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The Evil Of Casual Labour

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For Timiebi Aligbali, a casual staff with the Kubwa Unit of the Power Holding Company Of Nigeria (PHCN, Abuja, February 11, 2010 was just another day on the job.

He had done the same job for 11 years since he was engaged as a casual worker for the PHCN after completing a Diploma course in electrical engineering.

But the day turned out to be his final on the job as he was electrocuted when he climbed an electric pole to effect some repairs.

Expectedly, his death was greeted with some protest by other casual workers of the Kubwa unit of the PHCN.

Some of the protesters, who spoke with journalists, said they were angry that the management of the PHCN did not comply with the rules which forbade casual workers from climbing poles.

The casual workers, by the rule guiding their engagement, are also forbidden from engaging in other life threatening activities of the power company.

But for Aligbali’s wife and little daughter, the loss of their bread winner was particularly devastating because casual staff are not entitled to anything from their employers.

“The situation is particularly bad because the casual worker is not entitled to even a funeral grant,” laments Sylvestre Aligbali, the late PHCN worker’s uncle.

Records from the PHCN shows that the company has thousands of casual labourers across the nation, especially in the main cities.

Incidentally, it is not only PHCN that is host to so many casual labourers.

Statistics from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) show that a bulk of workers in the Telecommunication, Oil and Gas sectors are casual labourers.

Other sectors with thousands of casual labourers include mining, steel, banking and insurance.

A recent report by the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights in Nigeria, an NGO dealing with labour issues, said recently that 45 per cent of Nigeria’s labour force is made up of casual workers.

The report expressed the fear that the situation would only worsen as employers seek out ways to reduce cost of doing business.

Chief Olumide Adeyemi, a legal practitioner, who specialises in Labour law describes ‘casualisation’ as a working arrangement that is not permanent in nature.

“It does not fall within the traditional standard employment relationship,” he said.

According to him, workers in this arrangement do not have a permanent job status and do not get the same pay and benefits as their regular permanent counterparts doing the same job and working the same hours.

Adeyemi said that the continued engagement of casual labourers was at variance with provisions of section 17 (a) of the Constitution, which guarantees “equal pay for equal work”.

“The section frowns against discrimination on account of sex, or any other ground whatsoever and so the discrimination in pay between permanent and casual employees should not exist,” he said.

He lamented that many casual employees do not have letters of employment while many companies do not have records of their casual employees in order to evade the law.

Tracing the history of casualisation of workers in Nigeria, Mr Chinedu Alozie, a senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations, University of Lagos, said that it became a feature of the Nigerian labour market in the late 1980s.

“It became prominent when the country adopted the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in line with the neo-liberal policies prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”

According to Alozie, one of the effects of this policy was the retrenchment of workers in the public sector, which created large scale unemployment.

“The private sector, which was to be strengthened by government policies to absorb these workers, could not absorb all the retrenched workers from the public sector. “Because of that, many of the workers were employed as casual and contract workers with low remuneration, limited benefits and lack of right to organise,” he said.

To protect the contract workers, the International Labour Organisation(ILO) in 1998 declared in Philadelphia that its member must “respect, promote and safeguard the principles concerning the fundamental rights at work”.

The Declaration, although not binding in international law, suggests that member countries have an obligation to respect and promote the fundamental principles involved, whether or not they have ratified the relevant ILO Conventions.

Incidentally, Nigeria has ratified the ILO Convention and is thus obliged to uphold it.

Again, the African Charter, which has been enacted as an Act of Nigeria’s National Assembly, provides in Article 15 that, “every individual shall have the right to work under equitable and satisfactory conditions’’.

The Act also says that all Nigerians must receive “equal pay for equal work”.

Specifically, the Act states that there should not be any form of discrimination in employment between standard workers and their nonstandard counterparts.

In Nigeria, the campaign against casual labour was intensified by the Nigerian trade unions in 2000, when they embarked on picketing activities on companies believed to be guilty of the offence.

But picketing has not yielded the desired result, as the incidence of temporary staffing continues.

For the casual workers, the situation is only worsened by the fact that they are not part of any trade union as they are not fully employed.

Although there has not been much struggle against casual staffing, the NLC says it has not yet relented in its effort to fight against the use of casual staff.

NLC General Secretary, John Odah, while defending the lull in the union’s fight against temporary staffing, dismissed insinuations that the NLC has lost the fight against casualisation.

“On the contrary, the fight against casual or contract staffing by employers in the country is still on and we are planning to take it up as a big issue soon,” he said.

Odah, however, accused government of being indifferent to the plight of such category of workers.

“That indeed compounds the problem,” he said.

 He argued that it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity to see to the welfare of Nigerian workers and ensure that they are treated fairly and justly.

He lamented that government agencies, which should aid labour activities in the country, have joined employers to violate labour laws.

“The Ministry has been empowered by the constitution to safeguard workers, but unfortunately, they have not been doing their job,” he said.

Adeyemi, the legal practitioner, agrees with Odah and blames government for not creating adequate policies that will regulate labour relations.

Adeyemi identified food, steel, beverage and engineering outfits as the worst culprits, saying that the unions have tried in vain to end the trend.

But government said recently that it was doing its best to check the trend by applying the right laws.

According to the immediate past Minister of Labour and Productivity Adetokunboh Kayode, the Federal Government has advocated an “effective law” as a means of eliminating the casualisation of staff.

“The moment a law is enacted, everything will be in place, and the idea of casualisation will be eliminated,” he said.

For Mr Dimeji Bankole, Speaker, House of Representatives, the trend is “a very unfriendly labour practice”.

“Casualisation undermines the productivity and efficiency of Nigeria workers,” he told members of the House recently.

He said it was in a bid to forestall such practice that the new labour bill was being carefully studied in the House.

But Mr Peter Akpatason, immediate past President, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), believes that government must go beyond pronouncements and do the right thing to check the trend.

He described casualisation as “one evil that has for long remained the bane of the oil industry”.

“NUPENG has made lots of efforts to tackle the problem of casualisation in the oil and gas sector by seeking to convert all contract workers to permanent employees.

“The advent of this global inhuman staffing strategy, which only takes congnisance of cost reductions for investors, has resulted in a gradual drift from decent work to the most precarious work relationship.

“It constitutes the single largest and most contentious challenge to unions worldwide and needs to be quickly addressed by government.”

Mohammed writes for NAN.

Zainab Mohammed

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Opinion

Freedom To Move And Settle

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Far back as May 1964 there was a security report about some secret plans to use cattle to foster expanded settlements and population figures. It was unfortunate that those involved in putting together that report were not only reprimanded and cautioned, but reposted to other beats. Between that time and 1970, cattle were involved in census controversy, movements of troops and land acquisition. This issue is raised because of a habit of discarding a message because of the status or face of the messenger.
Controversies, shenanigans and attacks following a recent meeting of 17 Southern Governors and the positions they articulated on national issues, clearly portray the old suspicion of some hidden agenda. While Northern Governors, Elders and Youths had been meeting and taking decisions on national issues without much ado, a similar meeting by Southern Governors creates alarm. As to be expected, we can see the old game of creating a division in family meetings for the purpose of forestalling or weakening solidarity.
The integrity of a nation is such that no individual or a group of persons, no matter how highly placed, should do anything to undermine it, without being called to order. The Tide newspaper of Monday, January 21, 2019, carried a headline news, saying: “Obasanjo Slams Buhari Again, Says Another Abacha Era Is Here; INEC Lacks Integrity To Conduct 2019 Polls”. An elder statesman like Obasanjo would surely not speak carelessly without having some background facts.
Similarly, Obasanjo would not have raised a false alarm about Islamisation and Fulanisation without reliable security information. Femi Fani-Kayode was also quoted as alleging that “President Buhari’s Fulani cabal has conquered Nigeria”. He went on to say that “Northerners are heading most of the sensitive positions in the country”. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev. Matthew Kuka, who is neither a politician nor a Southerner, also warned the Federal Government under Buhari against fanning embers of civil war. He said that the federal government was using different methods to achieve the goal of Islamic dominance in Nigeria, a secular state.
The Tide Editorial Comments of Friday, February 8, 2019 titled: “Nigeriens And Kano APC Rally” lamented that “two Nigerien governors were in Kano to rally support for President Buhari’s re-election”. Anyone would wonder if the integrity and sovereignty of the Nigerian nation are not being compromised, following the above observations. Foreigners voting in elections?
More importantly, the strategy of deploying cattle as the instrument of advancing some hidden agenda becomes quite glaring, with the attitude of the federal government towards numerous complaints against herders. From the issue of RUGA settlements, to the strategy of setting up a commission on herders, there are obvious indications of spirited efforts to promote some agenda, pointed out in a 1964 security report, for which some operatives were reprimanded.
In an editorial comment of Wednesday, July 10, 2019, The Tide newspaper wrote: “the Federal Government has no business intervening and lobbying for cattle rearers to spread their tentacles across all cities and communities in the country…” In another editorial comment titled No To Herders’ Commission”, The Tide (Wed; March 17, 2021) wrote “Mr Malami’s proposal for a commission for pastoralism must be rejected and consigned to the refuse heap of unhelpful and injurious initiatives as RUGA and cattle colonies because it is insincere, ill-motivated, wasteful and mere shadow-chasing venture in its intentment”.
Apart from these shenanigans, the Federal Government, under President Buhari, gave a gift of N150 billion to the association of cattle breeders known as Miyetti Allah, as a support for their business. Today, Southern Nigerians are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and also suspicious of the position of the APC-led Federal Government of Nigeria over the attitude towards the cattle issue. The level of destruction done to farm crops and the disruption of farming activities in communities in Southern Nigeria by cattle, are perhaps trivial issues that should not concern the federal government.
Some months ago, women and embittered people of Okutukutu-Epie a Bayelsa community, took their protest to the Government House in Yenagoa over their sad experiences with and threats from herders. Several other communities have pathetic tales of bitterness and woes arising from their encounters with herdsmen in their farmlands.
The question of herders occupying forests in rural communities with several herds of cattle and with no permission to settle in such forests, should be addressed promptly. Many highly-placed Northerners have condemned the decisions of Southern Governors on open grazing which they insist should continue. The issue of right of movement and settlement has been cited as a reason why herders and their cattle should have free access to anywhere, but such logic ignores the condition that right goes with responsibility. Farmers have been terrorised in their farms.
Occupying another person’s farmland and obstructing such person from his means of livelihood amounts to an abuse of right of movement or settlement, especially when such intruder acts with impunity. It is important to alert the Rivers State Government that a vast forest area stretching from ONELGA to Delta and Bayelsa States, is currently being occupied by herdsmen and their cattle. A private investigation revealed that many of the herders are non-Nigerians and, apart from having concealed weapons, they have no intention to move out. Let this hint not end like a 1964 report.
If the Fulani race in diaspora across the West African sub-region must be given a homeland to settle, like the Jews after the World Wars, then let this be an open rather than a clandestine affair. The current situation between Israel and Palestine should serve as a lesson. Sympathy cannot be won by blusters, neither should Southern Nigerians be seen as a conquered people. Southern Governors should see the “hand writing on the wall” now.

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Why Alter Retirement Bars?

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At the time of harmonising the country’s previously fragmented public sector retirement policy to the mandatory 60 years of age or 35 years of active and unbroken service (whichever comes first), not a few Nigerians saw the new bars as ideal and quite cerebral.
But not long after its implementation, some professional associations and labour unions began agitations for an exception from those figures based on what they considered as their members’ specialised training and specific job peculiarities. Some even threatened an industrial showdown as a way of arm-twisting the government to accede to their demand.
Among the earliest to be granted such sector-specific exception are high court judges and senior government lawyers whose retirement was reviewed upward to 65 years of age or 40 years of service even as a new bill is currently being proposed to further raise the age bar for their Lordships to 70.
Closely following on the heels of the nation’s senior judges are university and polytechnic lecturers for whom the compulsory retirement age and service years limits were also lifted to 65 and 40 years, respectively. Professors, it was learnt, have the option to pull out at 70, after a written notification to that effect.
Other civil servants who recently joined this elite group are primary and secondary school teachers whose new package even went beyond the 60/35 ceiling to include enhanced remuneration. The details are now being worked out by the relevant federal agencies. And guess what; just last month, the government also approved a similar package for health workers with the retirement age for medical consultants now pushed to 70.
In fact, there is hardly any labour group that is not requesting for its workers to be considered for such extensions. Of particular interest here is the style employed by the Clerk and senior staff of the National Assembly (NASS).
During the two-day zonal Public Hearing on the Proposed Alteration to the Provisions of the 1999 Constitution held in Enugu, it was reported that a legal firm, Alpha and Rohi, through its Managing Partner, Mr. Adeola Adedipe, delivered a position paper calling for a similar extension of retirement age and service years for NASS senior staff.
As part of his submission, Adedipe was said to have noted that parliamentary support service and legislative management is a specialised field that is developed over time. Hear him: “Undoubtedly, training and retraining of staff members over time, is an investment, the benefit of which must be maximised.
“As such, staff members that have gradually acquired the requisite skills and competence should be nurtured and retained in order to optimise the investment by government in them (as long as they are capable and productive).
“This, of course, is contrary to the current culture of discarding our experts at the very age when their skills and often laboriously acquired competence ought to be recognised as asset, exploited and deployed for the benefit of the country.”
According to the report, the firm’s position was also pushed at the Akure, Bauchi, Kaduna, Minna and Port Harcourt centres of the public hearing. The interesting thing about this presentation is not only that it mirrored the kind of arguments that were made by each of the above-named beneficiary groups, but that it had been replicated at the other zonal centres to acquire the semblance of a nationwide clamour.
Come to think of it, are those attempting to push up their retirement age as to stay longer in service not aware of the large army of unemployed Nigerian graduates out there in society? Notwithstanding the level of professional competence and experience acquired, I am not convinced that any office will shutdown at the retirement or sudden demise of its occupant.
If any worker is such a wizard on the job that he becomes so indispensable, then let him first retire and be re-engaged as a consultant rather than push for an extension of the retirement age. Again, it is annoying to observe that the same workers who claim specialised trainings and job peculiarities are already beneficiaries of well enhanced special salaries and perquisites to reflect such. So, why still ask for retirement age and service years’ raise?
Honestly, the kinds of arguments on which retirement extensions have been based in Nigeria can only be tenable in countries that lack indigenous manpower like Canada and the oil-rich Persian Gulf states. And certainly not a nation like Nigeria that is reeking of unemployed school leavers.
It may be argued that government is not the only source of employment for our numerous job seekers; but it is also correct to say that private firms are already emasculated by years of economic meltdown and are, therefore, continuously shedding workers as a survival strategy. Micro and small-scale initiatives are not also appetising alternatives due to lack of venture capital, multiple taxation, unreliable electricity, high costs of fuel and other raw inputs. This is in addition to unforeseen hiccups like lockdowns, curfews and social media restriction necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening insecurity and the recent ban on Twitter.
Given that most of the states have not employed new workers for so long, it will be safe to say that the present civil service across the country is dominated by highly experienced but tired hands who are also reluctant to quit the stage for fear of the usual agonies of retirement.
The way things are going, it is possible that a 75-year old civil servant with a broken service record and whose age may have been understated at below 70 in the official biometric database will still be working while his 30-year old graduate grandchild roams the streets in search of employment. Haba! But wouldn’t that be sheer wickedness?
Government should please engage young hands and quit granting requests for extension of retirement bars.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Opinion

The Enemy Within

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Political scientists would talk about an Iron Law of Oligarchy whose custodians and protectors are the barons of the wit cult. The wit cult members are patrons of the cult of weeds, whose protectors are usually drawn from the security circles. A former president of this country once said that “some desperate politicians and people in power are known to protect notorious outlaws often linked to violent crimes”. Curious readers can check The Tide newspaper of 26/7/2019, Page 2. The credo of the Law of Oligarchy is that “whoever has the most power makes the rule and takes the gold”. Gangsterist Law?
What is oligarchy? It is defined as government or control by a small group of people, using democracy as a camouflage. Do we have a cabal in Nigeria? Yes! Who controls that cabal? A Presidency! Who is Presidency? A camouflage! Who are the small groups of people controlling power in Nigeria? Ask General Jibril Musa Sarki (Born to Rule) and Badu Salisu Ahmadu who told Nigerians that there is a standing Fulani Strike Force ready to claim the lands which they inherited from the British.
What does it take to make the rule and take the gold? Power, in its raw form! How do you get power? Ruthless exploitation of weaknesses and loop-holes! Are there weaknesses and loop-holes in the Nigerian environment? Yes! They include ignorance, timidity, cowardice, myopia and the desire to attend to stomach infrastructure, via hustling and scrambling for the crumbs from the table of the champions. Hungry dogs! Kept poor!
Who are the champions of the Nigerian political economy? Someone provided an answer, saying: “the wealth buried in the bowels of Oloibiri and in other oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta region is being cornered by a few Nigerians and foreigners”. The culture of parasitism had been a long issue in human history, but its modernised version takes the form of national and international politics. At the international level, the culture of parasitism operates through big corporations and conglomerates, via monopolies.
Any intelligent Nigerian would figure out easily that there are spirited efforts from various nebulous quarters to divert attention from what is actually going on in the country. For example, international borders in Southern Nigeria are not only blocked but manned with strictness, while similar borders in the Northern parts are left open. The heightened state of insecurity in Southern Nigeria in recent times cannot be for nothing, but indicative of an effort to divert attention from some ulterior motives. What are the motives?
Rivers State is of a particular importance in the current political drama, because of its status as a major pillar in Nigeria’s political economy. What unsuspecting Nigerian masses must know is that a number of the people are paid agents in the service of some vested interests. Many of such paid agents are not usually aware of whose interests or what purposes that they serve with zeal and commitment. Sponsors of acts of brigandage and banditry are members of an organized cabal, in whose clutches Nigerians are now helpless.
Apart from political parties and their propaganda machines, power holders and power mongers do use security agencies as tools and hirelings in their services. Apart from fueling crisis and animosities where there are stakes for such purposes, security agencies, via security votes, are handy tools in the service of power mongers. We find such tools and errand boys as regular participants in phone-in radio programmes, whose utterances and opinions are usually coloured by ideological leanings and sympathies.
It is particularly pathetic that indigenes of Southern Nigeria can become so myopic and blind that they become willing stooges in the current political shenanigans. “Fall guys” in this on-going power game are not usually insignificant persons but highly-placed members of the political elites. A common strategy of roping in such Southern elite is to lure them into some financial sleaze and scandal, which in the end would allow them the option of joining the party in power. We have seen many of such strategies in the past few years, resulting in political decampment and joining the party in power.
The time has come to alert Southern Nigerians that many of them are being used and co-opted into serving some sectional interests and hidden agenda, to the detriment of such stooges and hirelings. This has been going on for quite a long time, aimed not only at advancing some agenda, but also winning sympathies, via patronage and sinecure. A hate speech law was also crafted for the purpose of intimidating those who discern the game plan.
During the General Sani Abacha regime discerning Nigerians saw how operatives of the security and intelligence agencies served the sinister agenda of a section of the country. Acts of brigandage and criminality purportedly committed by armed or unknown persons were placed at the door-steps of NADECO or groups hostile to military rule. Now even in a democratic regime “armed and unknown gunmen” are still engaged in their trade. Soon after military rule came the clamour for Sharia Law, followed by the menace of Boko Haram.
Even though a large number of Nigerians are ignorant and capable of being led by the nose like assess, there are a few discerning ones who can perceive the shape of things to come. Behind all the shenanigans lies the truth that a few Nigerians, with the collaboration of some foreigners, cornered the wealth of the nation, represented by mineral oil and gas. Despite the use of intimidation, divide-and-rule strategies and other cover-ups, the game is up and the disenfranchised groups are wiser now. Agitations will rise further.
Let it be added, as an aside, that Scotland-Yard trained private eyes rarely write or speak carelessly. In this case, those who take interest in this article should heed the message, rather than ask that supportive evidence be brought, in chapters and verses, for the message to be considered valid. An enemy within usually operates like a chameleon, whose antics include vengeful attacks when short of further camouflage. The game is up! We have taken too much for the owner to know!
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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