As the world marks another Workers’ Day today, the average Nigerian worker has more than enough issues to contend with. Some of these issues include rising insecurity, growing inflation, incessant and ongoing strikes, among others.
Every sector in Nigeria appears to be performing at its lowest ebb in recent times, sequel to the incessant strikes rocking the nation’s critical sectors ranging from health, education, judiciary, oil and gas, legislature and even security, according to public affairs commentators.
May 1st of every year is observed as International Workers’ Day across the world, amidst funfair, but this year’s celebration already appears bleak for Nigerian workers owing to the present situation of the country. This situation, laced with strikes, according to workers, is “awful”.
The workers’ unions in the highlighted sectors above, hinged their decisions to lock up their various work places for more than one week on the government’s insensitivity to the lingering issues, accusing it of insincerity in the implementation of previous agreements – Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), they jointly signed.
The workers’ union include: Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU); the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU); the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT); Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP).
Others are: the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD); Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN); the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN); the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) among other affiliates of NLC.
In March 2020, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) paralysed academic activities on various campuses across the federation amidst the coronavirus pandemic through its 9-month-old strike to press home its demands.
The demands bother on inconsistencies that arose from Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), funding for revitalization of Public Universities, Earned Academic Allowances (EAA), Salary Shortfall, among others.
Data earlier analysed showed that the 2020 strike by ASUU was the longest since 1999. In lucid term, Nigerian lecturers went on strike 15 times since democracy returned in 1999. The entire period they embarked on such strike spanned about 50 months.
Shortly after academic workers resumed from strike in December, other three unions in the Universities which include: Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities (SSANU), and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) embarked on another round of agitations.
The unions, under the aegis of Joint Action Committee (JAC) took the decision also to protest against inconsistencies in IPPIS payment, the delay in the renegotiation of the FGN/ASUU/SSANU 2009 Agreement and other issues.
In the same vein, till today, their counterparts in polytechnics under the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and non-academic staff, Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics (SSANIP), have continued to shun their respective working places to press home their demands.
The leadership of ASUP through its President, Anderson Ezeibe, in one of the interviews with Daily Trust listed one of their demands as non-implementation of NEEDS Assessment report of 2014 in the sector nor release of any revitalization fund to the sector despite assurances since 2017.
The union leader also said non-reconstitution of governing councils in Federal Polytechnics and many state-owned institutions has led to the disruption of governance and administrative processes in the institutions since May 2020.
Commenting on the lingering issues going on in the education sector, Azeez Odewale, an educationist and unionist, said it was sad to shift attention or focus from what he described as “liberated forum”.
“Education is the only forum that can liberate people from poverty; whether poverty of mind or in other ways. The declining rate of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels calls for concern. You can’t expect human beings manning these institutions to be working on empty stomachs,” Odewale said.
“If we want to get it right, if we want to tackle poverty or insecurity, education should be given more priority by ensuring those human resources are catered for. Government should cooperate with NUT, ASUU, ASUP, SSANU, SSANIP and other unions in the education sector.”
A non-teaching staff at the Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, Osun State, in a telephone interview with Daily Trust said there is no need celebrating Workers Day because they (workers) have already been impoverished with IPPIS.
“If not that someone reminded me, I’d forgotten there is May Day (May 1). Do we need to celebrate? What are we celebrating? All of us are getting poorer every day, to me, there’s nothing to celebrate. Celebration can come after the government has fulfilled its promises,” he said.
Aliyu Adama, a medical and health record worker in one of the hospitals in the North, said the hope of workers has already been dashed before and after retirement, noting that there’s need for drastic action to redeem the images of all the sectors.
While speaking on the plight of workers in the country, a former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, decried the insecurity challenges ravaging the country, saying massive job losses in various sectors contributed to the menace.
Oshiomhole, who spoke in Abuja on Thursday at the 2nd National Peace and Security Summit organised by the NLC, also berated the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) for shoddy implementation of the N30,000 National Minimum Wage.
The former chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), while alleging that the governors’ actions indirectly contributed to the security crisis, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to review the current industrialisation policy.
He also warned the National Assembly to halt the recent plots to review the current minimum wage to give individual states liberty to negotiate wages they can conveniently pay workers.
According to him, if insecurity must abate, the government must reverse our trade policies, adding that “we must bring back those labour-intensive industries like the cotton mills in Kaduna and Kano states.”
He stressed that peace has been eluding the country because majority of citizens who were once busy at the industries, manufacturing goods, were now jobless and the only option left for them was resorting to banditry and kidnapping.
“As governor of Edo State, I increased the minimum wage to N25,000 even before the N30,000 was assented to by the president. It has gotten to a stage where we must interrogate the expenditure of the state governments, what does it cost to arm the police or soldier to make him deliver his job effectively,” the former labour leader said.
But in an interview with Daily Trust Saturday on the ongoing strike in the judiciary, an elder statesman and former Senate President, Ameh Ebute, described judiciary supporting workers as the main problem of the sector.
“I have my experience and practical knowledge about what’s going on in the judiciary. The major part of the problems we have in the judiciary come from the people who are not from the bar or bench, I mean the staff. They make things difficult for the litigants.
“Ask me why. The clerks, the bailiffs and others make things difficult for the litigants. Once you file a suit, it becomes a source of income for them. For instance, before the other party is served, they would ask you to bring the money. Meanwhile, they were supposed to be provided the money for service from the court.
“So, the greed stems from the supporting staff of the judiciary. They create most of the problems. Now, they have come out with the agitations for higher salaries and the judiciary autonomy, what exactly are they looking for?” he said.
He continued, “But I think the law should have been made in such a way that judiciary supporting staff would have no rights to go on strike because can you imagine the kind of anarchy that would happen if the supporting staff go on strike.
“Whenever there is an armed robbery, there is a murder, and you cannot take an accused person to court because the judiciary is on strike, the important cases come up, they would not allow the court to sit, emergency cases come up and judges are not allowed to take those cases, it is tantamount to anarchy in the society.
“It adds to the anarchy that is already going on in the country as a result of the killings here and there. It shouldn’t have been allowed by the government. I don’t support it, and I appeal to them that it is unprecedented.
“They should not take themselves to be ordinary civil servants because the services they provide is very important. They should have a rethink and come back to work, so that people can clear their cases in the court – the last hope of ordinary man. There is no hope for ordinary men if the judiciary itself is on strike.”