The recent self-serving leadership crisis that rocked the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) appears to have been reined-in by the realisation that there is a more sinister threat to the existence of our country, under which canopy, the workers engage in labour.
For without the sanctity of a nation, in its true sense, there can be no labour, talk less of a labour congress. Well, unless one will be willing to refer to acts of combat, in a failed state, like Syria, as a form of labour. Or even more tragically, the catering for the refugees, and the heart-rending human suffering, arising from the crisis.
It is therefore hoped that this labour of love for country, exhibited by thousands of marchers across the 36 states of the federation, last week, Thursday, is not a transient publicity stunt, orchestrated by labour leaders. After all, the leadership of the congress may just have employed the match as an image stunt, to burnish their tattered image, after the NLC’S election fiasco, which showed the labour leaders as no different from other political power mongers, who have corruptly held our country down, for decades.
But regardless of the motive of their leaders, members of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and NLC, must realise that unless the civil society takes up the gauntlet, the war against corruption, may peter out even before it starts. As has been rightly observed, when you fight corruption, corruption fights back. And the corruptors will likely use all means, including the recruitment of labour leaders, to stall the recovery of the humongous loot in their possession. So, to help in the fight against corruption, the labour unions must first, put their houses in order, by eschewing similar malevolent corrupt practices within their ranks. They must develop the capacity to meaningfully engage the government, so that they are not lured into unnecessary strike actions that would aid those that prefer unstable governments, which can be manipulated.
In fighting corruption, the Buhari administration should also seek ways to resolve the wage disputes and unfair labour practices, which also cause, many of the strike actions in Nigeria. Even a Buhari sympathiser, must accept and sympathise with the labour unions, considering the unfair wage paid to the average worker, which is particularly nauseating, when juxtaposed with the criminal enrichment by political office holders, in the name of legitimate income. So, I earnestly hope that part of the change agenda of President Buhari’s government, of course, with the concurrence of the majority of the state governments, would be to help set up a realistic wage structure, across the country.
For me, it is a national folly that the legitimate income of any political office holder, would in many states be 500 per cent more than the income of a graduate teacher, who had reached the end of his career and is at the top of the salary scale. To understand the absurdity and incongruity of this malaise, juxtapose the salary of a school principal, or supervisor of education, who earn less than one hundred and N50,000 a month, with that of a senator who earn about N9million monthly, under various dubious headings. Well, if the senator should be considered a super politician, compare the salary of the school principal, or head teacher, with the councillor at the local government.
So, the labour unions and its affiliate always have a worthy reason to go on strike. And perennial strikes become inevitable, when in addition to humongous income dubiously earned by the politicians, the system allows them to also freely engage in monumental corrupt enrichment. That is why the fight against corruption, is at the root of solving so many other challenges, facing our backward country. Indeed, if corruption is reigned in, inflation will drastically reduce, and the paltry wage of the Nigerian worker would have an improved weight, and enhanced purchasing power.
Part of the process of resolving this national wage quagmire, as has been argued some time ago, on this page, is to federalise wages and income. But such a move will be counterproductive, unless corruption is reigned in, as many state governors would literary gulp the entire resources, and go ahead to pay their workers menial wages. To deal with this challenge, it is imperative that aggravated corruption is made a federal offence, with stringent penalty. This is perhaps, the import of the decision of the Supreme Court, when it held that the Act establishing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, is not unconstitutional (anti-federal).
If corruption is drastically reduced, and a comprehensive wage structure across the economic and political strata of the country is determined, and every person regardless of stature, is compelled to live on his wage, sanity would return. Of course, the wage structure of the political office holders, like the legislators, would never be, at the whims and caprices of the beneficiaries, as is tragically the situation presently, albeit unconstitutionally. Indeed, a lesser paid legislator, will be more efficient, when he realises that a healthy life for him, will really be dependent, on an efficient national infrastructure, which can only be possible, through efficient laws and quality oversight functions.
Luckily, the Trade Unions have the powers to reign in some of the excesses of our politicians. One such power, is through peaceful picketing. For instance, the NLC and the TUC can picket the National Assembly, to compel for a fair national wage, which would involve reducing the misguided appropriations that aid corruption. Through picketing, they can compel the law enforcement agencies, to fight corrupt practices. The Trade Unions can indeed mobilise, to help Nigeria, return to the part of sanity.