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 Enough Of ASUU’s Unending Strike

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I have been one of the ardent supporters of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), because it is the vanguard for development of the Nigerian society. The role of lecturers or teachers in the Education sector at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels in moulding character and developing the intellectual capacity of students through teaching and learning cannot be treated as a second fiddle. It is in realisation of the human capacity development and consequent development of the society that the United Nations urges member nations to give to the Education sector a minimum of 15 percent of their total annual budget. Though Nigeria is a member nation of the United Nations she has failed in ratifying this convention. The highest the Education sector in Nigeria has received in the last 10 years is about 7.5 percent of the nation’s annual budget. The present and successive administrations have not done well at all. In fact, the Education sector is suffering from the cumulative apathy of the past and present administrations to the sector. The infrastructural decay in the public schools is saddening. In some communities there is no roof over school children thus making the feasibility of teaching and learning difficult. When I consider the gross understaffing in some schools, the absence of conducive teaching and learning environment and dearth of facilities to drive learning for maximum productivity, I can not help but to be on the side of ASUU.
However, having shut down public universities since February 14, without the Federal Government led by General Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister for Labour and Employment Chris Ngige, seeing the need to reach a truce for the sake of parents and students, the principle of empathy requires that the striking universities lecturers should reconsider their stance for the sake of the students and parents-the primary consumers of education and return to the classroom. The continuous resort to legal tussle even when the Appeal Court has ordered them to go to work leaves much to be desired. Two wrongs can not make a right. There should be a limit to contesting for one’s right because if you insist on your right,  you might end up not getting it after all. There is also the possibility of losing the support of sympathisers when a struggle is protracted. Parents and students are in a dilemma over who to confront presently. The popular support that the universities, teachers once enjoyed is waning because the parents and students who were at the forefront of the titanic struggle for better funding for the universities are beginning to see the “adamant” position of ASUU as unfriendly to them. In such situation, the Federal Government’s resort to self help and actions that negate labour laws to curb the perceived excesses and whittle down the influence of ASUU in the university community, may enjoy the approval of those who are directly affected. Experience has revealed that what the people support in this country always stands even though it is an illegality. It is common knowledge that some administrations in some States in  Nigeria had taken certain decision that breached the provision (s) of our grand norm, such action was contested in courts of competent jurisdiction and was accordingly voided by the court, yet the court’s  judgement did not stop the government from sustaining their illegality.
A wise man does not fight to finish or die. It is wisdom to fight and run when the ovation is loudest than to suffer humiliating defeat. Striking universities’ lecturers should listen to the Appeal Court and return to classrooms immediately. By so doing they will continue to enjoy the goodwill of the people. If ASUU appeals to the Supreme Court for a stay of execution of the judgement of the Court of Appeal which upheld the judgement of National Industrial Court, they will be compelled to submit in defeat rather than resigning to the appeals of parents, students and well-meaning Nigerians.  No doubt, this is a country where the option to conflict resolution is strike or industrial disharmony. The seeming callousness of the Federal Government is a very strong indication that this present administration is apathetic to education and the development of the country. Education is the bedrock of the development of any society for which human development index is a function of.  For a government to not take education as a priority shows, without mincing words, that it is clueless and has no development plan. The Federal Government is consciously and intentionally creating a generational gap  in  manpower structure of the nation. This we must view as an  effort to deny the less privileged an opportunity for a university education,  thereby sustaining the disparity in social class. I stand though  to be corrected that the children of those in the government of Muhammadu Buhari are all in private universities otherwise, how would any one explain the continuous closure of public universities for this length of time.   It is quite painful to observe that the public office holders are major stakeholders in private universities, using our tax-payers’ money to fund private universities at the expense of public universities and other consumers of education. If ASUU members therefore should understand the gimmick of the government officials in table with them, then, they should be wise not to allow them achieve their  aim by calling for the resumption of school now.
Meanwhile, last week, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari accused some members of ASUU of corruption. President Buhari made the accusation during the Fourth National Summit on Diminishing Corruption in the Public Sector at the State House Conference Centre, Aso Rock. According to President Buhari, ASUU is no less complicit in the corruption in tertiary institutions. This is a grave accusation that should not be treated with kid gloves. This is coming on the heels of the universities, lecturers union also being accused of flagrant refusal to submit its audited financial reports to the relevant authorities for five years. And by so doing, breaching extant labour laws. An action which the Federal Government through the Dr Chris Ngige-led Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment threatened to initiate action to withdraw the licence of the Union. Why has a union of academics and people versed with the relevant provisions of the labour laws failed to submit its audited account for five years. There seems to be more to their action than meets the eye. Some members of the Union whose children are in private universities are also being accused of aiding the Federal Government to promote private university education, that is why they have remained adamant to the clarion calls and, appeals on them to return to classes. Government has also accused universities’ administrators of either misappropriation or outright embezzlement of subvention or intervention agencies’ financial support for infrastructural development in universities. These are serious issues that ASUU must address. Though the burden of proof lies on the Federal Government, ASUU should be able to put the records straight and let the public get its side of the tango with the Federal Government on the issue. He who clamours for equity should do so with hands that are clean.

By: Mckenzie Charles
Mckenzie  resides in Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

Rescuing Local Government From Limbo

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The local government system is one of the three tiers of government, set up by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discharge different levels of social contracts with the Nigerian people. These governments – the federal, state  and local,  draw funds monthly from a pool of the nation’s commonwealth which accrues through the federation’s  account to enable them  function.  While the other two tiers independently articulate their respective affairs to pursue various governance goals and objectives, the local government has over the years remained under the dictates of the second-tier when in the real sense, the local government,  being the closest to the grassroots, should be the most important government level. Moreso, the local government area has the advantage of uniformity in ethnic, linguistic and cultural harmony, which enables for greater understanding, acceptability and mutual trusts, as against the polarising diversity encountered by the wider tiers.
It is therefore, unfortunate that the local government found itself  hamstrung by the actions of state government, the inadvertent acquiessence of the federal government, as well as by the pliability of some local government officials. The unhindered functionality of local councils should have created the vital governance connections needed between Nigeria’s leaderships and its peoples, as well as form  the foundations from which local officials, groomed in good governance affairs, are raised for both state and federal duties. It was therefore cheering when the news filtered that the federal government, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, had filed a suit at the Supreme Court against the 36 state governments to demand full autonomy for all LGAs in the country. It should be recalled that the National Assembly during the past regime of President Muhammadu Buhari had passed a bill for full local government autonomy but the process got stalled by non-ratification by state houses of assembly. The present National Assembly is also working on a bill that would empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), rather than governor-controlled State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), to conduct local government elections. These are trail-blazing reforms, and deserve some  commendations.
In the latest onslaught by the Federal Government to ensure that democratically elected governments run the local councils, it has secured a Supreme Court order “restraining the governors, their agents and privies, from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states,” with a further order stopping state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local governments, while permitting that funds in the credits of local governments be directly paid to them from the federation account in line with the provisions of the constitution as against payments to joint accounts with state governments.  The court went further to bar governors from further constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments, as governors like Prof. Charles Soludo of Anambra State is bent on doing. Prof Soludo, having come from outside the usual pack of Nigerian politicians, his case has become the most bizzare, infamous and disappointing  for a prominent economist who supposedly knows the impacts of micro and macro economic policies, and had promised during his swearing-in on March 17, 2022, that “We will conduct local government elections. No doubt, the uniform local government system as the third federating unit is one of the contesting features of our federalism, but we must make the best of a bad system by unleashing the potential of governance at a lower level.”
Despite these reassuring statements, Prof Soludo rather broke the records by infamously appointing seven regimes of local government Transition Committees in just two years, each serving a tenor of three months. Yet, he has just dissolved the seventh set of committees to appoint an eighth, before recent court orders. Actions by the likes of Governor Soludo are capable of disorienting local government officials to the point of being inadequate in the discharge of constitutional duties. As part of outcries elicited by Governor Soludo’s baffling intransigence, member representing Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and Labour Party’s House of Representatives Caucus Leader, Hon. Afam Ogene, in a press statement condemned the move while saying that, “This puppeteering style of leadership, which toys with the destiny, aspiration and desires of the grassroots, must be resisted and not allowed to continue to shrink the development potentials of the LGAs”. While emphasising that local councils should not be at the whims of state governors, Hon. Ogene said that, “Such undemocratic practice of appointing LGA administrators, rather than democratic election, is an enabler of impunity and lack of democratic accountability and also hurts transparency in the local government  and   state as a whole, as those so appointed would only scramble for personal interests during the three months of their stay in office.”
In a similar move, a lawyer, Chukwuebuka Mmeni Esq, in a suit filed against the Anambra State governor at an Abuja High Court secured an order, restraining the Accountant General of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Finance from further remitting funds due to the 21 LGAs of Anambra State to the Soludo-led state government. The era when governors see monthly local government allocations as windfalls that grease their political ambitions should not be encouraged. When the local governments eventually get their full autonomy, it would enable them decisively tackle the challenges of poor basic educational infrastructure, disfunctional primary healthcare systems, poor environmental sanitation and erosion controls, rural markets, town planning and building developments, rural agriculture and sports development. It is pertinent at this point to note that local councils had greater freedoms ab initio, much of it during the military era, but due to failures to regularly pay the salaries of staff, especially primary school teachers and primary healthcare officials, state governments seized the opportunity to form joint accounts with which payment of council staff salaries have been somewhat regular, yet much staff still suffer stagnated promotions.
That incursion by state governments has created opportunities for impunity on the parts of many governors, leading to greater alienation of municipal administration and the neglect of its other crucial roles. Therefore, in the genuine pursuit of restoring full local government autonomy, a guiding framework should be put in place to forestall a repeat of the mistakes of past local administrations. The opportunity to undergo the learning process of state building at the basic level of society is, however very vital.

Joseph Nwankwo

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Opinion

Build The City, Also Build People

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The effectiveness and relevance of a government is measured by its impacts on the people. Projects and Programmes not having direct bearing on the welfare of the people is to say the least, a waste of public funds. Every project must be consequence of the felt-need of the people. Looking at Governance in Rivers State in the last 24 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria (May 1999 – May 2023), the governments of Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Sir Dr. Peter Odili have done well in terms of selfless services and putting the people first. Others have also performed according to what their perspective about governance is. A Leader can only deliver by dictates of vision and mental capacity. They can only take the State to the place of their mental picture and their preferred destination. So development is a function of Leaders’ vision. Every society rises and falls on the vision of the leader. Rotimi Amaechi and Dr. Peter Odili balanced governance between infrastructure and human capital development. For instance, not only did Rotimi Amaechi built 105 health centres, 350 state-of-the-art primary schools, about 23 Model Secondary Schools, roads etc, he also built thousands of people. He initiated the Greater Horizon and Opportunities Programme (GHOP) to avail the less privileged in the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State the opportunity to be developed in capacity through the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA). Thousands of Rivers’ people were given fully paid educational scholarship to be trained outside the shores of Nigeria. The eligibility for the overseas’ scholarship, under Amaechi’s administration was devoid of partisan, ethnic/tribal, religious, and nepotistic sentiments. That was why children from poverty-riddled background could travel outside the shores of Nigeria to study courses of economic value and foster development of Rivers State.
Unfortunately, the immediate past administration of Chief Nyesom Wike did not see the merit to sustain the laudable and lofty human capacity development programmes of his predecessor. Not only did he not kill the programmes in preference for project-infrastructure: roads, bridges, housing, Chief Wike also disbanded the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) who midwifed and drove the implementation of the human capacity development programmes. The immediate past administration in the State did not consider the harsh socio-economic implications of his actions on the staff of the RSSDA and their dependants. Staff of Demonstration Schools of State owned tertiary institutions and the Rivers State Transport Company (RTC), non payment of bursary to students for eight years, non promotion of civil servants and denial of increments for eight years are eloquent testimonies and testimonials of apathy and utter neglect of the immediate past administration to human capacity development. Value was disproportionately placed on capital projects  rather than human capital development.
In the words of the Russian Philosopher and educationist, Lao Russell, “In vain you build the city if you don’t first build the man”. The reason is not far-fetched: the man that is not built can become savage and destroy the magnificent city: the roads, bridges, houses, etc. Economists hold the view that in the value chain of production, manpower, not capital is the most critical factor of production because   inefficient workforce will inevitably translate to ineffective, unproductive, failed corporate goal and moribund institution. Humans are invaluable assets, they create wealth, drive implementation of government policies and programmes.
It is good for government at all levels to embark on capital projects but it is better to build the people. Capital projects should not be done at the expense of workers’ welfare. Peter should not be robbed to pay Paul.
Consequently, the neglect and sacrifice of human capital in preference for infrastructure has become a norm in Nigeria. This explains why negotiations for an upward review of acceptable wage regime is more often than not, deadlocked and fraught with incessant arguments that were settled by threat of, or industrial dispute between government and the central labour unions: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
While workers-friendly governors such as Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has increased minimum wage of workers of that State from N40,000 he was paying workers ( as against the Federal Government’s N30,000) to N70,000 without pressure from labour unions in Edo State, the Federal Government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that assured Nigerian workers of a “Living Wage”  is offering a paltry N60,000 despite the harsh socio-economic challenges posed by  a depressed economy. It is baffling that a Federal Government proposing N60,000 minimum wage on the ground of economic challenges is spending heavily on frivolities: N6 billion Abuja car park, N90 billion Hajj Subsidy and several other programmes that are outrageous and wasteful.
It is being speculated that some government prefer spending on capital projects  to human capital because the former serves as a conduit to siphon public funds and corrupt enrichment.
It does beat my imagination how some governors could acquire with impunity, properties and make investments for personal use with public funds.
Government at all levels and the organised Private Sector should prioritise workers’ welfare and human capital development to drive development of the society.
The struggle will continue if infrastructures are built but humans are not built. Society exists for the people, if the people are neglected, the infrastructure will suffer decay and destruction.

Igbiki Benibo

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Tinubu’s “Living Wage”: A Dashed Hope?

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It is  more than one year today, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assured Nigerian workers that his administration will correct the anomalous hardship workers in Nigeria faced because he was irrevocably committed to doling out a “Living Wage” to them.
Nigerian workers under the two central Labour organisations: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC) were captivated in an euphoria of Mr. President’s mouth watering promise. President Tinubu has whipped up the pleasant sentiment and sensation of workers to believing that at last a messiah in his person (the President Tinubu) has appeared and the era of the litanical, “ aluta, struggle continues” will be  consigned to history. Workers heaved a sigh of relief that a corrective and workers’ friendly regime that never was, is in the saddle at the centre. President Tinubu (then President -elect) had told workers in his goodwill message on the May 1 Labour Day, “In the Nigeria I shall have the honour and privilege to lead from May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage to have a decent life, and provide for your families.
“On this special day as your President-elect, I extend my hand of friendship to Nigerian workers through the two central Labour unions- Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. In me you will have a dependable ally and a co-labourer in the fight for social and economic justice for all Nigerians, including the working people. Your fight will be my fight because I will always fight for you. My plans for a better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt in my Renewed Hope Agenda for a Better Nigeria. It is a covenant born of conviction and one I am prepared to keep”. In Nigeria today, can Mr. President say without iota of doubt that N54,000 is a “Living Wage”?
Today the  Mr. President’s covenant with workers is a mirage, it is translating to a delusion .
Workers under the President Tinubu seem to have suffered more hardship than in past administrations, civilian or military. Hope for a “Living Wage” seems dashed.
Considering the protracted dialogue on what is supposed to be a marked departure and turning point from previous  minimum wage regimes, Nigerians and workers can now decide if Mr. President really meant to give a Living wage to workers with the present Federal Government’s position on N54,000 against Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress’ N500,000 as minimum wage.
When the nation’s House of Representatives proposed a N100,000 minimum wage many workers were dissatisfied with the proposal which they said was pre-emptive of the 37-members Minimum Wage Committee report. Workers had hoped the outcome of the negotiation would be more than N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives. I believe workers can realize that the Representatives are empathetic and in touch with the plight of  Nigerian workers better than the Presidency.
It is crystal clear that  President Tinubu never meant what he said about a “Living Wage” for workers. While the Federal Government hinges its decision to pay workers on sustainability of new wage regime because of economic challenges the nation under the present leadership faces, one wonders how a nation grappling with multi-dimensional socio-economic challenges will be enmeshed in frivolous expenditures. For instance, the recent approval of N6 billion for a car park in Abuja, the N90 billion Hajj Subsidy, barefaced looting of public funds by some public officers, myriad of corrupt practices that are associated with some of those in Government and the extravagant expenditures by members of the National Assembly, some State Governors political office holders, clearly show that the Federal Government is not committed to a ‘Living Wage” to ameliorate the plight of workers.
Workers under the present administration of President Tinubu have suffered loss of purchasing power. In less than one year of President Tinubu-led administration, the prices of petroleum products have been increased several times. Today, premium motor spirit is about N900 a litre. And this unfriendly price regime rubs off negatively on every Nigerian, because at the centre of commercial and economic activities is petroleum products. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, prices of food items are outrageous, outside the reach of the common man: a  basin of garri sells for N18,000, rice, beans etc are food the rich only. House rent has gone up. A self contain that was between N60,000 and N80,000 is N250,000.
The adverse  social-economic realities informed the Labour’s insistence on N615,000, which they have reviewed downward to N500,000.
Breaking down the figure the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero said the N615,000 was a fair demand considering the socio-economic realities of the country.
Discussion on another minimum wage regime, therefore, should not be an exercise in futility, because since  the N30,000 Minimum Wage became a legal document in April 18, 2023 most State Governors and Local Government Area chairmen across the country, have refused to implement it. And the Federal Government could not enforce compliance.
It is also speculated that some governors who claimed to have implemented the National Minimum wage only paid the difference of what their predecessors were supposed to pay  workers consequent on the shortfall of financial benefit due workers.
With the veiled liberalisation policy of the National Minimum Wage which mandates the Labour unions in the State  to negotiate with their various State Governments on what is feasible for States to pay, based on their financial capacity, State governors now have the power to determine how much to pay their workers based on outcomes of negotiation with the workers under their umbrella bodies. That is why Labour-friendly Governments of Lagos, and Edo, among other States of the Federation have approved  N70,000 National Minimum Wage with effect from May, 2024, at a time some State Governors, such as Soludo of Anambra are foot-dragging to pay the old wage which expired April, 2024.
It is mind boggling that while elected officers and political office holders go home with mouth watering salaries at the end of every month and severance benefits, the civil servant wage is paltry, a peanut and they have to wait for years to access their gratuity and pension which cannot be compared to political officers salaries. Some never received after all. They died while waiting for their benefits.
While the Nigeria Labour Congress and its Trade Union Congress counterpart negotiate with the Federal Government’ on increase of Minimum Wage they should ensure that no stone is left unturned towards achieving a “Realistic” living wage.  A Living Wage, according to “investopedia” is “a theoretical income level that allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food and other necessities.
Though the N500,000 minimum wage proposed by Labour is not realistic considering the economic realities in the country, the  least minimum wage the Federal  Government should consider is N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives.
Most State Governors have refused to pay the expired N30,000 minimum wage on the unacceptable reason of unavailability of funds.
But if the looting instincts, leakages and frivolous spending of public funds were checked, an upwardly reviewed  wage could be paid with ease.
A situation where elected public officers build estates and leave  trans-generational assets for their children after eight or as the people’s mandate last, while the civil servant retires home after 35 years with virtually nothing, is repugnant to good conscience, equity and morality. In fact it is heartbreaking.
Both elected public officers and civil servants are exposed to the same socio economic realities.

Igbiki  Benibo

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