by Issa Aremu
This year’s May Day like in 2007 and 2011 is taking place in an interesting time of political transition with all its controversies and challenges. Taking place against the background of a democratic transition, the critical question is; of what relevance is labour to Nigeria’s 2015 transition process?
Yours comradely salutes the working men and women of Nigeria and the world on the occasion of 2015 May Day which holds on Friday, 1st of May. This year marks the 34th anniversary of workers’ day as a public holiday in Nigeria and 35th anniversary in Kano, the first state during the second Republic (under the governorship of the late Abubakar Rimi of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP)) which declared the day as holiday in 1980. Of course the observance of May Day is long dated; almost a century and half.
In Chicago police opened fire killing several demonstrating workers demanding for 8-hr working day. Subsequent workers’ protest, led to the death of some seven policemen. Police without evidence accused eight leaders of the Chicago workers movement of killing the police convicting all. Four of the workers’ leaders were executed, and three were given life imprisonment! And that was a ‘democratic’ America which had proclaimed a libertarian constitution but without due respect for workers’ rights. On May 1, 1889 the International Workers’ Congress in Paris declared in memory of the historic struggle of the Chicago workers!
This year’s May Day like in 2007 and 2011 is taking place in an interesting time of political transition with all its controversies and challenges. Taking place against the background of a democratic transition, the critical question is; of what relevance is labour to Nigeria’s 2015 transition process? Globally the debate had long shifted from the unhelpful and uncritical question as to whether labour had a role to play in a political process or not to a more useful perspective on what and how labour could participate in political process.
The success of the 2015 is also shared by the working people who either as candidates or electorate participated in all the elections that have produced a President-elect, governor elects and hundreds of legislators. Special greetings are due to the outgoing 3rd President Goodluck Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), the 4th democratically-elected president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I bear witness (because I am involved!) that organized labour appreciated their mutual statesmanship and patriotism, avoidance of despair and unhelpful negative triumphalism after the historic free and fair 2015 Presidential Elections commendably conducted by Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC. What then is the labour dimension of this transition? History records it that the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan commendably guarantees freedom of association in line with ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention 87 and Protection against discrimination for joining a trade union and taking collective action and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, C098. Jonathan’s presidency also improved on the legal minimum wage from N5,500 to N18,000, amended the 2004 Pension Act to increase the rates of contribution and inclusive of informal sector, introduced Employees Compensation Scheme (ECS) which provides adequate compensation for employees who suffer injuries/diseases and stopped unacceptable incessant fuel price increases after mass protests of 2012.
However economic growth under Jonathan did not translate into mass jobs. Indeed many factories collapsed due to poor electricity supply, smuggling, high interest rate and devalued Naira leading to massive unemployment and erosion of the purchasing power of the workers. Like other Nigerians, working people look forward with excitement to the swearing in of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), GCFR as the 4th democratically President on May 29th. The President elect must consolidate on the positive labour market policies of President Jonathan and correct the negative measures as identified above. Apart from endemic corruption, the greatest task at hand is the urgent need to transform a mono/oil dependent-economy to a diversified industrialized economy. The President elect has commendably made revival of textile and garment industry as part of his party’s overall strategy to re-industrialize the county and create mass employment for the millions of unemployed.
The new administration is right to reinvent this sector which has propelled newly industrialized countries in recent times such as China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia among others. Nigeria boasts of a large polyester base. Combined with the 170 million population rich in fashion and clothing and huge labour force of some 70 million potential workers, Nigeria has the potential of producing 1.2 billion meters of cloth per annum and creating at least 3 million direct jobs in textile sector! The President-elect must realise that past presidents including Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan made similar pledges to revive textiles with innovative policies include import bans and intervention fund.
The major threat to the realization of the great potential of Nigeria in textile production is high influx of counterfeit and smuggled goods. Over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s huge market size is dominated by smuggled and counterfeit goods, killing local companies in Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Gusau, Aba and Port Harcourt, and millions of direct and indirect associated local jobs. Smuggling denies the government the much needed revenue in unpaid custom duties. The real acid test of Buhari’s anti-corruption lies in how he frontally confronts smuggling. All nations want to employ their youths, produce goods and services, overcome poverty and underdevelopment.’
Recently the Federal Ministry of Industry, trade and Investment (MITI) launched a comprehensive national Cotton, Textile and Garment policy within the overall new Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP). Buhari administration should adopt this policy and ensure its prompt implementation.
Happy May Day!
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