Home Columns Between el-Rufai’s “Fire” and Labour’s “Fury” By Issa Aremu

Between el-Rufai’s “Fire” and Labour’s “Fury” By Issa Aremu


The exchange of star-words last week in Abuja between Gov. Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)  is already an open knowledge. The Governor reportedly lashed out at the organized labour claiming unions  “destroyed the nation more than they have contributed to it”. Witness him;“Trade Unions have never served the country well. They have been selfish and everything is about their narrow interests. In general, in Nigeria, trade unions have been a danger to our progress and I think they should be curtailed”.

At 40th anniversary when all Nigerians, including President Buhari  openly celebrate the role of labour in the struggle for independence, against colonialism, for democracy against military dictatorship, no governor could be more uncharitable to the nation’s workforce! In a quick reaction, organized labour, pointedly described the governor “as an embarrassment” to public office, an “anti-people and a chameleon”. Witness the General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson: “The country has a better moral standing than the likes of el-Rufai who has demonstrated that he is not fit to hold public office or political position.  He is an embarrassment to public office in Nigeria. He speaks out of both sides of the mouth.. This is the same el-Rufai who once gate-crashed into one of NLC’s protests and pleaded to have NLC apron to be part of the protest.”

Certainly the crisis of governance is deepening in Nigeria. Is my brother Governor governing Kaduna state or governing serial (often self-inflicted!) crises of attritions with real and imagined enemies? Undoubtedly the relationship between NLC  and Kaduna state government had  degenerated since his  controversial mass sack of about 22,000 teachers who allegedly scored below pass mark  in a controversial competency test. NLC and its affiliate unions in January marched in Kaduna in solidarity with the members of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) amidst military/police presence.

Even at that, it beats my imagination that a governor would up scale his ideological opposition to Labour to almost a full blown hate speech. It is “dangerous” (governor’s word) and certainly unhelpful to his government, his ruling party, APC (we all voted for!) to make hostility against Labour as a virtual policy. There is a bagful of El-Rufai’s  Volte Face on a number of critical national issues  including  “Restructuring”.

He hitherto decried it only to emerge as a new restructuring enthusiast without an apology for his previous dismissal of the recommendations of 2014 National Conference which favored far reaching reform measures based on national consensus compared to his partisan dictatorship.  It might be fashionable for the governor to relish in Labour bashing. But I recall that  the governor had had mutually rewarding robust engagements with the labour movement with  quotable quotes credited to  both   celebrating partnerships in governance. This then raises the issue of capacity for governance.

It’s  time Nigerians demanded for competence test for all governors.  Many governors of course parade multiple degrees, local and abroad. But most of them lack the “real degree”; leadership and strategic training  to make a democratic process work.

Most governors even lack the knowledge of 1999 Constitution which informed their oath of office. The Constitution defines us as citizens to be dignified, not slaves to be verbally abused. Indeed the constitution envisages  dignity of labour. No private manager of a private company, no matter the provocation would ever describe his customers “irresponsible” if he wants to sell in the market! I was scandalized that governor El Rufai with  poetic license (not measured temperament of an elected governor!)  tagged doctors “irresponsible” for going on strike. Nigerian constitution and Labour laws recognize the right of any working man and woman to withdraw his or her  service, including doctors in the face of violation of rights to decent work. In May 2016, in England 37,000 junior doctors went on three strike actions and 3 years of contract negotiations with the National Health Service (NHS) on improved working conditions.

Governor El rufai must be from another  “planet” (his word) not to know that doctors’ strikes are globally acceptable practice. Samuel Gompers puts it better; “Show me the country that has no strikes and I will show you the country in which there is no liberty.” Governor El rufai is certainly not  Adolf Hitler! What should worry governor El rufai is the mass exodus of thousands of  doctors and nurses abroad due to abysmal working conditions here. APC’s restructuring exercise is dead on arrival if it does not appreciate the importance of labour as a factor of development and nation building. My dear brother governor betrays gross ignorance  of simple labour market issues and indeed national development  by calling for the   removal of labour from the  Exclusive Legislative List. He even called for “Very Low” Minimum Wage (a grammatical overkill because “minimum” means “very low!). All 36 governors receive same minimum/maximum pay in spite of their miserable internally generated revenues. No governor earns “very low minimum” pay! What is good for governors is good for a messenger.

Nigeria cannot be  part of the 20 leading developed economies of the world without a development agenda that mainstreams labour motivation and productivity. World wide the laws which govern labour as well as capital matters have significant impact on growth and development. Even Lord Lugard recognized the importance of labour as a factor of production and development. The first Federal (note; not state!) Ministry to be established was Federal Ministry of Labour in 1914. The colonial authority as well as post-independent Nigerian governments recognized that labour motivation and productivity were  critical success factor for transformation. Behind the celebrated miracle of Nigeria’s double digit growth plus development in the 60s and 80s were progressive labour laws regulating minimum wages and pensions as well as collective bargaining and industrial conflicts.

With the current high level of unemployment, worsening poverty, unregulated immigration, foreign investment of dubious value and underdevelopment, rampant strikes and industrial conflicts, more than ever before Nigeria needs  a Federally managed (not deregulated) labour process. I enjoin governor El-rufai to consciously cultivate Labour as partner in development process through social dialogue not endless “fire” with attendant “fury”.

Issa Aremu, mni



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