Workers all over the world commemorated the International Workers’ Day on May 1. While the greater majority of workers in many countries had cause to literally roll out the drums and celebrate their struggles and gains in the year, their comrades in this part of the world were not in a position to do so for obvious reasons.
In Nigeria, workers, who are clearly the wheel that has consistently oiled the economy of this country for decades, have had to endure serial infractions on their rights from government in recent time. A case, which readily comes to mind, is the recent conflict between organised labour and the Government, which has led to a series of strike actions across almost all the sectors of the economy.
Between 2019 and 2020, workers have resorted to constant strike actions and protests in reaction to abuse of workers’ and trade union rights, as well as unilateral decisions and seemingly anti-people policies by a Federal Government that had become progressively hostile and reluctant to create an enabling environment for the attainment of sustainable development.
Failure on the part of the Muhammadu Buhari Administration to meet the demands of workers has also called to question the roles played by its executive appointees. In this regard, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, has become a clog in the wheel of organised labour’s yearning for a harmonious and mutually rewarding relationship with the Federal Government.
Ngige’s aloofness and lack of diplomacy in handling serious issues affecting workers’ unions and the general public have become his greatest undoing. The minister has not been reaching out enough to Nigerian workers and has been misrepresenting their interests. His body language, some critics claim, often suggests he is not prepared to speak and act as a conciliator during trade disputes involving government and organised labour, but clearly shows that he has vested interest as a member of Buhari’s cabinet.
Perhaps a more damning argument is the fact that under Ngige, Nigeria is still far from attaining a recognisable labour standard, as obtainable in other parts of the world. The key to sustainable development is labour productivity. Judging by the minister’s penchant for portraying trade unions as rebellious groups of people, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Nigeria will achieve the desired level of sustainable growth.
According to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose from 27.1 percent in the second quarter of 2020 to 33.3 percent at the last quarter of the same year. This figure indicates that more than 23 million Nigerians were unemployed at the turn of the year.
Although the report also implies that there is an increase in the population of the unemployed, obviously aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is nevertheless indicative of failure on the part of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity to fulfill its main objective of achieving full labour force participation in the economy through job creation, employment generation and skills development under Ngige’s watch.
As a former governor and senator of the Federal Republic, the minister is expected to deploy his wealth of experience to bear positively and fruitfully on his work in the labour ministry, but this has not exactly been the case.
Currently in his sixth year at the helm of the labour ministry, Ngige must understand that there is an urgent need for a critical self-appraisal. We condemn his style of leadership and his arrogant approach. Labour matters demand total understanding of the principles of labour-government relations and not the master – servant approach the minister has been adopting.
We urge him, in the spirit of the International Workers’ Day, to strive to improve on his relationship with Nigerian workers, as well as on his performance in office in the coming years.