• Friday, May 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Rivers: Love returns between labour, govt

Fierce reactions trail Rivers APC’s ‘directive’ to impeach Fubara

Love and romance seem to surge back between the organised labour and the Rivers State government after many years of cold relations.

This seemed to be concretised on May Day 2024 when the sea of human heads showed up at the stadium to celebrate the Workers Day.

The expectations seemed not dashed as Sim Fubara, the state governor, assured of readiness to implement the 25percent salary increase announced a day ago by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led federal government. As the workers shouted for joy, the governor doled out N100m support for the May Day, something workers last saw many years back even as they saw their state government donate N500m to Sokoto, N200m twice to Benue, N500m yearly to a private university, and many billions of naira more to other states and institutions.

The new governor, who is rebuilding the NUJ building in Port Harcourt, also reaffirmed the building of the NUT House with N250m.

The Fubara administration had endeared itself to workers by embarking on promotion of the state civil servants last done almost 10 years ago; an initiative that he once disclosed took the monthly wage bill from about N5bn to N8bn. The previous administration had running battles with Labour and at a point sealed off the NLC secretariat.

Fubara came to the rescue of pensioners by releasing their batched pension payments which brought huge relief in the oil state. The governor caused huge jubilation around the state when he approved payment of N100,000 flat to every civil servant no matter the grade level, in addition to renovation of the abandoned and rotten state secretariat housing tall buildings at the Diete-Spiff complex.

Workers seemed to reciprocate by voicing massive support for his administration especially in the face of turbulence between him and his godfather who helped him to power. Anxiety grew when the governor faced a case at the Supreme Court leading many pockets of workers at schools and other places to organise prayer sessions every Friday. When the case was ruled in his favour, the state exploded in jubilation and schools shut down in jubilations, leading to endless thanksgiving church services in all the 23 local council areas and the 319 wards up to this day to the chagrin of the opposition who have dubbed it an expensive distraction.

On May Day 2024, the governor was decked out in workers’ garlands and spoke in tandem with the theme for the year: ‘People First’.

The governor stated how concerned his administration felt about the poor state of the nation’s economy, with the attendant rising inflation, which he admitted has impacted adversely on the purchasing power and well-being of the average workers and their families.

Gov Fubara said: “Let me assure you that we are going to work with the Federal Government to implement necessary measures, including the continuation of the free bus services and the provision of necessary palliatives to ameliorate the current hardship faced by ordinary citizens.

“We are a listening government, and we have heard the common concerns and demands of labour on the urgency of stimulating economic growth and improving the living conditions of our people.”

Gov Fubara acknowledged workers as critical human resource that have continued to contribute immensely to the sustained long-term economic growth of the State playing critical roles in different sectors.

The governor categorically said: “Rivers State is what it is; economically strong, resilient, and vibrant because of our workers. Our local governments and communities are what they are because workers are doing their jobs. Our nation is the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa only because of the commitment, efforts, and achievements of our workers.

“What this means is that there can be no nation-building or progress in society without the input, effort, and sacrifice of the workforce.”

He recalled his promise on inaugural day where he reiterated that labour was his primary constituency and would remain so. “I stand by this statement even now and for as long as I remain in office as the governor of Rivers State. I will not disappoint you. I will continue to govern with the fear of God and carry everyone, including labour, along.

On efforts so far on the state secretariat, the governor said he also commissioned a reputable international company to scope the entire complex and advise on the cost of a comprehensive rehabilitation of the Secretariat Complex to be executed in phases.

Gov Fubara said he implemented promotion of staff stagnated over a decade with financial benefits, and approved the recruitment of 1,000 doctors and other medical personnel to strengthen the State’s healthcare delivery system.

Also, he said, the State’s Contributory Healthcare Insurance Scheme has commenced, urging all workers to take advantage of the benefits of the scheme, adding that the Government was clearing the backlog of gratuities to retired civil servants while ensuring the prompt enrolment and payment of pensions. He said the days of delayed payments of retirement benefits to civil servants were over under his watch.

He said he appointed 16 permanent secretaries based on merit and equitable spread to local government areas that were hitherto not represented at that level.

“Few weeks ago, we directed and ensured the implementation of the minimum wage and promotion of our workers in the local government service.

“We have approved and released a grant of N250million for the completion of the secretariat building of the Nigerian Union of Teachers,” he added.

The governor also announced the donation of N100million to assuage the sacrifices of the workers who turned up at the stadium for the celebration of the 2024 May Day.

In his address, the Rivers State Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Alex Agwanwor, said the theme of 2024 International Labour Day, ‘People First’, reflected the leadership direction of Gov Fubara, who he said has continued to prioritise the welfare of workers in the State.

He mentioned other benefits to workers including the constitution of governing councils, boards and commissions of government agencies, institutions for effective service delivery, and reopening of Rivers State Transport Company (RTC).

All of these, he noted, have further motivated workers, and emboldened them to remain unfettered in their support to the success of the Gov Fubara-led administration while increasing their productivity.

He commended the governor for making efforts to revamp the abandoned Songhai Integrated Farms at Bunu Tai, and listed other agricultural initiatives such as Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) and C-4 programmes, Delta Rubber Company, among others, as areas the Government must focus on to enhance food sufficiency and security, while taming hunger and raising job creation opportunities in the State.

Also speaking, the Rivers State Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Okechukwu Onyefuru, expressed delight over recent feat of Gov Fubara by increasing the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from N11billion to N27billion.

Onyefuru advised that with items like railways and building of refineries moved to the Concurrent List, the State Government should act fast to further grow the State’s IGR and create more jobs for the youths.

The TUC chairman also appealed to Gov Fubara to use his good offices to compel International Oil Companies (OICs) not to move their headquarters out of the State, while also thanking him for mediating in the industrial dispute in Indorama Petrochemical and Fertiliser Company Limited at Eleme.

Onyefuru said Nigerian workers condemned and rejected the recent increase of electricity tariffs, describing it as draconian and anti-people.

The TUC chairman also requested that the salary of primary healthcare workers be moved to the Primary Healthcare Management Board, where he said, they feel better protected.

At the event, the State Civil Service offered the governor gift of a Bible and portrait while the organised labour honoured him with the Labour Champion of Rivers State award for being the most labour-friendly governor.

May Day became a big event for Labour with big donations during the Peter Odili administration. It dried up some few years ago. Now, the love and romance seem to bounce back with Fubara’s year one.