Tomorrow’s Workers’ Day celebration is certainly the last in the administration of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. But we consider it more significant to the incoming administration of retired General Muhammadu Buhari which kicks off May 29. Our reasons are not farfetched.
Whether President Jonathan as has always been the case, participates in tomorrow’s event or not, would not matter as much as the issues that the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and Trade Union Congress, TUC would throw up to the incoming administration. More so, with the yawning crack in the former so glaring to its teeming membership, the incoming administration may have more challenges from a divided workers’ union.
From the struggle by proletarians to attain the eight-hour holiday which first started in Australia with the 1856 organised complete stoppage to protest their plight at the work place through the adoption of the same struggle by the Americans in 1886 and till date globally, workers demand have topped their agenda every May 1 celebration.
In Nigeria, Workers’ Day commenced during the Aliyu Shagari’s administration in recognition of the significant contributions Nigerian workers have made and shall continue to make towards the progress of the country. That was May 1, 1981. For that singular act, the Shagari administration was hailed by the entire working class.
But things have since changed and the workers’ plight, challenges and expectations have also changed with tide. And herein lies the real reason which we believe must cause the incoming Buhari administration to be interested in developments as the workers mark their Day tomorrow.
The unions are still not happy that long after the agreement by the federal and state governments on the minimum wage, compliance level has been manifestly poor. Besides, the spirit and letter of the Workmen’s Compensation Act as they affect the Nigerian worker are hardly applied. The lingering and embarrassing issue of Nigeria’s pensioners still flies in the face even as increasing unemployment tasks everyone.
Nigeria’s workers will certainly express their displeasure at that dipping industrial capacity utilisation nationwide which has directly, though unfortunately impacted negatively on gainful employment today. The alarming unemployment figures in the land today are no doubt directly related to the poor capacity utilisation. Same goes for the unresolved issues surrounding fuel supply. Alongside job insecurity and the rather not-too-pleasant state of the economy, the incoming administration must have a lot to learn from Nigerian workers when they file out tomorrow.
Most unfortunately, we hasten to wonder if the workers can articulate their position as a group tomorrow given the factions it has split into following the outcome of its recent election Congress.
We consider the development a window which any government that does not have the welfare of the workers in its agenda can readily and speedily exploit at the expense of all. The earlier they forge and concretise a formidable force ala the days of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole as NLC President, the better it will be for the welfare of Nigerian workers. Instead of promoting mutual suspicions and divisiveness, the leadership of the NLC and TUC must organise their membership and speak with one voice in all matters.
If we must warn, such tendencies often mark the beginning of the death of unions once very vibrant. We fear that if this is not checked, the era of ‘Owambe’ unionists and ‘egunje’ unionism will not be long to enter the front stage to be used at will by any administration for political purposes. God forbid!
Tomorrow’s May Day is waiting as a test case for manifestation of this kind of resolve that informed the struggle for a Workers’ Day annually to celebrate them.