By Owei Lakemfa
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Folashade Mejabi Yemi-Esan, on January 17, 2022, announced that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is not a trade union.
I am not sure if this magisterial pronouncement is a result of ignorance, sycophancy, or a fascist scheme to clamp down on the academic union. Under the military regimes, whenever they were losing a major labor dispute or were being dusted by a union, they turned round to pronounce the union illegal.
That way they hoped, in child-like innocence, that the industrial dispute would disappear. ASUU has been a victim of such tyranny several times but never succumbed.
Although Nigerians say if you wake up early in the morning and a cock starts chasing you, you should run because you do not know if it has grown teeth overnight; I am sure the Head of Service has not transformed into a judge overnight.
I equally read that the dentist also ruled her professional association, the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, ineligible to participate in employment matters affecting doctors. I am sure that the NMA can easily put Dr. Yemi-Esan in her place if she gets so power-drunk as to challenge it. Such a challenge would amount to a drunk mortal challenging the gods to a duel.
I am more willing to assume that her pronouncements are based on ignorance of the Constitution. First, the Trade Unions Act No 17 of 2005 defines a union: “Trade Union means any combination of workers or employers, whether temporary or permanent, the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers…”
This precisely is what ASUU is doing, and has done since its 1965 formation when Dr. Yemi-Esan was a one-year-old baby. ASUU was then known as the Nigerian Association of University Teachers.
In claiming that ASUU is not a trade union or recognized as such, Dr. Yemi-Esan is publicly displaying unfamiliarity with the Nigerian Constitution which is the ground norm. Section 40 states in simple English language that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.”
How come to Dr. Yemi-Esan, despite having been a federal permanent secretary in the last one decade in strategic ministries like Information and Culture, Education, and Petroleum Resources, and three years now as Head of Service, does not know this?
Why is she not blessed with knowledgeable subordinates that can let her know she is trying to rape the Nigerian Constitution? My advice to her is to help government deliver on badly needed good governance rather than spend precious time seeking to stir up troubles where there are none. Even if she has been instructed to provoke ASUU and the NMA, should she not apply some wisdom?
In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai has with effect from 2022, introduced his hare-brained distraction by decreeing a four-day workweek. Under this, the daily work hours are increased from eight to nine, and Friday is added to Saturday and Sunday as work free. He hinged his decision on three planks.
First, he wants workers to have more rest. The question is: are workers in the state overworked? The answer is no because the universal eight-hour workday or 40-hour workweek is what runs in Kaduna State.
This system has built-in it, the rest required by human beings. It has its origins in 1886 when, based on various considerations, including productivity, leisure, and rest, the 24 hours in a day was divided into three equal parts: eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours free time.
This is what gave rise to the popular slogan: “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, and eight hours for what you will.” As we know, there are additional rest days annually, including paid leave and public holidays. So this reason is not logical.
The second reason he gave is that he wants public servants to have more time to farm. This is a laughable reason because banditry, terrorism, mass destruction, and theft of farm produce are so high that many professional farmers have abandoned the farms.
A third reason el-Rufai gave is that he wants workers to spend more time with their families. This may give the impression that the state government is dedicated to family life. Its actions do not support this. First is that the main concern of families in Kaduna State is not the absence of working parents, but serious insecurity and hunger.
The worker spending more time at home will not put food on the table nor reduce the effects of runaway inflation. If the state workers are paid living wages and food is available, accessible, and cheap, the worker would need no sermon to stay more with the family. On the contrary, he is likely to want to stay more outside the home rather than stare at the hungry faces of his family.
If anything, the el-Rufai administration by its repeated mass sack of workers and increasing the burden of families is one of the most anti-worker governments in the country. In 2021 alone, without following laid down redundancy procedures, he forced 3,000 civil servants and 7,310 local government staff into the unemployment seas without live jackets. His reason was that workers constitute only five per cent of the populace and salaries consume lots of resources.
He also withheld the April salaries of about 20,000 workers, illegally reversed the constitutional minimum wage of local government employees, and refused to implement staff promotions. He capped these with the unconstitutional harassment of workers.
He further burdened the general citizenry, including the youths by imposing astronomical school fees. For instance, he raised the school fees at the Kaduna State University, KASU, from between N24,000 and N26,000 to N150,000; those for medical students to N300,000, while the fees of non-indigenes were raised to N500,000.
When workers and students peacefully protested against these inhuman policies, armed thugs were unleashed on them. Perhaps aware that his undemocratic and illegal actions would be put under scrutiny, el-Rufai spurned legal moves by the Federal Ministry of Labour to get both sides to the negotiation table.
In any case, el-Rufai is merely carrying out a rehearsal of the myopic four-day workweek introduced in Imo State in 2017 by the then Governor Rochas Okorocha and that in Benue State by Governor Samuel Ortom. Those in government need to concentrate on providing good governance and delivering the dividends of democracy rather than engage in inanities.