“Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight.” – C. JoyBell C.
If only Ayuba Wabba, the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC), as a matter of policy, routinely undertook cost-benefit analysis after his numerous protests, it definitely would have led to a change of strategy in his handling of labour issues. If only Wabba explored dialogue as opposed to force, which beyond energizing the base and creating the impression that something was being done, hardly yielded tangible results, but rather reinforced the image of labour as an organised mob and as an organisation lacking in intellectual capacity, hence, its constant resort to brute force, a more brawn than brain and pedestrian approach to issues. Wabba, unfortunately, does not seem to realise that, so long as he continues on this path, so long will labour continue to lose relevance and public sympathy.
Like in 2017 and 2018, Wabba and Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State are having a re-match and Wabba, from the looks of things, would most certainly be vanquished again like he was woefully defeated in the first duel by El-Rufai, who has proven himself a skillful pugilist. In 2017 and 2018, a misguided Wabba had led an invasion of Kaduna State to protest the disengagement of teachers that had badly flunked the competency test administered on them, leaving the Kaduna State House of Assembly vandalised and the then deputy Speaker, Nuhu Shadalafiya, who had been mandated by the House to receive their petition, badly injured. Wabba, who has never hidden his desire to “bring down El-Rufai,” had scandalously described the disengagement as “unjustifiable,” even when the result sheets that should ordinarily make him hide his head in shame were released by the Kaduna State government. It must be stated, contrary to the position of Wabba, that the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria and the National Teachers Institute were involved in the exercise.
It is important to stress that the driving force behind Wabba’s anti-El-Rufai stance is the belief within the top hierarchy of labour that, if El-Rufai succeeds in his various reforms, other governors will introduce similar policies like the Kaduna State Public Service Revitilsation and Renewal Programme, etc. However, because on every issue El-Rufai roundly defeated him, the opposition became more personal as El-Rufai continuously made him lose face. This is the more reason why he ought to thread carefully when the matter has to do with El-Rufai, fully aware that physical prowess has always spectacularly failed him in his objectives of crushing or vanquishing El-Rufai, his nemesis.
Wabba is an enfeebled actor in labour matters in Kaduna State not just because of his poor tactics but also because of the state government’s knowledge of his affiliation with opposition elements. When a labour activist lacks credibility for his motives, he can only mobilise his own side to a futile frenzy, as the other side remains unmoved and unimpressed.
On the teachers’ matter, the Kaduna State government shamed Wabba and exposed him as a liar. Wabba had claimed the “competency test was simply a sham and a pre-meditated action to reduce the workforce.”
But the state government recruited 25,000 teachers to replace the 21,780 incompetent teachers it disengaged. Wabba must have been throughly embarrassed when El-Rufai began paying the new minimum wage for Kaduna State in September 2019, long before the Federal Government and other states worked out a package. So, while Wabba demonises El-Rufai as the “enemy of workers,” on behalf of his political associates and his own interest, El-Rufai continues to debunk that assertion by his good intentions, increasing workers’ pay and raising the minimum pension to N30,000 monthly.
Against this background, a smart Wabba ought to have been more circumspect in precipitating and encouraging the brewing crisis between the state government and its health workers. Wabba’s confidence is undoubtedly buoyed by the fact that he can railroad the Kaduna State chairman of the NLC, who happens to come from his mother union, the Medical and Health Workers Union (MHWUN), into embarking on a strike during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, without regard to the timing, just because he can finally “teach” El-Rufai a lesson, displaying once again poor judgement and the absence of strategic thinking in the union. Before his election as NLC president, Wabba was a former national president of the MHWUN.
The “misunderstanding” between the state government and the state’s health workers would have been managed but for Wabba, who decided to fish in muddled waters. The state government had, from the outset of the crisis, made it abundantly clear it was going to provide for the poor and vulnerable through a 25% deduction across board of public servants and a flat N500,000 deduction for political appointees.
It was also mindful of other obligations of public servants and the need to ensure that they were not overburdened, hence only those earning N67,000 and above were asked to donate one-quarter of their salaries to fund the palliatives so as to ensure that, at the end of the day, no public servant took less than N50,000 home. The government’s reasoning, which is logical and shows compassion, that those “fortunate to have an income during this pandemic should sacrifice for this category of people, to enable government fund the purchase of palliatives for them,” deserves commendation. The point must be stressed that, had the Kaduna State government wanted, it could have conveniently cashed in on the economic crisis and dwindling resources to reduce salaries by 50%, which wouldn’t have generated any crisis, but it wanted to be open and provide them with the opportunity of showing solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.
The unconscionable demand by the health workers, which is at the root of the brewing crisis, is that the over 11,000 health workers should be declared frontline health workers and paid between N150,000 and N450,000, which is what the agitation is all about, shows an appalling lack of awareness of the economic crisis that Kaduna State faces and that unless a miracle happens, that the state, due to COVID-19-induced economic crisis, would suffer a revenue loss of between N17 billion to N24 billion in 2020. And this is the problem with a labour union that clearly lacks education, which is why the implication of its demands capable of bankrupting the state is lost on it.
Labour, especially health workers, by its agitations, lost the opportunity of showing care towards other citizens who have no children or relatives in the public service.
Like government argued, Kaduna State, with a population of about 10 million, has a combined public service workforce of about 100,000, including those of the 23 local government areas, which defeats the argument by labour that the public servants should be allowed to handle the issue themselves. How many poor people can the 100,000 public servants reach? Rather than the “to-your-tents” stance of labour, the government decided to care for all and, like El-Rufai argued “society is nothing if there is no sense of solidarity, I believe those who have, no matter how little, have a duty to care for others.” The public servants don’t have to be reminded that they are a minority segment of the population, who, until the coming of this administration never benefited from the resources of the state.
If at the prodding of Wabba, who is eager to teach El-Rufai a lesson, the health workers make good their threat to embark on their ill-advised strike, it will be another low for their already battered image and a confirmation that they are totally disconnected from reality with their untenable position. Clearly, Wabba has failed in trying to create the impression that it is a popular industrial action and, like in 2017 and 2018, Wabba looks set to lose once again to his political master, El-Rufai, but would definitely succeed in misleading some gullible workers into committing suicide.
It is a shame that the health workers have failed to reciprocate the gestures of the state government, which took out insurance cover for them unsolicited, because that’s the right thing to do, and generous occupational hazard allowances.
The health workers and indeed the entire labour movement need to grow up. They don’t need a soothsayer to understand that the times are not normal and that there is a compelling urgency to adjust to the new normal. Labour can’t afford to behave like ingrates to a man who by his decision to start paying the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments forced the hands of the 36 other states and the Federal Government.
El-Rufai’s record of care that he has extended to the poor and vulnerable cannot be disputed. It is the same compassion that moved him to implement the new minimum wage and consequential adjustments for Kaduna State before the Federal Government started the process. So, why is labour opposed to the same care for the poor and vulnerable? The bottom line is that labour is unabashedly selfish, which explains its opposition to shared sacrifice.