May Day of 2017, which was celebrated yesterday all over the world by the working class was perhaps, the gloomiest in our recent history. Apart from the good news that the economy would likely exit recession later this year, the catalogue of woes reflected in the banners and placards at the rallies of the Labour unions seemed longer than usual.
The recession has wreaked widespread havoc in the lives of workers in the past two years. Unemployment was exacerbated by large-scale retrenchments, with the banks, factories and the construction sub-sectors being the most hard-hit. Most employers of labour, both in the private and public sectors, owe their workers for many months, while some resorted to pay cuts just to remain afloat.
Even worse hit are retired and retiring workers, many of whom are owed their pensions, gratuities and other benefits. Many state and private sector employers have habitually failed to remit their own share of their staff pensions as required by law. The situation has bogged down the intentions of Labour to press for an increase in minimum wage from N18,000 to N52,000.
The foundations of our economy is too frail to support the legitimate aspiration of workers. The centralised command structure and oil dependency has bred corruption, parasitism, indolence and poor leadership. It is responsible for the fact that we spend over 70 per cent of our annual budgets to look after a few thousand Nigerian workers, yet we cannot pay them living wages.
This is a monster that must be tackled through comprehensive constitutional reform. It has outlived its military purposes. The call for restructuring and decentralisation of the economy must be heeded now.
It is only a decentralised system that gives power to the federating units as we had in the First Republic that can return Nigeria to the path of economic prosperity. Corruption is a monster that must be tamed, and we must go beyond the Gestapo-style raids and tackle the menace more through prevention than cure. Deployment of technology and citizen involvement through such strategies as the whistleblower policy will come in handy.
The Federal Government must find out why, in spite of its bailout of states in 2015 and refund of the excess from the Paris Club debt to states, up to twelve states still owe their workers despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s charge that workers’ pay must be taken as a priority.
More efforts must be put toward diversifying the economy and creating wealth and jobs. Though the Federal Government was late in articulating its Economic Reform and Growth Plan, ERGP, its faithful implementation can pull the economy out of the woods, put more people back to work and enable Nigerians earn living wages.