By Jonathan Ugbal
Residents of Ikom local government area of central Cross River State recently took to the streets to protest a prolonged blackout.
The residents who carried placards and demonstrated around town say they have for months paid their electricity bills with the Portharcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) not providing them with light.
“The chiefs, labor unions and youths have been meeting and this was their agreement,” David Ogbudu, a cinematographer and journalist told CrossRiverWatch in a telephone conversation.
He said: “The people conducted themselves in an orderly manner, they were peaceful and the police was there to forestall breakdown of law and order. They are saying that there has been no light for a very long time and they are tired of paying bills and not seeing light.”
An iReport video sent to CrossRiverWatch newsroom showed a locked PHEDC business district office in Ikom as well as some residents.
The iReporter claimed that they have been receiving estimated bills and disclosed that shops and stalls were locked to achieve what he described as “a fraud.”
In a related development, the organised labor in the state had earlier in the week locked up the office of telecommunications giant, MTN in Calabar for alleged casualization of staff.
The auditor of the Nigeria Labor Congress in the state, Comrade Peter Ipuole told CrossRiverWatch that the picketing exercise was a nationwide affair and gave reasons why.
“We are picketing MTN stations, wherever their offices are. There have been a lot of casualization of workers and that is one of the things that labor is against; when you employ pople without due process, just exploit them and make so much money to the detriment of the workers and every worker deserves his wages which is what we call dignity of labor. But here, their level of exploitation has become too much, too unbearing to us as members of the Nigerian labor congress,” he said.
He continued: “You can imagine people working in a place and they don’t allow you to speak. So whatever they want to do to you, they hire and fire. It is not what we are looking for presently in Nigeria.
“Another issue that is very paramount here is the fact that you cannot allow people to marry, have children and so on until maybe you leave their job. What is the essence of this work, you cannot marry and if you marry you can’t bear children especially for the women. It is against humanity, it is against God’s biblical instruction that we should procreate because it is only through marrying and having children that you can even have the manpower we are talking about here.
On the impact of the picketing and if the company fails to meet labor’s demands, Ipuole said that it will become clear for the world to see as this is not “apartheid South Africa which is no longer an apartheid country.”
“We know the link between South Africa and MTN. MTN should be able to understand that employment is employment and conditions of work is critical in any organization. Without good working conditions, the worker will not give you the best and the output in turn will be detrimental to the organization,” Ipuole said.
He posited that the poor working conditions were evident in the poor staffing of MTN offices due to the fact that many can’t bear their working environment and guidelines.
Also, he said the staff must be allowed to “unionize” and wondered why the organization will stop their staff from forming an association especially as the Nigerian constitution permits them to.
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