It all started two weeks ago when the Bayelsa State government announced the sack of over 1,200 workers of the state owned Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Amassoma. Since then, the busy community has known no peace. Claims and counter claims rent the air. On the side of government, the sacked workers were mere old cargoes whose services were no longer needed in the civil service. The state government also claimed that those affected were only old women who were employed by the first civilian governor of the state and of the institution, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of blessed memory without due process and that they were now over aged and good to go. Out of the affected staff, 375 workers had already had their salaries stopped since November, 2017.
On the part of the aggrieved sacked workers, the government was only saying the opposite. They believe strongly that their disengagement from the civil service negates public service rules as due process was not followed. They claimed that a large chunk of the affected staff falls within the age bracket of those who are still serving as civil servants in different parts of the state. Another argument raised by the purged workers is that if some persons were actually sacked based on their age, the government should have done the needful by paying them their gratuities and pensions as the law guiding all civil servants demands.
After much pressure from the protesters, who had shut down academic activities at NDU to press home their demands, the state decided to reverse itself when it later announced that three months salaries be paid to the affected workers as pay-off, a situation that sparked more controversies as the protesters argued that the civil service rules only recognized gratuity and pension and not the other way round. These disagreements led to the closure of the school.
Besides the closure of the university campus, the protesters went a step further to express their agony. They went diabolic, to say the least. Vice Chancellor of the University Prof. Samuel Edoumiekumo was not spared. His funeral rites were performed in his absence for serving them sack letters.
While the storm in NDU raged on, the people had expected to see their Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson to come down to Amassoma community to address them in person. One of the protesters had told our correspondent in the heat of the protest that “I want to see my governor. Let Seriake Dickson come and talk to us. We don't want him to send anybody, let him come by himself”.
The clan head of Ogbain Clan in which Amassoma and Ogoibiri, the NDU host communities belong, King Oweipa Jones Ere III was not happy with the turn of events.
He told journalists in Yenagoa that his heart bled over the avoidable calamity that had befallen his people. He was more pained that the police were initially denying that any lives were lost in the clash between the aggrieved workers and the security operatives.
Findings showed that lack of trust in government officials as well as community representatives handling the matter led to the unfortunate incidence. It was gathered that the youth president of Amassoma community, Mr. Joseph Douye who was part of the delegation to the government House in Yenagoa to deliberate on the issues was ordered out of the meeting because “his views were contrary”. It could be recalled that the Youth President had raised an issue of older persons working in other places, mentioning names of local governments where such was happening but his argument fell on deaf ears as he was a lone ranger. Douye was not part of the meeting that agreed to re-open the NDU gate that was closed by the aggrieved protesters.
According to one of the affected staff, the sixth resolution of the meeting which advised the paramount rulers of the two host communities to ensure the re-opening of the school without reinstating the sacked staff led to the ugly incidence.
However, as the governor personally decided to step in, an end to the crisis appear close. He had convened a stakeholders meeting last Friday on the way forward. The resolutions of the meeting reads in part: “Government delegation to visit bereaved families, government to pick the medical bills of injured victims and the burial expenses...
“The youth leadership condemned the action of youths that attacked policemen. The youth leadership also condemned the use of live bullets by the police. Government to set up committee to examine the immediate and remote causes of the disturbance. Another committee to be Set up to promote reconciliation, peace and unity in the community. Those detained by the police to be released. NDU to be re-opened soon. No plans to relocate the university and the state government will commit more funds to develop the university”.