A Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, has taken on the Akwa Ibom State Government under the watch of Governor Udom Emmanuel, claiming that a government that treats her workers poorly cannot tell a private company how to treat its workers.
According to him, the Udom administration has no moral standing to query INELS or any private business organisation in the state over alleged maltreatment of their staff.
Continuing, Effiong said Akwa Ibom is one of the states in Nigeria that does not have Office of the Public Defender (OPD), adding that the state’s Attorney General is more concerned about politics than protecting public interest.
‘’The truth is that the state government, past and present, does not care about the people’’, the activist said.
A popular business outfit in Uyo, the state capital, INELS, was trending within Akwa Ibom Facebook community over allegations of maltreatment of indigenous employees by the management of the company.
According to the activist lawyer, ‘’the sudden activism against someone’s business by a people who resent holding their own state government accountable smacks of hypocrisy. The fact that the owner of INELS is Igbo should not be the basis of this campaign of calumny. I am worried by the needless ethnic dimension of this agitation.
‘’To be clear, nobody should be owed for services rendered or work done. I have personally offered pro bono services for employees who were owed and we helped most, if not all of them, that sought the help of our firm to recover their salaries and entitlements. We have been doing this silently.
‘’I recognise the efforts of my friend Ndiana-Abasi Nana Udom and other state officials to deploy government arsenals to hold INELS to account, I want us to bear in mind that INELS is a private company and is not, strictly speaking, accountable to the Government of Akwa Ibom State.
‘’We are trying to bring down a private company as a result of allegations of poor treatment of its staff. But we see nothing wrong with the poor treatment of workers in Akwa Ibom by Governor Udom Emmanuel.
‘’I read that my comrade friend, Unyime Usoro, who is the Special Adviser to the governor on Labour will be briefed about this INELS matter to enable him take action. I will rather advice my comrade friend to devote his energy to demand for the payment of the entitlement of the Next-of-Kin of Late Primary School Teachers in Akwa Ibom State (1991 to date). That is a more important and troubling labour issue. These people have been fighting for their rights for several years.
‘’As their lawyer and as a concerned Akwa Ibomite, I feel offended by this agitation against INELS from my friends in government. I have chosen to say this publicly for the sake of history. I urge my friends in government and supporters of the government to focus their attention on the case of the Next-of-Kin of Late Primary School Teachers.
‘’Under the watch of Governor Udom, members of the group were arrested and prosecuted on trump-up charges for protesting in front of the Government House. It was our law firm that defended them pro bono and secured their freedom.
‘’I remember the occasions that I had to fly down all the way from Lagos to Uyo to represent them in court all because we have an irresponsible government in Akwa Ibom. People like Comedian Sirjames Essien who have suddenly become activists and are leading this xenophobic agitation against INELS are the ones defending the state government blindly without sparring a thought for the suffering populace.’’
Continuing, he added, ‘’we need to tell ourselves the bitter truth and stop this sickening hypocrisy. Civil servants in Akwa Ibom are among the worst treated in Nigeria. Since Udom Emmanuel became the governor, promotion arrears and leave grants have hardly been paid.
‘’This is a fact. You can confirm this effortlessly. Last year, I was contacted by workers at the state owned Ibom E-Library that they were being owed more than six months salary by the government. I have also heard about the poor treatment of workers in the government promoted AKEES managed by Elder Ufot Ebong. I hope the situation has improved.
‘’These are just few examples of how the state government treats its people. We have a governor who dissipates scarce public resources on frivolous and mundane projects. A governor who is deaf to public agitation, a governor whose administration has seen our state scoring the first in all bad indices in Nigeria.
‘’Akwa Ibom people should be protesting against such a governor and not a private entity. Are we saying that private companies owned by indigenes of the State are treating their workers better? This is another form of xenophobia. I am willing to assist pro bono anyone with proof of maltreatment by INELS through the legal process to recover his or her entitlements.’’