Nigerian Workers’ Lot…

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George Orwell’s 1945 novel, Animal Farm, shares verisimilitude with contemporary Nigerian experience. The novel is a mordant satire on the contradiction of the human condition. Animal Farm, once Manor Farm, is an entity that “flows with milk and honey”, but gross ineptitude makes it impossible for the owner, Farmer Jones, to run it well. Amplified exploitation and misery become the lot of the animals that populate the farm. Fed up with Jones, the animals plot his overthrow in anticipation of utopia once they, the animals, take charge of their affairs. They revolt and rout Farmer Jones, but the dream of Eldorado which powered the revolution soon evanesce and dystopia supplants utopia. The animals are hunted by the apparition of misrule as life degenerates and gets worse than in the days of Farmer Jones.

The story of the Nigerian people, especially the working class, when put in a postcolonial perspective, is in every strand a gory replication of Orwell’s Animal Farm. In the build up to the revolution, Old Major who envisions the new order tells the animals in a moment of impassioned oratorical deposition, “Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food to keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: this is the plain truth.”

The foregoing couldn’t be truer for the Nigerian proletariat who now rank among the poorest paid in the world even as many years of failed leadership have reduced the country to the unenviable status of world’s capital of poverty. Yet, in spite of the harrowing experience of the toiling masses, those who preside over the nation’s affairs swim and swoon in benumbing affluence. This is the paradox of the ongoing hoopla about what should be the minimum wage in Nigeria. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had reached an agreement with a trembling Federal Government that is scared stiff of kissing the dust in next year’s election if it doesn’t pander to the workers. The agreement yielded a minimum wage of N30, 000 which many consider to be too paltry and not decent enough in an economy that is in doldrums. Yet, many of the state governors, their excellences, triple chinned, riding in shimmering-tinted-bullet proof jeeps, donning designer suits, crispy agbadas and perfumed babanrigas, kicked saying that they can pay only N22, 000 and nothing more.

The hitherto jittery Federal Government wanted to derive fillip from the governors’ stance, until NLC’s threat of resuming the suspended strike action on 6 November. The Federal Government misguidedly shopped for a “black market” court order restraining the NLC from embarking on strike. Of course, the workers had a good laugh and looked forward to the commencement of the strike. The Federal Government roused itself from slumber and begged to meet with the NLC even on a Sunday, all in a bid to avert the strike. The agreement to pay N30, 000 as minimum wage was sealed, but with a nebulous if not fraudulent slant expressed by Labour minister, Chris Ngigie, as follows, “… it depends on the ability to pay, affordability and sustainability.” It is not yet uhuru and Nigerian workers must remain vigilant in order not to be undercut by government at local, state or federal level.

The struggle for the soul of Nigeria looms and this will begin with the remediation of the people’s welfare. The welfare of the citizens remains the primary purpose of government. Any governor that is not desirous of paying the minimum wage should be issued a red card by the people. The working class must therefore gird its loins and be ready for the struggle. The quest for national development cannot be realised by mere pronouncement by the ruling clique. The people must seize the initiative and point at the way to go. The working class must compel government, executive and legislature, to reduce the cost of governance. The governors saying they cannot pay the minimum wage must be compelled to sell those shimmering jeeps, they must be compelled to stop awarding over bloated contracts, they must be compelled to desist from collecting security votes, they must be compelled to stop those expensive foreign trips and free money for the payment of workers’ salaries and ensure their welfare. The governors often mouth the lie that about recurrent and capital expenditure being disproportionate. Fat lie! They should learn prudence and see how rapidly Nigeria will develop.

As the struggle goes on, Adams Oshiomhole, Ahmed Tinubu, and their co-travelers who pranced all over Nigeria waving the broom of change in 2014, are now benumbed, seeing no evil and hearing no evil. Nigerian workers must be alive to the dynamics of the game of the ruling class. Once in this country, for sixteen years, power flowed from the barrel of the gun. The soldiers held sway, but in the end the people saw their back. Since 1999, power has flowed from ballot snatching, ballot stuffing and now ballot buying. The people must critically rethink and ensure that power flows from their free will and choice. Only then can our lot change from the present lot of despondency.

The post Nigerian Workers’ Lot appeared first on Independent Newspapers Nigeria.

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