Comrade Peter Adeyemi is the General Secretary of Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU). He fielded questions from newsmen recently on the state of the Labour movement in the last 54 years of Nigeria’s independence and concluded that it is not a total failure. He however stressed the need for organized labour to do self-purification, readjust as well as reform itself with a view to repositioning for effective and efficient service delivery. Adeyemi also spoke on other salient issues. Asst News Editor, UFOMBA UZUEGBU reports. Excerpt:
How would you assess the trade union movement in Nigeria in the last 54 years?
I can say that I am aware that some unions have done very well and still doing and I am aware also, that there are parts of the movement that have not lived up to expectation. So for me, we cannot say that it is a total failure.
I think some mileage has been covered very diligently and progressively, but I also think that we have also lost some ground as a result of the fact that we have not been able to push things ahead the way we ought to. But I think some individual unions have been able to make some giant strides. They have progressively, positively impacted on the lives of their members.
Are you indirectly assessing your union?
Yes, my union is one of them. If you ask my members, they will tell you. So, this 54th Independence anniversary that we celebrated cannot be said to be a total failure for the labour movement, but I believe that there is a whole lot of improvement to be done.
I agree to the fact that Nigerians said what we ought to be doing at the level of Labour Centre, we have not been able to do them the way we ought to. But of course, that also is left for individuals to determine because if you ask those who are driving the process at the labour centre, they will tell you they have done their best, and so for me, I think we have to base our assessment on what the Nigerian people are saying.
I think that I would go with the Nigerian people that we need progressive change to see whether we can bring a turnaround of the situation but we cannot say the labour movement has delivered in the last 54years. I think we have done very well considerably up to a point.
What is your take on speculations that some labour leaders have turned into money bags at the expense of the toiling workers who they claim to represent?
That’s a mere allegation that has to be proofed because I don’t want to work on allegations. I am not aware of that because, you see, the truth of the matter is this; ‘who is giving the money and who are you giving the money?’ If you believe that you can stop the movement from becoming what it ought to be by bribing labour leaders, then you are wasting your time. Let me tell you something,; if a labour leader has conscience and he has the conscience of the followership, then if he takes bribe, the followership will stone him. They will deal with him. I cannot take bribe in NASU because my members are very articulate and conscious, and if I fail to do what I am supposed to do, and they will send me away.
I think that the problem is not about whether people are collecting money, but the problem is about how conscious we are, because I do not want to believe that Nigerian workers are fools. I think if it is established that people are actually trading the rights of Nigerian workers, then the workers have their rights to stone them and even remove them from office, but for your statement, it is a mere allegation and I don’t want to believe that one labour leader has sold out or collected money from government.
Some labour analysts have said that it is not yet “uhuru” for Nigerian workers, 54 years after independence. What’s your take on this?
Assuming these labour analysts are correct, then the labour leaders and government should be blamed because the national cake is there and the politicians are the ones that want to eat everything. It is my view that for the workers to benefit from this cake, the leadership of the trade union must struggle towards ensuring that the proportionate part of it that belongs to the workers are given to the workers is given to them.
I am also of the view, that for the workers to get what belongs to them , then we must take the responsibility as labour leaders to get what is due to them from the national cake. We do not need to even blame the government because there is no benevolent government anywhere in the world that will give to the workers, what is due them without the needed struggles.
Please comment on the issue of slave labour in the country ?
I think the government will have to take responsibility for signing different types of trade agreement without putting into consideration, the interest of our country. The Federal Government signed trade agreements with China, for the country to come and construct railway to the extent of agreeing with the companies to bring even their cooks, cleaners and every other jobs that Nigerians can do at the risk of the unemployed Nigerians
Slave labour is only possible in the private sector where people can do all sorts of things and get away with them, but I assure you that both the government and the trade unions should share the blame.
As the President of PSI in Africa nd having identified all these slave labour problems as a global body, what is the way forward?
It is difficult for a global body to be able to deal with some of these issues that affect Nigeria as a nation because in every country, you have labour centers, and most of these issues are better fought at the level of the national trade union movement before the global body can give its support.
I am of the view that the trade unions in some countries in Africa have already conceded to these anti-unionism policies that made it impossible for any global trade union centre to make case for a change . I think what we need to do first, is to fight the anti-workers’ policies within before calling for external help. And that is why affiliates of PSI belong to the trade union centre where they can influence some of these anti-people policies of government and if they are not able to influence their trade union centres to begin a process of fighting against some of these things, then there is hardly anything the global trade union movement can do.
Do you think that there is need for a labour reform?
I am a little bit skeptical when government talks about labour reform. One wants to find out the basis for the reform. You want to know the criteria to be used. You also want to find out what is motivating government in this direction. Is it for political interest or an attempt to hijack the labour movement?
I think labour has the responsibility of reforming itself rather than surrender itself to government for reform. So, my opinion is that, government appears to be chewing more than it ought to chew, more than what its mouth can actually contain. Government appears to be putting its nose and its mouth virtually everywhere. They are talking of reform everywhere but there is no positivity in all these attempts to reform everything.
I have a little bit of problem with that but I am convinced that there is the need for organized labour itself to do self-purification. There is need for self-examination. There is the need for labour to readjust, to reform itself with a view to repositioning itself for effective and efficient service delivery to the rank and file members of the union who have no other hope than the trade union movement.
I have my doubts whether the labour movement in this country to which I belong, is able to justify the huge expectation of not only the working people of this country but also those who rely on the ability of the Nigerian labour movement to deliver them from the oppressive tendencies and policies of those in government because in this country we realize that opposition has been virtually non –existent and over time, labour has filled that gap adequately.
The Nigerian people have so much confidence in the labour movement but in the last couple of years, we have seen that that confidence has waned. If you then look at that situation, you may come to the conclusion that there is need for self-examination, self purification and the need for labour to restructure itself so that it would be able to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
Your voice has not been heard in the labour movement for some time. Can you tell what has been going on?
That is correct. But I want to tell you that with due sense of responsibility that I have granted more interviews than any General Secretary in any union ,and I will continue to speak the truth because no General Secretary of any union has developed the courage, tenacity which I have developed to speak to the media.
Nigeria’s inability to record major breakthroughs in scientific fields has been blamed on inadequate funding by the Federal Government and incessant strike actions. Do you agree?
Well, I am of the view that Nigeria is unlikely to make any inroad in technological advancement until Researchers are well remunerated and stability of research works is assured.
This is because I do not think the Federal Government appreciates the works of Researchers in this country. It is more than ten years since our Conditions of Service were reviewed and government does not implement the agreements that were freely entered into. No meaningful research effort can take place in an atmosphere where there is no stability. The work of researchers are not like teaching where students can be dismissed and takeoff from where the left off.
In order to produce tangible results, research institutes should run unbroken work and the researcher kept reasonably comfortable to do his or her work. The way researchers are treated in this country shows we are not ready for scientific breakthroughs.
What is your take on this sir?
The issues in dispute include: non-payment of outstanding 12 months arrears of Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAIS); approval of the reviewed Conditions of Service; non-implementation of the retirement age of 65 years; demand for the withdrawal of circular on non-skipping of CONTISS 10; payment of peculiar/earned allowance; establishment of a central body for the effective co-ordination of research activities in the Research Institutes to be known as National Research Institute Commission (NARICOM) and increased funding of research institutes. Government signed an agreement with our union in January 2011 for the implementation of the agreed items.
What’s your take on the proposed autonomy for public universities in Nigeria?
Well, autonomy is supposed to be there and my problem has to do with the encroachment of government on the autonomy of the public universities which is unacceptable.
In developed economies of the world, universities have to be autonomous because the moment there is a policy that allows the university to be subjected to the wish of government, the policy will a leeway to government to begin to manipulate the universities that were built for learning; where people are supposed to speak freely and be educated .
Do you know that even the knowledge we are impacting on students has to be impacted in an atmosphere of freedom without unnecessary encroachment. But when we have a university system that is caged, monitored, doctored, even the freedom of knowledge will be taken away from us. I also think that granting freedom of autonomy for the universities enjoys 100per cent support from NASU. What we are actually against now is for government to say they must pay salaries from Abuja because they want to save money. We won’t agree to that. No, you can’t save money at the expense of the workers thereby exposing them to unnecessary suffering.
Salaries of workers must be paid at points where each worker works or performs his duties so that if there are problems , they can walk into their management offices to complain about those problems
The registration of the examination centers like NECO and WAEC is said to have been removed by the federal government. How possible would this be?
The federal government is joking because these legitimate institutions which were established by the Constitution and to amend the working processes , the Government has to go back to the National Assembly and until that is done, it is an exercise in futility.
It is weeks now, since you suspended the strike action and nothing has been said in this regard, can you tell us what is going on?
Our position on that matter is that we respected the new Minister of Education, Shekaru who was just coming into office and we suspended the strike for three months. We are expecting him to act now and if nothing happens then, everybody will go back to square one, by calling our members back. We are already sending signals to government and have even written to government reminding them that time is running out, and they are not doing anything about the issue.
What challenges have you been faced with so far as the General Secretary?
The challenge is that I have not been able to meet up with the yearnings and aspirations of my members because as we are finishing one, another one is coming up. So, it is not something that you are sure you are not going to end because we are operating in a dynamic environment; tending to exploitative managers and dealing with dishonest employers. So, the struggle must continue. I think that is the biggest challenge that I have had so far.
On how to achieve enduring industrial harmony between government and labour ?
Labour, government and employers of labour in the country are the key stakeholders in industrial relations, and there cannot be sustainable development, employment creation, in fact peace and harmony if there no strong partnership between the tripartite stakeholders in our nation’s industrial drives. This is because nobody prays for the industry to collapse, but if the tripartite bodies do not work together, understand each other and cooperate with each other, there is no way that Nigeria as a nation, can have industrial peace. In our submission at the summit, we made it clear that Public Private Partnership (PPP) is key to organsational growth, national growth and sustainable industrial peace.
Speaking on the problems of manpower needs in Nigeria
The best option is investing in massive skill acquisition programmes that will address the lingering manpower and skill deficiency which has plagued the manufacturing sector in the country because the three tiers of Government, the Federal , States and Local Government investing in people-centered innovation is essential to Nigeria’s developmental needs
It is imperative for Government to support capacity building organizations in the country in the bid to shore up the quality of the human capital for the real sector in Nigeria and to prepare the nation’s economy to outshine other economies in the world
We have made it clear to Government that it must be in the vanguard to develop Nigeria economically and technologically and also be conscious that the country’s future can be determined by the ability to support the capacity building organisations in reducing unemployment and developing the critical manpower that needed to move the nation forward.
We also made it clear that the Government needs to concentrate on developing vocational and technological capacities of its trainees, so that companies would be more encouraged and willing to absorb them on completion of their trainings. This is because there is urgent need for Federal Government to initiate policies that would develop the human resources capacity needs for backward and forward integration of the Nigeria economy