Heineken Lokpobiri, a senator of the Federal Republic, is in the eye of the storm. He trod where angels feared to by his audacity to confront the nation’s almighty labour unions. On Tuesday, March 13, he proposed a bill to checkmate strike actions. The gravamen of the bill is to the effect that before any union can proceed on a strike, members of the union should go to the poll. As soon as he took his seat after presenting the bill, a heated debate ensued. The bill has quite many supporters. Although he recognised the rights of labour unions to go on strike, Ayogu Eze declared that labour often operated beyond their bounds. He pointed out that in engaging their employers in a trade dispute, they often ignore the rule of law, especially where a court has restrained them from embarking on strike. Another senator, Ita Enang, was of the view that “trade unions have lost their tracks; this bill seeks to ensure that when a decision on strike is taken, there will be concrete evidence to show that the workers actually took the decision to go on strike and not their leaders.” He possibly forgot that such evidence can be contrived. Not a few senators were averse to the bill. Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State, described the bill as an invitation to anarchy. He paid glowing tribute to labour leaders whom he calls “the safety valves of society” who are very civilised and professional. This view is shared by Chris Ngige.
The former Anambra State governor thinks the bill is trying to reinvent the wheel. He argued that the unions have constitution which has stipulated provisions for going on strike. His advice to Lokpobiri, whom he called his friend, is that he should withdraw the vexatious bill because it is “anti-Nigerian people, anti-Senate and anti-the National Assembly.” And as if not to be outdone, labour leaders have come out smoking against the bill. At a joint press conference, Abdulwaheed Omar, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, described the bill as not only anti-people, but “an attempt to make it difficult for Nigerians to resist a future anti-people policy of the government.” He surely has the January fuel subsidy rumpus in mind. That was one issue that united millions of protesting Nigerians in a long while. He advised Lokpobiri to stop wasting the people’s time and money “in pursuit of frivolous constructs to muzzle the various signposts of the people’s conscience.”
Wow! Lokpobiri must surely be chaffing under the collar. However, as anti-people and unpopular this bill may be seen to be, he is not without a point. Surely, our labour leaders have over the years made a comedy out of the strike weapon. Thus for every imaginable dispute, workers are immediately mobilised to embark on strike. It is our university system that has felt the worst impact as academics in the past one decade abandon the classroom at the flimsiest of excuses. That is one of the reasons many Nigerians, including employees of government-owned tertiary institutions, pay through the nose to see their children through private universities. We have as a nation become indifferent to the orgies of strikes because we are in the dark of the monumental losses the nation suffers to work stoppages. How is the nation’s gross domestic product affected when, for instance, civil servants stay at home for one day because their union so directs. We are enamoured with the strike weapon because ours is like, they say, a mono-product rentier state. The day our oil reserves dry up and we have to really use the sweat of our brow to bake the national cake, frequent strikes for all kinds of imaginable labour tiff may become anathema. And in spite of the shortcomings of his bill, Lokpobiri may yet become the prophet who saw the future.