Michael Imoudu, Haroun Popoola Adebola, Wahab Goodluck and the Hassan brothers. These were some of the patriots who gave trade unionism in Nigeria genuine leadership from colonial era to the early days of Independence. Nigerian government never toyed with them and workers would always instantly respond to any call for action to down tools. The general strikes of 1945 and 1964 were two of their major successes. Theirs was such contrast to what passes today for trade union leadership. For the avoidance of doubt, strike was always a last resort. Otherwise, their integrity was their main weapon with which they wrested concessions from government on behalf of workers, in the realisation that any threat of strike was as good as commencement.
How does that compare to trade union leadership in Nigeria today? When trade union leaders eventually woke from their slumber and threatened general strike purportedly on behalf of Nigerian workers in protest against withdrawal of fuel subsidy and other austerity measures, the general reaction was to dismiss the antics of the union leaders as the normal ritual to impress the public. Such is the credibility gap between trade union leaders and workers. And so it has emerged. Only a few hours before the expiration of the strike notice earlier alerted on Nigerians, an agreement was claimed to have been reached between Federal Government and the trade unions postponing resumption of negotiations for a fortnight. Earlier in the declaration of the industrial dispute, the trade unions demanded, clearly unrealistically, full restoration of the fuel subsidy and scrapping of the over 100 per cent rise in electricity tariff. None had been met when the threatened strike was called off.
Perfuming the agreement to suspend the strike, union leaders told Nigerians that the increased electricity tariff had been suspended but they were curiously silent on withdrawal of fuel subsidy, Yet, till yesterday, electricity distribution companies not only defied the so-called order to suspend the new tariff but also insisted no such order had yet been served on them. Meanwhile and strangely, government took it on itself to be praising union leaders for allegedly being reasonable after being “shown” the accounts books. In short, public scepticism on the insincerity of union leaders was justified as the strike, which was never intended, had been called off.
It was also revealed, obviously by one of the union leaders in an apparent desire to impress on why they had to compromise their stand, that one of the government negotiators confessed their helplessness as Nigeria would incur the “wrath” of IMF and World Bank should the austerity measures, especially removal of fuel subsidy, be scrapped. Why should Nigeria be intimidated or blackmailed, if public protests forced France and Ecuador to abandon IMF and World Bank poison and yet nothing happened? Unlike in Nigeria, union leaders in these two countries were loyal and committed to the cause of improving the lot of suffering poor.
If government accounts books were shown to union leaders to convince them on the austerity measures, did the books also reveal the disturbing fact of two societies in Nigeria, the suffering overtaxed majority poor working class and the overpampered brats in the National Assembly? Of serious concern is the duplicitous union leadership in Nigeria pretending to be unaware of the simple issue involved in today’s Nigeria, impovershment of ordinary Nigerians alongside opulent ruling class in the National Assembly.
In the same Nigeria, the poor are gradually (being) reduced to zero subsidy on everything. At the same time, the ruling class (in National Assembly) are well-protected by trade union leaders deliberately looking the other way in matters of irritating social injustice. Why have trade union leaders never thought it fit to take a stand on the privileged status of unlimited subsidy for National Assembly members?
Otherwise, what is the implication of union leaders’ complete silence on the subsidy of National Assembly members dignified as allowances up to N30 million or even if denied to N13 million every month, apart from fixed salary? Must Nigeria buy costumes for National Assembly members and heavily charge poor fellow Nigerians for electricity supply? In effect, trade union leaders acquiesce in such ironical double standard.
Once again, union leaders are back with their gimmick of an agreement with government on behalf of suffering Nigerian workers. For a repeat, Discos are denying any government order to revert to old tariff. On the other hand, if the decision had been for a rise in tariff, the Discos, within minutes and without waiting for documented order, would have effected the rise. Who is in charge of this country? Federal Government or Discos? How many times have innocent Nigerians been defrauded on electricity supply? There is the estimated billing fraud, which is more of levy, depending on your status, rather than the amount of power consumption. Only in Nigeria would a property not occupied for a month be duped with a so-called estimated bill. About two years ago, National Assembly directed the Discos not only to supply meters but that consumers must disregard estimated bills. Yet, Discos continue to ridicule (yes, ridicule) Nigeria with continued estimated billing system.
Second, as part of the agreement between union leaders and Federal Government in the past, Discos were to be supplying meters free. Even if to be paid for, must consumers be defrauded with ever rising cost of the meter by Discos? Contrary to government directive, discos increased the cost of meter from N50,000 tom N72,000 and, lately, to N92,000. Surely, a slap in the face for government. Or was that also part of the agreement calling off the strike?
Eight million deficit in meter supply to be met? By Federal Government or by Discos, which cannot even finance themselve for smooth operation? Over what period will the supply of eight million meters or even meters for eight million homes be met? Before then, estimated billing system will continue. Amid lamentation by federal and state governments over alleged dwindling revenue, part of the agreement is the promise of constructing some 200,000 new homes for working class Nigerisns? Trade union leaders have a lot to account for. How many of such houses have been built since 2015? Still, scores of thousands of buses to be bought by Federal Government for for transporting Nigerian workers.
The battle cry for trade union leaders, if sincere on the plight of poor Nigerians, is (still) that there should be no dicrimination in the matter of making sacrifice under the austerity measures. Everybody must contribute. It is easier for union leaders to insist Aso Rock cannot deny poor workers fuel subsidy while National Assembly members live opulently. Indeed, when next union leaders leaders address the press on their agreement with government, they (union leaders) should be asked why they turn a blind eye to the pampering in the National Asembly. Union leaders must also make wthdrawal of the subsidy of National Assembly members their major bargaining point in seeking agreement to call off the strike. Then, Nigerians will take union leaders to be serious.
Thriving Ngige family
That was sarcasm most unusual when some of brothers of Employment Minister Chris Ngige wrote President Muhammadu Buhari purportedly congratulating him on the number of federal appointments allotted to the minister. It was a humorous way of criticising the minister for engaging in nepotism. These critics should calm down now. Better still, they should relax with Adam Bellow’s controversial dissertation, “In defence of nepotism.” No Ngige is a non-southeasterner. If any of the Ngiges listed is dropped or removed, a substitute will definitely be another Nigerian but probably be a non-southeasterner, and that will be a loss to South East, and nobody should blame President Muhammadu Buhari. That is on a note of humour.
How could anybody in Anambra (indeed, South East zone) grumble against the courageous ones who stuck out their neck beyond one basket? Science and Technology Minister Ogbonnaya Onu will always be remembered for passionately pleading with Nd’Igbo not to put all their eggs in one basket. Despite the efforts of the likes of Geoffrey Onyeama, Rochas Okorocha, Chris Ngige, Ogbonnaya Onu, Osita Okechukwu and, lately, Arthur Eze, as well as a few others known and recognised in their political group only depending on their respective luck. There is this antipathy in South East against prospects of anything Federal to such an extent that when President Buhari was, very early in his first term, to pay a short official visit to Enugu State, he was publicly rebuffed not to try it, as if he could be stopped.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe died in 1996, since when no administration, Federal or any state in South East, bothered to honour the great man by erecting a musoleum befitting his international status. Buhari, on assuming office as a civilian head of state, awarded contract for the musoleum to the best contractor in Nigeria. On the day Zik’s final resting place was to be launched by President Buhari, the ceremony was shunned by dignitaries for an unfruitful presumed rival political gathering far away from Anambra State.
And then another shock. Up to three times, Buhari, in the run-up to 2019 elections, offered the Presidency to South East in 2023. From the Ohanaeze entire hierarchy to almost the last man in South East zone, that offer of Nigerian Presidency was rejected simply because the offer came from Buhari. It was, therefore, arguable that even if federal public appointments were offered to southeasterners, such might similarly be thrown back at him.
Who, by the way, said Ngige’s relations got their federal appointments solely on account of nepotism? If, as explained, Ngige’s wife is a career civil servant, she could only have been elevated to the level of a permanent secretary without any magomago along with her contemporaries after not less than 25 years’ service, if not more. Most certainly, she could not have been the only one so promoted. Were the others so promoted also related to Ngige or specifically the minister’s wife? If the minister’s wife’s status should or could not help her, must her status as Ngige’s wife militate against her meritorious elevation to the post of federal permanent secretary?
Chairmanship of Council of Legal Education is clearly meant for not just exclusively members of the legal profession but, preferably, of senior rank. By meeting all these requirements, should Emeka Ngige’s blood ties with Labour Minister Chris Ngige have disqualified him? It was, therefore, tactless of complaining critics to have added Emeka Ngige and the minister’s wife in embellishing allegations of nepotism against her husband.