In recent weeks, strikes and intense insecurity have not only persisted but have actually increased in startling proportions. Bandits have gone wild. Gun men attack police, army formations and tertiary institutions leaving policemen, students and others dead with many abducted. From the multi- strikes by the public sector labour unions to insecurity issues, coupled with the rising cost of living there’s an obvious tension in the land. The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU speaks with the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Bauchi, Most. Rev. (Dr.) Hilary Dachelem on gross violations of labour laws, working conditions in Nigeria, industrial actions and insecurity issues. Excerpts.
Many people claim that the Nigerian Labour laws are inhibited by problems such as gross violations of the Nigerian Labour Laws by employers, politicization and marginalization of Labour unions, corrupt practices on the part of administering authorities, inadequate infrastructure and manpower amid other issues. Do you share same claims?
What is your position on these problems affecting the Nigerian labour? The laws which govern employment and the relationship between employers and the employees in any country or state worthy of its name occupies a considerable importance in its life and growth and the psyche of the nation. This is because the tremendous contributions which workers can make to the national growth, and development, if not well managed and harnessed can affect our economic and political existence adversely. Hence well articulated and realistic labour laws that are obeyed both by employers and the employees will play a vital role in the mobilization of the workforce for national growth and development.
We would like to know your position on these problems of gross violations of the Nigerian Labour Laws by employers, politicization and marginalization of Labour unions, corrupt practices on the part of administering authorities, inadequate infrastructure and manpower amid other issues.
First of all, regarding laws, it does seem like the laws in this country have neither been allowed to work or from the conceptual framework, it is not able to have an enabling environment to work or both the leadership and the led have not grasped the immense significance of laws in human life in general. So everything has some ordinance even in creation so there is no how a country can operate lawlessly and survive it, there’s no how. So be it in labour, be it in health, be in it religious sphere, be it anywhere, laws ought to be sacred and given an enabling environment to work, so it applies in the case of labour. You know we have four factors of production, land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. Labour is centripetal, land in itself is nothing, capital is nothing, labour is the coordinating centre of all the four factors of production, so the organizing agent of all these is labour, so that’s why labour is central and is important. So we ought to give it that deserving place that it ought to occupy in our lives.
How do you think these problems can be ameliorated?
All these things all have to do with the egocentrism of actors in this sector. When I find myself in a situation whereby I have something to gain, I make the law not to work or defective or mellow the effect of the law that is what happens there. So now in order to ameliorate this very situation we find ourselves, first, I will say policies that ensure humane and just working conditions should be respected. These policies that are humane and work force friendly should be respected. Several times agreements have been made between the governed and the labour congress and government and most of the time they are not respected, so what is the aim of the contract? Agreements are meant to be respected. So the second point would be policies which ensure that health, safety, and welfare of persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused. The third point I would make here is that there should be equal pay for equal work without discrimination on the account of sex or any other ground whatsoever. My fourth point would be like this, all citizens, without discrimination on any ground whatsoever have opportunity of securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment without fear of favour or sectarianism. Five, for all the arms of government and all authorities and persons exercising legislative, executive and judiciary powers to conform to observe and apply these injunctions. None should be absolutized or exonerated from that. My sixth point would be like this, let there be respect for the human person or dignity. Work is meant for enhancement of the human person and not really for profit exploitation of human beings. The seventh point would be like there should be sincerity on the part of government or the employer. Sincerity should be in making and implementing labour laws or policies, this is because when the laws are enacted on falsehood without moral justification and consideration of the human person, work or labour becomes a tool for exploitation of the poor.
Many also claim that the working conditions in Nigeria are far from ideal. What do you think?
Yes, they are really far from the ideal. The claim you alluded to above are not all false neither would I say that they are all true. Nigeria is still classified as an underdeveloped country. Not even a developing one based on certain global economic index or ratings and as such we cannot be evaluating ourselves based on the reference of the developed or developing economies of the world for the simple reason that we still have a very long way to go, like it is said, ‘Rome was not built in a day’. In as much as the relationship between the employers and employees is not the best to reckon with in our country given the adverse effects of corruption, greed, lack of rule of law and what have you, no party in this debate is totally free or exonerated from the mess that the labour relations in our country has been plunged into. I would rather say that more blame would be apportioned to the employers who oftentimes for the want of maximization of profit do that at the expense of neglect of the human life, labour rights and wellbeing of employees.
Is the country so poor that condition of the Nigerian worker cannot be made to look like its counterparts in other parts of the world?
Not at all, the country is not so poor that it cannot take care of that. Greed, egoism, wickedness, impunity have made Nigeria and its people poor in the midst of plenty. The other parts of the world you made reference to did not fall from the skies. They are products of sacrifice, patience, industry, existential dialogue and the intervention of God in the affairs of rational people. If Nigeria can make sacrifice and think ahead putting its citizens on the priority list, the condition of the nation would be improved. I guess you may have heard one debate that was held some time ago about Nigeria’s population and her resources. Nigeria is currently not more than 300 million, but our budget has been running in trillions, so the debate as at that time was far back as when Nigeria’s population was still within the range of a hundred and something million, the debate was if we have budget running in billions, supposing everybody is given one million each, would everybody in Nigeria not be a millionaire? So, if we have to be fair with this budget that runs in millions, everybody in Nigeria would be a very rich person. It is rather sad that some are sadists. Some do not delight in seeing other people doing well or happy. We have not taken the pain to ensure that the greatest numbers of people are happy. We prefer to go aristocratic; to see a few happy and the majority sad. So there are enough resources, if not for our greed, our fraternal sharing. I think, but I’m not advocating for it. Probably, this was part of the idea of the economist and socialist, when they went into that kind of system of governance. It has its own excesses and its own side effects. So Nigeria has a lot and what she has is sufficient, if well harnessed and well managed for everyone.
Has the modern Nigerian worker been able to justify most of these demands including fair wage, fair package?
Well, that is another issue. I have always also had issues with followership too. I’m an advocate of the two, going paripassu, leadership and followership, I always insist on both. That a leader would altra vires, or simply put, out of the law does not make you the follower also to go against the law. There is no justification for that. So if together, both the leadership and the followership do what we are expected to do we would have justification to demand for that. If we have the resources, why not. But considering, what I will call, the economic influencer that has entered into the Nigerian system where you see workers they don’t care anymore because sometimes they are owed one or two months salaries then they treat their jobs with levity, so they don’t come, they don’t work to justify the pay package which they take. So, in some cases they are justifying, but in some cases they are not justifying, but not every Nigerian is like that. From the economic point of view, man in his nature would always look for more and better package.
Recently, Nigerian doctors went on strike over pay and other demands that border on welfare and training. What’s your take on this?
Obviously, one of the reasons why I had to sacrifice this part of my recollection today for this very matter is because of this very point. You see, in public service and public affairs, there is what you call the real sectors, but I want to add another word to this very conceptual framework in the public affairs of the nation. I want to talk about what I would call the sacred sectors. Sacred sectors, the truth is that by nature the way we are made, we are not wired to destroy ourselves; we have in-built instinct inside of us to protect ourselves, to safeguard ourselves, to seek refuge for ourselves, to see how we can develop ourselves, that is the in-built instinct in all of us. So, now, these sacred sectors that I’m talking about are areas that we do not toy with at all, no compromise, for whatever reason, no matter what is happening,we make sure that the sector in its components and in its totality are healthy, are standard and in service delivery is of high quality. One of them is health. I mean, you can see what the Corona has done, how it has exposed us. The area of health is nothing to compromise, it affects me; it affects you, directly or indirectly. You might think it doesn’t affect you, tomorrow, your daughter or your child is in school, and the poor medical service there will affect your daughter, whether you like it or not unconsciously. So you see these are areas that we cannot toy with, this is health, this is religious area, this is judiciary and law, this is education, these I call sacred sectors that every government worthy of its name, and knows of government and the effect on government should know that any aperture, any lacuna arising from this very area is going to be producing multiplier adverse effects to the nation. All of them have multiplier adverse effects. So we don’t need to allow doctors and medical practitioners to go on strike, there should be no room for that, especially given the wealth that Nigeria has. Rather the politicians should really go hungry instead of workers going hungry, instead of the judiciary going hungry or going on strike. Education, these are key sectors, these are serious actors in the whole wellbeing of the nation, so, I call them sacred sectors, nothing about them should be toyed with but it’s unfortunate that in Nigeria these areas seem to be handled with levity, for whatever reasons I do not know.
At same time the resident doctors were on strike, the country also experienced a nationwide strike by members of the judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) over non-implementation of the judicial financial autonomy as enshrined in the constitution. President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Executive Order granting financial autonomy to the judiciary and State House of Assembly in May 2000 after several agitations. But the gazetting of the order was suspended after Buhari met with governors who expressed concern over its constitutionality. Even though the governors have finally accepted to implement this demand 2 years later, this is an issue of disregard for the rule of law. Why is Nigeria grappling with this issue of obvious unconstitutionality that borders on such a sensitive sector like the judiciary? What do you think is responsible for this obvious disregard for our constitution?
We are coming back to the same point. In this country, we have gladiators, we have political gladiators, we have economic gladiators, we have people who only exploit things at their own advantage and there are people whose job is to weaken the law or to find any weak aspect of the law and capitalize on it. As far as I’m concerned, anything that is put into law should be applied, it is sacred. This is how it is done in other countries. If you are found wanting of some of these things as small as even overtaking wrongly in other countries, you will go and meet the ticket, the bill waiting for you right in your home and you must pay within the given hours. So I don’t know why we have not allowed these laws to work. So, I still think strongly that we have to allow these laws to work. The government itself, part of its credibility is that when you enter into contract or agreement with people, you should be able to implement it. This is what makes government credible and the government becomes more credible when it is able to implement what they have been able to agree on. So, there is no point of entering into dialogue, agreement and all that, unless if some people did not do their homework in terms of getting enough facts for the dialogue. If there are not sufficient facts, then sometimes, this is what leads to these issues. But if there are enough facts that one has to leverage on the pros and cons well highlighted and well evaluated, we will have less of these issues. I’m not saying that the country has all the solutions but the concern of the citizens is its primary reason for existence. Like I talked in the last time in one of my interviews, I talked about social contract theory and I keep talking about the social contract theory and also the sovereignty. This is the governance. Our coming together is supposed to be something we do freely. My coming together, I give you my will; you give me your will, that is what is called the general will and that is what is called the sovereignty. So because we have been living together since 1914, most of us have forgotten that this coming together was a negotiation. When you told me that you want to interview me today, you opened up a communication and it’s a negotiation, I had to agree that I will oblige you by 9 ‘0’ clock. And then if I did agree to oblige you and then I have to be there and then the issue now is when you do this, what would you do, you ought to publish it and publish exactly what I said and not to misrepresent me. So this is an agreement, this is a negotiation. So a country comes together by virtue of negotiation. This is what we call social contract, so when we come together like this there is a benefit that accrues from it. We come together for a purpose; a state cannot just come together for nothing. So we should come together, we now agree that this and this will accrue, we make a constitution and we say okay now, we agree that we have to create this territory, we all belong to this territory, there will be laws that govern us, there will be no supreme person, no superior, no inferior, but now we have a president, we have a constitution that we operate,and now we would have to have dividends of democracy, dividends of coming together, meaning that you have to now have to give me all the infrastructure I need to have, issues of labour, so all these issues of labour shouldn’t exist. This one is existing because we have forgotten all about the facts of how we came to be as a nation. Otherwise for other countries, we are perceived as people that are not okay, still fighting over this issue, though when it comes to the issue of labour also , it then means sometimes some bits of trust because they say an unclean bride is not respected hence the French revolution, Russian revolution and other revolutions. I don’t know why in human nature, revolutions seem to work better. But the truth is this there is a contract and it should be respected. We are worrying about the Fulani Herdsmen and all these things, it is clear that we are not respecting our contract or our contract seems to be favouring some people. Considering our contract now, some people are enjoying some parts of the contract while some are not enjoying it. And that is why you see all these upheavals, all these issues, frustrations coming here and there. People are saying that we are not satisfied. People are saying that we are not happy; we are not keeping that contract which we initially made together, those provisions that we agreed, where are they? This is what people are saying. Where are they? They are not keeping it so when we come together today, we are going to get this, get that, we came and we are doing it but you are not keeping to what we agreed. There must be question. So when you see Afenifere making trouble in the West, you see IPOB making trouble in the east, you see Boko Haram, it means that there is something that is not okay as a corporate matter. And this only calls for clear, categorical, characteristic and humane discussion upon national issues that have to do with that initial contract, because government is about fairness, government is about protection, government is about provision of the needs of her citizens. That is what government is all about and if now the vast majority are suffering, are unsafe, I mean they are uncared for and an insignificant number are okay and they have access to power, they have access to opportunities to turn the nation the way they like. Then, there is problem, man is not a robot. So these are key issues that we must look at. We have a contract, therefore we must respect the social contract that we are operating with and sovereignty must reflect us and this is the general will. And okay if I don’t agree that you rule me who told you that by nature, you have right to rule me, can you go to America and claim any right there? No. The Cameroonian cannot come to Nigeria and claim any right, he needs a visa to enter into this country and then the Ghanaian needs a visa to enter into Cameroun, so by becoming a Cameroonian you have a right over the Cameroonian government, there is a reason there, before the north and south of Cameroon come together, there has to be an alliance, there has to be an agreement. The contrary amounts to dictatorship, and we are going back to the state of nature, going back to what you call it, the days of the cave but we are in a civilized world so if you want to rule me we agree, we sit down on the round roundtable, we have dialogue, clearly, sincerely, objectively, and arrive at something that would be faithful to all of us. This is what we are talking. There is nobody killing anybody and in fact, if the government is able to give all these governance, respect this contract, I don’t think that Nigerians will be worried if the president or these people keep trillion naira to themselves. But they are saying, we don’t have employment, our children are at home, every year, the number of the unemployment accumulates. Look at how Cororna has also postponed everything, by next year the number of the unemployed must have accumulated the more. In the next ten years you can imagine how many people that would have been accumulated in the labour market and the opportunities are not being widened so that we can say o, what a viral nation and the whole leadership is sluggish. Even people who are under state of emergency are living freely. This is the situation we are o. People who should cry, ‘o fire, fire,’they are living as if nothing is happening when something serious is happening. That’s why I talk about of multiplier’s effect. So nothing serious is happening. When you say you are going from Enugu to Ore, and you are already afraid of kidnapping and sometimes you are kidnapped, your car breaks down, you are kidnapped. And then you don’t know when the car breaks down and who told you that even if you enter plane, between that plane and your home, who told you that you are safe from kidnappers. So this situation is chaotic, it’s not the Nigeria we used to know and the body language of government doesn’t seem to be encouraging, even though they appear to be working hard but at the same time no dividend like the Kaduna situation. Look at the Kaduna and Minna situation, the news that Boko Haram has taken over Minna, how true I don’t even know. I saw a video a few days ago on the the bombing of army squad. Some say it’s the military air force that made the mistake. Now everybody makes mistakes, but I tell you in strategic plans and strategic ones like that to make those careless mistakes means that somebody somewhere is very incompetent and should really resign.
How do you think that banditry can be curbed?
The first point here is to note was it there before? If it was not there, what was instrumental in this recent banditry? And when we say banditry, is it real banditry per se or it wears the face of banditry but with another agenda. And then what makes bandits operate with ease? Why is it easy to be bandit and why has it become an industry that has attracted attention? These are questions we need to really ask because if it is marketable then it means a lot of compromisers are there, a lot of gladiators are there, a lot aperture or what I mean legal aperture and also some law enforcement agents are also there because if before we have lived a life that the percentage of banditry was very less and insignificant and suddenly, there is an explosion in that industry then it means that something is happening. If you see an industry that is flourishing won’t you go there? So it’s likely that the youths who are also jobless have also seen a shortcut. Or the so called Fulanis, you know Fulanis, if they are truly Fulanis, a cow used to cost a hundred thousand or one hundred and fifty thousand, the biggest one is two hundred thousand naira and it takes them months to rear it, if not years to rear these cows. It takes few years to rear these cows only to be sold at two hundred thousand naira. And then all of a sudden, there is kidnapping and banditry that would enable you get ten million within five days, tell me which one is more flourishing or which one is more lucrative. So there are issues there that need a lot of research, a lot of sagacity from the government and all of us too. My concern is about both the followership and the leadership. That the leadership what they need is to express the courage and the sagacity to eliminate those criminals living amongst us. This is where we are very worried about the leadership. Curbing banditry calls for serious studies and then first of all, is the will power. Chinua Achebe will say that the problem with Nigeria is leadership. So if you are a leader, you should be ready to take some risks. We are worried about our president simply because we know him to be a courageous man and now the famous Head of State, President Buhari suddenly became a very calm gentleman that does not talk. He has become unusually complacent. This was one of the things we respected him for, that strength of will, strength of character, we believe that he cannot be bent anyhow. The Buhari we know, the Buhariness in him that has courage, if it comes out I believe that most of these things will stop. And some people are saying that his body language does show that he is committed to these issues, banditry, some school of thought say that because they are Fulanis, he allows them, I don’t share of that opinion, but that is what some people are saying that he is a Fulani man and that he has allowed the Fulani people to devour the country and that they have free hands to operate. President Buhari should have the sagacity to come out and fight this insecurity thing with his whole being, his head, his mind, his heart, his everything.