Just In: Wear a face mask or pay N20,000 fine – Uzodinma tells Imolites, warns labour against going on strike

Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State has told Imolites to return to strict use of facemasks and adherence to all Covid-19 protocols or pay a fine of N20,000 if found guilty by a mobile court in the state.

In a state broadcast to Imo People on Friday, January 22, Uzodinma said it has become necessary to return strict adherence to Covid-19 safety protocols in the state due to the rise in number of cases witnessed in the second wave of the pandemic.

The Governor regretted that “in spite of my repeated appeals that we protect ourselves from this lethal pandemic by taking simple safety measures, a vast majority of our people have stubbornly refused to listen.”

“The reality on ground points clearly to the fact that no matter how much we want to deceive ourselves, COVID-19 is not only real but deadly. The second wave of this virus which is now ravaging the world, our country inclusive, is even more deadly. Our people are dying almost every day from the lethal sting of this cruel virus. Yet many of us choose to live in the self delusionary fantasy that Coronavirus does not exist.”

“Let me make it very clear that ensuring that Imo people and residents are alive and healthy is a patriotic responsibility that I am determined to enforce with every authority at my behest. In this respect, I want to sound it loud and clear to all and sundry that the days of self-delusion on the reality or otherwise of Coronavirus are over. The virus is here with us and it is killing our people by the day. The time to insist on the strict enforcement of needful safety protocols is now.

“Consequently, the government’s Executive Order making it compulsory for all Imo people to wear face masks will henceforth be enforced with unwavering determination. The Imo State COVID-19 Committee headed by Prof. Maurice Iwu, working with the relevant agencies in the Ministry of Health, has been empowered to arrest and prosecute anyone seen in public without face masks. Four mobile courts have been put in place, two in the state capital and one each in Orlu and Okigwe zones, to try offenders. The penalty for not wearing face masks is a maximum jail term of six months or N20,000 in lieu.

“The Executive Order further provides that any gathering of more than 50 persons anywhere in the state is an offense. The conveners of such gatherings also risk six months in prison or N20,000 in lieu. It is equally an offense to hold such gatherings without providing for hand sanitizers and wash hand stands.

“All hotels, eateries, supermarkets and stores are by the Executive order compelled to provide hand sanitizers, wash hand stands test the temperature of their customers and insist on face masks before admitting them into their premises.

“Any store, hotel, eatery or night club that fails to adhere to these rules will be promptly shut down. In addition, the proprietors will be prosecuted.

“These measures equally apply to all forms of religious gatherings, marriages or funerals. Similarly, all markets in the state must ensure that their customers wear face masks. The leadership of the markets must provide hand sanitizers and wash hand stands positioned at strategic points in the market. The leaders of the different markets shall be held accountable for the enforcement of these measures. Those of them who fail risk prosecution and attendant punishment.

“Let me be emphatic in announcing that henceforth no one will be allowed to enter any public building in the state without wearing a face mask. Also, heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies ((MDA’S) must ensure that wash hand stands and sanitizers are mounted at strategic positions in their MDA’S. Those who fail to enforce these safety protocols, equally risk prosecution with the attendant penalty.

“It is my fervent desire and my sincere expectation that our people and all concerned should commit themselves more diligently to the observance of these safety measures because they will go a long way in keeping everybody safe.

“However, I must make it absolutely clear that if our people choose instead to continue to deceive themselves that Coronavirus does not exist and continue to go about without face masks and without observing other safety protocols, I will be forced to review the situation in the coming weeks. If it is clear from the realities on ground that extra, more stringent measures must be taken to keep our people safe, I will have no choice but to authorize a second lockdown of the state. The choice is entirely ours to make: To strictly adhere to the simple safety protocols now or to face a complete lockdown in a few weeks.”

Uzodinma also condemed the decision of Labour in Imo State to embark on strike over unpaid salaries and warned workers who join in the strike to forget about their salary at the end of the month.

He said: “efforts are ongoing to ensure that the correct data details of the few workers still having issues with the payroll are collated and built into the automated payroll system.

“All workers in the state have been given a personal identification form to complete. The target is to ensure that every legitimate worker in the state is given the opportunity to provide his or her personal identification details for the payroll automation process. It is hoped that this will help resolve the issue of incomplete data information of the few workers still having challenges with the automated payroll.

“Regrettably, however, while government has paid all validly verified workers their salaries up to date and is making sincere efforts to solve the problem of the few with incomplete personal identification data, some mischievous labour leaders are relentlessly pushing for industrial unrest in the state.

“The Coronavirus pandemic on its own is generating enough health and social tensions among our people. It calls for sacrifice and rededication to duty from leaders to cushion the devastating socio-psychological impact on the people. No responsible labour leader will want to add to the present social tension and uncertainty, and even panic, which is the present cross of our people, arising from apprehension over COVID-19. Yet some so called labour leaders are calling out workers to strike on a baseless and fallacious claim of non-payment of salaries. Nothing can be more unpatriotic than this crass display of insensitivity in a tension soaked time. It is worse when the action is based on total falsehood, veiled parochial interests and unbridled bigotry.

“My candid advice to Imo workers is that they should not allow themselves to be used as instruments for the actualisation of the veiled political interests of politicians masquerading themselves as labour leaders.

“The government is determined to continue to pay workers salaries regularly. However, salaries will be paid only to those who earn it by working. If any worker decides to join a baseless strike action, he or she should not be in any doubt that there will be no salary at the end of the month. Our policy is simple: NO WORK NO PAY, which is in accord with international labour law provisions, section 43 of the Trade Disputes Act.”