*Workers chase out Labour Minister, dignitaries from podium as rally ends in chaos
*Police used tear gas to disrupt rally
*Ngige blames factions for the disruption
At the May Day rally in Abuja, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, was practically disgraced when he seemingly undermined the nation’s workers asking his Permanent Secretary to address them while he was seated. The worker protested and held proceedings hostage to ask him to personally address them.
The national Workers Day celebration which started well, was televised live by national television. The Labour minister angered the workers by his arrogant conduct. They barred government officials who were to represent the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige from delivering President Muhammadu Buhari’s speech.
Even attempts by the former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, did not save the situation as he was also stopped by workers chanting “we no go gree.”
The workers started throwing pure water towards where the officials were seated. Police made attempts to drive them out of the podium. Police later drove in armoured cars to disperse the rampaging workers, forcing the rally to end in chaos without the traditional match pass by labour unions.
More security had to be drafted into the arena to protect dignitaries invited for the celebration, forming a barricade to prevent the protesters from getting to the invited guests.
Trouble escalated when the Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Biola Bawa, was called to read the address of the Minister, Senator Chris Ngige, who represented the President.
Ngige had refused to address the workers in his capacity as the Minister and sent the Permanent Secretary because he (Ngige) represented President Muhhammadu Buhari at the occasion.
But the workers chorused “no, no, no’’ to the move and thereafter continued to chant, “minimum wage, minimum wage.’’
Even when the Minister later stepped forward to address the workers, they refused to allow him speak and all efforts to make them return to their seat failed, forcing the Minister to return to his seat angrily. Some of the workers insisted that if the President could not attend the rally to address them; he would have sent the Vice President instead of the arrogant Minister.
The shout of go back to your seat by the leadership of both the NLC and TUC was greater with a loud no by the workers. The Police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd before it degenerated into a full blown riot.
Meanwhile, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, took the shine. He accordingly advised the Federal Government to immediately constitute a panel consisting of stakeholders to work on demands of Nigerian workers for increased wages and arrears of pension, promotion and allowances.
Saraki while speaking with the media at the Eagles Square, Abuja, venue of the 2017 May Day celebration, said if the workers had allowed the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, to address them, he would have announced some plans that the government had for the workers.
He said the government needs to quickly move to address all the issues that the workers are angry about and expressed the readiness of the National Assembly to play its part in ensuring that the workers get their dues.
“Government must set up a high-powered committee representing all stakeholders who have the ability to engender confidence across board. They must be given clear terms of reference and realistic time to conclude their work and make recommendations.
“We, in the National Assembly, are ready to play our part to ensure the appropriation of necessary funds and enactment of appropriate laws to back up the resultant policies”, he said.
He said the government appreciated the patience, understanding and co-operation that the workers had extended to the administration since its inception, particularly at this period of economic challenge and that their positive attitude will not be taken for granted.
He added that the National Assembly members had on their own increased the proposed provision in the 2017 budget being worked on to take care of pension of retired workers.
He also said the legislature could easily at the last stage of the budget process include provisions to take care of the financial implication of redressing arrears of promotion and allowances.
He added that the National Assembly would at all times be responsive and responsible to the yearnings of the workers and that they would always show understanding for the plight of workers.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, on Monday blamed the disruption and protest by workers at the May Day celebration in Abuja on factions in the Nigerian Labour Congress.
Ngige told newsmen on the sideline of the celebration that what happened was as result of infiltration by non-workers into the rally venue and not necessarily workers anger about minimum wage.
Asaba Lydia, a unionist of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, said the workers were taken for granted by the government thus the reason for sending representatives rather than coming themselves.
Lydia said the issue began with the minister’s act by sending the permanent secretary to represent him, while he represents the president, adding that it was not fair to the workers.
She said: “A day such as this, the government could not even honour workers by attending the event themselves.
“If the President is not available, what about the Vice President?
“We have tried to follow the norm as workers and it has not worked so now we are saying we are tired of failed promises, enough is enough.”
Dassey Heblom, a civil servant, said the workers refused to listen to the speeches of the government officials because every year it had always been stories without action or implementation.
Heblom said workers were now aware of what was going on and thus would not stop asking for their rights for policy statements to be made and implemented.
He said: “We are tired of talks, we want action, that is all we are saying, imagine we are even celebrating this day without salaries not to talk of the accumulation of unpaid allowances.”