Wike lied, he owes pensioners – LP gov candidate

The governorship candidate of the Labour Party in Rivers State, Beatrice Itubo, tells DANIEL AYANTOYE about her political ambition, plight of workers in the state and other issues

Why did you decide to go for the governorship position of the state knowing full well that it is not going to be an easy task to win?

I don’t think winning the governorship ticket is going to be a difficult task because what we are asking of is the people’s mandate, and if you have done things that have impacted on the people, and people want you to go, I don’t think it would be as difficult. Hostilities are factors making people afraid of going out sometimes, and the way people conduct themselves. But as a unionist, I have been trained not to look at those hostilities. I am not afraid of them because I have been taught a lot about conflict management, human industrial relations and the way to get back to human behavioural conditions. I saw the sufferings and the yearnings of the people of the Rivers State, especially the working class, that work for seven years and now going to eight years; those who have been due for promotion before the last administration, who were not promoted have not been promoted today.

As we speak now, people are owed four promotions. Some people have just retired without being promoted or some of them; they will just give them a promotion at retirement. All the money they would have benefitted when they were in service, nothing has happened. And then you look at the issue of pensioners. With all the money that Rivers State flaunts around, they cannot pay gratuity to pensioners. And being the chairman of the workers, I am pained, but there is nothing I have not done. I have gone in a soft way; I have written, threatened, I have gone on strike, I have protested. There is no singular method I have not used and yet, it fell on deaf ears because we have a government that is anti-workers. So, based on that, the workers looked at themselves and said this time around, let one of us go and give this thing a shot and let’s see if it will come out well. Nobody needs to tell the person, go and pay workers as and when due and that was what pushed me. I didn’t just wake up to run; people gave me the moral, support and the needed mandate and strength to enable me to run.

Are you not worried of the big names and big political parties you are going to contend with like Tim Fubara, Pastor Tonye Cole during the governorship election?

It is not the name that is the matter. Politics is all about popularity. So, if you look at the entire names that are coming out for this election, at least I am the only name that is known throughout Rivers State, I am the only name that there is no nook or cranny of this state that somebody have not seen my face. As soon as my name is mentioned, they will say, ‘is it not that labour woman, that woman has tried, that woman has been fighting for workers. So, if you want to talk about big names, I am the biggest name in this race.

What is the current situation of workers in the state, especially concerning the salaries, gratuities and pensions?

It is still where we are; we have been fighting and quarrelling, nothing is happening. Now, we are giving this thing a shot. There is a saying in my place that anything that is remaining one is already finished. Based on the numerous letters we had written, at a point, they (government) said workers should come for biometrics, they want to do this, they want to do that, and people have been going, but how much has been released so far in a state where you owe workers almost N200bn? As at the last time we did the calculation almost a year ago, it amounted to over N160bn, and every month, people retire. From that time till now, is it not up to N200bn? When you want to pay money, you release between N200m and N500m and you said I was shouting and when they heard I was now going for the governorship position, they felt that workers would stand by me and the next thing is that workers should come for biometrics because they want to start paying them. As we speak, which worker has been paid? Nothing has happened, but workers are really aware of what is happening. How many months are remaining? Their days are numbered. Let them leave so that I can come in and pay workers and threat them the way they should be treated because they are humans.

You said their days are numbered, but some people are of the view that your political party, the LP, lacks the political structure to win election. How will you react to this?

I don’t know what they mean by structure. Here in Rivers State, we gave it a trial, we said we wanted two million-man march; at the end of it, people that came out were more than 10 million. So, I don’t know what they mean by structure; If the structure as building, we have a secretariat; so, we have structure. If it is people that will vote, we have it more than them. So, it is fear that is making them to say we don’t have structure. But if structure is the accumulation of ill gotten wealth, then we don’t have such. People understand that these people are not coming to steal; these people are coming to make things better for them. They are coming to make a change in governance, to make the economy to move and to put in place policies that will engenders job creation and security. Policies that will put trust back to the nation. Right now, there is distrust everywhere.

Fulani man cannot trust the Hausa; the Hausa man cannot trust the Middle Belt man. We give them one name or the other, Boko Haram, bandits, unknown gunmen, kidnappers. All these things were created by these monsters who want to remain in power. Is not worrisome that over N2trn is outside the banks, but a human being who is well read can just open a warehouse and load money in it, and the money is not in circulation. It is not impacting the economy, they don’t care about it. Don’t you see that it is madness? Primitive accumulation of wealth is exactly what they want to come back to continue. But the Nigerian populace has rejected them and they have rejected them for good.

The presidential candidate of your party, Peter Obi, was recently in Rivers State, but he never met with you. How did you feel when you realised that he did not ask for the LP governorship candidate of the state?

Well, I didn’t feel bad; Peter Obi came for a private visit to inaugurate a project because the government of the day invited him. They know our importance, they know the impact that we are making in the State and based on that, our presidential candidate was invited to the state. If we are not important, they wouldn’t have told our presidential candidate, ‘we will support you at the federal level, tell your people so that you people will support us at the state’. When the other people came, did you hear such statement? So, they have seen the impact that we are making and the next thing was to tell him (Peter Obi), ‘don’t give anybody money, you don’t have any candidate here’. But they told him, ‘tell your people, they are disturbing me’. You can see the contradictory statement. It simply means that they are afraid of me, they know that I am the candidate to contend with come 2023, and of course, come 2023, by the grace of God, I will take over the Brick House, and pay workers their gratuity, ensure that things are done the right way, carry development to the 23 local government areas of the state. Rivers State is not just Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor; Rivers State comprises 23 local government areas, and we will ensure that there is even development and everybody is carried along.

There are allegations that the judiciary is being used to disqualify some candidates of opposition political parties in the state. What is your reaction to that?

I am happy right now that the Court of Appeal has been able to right now rectify some of the issues. You find out that most of those people that wanted to appeal; at least the latest judgment is that no political party has the right to interfere in the activities of other political parties. So far, such matter has been struck out in favour of two political parties and they are going to be there on the ballot. Even my own political party, they took some of my constituency to court, and the court ruled against them and we appealed and we now believe because of these latest judgments by the Court of Appeal, I think we are going to get justice. I think that there are still some justices who are sane. There are still some justices who know what it takes to have integrity, but there are some justices that have been bought over. One thing about me is that I call a spade a spade. I won’t see something evil and call it good. Whether we believe it or not, many judicial officers have been compromised and there are still some good ones amongst them. So, I want to believe that by Gods grace, those good ones will continue to be there and when we come on board, we will look at all the issues critically so that we will put square pegs in square holes so that this country can change. We cannot continue like a banana republic. People cannot just wakeup and continue to do things as they want. Today, if it favours you, it is okay. Tomorrow, if it does not favour you, it’s not okay. Let evil be evil and let good be good.

There was this controversy over your replacement as NLC chairperson in the state by Emecheta Chuku. How was it resolved? Can it be right to still refer to you as the Rivers State NLC chairperson?

There is nothing like that. Go and check, you will find out that I am still the chairman. Just last week, if not for the injury I had, I was invited to NEC. There are laws governing every institution. Once there is executive rascality, it makes things begin to go upside down the way it ought not to go. Whether you like my face or you don’t like my face, for today, I am the Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, River State Council. That’s the position of the law. The law says I can only be relieved of that position if I am impeached or if I have received a permanent political appointment. It is there in our constitution.

What about holding the position of a candidate of a political party?

Does the candidature of political party translate to holding a permanent political appointment? So, they contested it in court, they are still in court, there was somebody who took me to court earlier that I am retired. We have won that case. But the union law says I will be there until I finish the election. When I win, then I will hand over to who I want to hand over to. But if I feel the office is becoming cumbersome because of my own duty as the campaigns are heating up, I can say one of my vice chairmen should act on my behalf. That does not mean I’m no longer the chairman; I’m still the chairman, they are only in acting capacity. All those things are gimmicks; people play them so that they have to dance to their paymasters. At the end of the day, have they been able to call any meeting? I’m still the one hosting meetings; I’m still the one saying everything. Have you heard them say anything? Look, I am one of the most trained labour leaders. As I speak to you, I have attended more than six international labour conferences which is rear to come by. I have been sponsored to almost 60 countries of the world to study industrial relations.

It is believed that some state governors still have total control over local government allocations. If you become the governor, how will you run away from such temptation of dipping your hands into local government coffers?

You should know that I had led protests when you talk about local government and judicial autonomy. Here in Rivers State, I had led protest twice. Unfortunately, these same legislators that we are fighting for, when we moved towards the River State House of Assembly, the Speaker ran away, all of them ran away, nobody wants to stand and receive us so that their emperor will not kill them, but we are fighting for you. If they finally get the autonomy, is it the workers who will benefit first? Are they not the people who will begin to arbitrate all these things? But what we workers want is for the right thing to be put in place. If the judiciary and legislature enjoy autonomy, those of them who have conscience will be able to pass bills that are not even convenient to their chief executives. But we have a situation whereby in some states, we heard that whatever they want to discuss, they would carry it to their emperors who will approve what should be discuss or not. It is not suppose to be so.

What is your take on state governments that refused to pay N30,000 minimum wage?

That is what I called man’s wickedness against man. These workers have families, they have relations and they are unwilling to pay them N30,000. Ask them (state government) how many are giving their own child, just a child, N30,000 as pocket money. These are the same people that go about keeping hard currencies in ware houses, living very large. In some climes, you find out that they pay workers according to the inflationary trend in the country. Here today, one bag of rice is around N47,000 and a worker is paid N30,000, and they have family, they will pay house rent and other bills. In the midst of these, some of the states don’t want to pay N30,000 minimum wage. You will see that these are people that have decided to be wicked to their fellow human beings, but my happiness is that Nigerians are awake now.

 The governor of  River State, Nyesome Wike said does not owe workers. How true is this?

The governor has always said he does not owe monthly salaries and those they are paying monthly pensions but the governor owes arrears of gratuities that have run into hundreds of billions and he refuses to pay. People that have finished working, and that have used their youthful years to serve the state are not paid. And also, since he came on board, he has not promoted any worker, that is what we are complaining about. When he said he does not owe anybody, I don’t know what he is talking about.

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