BOMB SCARE SAVES A'IBOM GOVT FROM LABOUR UNREST
Some labour leaders in Akwa Ibom state were scared recently scared stiff when it was revealed that Ibom Hall, the centre of major events in Uyo, had been laced with bombs waiting to be detonated.
Ibom Hall premises have been the centre for most of the socio-political events including political rallies and celebration of electoral victories by Gov. Godswill Akpabio.
At the moment, thousands of motor cycles bought over by the state government are packed there; and the place has become a Mecca some of the owners who claim they have not been paid .
The revelation of alleged impending bomb was made to labour leaders who had gone to Government House that Wednesday to negotiate the new minimum wage which mode of staggered or discriminatory payment had caused organised labour to issue a seven-day ultimatum to government to democratize the payment to all categories of workers or they would down tools.
With the ultimatum only a day away but with the governor in faraway Houston, United States of America and on his way to London, some government officials led by the chief of staff to the governor, Mr Godwin Afanghide, tried a last ditch effort to stave off the strike by appealing to workers to give government another ultimatum within which all grey areas in the wage negotiation would have been polished as the governor was likely to return to put official seal on the agreement. Government eventually agreed to withdraw the discriminatory mode of payment.
But trust labour leaders; some of them accused government of acting insincerely, a phrase that the state attorney general and commissioner for justice, Chief Assam Assam tried unsuccessfully to take exception to but was overwhelmed by the support the person who made the statement enjoyed.
The issue of insincerity snowballed into asking why in a roundtable of labour and state government negotiation, a senior police officer said to be representing the commissioner for police, was conspicuously positioned on the government side.
It was then that Chief Assam disclosed that the police was there due to the security situation in the state.
'If Ibom Hall had been bombed this issue of wage negotiation would even have become a secondary problem in this state because all attention would have been focused on that,' Aganhide said.
The NLC chairman, Mr Uyime Usoro, equally briefed his colleagues that the whole Ibom Hall was wired to be bombed and the detonating button was connected to an air conditioner switch inside the hall.
He apologised to his members for not informing them before then so that the presence of the police officer would not have looked very strange.
With that confirmation, some labour leaders who had seen the bomb scare only as a distraction by the government from the main menu of the day began to see it as a bombshell. Some began to wonder aloud who could have done it and the purpose it was meant to achieve. The rally planned for the next day to announce the commencement of the strike began to look dangerous if not risky. Agreement to postpone it was not longer very hard to arrive at; after all government had rescinded the controversial payment policy.
Labour initially asked for three days for the negotiation to be tidied up but the government team pleaded for five days to enable the governor come back and fully take charge. With the new development, labour ended up giving government seven days so that all loose ends could be tied up. Who want to be a dead hero anyway?
Some leaders even began to take a serious look at the close circuit camera conspicuously hung overhead, and reasoned that the meeting be moved from the room. But a majority overruled with another reason that the gadget was placed everywhere in Government House so there was no escape from surveillance as long as they remain within the premises.
A vociferous TUC official (name withheld) even wondered who should have laced Ibom Hall with bombs but as a way of assuring himself of safety, he said: 'Even if we are there and the bombs explode, I will escape. I've eaten bottles; that my colleague (pointing to another labour leader) has also eaten bottles. But what about other who have not eaten bottles? Do they want them to die just lie that? An official of NUT said; 'Me, I've not eaten bottles-o.'
By the time the government team which had excused itself for labour to reach their internal agreement was summoned back, everything was agreed. Government agreed to recant the policy of paying the minimum wage only to staff between level one and six.
Labour even rewarded them with two extra days to extend the ultimatum to seven days. A joint press conference was addressed between labour and government team and everybody scurried back home.
Maybe bomb scare has become a weapon of negotiation with labour. Who knows whether when the final agreement is to be signed, policemen would take over the venue and a report of attempt to bomb Idongesit Nkanga Civil Service Secretariat would be tabled. Will labour still go ahead to negotiate or give another seven-day ultimatum? But was the bomb scare real or simulated? The police say it was real. The police public relations officer in the state, Mr Onyeka Orji (ASP) confirmed to our correspondent that the Ibom Hall was actually stuffed with bombs but they were discovered and deactivated by bomb disposal squad.
Orji could not confirm if anybody had been arrested saying it was the Cp who could confirm that. Our correspondent called twice but the CP was said to be busy.