BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
THERE has been growing concern that organised labour in the country has abandoned its responsibilities of galvanizing and representing the views of Nigerian masses and intervening in critical socio-economic and political happenings, that ought to bring the nation’s leaders on check.

This belief was again brought to fore by former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Dr Timiebi Koripamo-Agary, while delivering a Labour of our heroes: Rebuilding Nigeria for its people”, organised by Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in honour of its pioneer President, Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, to mark his 70th birthday celebration.

Dr. Agari who was also a Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications, recalled numerous interventions of labour and positive roles labour leaders played in shaping the destiny of the country, noting that union leadership from the beginning,  had been promoting the enthronement of good governance at all levels of development for effective and equitable participation in the national economy.

According to her: “Labour rallies and strike actions were usually geared towards attracting attention to deficit in some essential ingredients of governance. And it never mattered whether the government in power was military or democratic.”

From left, Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, Dr. Timiebi Koripamo-Agari, former Permanent Secretary Ministry of Labour, Comrade John Odah, General Secretary,NLC, and Comrade Abdulwahed Omar, President, NLC, During the 70th birthday celebration of pioneer President of NLC, Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, held at Lagos Photo: Bunmi Azeez

Recalling the roles of labour and their leaders in the quest for good governance in Nigeria, Dr. Agari argued that Alhaji Sumonu, and his predecessors and successors, enlisted the support of civil societies and engineered a deeper partnership with political parties to demand the establishment of a robust governance framework that can deliver consistent development in all sectors of the economy.

According to her:  “They also insisted that the basis for good governance is a well-functioning democratic political system that ensures representative and honest government, responsive to the needs of the people.

They were always there at constitutional drafting conferences, consultations and discussions on socio-economic policy development. Their invaluable contributions shaped policy direction during their time. Union dues were partly dedicated to workers education and capacity development of leaders. As a result, union leaders were never inferior intellectually and held their ground before their management.”

“The net effect was that the balance in negotiation was achieved and progressively improved through continuous exposures and training of labour leaders. Another milestone of the labours of heroes past was the demand for the institution of the rule of law. The effective administration of justice was considered a critical ingredient.

An equitable legal framework, applied consistently to everyone, ensures that people are defended from abuses of power by the State or non-State actors. It empowers people to assert their rights – to property, education, decent work and freedom of speech which are essential elements for human growth and advancement. In all these, our celebrant Comrade Sumonu was an active voice and arrowhead. We have him and his likes to thank for what we have going for us today.”

Challenges for labour of today

For the former permanent Secretary, it is sad to declare that the fervor and dynamism with which the NLC of old used to champion Nigerians’ interest in governance and in the work place has disappeared  in the NLC of today.

Citing some instances last, she asked: “Where was the NLC at the trying moments of the country, when it took the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) to bring pressure to bear on those institutions that we all helped to create and establish to come up with ‘the doctrine of necessity’, that finally saved this nation from falling over the precipice? Why was NLC not visible, leading the struggle or in partnership with SNG to save Nigeria?

Why was NLC so quiet at a time it mattered most that they mobilized and spoke for us the people? Whose interest was the leadership protecting by this unfortunate silence? Why did the NLC not pro-actively engage government and help to resolve the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU,  strike and closure of our higher institutions which exposed our idle children to

the attendant risk of recruitment into crime and prostitution? Why the resort to threats of strike when in fact there is a possibility of resolution of the issues in dispute through dialogue and negotiation? I hope that Labour leadership realizes that Nigerian workers are getting weary of these flimsy threats and are getting immune to them as they pursue their daily pursuits. Gone are the days when the public stocked up on supplies because the declaration of strike was painstakingly planned and executed. It was never taken lightly. It is no longer so.”

“The new National Industrial Court Act is worrisome as it gives industrial dispute a complete legal status. Its composition negates the time honoured tripartite structure of engaging representatives from labour, employers and government, who do not all have to be lawyers. The fine principles of tripartism have been thrown over-board.

It is worrisome because throughout the public hearing of the Constitutional amendment, the NLC had the opportunity to submit their memo for consideration. Instead of adopting the strategy of lobbying not only the legislators but also government represented by the Ministry of Labour which is the custodian of tripartism, they ill advisedly supported the amendment. Well the amendment is awaiting assent by Mr. President and we wait for the implication soon or our industrial relations environment.

The challenge of backlog of cases will soon surface in our industrial dispute horizon, knowing the challenges in our judicial system.. There is still need for constructive engagement with ot
her stakeholders to deepen the understanding of industrial relations being a matter of human relations and strictly legal in approach or resolution. Remember the Trade Union Amendment (Act) 2005. It took threats and persuasion by the Labour leadership at the time that the original version was amended to make it acceptable to Labour.”

Dr. Agari added that “also of concern to all of us is the observed weakening of the structure of the trade union movement. Expectations were high that the current administration of the movement would be very vibrant and engage in policy dialogue and formulation especially as it affects workers issues and concerns. I refuse to accept that the expected voice died with the exit of its erstwhile leadership.

Not even in the matter of fuel subsidy have I read about a consistent position and voice of the leadership of Nigerian Workers. The Pension Reform Act of 2004 requires constant monitoring so that the pains of pension payments of the old system would go with the wind. Right now there are challenges being experienced by recent retirees who reported difficulties in collecting their benefits.

This needn’t be so and we expect our leaders to rise up to the occasion and defend our interest. This requires leadership that is in touch, active and alive to their responsibilities to workers of Nigeria irrespective of where they are whether in the public or private sector and beyond the collection of check off dues.”

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.