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834 CLOSED INDUSTRIES, LABOUR UNION AND NIGERIAN UNEMPLOYMENT FACTORY

Source: Mike O. Akpati
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Our democracy in Nigeria is over 11 years old today. In fact we are looking forward to the kick starting of the next general election campaign as INEC – The Independent National Electoral Commission has already rolled out their time table.

But for us the political watchers, it is easy to conclude that the nation's politicians have been the luckiest by far. The other day they were basking in imaginary successful high points as declared by some economic advisers that the economy has improved steadily. Here is the reason for this article.

The Manufacturer's Association of Nigeria (MAN) published that a record 834 industries closed shops in 2009 alone! This did not cause the labour leaders any sleepless night! The only agitation it brought forth was a warning strike on November 10, 2010 based on the long battle for salary increase. But did the Labour leaders look critically at their rank and files to discover that some of their local chapter executive members were absent at their regular rallies, occasioned by sack from one or some of the closed factories, or ill health due to stress, blood pressure etc caused by unpaid salaries and so on?

I have always felt worries each time l see retiree on queues in quest for their pension and gratuities. Many have died in the process and others have lost hope and resigned to faith as they did not have the fund to pay their fare to the distant venues of endless queues how much more stay for days or weeks without food and without success. Yet our political leaders stay at bay and watch as if helpless, but reality, in out right hostility.

The Nigerian Executive and Legislative arm of government is definitely the luckiest in the world. It is the highest paid group of people and really for doing nothing! Only in Nigeria do we find that an elected fellow is not accountable to the electorate and they are proud of it. I can count a few of them though who have demonstrated some leadership qualities like Hon Smart Adeyemi – a former Journalist from Kogi State. He has single handedly sank more bore holes in his constituencies than any of his colleagues l stand to be corrected. But the Senator from my own constituency – Delta North, is still looking for locations to install transformers in his senatorial district since 1999- of course he is a third termer!. Yet they all receive jumbo pay, fixes and review their salary and remunerations periodically with impunity and without recourse to the led and we have remained docile.

In Nigeria , it is decent for all tier of government to ceremonially announce their annual budget. After that they go to sleep, then some where in the middle we are told of the necessarily of a supplementary budget. Without any project monitoring teams result or query, same is approved only to have hugh unspent fund usually rolled into private pockets. Only in Nigeria that we Budget for education at the federal, states and local government levels yet organized private corporate bodies are forced to pay after tax and usual levies, 5% of their profit. The same ministry also receives donations from NGO's from within and outside the country for the same budgeted items yet at the year end nothing is done and some funds are returned as unspent! How much of the budgeted funds have been spent on Power annually? Where are the results? Are we talking about hospitals which are just referral institutions for employee Pharmacists/chemist to profiteer?

Now, back to the 834 closed industries. Long before now, it has been noted that Power essentially has been the major reason of industrial closures in Nigeria. MAN itself, along with other agencies have assisted the government in several ways including donating of funds and professionals to remedy the situation to no avail. The results have been gradual closure of factories in Nigeria only for the same industry to resurrect on neighbouring West African country efficiently run and at extremely lower production cost. And the market destination remains NIGERIA ! So because on economy can joke with the population, while we have refused to take advantage of what we have. Hence, while we pawperise our selves, we are growing the economy of other nations and they tell us to the face to go to hell. Ghana which once begged Nigeria for almost every of her economic need, is today frustrating all Nigeria business men in setting up businesses in their country. The same country is chunking out our fresh graduates as we enrich them to the tune of over 100billion Naira annually in school fees alone. Ditto other smaller countries. Yet we play fake big brother. It does not exist any more. Now, it is to your tents Oh Israel! What has made it impossible for industries to fail in Nigeria but have hugh success elsewhere?

But has the MAN examined the economic consequences of the closed shops? The record we have was for only 2009. What are the current cumulative records from mere 1999? Not to mention the Babangida years when it all started. Rule of the thumb tells us that we have lost more than 5000 industries! If these companies had each employed 500 workers, it shows that we have lost over two million jobs. How many of them were paid their entitlements? What is the record of those who through the closure are today dead or having terminal ill-health? What has labour unions done about their members in those industries? How many jobs have been created by the democracy? Or cant we measure our success through such yard stick? Why are we docile over extremely serious issues? With the way we are going, MAN Chairman and his executives shall soon be in the labour market if care is not taken.

It is no longer news that accurate data are not available in most institutions in Nigeria. This is also the case with MAN. Its record is not the authentic figure of all closed factories, but that of its members. It is well known that due to registration requirements most industries, especially small scale industries do not make their list. From the foregoing, we can imagine the long list of sorrows, tears and blood that has been the lot of millions in our own dear native land, while those elected (some selected) to represent us have already closed deliberations on burning Nation issues at the National and state Assemblies and busying themselves with election 2011! Now we have the Carrot, let us vote out all these evils fellows at the various Assemblies. All their laws to date are for their betterment! Let us breath fresh air with new candidates no mater what. If yielding to the personal pockets be the dividends of democracy, then let it go round!

Nigeria industrial boom started the early 70's just as the glory of the nation was blossoming in Agriculture. Then, we had the Groundnut Pyramid in Kano , Cotton Mills in most northern cities of Kano , Kaduna , Maiduguri and Sokoto to mention but few. This accounted for why Kaduna alone has the highest number of Textile Industries. Of course Cocoa, Palm Oil, Rubber etc were there too to feed the ever busy factories in Ikeja, Illupeju, in Lagos, Kudenda in Kaduna, Sharada in Kano etc. Allied industries naturally sprang up to compliment the big ones and there was something for everyone, despite the high export of produce then. Today these are all history and a visit to these industrial estates now shows nothing but shadows of their past glory.

Election 2011 is around the corner. What is in the manifestos of those contending to rule us for another four year if they have any manifesto at all? What campaign strategy is being adopted by Labour Unions to produce/support any labour friendly candidate? How has labour taken advantage of one of theirs – Gov. Adams Oshomole in the entire scenario? How would the uninformed electorate in the villages be able to vote in the right candidate if we, the informed, are not front burners in disseminating information about a common choice? Need l remind all and sundry that INEC has shifted the post by informing us that left alone; it cannot conduct a free and fair election and so need our total support.

The choice is your hand - labour, unemployed graduates, redundant workers, retired but not tired employees, thinking Nigerians. We can all do something and we should do it now. Let us stop this Ministry of unemployment by going to vote. It is our right. Let us exercise it now to have good representatives who would translate to good and functional roads, hospitals, water, electricity, education etc. the choice is before you today.

Mike O. Akpati is a Public Affair analyst based in Port Harcourt

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