Members of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) yesterday began an indefinite strike in Rivers State over alleged attack on their members by men of the Nigeria Police.
Chairman of Port Harcourt zone of NUPENG, Godwin Eruba, who disclosed this to newsmen in Port Harcourt, said the directive was in protest over assault and injuring of some of their members by men of the Rivers State Police Command during an industrial action against an oil firm in Port Harcourt.
Aruba stated that members of the union was on a legitimate action to picket the premises of Weather Fold Nigeria Limited over an unresolved industrial issue with the company when heavily armed policemen stormed the area and descended on the labour leaders.
He said, “We have what we consider to be a clearly industrial relations matter because Weather Ford sacked our members without following due process. We went to picket them, which is very lawful and in the cause of picketing them, the purportedly told us that they went to court.
“While we were trying to resolve the matter, asking the court to let them come as usual for us to resolve the matter and allow it to rest or if possible return to the court, on October 12, as early as 3.00 am in the morning, the Rivers State Police Command sent over 10 Hilux vehicles full of policemen, armed to the teeth and came to where our members were picketing and manhandled them. They shot at them, both with gun and tear-gas. As we speak, four of our members are lying critically at the hospital.”
On his part, chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in the state, Hyginus Chika Onuegbu condemned the alleged attack on leaders of oil workers in the state, who were on their legitimate assignment by men of the Rivers State Police Command.
A statement issued in Port Harcourt on Wednesday by Onuegbu reads in part, The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State condemn in its entirely the unwarranted attacks on NUPENG and PENGASSAN members who were peacefully protesting the unprocedural redundancy by the management of Weatherford .
“We know the Police Command in Rivers state for their professionalism and therefore surprised that some of their men could embark on this vexatious action. We therefore call on the Rivers state Government, the Commissioner of Police and Federal ministry of labour to immediately intervene in the matter as a matter of urgency . As a Congress we support NUPENG and PENGASSAN in whatever action they may consider appropriate in the circumstance to protect the rights of their members.”
But, when contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Ahmad Muhammad, who denied the allegation that the labour leaders were brutalized by the police, said the security operatives were only at the premises of the oil firm to enforce a court judgment.
Muhammad said, “I don’t think that is what happened; I don’t know why they are going around saying that police brutalised them. Police was there as security based on demand by the company and to enforce a court judgement. What is there is that there was a court judgement and the police was needed to be there to assist the court bailiff to enforce the judgement. Everybody can open his mouth and say what he wants to say to just to gain cheap popularity.”