GUEST COLUMNIST BY ISSA AREMU
I once gain congratulate my big brother, Boss Mustapha on his dramatic elevation as the 19th Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SFG). Having emerged from the “hot ashes of the old” (of his) predecessor, Babachir David Lawal, it would be uncharitable to further wish him a rougher ride. Of course, if the dead can read us and join in the ever vibrant Nigerian nation building discussions, I dare bet that given the current riot of Nigerians’ expectations of the Buhari administration, the late Tai Solarin, (never known for flattery!) would still insist that “may the road of Boss Mustapha be rough”. And the late patriot would be right on point.
Given some of the work overload/schedules of the SFG – coordinating policy design and formulation of as many as 35 ministries, scores of departments and agencies for approval by government, serving as Secretary to the Council of State, the Federal Executive Council and other constitutional councils, which are chaired by the president and dealing with constitutional, political and socio-economic matters as may be referred to the presidency, supervising, administrative tribunals, commissions and panels of enquiry; coordinating national security and public safety matters, national honours awards, prerogative of mercy, protocol matters, channeling of papers and directives of the president and dealing with matters relating to conditions of service of political office holders, among others. The point cannot be overstated. Boss Mustapha has his full job cut out for him in a country paradoxically suffering mass unemployment and underemployment.
Happily too he is eminently qualified for the enormous responsibilities. With remarkable professional qualifications and experiences (a barrister of law, former state member of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), and non-state activist of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), African Bar Association (ABA), Commonwealth Lawyers Association, International Bar Association (IBA), Human Rights Institute (HRI) and above all, rich experiences in partisan politics, (from the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), to the present ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria might be getting, for once, an unapologetically tested partisan in a clearly open ended political office.
I salute the newly appointed SGF for acknowledging that the Muhammadu Buhari administration needs “an emergency acceleration” for the nation to get out of its present situation. For so long the president and his vice, Yemi Osibanjo had been “lone rangers” on the tripod mantra of corruption, economy and insecurity with less complimentary official voices on articulated policy thrusts on critical policy issues. Nigeria now has a timely activist SFG in Mustapha who must make a difference from the past indifference and (as we just discovered) misplaced indulgence of rent seeking and self-help as well as influence peddling of some officials employed to help the president. It is commendable that the new SFG crossed the bridge of suspicion to for once have engaged the National Assembly with his unprecedented visit last week, making the point that separation powers indeed means harmonized state responsibilities.
But his charity better start with critical labour market issues on the exclusive executive list. Take the current crisis of compensation and productivity in the public sector for example: President Buhari has been commendably agonizing over protracted unacceptable delayed and non-payment of salaries by some states governments despite serial bailouts. As such, Mustapha must hit the ground running in getting to the root of this wage/compensation scandal with all the stakeholders, including organized labour with a timetable to clear the arrears. Non-payment of salaries amounts to what I long described as economicide defined as criminal systematic deprivation of means of livelihood for workers.
Nigeria has lost much scarce resources to wholesale looting and corruption. But the country is certainly losing more to low/no productivity due to criminal wage theft, wage diversions and attendant strikes with human hours losses. The new SFG must impress on the government to constitute labour market institutions such as the tripartite Labour Advisory Council, National Productivity Centre, Michael Imoudu Labour Institute, Industrial training Fund, Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund with eyes on labour market problems solving not political patronage. The Maina saga has been dramatised as a corruption scandal (which certainly it is). But it is also a manifestation of the crisis of corporate governance of public policies with respect to public pensions.
Mustapha should use his good office to impress on the presidency to return to basics with respect to pension funds administration. Never again should there be extra-presidential committees on pension matters, the type that nurtured the likes of Maina. The presidency must strengthen the National Pension Commission (PenCom) by constituting its board and demand for accountability in pension funds administration. It is a scandal that up till now there is no substantive confirmed director general for PenCom, following the sudden controversial termination of the incomplete tenure of then incumbent. Many pension scavengers abound. Indeed some pension predators still lurk around the corners using the institutions of state to undermine the nascent, commendable contributory pension scheme. Only a strengthened independent PenCom can prevent and apprehend the likes of Maina.
Mustapha’s emergency acceleration must also restore the dignity of labour as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution. The point cannot be overstated that the dramatised “competence test” for workers and teachers particularly in the public schools in some states of the federation is a gross violation of workers’ dignity. State governors must as a matter of right dignify their respective workforce through capacity building, understanding and sympathy as demanded by the principles of Decent Work by International Labour Organisation (ILO). We should insist on adequate skills and competence without violating the constitutionally guarantees guaranteed basic human and workers’ rights.
Many states governors observed the constitution more in the breach than compliance with respect to non-payment and delayed payments of miserable pay. Governors must also know that they are not just employers but enforcers of labour laws as they apply to both private and public employers. It is unacceptable and counter productive dramatising and criminalizing workers’ skill gap when what was required was skills upgrading and skills upliftment. Section 34 (1) of 1999 Constitution holds that every individual including working man and women are entitled to respect for the dignity of his/her person.
Exhibiting so-called failures of teachers or any worker during competence test violates their rights to privacy and dignity. It is debatable if any of the states governors can truly pass the competence/governance tests by Nigerians with their crude approach to reforms, which is provoking more protests and acrimony than the desired changes. Nigeria risks perpetual underdevelopment if it refuses to treat its workforce better through training and training, better pay, work schedule and enforced discipline. Nations, which hold labour as the most valued factor of production such as China and India are fast developing, while Nigeria which degrades labour lags behind.
Together with the Minister of Labour, the SFG must impress on the president to inaugurate the new minimum wage negotiations committee. Nigeria’s Economic recovery must be wage led so as to stimulate the economy towards productive spending by enhanced pay for workers, which must go hand in hand with improvement in productivity. Mustapha’s commendable simplicity must be complemented with a sense of urgency. Nigeria needs a simple accessible activist SFG such as Chief U.J. Ekaette the 14th SFG, who commendably assisted former President Olusegun Obasanjo to positively manage the labour market issues for economic growth and national development.
•Aremu is a Member of the National Institute, (mni), Kuru, Jos