Home Article AVERTING ANOTHER STORM OF LABOUR CRISES:…. AN OPINION

AVERTING ANOTHER STORM OF LABOUR CRISES:…. AN OPINION

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”If we can invest in a different vision of peaceful coexistence, I think we can change the world, because every problem has a non-violent answer’’- Rigoberta Menchu

Whoever is unable to hear sounds of imminent industrial crises in the nation is certainly not attentive; or is a mere pretender, given the loud protests that are coming from the labour and government sides on negotiations for wage increase, particularly the implementation of the policy on the new minimum wage. Characteristically, workers are adamant. Labour argues that poverty is one of the biggest contributors to hunger and decried the alleged marginalization; pressing for a meaningful minimum wage. All sides to the dispute appear to have very good cases; but as the adage goes: ‘’The hungry may never listen to any sermon.’’ The federal government is uneasy about developments, while state governments are literally poised for a two pronged ‘’war’’ on this delicate matter.

The rampaging governors are facing the federal government to question the propriety of negotiating with Labour on behalf of the States, and at the same time are poised for disagreement with Labour, over the inability of States to pay the new wage structure.  Interestingly, local governments are quiet on this matter, ostensibly because their fate is tied to that of state governments while enough focus is yet to be accorded the plight of the private sector, whose employees may even be earning more than government employees. Let us examine the scenario. Labour has made a solid case on account of inflationary trend and necessity. States are destitute, according to the Nigeria Governors Forum, which says only Lagos State can pay the new minimum wage and survive.

Therefore, one perceives ominous gathering clouds, except this matter is quickly handled at the presidential level; not because the head of the federal government negotiating team, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha is incompetent; but because of the staccato of voices emerging from various interest groups directly concerned.  I have never met SGF Boss Mustapha; but stories about his official conducts make me have an unfeigned regard for the gentleman. Those who work with Mustapha rate him as the best SGF that ever operated from that office. No file or correspondence spends 24 hours on his table before receiving attention; and he is said to be extremely humble and humane. But the truth is that the matter has gone beyond his influence, with the latest development of protesting state governors, who as a matter of protocol will most certainly refuse to deal with him.

INVOLVEMENT OF STATE GOVERNMENTS: Arising from the foregoing, it is safe to assume that the only functionaries who could successfully contain the raging state governors are Mr. President and Mr. Vice President. And that would be on the basis of respect for their offices, given the fact that they lack the constitutional power to compel state governments to adopt a position that may be favourable to the federal government. True federalism gives room for the prevalence of popular will in a democratic setting, with great emphasis on the devolution of powers. It is one of the popular forms of exercising democratic conducts and democracy, in practical terms. Democratic governance is one of the hardest of tasks, which was why Lord Baldwin, as early as 1934, described it as “a most difficult form of government, because it requires perfect functioning, and wants constant guarding”. Workers have a point; so also, State governors who are arguing that most of the states are destitute, with as many as 27 states unable to pay monthly salaries recently, until Abuja came to their aid through bail out funds.

The submission of the State governors speaks about our inability to maintain those States without recourse to the federation accounts. This evidently calls to question the sincerity of the elite and political classes, who have determined the course of events in the last few decades. If States are insolvent or destitute, why were they created, and why did we make a case for them, even when we knew they don’t have the means to sustain themselves? Why must insolvent states continue to exist?  Schools of thought have called for the abolition of state structure and merger of states that are not viable. We have nothing to lose by adopting that posture in the common interest of all.  It is tragic that our values over the years have not helped our situation. Nigeria recorded phenomenal growth when the nation was made up of only three regions that funded development without any crude oil. For the past twenty years that the nation commenced another civil democratic rule, we have not been able to fashion out a new constitution that would take into account our distinctiveness, and give expression to proper governance, based on our differences, requirements and desires.

THE HINDRANCES: Federalism involves the devolution of powers government, by which authority is allocated among units or constituent parts. The Federal Government is allocated some powers, while other powers are shared in accordance with constitutional provisions. Under this type of arrangement, sensitive and important matters like defence, currency, Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs are the responsibility of the central government. In Nigeria, States and Local governments handle matters that are on the Concurrent Legislative list. The Constitution of the Federal Republic prescribes the manner of relationship among the three tiers – Federal, States and Local Governments. True Federalism simply connotes devolution of powers and retention of very high percentages of revenue coming from the different states.

The military intervention of January 15, 1966, terminated the practice of federalism. The military embraced a unitary system of Government as a result of military command; and this situation remained effectively in force first, until the civilian government returned in 1979; and later, on May 29, 1999.  Nigeria, and its leaders are yet to agree on a formula that would make the Federal Government shed its weight considerably in favour of States and Local Governments.  Critics have continued to argue that there are three federating units; but a greater percentage of the national resources have always been conceded to the Federal Government at the expense of the States and the Local Governments.  They contend that the Nigeria is a combination of all the States of the Federation and local governments and that the current revenue allocation formula is not only inequitable and unfair, but also it does not guarantee peaceful and harmonious inter-relations; and on that ground the perceived injustice being meted out to the States. From the above, is could be safely argued that there are very enormous challenges confronting the polity.

DISEQUILIBRIUMResource allocation has become a household cliché in Nigeria.  It is a common knowledge that the existing Revenue formula presents a situation whereby the share to the Federal Government alone doubles that of the 36 State Governments put together; or is more than that of all the State Governments and Local Governments in the country, notwithstanding their statutory responsibilities.  The current position is as reflected below:

(i)  Federal Government               52.63 percent

(ii) State Government  (including the Federal Capital Territory)                                                            26.72 percent

(iii) Local Governments (including the Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory)                            20.60 percent

A former political functionary, in a paper to a Committee on Devolution of Powers noted that the near lopsided distribution therefore deserves to be corrected and suggested a more equitable sharing formula as stated below:

(i)   Federal Government                             33%

(ii) State Governments                                 42%

(iii)  Local Governments                               25%                             Total                                                          100 percent                                                                         –

FISCAL FEDERALISM: Having identified the challenges of true practice of federalism in Nigeria, the next step is to proffer workable solutions to the knotty issue.  Without any doubt, the current arrangement, whereby the federal government takes the largest share of the federation revenue and doles pittance to States and local governments has its roots in the lack of understanding of the principles of federalism.  At least 27 State governments are destitute, owing to their inability to fulfill their obligations to workers and creditors. This is a dangerous development. According to Prof. J.A.A. Ayoade, ‘’Nigeria has become a federation of subordinate, rather than coordinate States as the only financially viable government is the Federal Government. The revenue powers and the revenue-sharing system have combined to overload the Federal Government with so much money that it has become the financier of the other tiers of government. ‘’That power of the purse has translated into enormous political clout which has distorted the federal balance of power. ‘’This explains the inordinate competition for the control of the Federal Government.’’

Otherwise, the federal government, for the sake of peace, national stability, and welfare of the citizenry may be forced to give lifelines to States and local governments. Another alternative is to return to the regional structure. It is evident that there is too much concentration of powers at the Federal level. There are several items on the Exclusive Legislative list that should be devolved to States and Local Governments.  Opponents of review of revenue allocation speak about the need for national cohesion and stability; hence the empowerment of the Centre, at the expense of the States.  Given the fact that no system can be totally perfect, and that no human being can be infallible or perfect; and the fact that the society is not static, it is important for the constitution to be amended to radically restructure the indices and pattern of allocation of resources from the Federation Accounts to States, local governments and the Federal Government. Our country must rise above mere sentiments to take the proper positive steps that would promote development. In as much as we operate Federalism, the principles of federalism must be allowed to be the guiding principle.

KEY SOLUTIONS:  Solutions appear to be the need for us to embrace economic and political reforms. Obviously, States require fiscal autonomy and self-reliance as was the case under Nigeria’s Independence and Republican Constitutions of 1960 and 1963 respectively, both of which gave 50 percent of revenue on derivation principle.  However, the citizenry must be moderate in their demands in order to allow for a gradual development of our democratic process.  We must not beat any drum of war again, as the scars of the unfortunate civil war of 1967– 1970 are still very fresh. Rigoberta Menchu 1996 speech counsels that: ‘’I think that nonviolence is one way of saying that there are other ways to solve problems; not only through weapons and war. ‘’Nonviolence also means the recognition that the person on one side of the trench, and the person on the other side of the trench, are both human beings, with the same faculties. ‘’At some point they have to begin to understand one another’’. The federal, states, local governments and the labour unions must reach an understanding on the way forward.

Next, it is to be noted that our political history has imposed a 36-state structure on us from the crucibles of the three regions that existed during the amalgamation exercise of 1914. Most of these States, as earlier stated are not viable. In the past few years, most of the 36 State governments have not been able to pay workers salary; not to talk about meeting other urgent commitments. They have come caps in hands to the federal government for ‘’bail out’’ funds to be able to fulfill their commitments to their employees. The practice of true federalism will definitely breed healthy rivalry and competition in terms of development, and the federating units would do everything possible to examine useful areas that could bring in funds, rather than wait for the monthly stipends from the federal government. States must look inwards. Lagos State, for instance might not be generating such high revenue internally if it had not devised ways and means of increasing its IGR when the monthly allocation to the State was withheld between 2003 and 2007.

Fiscal autonomy and self-reliance must be granted to state governments, as was the case under Nigeria’s independence and republican constitutions of 1960 and 1963 respectively, both of which stipulated sizeable percentage derivation from the regions’ contributions to the Federation Accounts.  However, there is the need for our people to be moderate in their demands in order to allow for a gradual development of democratic process.  This move will undoubtedly propel the constituent units to look inwards for development as well as give the people the true sense of belonging. It will furthermore assist the nation greatly in its quest to diversify the economy and reduce overdependence on revenue from the oil sector. Tackling the problem of structural imbalance and endemic socio-political problems involves considering common goals, aspirations, identities, languages and ethno-religious factors.

In so doing, leaders must take cognizance of the fact that the bulk of our earnings currently go into servicing overhead expenses, with the attendant implication of making cost of governance highly prohibitive. State governments under a federal set-up must be free of encumbrances arising from perceived distortions of the workings of federalism.  The three tiers of government must have roles ascribed to them by the constitution whose provisions must naturally be supreme. More importantly, people need to be re-orientated to be highly assertive in demanding for good governance as sovereignty, under the 1999 constitution, belongs to the people of Nigeria, from whom “government derives all its powers and authority.” People must be ready to take the political class to task and make them accountable to the people at all times for the political class to ensure that the wishes of the majority are respected and enforced. Governments are held in trust for the citizenry.  The ideal situation therefore calls for honesty, dedication, probity and commitment on the part of political actors who must necessarily be constantly established with the people and identify with their hopes and aspirations.  This will not only aid politicians to serve effectively but will also aid the path of their reintegration when they finally quit the stage.

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY: We must go beyond fighting for more revenue but use available resources wisely. Additionally, we must chart an enviable course of development, educate our people thoroughly on their rights and obligations to the State; while also ensuring the delivery of sound education to the growing ones in our institutions. Beyond that, those who lead and govern must be ready to be transparent in their actions, while the populace must be reawakened to know their rights. This is an area that labour has continually spoken about in its presentations that governments must block perceived areas of wastages. Our people however need to be re-orientated to be highly assertive in demanding for good governance as sovereignty, under the 1999 constitution, belongs to the people of Nigeria, from whom “government derives all its powers and authority under the constitution.’’  People must be ready to take the political class to task and make them accountable to the people at all times.

AMENDMENT TO THE CONSTITUTION: No society is perfect. It is very easy to criticize at any level of the society. But it is important for critics to get all the facts right, and this applies to all of us. People must ask questions because their lives are being managed by their representatives. It took America a considerable period of time to stabilize its democracy. Therefore, we must continue to expect disagreements. And we must relate and dialogue over our preferences and differences. Political actors must be dispassionate in deciding matters that affect the well-being of the citizenry. Dialogue is certainly better than confrontation. It is desirable to correct perceived distortions in the workings of federalism; starting with relationships among the three tiers of Government, through a comprehensive review of the Constitution. The three tiers of government must have roles ascribed to them by the constitution, whose provisions must naturally be supreme.

Let Nigerians come to the negotiating table to determine how they want the country to be managed. In this connection, it would be wise for us to refrain from heating up the polity. Nigeria is stronger with its current size and any balkanization would render the nation weak in the international community. This clearly presupposes that Nigerians should aim at fashioning out a political culture that will downplay, if not totally eliminate feelings of mistrust, deep-seated animosity and perceived domination of some sections by others.  As negotiations continue, Iet me end with this quote for State governors and the labour unions that might commence labour crises before too long. The 1956 Martin Luther King, Jr. quote states that: ‘’The method of nonviolence seeks not to humiliate, and not to defeat the oppressor; but it seeks to win his friendship and his understanding. ‘’And thereby and, therefore, the aftermath of this method is reconciliation.’’

I wish all the sides well; with a strong prayer that all areas of contention would be sorted out with wisdom.