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National Conference is wasteful, diversionary – Comrade Issa Aremu

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ON LABOUR LAWS REVIEW

At the media chat on Sunday, President Jonathan,in his apparent frustration with the ongoing ASUU strike, mooted the idea of tightening labour laws to curb strikes. 53 years after independence, Nigerian leaders should not behave like the discredited colonial masters who wrongly saw labour as an obstacle rather than a partner for development.

Labour is a critical success factor in development. It must be consciously motivated and cultivated for productivity by governments and private employers alike. The issue is not the strike but the cause. President Jonathan accepts as much that there is a huge needs gap in the education and health sectors. Indeed for as long as these huge deficits exist, crises are inevitable.

Government cannot and should not turn its acknowledged weakness in funding and motivation in the public sector to strength through unnecessary arrogance and bullying. All parties in the universities crisis must abide by the principle of collective bargaining, namely respect sanctity of agreements and negotiate in good faith and without duress. In case of a break down in negotiation, Nigerian labour laws also provide for arbitration through the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP) and the National Industrial Court (NIC). Sadly, none of the parties in the crisis in education has explored any of these legal frameworks.

*Comrade Issa Aremu, NLC Vice President ...We need a performing society; not a debating society
*Comrade Issa Aremu, NLC Vice President …We need a performing society; not a debating society

Indeed it is the Presidency that is politicizing a purely industrial issue through the setting up of a high sounding presidential panel manned by embattled governors and politicians who see politics in every noise of a fly rather than industrial relations experts who have a mindset of conflict resolution. At 53, independence celebration is hollow if public universities remain closed and the burden is on President Jonathan to govern for the good of all.

ON PERFORMING REPUBLIC AND NATIONAL CONFERENCE

Nigeria at 53 must be a performing society not a debating society. Nigeria has over 10 written constitutions from 1954.  America retains the same constitution as proclaimed in 1788 (with few amendments in 1791). Nigeria has certainly had its fair share of constitutions and debates. A Sovereign National Conference is one debate too many, diversionary and wasteful.

It’s time Nigeria had its share of good governance. The founding fathers did not agonize debating the imperfections of the inherited federation. They moved into action to build a fast growing nation ahead of China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia in the 60s and 70s. The best of Nigerians must come out for public office just as the best fought for independence and reclaim the politics from the existing largely unfocused acrimonious self- serving ruling class.  REINDUSTRIALIZE NIGERIA

At 53, Nigeria boasts of GDP Annual Growth Rate of 8.6 percent. However the share of industry and agriculture to this GDP growth is lower than 1960 and 1970 when industry was the key determinant of growth.  We regret that at 53, Nigeria’s growth driver is not the manufacturing sector but banking and finance, telecoms services with very little employment content.

At 53, federal and state governments should make case for reindustrialization of Nigeria. At 53, somebody must speak for Nigeria’s re-industrialization. Stop the current massive imports, counterfeiting, gross under-capacity utilization, collapse of industrial estates and job-losses. Without industrialization, Nigeria should forget independence. Industrialization is at the heart of development. The advantages of industrialization include lessening of dependency on imports, thus saving scarce foreign exchange and creation of massive decent jobs. Independence must make a difference otherwise colonialism becomes attractive.

We commend the Governor of the State of Osun, Eng Rauf Aregbesola, for initiation the setting up of a garment factory through provision of school uniforms and sewing them locally. There can be no re-industrialization without electrification. President Jonathan has formally handed over the power sector to the private sector. This development is significant.

However there can be no sustainable power sector reform without immediate resolution of all labour issues with respect to payment of severance pay and crediting the retirement saving accounts of the outgoing workers in the power sector. There must also be job retention and indeed job expansion. Lastly privatization is the means not the end.

What Nigerians want is cheap, uninterrupted power supply. As the deteriorating services in telecoms show, privatization is no substitute for good governance and service delivery. Government and regulatory agencies must see to it that bid winners become real suppliers of electricity not players making money at the expenses of industry and consumers alike.

INDEPENDENCE NOT COLONIALISM

President Jonathan and the Presidency should come to terms with Nigeria’s correct history. Jonathan, in his anniversary broadcast, said, “On January 1, 2014, Nigeria will be 100 years old as a country, following the amalgamation of the Protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914.” I think the President got it wrong.

Jonathan should abandon the fairy tale that falsely says Nigeria became one entity in 1914. 53 years after independence, it is an embarrassment to teach our children that  Mungo Park discovered River Niger, as if the great peoples, who long lived by the banks of River Niger, did not know the river. It is even totally unacceptable to accord colonial Lord Lugard the undeserved grandfather of modern Nigeria.

Lord Lugard did not form Nigeria through his so-called amalgamation of exploitation and oppression. He met Nigeria and Nigerians who had co-existed through commerce, trade, marriages and even exchanges of royal ambassadors. It is embarrassing to deploy scarce resources to celebrate an old discredited colonial myth that says Nigeria of today is a product of the so-called amalgamation of the North and the South of 1914.

Nigeria has no business celebrating colonial land mark of 1914 as it plans to do with fanfare next year. On the contrary; what Nigeria should celebrate in high spirit is independence.  Nigeria’s founding fathers fought with high patriotic spirit to get freedom for Nigeria in 1960 after century long colonial oppression and domination.  They were never nostalgic of 1914. In fact they turned 1914 of dependency to 1960 of independence. They were proud of 1960 as a freedom year. They marked independence with fanfare until the military disastrous intervention of 1966. The best to do to honour their efforts is to also in high spirit raise the banner of independence and freedom 53 years after.

50 YEARS AS A REPUBLIC

This year’s independence anniversary even assumes a special importance. It marks the 50th year of Nigeria as a republic. Nigeria becoming a republic means Nigeria’s complete journey to full independence and maturity as a nation ended in 1963, not necessarily in 1960. A republic simply means having a Nigerian as our Head of State.

To show the significance of Nigeria as a republic, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister, on the 29th of April 1963, announced that the country would become a republic within the British Commonwealth on the 1st of October 1963. So the Federation Act of 1963 repealed and replaced the 1960 Independence Act of the British parliament and installed Republican Constitution of 1963. History and patriotic moves of the founding fathers show that what indeed Nigeria should genuinely celebrate as an achievement is the move from Monarchical to Republican Constitution in 1963, not the colonial preference of Lord Lugard of 1914.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

History of labour in Nigeria shows that independence is important. Without Nigeria, there can be no Nigerian labour much less Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). Of course there was Nigerian free labour before the British colonialists came in after the Berlin Conference of 1878. Colonialism later imposed forced labour to build the railways, work on the coal mines of Enugu and tin mines of the Plateau and the nascent civil service among others. Colonialism underdeveloped Nigeria and Nigerian labour through brutal exploitation and denial of trade union rights.

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