National Assembly workers made good their threat to shut down the third arm of government, yesterday, in protest against unpaid salaries and eight-year-old backlog of allowances and non-promotion by the management.
The protesting staff shut down both chambers of the parliament, and effectively prevented Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara from convening plenary.
They also prevented some lawmakers, including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, from accessing the chamber, threatening that until they are paid, the National Assembly won’t sit.
For over five minutes, Ekweremadu tried, without success, to convince the protesting staff. His pleas were rebuffed. Thereafter, Ekweremadu accessed his office through another route.
Saraki got into the building at about 10.25am but was advised to boycott the White House, which houses both chambers of the National Assembly.
Hours into the protest, Saraki resurfaced at the lobby of the White House where he addressed the aggrieved staff.
Using a public address system, Saraki promised to look into their challenges and promised to hold a meeting with the management, where the issues would be resolved.
Saraki’s assurance was met with shouts of ‘No! We want our money!”
His voice was drowned by the protesters, who vowed not to end the siege until their demands were meant.
On charting ways for implementation of CONLESS, Saraki asked the workers to give the management till Friday.
“Let me assure you that we are on the same page to ensure the implementation. We are not in direct control of the issue but we have asked your leadership to give us from now till Friday.”
The timeline, however, was not in agreement with the workers who insisted deliberations and decisions come earlier than Friday.
“What I am committing to you, alongside the leadership, is that we must find money to ensure the implementation of your demand. But, for us to find a solution, we must be able to sit down and hold a meeting.
“If you allow us, the report on the condition of service will be considered immediately by the two chambers so that we can pass that immediately. We want to meet with you and communicate to you on the way forward but for that to happen, we must be able to sit.”
Immediately, the workers began to shout: “No alert, no sitting!” which meant lawmakers would not be allowed to sit in plenary until their demands are met.
In a joint statement, thereafter, Saraki and Dogara, directed the National Assembly management Committee, headed by the Clerk, Alhaji Sani Omolori, to resolve all issues raised by the protesting members of staff and report back to them by Friday.
Saraki’s Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, said in the statement that, at a meeting attended by the management and staff under the umbrella of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), the senate president and the speaker, who addressed the meeting, on behalf of the leadership of both chambers, said it is important for the workers to be well-motivated and their demands properly addressed; in order to create a conducive atmosphere for the legislature to perform its duties.
The senate president and speaker noted that the demands of the workers are part of the responsibilities of the National Assembly’s management and that the grievances of the workers should not be allowed to linger.
Hitherto, the protesters took strategic positions at about 8:00 am when, over 200 staff stormed the entrances leading to the two chambers with placards, with different inscriptions.
Some protesters called for the removal of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani-Omolori. They claimed that the Clerk is due for retirement, but refused to proceed on his terminal leave.
One of the protesters told Daily Sun that arrears of over 10 years had not been paid. The protester, who identified himself as simply Sule, said salaries are also being owed, while promotions are delayed. He said the picketing will not end until their demands are meant.
In his response, Sani-Omolori said: “It is a matter that has been on for some time now and, we have tried to explain to them. We approved salary increase for them, which was captured in 2the 018 budget but, as it is today, it is a common knowledge that the level of implementation of the 2018 budget, especially the new addition to the National Assembly, which has not been implemented–that is where we had hoped that the addition would be paid.
“So, to the extent that the money has not been released, there is no way we can make the payment. We told them it is wrong and we tried to prevail on them to try to see through things in the correct way.”