GOVERNOR Nyeson Wike of Rivers State could spark off nationwide industrial action after the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN) warned that it will commence strike action as their colleagues arrested as part of the Covid-19 lockdown are not released.
Rivers State has introduced a lockdown to help arrest the spread of Covid-19 and Governor Wike has been aggressively enforcing this, going out in person to ensure compliance. Over the weekend, Governor Wike demolished two hotels in Port Harcourt for operating while the lockdown was on and earlier today, he stormed a bank, forcing customers out for not obeying social distancing guidelines.
Very visible and aggressive in enforcing the lockdown, Governor Wike has repeatedly instructed the police to arrest those who have flouted his lockdown order. Over the weekend, the governor ordered the arrest of 20 dock workers in Port Harcourt, accusing them of breaching the lockdown, leading to a spat with MWUM.
Union leaders gave the governor until midnight yesterday to release them or they will call a nationwide strike. According to the MWUN, the strike will start anytime soon but they are just waiting for Governor Wike to release the detained dockworkers.
Comrade Adewale Adeyanju, the MWUN president, said that despite all entreaties to the governor’s Covid-19 task force, the Rivers State government has refused to release the dockworkers. He added that the action of the state government has led to other terminals in Rivers State to shut down.
Comrade Adeyanju said: “We were informed that the affected dockworkers were returning from essential service operations to BUA/PTOL terminal, Port Harcourt and were unlawfully and forcefully arrested. They were detained by the Rivers State Taskforce on enforcing Covid-19 lockdown.
“All entreaties/explanation made by our members to the task force team led by Governor Wike, that they were on essential services fell on deaf ears although they presented duly signed Essential Duty Port Pass issued by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Instead, the governor mocked them that they should go to Abuja and work.
“This has direct implications on the nation’s economy and is a clear threat to the employment and job security of port workers including dockworkers and shipping companies’ employees. As a direct consequences of Governor Wike’s action, some terminal operators have closed down their operations till further notice leading to loss of jobs by Nigerians and dock workers.
“It will be recalled that the President Muhammadu Buhari, in his first address to the nation on the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown of some states specifically directed that ports should remain open for essential services/duty. We wish to appreciate all port operators and our members for coming out at this critical time to work and keep our nation’s economy flying.”
He added that the union wishes to draw the attention of the governor to the fact that port operations are on the exclusive list in the Nigerian constitution and therefore, under the direct management of the federal government through the transport ministry and its agency the Nigerian Ports Authority. According to Comrade Adeyanju, other littoral states like Lagos, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River, all allow maritime operations without the harassment of workers whose services are essential to the functions of the nation’s economy.