Imo was not perfect but she was not doing badly until the Nigerian Supreme Court decided in its wisdom to impose an unpopular dictator on over six million people. Almost dramatically, things went sour quite drastically. Then again, rather than make genuine efforts to reconcile his ways with the people whose hearts he shattered and whose mandate he stole, the beneficiary of that unholy heist, Hope Uzodinma resorted to high-handedness and blatant dictatorship, and the result is well-written all over the state.
It is regrettably sad that a state that once prided itself as the Eastern Heartland which conveniently provided weekend rendezvous to those looking for comfort and relaxation has by the deliberate actions of the grossly ineffective Uzodinma government, become a laughing stock among the comity of states.
Uzodinma’s penchant for failure has robbed off on every facet of governance and, virtually all the institutions in the state are feeling the brunt of his gross ineptitude. Over the past three and half years, the Hobbesian state of nature has become prevalent in Imo State exposing everyone including workers in the state to the most horrendous of scare, fear, and violence in their daily activities.
For many months, Uzodinma maintained a stranglehold on every institution in the state. Not even the revered Labour and trade unions were spared in his reign of impunity. Uzodinma’s fondness for hijacking and imposing loyal stooges whom he can dictate to and control on the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) was the reason workers were before now treated and handled as trash, however, the emergence of Comrade Joe Ajero as the new Sheriff of the union appears to have thrown spanners into the reckless works of the state government.
What is rather confusing in the whole scheme of things is how Uzodinma who bestrides the state like a colossus muscling down forcefully all manner of opposing forces still manages to claim with all manner of lies that he is a Democrat. The plain truth is that there has been nothing democratic about how Uzodinma has been running Imo State.
The coming of Joe Ajaero indeed, offered Imo workers another opportunity to breathe again. Every available record points to the fact that the strong-willed unionist has blatantly refused to go to bed with the vindictive Imo government, and this has apparently left them rattled. For the first time in his maladministration, Uzodinma suddenly discovered that he could no longer pocket and compromise the leadership of the state labour union. For the very first time, Uzodinma came to the brutal realisation that he no longer had access to compromised union leaders whom he could use to effect a seamless process of subduing Imo workers that he had wickedly continued to owe arrears of salaries, pensions, and gratuities leave allowances, promotions, and all other entitlements. As expected, this has made Uzodinma go bunkers.
Owing to the barbaric ambition of Uzodinma to cow, muzzle, hijack, and destroy the Ajaero-led organised Labour in the State to implement his scorch-earth policy of flogging Imo workers and pensioners into submission by starving them of their salaries and pensions and all other sources of livelihood, Imo citizens and residents had to pay a heavy price.
In just a period of less than two months, Imo State has literally been shut down twice. The NLC and the TUC with other affiliate unions in the state have, on two occasions, been forced to embark on strikes to press home their demands. For this reason, over the same period, aviation operations have had to be grounded twice. Industrial action by the unions also means that the electricity supply in the state has had to be cut off on two separate occasions.
The painful strikes also mean that financial institutions have had to halt all activities on two occasions, thereby crippling the economy of the state to further worsen the fortunes of Imolites. It hasn’t in any way even brothered Uzodinma that all businesses and people’s sources of livelihood have been strangulated over that period. For him, he owns the state, and no one dares question his decisions.
Part of the ‘sins’ that have been committed by the NLC is that it has refused to abandon the cases of the over 11,000 authentic Imo workers who Uzodinma has continued to stigmatise as ghost workers. Before yanking them off, they were being owed over 20 months of salary arrears, and rather than carry out holistic investigations into their plight, Uzodinma, in his high-handedness has continued to treat the matter with disdain.
The NLC, in yet another ‘unforgivable sin’, has continued to resist Uzodinma’s ploy to continue to classify over 10,000 real Imo pensioners as ghost pensioners. In his usual style, Uzodinma has refused to pay them for twenty-two (22) months and this wicked act has led to the death of many of these senior citizens who served the state with their intellect, their skills and the best part of their lives.
In Uzodinma’s world of tyranny, nobody dares open their mouths to talk, and any attempt to protest any issue is often greeted with brutal force. Uzodinma has even gone on many occasions to unleash his thugs on unarmed protesters just to keep things under control. Sometime last year, many Imolites were shocked when Uzodinma unleashed his thugs on protesting pensioners who were only on the street to demand what was rightfully theirs. To address these outstanding issues, the Imo State Council of the NLC, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) had last year made an appeal to the Imo State Government to agree on a definite date for the conclusive resolution of the industrial dispute in the State. All that fell on deaf ears. It beggars belief how Uzodinma ignores posterity when taking certain despotic decisions.
A fortnight ago, Governor Uzodinma shocked everyone when he decided to upgrade his rascality to another level by infringing on the sensibility of workers in Imo State. On the 1st of May, he procured renegades from the Trade Unions to assault the workers on a day that is globally left for workers to celebrate themselves. He ignored every provision of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) especially the spirit of conventions 87 and 98 which also speak of non-interference of government and employers in the internal affairs of workers to attempt to dictate to the workers how to celebrate their special day. This is certainly not the Imo that anybody can be proud of.
Any objective-minded individual who has seen what Imo State has become lately will agree that Uzodinma has supervised the worst record of governance any governor has had within such a short time. With blood stains all over the state, Imo has been writhing in the pains of endless violence unleashed on the innocent citizens and residents of the state, some of whom have deserted their homes.
The truth is that the strike, which was embarked upon by the NLC and the TUC, is a wonderful one. The mere fact that it is being celebrated by several observers purely means that there is hope, and Imolites will not for any reason surrender themselves to be swallowed by Uzodinma.
The labour unions deserve commendation because it is not easy to operate in a state where poverty has been weaponised. In a state where important stakeholders such as the traditional rulers, the church, the students union, the town unions, markets associations, etc are finding the boldness to demand better from the state either because their leadership is merely that of government stooges or they are compromised. For standing up to be counted, the labour unions have written their names positively on the sands of time.
It is true that many observers have had a reason to complain about the strike by saying that its suddenness could actually worsen the plight of the already exasperated workers groaning under the weight of a bad economy. While this makes some sense, it should, however, be understood that if the opportunity that presented itself to fight off Uzodinma’s stranglehold on the state now is not grabbed he will perpetuate the workers’ slavery. Going forward, Imolites must get themselves to understand that there is a need for them to sacrifice more now to chase the despotic governor away when they head for the polls in November.
In conclusion, NLC officials who have refused to be compromised deserve to be treated like heroes, however, they must remain firm and steadfast in their struggle to ensure complete freedom for Imo workers. Liberating Imo from the jackboot of a despotic government is a task for all, and all hands must be on deck. Imo is presently a state under siege, and Uzodinma must not be spared.