Imo Protest: Unraveling the Unprecedented
The sun had barely risen on a fateful day in Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, Nigeria, when the state was thrown into chaos. What was meant to be a peaceful protest by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and its leaders turned into a violent and shocking series of events. In the midst of it all, the people’s demand for justice and workers’ rights came to the forefront.
The Owerri Uprising
On that day, as the clock approached 8 AM, workers, labor leaders, and supporters began gathering at the NLC State secretariat in Owerri. They were ready to raise their voices against a series of injustices perpetrated by the Imo State government. Among the grievances were unpaid salaries, outstanding allowances, and various acts that undermined the rights of workers in the state.
As the protestors were assembling, chaos erupted. Thugs, numbering around 10 and armed with dangerous weapons, descended upon the crowd. They attacked labor leaders and workers, smashing vehicles, and robbing them of their possessions. The scene turned chaotic as union leaders and journalists scrambled for safety.
However, the resilient workers regrouped at the secretariat, determined to proceed with their peaceful protest. Led by the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and the General Secretary, Emma Ugboaja, they were steadfast in their commitment to addressing the issues at hand.
As Ajaero was about to address the gathering, a contingent of armed policemen and hooded individuals in trucks arrived at the scene. What followed was nothing short of shocking. Ajaero, alongside several labor leaders and journalists, was arrested. Shots were fired, and in the midst of the turmoil, an unidentified unionist lost their life, while a TVC cameraman was apprehended, and his camera was destroyed.
A President’s Abduction
The NLC’s Head of Information and Publicity, Benson Upah, was quick to share the disturbing news. He informed the public that Joe Ajaero, the NLC President, was abducted by heavily armed policemen right at the NLC secretariat in Imo State, as they were about to commence their lawful protest against the violation of trade union rights.
Another harrowing account came from NLC’s Assistant General Secretary and Chief of Staff to the NLC President, Chris Onyeka. He was standing alongside Ajaero when the President was brutalized and arrested. Thugs initially attacked and dragged Ajaero from the platform, and the police later arrested him, along with another senior official of the NLC.
In the aftermath of these shocking events, NLC’s General Secretary, Emma Ugbaja, accused the State Commissioner of Police of leading the attack, acting under the instructions of the state government. According to Ugbaja, the state government had mobilized thugs as early as 6 AM, and when they spotted the NLC President, the Commissioner of Police led them into the fray.
It was a terrifying ordeal for Ajaero, who had been subjected to brutalization at the hands of the police. His right eye was completely shut, and he had suffered various injuries. Ajaero recounted how he was beaten, blindfolded, and taken to an unknown location, where he was further brutalized, sometimes with bottles. His personal belongings, including his phone and money, were seized and not returned.
The Fight for Workers’ Rights
The violent events in Owerri did not go unnoticed. The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) swiftly condemned the arrest and brutalization of NLC President Joe Ajaero and other labor leaders by agents of the Imo State government. NUPENG’s President, Prince Williams Akporeha, expressed their strong disapproval of the acts of violence and brutality against labor leaders and workers.
NUPENG took a firm stand, putting its members across the country on high alert for a potential nationwide strike. Their message was clear: they could not tolerate such uncivilized behavior in a democracy. They were determined to secure the freedom and rights of Imo State’s workers.
The Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) also joined the chorus of condemnation. Two of their national officials, Abubakar Bello and Abudu Eroje, were among those injured in the violent events. They were brutally attacked, sustaining grave injuries, and losing valuable possessions such as phones, money, and important documents.
MWUN’s President, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, emphasized that the violent attacks on labor leaders and workers were a gross abuse of power and ran counter to the principles of democracy and civil liberties. The call for a mass demonstration in Owerri was legitimate and necessary to liberate the ordinary citizens of the state who were suffering under the government’s oppressive policies.
The Joint Action Front Speaks Out
The Joint Action Front (JAF), a pro-labor civil society group, added their voice to the outcry. They strongly condemned the arrest of Joe Ajaero and the alleged terror inflicted on workers and journalists by the police and thugs at the behest of Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma.
Secretary of JAF, Abiodun Aremu, did not mince words. He considered the arrest of the NLC President and the suppression of the protest as a blatant affront to the labor movement. JAF demanded a resolute response, emphasizing that the labor movement would stand united against these acts of brutality and oppression.
In the wake of these unprecedented events in Owerri, the struggle for workers’ rights and justice in Imo State has gained significant attention. The story of the violent crackdown on peaceful protestors and labor leaders has sent shockwaves through the nation, sparking outrage and calls for accountability.
The fight for workers’ rights is far from over, and the labor movement remains steadfast in its determination to secure justice and fairness for the workers of Imo State.