FUTILITY OF STRIKES
As you read this, labour may have shut down the country. If discussions between Nigeria Labour Congress[NLC] and the authorities, which had deadlocked on Monday remained that way, the nation would be on the second of a three day warning action which labour has described as total strike. As I write President Goodluck Jonathan, whose regime takes the flak in the event of a shutdown, is making a last ditch effort to avert the strike.
I hope he stops labour. Everyone has told NLC to sheathe their sword. But people have tended to feign ignorance of their demands. And I dare say that the impending or on going srike action is like the proverbial trouble in Fela's song, Palaver, who was fast asleep when a certain busy body called Inyanga went to rouse him.
President Goodluck Jonathan, perhaps acting on the euphoria of his new office, had promised workers a new minimum wage on May Day, set up a committee and, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the project. But the workers did not forgot. The President made them a promise. He should not renege. He has no intention to back out, just that bueaureacracy is threatening to turn the promise to a mountain. You see it from every point but only few get to the foot. And you cannot lay claim to having been to a mountain until you see the foot.
The Presidential team has done its bit. Government has, however, not moved the process any notch higher. The final processes require a stamp of both the National Council of States and the National Assembly. Labour wants to hasten the process and they have a right to do so. It has become apparent that responses in this clime are only elicited by action, not words.
Adams Oshiomhole, former labour leader turned governor, who sits on the negotiating team of government tried to put the situation in perspective. He told reporters that:
' I think the whole idea is to convince Labour that there is no plan to buy time. Yes we have lost some time but we have to try and fast track the process. A report was submitted in July. Labour expected that thereafter it would be forwarded to the National Economic Council of state and thereafter to the National Assembly. These are procedures that everybody is familiar with. But along the line labour felt that government was not acting on the report as fast as it was expected and therefore decided to issue ultimatum to encourage the government and all those involved to act on the report…'
The long and short of the foregoing is that a meeting of the National Coucil of states has been fixed for November 25th. Labour is not impressed. It believes something can be done faster. They may be right. Medical doctors across the country can concur. Had they not put down their stethoscopes, for which many, unfortunately, went to their untimely graves, they probably would still be in the 'process' of getting the Consolidated Medical staff salary scheme[CONMESS]. The matter has not received full resolution in Lagos in spite of the incessant strike by government doctors. Strike is the most effective language in this clime.
Teachers can bear me out. It took a shut down of schools across the country for many states to fall in line with Teachers Salary Scheme [TSS]. Many a state cried foul, insisting that their purses were too porous to take on the additional responsibility of paying for a scheme allegedly hatched and executed by the Federal government which was 'rich enough' to pay. In any case the FG takes the lion share of monies accruing from the federation account. They cried as though the salary scheme would virtually strangulate them. But when push came to shove and schools across the land were shut, state governments caved in to the demands. Money came from nowhere. The heavens did not fall. Even notoriously poor states found the money to pay.
Today university teachers in the South East region have found the formula. The states are crying, some of them have embarked on outright blackmail of the teachers. But I know that should the lecturers hold out long enough, their demands will come to fruition. Yet the states will not collapse as the authorities now make it seem.
Why wait for a strike before getting things done. Most times the losses are never mitigated. Take the case of university dons. Whenever a truce is reached, no lost time can be recouped. Government incurs yet more losses in keeping students longer than they would normally stay in school in addition to the personal loss of time by the students.
Back to Jonathan and the NLC. If and when the matter is resolved, labour may hold the President to his promise. The implication is an insistence on back dating implementation. At the end government would have been penny wise and pound foolish.
So why wait for a long, paralyzing strike?
…And my Professor died
He had long escaped strikes as the only way to get better conditions of service. Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, one of the foremost literary critics of our time was the first professor I ever set my eyes upon and heard speak as a green horn at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. We were literally awe struck as first year students listening to this giant of a literary figure. He later became our father and friend. But for Obiechina, I would never have got a good grip of the Apartheid concept in South Africa. When Nigera became academically turbulent, he relocated to New York in United States of America where his academic prowess was better valued.
Now I will never get back the opportunity I missed at the last NLNG literature prize in Lagos. Obiechina was inducted into the hall of fame for literature. Age had taken a toll on him and he walked slowly, supported by his wife and I missed the opportunity of getting that long desired interview from him. He died last Saturday in New York. Professor Chinua Achebe, his soul mate, must be heart broken. So are many others including yours sincerely. But death remains the debt everyone must pay. Goodbye prof.