SPEECHES will be made. Workers will march, security permitting. Everything else about May 1, Labour Day, is uncertain; a reflection of the hard times and abundant disinterest of the authorities in the well-being of the people.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of workers gather at various venues across Nigeria, make fiery speeches about the dearth of jobs; sing about solidarity, the shrinking welfare of the employed and the importance of labour. They listen to placating speeches from governments – they go home, waiting for next year’s speech.
Things are getting worse. Government policies, poor security situation, and the ubiquitous challenges from electricity supply have combined to lower Nigeria’s attraction to investors. The rise on unemployment, rated as high as 50 per cent according to some statistics, is the evidence of the impact of policies that emphasise the welfare of politicians and top government officials, over the development of the infrastructure that would enhance job creation.
Many who marched at last year’s rallies are currently jobless. The statistics are worse for youth unemployment with thousands of university graduates without jobs. More join the queue with every graduation ceremony.
Four years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan won workers’ hearts when he signed the minimum wage law. The labour disputes the law spawned, with authorities refusing to pay, are among tensions around labour.
Hardly is there a part of the country without a strike over workers’ welfare. The attitude these days is to ignore the strike, whether it is by lecturers or doctors. If you expect to hear what governments have done since last year to increase employment opportunities, all you would get are phantom figures that are improvements on ones rehashed over the years.
Where are the 11 million jobs Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, promised in 2011? His calculation was that each of the country’s 11 million medium and small-scale industries would create at least one job in 2012 to make up 11 million jobs.
The World Bank loans he promised and his prophecy of improved electricity, without which the capacities of these industries are doomed, did not materialise. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also talks about job creation in vacuous terms. Maybe she would not forget to add that her re-based economy has created millions of jobs.
Labour Day, instead of a review of the progress made since last year, would be another round of promises, and lamentations.
Strikes, agitations for better working conditions, the millions of the unemployed roaming the streets, and the links that security agencies make between unemployment and rising unrest are good reasons for government to create jobs beyond words.
Promises have run their full course. They now sound hollow.