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May Day: Soludo, realistic with labour



By Paul Nwosu

ANOTHER May Day has come and gone with its familiar rituals of march-pasts by different labour unions across the states of Nigeria. Typically, state governors were met with lengthy speeches laced with litanies of demands and lamentations. And as it is their wont, the governors, many of who are still struggling to pay their regular monthly salaries and the prescribed minimum wage, responded by telling the workers what they wanted to hear.

Not minding the deficits in their existing mandatory financial obligations to their workers, the governors still promised more goodies, ostensibly to smoothen their political paths through the coming elections. What mattered was to make their audience happy and leave the arena with a sense of expectancy, even when there is high tendency of their re-presenting the same list untreated next Workers’ Day.

   But the case in Anambra State was quite different. Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, governor of Anambra State, came clean before his people. He graphically painted a picture of what is practicable in the light of the current financial challenges in the country and the state. Never in recent memory has any elected leader been this frank with facts. This obviously derives from his campaign promise to be transparent in all his dealings with the people of Anambra State.

 Having listened to the catalogue of labour’s demands as enumerated by Comrades Chinwe Orizu, chairperson of Nigeria Labour Congress, and Chris Ogbonna of Trade Union Congress respectively, Professor Soludo, whose response was conversational and interactive, appreciated the Anambra State workers plights but was quick to remind them that they cannot be happy even if all their demands are met without addressing the thorny issues of insecurity and lack of basic social amenities that guarantee economic stability and improved quality living.

   Nothing is wrong with agitation, in so far as it is done within the ambits of the law; but what we witness these days, according to the governor, is a situation where innocent people are either shot or kidnapped for ransom. This, he insists, is nothing but criminality which has to be checked as it is inconsistent with the liveable prosperous homeland he envisages.

   These notwithstanding, the governor assured the workers that he would sit down with the Secretary to the Government and the Head of Service to crunch the numbers and determine what could be done about their array of requests, given the limited resources. He further stressed that his government is committed to improving their working conditions with technology because they are veritable partners in realising the new order he promised Anambra people.

  The governor lamented the predicament of pensioners who are currently owed their gratuities for so long. He said it is unfair that people will work for 35 years and leave without collecting their gratuities which are supposed to help them settle down in retirement. While he assured the pensioners that the backlog of their gratuities will be gradually paid from the rear (i.e. where payment stopped), he stressed that those who will retire within the life of his administration will get their gratuities on the same day they retire.

   Professor Soludo called on labour to progressively work with his government to achieve its set goals instead of still lobbying for the retention of archaic practices that tantamount to going back to Egypt.

   He reiterated the banning of motor park touts, popularly known in Anambra State as “agboro” who collect tolls from transporters through all manner of coercion and bullying at bus termini. He noted that their modus operandi is retrogressive and not in sync with the new smart cities that will eventually evolve in Anambra State.

His idea of motor park and bus cum ‘keke’ transport operation is one where the operator pays a mandatory fee to the officially designated bank and collects a ticket or tag that allows him to operate unmolested until it is due for renewal. Thenceforth, the only people that will work at the park will be the sweepers and cleaners.

    The local governments also got cheery news from their new governor who emphatically announced that power will be devolved to the local governments to allow them do their statutory duties. But in the interim, he will appoint transition committee chairmen who will be there for a short time to allow government carry out some fundamental restructuring, after which local government elections would hold.

   On a lighter note, the governor took a swipe at the labour unions for ordering their branded t-shirts for the parade from China. He told his audience that when his aids brought his own t-shirt to be worn for the occasion and he saw the label, he opted to wear his “akwete” to make a statement on the need to patronise our home made products.

“That’s the only way we can sustain our local industries and provide the much needed employment”, he explained. “When we buy foreign products, we create employments for foreigners and help them keep their companies in business”. He then charged labour to wear locally made attires at next year’s Workers Day celebration.

Sir Nwosu is the Commissioner for Information, Anambra State.

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