Nothing wrong with labour, blame society’s docility, says Ambali
Hakeem Ambali is the new National President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE). In this interview with GLORIA NWAFOR, he speaks on challenges confronting the labour movement, pathways to reviving stagnated career service of local government workers and why autonomy is germane to the development of the country.
How would you describe the state of organised labour in Nigeria today?
The state of labour in Nigeria today is a reflection of Nigerian Society. Unfortunately, labour has done a lot, even performed beyond the expectation of an average labour activist. The law establishing the labour movement is aimed at defending the interest of workers and agitates for better remuneration. Labour takes additional responsibilities due to the passiveness of Non-Governmental Organisation (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and members of the public from whom labour is supposed to draw additional strength. That is why it appears to some that organised labour is not doing enough.
Another factor that is not working in favour of organised labour is the continuous pauperisation of Nigerian people. As everybody is aware, the provision of basic needs of the majority of Nigerians today is at the lowest ebb; that is why people put all the burden of demanding a better standard of living from the government on labour. It is only labour and the media that are agitating for the rights of the Nigerian people. In other climes, it is not like that. We have NGOs, CSOs and even religious bodies championing the cause of the ordinary people. In some advanced countries, revolution or change starts from the church and the mosque, but in Nigeria, unfortunately, our religious leaders are no longer doing that, as they are also becoming part of the problem. In the view of many, labour today is in disarray. It has become voiceless or its voice cannot be heard again; it has been compromised. This was not the labour of Adams Oshiomhole’s days. Now that we are now in democracy, agitation is about lobbying before resorting to the last option, which is a strike.
But even at that, what happened during Oshiomhole’s time was that Nigerians were very courageous, even ready to pay the supreme sacrifice but what is happening now?
We have allowed politicians to divide Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines. So if you look at that and you want to measure the performance of labour, you will not be fair to labour. For example, during the fuel increment, labour called for a mass protest in Nigeria, but Nigerians were busy sitting at home watching television, unlike during Oshiomhole’s days, when Nigerians came out in large number to participate in a strike.
I think Nigerians are becoming confused concerning their civil rights. There is no problem with labour, the problem is with our society, a case of societal decadence and corruption occasioned by mass poverty. Labour took this government to court and there was a judgment delivered against the increment in electricity tariff and when the government refused to obey the judgment of their court, labour went on the street. I led the protest in Ogun state. Nothing is wrong with labour, anytime the masses are ready, labour will lead. It is worrisome that Nigerians are becoming passive and docile when it comes to confronting democratic challenges.
Nigeria is presently faced with problems of insecurity, banditry and kidnapping. As a labour leader, what do you see as the way out?
The singular solution is complete local government autonomy. Once the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do? Let me tell you that over 70 per cent of Nigerians reside in rural areas. When you talk about banditry, it is most prominent in the rural areas. For example, Lagos and the cities are well policed, all forms of security apparatus are deployed to secure these cities, and security is concentrated on the cities at the expense of rural communities. That is why banditry and kidnap are more prevalent in rural areas. What we need is a solid and strong local government system that will put every council in a viable position to organise, train, monitor and pay local vigilantes, who are supposed to be converted to local government police. With this, we would have indigenes of a particular area that understand the terrain and culture, who know individuals one-by-one, they are best suitable to handle problems of banditry and kidnap. Unlike when you take a Hausa man from Kano to Ijebu in Ogun state to come and police the area. Before he gets accustomed to the area, a lot of crimes would have been perpetuated.
What are your plans for NULGE during your term as President?
We thank God that we have been elected to serve our people. Our administration is a transitional and transformational one. We have previously served at various capacities in the union, which put us in a position to know the challenges ahead of us. Our first and immediate priority is to commence genuine reconciliation of all aggrieved members to build confidence in our members. We will give a sense of belonging and support to all the state branches and local branches of the union. We need to also deepen their exposure to modern-day unionism through regular seminars and education. We will also pursue quickly, the approval and implementation of a scheme of service for our union workers because local government career has been stagnated over a long period. People who are supposed to move from one cadre unto others thereby creating vacancies for young ones in terms of career mobility could not move. We are going to reform the career service of the officers of the union to make them be at par with their colleagues and contemporaries. We will also complete the new national NULGE secretariat in Abuja. We are also embarking on registering a new investment company called NULGE Investment Company that will warehouse our business investments. We are going into the transportation business to be called NULGE Mass Transit. We will also go into the hospitality business. We expect that within the next year, we would establish the first NULGE Guest House, a three-star hotel in Abuja. We would be establishing NULGE National Museum in South Western Nigeria. We will also ensure that we have NULGE Mortgage Saving Scheme and we are bringing in a cooperative society to our members as well as NULGE employees across Nigeria so that we can enhance their economic capacities. By October this year, we will be celebrating the first National annual NULGE week, to be kick-started by state chapters’ NULGE Week celebration.
What will your administration do to stop state governors from appointing caretakers for councils?
First, let me make it very clear that we are in total agreement with President Buhari on the issue that any local government that does not have democratically elected leaders must not be funded. Article 73 of the Nigerian Constitution says a system of a democratically elected political leader is hereby guaranteed for local government. So the appointment of political cronies to head councils is an aberration under the constitution. We shall lobby the National Assembly to ensure that any council that is not run by elected leaders is denied funds. On our part, we will start by mobilising the Nigerian populace, using media advocacy and contacts, advocacy to paramount rulers and market men and women, including leaders in the society, we shall bring them together to help us trumpet why local government autonomy is the way to go.
And why the killer bill being sponsored at the House of Representatives, which aims at emasculating council autonomy, must no longer be allowed to see the light of the day any more. Failure to do that will have grave consequences for the functioning of councils all over the country. It will mean that councils will no longer be able to build markets, rural roads and maternity centres for the people and also take care of the primary school education.
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