9 November 2004

Nigeria: MFCT Workers Report El-Rufai to God

Lagos — THE authorities of Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (MFCT) were issued a rather surprise package from the ministry's workforce last Wednesday.

The chairman of the coalition of the labour union and human rights groups, Mallam Abdullahi Danja Yahaya, who described himself as a "dead man" had led several hundreds of workers cum prayer warriors made up of Christians and Moslems on a prayer session to the minister's office.

Although the FCT minister had gone for the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting when the workers stormed the minister's office block, his car park became the praying ground for the prayer warriors, even as the minister's aides watched helplessly.

For close to 40 minutes, the protesting workers who brought to a standstill government business engaged in "Dangerous prayers" while many of them were seen on their knees under the harsh sun speaking in tongues, with the Christian and Moslem groups leading the prayers one after the other.

The loud prayers attracted most of the MFCT staffers to the scene thereby paralysing government's business for several hours.

Despite several telephone calls to invite the police, the prayers, which culminated in a protest, persisted until the MFCT Permanent Secretary, Mr. Deji Omotade, stepped down from his office to address the workers.

However, on seeing the permanent secretary, the protest songs peaked when the workers carried their leaders shoulder high. It appeared as if his speech provoked another round of protest.

The permanent secretary told the workers that the protest was uncalled for "at this moment" alleging that only last Monday the minister met with the leadership of labour where an agreement was reached.

He also said that some of the workers' demands, especially those that bother on monetary claims, were being sorted out before payment, while other demands are considered as above the minister's ability.

Speaking to newsmen, the leader of the workers, Comrade Abdullahi Danja Yahaya, said labour had issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Ministry to meet up with some demands.

"But recently the permanent secretary called us to discuss the issue because in our demands there are some that are monetary while there are others that are not.

"So he told us that they are doing something on the monetary claims but that the reforms are above the minister because he was only sent here to carry out the reforms and there is nothing we can do about the reforms.

"He said whether we strike or not there is nothing that can be done but he appealed to us not to go on strike", he said.

Comrade Yahaya disclosed that "last Monday (November 1), the minister convened what he called stakesholders' meeting, which involved market women, traders, labour leaders but not the coalition."

"At the meeting he spoke to us on the reforms and government's intention but to our surprise he failed to speak on any of the issues raised by the coalition.

"And therefore it was only lecture he gave to us and departed, he said the coalition is rubbish and he was not going to listen to us, and that is why we are fighting on" he said.

The coalition chairman declared that "what we are doing today is that of a mere prayer session, and we are using this opportunity to give the minister 12 hours to do something or the struggle continues".

Asked what are their demands he said: "You see what we are saying is that we are Nigerians, we are workers and we are the leaders of the workers, whatever the reform the minister is carrying out, he is the representative of the people because this is democracy, and he can't do all these reforms without carrying us along. That is what we are saying.

"If he informs us of his agenda we can help him to tell our members but as long he continues to stay away from us we will not allow him because we are not robots."

However, in a swift reaction, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the minister, Mr. Kingsley Agha, took time to respond to all the issues raised by the coalition, at a press conference which held moments after the protest, that was eventually dispersed by mobile policemen.

Said he: "The issues being raised included promotion, monetisation, retrenchment restructuring among others.

"On the question of monetization, when El-Rufai came here we discovered that in the budget for last year there was no provision, the minister made it known to the workers but assured that though it was not included, he was going to commence payment from contingency, and has been paying with the payment of September.

"And in the 2005 there is provision for the monetization so that is not an issue".

Mr. Agha said further that "on the issue of promotion, workers of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) a parastatal under the MFCT who have passed their promotional exams are being promoted" and appealed to the ministry staff, like every other worker in any federal ministry that the FCT minister cannot promote as it is only the Head of Service that can effect such promotions.

And the issue of retrenchment he said the reforms are not el-Rufai's reforms, they are the reforms of the civil service introduced by the federal government.

It is just that the MFCT, the Presidency, Information and few others are the pilot ministries. The Presidency has done their own and they sacked some people and nobody heard their own.

"The Ministry of Information is compiling their own, so is finance. And this is based on declining productivity, years of service, age and number of queries in one's file", he added.

The MFCT image maker also reacted to the non-invitation of the coalition, insisting that the coalition is not part of the civil service but a human right group, and that is why "we decided to invite the organised labour," he said.

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