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Incessant Strike And Fate Of Education

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Oliver Okpala

The spate of strike actions and labour disputes in our universities, polytechnics and other institutions of higher learning has reached an alarming proportion. These days, labour disputes appear to be the order of the day in our citadels of learning spread across the country. The frequency and regularity of these industrial actions has had negative impact on the tertiary institutions. It has also sent dangerous signals within and outside our shores about our universities and polytechnics.
It has become necessary to make an incursion into labour unrest in our institutions of higher learning. Currently, several unions in our tertiary institutions are involved in a face­ off with their employers over many burning issues. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) are interlocked in a war of attrition with their employers. Their grievances range from non-payment of salaries, allowances, entitlements to non-provision of research grants and an enabling environment for learning in the citadels.
It is to be expected that in an environment of intellectual endeavour, there must be decorum and decency. Anything short of these values will impact negatively and dangerously on the business of learning and character moulding which are the primary purposes of our higher institutions.
Industrial instability and squabbles do not make our higher institutions the appropriate and cognate centres of learning and excellence which they ought to typify. On the contrary, industrial actions distract lectures, the school calendar and pro• grammes, and throw the students into confusion. Academic activities are disturbed, while programmes are abandoned. The students are thus unable to undergo the training, learning and lectures scheduled for the session.
The result is obvious. The tertiary institutions eventually turn out students and graduates who did not properly undertake and undergo the prograrnmes and studies designed for their courses. This gives way to the production of half baked graduates who lack self-confidence and courage, and who cannot compete favourably with their counterparts from other climes.
Strike actions should be a weapon of the last resort by labour. It should not be the primary objective of labour to confront their employers. No worthwhile benefit comes from an industrial crisis. It is with dialogue the stake­holders are able to reason together and embark upon a cross-fertilisation of ideas which will move our higher institutions forward.
It is conceded that a labourer deserves his wages. ASUU and NASU members deserve to be paid for work done. But these bodies must realize that they should limit their demands on the various governments to the financial abilities of the governments.
To demand from the government what she cannot afford is to open the floodgate to disharmony and strife in the institutions of higher learning.
ASUU and NASU must appreciate the existence of the global meltdown. Nigeria is not an island. She is part and parcel of what has become a global village. Our nation is not immune to the adversities of the meltdown. The demands of labour should be in line with the present economic reality. The arms of the government must not be tied by ASUU and NASU.
Again, Government has a very wide obligation. The obligations are to Nigerians as a whole. Government has the runs to provide infrastructural facilities for Nigerians. Our roads need maintenance, our hospitals need drugs, standard of living must be improved, our air­ports need to be upgraded to ensure safety and we have our international obligations as well.
ASUU and NASU are not the only stakeholders in the Nigerian project. Indeed, all Nigerians are stakeholders. No group, body or organisation should arrogate to itself any claim to special privileges and no organisation should hold the country down or to ransom simply because of some group interests. The nation must come first in everything we do. This is what the re-branding project encapsulates.
ASUU and NASU should understand that their strike actions often entail closure of our higher institutions with its attendant consequences. Students roam the streets. They remain idle and they fall into various temptations. Some of them resort to the new fad of kidnapping, either to make ends meet or occupy themselves. The daring among them go into armed robbery. Yet, others resort to all sorts of crime and deviant conduct because of their idleness.
Our undergraduates are our future leaders and our future hope. Since a lot is invested in their training, a lot is expected from them. ASUU and NASU must not cut this national dream short. The two bodies operate in a very sensitive and delicate environment and they should not allow their actions and inactions to jeopardise the interest of the nation.
The billions of naira which the government pumps into institutions of higher learning must not be allowed to go down the drain. Nigerians owe this country the duty to be patriotic and to think of the next generation.
Unrestrained strike actions in the citadels expose our country to ridicule internationally. It puts a question mark on the quality of our graduates. A strike action is not a weapon in the hands of labour to dare government. It is an instrument of last resort. It is when extensive and exhaustive dialogue has failed that the option of a strike action can come in.
As a matter of fact, in sensitive institutions as our universities and polytechnics, a strike action should be completely ruled out. It amounts to sabotage for NASU and ASUU to continuously distort our educational programmes in the citadels by calling out their members on strike. There should be a stop to this practice.
Okpala wrote from Lagos

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Opinion

Nigeria And Echoes Of Socrates On Democracy 

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Socrates (469-399BC), the Greek philosopher and political sage of Athenian descent, was critical of the ways in which his fellow Athenians operated under the then novel  concept, ‘democracy’. Though Socrates was not  necessarily critical of democracy itself, he was worried about its likely outcomes in the future. His criticism indicated that he wanted this mode of decision making and governance to be operated with utmost care. Addressing his audience on the then novel concept, Socrates said thus inter alia: “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them, when thieves and fraudsters finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power, there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”.
The above brief deposition on democracy is segmented into four parts that yield to critical analysis. The segments are (1) “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions”; (2) “democracy will give it to them”. (3) “When they finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power”; (4) “There will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy and oligarchy”.   This piece interrogates contemporary Nigeria with special reference to  the essence of democracy and power politics from the prism of these segments of Socrates’ perception of democracy. It is with trepidation that one reflects on the above centuries’ old saying vis-a-vis the reality of contemporary Nigeria with special reference to the Fourth Republic. With the prophetic exactitude of the averment for Nigeria, one could have sworn that Socrates looked into a giant celestial crystal ball for the then non-existent most populous nation in negrodom, perched on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
Five months into office as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Evan Enwerem was removed from office as a result of duplicity of names, fraudulent educational records, concealment of criminal records, etc. It was also during the same period that “Toronto” entered the lexicon of Nigerian politics, not as the name of a major city in a country in North America but as euphemism for certificate forgery. Incidentally and interestingly, the political head of Salisu Buhari rolled in that episode. He was later pardoned and reintegrated into the political fold through a political appointment. Today, public office holders who can, with every sense of responsibility, be justifiably referred to as “thieves and fraudsters” have finally taken authority. How else do we describe those with forged educational and birth certificates other than “thieves”?
Or how else do we describe those who deliberately manipulated the democratic process by hacking into voting machines and altering voting figures other than “fraudsters”? And how do you describe those who brazenly and audaciously grabbed, snatched and ran away with ballot papers and boxes into the “bush” other than “criminals and evil doers”?   Socrates’ crystal ball certainly zeroed in on the futuristic Nigeria and we are all living in that future because all of the above have happened in Nigeria during the 25 years of the Fourth Republic. Hitherto esteemed eggheads have tainted the Ivory Tower by their inordinate quest for ignominious pecks;  the judge’s gavel has morphed into auctioneer’s hammer thereby enfeebling the justice delivery system, the last bastion of hope of the citizen against the Leviathan. The moral fabric of the nation has been swept under the carpet and stench of technicalities.
Sprouting at the heels of the Hobbesian state of nature, when “life was nasty, brutish and short”, monarchies and oligarchies were  characterised with unbridled use of power that degenerated into dictatorship. It is, therefore, very worrisome to note that Socrates envisaged that  “there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. This is where the Socrates’ averment under reference becomes ominous.   The trending phrase of defiance “Go to court”, is reflective of a compromised judiciary and the hopelessness of the concept of rule of law in the Nigerian social milieu. How this will pan out regarding social order vis-a-vis lawlessness remains a subject of serious concern for social critiques. Given the proliferation of assault rifles in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, what is very likely in the not-too-distant future is that when the seed of disregard for law and order, which we have sown, germinates, government will depart from the democratic ideals of governance.
They will, inevitably, degenerate into dictatorship that may be worse than what obtained during the immediate post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies; this will be necessitated by the need for government to use sufficient force to contain the lawlessness in the land and the resultant threat to peace. Political Science 101 teaches that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  At this point, there will be justification for the utilisation of extreme force to deal with the dire realities of the extreme situation. There and then, there will be absolute power that will birth dictatorship worse than what obtained “in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. No wonder it is said that since Socrates, no one has said anything new.  At the point of the groundswell crises implied above and with powers reminiscent of the absolute powers associated with post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies, Nigerian political leaders are acting like drunken captains of a sinking ship.
With the judicial delivery system sweeping the moral fabric of the nation under the filthy and nauseating carpets of technicalities, Nigeria is consistently and insidiously slipping down a slippery economic slope; and will speedily slide down the precipice of disintegration, if care is not taken. Socrates was right: democracy has given “thieves and fraudsters important government functions” in Nigeria because “criminals and evil doers” adorned in tainted wigs and gowns “want (financial) power”; and now, “dictatorship worse than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy” is afoot. The tragedy is that, dazed in the hoodwink of religious bigotry, regionalism and ethnocentrism, Nigerians are stupefied and confused; and they are watching helplessly while morally stinking and sticky-fingered scoundrels in every sector of the economy  are sinking the ship of the state. God help us all.

Jason Osai
Prof. Osai is of Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

On The Downward Spiral?

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The removal of fuel subsidy by the President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu no sooner he was sworn into office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on May 29, 2023, was a bad omen for Nigerians.
President Tinubu had pleaded with Nigerians to bear with his administration on the removal of the subsidy and lulled gullible Nigerians into believing that with his decision to remove subsidy from fuel, Nigeria was on the speed lane to economic recovery from the stranglehold of “saboteurs” who he said are ripping off the country through fuel subsidy payment.
In a 25-page-paragraph ‘Democracy Day broadcast’ aired on television and radio stations, Tinubu said, “I admit that the decision to remove fuel subsidy will impose extra burden on the masses of our people. I feel your pain. This is one decision we must bear to save our country from going under and take our resources away from the stranglehold of a few unpatriotic elements.
“Painfully, I have asked you my compatriots to sacrifice a little more for the survival of our country. For your trust and belief, your sacrifice shall not be in vain.
“The Government I lead will repay through massive investment in transportation, infrastructure, education, regular power supply, healthcare and other public utilities that will improve the quality of lives…”
Unfortunately, 10 months after President Tinubu’s bogus and mouth-watering promises, nothing has happened to ameliorate the excruciating pains of fuel subsidy removal. Nigeria and Nigerians are worse than when the present administration came in. Resources have been removed from the stranglehold of few unpatriotic enemy elements and given to friendly-looters. What Nigerians have gained so far in return for fuel subsidy removal sacrifice, is compound  suffering and hardship. The economy today is worse than when President Tinubu took over. The inflation rate, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, is above 29 percent. The exchange rate of dollar to Naira currency of Nigeria is one Dollar to about N1,600. Nigeria is going through hyperinflation: a bag of rice that was N48,000 when the present administration came in, is today about N80,000; a basin of garri is between N10,000 and N12,000 against N4,800, pump price of premium motor spirit is over N700 in some dispensing stations as against N180 when Tinubu came to power. A bag of cement is between N10,000 and N12,000, pushing up the cost of rent to an unbearable point, transportation has increased astronomically,  negatively affecting economic activities. School fees have been increased like a phoenix, even in government-owned schools,  unemployment is astronomically high and poverty and corruption are the second nature of the country. Yet, workers salaries are the same. Pensioners are like guinea pigs. Nigerians are dying, they need a respite.
Recently, there were protests in some States of Northern Nigeria to express displeasure over worsening economic situation in Nigeria.
The two central labour bodies in Nigeria- the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) last week gave the Federal Government under President Tinubu a 14 – day ultimatum to implement the agreement reached in October last year or face a total shut down of the wheel of industry and economy.
In fact, the world’s monetary organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revealed that the stalled per capita growth, poverty and high food insecurity in Nigeria have worsened the ongoing cost-of-living crisis in Nigeria. This is as a  result of rising inflation, exchange crisis, weak economic growth and business closures that have bedeviled the country’s economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, headline inflation reached 27 percent year-on-year in October, flood inflation 32 percent, reflecting the effect of fuel subsidy removal, exchange rate depreciation and poor agricultural production in Nigeria.

Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Repeal Contributory Pension In Rivers

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To say the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) leaves much to be desired by public servants in Rivers State, is a mild expression of an exceedingly ugly situation. Retirees under the Contributory Pension Act are suffering because they are denied several years of benefits following non contribution of counterpart fund by employers for the period preceding the implementation of the amended 2014 Act. In 2004, retirees were compulsorily asked to join Annuity operated by Insurance company or programmed withdrawal under the Contributory Pension Scheme operated by Pension Fund Administrators under the control of PENCOM. By virtue of 2014 amended Act, the ugly narrative of retirees has not changed.
The obnoxious Contributory Pension Scheme denies retirees having greater share of lump sum after retirement and dispenses a paltry monthly pension to retirees across  board under this scheme. Mr. John Paago (not his real names) served the Federal Government of Nigeria from July 15, 1981 and retired on July 15, 2016 on salary Grade Level 14, having worked for a mandatory period of 35 years and attained the maximum age of 60 years. For all the years he put in, the total balance standing to his credit was N6,745,823.34. Of this amount,  he was paid a meagre 25 per cent which amounted to N1,686,455.84 while the balance of 75 per cent was retained by his Pension Fund Administrators for their  investment in capital market and other large institutions with high returns which is never added to retirees’ paltry monthly pension payment while still alive.  Paago receives N26,703.15 every month as Pension since 2016 till now, despite the huge profits declared every year under Contributory Pension Scheme. No doubt, the monthly pension given to Mr. Paago  cannot buy a loaf of bread at the price of N1,000 currently per day for 30 days.
Unfortunately, every day prices of goods and services are on the increase unprecedentedly, while workers and retirees under the old scheme – Defined Benefit Scheme had their salaries and pension increased across all levels, the Contributory Pension Scheme retirees are abandoned to their fate. It is pertinent to say that retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme face the same adverse socio-economic challenges like their counterparts under the Defined Benefit Scheme  (DBS).  Though the contributory pension scheme was designed to remedy the alleged deficiencies and inadequate funding of the DBS by pooling funds from employers and employees’ contributions to Pension Funds Custodians, retirees under the scheme, have not fared better than those who retired under the DBS. Conversely, the implementation of the contributory pension is a far cry from what its proponents lulled employees to believe. Complaints ranging from under payment of retirees under the scheme, despite several years of service (some of whom served for 35 mandatory years), corruption, non-compliance of State governments and other employers to provisions of the  Reform Act, 2014, characterise implementation of the Scheme, which Labour leaders in the country describe as anti-workers and retirees welfare.
Dissatisfied with the scheme, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria appealed to the Federal Government to scrap the scheme, describing it as a “huge fraud”.”The Present contributory pension policy of the federal government should be scrapped. We discovered lately that the pension  policy is a fraud on workers”, posited Yusuf Emmanuel, Chairman-General Ministry of Defence Unit 2, Lagos Outstations. In the same vein, the Rivers State Chairman of Nigeria’s Mother Labour Unions – Nigerian Civil Service Union, also appealed to the Rivers State Governor, Sir Simirilayi Fubara to “outrightly repeal” the contributory pension scheme in Rivers State, because “It is not in the interest of civil servants”. Comrade Chuks Osummah, the Rivers State Chairman of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, who made the appeal at the event to mark the Union’s 111 years of existence in Nigeria, expressed worry over the fate of workers who will retire under the contributory pension scheme.
“We are calling on the Executive Governor of Rivers State to abolish the contributory pension act as it is not in the interest of Rivers State civil servants”, a worried Osummah said. The fears of public/civil servants are not unfounded because though over 25 States of the Federation have adopted the scheme in principle by enacting relevant legislation, only six States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory — Abuja, have fully complied with the provisions of the extant laws on the pension reform act. Full compliance and implementation of the scheme has remained an uphill task denting the integrity of the scheme and its purported benefits for workers in the public, private and informal sectors the scheme was designed to cover. It is also evident that while some State governments deduct and remit workers’ contribution, the states have failed to contribute their counterpart fund to the scheme; This violates provision of contributors’ right as enshrined in section 4(1) the Pension Reform Act 2014. The section provides that as an employee’s right, the employer shall contribute a minimum of 10 percent of the employee’s monthly emolument to his/her pension fund administrator. The employer will also deduct at source a minimum of eight percent of the worker’s emoluments and pay to their fund administrator.
By the deficiency of State governments and other employers to make their counterpart contributions, the scheme can not guarantee security for the welfare of the workers on retirement. The fate of employees, especially those working before the enactment and implementation, seems to hang on the balance; an aura and premonition of uncertainty on the seamless disbursement of what is legitimately their entitlement remains a puzzle, since they are likely to lose financial benefits for all the years they have served before the implementation of the Act in the State. The Scheme is intended to enable employees “Seamlessly transfer their accumulated funds when changing jobs, ensuring continuous growth and uninterrupted savings accumulator.” This mobility is aimed at empowering workers to “Pursue new opportunities without sacrificing their retirement security”.
The CPS covers: Public Servants working for the Federal Government of Nigeria,  the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), each of the 36 States of the Federation,  all the local government councils in Nigeria, employees in Private sector organisations where there are three or more employees, and those in the informal sector which covers any economic activity or source of income that is not fully regulated by the government and other public authorities. But the CPS which is supposed to improve on the old defined benefit scheme is fraught with several hydra-headed and multi-dimensional problems that negate the welfare of workers and retirees. It is sound to argue that since the Pension Reforms Act was enacted in 2014, it should have excluded workers already employed in the public sector before 2014, when the law was enacted.
The effective date should not have been retrospective, or backdated because the effective date of implementation can shortchange workers employed before 2014. Workers still in active service should rise  against the retrogressive scheme’s servitude . The Rivers State Government under the humane, compassionate and empathetic Governor Siminalayi Fubara should abrogate the contributory pension act as applicable in Rivers State or defer the effective date of implementation to affect only workers who were employed  into the Public Service after 2014. Those employed before 2014 should remain under the defined benefit scheme. If the contributory pension scheme was not without flaws, Former President Muhammadu Buhari would not have assented to National Assembly Workers Pension Scheme few days before he left office, thus removing National Assembly Workers from the contributory pension scheme. Governor Fubara can do same for public servants in Rivers State.

Igbiki Benibo

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