Labour leaders and the Head of Service (HOS) of the Rivers state government, Mr. Rufus Godwin, are currently embroiled in a war of words over queries handed down to the three labour leaders in the state, who are also civil servants under the employment of the state government.
The three labour leaders are chairman of state council of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade (Mrs.) Beatrix Itubo; chairman, Trade Union Congress (TUC), Austin Jonah; and the chairman, Joint Public Service Negotiating Committee, Emecheta Chukwu.
Responding to calls by the labour unions in the state on the state governor, Nyesom Wike, to sack him from the state civil service, Mr. Godwin explained that the three labour leaders were queried by the permanent secretaries of the respective ministries where the labour leaders work because they flouted the Civil Service Act which debarred civil servants from speaking against their employer to the press.
He told civil servants during a consultative meeting at the state secretariat, in Port Harcourt, yesterday, that the labour leaders also contravened the Public Service Rule by assembling and addressing an enlarged gathering of workers without permission from him at the state secretariat and instigating them against the policies of the state government.
Mr. Godwin fumed: “If anybody wants to hold a meeting with other civil servants here, he will obtain permission from the HoS. Just imagine, Austin Jonah, wrote to me; wrote to all senior civil servants and copied to the police and the Department of State Security (DSS). So, I walked out of the meeting because I was the only one that they were cursing.
“You know as a civil servant, you are not supposed to use the media without authorization to attack the government. You know that.
It is in the Public Service Rule, so, they were queried by the permanent secretaries in their respective ministries. Unfortunately, the information in the public domain is that the HOS had issued the queries to the three labour leaders.”
Godwin accused the labour leaders of being influenced in their actions by the lopsided political leanings.
He also berated the labour leaders for keeping mum in the wake of some glaring anti-labour polices dished out to workers in the course of the last All Progressives Congress, APC, administration led by the current Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
He also accused the labour leaders of serving as political appointees in the Amaechi administration, alleging that they accepted political appointments in contravention of the Public Service Rules. He insisted that the labour leaders were sabotaging government efforts to suit their personal and political interest.
Mr. Godwin asked: “When civil servants were not being paid; when pensioners were owed, did these labour leaders say anything? Some of the labour leaders were made permanent secretaries to reward them.
Emecheta Chukwu, who is trying to do everything to bring my office down, was a political appointee in the last administration. He served as a member of the caretaker committee of Ikwerre local government area. Can you be a civil servant and accept a political appointment?
“Are you not aware that Beatrix Itubu was also a member of Rivers State Primary Healthcare Management Board as a full-time member? Yet, she was a civil servant. We can go on and on. So, these are the people who are out to bring down the service, so that all of you will suffer. The choice is entirely yours now.”
Emphasising on the queries issued to the three labour leaders, the HoS pointed out that the query was designed to instill discipline into the public service.
“As a civil servant, you are not permitted by the public service rule to attack the government through the media. In the public service, all civil servants are equal under the law; there are no two standards.
“A permanent secretary has been queried and suspended, I am sure you are aware of that. And more permanent secretaries are facing queries for different reasons and they have not gone on radio. Is it that some people want to blackmail the service to say you cannot query us?”
The Head-of-Service assured that the proposed Contributory Health Insurance Scheme that was being rejected by the labour leaders was in the best interest of the ordinary man. He appealed to the workers not go on strike as variously stated by the labour leaders.
Emergency meetings held by the executive committees of the labour unions, NLC, TUC, and the JPSNC, have, separately, asked the HOS to withdraw the queries issued to the labour leaders and apologise to the unions for issuing them in the first place within three days, or, contend with a massive industrial action that would cripple the economy of the state.
However, the chairperson of the NLC in the state, Comrade Itubo, has denied being a member of the APC, while responding to accusation by the HoS that she was giving a political appointment under the immediate past APC administration in the state.
She declared: “I have been informed that the HoS said on air that I accepted a political appointment under the previous regime. I want to make it categorically clear that I did not take a political appointment.
“The law that established the Primary Healthcare Board stipulates that medical and health workers must have a representation. As the chairman of the medical and health workers then I was made a representative on that board. And that does not make me a political appointee.”
In the same vein, the executive committee of the Rivers State NLC has slammed the HOS for what it described as his “unfavourable activities working against the interest of labour in the state.”
The union in a communiqué issued at the end of its emergency meeting to deliberate on the current imbroglio raging between labour and the HOS, and read out by the union’s secretary, Comrade Matthew Alabe, accused Mr. Godwin of withholding check-off dues, thereby, frustrating the activities of affiliate unions.”
The Secretary of the Joint Public Service Negotiating Committee in the state, Comrade John Otabo, also expressed dismay at the statement credited to the Head-of-Service insinuating that the actions of the labour leaders were being inspired by selfish and political consideration, rather than for the collective good of workers.”