Scores of widows engaged by the Imo State Government to sweep major roads in Owerri metropolis were Monday tear-gassed in front of the Imo State Government House, Owerri, while protesting their six months unpaid stipends.
This is the third time in one month the women have taken their protest to the Government House to press home their demand for payment.
The women who were forcibly dispersed from the Government House gate with teargas, later gathered at the Wetheral Road Junction, lamenting their plight.
The women, under the aegis of Imo Widow Sweepers Association, told journalists that the state government terminated their employment last year but refused to pay them their six months’ salary arrears.
The spokesperson, Mrs. Mercy Okorie said: “We are widows, who used to sweep the streets of Owerri. We are over 750 in number. The government disengaged us last year, but refused to pay us our six months’ arrears of salaries. We have made efforts to get our salaries paid, but there’s no headway. We are owed N90,000 each, because our salary every month is N15,000,” Okorie stated.
The Chief of Staff to Governor Hope Uzodimma, Nnamdi Anyaehie had sometime ago, during a similar protest assured the women that they would be paid.
“On my honour, I want to assure that you will get your money on or before Monday. Governor Hope Uzodimma is very compassionate. He is for you. The delay is because most of you have not submitted your account details. The truth is that this administration does not pay salaries in cash, the way you were being paid before,” he stated. It was based on Anyaehie’s promise that the women returned to the Government House on Monday.
Meanwhile, a correspondent of the Punch Newspapers in Imo, Chidiebube Okeoma, alleged that he was brutalized by Government House security guards for interviewing the protesting widows.
Okeoma, said he was accosted by some policemen who questioned the authority on which he was talking to the women.
All explanations to them that he was doing his legitimate duties were rebuffed as the police bundled him to the office of the Chief Security Officer, CSP Shaba Adamu.
Narrating his ordeal to Ozisa FM Owerri on Tuesday, the journalist said,” I was at the Government House Roundabout where I was covering widows who were protesting their six months non payment of salaries owed them by the state government.
“While I was there, policemen welding rifles barged into me after cocking their guns. One of them immediately slapped me while the other punched me on my left eye and took all my gadgets.
“They demanded to know who gave me the permission to cover the protest but in response I told them that my power to cover the protest was enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They immediately dragged me on my waist and put me inside one of their operational vehicles and drove me to Imo State Government House.
“The policemen who were harassing and intimidating me in the vehicle, matched me like a common criminal to the office of the governor where I was bundled into the office of the Government House Chief Security officer, Shaba Adamu.
“On sighting me, Adamu said that I ought to have been detained instead of bringing me to him but I told him that I am not a criminal but the Imo State correspondent of The PUNCH newspapers. He requested to know who gave me the permission to cover the protest but I insisted that my roles as a journalist are enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The policeman then demanded to see the video footages and photos I made and on seeing them he ordered me at gunpoint to delete them which I did, after which they released the gadgets to me.
“He later gave me N5,000 to use and treat myself which I collected at gunpoint—and warned me not to ever repeat it again.
“I reported the case to the Commissioner of Police, Abutu Yaro but he told me that the officers at the Government House are not under his command. I wanted to drop the N5,000 with him but he refused to collect it.”Okeoma confirmed that the protesting widows were dispersed with teargas.
… Police didn’t beat PUNCH man– Commissioner
The Imo State Government on Tuesday denied reports that a correspondent of The PUNCH, Chidiebube Okeoma, was brutalized by security operatives from the governor’s office for covering a protest by a group of women.
The women were reportedly protesting unpaid salary arrears.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, in a statement said contrary to the reporter’s claim, Okeoma was only questioned by the police for failing to properly identify himself after he was caught filming restricted areas of the Government House in Owerri after the protesters had left.
Emelumba said it was curious that of all the journalists who covered the protesters, none was molested except The PUNCH correspondent.
The commissioner added that it was also bewildering that someone who claimed to be a journalist could neither produce his ID card nor conduct himself in a dignified manner.
He also dismissed the allegation that the chief security officer in Government House offered Okeoma N5,000 to treat himself of injuries from his encounter with the police.