By Linda Eroke
Former Director, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Presidency Abuja, Dr. Udenta Udenta, has charged trade unions to go beyond the protection of the rights and welfare of workers and the campaign against unfair and labour practices to a more strategic mandate in building the Nigerian project.
Udenta, who spoke at the 4th Triennial State Delegate Conference of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State Council in Port Harcourt, said the time has come for trade unions, civil society groups and the citizens to build a progressive platform for the articulation, propagation and popular political, economic and social causes and ideals essential for the transformation of Nigeria.
Presenting a paper with the theme ‘Building the Nigerian of Our Dream: The Role of Trade Unions, Civil Society and Citizens’, he reiterated the need for labour, civil society groups and indeed all Nigerians to be actively involved in the transformation of the nation’s economy.
Stressing that the role of the patriotic alliance is critical in building a modern Nigerian society, Udenta said the coalition must work towards the criminalisation of corruption of the nation’s legal statutes both in its declaration as a high treasonable crime and the death penalty it must be made to carry.
According to him, the crackdown on corruption will liberate billions and trillions of funds for urgent work in the human infrastructure and human security sector.
Speaking further, Udenta urged the labour-civil society coalition to canvass for the restructuring of the national economy in such a way as to attain a balance between the public and private sectors in their various frontiers of intervention.
“Most, crucially, a key economic agenda of this national patriotic force is to ensure the return of the economy to the Nigerian people, to stimulate the economy into an organic productive engine and to, systematically, dismantle the macroeconomic policies that have tied the nation’s destiny to the whims and caprices of imperial economic and financial institutions.
“Before the labour-civil society platform can caricature the nation’s current indolence, uninspired and incompetent political and bureaucratic leadership it must, first, purge its own ranks of crass opportunists, careerists and reactionary forces and elements who compromise the struggle by serving as the moles, police spies, informants and errand boys”
On the opinion that labour should be apolitical, Udenta, a founding National Secretary of Alliance for Democracy (AD) argued that the concept of the apoliticality of trade unions is an ideological weapon used by the ruling elite to shut out the unions from a decisive involvement and participation in the processes that shape the destiny of the nation.
This, he said, must be resisted stressing that the trade unions, civil society bodies and the general citizens must take a collective stand in all matters that affect the destiny of the people.
He emphasised that the discourse over the re-formulation and re-construction of the 1999 constitution, the allocation and utilisation of national resources, and the impact of corruption on the health of the nation are but just a few of the issues that the popular structures must lend their voice and institutional weight to by playing a vanguard role in their final trajectory.
He maintained that the broad coalition has a role to play in the political mobilisation of the Nigerian people, in the direction of the constitution re-construction process, in the prudent, efficient and judicious management of national resources, and in holding all categories of public office holders accountable to the social contract they freely and willingly entered with the people.
In building a modern Nigerian state, Udenta said “only a pro-people political, economic and social order can engender a national ideology that will serve not only the people’s best interests but, more decisively, will guarantee the collective empowerment of the Nigerian state to great heights of affirmation.
“In practical terms, if a people vote for their legislative and executive representatives into office, they do so in the expectation that something concrete must return to them. If those they have elected into office fail to redeem their pledges, then they have no business staying in office. Interestingly, too, if a political system is so distorted, corrupted and unjust that they people keep on getting the same negative returns on their political investments, elections after elections, the implication is that not only are the elected representatives unfit to remain in office but that the political system itself is unfit to remain in place,” he added.
In his address, President General of TUC, Mr. Peter Esele, said it is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders to make the dream of building a modern Nigerian state a reality.
Specifically, Esele explained that building the Nigerian state requires a visionary leadership from top to bottom of the governance structure, respect for the rule of law and a generally acceptable national ideology that is in tandem with the collective hopes and aspirations of the citizens.
“In building the Nigeria of our dream, we must first of all determine the characteristics of that Nigeria of our dream. We can readily mention the recipes to include equal opportunities for self-actualisation for every citizen irrespective of religion, tribe, socio-economic status,” Esele said.
Speaking also at the occasion, Rivers State Council Chairman of TUC, Mr. Chika Onuegbu, said the current state of the nation is a wake-up call on Nigerians to work towards the realisation of the Nigerian dream.
He said it has become imperative for the Nigerian workers and indeed every Nigerians to organise and build solidarities across the entire spectrum in order to re-build the Nigerian state.
According to him, lessons across the world had shown that it is only the people that can bring the desired changes to governance in their country.
“We appeal to all to participate actively as we share our thoughts on building the Nigeria of our dream. A country where the security and welfare of all Nigerians without exception will truly be the primary purpose of governance, a truly united Nigeria where respect for our neighbours, love, social justice, equity and rule of law will be the foundation of our relationship as a people and the reality of our everyday life,” he said.