Editorial

LABOR PROTESTS IN OWERRI

The hue and cry about concessioning of Agencies and Departments of Imo state government, concessionaires, suspension, sack, salaries and all have not died down. Rather they are smoldering like fire under wet rubbish at a huge refuse dump. The smoke is blinding and choking. Yet we don’t quite understand what the problem is all about. But I think it is about language and communication which happens to be our own area of specialization. Plus the fact that I attended a Grammar School, the best place to learn English at that time, of which there is no such place today.  Gov. Okorocha called it misinformation when the entire Labor in Nigeria swarmed on him and accused him of not respecting civil service rules. Saying that, he insinuates that someone is deliberately misinforming people to the detriment of Imo state government. I don’t think so. Who is that? Newspapers said the event brought Owerri to a stand still.  Labor shuts Imo down, screamed the Sun. That was putting it mildly. That day, some people were denied their meals by that incident. They didn’t get any income to buy something to eat. Nor could they get to the workplaces. Some might have died. Small and big businesses received a shock, they have never recovered from. The state’s economy too, if not the nation’s economy suffered a hiccup no reporter at Nigeria’s level of human angle reporting could have captured. What was the matter?
The entire organized labor in Nigeria was alarmed that there were alleged plans to sack 5,000 government workers in Imo state. They got the information too that lots of workers were being owed their salaries for months, among other things. Reports had it that a number of government departments and agencies in Imo state had been sold. Government said no, concessioned, not sold. Plans were afoot to sack workers. Government said no, they were being suspended. You see how mere words (another people’s language) could have cost us bloodshed or even war. Sometimes I think it is the same language problem that caused the Nigeria/Biafra war. Ojukwu and Gowon could not understand themselves and it broke down into a bloodbath.
All this is happening in the full glare of the numerous eminent lawyers and jurists around, journalists, professors, English teachers and lecturers, who use, know and master the English language. For sure there are English men and women in this country, if we like, who could have separated the combatants and told them which one is which. You will agree with me that this is a very simple matter, though sticky enough to cause the war of words we are witnessing.  A shooting war was possible. Government and Labor were speaking the same language saying the same thing, yet they misunderstood them selves, because nobody told them the words they were using meant the same thing.
My own humble, expert opinion however is, the two pairs of words are the same. Concessioning is the same as sale, even if money was not paid or received. I stand to be corrected. Suspension is also the same as sack because salary had stopped; going to work has also stopped; no one owes any body any obligations again. The employer (government) didn’t say what next would happen. For the workers it is straight, hanlele, to the labor market. Next meeting again for the two would be at the polling booth, 4 years hence. The suspended worker is exposed to so many terrible things which the government makes none of its business. The ex-worker who was laid off became inconsolable. Meanwhile, we are still looking for the words to use in reconciling the two sides.
Sack operates in the mind like dagger. Suspension is mild, but equally makes one unsure what next to do, to expect or to hope for. It sounds quite cruel. Some of the questions the sacked worker would be asking and finding no answers to are: is this not the government I stood in the sun and rain recently voting for? Would I just go home to forgive and forget? Would I volunteer any assistance or support to it again in life with this treatment? Won’t I try to bring it down if I can in revenge? Can I ever live to its glory? Should I just bear my fate and go and die in hardship without complaining, to be a good citizen? The answer to these questions will determine whether the man or woman will be a good or bad citizen and raise children who will love Nigeria and obey its laws.
On its part, the government feels justified, unperturbed. We cannot keep people we cannot pay at work, no matter how indispensable they are, it says. It is better they go, fend for them selves and stop being government responsibility and liability. Outside our employ, they are no longer government responsibility. It in this type of reasoning that one can see all the contradiction in the world and why the governments in our part of the world have always misconstrued their role, their duty and the essence of their being in existence.
If government does not understand that it has responsibility over all the people, without exception, employed or un-employed, then it will never do well, and the people will never appreciate it, especially those it cannot reach and take care of. I don’t know how our governments of some people, for some people, by some people came about. In fact the government of today in our country is against a lot of people. Is it a product of ignorance, poor education, or lack of commonsense? And those not covered by the parental ambience of governance have taken up arms to take what is due to them and to kill whoever stands on their way. This is the only way I can understand what is going on in the country today. It is a rat race between the government and those it has neglected to take care of, or denied their right to sovereign protection.
Let’s look at concessioning and sale as words. Sale means transfer of ownership to one who has paid for it. The details are not important here. Concessioning is also change of control and custodianship. The government says that this what it has done. And money was not in the transaction. Who were the people the Agencies were concessioned to? Who approved or permitted the transaction? The government said it did so to remove the enterprises from non-performing managers to those it considers experts who would run the businesses better (profitably). The pros and cons of this are many. After its running battles with the ex-workers and labor, government will still come back to tell stakeholders in the larger society why organizations set up at huge public costs were just given away to people to run without being required to make any financial commitment. If they had paid, it would be the guarantee against their possible failure. If they paid anything, the details of such should have been made available for public scrutiny and approval. We would know why concessioning would be better than sale, or vise-versa. To me none of them is applicable. The agencies should be either public or private. If they are public and private combined, officialdom and bureaucracy are still capable of slowing them down and destroying them. Where do concessioning and suspension of workers start and end in the management of state affairs? If that is tenable, NNPC or even the federal government could be concessioned, when they fail to perform.
The foregoing has amply highlighted that the communicating language of the government is critical to the relationship between the government and the governed. Those who brought in the words concession and suspension as operative words when government meant to save money and use a better management to create wealth did not know the damage they were bringing into a relationship. It is likely that the same objectives could have been met if those words were kept out of it. The government would have done everything to keep the loyalty of its workforce and still achieved better productivity from them. This is not the time to lose one single sheep in the flock. Nigeria doesn’t need any more anti-Nigeria groups – insurgents, pipeline vandals, treasury looters, armed robbers, thieves, kidnappers, human traffickers, migrants, importers of contraband goods(smugglers), drug dealers and carriers, rapists, arsonists, cultists, yahoo people, prostitutes, miscreants of all types. I think we have too many of such and all of them here now. How did they become what they are? The country made them what they are. We create disgruntled people who show their anger through rebellious behaviors only to go back to budget for the high cost of protecting ourselves against them? We have to pay to buy special weapons and give special training to our security personnel to be in a position to fight our own citizens trying to make ends meet and fighting hardship through anti-social and criminal activities? We have to build bigger cells and prison yards. We have to buy patrol vehicles chasing these people about, in preference to paying the few workers we have laid off. Human management is better than concession or suspension. Let the human factor override. Let people be in their jobs. Let the Agencies remain as they were. Reverse this policy. The altercation from it is a colossal waste of time. The human suffering it will bring about will consume a lot of people, and if care is not taken the government too will suffer it. “Government is best which governs least” –  Jefferson.

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