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Leadership, labour and sustainable development

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The pursuit of sustainable development is the essence and singular objective of governance and the objective of every institution and organisation within the state. This is the nation-building process in which the entire people are engaged. The people could be classified into two broad classes: the political class represented by the government; and the people, represented by labour.

The leadership initiates the nation-building process, by exhibiting a sense of nationalism and thereby inspiring the patriotic zeal of the citizens, with the singular objective of mobilising them to build the nation. This is the basis of the modern state and the philosophy upon which the Nigerian nation was founded and the spirit with which her independence was fought. History reports the fact that Nigeria’s independence was a result of the collaborative efforts of the nationalists and Trade unionists.

In the struggle for independence, strikes by trade unions facilitated the activities of nationalists. Strikes by organised labour, were justified and geared towards ending the exploitative socio-economic order of the time. At this time, there was popular nationalistic fervor to terminate colonial rule by all means. The objective was to create and optimise local opportunities for the benefit of Nigerians. The quest for self-rule was thereby considered fundamental to development; trade unionism was therefore popularised and strikes were therefore legitimised. For this purpose, blackmail, subversion and any action that could undo the imperial order of the time was justified. The attainment of independence notwithstanding, strikes have remained a re-occurring decimal in our national life and have indeed, assumed the benchmark by which the existence of Trade unions and the performance of their leadership is measured.

Several decades after independence, Nigeria is yet to be launched on the path of sustainable development. The political class is yet to achieve a common nationalism while the citizens are yet to be organised into a productive workforce. The reason is that the political class has been distracted by the inordinate quest for power. The non-recognition of this lapse and the failure to step into the gap by labor is the bane of our national development. The political class has since independence failed in developing the human capacity to run a productive system. This class abandoned economic development, which ought to be the objective of politics, for the inordinate quest for political power. Post-independence labor leadership ought to have made the difference by generating ideas that could transform Nigerians into a productive workforce. Regrettably, labor activism has been focused on self-serving, unproductive and economic destructive activism, as it was during the colonial era. This is excusable. In the light of the limited education of the labor leaders of the time, there were no viable options to strike actions. At this time, industrial unions were restricted to, and led by a class of citizens to whom the derogatory term, ‘Laborers’ aptly applied. By virtue of the limited education of the labor leaders of the time, there was no apparent alternative to populist mob actions, as these leaders could hardly engage intellectually.

The gain of political independence notwithstanding, the resort to strike actions by trade unions did not abate. Due to the ideological war between the West and Eastern nations, labor leaders pitched tent with deviant, belligerent and ‘subversive’ socialist ideologues of the East. Part of the gains of this alignment however, is in the intellectual enrichment of Trade Unions vide the educational scholarship offered to labor leaders and which was extended to young and impressionable intellectuals. Thus, industrial activism was introduced to ivory towers through the activities of impressive adventurous young Academics, who enjoyed the benevolence of socialist ideologues. This explains the transformation that has taken place in trade unionism since independence, which period witnessed large scale unionisation and admission of impressive academics and educational associations into organised labour fold.

Current unionists and industrial activists are therefore well-informed and intellectually grounded. This notwithstanding, industrial activism has not transcended the boring and disruptive strike actions to something intellectually engaging, constructive and development oriented. The resort to strikes is not only a betrayal of the level of sophistication of present day unions, it is also disruptive of our socio-economic development process. The labor leadership has not been able to overcome this lapse, because of the lack of understanding that the burden of leadership actually fell on her after independence, as the politicians got distracted with the inordinate struggle for political power to the detriment of economic development. Thus, while considerable enterprise is engaged in developing the electoral process, there isn’t commensurate efforts at establishing a sustainable development systems that guarantees the socio-economic well-being of citizens.

Sustainable development demands the mobilisation, processing, deployment and access to the national human and natural resource potential for the optimum benefit of the citizens. There is need to evolve the systems required to institutionalise this process, which organized labor is most suited to do; and to define and prescribe the kind of leadership required to drive and sustain it. To be able to provide the requisite leadership, labor leadership need to appreciate the fact that the people (labour) is indeed, the center and main object of development. Organised labor leadership ought to understand that:

1. The major national handicap is in our inability to be organised into a productive workforce; and the failure of our politics to produce the leadership type that appreciates the above imperative; and
2. The imperative of developing and evolving a social system and infrastructure required to facilitate the mobilisation and processing of ideas into consumable products and services which are accessible by citizens.

The foregoing should constitute indispensable factors in labor activism if organised labor is to play its leadership role in moving the citizens out of the current survivalist mode. Industrial activism must transcend its current agenda of organising simply to scramble for resources for personal and group survival. The current state of its social sophistication demands that labor leaders re-construct the narrative of industrial activism, if it is to live up to its high premium. They need to appreciate the fact that labour, which constitute the human capital of a nation, transcends those who earn fixed wages to everyone involved in the processes of:

1. Ideas, creativity and innovations, which are products of human intellectual enterprises, which deserve rewards;
2. Production and processing of innovations and creative ideas, which are done through human entrepreneurial investments and engagements;
3. The process of determining the volume and quality of production and the needs; and
4. The ability or capacity of the people to consume the benefits of the products and services.

All of the above processes demand adequate incentives and motivation. This is by the development of appropriate process and scheme to harness and enable the citizens to engage in the four processes of; generating ideas, deploying resources to process or produce the ideas, ensure that the products are consumed; and to develop the capacity to consume the products of the activities at the various levels.

The integrity and importance of industrial activism, therefore, is the extent to which it is committed to sustaining the above processes. The importance of these processes is that every citizen is involved in at least one or several of them, either as an inventor, a creator, innovator; producer, processor; or consumer. Leadership responsibility involves ensuring that citizens are incentivised and motivated to participate in these processes and thereby ensure sustainable development. This is the most and only viable way of empowering the citizens, sustaining economic development and thereby rendering industrial unions useful in the nation-building process. This is the leadership required at a time as this; and labor leaders have no choice if they are to remain relevant.
Iyoke is a legal practitioner and member, 2014 National Conference.


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