By Chief Modestus Umenzekwe
The International Workers’ Day, aka Workers’ Day, even Labour Day depending on where one is coming from is approximately three (3) months away, that is May 1, 2020. Let me not bore you with how it started with Haymarket affair in Chicago on 4 May 1886.
Some local and international organizations have been enmeshed with anti-labour practices to an extent that the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), had petitioned major International Oil Companies (IOCs), like Shell, Chevron, Mobil, NAOC-AGIP and Total E&P among others over anti-Labour policies, practices and activities in Nigeria.
Comrade (Prince) Williams Eniredonana Akporeha, NUPENG`s President petition was apt as he gave the petition while addressing the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee on the Application of Standards at the 107th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 2018. That situation persists.
Akporega pointed some of these anti-labour and anti-union situations to include refusal to allow unionisation of contract and service contracts workers, fragmentation of contracts into thousands to frustrate the efforts of the union in organising precarious, making workers to sign pre- engagement of non- membership of union thus workers dread associating with the union. He pointed out that wages pay to workers by the IOCs in Nigeria are so poor and very ridiculous, prevalence practice of casual and contract employment policy and more worrisome is the wicked elopement of contract workers severance benefits by contactors to these IOCs.
He added that there is no personal protective equipment, no access to medical facility, no annual vacation, no insurance cover and long hours of work with no time off from work.
He noted: “As we speak Shell has stopped employing workers on permanent basis for the past 20 years”, accusing it of entrenching the casualization of workers in Nigeria’’. These things he raised are worst in some other work places.
But what has the 100 years old first specialized agency of the UN, International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency with mandate to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labour standards done in this regards? Where are the international best practices and standards aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity?
Borrowing a leaf from the failures of the international agencies in Nigeria, worst things happen to workers in offices of other nationals like China who we have reported cases of molestation and abuse aside working without standards. Nigerians are equally tormenting themselves in all spheres of workforce, from ghost worker syndrome to owing of arrears of salary by states to its workforce, even the pensioners are not left out. Illusion everywhere.
The worst is child labour in Nigeria and I wonder why any right thinking person should subject a child to any form of exploitation targeted at denying them their childhood, and at some point destabilize their ability to attend regular school, and disorganize their mental, physical, social or moral wellbeing.
According to UNICEF, ILO and the World Bank data, about 168 Million children between 5 and 17 around the world are engaged in child labour whereas millions suffer of child labour, including slavery and slavery-like practices such as forced and bonded labour and child soldiering, sexual exploitation, or are used by adults in illicit activities, including drug trafficking. Others have been confined to life of poverty and want.
Has UNICEF done much to ensure child protection from violence, exploitation, recruitment by armed forces or armed groups and abuse, sexual abuse and molestation as well as torture and trafficking? What of children with disabilities, female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage and all other grave violations of children’s rights? What has happened to children’s rights guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – including denial of education and frequent exposure to violence?
Just as anti-labour actions are preventable, so is child labour. It is not inevitable. Though, UNICEF supports the achievement of SDG Target 8.7 which provides that States take “immediate and effective measures to … secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.
And, Target 8.7 is linked to several other targets, including target 16.2 aimed at ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children, Goal 1 on poverty, Goal 4 on Education; and Goal 5 on ending violence against women and girls and gender equality, including harmful practices.
The interesting aspect of these fact before us is that the Nigeria’s Minister for Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, OON, KSJ , a medical doctor turned politician was and still is on the Nigerian people’s side. At a discussion spree I had with other stakeholders, Ngige was the centre of discuss on his speech on Child labour and labour rights at an international conference in Leiden, Netherlands. I decided today to spare lines in that regards.
On Child Labour, Ngige called for international cooperation to eradicate child labour in Nigeria. A statement by Mr Charles Akpan, Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations in the ministry in Abuja quoted him as saying recently at a high-level bilateral meeting of the conference, entitled; “Taking Next Steps; Ending Child Labour by 2025,” in Leiden, Netherlands.
Ngige said that the Federal Government made efforts in remarking the domestication of the ILO Conventions 138 and 182 on the Minimum Age and Worst Forms of Child Labour. He also noted that the Federal government has also enacted the Child Rights Acts of 2003, to consolidate all the existing laws on the fundamental rights of children.
But, he was quick to point to the raging social problem which was poverty and called on the international cooperation to be focused on assistance to the education of the deprived child.
He also called for the institutionalization of the social welfare programmes to empower poor parents and provision of logistics for mass mobilisation against child labour.
Ngige said: “We will need assistance to site special schools in the mining fields of Zamfara, Niger, Katsina and Plateau States, in cocoa plantations of Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Abia as well as in the palm oil farms of Imo, Abia , Cross River, Anambra, Edo among others. This is where poverty has taken children away from schools.
“Causes and strategies for tackling child labour differ across countries. Resolutions at distant destinations no matter how good will play less role than direct foreign assistance.
“Assistance to help nations push up education budget to at least 15 per cent, build schools in areas affected by child labour, institutionalise social intervention to empower poor parents and avail logistic for multi-pronged awareness campaign against child labour”.
He informed the conference that tackling child labour was topmost in the agenda of the Federal Government, necessitating the formation of an inter-ministerial committee by the Federal Executive Council to engender and galvanize multi-agency participation towards its realisation.
Ngige further said that anti-labour practices such as casualization, insufficient paid work, working-poor among others that the ministry’s strategy was to sensitise all the social partners to their responsibilities. In Ngige’s era, the new minimum wage was successfully implemented by the federal government after years of negotiation.
After Ngige’s speech, Mr Guy Ryder, Director General, International Labour Organisation (ILO) commended Nigeria on her efforts at eradicating child labour. He noted that ILO has declared that eliminating child labour, trafficking and slavery in Africa would hardly succeed without the pivotal role Nigeria plays as a pathfinder country in 8.7 Alliance against modern slavery.
Can one ever talk about policies and programmes of the Labour and Employment Ministry without a mention of Ngige? Not at all! Dr. Ngige was born 8 August 1952. He is today a two terms minister under President Muhammau Buhari, a former Governor of Anambra state acclaimed to have done well before former Governor Peter Obi took over. He was also an elected Senator for Anambra Central Constituency in April 2011. He is a ‘Lion’ from University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he studied Medicine.
In Anambra state, anything Ngige says is suspect. The political party in power and other opposition parties are always jittery about his ‘puncher’ remarks as I refer to them. He gives below the belt speech always not minding whose ox is gored. Ngige is a newsmaker any day, anytime.
For example, recently he asked striking medical doctors that they should feel free to relocate for greener pastures abroad as the nation has enough medical personnel. He didn’t speak to them as his primary constituency.
“Who said we don’t have enough doctors? We have more than enough. You can quote me. There is nothing wrong in them travelling out. When they go abroad, they earn money and send them back home here. Yes, we have foreign exchange earnings from them and not just oil.”
Against what YPP Presidential candidate and former CBN Deputy Governor ,Kingsley Moughalu thinks of Senator Ngige as arrogant politician, Ngige sees himself as a political Maradona and political leader in South East and with developments around him, that has become accepted.
Ngige shook Nigeria recently when he told Ndigbo that to produce a successor after President Muhammadu Buhari in the upcoming 2023 elections that leaders of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) must collapse their party and move to the All Progressives Congress (APC) if they are serious about becoming President. He did not mince words.
He called on Igbo leaders to build political bridges across the country and properly integrate into the mainstream politics by identifying with the two major political parties –APC and PDP in the country.
“Those who say they are in APGA should collapse and come into the mainstream politics of Nigeria, If APGA wants to help Ndigbo as they pretend or as they mouth or tout, they have to realign and come into the mainstream Nigerian politics. We have to go and reinforce the two political parties.
“There is still time for the Igbo to re-strategize, and we have to start now. That is what I am saying. Ndigbo will need to go and resuscitate their firepower; shop for a credible candidate, prepare him the way Zik (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) was prepared and blessed when he came back from abroad.
“Baptise the candidate very well, and then present him before other Nigerians. It’s a game of numbers.
“We have to court other Nigerians to give us support. You must court them. That is the game. You must lobby. You must do some political reengineering. For today, we are not getting it right as Ndigbo.
“If we start today to get it right, it is still on time. Igbo have to identify with the two main political parties. They must identify with both. But for now, the party with the firepower to win the presidency at any given time because of its areas of support in Nigeria federation is the APC.
“So, Ndigbo should join the APC. Some of us are there. We are not stupid to be there. We know what we are doing,” vantage Ngige speaking.
Ngige, what a phenomenon! What a misunderstood personality! What a controversial being yet an impressive and understanding personality with native intelligence.
Umezekwe, a commentator on national issues, is an APC Chieftain based in Lagos. He can be reached on 08037202353.