Organised Labour Or Citizens’ Rage?

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“Other than their aides, the president and his men should hear voices from the streets. If they do, I’m sure they won’t be able to sleep with two eyes closed because of the level of deprivation at the lower and middle rungs of the society. It is scary”.

BY ZAINAB SULEIMAN OKINO

Whether the national workforce is 720,000 at the federal level and about 90,000 at sub-national level, the number of public servants (constituting the labour force) represented by Organised Labour that the Nigerian government must contend with over the new minimum wage is grossly insignificant in comparison with the number of angry Nigerians thrown into existential agony over government’s unfriendly policies.

If we argue over Labour’s so-called selfish demand for just two percent of the Nigerian populace, it becomes even more appropriate to fault the government’s recalcitrance in their negotiation with such an “insignificant number” in contrast with the possibility that Nigerians could pour unto the streets in millions to demand government’s proactive action against hunger and deaths caused by starvation. That is the stark reality of today’s Nigeria, a country where one tuber of yam sells for as high as between 3,000 and 7,000 Naira.

In the last few weeks, the Nigerian Labour Congress and their Trade Union Congress counterpart and government representatives have been at daggers drawn over the issue of minimum wage for workers. Before the current stalemate, the government had offered 62,000 against Labour’s 250,000 demand, after the last general strike that saw Labour shutting down the national grid and other critical sectors like health and airports.

Labour was heavily criticized for their action, with some calling for the heads of their leaders and seeking for their trials for economic sabotage. I align with the SGF George Akume over Labour’s action in some ways and hope that they (Organised Labour) would be more strategic going forward. SGF Akume however spoiled his own argument when he said the government would not accede to Labour’s demand because someone like him who has four drivers cannot pay even 100,000 to each of the drivers. This is insensitive on the part of the SGF and akin to adding pepper and salt to the bleeding injury of Nigerians. Please what’s the SGF doing with four drivers?

This kind of profligacy permeates the system, and this government has not made much effort to curb or eradicate it. The public service is replete with leakages and loopholes that are exploited for personal advantage. On June 10, 2024, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja ordered the final forfeiture of NOK University and all their assets and property because the anti-corruption organ, EFCC established that the university was linked to a former Director of Finance and Accounts at the Federal Ministry of Health, Anthony Hassan in a case of alleged diversion of public funds. This is in addition to a water factory, and a hotel, both being proceeds of corruption that Anthony Hassan had to forfeit.

The stench in the public sector is nauseating, and if the authorities seem helpless, why should legitimate workers and ordinary Nigerians be made to bear the pangs of official recklessness and daylight robberies at MDAs. Imagine a Director amassing so much, only to build a university where such illegal wealth and other societal malfeasance should be interrogated. How many Anthony Hassans are out there, who having milked us to near death, are revelling in their stolen funds.

Another visibly annoying display of opulence is our convoy mentality. I doubt if any minister or governor moves around with less than 10 cars each, not to talk of heads of MDAs, military and paramilitary heads, senators and Reps all funded and their cars fueled from the public weal. The president’s convoy on his first visit to Lagos after he was sworn nearly shut down the nation’s commercial capital. For a country that spends so much on frivolities, to tell Nigerian workers, who carry the burden of many family members on their shoulders, that it can only pay 62,000 minimum wage is the height of insensitivity. An average basket of tomatoes, just enough for a family of four for about three days costs as high as N15, 000, meaning that N62,000 can only last about a week if you must buy that and protein like meat, milk and egg which have become luxuries.

As part of activities to mark the one-year anniversary of Tinubu in office, the VP’s official residence was recently commissioned after the Minister of FCT Nyesom Wike took it over. Here is a project that was started in 2010 at a cost of N7 billion. At a time of national economic crunch and citizens being compelled by the hard time to make personal sacrifices, this administration completed the VP residence at the cost of N21 billion. Don’t get me wrong; the VP deserves a befitting residence, but how is it a priority now and in such a jet speed?

Within the last few days, news broke that House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence recommended the purchase of a new aircraft for Tinubu and Shettima after its investigation into the status of the aircraft. Are these people living among us at all? How is presidential aircraft a security issue over and above the near absence of food security? Other than their aides, the president and his men should hear voices from the streets. If they do, I’m sure they won’t be able to sleep with two eyes closed because of the level of deprivation at the lower and middle rungs of the society. It is scary.

Government should put certain framework in place and curb their excesses before Nigerians can be convinced that the country is broke. The politicians whom they see as models do not inspire confidence. They are extravagant and reckless with public funds.  Therefore, bad behaviour, corruption and opaqueness must be eliminated, before the government and the governed can be on the same page for the progress of the country.

In the interim, expecting understanding from famished workers where luxuries amid plenty exist is not humanly possible. There must be empathy on the part of leadership to Labour before Nigerians can feel government is concerned for their welfare. Conversely treating Labour’s request with levity has implications. If anger boils over to the streets, no government, no matter how powerful can withstand such rage.

…Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached via zainabokino@gmail.com

 

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