I HAVE always believed that the difference between the governors and the governed is not only in the thin divide of ‘’you there and I here’, but on the perception of the individual concerned.
From the outside looking in, most people see only the flaws and negatives of a government. Many do not care about how or why things do not work according to their expectations.
In Edo State, the coming of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole into governance in 2008 may have been greeted with a lot of hope not only on the side of the generality of the people but particularly by workers who saw in him a genuine comrade whose activities in the Labour movement in Nigeria could be counted upon to lift them beyond the skies.
Such expectations were genuine also. Before assuming office as governor of Edo state, however, Comrade Oshiomhole had not been in government but could be described, in spite of his leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as one of us the governed.
In his NLC position he could give voice to the frustrations of the workers he led, picket establishments where and when necessary, mobilise workers to embark on strike actions and listen to explanations where such were ventured. Expected results may or may not materialise in certain circumstances. That Comrade Oshiomhole was a huge success at the NLC is not in question and Nigerian workers have continued to appreciate his contributions.
The relationship between Comrade Oshiomhole and workers in the state civil service is now being defined in terms of his past in the NLC and his present position as governor of the state. Workers, represented by the state NLC chapter, are of the view that Governor Oshiomhole being a Comrade should impact positively on their welfare without prompting.
Or, as they say, of what use is a Comrade in government if their lives do not positively reflect that reality? It is with this mindset that the state NLC headed by Mr. Emmanuel Ademokun two weeks ago embarked on a strike to press home their demand for ‘’improved welfare’’.
On the list of demands which Ademokun said were not given accelerated attention by Comrade Oshiomhole were (a) none reconstitution of the State Civil Service Commission (b) delayed recruitment of new staff to fill existing vacancies in the service (c) non-inclusion of workers in the boards of government parastatals and boards (d) non-payment of balance 10.5 percent allowance to primary school teachers and (e) bridging the salary gap between the Directors and Permanent Secretaries (also known as relativity!).
The three issues of reconstitution of the Civil Service Commission, recruitment and board appointments are clearly not in the purview of Labour as they fall outside their competence.
Therefore, the only welfare issue which ordinarily would require the attention of the NLC leadership is that concerning the non-payment of the balance of Teachers’ Special Allowance (TSA) and that of the Doctors. It is instructive, however, that the doctors concerned backed out of the NLC action and opted for dialogue to resolve their payment issue. This stance is the most viable option open to the NLC if it wants to achieve results.
Also, if the NLC executives had taken time to read the Constitution, they would have known that Primary Schools and their teachers are under the control of Local Governments and not the state government.
Relativity is an issue which was clearly sorted out during the negotiations for a new Minimum wage with the Organised Labour in 2011, to which the NLC, TUC and JNC Chairmen appended their signatures. It is therefore surprising that it was listed as one of the reasons why they went on strike.
While not denying workers their right to press home their demands on government through strike action, it would appear to me as a retired labour leader, that the situation in Edo state is assuming a dimension alien to the Labour movement in Nigeria.
Workers anywhere have never been, and will never be, in a position to determine when and how government makes political board appointments or recruits or replenishes its workforce. It is selfish on the part of Labour leaders to insist that they should be appointed into boards in parastatals where they draw membership from.
The Civil Service Commission is provided for in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and its functions of recruitment, promotion, discipline, etc cannot be performed by another organ of government. It is, however, wrong for workers to go on strike to demand its reconstitution after it was dissolved about nine months ago when the same objective can be achieved through negotiation.
I have watched an uploaded video clip of the NLC action led by Emmanuel Ademokun against senior government officials on YouTube and was shocked at the unwarranted physical attack on government property and senior personnel by workers mobilised at the Museum grounds in Benin for the purpose.
It is against the norms for workers and their leaders to behave in a manner which put reasonable members of the public in difficulty differentiating responsible workers from motor park touts and street urchins. The NLC in Edo state did not exercise reasonable and due caution in not only calling workers out on strike but also enforcing the strike order the way it did.
Comrade Oshiomhole may have become a victim of the comradeship he generously shared with the state NLC when he became the first governor in the country to implement the new minimum wage in 2011.
Till date, that minimum wage law has not yet been implemented in some states. Workers in the states yet to implement the minimum wage are still at their duty posts contributing their quota to the economic development of their states. It is my view that the NLC leadership in EdoState, rather than cultivate the friendship of their colleague-governor, wants to blackmail him into doing their wishes without considering the larger implication of meeting their (reasonable or unreasonable) demands.
It must not be said that because Oshiomhole is a Comrade all demands by workers who form a mere three percent of the state population must be met using any means including physical attack on government officials. The guiding principle should be that of engagement, dialogue and negotiation.
From all indications, the Organised Labour in Edo State had no genuine reason for going on a week-long strike; many have insinuated pecuniary reasons and some say they are playing the script of the opposition party, whatever may be the reasons, the Organised Labour should sit up and not call workers out on a strike unless there are genuine infractions on the rights and benefits of workers.
Comrade BLESSING YAKUBU, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Yenogoa, Bayelsa State.