By Victor Ahiuma- Young
THURSDAY, October 1,Â the nation marked her 49 years of nationhood.Â For leaders of workers in the nationâ€™s textile and garment industry, it was an auspicious day to bring labour leaders, rights activists, employers and others together to look at the journey so far.
The venue was the Textile Labour House Lagos, and it was in an independenceÂ symposium organised by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), entitled â€œIndustry and labour since 1960″, were unanimous that socio-economically and politically, the nation had not fared well.
Speakers at the event which attracted several workers, unionists, activists among others, lamented that even todayâ€™s leaders had done little or nothing to instil hope and positedÂ that the promises ofÂ the nationâ€™s founding fathersÂ 49 years ago were fading away like fire
Speaking, General Secretary of NUTGTWN Comrade Issa Aremu, lamented that thereÂ Â was little or nothing for Nigerians to be proud off, stressing that Nigerians often forget the quality of life during colonialism and argued that the nation even lackedÂ the benchmark to assess the quality of life after independence
Comrade Aremu who is also a Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC),argued that if theÂ nation must fulfil the promise of independence, then NigeriansÂ must observe the anniversary with mass actions that led to independence and not mass inaction of home sitting.
According to him: â€œIn line with mass actions, we resist the temptation to sit back at home today ostensibly to celebrate Independence Day.Â Oct 1st is one holiday well deserved because it marks the liberation from British rule but given the fact that President Yarâ€™Adua himself accepted this morning that the promise of independence is far from being fulfilled, Nigerians ought to be on duty today and not sitting idle .
Chief Obafemi Awolowo in one of his reflections noted that Nigerians did not carry arms against the British oppressors to gain freedom. He however added that it took 60 years of relentless patriotic constitutional engagement and contestation with the British before independence was achieved in 1960. Even the British marked empire day with mass mobilization of the colonized. If therefore we must fulfil the promise of independence, then we must observe today with mass actions that led to independence and not mass inaction of home sitting.
The bane of independence celebration is that the countryâ€™s performance is often measured in terms of life since independence. Again this is fine enough. After all, the promise of liberation is that life would be better than life under a domino. However the inherent shortcoming in this perspective is that since we often forget the quality of life during colonialism, we lack the benchmark to assess the quality of life after independence.
The first textile mill was Kaduna Textile mill establishedÂ in 1957 by the regional government of late Sardauna to be followed by Nigeria Textile Mill in the Western region of Awolowo and Aba Textile mill in the east by late Zik. The celebration of independence can only be therefore appreciated against the background of de-industrialization of post-colonial Nigeria.
In the area of education, colonial education was designed to produce clerks and other functionaries to service the lower echelons of the colonial system. Colonial education never produced social scientists, engineers nor Noble Laurel. We canâ€™t go on blaming the colonialists eternally for all our problems but I insist that the spectre of colonial underdevelopment still hunts us today.
In fact we have moved from independence of the 60s, 70s and 80s to greater dependency of the 90s and eventual re-colonialisation (or is it globalisation?) of the new millennium.Â In a cargo economy in which every thing, as hard as a tokunbo car and as soft as policy idea is imported, itâ€™s more dependency celebration.
Nigeria had great promise for development right away after independence. In 1965, Nigeriaâ€™s GDP was $5.8 billion, compared with $3.8 billion for Indonesia, $3.1 billion for Malaysia and $9.8 billion for Venezuela. It cannot be overstated that these countriesÂ â€œhave left Nigeria far behindÂ in termsÂ of productivity, income generation and general economic developmentâ€.
Earlier in his opening address, President of the union, Comrade Reginald Agulanna, said: It is painful that Nigeria remains a poor country in spite of the huge and monumental human and material resource endowment. Unemployment remains intolerably high amidst unending cases of industrial closure and gross under-utilization of industrial capacity. A situation that has been made worse by unending crisis of electricity supply over the last two decades and a half.
At independence, the promise was that of economic prosperity and national development across the geo-political zones in the country. Sustained industrial development was boosted with massive infrastructural development by Federal and State governments through establishment of industrial estates in most cities of the country. At the Federal level, stable macro-economic environment coupled with efficient and effective policy regimes ensured focused industrial development across the nation. Almost two decades after, Nigeria has engaged the reverse gear in industrial growth with manufacturing contributing a mere three (3) percent to GDP in 2008.
The creation of consistent, sustainable and conducive macro-economic for industry remains a key goal for any nation that is keen to be an active player in the emerging global business environment. Nigeria is a great nation with great potentials, yet characterized by long years of struggles in terms of poverty and corruption due to bad leadership.
Nigeria needs radical change and a shift in development model that will ensure a return to post-independence era of stable macro-economic environment and steady infrastructural support for industries. It is against this background that the union is embarking on yet another campaign to bring the issue of industry and job creation back to the development agenda of government.
We will not relent in our patriotic campaign and advocacy for friendly business environment, stable macro-economic policy, consistent, clear and focused industrial strategy and above all good governance in Nigeria. IÂ wish to use this forum to call on the leadership at all levels to take a clue from the leadership style of our founding fathers at independence and commit themselves to good governance with a view of ensuring industrial revival, job creation, wealth generation and poverty eradication.
On their parts, bothÂ Director-General of Textile Employers Association, Mr John Olarewaju and the Human Resource Director of 7UP Bottling Company Plc, Mr. Femi Mokikan, traced the beginning of de-industrialisation in the country and concluded that since 1997 till today, the nation had continued to witnessed alarming rate of factory closures and relocations from Nigeria to more conducive neighbouring countries.
The duo lamented that textile industry was the worst hit as out of over 250 textile factories and mills in the 80s across employing not less than one million direct and indirect workers, today it could not boast of 20 functional textile factories with less than employment capacity of 15000.
Political leaders cause of nation’s woes
Among the speakers were, Secretary of Amalgamated Unions of Public Corporations,Â Comrade Sylvester Ejiofoh,Mr. Bamidele Aturu, Comrade Segun Sango and Comrade Abiodun Aremu. TheyÂ collaborated the views of others and declared that they may have to challenged the nationâ€™s political leaders to account for the deeds in the office.
According to them the result of misrule that had bedevilled the country since was evidence in the frighteningÂ poverty, endemic corruption, electoral malpractice, insecurity, alarming unemployment, failing education standard decayed infrastructures among others had characterized the past 49 years of the Nigeriaâ€™s nationhood.
According to them, contrary to the promised of social justice, every succeeding government tended to lead Nigeria deeper into a failed nation and declared that if Nigeria must move forward, Nigerians who go back to the street and rescue the country.