Kaduna — The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) thursday staged a mass protest against the sacking of teachers and local government workers in Kaduna State, despite threats by the police and the state government.
President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, alongside other labour leaders from the 36 states of the federation led the protest in spite of attempts by the police and the state government to stop them.
Also in attendance were presidents and general secretaries of various industrial unions across the country.
Thousands of workers across the state converged on the state secretariat of the NLC located at Lafia Road by Independence Way, Kaduna, as early as 7a.m.
Also, in a desperate attempt to stop the protest, massive security comprising military and police personnel were deployed in strategic points within the metropolis, including the vicinity of the state secretariat of the NLC, where the protest took off at about 10a.m.
Wabba said 8,000 security personnel were deployed to stop the protest.
"I'm aware that about 8,000 forces, including the military, police and civil defense corps were deployed this morning to intimidate us and use maximum force against us. I am also aware that a lot of workers were also intimidated while others were shot.
"Our leader in ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities), Dipo Fashina, who is leading the intellectual angle of our discussion, on his entry into Kaduna was manhandled," the NLC president told workers before commencement of the procession.
He commended the workers "for coming out in large numbers despite the intimidation, despite all obstacles, despite the use of maximum force, including bullets that were used today at the entry from Abuja to Kaduna.
"This is to say that democracy has come to stay; this is to say that citizens have their rights to freedom of association. It is a fundamental human right that no force on earth can stop."
Decrying the sacking of the workers, the NLC president said: "This is not the democracy we bargained for. Democracy is about the rule of law and respecting human beings.
"In the history of our movement, this is where workers fighting for their rights have been intimidated with maximum force. We are fighting for the rights of 36,000 workers and their families who were disengaged from Kaduna State civil service.
"The last time we were here, we were talking about 21,000 teachers. But as we speak, over 4,000 local government workers have been issued sack letters. Over 8,000 workers from ministries, departments and agencies including tertiary institutions have been served letters.
"We cannot keep quiet; this is not the democracy we bargained for. Let me assure you comrades that this is just the beginning. We have now tested the waters and the struggle would be carried to every state in Nigeria and Abuja to tell the powers that be where the problem is."
Wabba said the NLC would continue to strategise even if it has to come to Kaduna every month until the right thing is done.
"Evil cannot succeed over goodness and truth. Nigerians must know the story of Kaduna workers.
"The competency test is false because government had a predetermined number of workers they want to sack. So we know it is a work in progress and no worker in the state is safe.
"But we are confident that we cannot be defeated; they can use force but we can use our number. Injury to one must be injury to all," Wabba said.
He explained that "before our protest, we wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IG) because it is our constitutional rights. What the law says is that they need to give us security, and so we wrote to them, the law did not say we should seek permission because it is a fundamental human rights.
"The same rights Kaduna State Government has used to bring thugs on two occasions to demonstrate in support of his policies. So why should it be different for Nigerian workers, why should Nigerian workers be prevented, including using security operatives who are supposed to be in Benue, Adamawa, Rivers States where we have killings going on... ?
He alleged that all entry points to Kaduna State were blocked, maintaining that the NLC will not rest until the issue is sorted out.
The labour leader alleged that the state government was sacking workers "because it is a condition for assessing the World Bank loan."
The state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) is currently on an indefinite strike to protest against the sacking of its members.
The state government has declared that no amount of blackmail can force it to rescind its decision.
Prior to the NLC protest, the state police command had warned that it would not tolerate any form of protest or procession in the state as such protests have been banned.
The state's commissioner of police, Mr. Agyole Abe, at news conference last Wednesday said anyone or group intending to carry our any public protest or procession should, in the interest of the public peace, shelve such plan as the Nigeria Police Force will not stand by idly and watch the peace being enjoyed by citizens of the state truncated.
"Those who might be contemplating to come to Kaduna to foment trouble are strictly advised to stay away from the state as the command is prepared to deal decisively with such person or group," the police commissioner had warned.
The state government on its part had threatened to arrest persons which, according to Samuel Aruwan, spokesman to Governor Nasir El-Rufai, destroyed government property in November last year when the NLC protested against the sacking of teachers.
Aruwan had disclosed at a news conference last Wednesday that the state government had obtained a warrant for the arrest of those who caused the destruction.
It could not be established whether such arrests were made during the protest.
An armoured tank and patrol vehicles loaded with armed soldiers and policemen were stationed along Independence Way directly opposite the state secretariat of the NLC.
A second lane of the dual carriage way was barricaded by the security personnel who kept watch at the NLC secretariat.
By 10 am, thousands of workers had gathered for the peaceful march to the Government House.
However, the security personnel were said to have been overwhelmed by the bold posture of the labour leaders and thousands of workers that had gathered.
Instead of stopping the protest, they ended up providing security to the protesting workers who marched from Independence Way through Waff road to Ahmadu Bello Way to Government House.
Also, about 10 armed thugs were arrested for planning to cause confusion during the procession.