. He’s in protective custody – Police
Stephen Ukandu, (News/Features Editor) with Ugo Nosiri, Owerri
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has accused the Police of abducting its National President, Joe Ajaero on the orders of Hope Uzodimma, the Imo State Governor.
Ajaero, according to a statement by NLC, was in Owerri for a rally on Wednesday when he was arrested.
But the Police in a swift reaction, denied arresting the NLC, boss, claiming he was only taken into a protective custody to prevent a mob from lynching him.
NLC accused Uzodimma’s Aide of masterminding the attack against Ajaero under the guise of a misunderstanding among Labour Leaders.
Labour in a statement said: “The Government of Imo State has continued to use the instrument of violence and intimidation against trade unions and their leadership in the state. Just as Nigerian workers gathered earlier this morning led by the leadership of the two labour centres to demonstrate our outrage over the serial and habitual abuse and violation of the rights of workers in the state; the Government unleashed blood cuddling mayhem on the workers.
“Earlier in the morning, Policemen had tried to disperse workers who were gathering at the state NLC secretariat without success. This was followed in the usual manner by thugs who were stationed very close to the Secretariat in several Hilux and Toyota trucks.
“These thugs were later to unleash mayhem on the few workers who had already gathered smashing car windscreens, delivering machete cuts on some, stabbing many, and inflicting all manner of injuries on the workers. GSM handsets were snatched, Laptops taken away and Monies were forcefully taken away by the hoodlums.
“As if that damage was not enough, the President of the NLC; comrade Joe Ajaero arrived the venue accompanied by few individual workers to inspect the carnage and to provide the necessary leadership for the trade union action to continue only to be met by Policemen of the Imo State Police Command who came in their numbers and in several trucks.
“The Police in the usual manner accompanied by thugs led by the Special Assistant to the Governor of Imo State on Special Duties, Mr. Chinasa Nwaneri, leading others like Tapey and Madoka, descended on the President of the Congress after overpowering the few workers who were left after the initial battering, inflicted heavy injuries and big blows to his head and body and kicking him in the process while dragging him on the ground while the Police supervised the mayhem.
“They eventually bundled the President into their waiting van and whisked him away to unknown destination where he is still being held incommunicado as we write. This latest action of the State Government and the Police further demonstrates our earlier cries to Nigerians on the level of violence and impunity going on in Imo State. If the President of the Congress can be abducted in broad daylight and taken to unknown destination by the Police and the State Governor, imagine, what they have been doing to workers and trade union leaders in the state!
“This is mind boggling and unacceptable in sane societies. The use of violence against innocent citizens especially against trade union leaders by the State has unfortunately become the norm. It is a new normal that may cause our nation dearly if people are allowed to get away with such violence and bloodletting.
“All we have been asking the Governor is to honour agreements signed between us and to respect the rights of workers in the state. Workers deserve their wage and if you are in the habit of owing workers, you make their lives unstable and strip them of their humanity. These are some of the things we have asked Hope to do but to which he has refused to heed instead, he believes in the use of intimidation and violence against the workers and the people.
“We call on Nigerian workers, wherever they may be; in the respective industrial Unions; the state Councils and the Branches to be on alert for an immediate nationwide action if by the end of today, the President of the Congress is not released. We cannot be at work while our President is in the gulag and we cannot be at peace when the Government of Imo State continues to disrespect workers and treat them with utter disdain.
“With this statement, we want to put the Nigerian Government on notice that we want the President of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) immediately released. The injuries meted to him must be treated forthwith and his freedom to lead Nigerian workers in a peaceful protest guaranteed. This is what we demand as we proceed to the meetings of the various organs to take decisions on further steps that will be taken. If this is not heeded now, anything that happens in the Country, the Governor of Imo State and the Police Commissioner must be held responsible.
“Nigeria is a Country of Laws and we especially the leaders must learn to work within its ambit. The IGP who is in the State must call his operatives to order to avoid loss of lives, properties and further injuries on innocent workers in Imo State. Workers in Imo State must be free and we must all join hands to ensure that this happens.”
Imo police command debunks arrest of NLC president
Meanwhile, the Police in Imo State have refuted reports alleging that they arrested the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, in Owerri.
In a release by the Public Relations Officer of the command in the state, Mr. Henry Okoye, the command said that the NLC President was in Owerri as part of arrangements of the Congress to mobilise workers for a mega protest rally in the state.
The release stated that in the course of the NLC planning, the command received a report that suggestions arose for the lockdown of some essential facilities particularly the airport which led to some workers and other individuals resisting the picketing process leading to scuffles and heated arguments and an eventual attack on the person of the President by a mob.
“The Imo Police Command upon receiving the report waded in by taking the NLC President into protective custody at the State Command Headquarters to ensure the protection of his life and that he was not lynched in the scuffle that followed.
“The Commissioner of Police thereafter directed that he should be taken to the Police Medical Services, Owerri, where he would be accorded medical attention as a result of the attack, and also provides adequate security cover to proceed on his other legitimate engagements for the day,” the release said.
The release emphasised the existence of a court injunction from the National Industrial Court of Nigeria holden in Owerri with Suit No. NICN/OW/41/2023 dated 27th October, 2023, barring the NLC from holding the intended protest rally in Owerri.
“The Commissioner of Police, Imo State Police Command, CP Mohammed Ahmed Barde, therefore urges all concerned parties to ensure compliance with the Court directives so as to avoid jeopardising the current security arrangements on Owerri and other parts of Imo State, even as the State gears up for the forthcoming electioneering process on 11th November 2023.”