By UGOCHI IHEDIWA
TODAY is May Day, a day set aside to commemorate the supreme sacrifice paid by Chicago Workers in the United States of America who were in the forefront of the agitation for better working conditions, safe working environment and the eight hour work day workers all over the world are enjoying these days.
There is no gainsaying the fact that labour unions have continued to be in the fore front of getting the best bargain for the workforce they represent. The actualization of the N30,000 minimum wage, which many states including Abia, ‘Gods Own State,’ have started to implement readily comes to mind.
Following on the heels of the new minimum wage is the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) with companies involved with providing outsourcing services to the intent that whoever such companies employ and supply to other companies that need their services will be governed by all the provisions of decent work and the right to unionize.
Noteworthy also is yet another bill initiated by the House of Representatives to criminalize casualisation of workers in Nigeria in line with the move by the Nigeria Labour Congress to ensure that casual workers are treated right.
The untiring efforts of the labour friendly governor of Abia State, Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, and his able lieutenants of the ministry of finance, who has restored prompt and regular payment of salaries to civil servants and pensions to retirees is a step in the right direction, worthy of commendation.
While still savouring the victories so far won by the NLC, suddenly comes the life threatening and highly contagious coronavirus disease (Covid-19) currently ravaging the entire globe and destabilizing businesses, religious and social lifestyles of the people.
Little wonder, the erudite former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo, in his recent contribution to an African Debate titled “From Johannesburg to Lagos” said, “this year begins a new decade that promises to be one of dreadful disruptions with Africa, nay Nigeria holding the weakest end of the stick…”
As oil prices nose-dived to an all-time low, coupled with the nation’s inability to sell its crude oil even when it is willing to sell at a loss paints a gloomy picture of the state of the economy with very obvious implications.
For instance, if companies begin to go down and upcoming entrepreneurs are not able to access interest free loans to enable them nurse their businesses back to life, naturally job losses will follow.
As the Federal and State Governments are working round the clock rolling out palliative programmes and measures to cushion the effect of the global pandemic, our distinguished federal lawmakers should as a matter of urgent public importance make necessary sacrifices to save the nation from total collapse.
In addition to the palliatives they distributed to vulnerable members of their constituencies, we plead with them to approve that part of the N37 billion earmarked for renovation of the National Assembly to be diverted now for the rehabilitation of our hospitals. And also provide incentives for health workers for optimum performance both in times of peace and times of national emergencies.
Analysts are beginning to wonder how civil and public servants would be able to tide over the perilous times when Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) cheques eventually become light if the current situation persists, though there may not be an end in sight yet, until a vaccine is found for COVID-19.
It obviously wouldn’t be a time to down tools seeing that the situation is way beyond the government of the day. So where do we go from here?
An extract from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, where Okonkwo recounted the tragic year he borrowed 800 seed yams from his friend Nwakibie, which turned out as the worst year in living memory when nothing happened at its proper time and he lost everything…
“He knew he was a fierce fighter but that year was enough to break the heart of a lion. And since he survived that year Okonkwo said, ‘I shall survive anything.’ “
The challenge before the NLC therefore is to do all in its power to guarantee industrial harmony in all states of the federation, while we hope and pray for divine intervention.
Since the world as we know it has changed and is changing everyday and nothing had prepared us for the dramatic turn of events, nothing short of peaceful coexistence, devoid of farmers-herdsmen clash, armed banditry, religious bigotry and social injustices of any kind is good enough at this time in our nation’s history.
Ihediwa, Director of Information/ PRO Abia State Ministry of Education