The President of the Association of the Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) unit, Asekokhai Lucky, in an interview, said that coronavirus has already been detected in three officials of the agency at its headquarters.
NIMC officials across the country on Thursday began a strike action over the fear of COVID-19 spread in the agency.
He said the workers were annoyed because the management of the commission was aware of the development, but kept it from workers, who could have taken necessary precautions to protect themselves.
Lucky also said the workers would meet with government on Friday (today) to discuss COVID-19 scare and other issues that led to the strike.
Following the strike embarked upon by the workers, people who trooped to the NIMC offices across the country, were stranded as there was nobody to attend to them.
Recall that the Federal Government had, on December 14, 2020, ordered telecommunications firms to disconnect telephones lines of subscribers who failed to link their National Identity Numbers to their subscriber identification modules.
No fewer than 164 million Nigerians, who do not have the NIN have been trooping to the NIMC offices, disregarding COVID-19 protocols such as wearing of face masks and social distancing.
Lucky, in the interview with The PUNCH on Thursday evening, indicated that what angered the workers was that government was aware that three employees of the NIMC had been infected and that others were at the risk of contracting the virus, but kept quiet.
He stated, “Three workers of the NIMC have contracted COVID-19 because in our recent meeting a member of staff actually testified to it.
“The minute of that meeting captured it, as three persons are down with COVID-19. Some of us actually thought those guys were on leave. It was cleared yesterday (Wednesday) that they were treating themselves in isolation centres.”
The union accused the management of keeping silent about the development despite knowing what this could mean to workers of the commission.
Lucky said, “Our annoyance is that the management refused to say it out, knowing that it would have helped us to take all necessary precautions. Nobody is talking to anybody.
“That is our annoyance. Yes, our pay is poor, but there are ways we can manage ourselves. The three staff members are in the headquarters here in Abuja. One has been treated, but has not gone back for clearance.”
He said the union had been making efforts to meet with the NIMC management over staff welfare but noted that the commission’s boss had not shown interest.
It was learnt that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, tried to intervene in the matter, but could not, following disagreements on a suitable venue to hold a meeting.
Lucky said, “The minister came today, but we did not speak with him. When he came, we were outside and they asked us to come inside, but we refused because the management said yesterday (Wednesday) that the union chairman should go.
“The staff said if the union chairman was to go, then we would not go inside to speak with the minister. But at the end of the day and for security reasons, we agreed to go inside.”
“For the minister to address us, we were told again that the minister could not speak to us unless we went to another location on the premises. And because of the crowd, we said we could not go there.
“We relocated to another location, expecting the minister but we were told that the minister said if we did not come to where he was, then he would not talk to us and the minister entered his vehicle and left.”
The NIMC union leader, however, noted that the workers would meet with the government and the management of the commission today (Friday).
He noted that the Trade Union Congress, the parent union of the workers, would wade into the matter, adding that by 10pm on Thursday, the workers would meet to decide if they would work on Friday.
Lucky stated, “We told them (the management) to let us go, then tomorrow we will continue the meeting. You know they are after the enrolments. They want people to be registered.
“But we said no, you guys are after registration, what about those people who do the job? They don’t have us in mind. Well, we told them that the matter is before our mother body, the TUC, and they will hear from us.”
Top management officials of the commission refused to pick calls nor responded to text messages sent to them on the matter.
The Director-General, NIMC, Aliyu Aziz, and the commission’s spokesperson, Kayode Adegoke, did not answer several calls to their mobile phones when contacted.
It was, however, gathered that the management was ready to meet with the union on Friday.
Earlier on Thursday, thousands of applicants were locked out of the offices of the NIMC because of the strike. The notice of strike was signed by Lucky, and the Secretary of the ASCSN, NIMC unit, Odia Victor.
It read in part, “Consequent upon the just concluded congress of the above mentioned association that took place on January 6, 2020, the unit executive directs all members at grade level 12 and below in the head office and state offices to report to their respective duty posts tomorrow January 7, 2020 and do nothing.
“All members at the local government offices and special centres are advised to stay away from their various centres as task force and implementation committees would be on parade to ensure total compliance with the directive.”
According to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting of the ASCSN, NIMC branch, the strike has become necessary due to the exposure of staff to COVID-19, lack of personal protective equipment, irregularities in promotion and poor funding.
They also asked to be paid overtime and given enough tools to work with.
The congress noted that, “Staff members were infected with COVID-19 and adequate measures have not been taken to curtail the spread. The meeting resolved that safety of staff should be prioritised. Furthermore, the office environment should be fumigated immediately.
“The congress agreed that the NIMC staff salary structure approved by the Federal Government vide presidential assent be implemented in the personnel appropriation of the 2021 annual budget effective January 2021.
“That the lopsided and irregular promotion done in 2017 and 2020 be reviewed, regularised and gazetted in accordance with public service rules.
In Gombe State, no fewer than 11 offices of the NIMC and two special centres were on Thursday shut following the strike by the ASCSN.
The acting Chairman of the committee in charge of compliance, Aminu Lawan, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the strike was aimed at protecting their members against second wave of COVID-19.
Lawan noted that the strike helped the union to bring to the fore the need for Federal Government to take seriously the salary structure of the NIMC staff.
He said the Federal Government should give the NIMC staff, allowances that were being given to frontline health workers.
In Kwara State, applicants in Ilorin, the state capital, were turned back as NIMC workers joined the strike.
The state Chairman of the ASCSN, Akano Saheed, who led other officials of the union, appealed to the people who came to register to understand the plight of the workers whom he said were working under poor conditions.
He said that the NIMC workers had not been promoted for about 15 years. Saheed stated, “The workers have no facilities to work, the welfare is poor even though they work with computers which are dangerous to their health and the management did not provide an enabling environment.
The acting state Coordinator at the NIMC office, Gbenga Popoola appealed to the crowd who refused to leave the gate of the agency to remain for calm.
Also in Ogun State, applicants were stranded. When The PUNCH correspondent visited the office of the NIMC at Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, they were left unattended to.
Applicants who spoke to one of our correspondents, expressed frustration following the industrial action that halted the exercise.
A student of the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Sodiq Adeboye said he had visited the centre more than three times without succeeding.
Workers at the NIMC office in Lagos State dispersed applicants in compliance with the directive of the ASCSN.
Many of the workers in the local government areas did not show up at work, and those who did, stayed only a few hours.
A senior official of the agency told one of our correspondents that the monitoring team of the union moved round six local government areas to enforce the order, adding that there was 90 per cent compliance.
He said, “Our staff showed up at the headquarters at Alausa. For the local government areas, many of them did not report to work. Those who came only dispersed applicants. They addressed the applicants by 8am and told them to go home after explaining our plight to them. The monitoring team visited about six local government areas for compliance and it was okay.
“Those who came for the application at Alausa were not even allowed into the compound; they were turned back from the gate. Most of us did nothing; we just sat down in the office. The communiqué says 48 hours, so the same thing is going to happen tomorrow. The minister came to Abuja today (Thursday) to meet with some of our officers, but the meeting was not fruitful.”
The Chairman of the ASCSN, NIMC Unit, Abakaliki, Edene Chukwudi, also told one of our correspondents that three workers of the commission had been infected with COVID-19.
He said, “We are on strike because three of our staff contracted coronavirus and this has also spread to their children. This is because of the nature of work we do here, which brings us in contact with people every tiime. The Federal Government has not given us any personal protective equipment, thereby exposing us to danger.
“Since we started work, we don’t have hazard allowance. We don’t have first 28 days allowance usually given to new employees and it has not been paid to us since we started work in 2013 till date. We don’t have light neither do they provide fuel and data to enable us to carry out our work effectively. Now that the strike has come, they will know how important we are.”
A registrant, Mba Kalu, who narrated his ordeal to one of our correspondents, said the exercise affected his business, saying he spent several days at the registration centre without success.