COVID 19: Leadership in times like these (2) By Issa Aremu

Notwithstanding, the commendable global efforts, the statistics is not yet receding. On the contrary. By the weekend as many as 1,790,564 COVID 19 cases globally were recorded. Death tally posts some 109,654 with as many as 409,540 recoveries. According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) there have been 318 confirmed coronavirus cases, 10  deaths in as many as 20 states of the Federation. There are  58 recoveries after contracting Covid-19. If we dare to care to know the names and surnames, gender and fate as well as the unrealized aspirations of the “statistical  cases”,  we can just imagine  the human tragedies at hands. An injury to one is an injury to all. Undoubtedly there have been remarkable concerted efforts to “flatten the curve” (i.e “reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases from one day to the next”). “Flattening” actually helps prevent healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed”. Of course we also witnessed  televised  embarrassing friendly fires  between the  Tetros Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian microbiologist head of the World Health Organization (WHO) and China-phobia American  President Donald Trump. Trump accused WHO of being “China-centric” and even threatened “to cut funding”, not to cut the rising infection rates in USA! But this discomforting exchange only  increases the noise level of the urgent need to get the vaccine and above all contain  the coronavirus pandemic. The point cannot be overstated: at times like this (and until the curve flattens!) we are all leaders who must guide others to live and act safe. Today more than any other time,  part  of the job description of  any state and non-state leader  is to lead (and must be seen to lead!) both “from  the front” and “from  the back” to damn the menace. To this extent, I once again commend the visibility of the members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF). The  periodic painstaking briefings are daily take always at least for  those who are lucky to  have electricity. Many are still “socially distanced” from light in 2020 Nigeria! The robust Q and A sessions are simply good and better when they are done in mother tongues. Professor Oyewole Tomori is a Nigerian professor of virology. I single him out as a patriotic academic who at the time Nigeria (and indeed the world)  calls he truly obeys to educate and elucidate. The former vice chancellor of Redeemer’s University had urged the PTF to be more open and transparent about the data of the cases, recoveries and deaths. PTF through full disclosures should offer leadership at times like this to convince the remaining misguided doubting and cynical citizens who gullibly think that COVID 19 is a joke or a conspiracy from Afghanistan. But beyond the good work ( however imperfect ) of governments at all levels, where are the civil societies, trade unions, women and youth associations? This is the time to be visibly counted in confronting the Virus, through education, collaborative and robust engagement to safe lives and guarantee livelihood for their members lockdown at homes. 

As the Vice President of the Industriall Global Union with 50 million industrial workers,  I bear witness  that trade Unions and union leaders around the world are visibly responding to the rapidly evolving situation, defending workers’ rights and promoting social solidarity. The Secretary General of South Africa Clothing, Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), Andre Kriel puts it better. Speaking to television news in South Africa recently, the general secretary said:“We can’t run to government for everything. We must look at our own resources. It is our duty to rise to the call of the nation and combat Covid-19. “So we said, let’s look at the institutions that exist in our industry and smooth some of the administrative problems.” SACTWU  got a historic  Covid-19 lockdown agreement for both the clothing and textile industry almost 100,000 workers. Precisely on the 23 March, the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Manufacturing Industry of South Africa, ratified South Africa’s first ‘COVID-19 Lockdown National Collective Agreement’. This unique collective agreement guarantees employees in the  industry full payment for the duration of a 6-week lock-down period. It provides for consideration of extensions of this 6-week period (subject to further collective bargaining), in the event that the lockdown is extended beyond a 6-week period. South Africa  has indeed extended the  lockdown until the end of April. On 26 March 2020,  3 days the SACTWU  collective agreement was concluded under the auspices of the clothing industry bargaining council,  the Minister of Employment & Labour, Minister ThulasNxesi, declared the collective agreement to be national law,  published in the government gazette and extended to all companies and employees in domestic clothing manufacturing industry. The first  bi-partite industry-wide collective agreement which “brings together different labour market institutions in an innovative, problem-solving attempt to ensure that workers don’t suffer loss of earnings during the lock down” is worth considering in Nigeria. The agreement also remarkably establishes a rapid response task team  to  “manage practical issues”. SACWTU has taken a proactive stance on confronting coronavirus, through massive workers’ education programs  several weeks ago, health and safety education unacceptably lacking in Nigeria.

Nigeria, (more than South Africa) parades many labour market institutions that include NLC and TUC , almost 80 industrial affiliate unions, National Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF). NSITF specifically aims actually provide for an open and fair system of guaranteed and adequate compensation for all employees or their dependents for any death, injury, disease or disability arising out of or in the course of employment. Others are  Salaries and Wages Commission, National  Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Pension Commission ( PENCOM), Labour Institute and scores of Pension Funds Administrators ( PFAs). These institutions must buy in through direct immediate engagement in the struggle against the pandemic. The Federal Government must urgently revive the tripartite National Labour Advisory Council ( NLAC) made up of workers, employers  and government and constitute a Labour Market situation room with the singular  task to safe lives and ensure livelihood through occupational health and safety for essential workforce and continuous protected work with pay. Nigerian workers and indeed all Nigerians need protected rights not necessarily charity or palliatives under the COVID 19 lock down. Nigerians are citizens that deserve rights not refugees that are deserving of palliatives. Unions and employers must also facilitate unconditional transfers of legitimate pay to workers and their dependents as long as this  lock down lasts. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ ) must direct their resources to protect their members on the frontline through health and safety measures and adequate pay. They should avoid diversionary China phobia and stop what late Peter Enahoro in his classic book: ‘The Complete Nigerian” called an “Art of Grumbling”. Precisely because China is commendably collaborating to help Nigeria flatten the curve of the notorious Virus, the “most ferocious grumbles” would peter out like other grumbles. Meanwhile  obey the health authorities with respect personal, industrial hygiene and above all physical distancing. 

Issa Aremu mni