2023: Workers and political participation

The Nigerian workers and indeed the citizens have constantly bemoaned misguided policies and poor leadership that manifested in high cost of living, delay in payment of salaries, non-payment of gratuities, pensions among others.

Labour leaders and activists are sometimes victimised for questioning perceived unfavourable policies and increasing refusal by government to honour and implement collective bargaining agreements.

In the quest to reinvent its known tradition of holding government at all levels accountable and brainstorm about the status of Labour Party, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), recently convened a political conference.

The 2022 Workers Political Conference, is entitled: “Commitment to National Emancipation and Development through Effective Political Engagement by Workers.’’

The NLC President, Mr Ayuba Wabba, who spoke, stressed the need for restructuring of the country that would bring good governance, sustainable development and social justice as the country approaches the 2023 general elections and beyond.

Wabba said there was no better place to get patriotic politicians than from the working class and professional groups who have excelled in their fields of callings.

According to him, the conference seeks to set the labour agenda as a guide to affiliates and workers for engagement with Nigeria’s political class at federal, state, local government and ward levels.

“With 2023 in view, there is a lot of politicking, intrigues and subterfuge in the political space. Every indication shows that the polity is once again being over-heated.

“Sadly, as it has become norm with our cycle of broken politics, the polity is not being heated with questions and answers on how the current political mandate has been used by political office holders.

“The polity is not being over-heated with concerns on how the current ruling elite have honoured the socio-economic rights of Nigerians in Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution.

“The polity is not being over-heated with new ideas of how politicians can meet the expectations of Nigerians who want constant power, motorable roads, adequate security and living wages that will offer workers a chance at decent living.

“The near absence and acute deficit of serious engagements with these existential political concerns have provided the context for this Workers’ Political Conference,’’ he said.

He, however, said that workers determination in the run up to the 2023 elections was that professional politicians must not be allowed to evade critical questions of national development.

According to him, this is why we have developed a “Workers’ Charter of Demands, that prioritises equity, fairness and social justice.

“Our Charter of Demands asks for free and quality education to tertiary levels for every Nigerian child. Our Charter of Demands insists that every Nigerian should access free and quality healthcare from cradle to grave.

“ Our Charter of Demands makes the argument for the kind of restructuring that brings sustainable development to real Nigerians currently struggling with the crumbs,’’he said.

He also said the demand posits that politicians should no longer be allowed to send their kids to schools abroad or treat their sicknesses in foreign hospitals, while the poor are trapped in endless strike and poor medical facilities.

He also demanded for the promotion of  decent work conditions for workers including equal pay for work of equal value, training, predictable promotion and affordable housing close to workers’ places of work, he said.

Wabba said the demand also called for prompt payment of pension and other retirement benefits and the protection of all trade union rights, among others.

“Our Charter of Demands is a pact of emancipation for Nigerian workers and people. It is our duty to put it at the front burner of 2023 politics.

“We can make this happen by mobilising every worker in Nigeria to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) ready.

According to him, the next step is to engage politically, we must be ready to engage political parties especially Workers Political Party and progressive political interests across the country .

Wabba said this would ensure that a significant number of candidates who would vie for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of the Charter.

Prof. Attahiru Jega, former Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who also spoke, said that Nigeria was at crossroads, as the country prepares for the 2023 general elections.

According to him, Nigerian citizens, and the working people, can either continue to play the ostrich on the current trajectory of reckless, senseless, visionless journey towards democratic and socio-economic development.

“It is time to wake up, rise and join hands in solidarity for struggles and active engagement in the political process, towards national emancipation from a devilish alliance of exploiters.

“It is time to broadly engage with and struggle for wider socio-political and economic issues, which affect all citizens,” he said.

He, however, called a revolutionary of improvement of governance and quality of leadership for good and democratic governance.

“This would create a better environment for protecting, advancing, and defending the overall interest of the working people.

“A revolution may, indeed be desirable under the circumstances, but given the current realities, it is far-fetched.

“Broader patriotic and emancipatory struggles for good democratic governance may under the circumstances, help rescue the country and reposition it.

“That is towards the satisfaction of the fundamental needs and aspirations of all citizens, and improving the scope and space for working peoples,’’ he said.

Jega also noted that in view of the general elections, it was time to effectively mobilise and involve Nigerian workers in broader political engagements towards using the electoral process to improve the leadership recruitment processes.

He called on Nigerian workers, trade unions, among others to work together with credible patriots in professional associations to bring about remarkable improvement in politics and governance, as we inch towards the 2023 general elections.

“The minimum agenda would be to improve the integrity of the Nigerian electoral process; to demand for reforms to expand the scope of transparent democratic participation within political parties.

“Others are to improve the processes of selection, fielding and election of candidates into positions of leadership in governance at all levels, local, state and federal.

“The task is to ensure that either a working people-oriented political party with a popularly acceptable programme fields good, competent and credible candidates.

“Only candidates who have integrity, competence and who meet people-oriented selection criteria are elected into executive or legislative positions in governance,’’he said.

“All hands of progressive forces need to, have to be on deck to prevent our country from imminent collapse, and to turn it around on to a trajectory of good democratic governance for beneficial democratic, socio-economic development, ‘’he said..

On his part, Prof. Yusuf Zoaka, Dean, Faculty of Management Services, University of Abuja, noted that the NLC made attempts to float a political party in the country known as the Labour Party.

Zoaka said the Labour Party had since been hijacked by some usurpers denying Labour and workers of their rightful platform.

According to him, what stood on its way is the fictitious ban on civil servants or workers who have regularly been reminded by their bosses that civil servants are banned from active politics and disunity among the labour unions, among others,

“The 1999 Constitution Chapter Iv, Section 40, provides citizens with the right to participate in politics.

“There is need for the NLC to be active in political space, now that it is very glaring that the two dominant political parties have failed the people.

“ Labour should not allow the stage to be captured again by another more deadly group than the current ones.

“Therefore, the stage is already clear, NLC should lead the people to take the centre stage with all the downtrodden people in Nigeria,’’he  said.

Zoaka however, suggested options and action plans that the NLC should adopt.

He said that the NLC should recover the Labour Party and go with the people, negotiate with one of the main parties or participate through political engagements.

He also called for the establishment of a broad based strategy committee to work out an implementable programme for national emancipation and an effective political engagements.

All in all, experts stressed the need for workers to actively participate in electoral contests in order to improve the quality and integrity of governance. (NANFeatures)

*** If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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