“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
George Santayana, 1863-1952. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 93.
The current palaver over minimum wage and the concurrent nationwide strike by the Academic Stall Union of Universities, ASUU, bring to mind two statements carved on stone for all mankind to ponder when they conduct their affairs either in public or private capacities.
First, the Chinese are credited with the assertion that insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. Second, Professor Peter Drucker, our chief management guru in the early 1970s to 1980s had made the point that a problem which occurs twice is a problem which should never happen again – if progress is to be made.
Actual or threatened strike over Minimum Wage and ASUU strike easily fall into the category of problems which have occurred repeatedly and to which we have applied the same remedies without success. That is by itself a measure of national madness. We keep doing the same thing and end up with the same result only to do it again every four years.
Every four years, since 1999, as we are approaching another general election, the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC and ASUU turn the heat on elected officials by requesting for a new Minimum Wage and the redemption of promises made to ASUU some time in the past. The Federal and state governments first respond by claiming they don’t have the money to pay workers the amount required and if forced to pay they would have to retrench workers.
The NLC and ASUU invariably reply by threatening to shut down Nigeria and prevent the coming elections from holding. A few weeks to the elections, politicians in Aso Rock and State Government houses cave in to pressure and partially meet the demands of Labour and ASUU. A new Minimum Wage is signed into law; several billion naira is released to universities to clear some of the arrears owed them and ASUU leaders pat themselves on the back for a job well done. That was the pattern under Obasanjo in 2003, 2007, Jonathan in 2011 and Jonathan again in 2015.
The elections are held and it is time to pay. With the elections safely behind them, governments from Abuja to states begin to drag their feet instead of promptly redeeming their pledges to the workers. ASUU serves as proxy for all the problems of Labour and the Unions in Nigeria. Writing in May 2017, when ASUU went on another strike under the title ASUU AND ITS SELF-INFLICTED PROBLEMS the following observations were made.
‘It needs to be restated that the agreement constituting the reason for this strike was reached in 2009 with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Yar’Adua/Jonathan/Sambo governments, 2009-2015 and not with the All Progressives Congress, APC, government led by Buhari. It was also pointed out last week how ASUU under Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, in 2011 called off its strike to save Jonathan the embarrassment of going into the 2011 Presidential elections with ASUU on strike and the kids at home. They were lured back to the campuses with a promise and an agreement which needed a Bill passed by the National Assembly, NASS. Once elected, Jonathan forgot about the Bill and the agreement and the Sixth NASS went into history”.
Even now, nine years after, ASUU’s strike is still largely based on an agreement reached in 2009 with the Federal Government which the government has not fulfilled. As on previous occasions, a partial truce will be declared before the elections once government offers some crumbs to ASUU leaders. The idiocy will be repeated in 2022.
Similarly, when the NLC held politicians to ransom to pass the Minimum Wage Bill raising the figure to N18,000 per month. In another column published in December 2014 titled SO YOU WANT TO BE GOVERNOR IN MAY 2015? The following prediction was made.
‘Back in May of last year, a warning was issued on these pages to those wanting to succeed incumbent governors about the financial disasters ahead. Few took notice. As you read the column again, several states owe staff salaries, some up to four months and the calamity is just unfolding. The drop in the price of crude oil, which was then mentioned as a possibility, is now a certainty and it is worse than anybody could have imagined and will last longer than imaginable. By May 2015, hardly any state will be able to fulfill its obligations to its workers. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants will be retrenched at Federal, State and Local Government levels and by the private sector. Please read on”.
Another article titled SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT IN 2015? That piece also predicted that irrespective of who became President after the 2015 elections, the FG will not met all of its commitments to Federal Civil servants and pensioners. Which of those forecasts has not come true today?
The question Nigerians should be asking governments, NLC and ASUU is : if a private economist, not in government could so accurately discern the consequences of negotiations in advance, how come those directly involved cannot? What gave ASUU the impression that Jonathan would pay? How on earth could the NLC not foresee the situation in which workers in most states find themselves now? They work and don’t get paid. That is the perfect definition of slavery. Despite the familiar pattern of deception by governments, Labour and ASUU will once again fall prey to partial solution by December this year. The elections will hold in February and governments will toy with workers’ fate once again and get away with it.