By Nwachukwu Obidiwe
Following a deft diplomatic engagement by the Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige at the 106 session of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conference which held between 5th to 16th June in Geneva, Switzerland, Nigeria made an impressive come-back to the apex leadership of the world labour body with the election of the nation’s tripartite of Government, Workers and Employers into the titular and deputy positions in the ILO Governing Board, while clinching the membership of four strategic committees. The Governing Body (GB) is made up of 122 members comprising 56 Titular members and 66 Deputies. Of the 56 Titular members, 28 are government representatives, while 14 apiece represent employers and workers respectively. Also, out of 66 Deputies, 28 represent governments, 19 Employers and the rest 19, workers. However, it is important to note that equal rights and privileges accrue to both titular and deputy members of the Governing Board. Hence, while the Nigerian government represented by the Minister of Labour and the Director General of Nigeria Employee Consultative Assembly (NECA) Segun Oshinowo representing the employers were elected deputies, the President of NLC, Ayuba Waba was elected as Titular member to represent the Nigerian workers, all for three years. Nigeria last sat on the board over a decade ago.
However, the journey to this victorious Geneva outing started way back in April 2017 at the 2nd Ordinary Session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Social Development, Labour and Employment, organized by the Africa Union in Algiers, Algeria . At that summit, three things happened in four successive days. One was Nigeria’s pivotal address at the opening session where Sen. Chris Ngige brought to international consciousness, the commitment of the Buhari administration to growing the economy through strategic initiatives that utilize the nation’s huge population as a fulcrum. The other was at the closing session where the Labour Minister canvassed the urgent establishment of the Youth Fund for Employment by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) in the face of the Future of Work and challenges posed by it. He warned that the Future of Work in Africa would remain bleak without a corresponding new way to effectively tackle its challenges because innovations brought about by it have changed the manner work and productions are organized.
But in between this, was high wire politics among African nations to fill the slots into the Governing Board of the ILO scheduled for June. Almost all the West African nations were interested to pick the slots allocated to West Africa. Nigeria’s closest ally in the sub-region, Ghana saw the position as a deserving gift to her President. The country’s Labour Minister, Bright Brobbey had during the bilateral meeting between Nigeria and Ghana in Algiers said that much and tried unsuccessfully to exploit the usual Nigeria’s big brother disposition to realize her aspiration. Ghana had canvassed that an open contest between Nigeria and Ghana would provide a leeway for the French West African nations to take the day. But Nigeria’s Minister of labour thought differently. When the meeting reconvened the next day therefore, Sen. Ngige told the gathering Nigeria was not ready for concession that could halt her march, noting it was time for Ghana to reciprocate her earlier support. Ghana later conveyed her decision to drop from the race at another pre- Geneva Conference committee meeting.
That done, Nigeria went ahead to consolidate the bridges it started building across Anglo West African countries the foundation of which Sen. Ngige laid at the African Regional Labour Centre (ARLAC) conference in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in February 2017. Sierra Leone and Liberia have been on lukewarm membership due to economic reasons. In fact, at the Victoria Falls meeting, delisting Sierra Leone’s membership with years of defaulting financial obligation was mooted. But Nigeria argued against and suggested that more time be given to the West African nation to live up to its obligation. Nigeria followed it up with personal reach out to the two countries. It was not therefore surprising that both Liberia and Sierra Leone came with full delegation in Geneva and behind Nigeria’s quest into the ILO Governing Board. What does Nigeria gain from this election? There will be inflow of technical assistance on varying specialised areas especially labour laws, finance, production, skill acquisition, job creation, general labour administration as well as wider vista for full participation in International Job Migration. The Ministry of Labour zonal and state skills centres have been undergoing rehabilitation under the present administration, this upbeat can only blossom further with the elastic technical skills from the ILO experts.
Better World of Work was the central theme of this year’s Geneva Conference and the Director General of the ILO Guy Ryder told the 187 member body that “nothing would more clearly distinguish the first hundred years of the ILO’s history from the second than the necessary greening of the world of work.” His address tagged the Green Initiatives, highlighted the potential for the greening of production as powerful engine for decent work creation and for balanced growth and development.
Nigeria’s response to this address was dramatic and instructive. Speaking under the theme, “Work in a Changing Climate,” Sen. Ngige pledged Nigeria’s commitment to the Green Initiative and attributed the recent outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis in parts of northern Nigeria to the adverse effects of climate change. The Paris Initiative on Climate Change is at the heart of Nigeria’s effort at combating the phenomenon, he said, adding that the Federal Government has taken major steps as illustrated by its huge investments in solar, wind and hydro energy, as well as ending gas flaring by 2020, “ways to reduce pollution and check climate change,” he enthused. He said Nigeria’s commitment to 2063 African Agenda for security, growth and sustainable development was irrevocable. He also referred to Nigeria’s current economic downturn, asking for technical support to buoy up national budget. The Minister would not have omitted the new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers where the entire world gathered to discuss the world of work. He therefore assured that the 29-member committee on the issue would soon commence work. He also noted that though the employers association, one leg of the labour tripartite had raised objection to the proposed N56, 000 minimum wage, the entire tripartite was however agreed that N18, 000 was no longer tenable or meaningful. A light at the end of the tunnel for workers you would say. Similarly, the NLC President, Ayuba Waba in his address to the conference harped on global peace and improved working conditions for workers all over the world, stressing that “decent work is a panacea to global peace.”
Nwachukwu is an Abuja based journalist