The abduction of the schoolgirls from Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State, took the centre stage at several Workers’ Day celebration rallies as organised labour, civil society organisations (CSOs) and women in Kaduna protested the federal government’s inability to rescue the girls, 18 days after they were kidnapped from their hostel by members of Boko Haram.
As workers in Borno State, CSOs and other interest groups staged a peaceful rally in Maiduguri, the state capital, the protesters who all wore black aprons, were led by the state Chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Titus Ali Abana, in a march from the NLC secretariat to the Borno Government House where they registered their displeasure over what they termed the government’s “slowness” in rescuing the girls.
Abana said the workers were using the opportunity of the May Day to mourn the victims of the insurgency in the state and the abducted girls of Chibok.
He said: “Today is the 1st of May which is a day set aside for workers across the world to celebrate Workers’ Day. Unfortunately, workers in Borno State are in no mood to celebrate as the uncertainty of our lives and the fate of our abducted school girls continue to haunt us.
“In the labour creed, an injury to one is considered an injury to all and in this regard therefore, we empathise with the parents and relatives of these girls and also sympathise with the school girls themselves as we cannot continue to imagine what they may have passed through this past two weeks in the hands of their heartless abductors whose stock in trade has been senseless murders and untold carnage."
After registering their presence, Abana presented a letter of protest to the state governor, Kashim Shettima, for onward transmission to President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly.
The workers also presented food and clothing for onward distribution to people who have been displaced by insurgents in the state.
The governor, in his address to the workers, condemned the activities of the sect, reiterating that their activities are un-Islamic and assured them that the girls were going to be rescued from their abductors.
“One thing I believe is that God is not a God of injustice and insha Allah (by the grace of God), we are going to get back our daughters.
“We are in very trying period in the annals of contemporary Borno history, but we assure you that no matter how long the night is, it must give way to the light of dawn.
“No matter how harsh the weather might be it cannot stop the rain forever. What we are experiencing is a temporary eclipse, the Borno sun will start shining again and very soon, insha Allah,” Shettima said.
The governor also commended the harmonious relationship between the government and the labour union and called for its continuous support.
In Kaduna, hundreds of Muslim and Christian women yesterday also joined the protests against the abduction of the schoolgirls from Chibok.
The women, who stormed the Murtala Mohammed Square, Kaduna, at about 10 am accused the federal government and the security agencies of failing to rescue the girls from the abductors well over two weeks after their kidnap.
Although the protest was originally meant for only women, it was later hijacked by some young men who claimed that they were playing a fatherly role in line with the demands of the protesting women.
The protesters walked round the expansive square for about 45 minutes, carrying placards with various inscriptions demanding that the federal government takes urgent steps to ensure the immediate release of the girls.
After walking round the Square, the women sat on the bare floor, wailing and urging the government to act without further delay.
The spokesperson of the group, Hajiya Sa’adatu Hama, told newsmen that even if the girls were ghosts, the government should have secured their release by now.
“This is not good enough, but if one person dies in Abuja today, the whole government functionaries will converge on Abuja. But where are our daughters? Government must bring them out for us.
“These girls are somewhere, hale and hearty, we want government to bring them out now, we will not stop crying, we will not stop praying and we will continue to call on government to secure the release of our daughters,” she said.
However, the protest, which took place under heavy police security, almost degenerated into a riotous situation when the women were asked to move closer to the podium where the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Aminu, was waiting to address them.
This development angered the young men who prevented the women from advancing to the podium for Aminu’s address, saying the occasion was not a rally for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“This is not PDP rally, don’t come here to play politics with the lives of the missing girls, if you want to address the women, come down to them,” the men shouted at the chief of staff.
In registering its protest, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) boycotted the May Day rally at the Eagle Square, Abuja as a mark of solidary with the parents of the missing girls, but called on the federal government to collaborate with foreign countries in its bid to rescue the girls.
It said all machinery, including collaborating with foreign countries with sophisticated and hi-technology equipment for surveillance, should be explored to save the girls.
The President of PENGASSAN, Babatunde Ogun in his May Day message said the failure of the government and its security agencies to find the abducted girls had thrown the nation into mourning.
“We demand that all machinery, including collaborating with foreign countries that have sophisticated and hi-technology equipment for surveillance should be put in place to ensure the rescue and restoration of the schoolgirls to their parents and guardians,” he said.
Ogun further called on the government to invest more in unemployment and poverty, which have been identified as breeding criminality.
He also noted that security in the country was the responsibility of all Nigerians, while calling on security agencies to develop their intelligence gathering skills to forestall criminal activities before they are carried out.
Speaking on other issues, Ogun called on the National Assembly to expedite action on the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), as its continuing delay had become a disincentive to investment in the oil and gas sector.
He also expressed displeasure at the refusal of government to carry out turnaround maintenance on the refineries despite the memorandum of understanding reached with the union to do so by the first quarter of 2014.
“The government should also stop any attempt to secretly sell the refineries without involving PENGASSAN and NUPENG, which should also be involved in stakeholders' meetings that will define and determine the business model to be used for the operations of the refineries,” he said.