Press Statement


We would have ignored Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy because we know him plus his penchant for unwarranted bellicosity and belligerence. We could equally have forgiven him, knowing full well that overzealous hirelings like him easily go into an overdrive in the mistaken belief that they ‘d earn the confidence of their principals. But doing any of the above ‘d a tacit admission of the misinformation Onanuga has put in the public domain.

Accordingly, we would want misinformed Nigerians and indeed, the world to know that the joint national strike by the NLC and TUC is not about “ego tripping move” intended to “blackmail the government” as Bayo Onanuga mischieviously describes it.

Blackmail the government over what? A bribe or a favour organised labour asked for and did not get it or what?

If Onanuga were not suffering from selective amnesia, he ought to have known that this government should remain grateful to the organised labour for its uncommon patience with a government that clearly was not prepared for the consequences of its fundamentalist market policies of massive currency devaluation and ‘subsidy’ removal which imposed on Nigerians social violence, upheaval, dislocation, displacement or punishment they never before experienced.

Onanuga, similarly ought to have known that organised labour, by not opting for a strike as a first option, acted as a bulwark against the rage of Nigerians thereby saving this government from itself.

Organised labour is not unaware of the misdirected anger of Nigerians for not going for the jugular of this government for justifiable reasons: inflation moved from 19% to 29%; exchange rate from N400 to N1,300; and pump price of pms from N187 to N700, in the first five months of this government!

In light of this, who is punishing “a whole country of over 200 million people”, NLC/TUC or Government of Bola Tinubu?

Similarly, this strike is not “over a personal matter involving the NLC President, Mr Joe Ajaero, whose error of judgment led to the assault on him in Owerri while he was planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike”, as casually and callously alleged by Bayo Onanuga.

How ever, herein lies the kernel of the matter. Mr Ajaero is General Secretary of NUEE and neither he nor any of the members of his union in or outside Imo State is owed a salary/pension payment arrears. However, in his capacity as President of the Nigeria Labour Congress he has an oversight over all the unions affiliated to the Congress including the civil servants and pensioners (core/non-core civil servants, teachers, local government workers, pensioners etc) who have been owed in varying degrees of arrears. There have been pending cases of improper implementation of national minimum wage, declaration of thousands of workers as ghost workers, and non-implementagion of agreement reached with the sate government since 2021. Some of this went to court and the state government asked for time out of court for settlement but did not honour its own voluntary agreement as usual. The state government in a written statement did admit it was too busy working to honour its own voluntary agreement. A previous strike action was suspended on the appeal of elder statesmen and women and an appeal by state government. After this, Congress made every humanly possible effort to have the issues peacefully resolved, all to no avail. Congress was left with no option than to resume a strike action in the state with notice. Congress had been to a couple of other sates that did not even commit the sins of Imo State Government.

Coupled with the above, fresh demands were made following the abduction, and gruesome assault and battery òf Comrade Joe Ajaero (by the Police) out of which none has been met fully.

How then could this be a personal matter to Joe Ajaero? Before he became Congress President, he never bothered himself with the affairs of Imo State or any state for that matter except it was the decision of Congress organs.

It is in light of this we would want the world to know that Onanuga’ s sadistic comment is a Freudian slip as this is the way his principals view the Imo State tripple-digit tragedy: the non-payment of workers/pensioners benefits; the choking/stifling environment that leaves workers and citizens gasping for air; the license for impunity that covers murder and attempted murder of dissenting voices including Comrade Joe Ajaero which the Nigerian State now passes off as a “personal matter”. When we first heard through the grape vine that glasses were clinked and pleasantries earthily exchanged by the powers that be following the arrest and torture of Comrade Joe Ajaero, we thought we thought it was one of those rumours but with this confirmation from Bayo Onanuga, we now know better!

But we would want Nigerians not to succumb to the “private matter” narrative as we would wish to remind them of the famous poem, “When They Came for the Jews” ( When they came for the Jews, I said I was not a Jew; When they came for the Teachers, I said I was not a teacher….By the time they came for me there was no one left to shout…).

The arrest and “protective custody” of Comrade Joe Ajaero by the Nigeria Police Force which led to multiple injuries to his person and psychology, is a state-sponsored act of terror not just against an individual but all of us freedom-loving Nigerians. This government is testing the waters, and what a better target than a high-profile Labour leader. If it gets away with it then who amongst us is safe?

Take heed and open your eyes and note that this systematic assault on the citizenry is being co-ordinated by a tiny clique within the government on all fronts: economic, political and social. It is total violence!

We consider it an insult to our collective intellect and sensibility when Bayo Onanuga averrs that “the Federal Government does not condone any form of violence and assault on any citizen…[and] that the Inspector General has ordered investigation into what happened to Mr. Ajaero…”.

So the police will now be the Judge, Jury and Jailer in their own case? What a country we run! Secondly, what per chance, will the police be investigating, when the government by the admission of Onanuga has already found Ajaero guilty, arrested him, convicted him, punished him through torture for “planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike”.

We concerned Nigerians are not interested in a charade. We demand an honest and thorough investigation by competent and independent professionals (with free and unfettered access to information, people and materials) from within and outside the country. Comrade Joe Ajaero holds offices on the international circuit.

We want Bayo Onanuga and those who sent him and the police much earlier that we shall not be cowed by any body or force no matter the resources at that person’s disposal. No government can be bigger than the people over which it presides!

As for Bayo’s ranting over our so-called disobedience to a court order, he would soon know the cold truth. We would not dignify him with that explanation in this forum. Finally, hirelings who stoke the fire for their principals instead of winning for them friends, are to be kept closer!

Benson Upah
Head of Information and Public Affairs