[OPINION] Ogun: Separating Politics from Unionism
By: Adejuwon Soyinka
Within the last few days, we have observed with keen interest, the antics of certain individuals who are masquerading as labour leaders while actively playing partisan politics.
At this point, we are constrained to set the records straight. To start with, it must be clearly stated that what has happened in the last few days in Ogun State has nothing to do with genuine agitations for the welfare of workers but was rather an attempt at playing partisan politics.
The reason for this conclusion is not far fetched. Ogun State workers are paid their salaries and allowances as and when due even during the current economic recession being experienced across the nation. For instance, as it is the practice, the state government paid its workers September salaries on September 25, 2016.
Certainly, labour leaders now insisting on leading Ogun workers down the path of an unpopular and politically motivated strike action cannot be said to be ignorant of this fact.
Similarly, they cannot be said to be ignorant of the fact that whereas workers salaries are paid without delay in Ogun State, many states of the federation are having a hard time meeting that obligation due to the dwindling revenue profile of the country.
In the same vein, it must be clearly stated that the Ogun State government has not reneged on its agreement with workers with respect to the payment of 11 months arrears of cooperative deductions, which affects only 40 per cent of the state workforce. It will be recalled that in March 2016, the state government promised to gradually reduce these backlog by paying it once after every three months. Indeed, for each month, the total sum required for the payment of deductions is about 1/9th of the state’s monthly wage bill.
In this respect, the Ogun State government has so far kept faith with its promises by ensuring that in the month of May, Ogun workers were paid cooperative deductions alongside their salaries. A similar payment was made in August while another is due for November 2016.
“We even promised to pay outstanding gratuities when we receive bulk funds from the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) but this has not been forthcoming due to the dwindling revenue profile of the state,” says Barrister Taiwo Adeoluwa, Secretary to the State Government. He added that, “In spite of that, the labour leaders are also aware of the fact that we are working very hard towards ensuring that by November some of the backlog of gratuities are paid.”
Indeed, the state government has also gone ahead to resume the payment of subventions to tertiary institutions while it has repeatedly maintained that it cannot stop Contributory Pension Scheme deductions because doing so will be illegal. We met the law on assumption of office in 2011 and only the legislative arm of government can change it through an amendment of the existing law.
When these facts are added to the access that labour leaders and indeed all citizens in Ogun State have to records of the state’s financial status, politically motivated mischief becomes more obvious as the reason for the ongoing strike action.
Again, this is an assertion that is founded on facts. For instance, on October 5, a day set aside for the commemoration of World Teachers’ Day, some of these labour leaders-turned-politician organized a rally, where against the grain of Civil Service Rules, they boasted about receiving the sum of N5m from a politician.
Not only did they admit receiving such huge sum of money from this politician, they also hired a musician who led them in singing his praises for hours on end while chanting his political slogan.
The Ogun State government is in possession of video evidence of this unprofessional, unethical and highly partisan act on the part of so called labour leaders who, for a moment forgot that they are supposed to be public servants. The Ogun State Civil Service Commission charged with the responsibility of regulating the actions and activities of public and civil servants is already looking into that infraction in line with the extant rules of the public service.
Prior to that incident, information at the disposal of the government showed that some of the leaders of the organized labour had a secret meeting with some politicians where a decision was taken to deliberately heat up the polity in Ogun State.
It was therefore not surprising that shortly after they commenced their politically motivated strike action, these labour leaders turned politicians also held a joint press briefing with an opposition politician in the state.
When thoroughly considered, a combination of the monetary inducement and the kind of company being openly kept by these politicians masquerading as labour leaders would provide an answer to the question of why they chose to ignore all the facts on the ground and still called for a questionable strike action.
Not only that, it also explains why these set of labour leaders chose to rebuff the peacemaking efforts of revered traditional rulers like the Olu of Ilaro and Chairman, Ogun State Council of Obas, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle; Awujale and Paramount ruler of Ijebu land, Oba Sikiru Adetona and the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Aremu Gbadebo on the eve of their politically motivated strike action. Not only did they walk out on a peace meeting called at the instance of the traditional rulers, they also hurled insults at them, calling the revered traditional institutions all sorts of unprintable names.
More than anything else, this singular action has given the labour leaders away as individuals who cannot be said to be representing the best interest of Ogun State workers let alone that of the generality of the good people of Ogun State.
As a government, the Senator Ibikunle Amosun led administration will not fold its arms and allow a few disgruntled elements in the leadership of the organized labour in Ogun State, attack revered traditional rulers in that manner and get away with it.
We are determined to ensure that all those involved in the assault on our revered traditional rulers will be brought to book in accordance with the provisions of the law.
Again out of mischief, these labour leaders have also resorted to claims that their lives are no longer safe in Ogun State while alleging that political thugs were sent after them. It is rather disturbing that without seeking verification of such spurious claims some national dailies have also assisted them to publish this falsehood.
Not only is this far from the truth, it is actually an attempt at reversing the truth. Contrary to their claims, these labour leaders and their cohorts are the ones who are going around the state secretariat to forcefully give effect to their widely unpopular strike action and in the process causing bodily injuries to dedicated civil servants who are not part of their partisan mission.
It must be stated for the records that the Amosun-led administration is peace-loving, law abiding and would not prevent any genuine agitation for the welfare of workers.
This much was stated by the governor who recently said, “Our administration is not opposed to any form of agitation for improved condition of service for workers. But nobody should hide under the guise of labour unionism to play partisan politics.”
We are grateful to the generality of our workers who saw beyond the veil and have chosen to continue working in spite of provocations by these ill motivated labour leaders.
We also appeal to the disgruntled minority to toe the path of honour and come back to work.
For the avoidance of doubt, the state government shall not pay salaries to workers who absent themselves from their duty post without lawful excuse.
Soyinka is Senior Special Assistant (Media) and spokesman for Governor Ibikunle Amosun.