Nigeria, ‘our journey is long’

I have read with some concern the news that the Nigeria Labour Congress (the NLC) is picketing MTN Nigeria and may have damaged equipment and facilities at some of the businesses locations in the country and even threatened staff and may have caused physical injury directly or otherwise to some staff of the corporation – the same people whose interest the NLC is supposed to be protecting.

It is shattering that labour negotiations in 2018 is being conducted in such an uncivil if not barbaric manner, further increasing the risk of reduced credibility of Nigeria as an investment destination.

Whilst I sympathise with staff who feel their rights to unionize is being infringed upon by the company – something the company has denied – it remains an important point that labour discussions should first be addressed with relevant parties within the dictates of civility and tantrums like those the labour union is throwing can be a last resort.

However, one gets concerned that the rights to unionise is still such a big deal at a time when the very core principles of labour is changing drastically and adjacent areas of thoughts like labour relations will change too in a few years. We seem to not be factoring the changing dynamics of work into our actions today and we seem casually prepared for the future of work, if at all.

But to stay with the current labour issue, a few questions arise:

  • isn’t there a labour law that should guide employee –employer relationships in Nigeria?
  • If yes, then: Is the law not clear on unions and the workplace?
  • And have aggrieved parties explored all channels within the provision of this law and failed?
  • Else, why doesn’t organised labour start with putting in place a robust legislation which hopefully will help avoid violent confrontations like the one referenced above?

In addition, one is tempted to ask:

  • Is MTN Nigeria the only abuser of labour in this country (let’s play devil’s advocate and assume they are truly in violation of labour laws – if those exist)?
  • What informed the decision of the NLC to target MTN and not a group of labour abusers? As that would have seemed more thoughtful and coordinated – traits we all want in the people representing us where we cannot represent ourselves.
  • Is the NLC sincere? Especially as her potential members’ were soft targets in the NLC’s picketing turned violent events targeting several MTN Nigeria offices.

In saner climes, if a company like MTN is found to be in violation of the labour laws, tools exist to call them to order without any threats to peace, civility and the economy.

But in an environment where everybody does as s/he pleases and those entrusted with some modicum of authority are often always abusing them – have you met the typical Nigerian policeman? Or immigration officers at border posts and airports? My wife was once told by an immigration officer on her way out of the country that he needs to investigate her visa to the destination country except she agrees to part with some money. She played along and explained to the officer, ‘…as lawyer, I will need that in writing and will also like to see your endorsement as a proxy entry clearance officer to the country in question’. To which the officer retorted… ‘all you lawyers sef, over sable dey worry you’ and handed her papers back without any further events. The question is, is everybody able to pull that off with these demi gods? And what happens if the officer was truly determined to get money out of her that day?

The NLC, have a bigger battle to fight and they had better get started now, as in, in a few short years, the idea of permanent jobs will be gone, yes, totally gone! The world has gone digital and we will wake up one morning to see that the tornado of digitisation has swept away old jobs as it were – don’t get it twisted this is already happening and will only get to scale soon. And there is nothing anyone can do to prevent that from happening, if you are in doubt, read the following:

How prepared are our children going to be when that dawn breaks? If we continue the way we have, those kids are likely to be playing catch-up.

However, a pertinent question for the picketing NLC is, how are they preparing today’s workers and those entering the workforce in the next few years for this intense change? A change where picketing will have to be digital.

One conclusion I have for now is ‘our journey long’. And everybody has a role to play. Labour. Government. Private Sector. And citizens.



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