By Yekeen Nurudeen
The leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has chided the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, for using soldiers and other security operatives to harass and arrest students of the state-owned tertiary institutions who were protesting in Lokoja on Monday over the continued closure of their due to non-payment of salaries of academic staff.
The NLC in a statement by its President, Ayuba Wabba, said the use of soldiers and other security personnel by the Kogi State government to harass, brutalise, maim, arrest and detain peacefully-protesting students of Kogi State-owned tertiary institutions was unlawful, barbaric and unacceptable.
The union maintained that the right to peaceful protest is guaranteed by the Constitution, the highest law of the land, which it said should not be abridged by the governor or anyone.
While asking Governor Bello to release the students immediately, the NLC said it would mobilise to the state without any further notice with its civil society allies.
“We advise the governor who has fought everybody that has dared to raise a voice, not to test the will or the resolve of the Nigerian workers to see through the task of preserving democracy in the state.
“We find it necessary to state that tertiary institutions owned by the government of Kogi State have been on strike for over six months over unpaid salaries. In the said period, the students took it upon themselves to mediate between the workers and the government. And whereas, the workers were ready to make concessions, the government refused to shift ground,” the union observed.
The NLC stated further that the impact of the strike had been greatly felt by all but noted that students had been the worst hit, as some had lost an academic year, while others twice missed the opportunity to graduate and do national service.
“With no solution in sight or any appreciable effort by government to bring the strike action to an end, the students were left with no option than to embark on a peaceful protest intended to bring government and the striking workers to the negotiating table” the union said.
It further lamented that it found it saddening that instead of commending the students for their initiative and patriotism, the state government elected to criminalise the peaceful protest which suggested that no lesson has been learnt from such fruitless adventures.
“It is interesting to note that Kogi State tops the chart of non-salary paying states with fifteen (15) months backlog in spite of warehousing for the government of Yahaya Bello the first bail-out fund and the second bail-out.
Salaries and pensions constitute fundamental human rights of workers and pensioners and nothing should be done to threaten these or else the lives of workers, pensioners and their families are put in jeopardy” the congress said.
It however advised the governor to pay outstanding salaries and pensions without further delay and negotiate with striking workers in tertiary institutions instead of intimidating or incarcerating students.