The Imo State Chapter of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Union is on strike, allegedly in solidarity with one of their members whose filling station was demolished by a past administration in the State. While I cannot immediately remember if the same union embarked on the same solidarity strike action when the station was initially demolished, this particular strike action is basically to protest the “refusal of government to abide by a court ruling on the matter.” However, the Imo State Government has explained that it has approached the courts for redress over what it found as an unfair judgement.
Scapegoating ordinary, defenseless and long-suffering masses for actions that they are wholly not part of is the most irresponsible and wicked form of industrial unionism and it can amount to some form of criminal exploitation.
The Imo State Commissioner for Information, Chief Declan Emelumba had explained that the union kept the incumbent administration in the dark as regards the judgement, presumably, to ensure that time elapsed within which it would have appealed the judgement. But on receiving the details of the judgement, the government approached the courts, maybe, to seek leave to appeal the judgement. This is appropriate, legally and democratically. Even though, some people might suggest that the government employs the Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism to avert this collision.
It goes without saying that nothing is completely free of politics. And in Imo State recently, everything has become tainted with the most acerbic strain of political conspiracy. The opposition has concentrated all its energy on making sure that the current administration is demonized before the people. Such is the bitterness in the system that even the most basic welfare and security of the people can be sacrificed in order to get at the governor or decimate his administration. That is not opposition, it is clear witchcraft.
The ongoing industrial action embarked by the IPMAN in Imo State is one of such instances, where ordinary people are made to bear the brunt for political, social or economic tussle among the elites. The reality is that no matter how long the industrial action lasts, the governor and all top operatives of his administration and even top leaders of the opposition will not feel any serious inconvenience. The petroleum marketers themselves would also be making brisk businesses from the agonies and frustrations of the masses, because they are the same people who would open their petrol stations at midnight to clandestinely dispense petrol to black marketers and even the same politicians at cutthroat prices. At the end, what we have is one group of oppressors conspiring with another group of oppressors to further oppress the already terribly oppressed masses.
I will pretend or assume that the opposition has no hand in the ongoing and absolutely unnecessary and even illegal strike action embarked upon by the petroleum marketers in the State, and specifically discuss this from the perspective of activism, solidarity and labour unionism as the IPMAN leaders would want us to.
I do not know if the procedures for embarking on industrial action as stipulated in international and local labour laws were duly followed before this action was taken by the IPMAN, but I am aware that one of the laws guiding industrial relations is that any dispute that would lead to industrial action must have to do with a trade dispute. I will have to be better enlightened by the Imo State IPMAN or anyone sympathetic to this action on how an ongoing legal dispute between the State Government and one of its members or even with the IPMAN itself, amounts to a trade dispute. And even if it were, what law permits the IPMAN or any labour union to take laws into its own hands, when all the judicial processes have not been exhausted.
If the major motivation behind this strike action by the marketers had not been to blackmail the current administration in Imo State and demonize it as anti-people, the petroleum marketers should have adopted different methods that would have directly affected the government and its officials.
Some of those methods that wouldn’t have put the masses through these avoidable troubles, and yet more effective are;
1. Protest marches: the union should have led its members to protest marches to government offices, especially, the ministries and agencies directly involved in the ongoing dispute. They should have also barricaded the Imo State Government House in order to impress it on the government to access to their demands.
2. They should have declared a boycott on selling their products to any identified government personnel or vehicles bearing government plate numbers.
3. Publications Across media platforms: the IPMAN did not carry out any sensitization campaign to prepare the minds of Imolites for this strike action. This in itself makes the industrial action illegal, given that their services are mostly patronized by ordinary Imo people and not the government. IMO people pay these marketers for their products and deserve due consultation before they lock up their shops.
4. Picketing: picketing is a type of protest that has been found to be very effective over the ages and this would have been a more responsible action than the unwarranted and abrupt closure of all filling stations in the State which puts ordinary Imolites through added hardships. Had the union picketed even the Ministry of Justice or that of Finance, it would have sent the right signals and also kept the ordinary people away from their dispute.
5. Garnishee Order: If truly there is a binding and final court judgement requiring the government to pay compensation to the affected comrade, the union should have explored the option of securing a garnishee order from the same court, compelling financial institutions handling Imo State Government accounts to pay the stated amount to the affected marketer. This would have also spared the masses the undue suffering they are currently going through.
It is understandable that a good number of members of IPMAN are partisans without varied interests and loyalties, but the group must devise new strategies to play its politics and protect its interests without using the ordinary masses as pawns to settle its differences with the government.