The purported industrial action by the Ogun State workers is robed in partisan politics, writes Christopher Adewale
“If you want to join politics, go and resign, you can then become card-carrying members of political parties; you can start printing posters if you want to contest.”
That was the poignant voice of the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, at a recent public forum in Abeokuta. The comments of the ascetic technocrat-politician, not known for frivolities or flippancy, speak volumes. Of course, Amosun no longer needed to rely only on security reports that some labour leaders were consorting with some disgruntled politicians to spark chaos in the state as part of the game-plan to win elections at all cost.
Video clips of some of these nocturnal meetings and partisan sentiments expressed by some union members during the last World Teachers’ Day, where a musician was engaged to sing the praise of some politicians, are now in every nook and cranny of the state. This unabashed descent into the political arena by some union members, who ought to serve every government in power in line with the neutrality code of the Civil Service beggars belief. It is thick, too thick; it beats one’s imagination.
Clearly, the labour movement in Nigeria is endangered, at least from the perspective of the Ogun State chapter. It is on the path of self-immolation. The national bodies of the unions should act fast and join the Ogun State government and other critical stakeholders in order to save the local branches from themselves and restore the glory of the labour movement in the state.
There is no law in Nigeria stopping or restraining any labour leader or union members from resigning their appointments from the public service in order to participate fully in politics. But when a few vocal union leaders emerge from a subversive meeting with opposition politicians and then call out workers on a strike, then there is cause to worry.
Strikes, after all are lawful when they are not politically-motivated and all the conditions precedent have been met. But we are now presented with a bizarre situation where a government, the employer, now read notice of an indefinite strike on the pages of newspapers. You had an agreement with union leaders and you are fulfilling that agreement, then the goal-post is suddenly shifted in the middle of the game.
No responsible government that is overwhelmingly elected by the masses, however benevolent, will succumb to cheap blackmail and political propaganda. The current attempt by these disgruntled politicians to hit below the belt by using a few unpatriotic union leaders to create unwarranted spectacle of strike in the state will fail, woefully.
One is therefore constrained to denounce in strong terms, the news report linking the state government with an alleged attack by thugs on some labour leaders and union members, who are said to be currently on strike. The report, to all intents and purposes, was potentially malicious, and no responsible government would be moved by choreographed allegations and baseless rumours.
Till date, neither the government nor police is aware of the so-called, reported attack on the said union members. It is shocking that a segment of the media that reported this tell-tale failed to report the humiliation our foremost traditional rulers were subjected to by a few of the politicians masking as union members. Some of these monarchs have been on the throne before the few disruptive union leaders were born, and they are among the most revered traditional rulers in Nigeria, known for their candour and forthrightness.
The media should not be seen to celebrate industrial action let alone a politically-motivated one. Do these union leaders, who had no qualms in insulting respected monarchs like the Awujale of Ijebu, HRM Dr Sikiru Adetona, who will be 57 years on the throne by December, the Alake of Egba, HRM Dr Adedotun Gbadebo and the Olu of Ilaro, HRM Kehinde Olugbenle, represent the ideals of labour movement in Nigeria? Do they represent the ideals of Ogun State? The answers, regrettably, are in the negative.
The Amosun government is, by all accounts, the most accommodating and tolerant in the annals of Ogun State. The government holds aloft the banner of the rule of law. It is equally the most labour-friendly, paying the highest salary to workers among the states of the federation. It was on account of his exemplary leadership that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in June 2016 honoured Governor Ibikunle Amosun with the Excellence Award in Good Service/ Leadership.
It is the ambience of peace created by the Amosun administration that has led to hundreds of multi-billion naira industries being established in the state, with thousands of youths taken out of the streets as a result. The report of the World Bank, Doing Business in Nigeria 2014, confirmed this giant industrial leap under the Amosun administration when it ranked Ogun as one of the top five reforming states “that made the biggest strides towards the national frontier of good practices.”
This was the state that was ranked lowest overall performers among the 36 states in both 2008 and 2010 reports of the global financial institution before Amosun came to power.
As stated in the press by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa, the illegality of the strike being led by a few union members working in cahoots with opposition politicians cries aloud. The few workers yet to resume at their duty posts should be reminded of their obligations under the Public Service Rules.
“This government will continue to pay its workers as and when due. It will also cater for the over seven million Ogun indigenes, who are not among the fifty to sixty thousand that constitute the state workforce. Government has paid salaries up to date and will offset cooperative deductions in line with the agreement reached with the union leaders in March 2016.
“Government had already concluded plans with banks to begin payment of gratuity from November, having offset those inherited three clear years before Amosun mounted the saddle of leadership. It is needless to say the Contributory pension Scheme is an extant law, which had been in existence long before the present government was inaugurated in 2011.
“It had suffered administrative hiccups from the inception in its implementation and the current government is on the same page with workers on the need to review it. It, however, lacks the power to abolish it. That responsibility lies with the state House of Assembly. We hope the legislative arm of government will look into it in the overall interest of the workforce.”
The state scribe explained further that the heads of tertiary institutions in the state, including Tai Solarin College of Education proposed increase in school fees to government, which the Amosun government flatly rejected as it would impose unnecessary burden on the people. It instead restored payment of subventions to the institutions.
One is a bit relieved by the position of a pro-democracy group, the Campaign for Good Governance, which, according to media reports, hit the nail on the head when it said “The industrial action is not about non-payment of salary, as no worker is being owed salary by the Amosun administration. This agitation can only be politically-induced, as no reasonable union will call out workers on a strike solely on cooperative deductions, especially during the current economic downturn in Nigeria.
“At the risk of being dubbed the government mouthpiece, we hasten to say that the current government of Ibikunle Amosun pays above the Minimum Wage and we stand to be corrected, it is the only government in Nigeria that implemented the increment across board and up to the level of local government. The current posturing may push the government to rue the decision, which ballooned the monthly wage bill such that the worker in Ogun State earns more than its counterpart in any part of the federation, and the payment of gratuities to retirees from 2008, three clear years before it was inaugurated.”
As we have had cause to intervene in the past, “While it continues to receive its monthly salary as and when due, it will amount to gross insensitivity for the workforce, whose number is less than one per cent of the population of Ogun State, to insist that all its demands have to be met when the state whose monthly wage bill is over eight billion naira now receives about one billion naira from the federation account. The mere fact that Ogun State continues to pay salaries where many states are unable to do so should constitute some food for thought.”
The group opined further that “The socio-economic turmoil in major oil-producing countries like Brazil and Venezuela is an indication that no country is immune from the effects of the slump in global oil prices. We believe the majority of workers in Ogun appreciate the devotion of the government to their welfare, including the refusal of the governor to contemplate salary adjustments or right-sizing in the face of the current economic challenges facing the country.
“We urge labour unions to be wary of the antics of desperate politicians in order not to become a tool in their hands by design or default. The timing and comments credited to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at this difficult period in Nigeria raise more questions than answers for anyone familiar with the political calculus in Ogun State. Therefore, the strike should be shelved without any ado,” the group said.
One only hopes the few union members purportedly on strike will heed the voice of reason, jettison allegiance to the “politics of let’s share it” and accept the “politics of let’s develop the state,” for which the current government of Ibikunle Amosun is reputed. It’s time for everyone to go back to work.
-Adewale wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun State