7 July 2000

Nigerian Female Workers Threaten Naked Procession

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) — Female civil servants in Nigeria's economic capital, Lagos, have threatened to march naked on the state house if their detained members were not released within 24 hours, in the latest twist to the 17-day strike by public sector workers.

The workers' leader, Ayodele Akele, issued the ultimatum to the government and the police a few hours after he was released from detention Thursday. The workers are demanding wage increase.

Five other detained workers, including two females, who were arrested along with Akele on Tueday, are still in detention.

One worker was killed and several others injured on Wednesday as the civil servants protested the arrest of their colleagues.

"The state civil servants have resolved to give a 24- hour ultimatum with effect from today (Thursday) to the government and police to release all detained five workers, failing which all the female civil servants will march naked on the governor's lodge," the Council of Industrial Unions (COIU), the umbrella body for the state workers' unions, announced.

The state government was yet to react to the ultimatum, even as it continued denying ordering the arrest of the workers.

In separate letters to state police commissioner Mike Okiro and the director of the country's internal security body, State Security Service, Olusegun Agbaje, Governor Bola Tinubu sought to know the extent of their investigation of Akele's arrest and detention in particular.

"I am concerned that as at today no word has been received of his (Akele's) whereabouts," he wrote before the workers' leader surfaced Thursday.

"Kindly verify from all formations, including the federal operations, if any order was given for the arrest of Mr. Akele and precisely who gave such orders."

But Akele insisted that security operatives, who he said detained him and kept him incommunicado, picked him up.

"I was shoved into a Peugeot car and sandwiched between two men who abducted me to prevent me from knowing where I was being taken to," he claimed, while describing his arrest as a "gangster type situation".

The arrest has generated much controversy in a country where memories of such arbitrary arrests and detention, particularly under the late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, are still too vivid to forget.

Observers say if the arrest and detention of the workers by the police were true, they signal a fearful reversal of the new-found freedom under civil rule, to which the country returned in May last year, after 15 unbroken years of military rule.

Meanwhile, the state government and the workers are yet to reach an agreement on the minimum wage issue.

The workers are still sticking to their demand of 7,500 naira as monthly minimum wage while the government has said it will only pay 5,500 naira as agreed Monday by the governors of the 36 states in the country.

The strike, which has spread to most states of the federation, has also received the backing of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the nation's overall workers body, which issued a statement Thursday justifying the industrial actions.

Senate president Chuba Okadigbo has also commented, saying only the executive arm of government could resolve the running battles in the states.

"We passed the National Minimum Wage Bill on the advice of the executive. It was the bill. There was no contrary bill, even as a private member motion by the state government, or by any other organisation," Okadigbo said Thursday after returning from a trip abroad.

The federal government has rescinded its 1 May announcement stipulating 5,500 naira as monthly minimum wage for state and local government workers, giving both levels of government the latitude to fix their workers' wages.

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