogundele, thanked the workers for making the protest a peaceful one, saying, “In Ondo State today, there is no doubt that the NLC and TUC who are the key representatives of our labour force have been partners in progress. Ondo State, under the leadership of our amiable governor, has been paying attention to workers’ progress. That is why we have always adopted the principle of peaceful dialogue and I want to appreciate you on behalf of Mr Governor.

Pastor Ogundele who said that the government of Ondo State was not unaware of the prevailing difficult situation  added that the Aiyedatiwa-led administration had taken proactive steps to address the hardship. To buttress this point, he told them that workers’ outstanding salary had been cleared, saying, “This is just one of the critical steps we have taken to ensure we keep workers going.”

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He also reminded his audience that during the last Yuletide, the state government ensured that workers were given their due share of food items distributed by the government. “We have put measures in place to assuage the plight of workers. For example, the free shuttle bus programme should have ended by now, but government continued with the programme to ensure workers enjoyed free transport.”

The civil service boss equally assured that the five CNG buses promised by the state government would soon be available to transport workers through various locations across the state.

Pastor Ogundele noted that Ondo State is of the few states paying what the Federal Government is paying as wage award to cushion the economic hardship on workers, talking about the N35,000 wage award that government workers have been receiving since late last year.

“Before that, we took care of our retirees and the government still raised the issue with me yesterday. I assure you that the N10,000 meant to be paid to retirees will continue.

Answering one of the protesters who asked him about hazard allowance for medical practitioners, Pastor Ogundele said, “We have met with the Nigerian Medical Association and I can assure you that from March, our health workers will be able to get hazard allowance.

At this point, he thanked the workers for ensuring that the protest was peaceful, while assuring them that the  State Government would continue to take proactive steps in the interest of workers. He also promised that Mr Governor would deliver their message to the Federal Government, adding that there would soon be light at the end of the tunnel.

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While responding to questions from journalists after the protest, Pastor Ogundele said, “The ondo state government under Gov Aiyedatiwa appreciate labour for always being ready to dialogue with government because it is only through dialogue that we can make progress. I also appreciate law enforcement agencies for being on ground to ensure that the protest is not hijacked. While restating that the welfare of workers is the state government’s priority, Pastor Ogundele said that the Governor would deliver the workers’ message to Mr President as soon as possible.

Comrade Amoko who addressed the press said that the protest was not just for workers alone but the entire citizenry who had been suffering from economic hardship. His words: “If you take a look at all our demands for today, you will see that they are about the welfare of all Nigerians, not workers alone. If the entire citizenry had come to protest, it could be given political colouration but that is not the case here. There is no political undertone to our protest today.

“The N30,000 minimum wage is no longer feasible. It ought to be reviewed once in five years. Therefore, our agitation for a review is lawful. We could have asked for a review during COVID-19 but we knew it was not yet time then. So, we are pressing for the welfare of both the entire citizens and workers,” he added.

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Save us from hunger, workers cry out during protest

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