On Wednesday October 26, 2017 most newspapers carried the story of YahayaBello, the ‘emperor’ Governor of Kogi State ban of trade unions in Kogi state tertiary institutions. The emperor had earlier purported to have proscribed activities of the Kogi State University chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities.(ASUU). On the same day, Leadership newspaper carried a story of the donation of 1,265 bags of rice to Kogi workers by some Senators, led by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ekweremadu. The act was meant to dry the tears of Senator Dino Melaye on the floor of the Chambers, when he was talking about the deaths recorded in the state as a result of nonpayment of salaries of the state’s public servants, which include that of Mr Edward Soje a Director in the State Civil Service who committed sucide early this month. In the same article, it was reported that Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni, the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had called on Nigerians to come to the aid of Kogi workers by donating food items and other relief materials. The NLC President was on point in asking for relief materials for the workers, because they are now Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), from a poverty war unleashed on them by their governor.
The problem of Kogi state workers, is similar to that suffered by Nigerians’ in the hands of accidental leaders. Yahaya Bello had just been elected or appointed by godfather(s)into the House of Representatives, where like some of his colleagues was only expected to go and sit down daily or whenever he chooses to do so and be collecting fat salaries, numerous allowances and extorting huge some of monies from Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the guise of oversight functions as either Chairmen or members of Committees, with most of them being members of not less than three Committees. Through providence, he accidentally found himself as the tenant of the government house in Lokoja, where he now presides like an emperor, supervising and superintending over deaths of Kogi state workers and members of their families. Like most accidental leaders, he came without a vision and no stated value. A vision in this context is a clear, vivid and compelling statement of WHERE the leader is taking the State to. While values are a set of strongly held beliefs and social moves about HOW the leader will behave when he/she gets into office.
At the heart of the industrial crisis in Kogi state is the nonpayment of salaries and pensions by the Kogi state government and the infantile industrial relations practice in the state. Rather than being remorseful for his inability to pay salariesand pensions as and at when due in line with extant Labour laws, Bello whose election as governor was sealed by a court , has suddenly forgotten that Nigeria is not a jungle, where the Lion King tramples on the rights of others; life is brutish and nasty. He has quickly forgotten that in modern day Nigeria, it is law and not coercion or brut force that regulates relationships including employer and employees relationship.
His decision not to pay salaries and pensions for months and pronouncement on the banning of unions are breaches of International labour standards/Conventions which Nigeria has ratified and domesticated, extant labour laws and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, which are offenses, begging for his impeachment.
Bello has failed to ask himself the question as to why people work for others, including governments. The simple answer is that people work in order to get money to satisfy their needs. At the end of the month for monthly wages/salary earners, workers expect to be paid, to enable them satisfy their physiological needs of shelter, food, healthcare, school fees etc. Failure to pay workers their wages and salaries, is an indication that they have been conscripted to carry out Forced Labour.
Bello is practicing modern slavery and forced labour in Kogi state. ILO in its 19thSeptember, 2017 Report “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage” states that “Although modern slavery is not defined in law, it is used as an umbrella term that focuses attention on commonalities across these concepts. Someone is a slave if they are forced to work through coercion, or mental or physical threat; controlled by an ‘employer’ through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse or dehumanised. Forced Labour is the most common element of modern slavery. It is the most extreme form of people exploitation. Forced Labour happens in the context of poverty, lack of sustainable jobs as well as a weak rule of law and corruption. Kogi state public servants have been turned to modern day slaves by the predatory ruling class represented by Bello. There are other Bellos’, who are tenants of government houses in most states of the federation.
It is in realisation of the fact that there will come a time when the Bellos’ of this nation will accidentally find their way into government houses in countries like Nigeria in the 21st century, that international community, through the International Labour Organisation (ILO) decided as far back as 1930 to put an end to force labour, by putting in place, Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29) and Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No.105). Forced Labour Convention, requires the suppression of forced or compulsory Labour in all its forms. Certain exceptions are permitted, such as war, fire, earthquakes, etc. The Convention, prohibits the use of any form of forced or compulsory Labour as means of political coercion. Bello and his colleagues who are not paying salaries are involved in force labour practices, which was abolished as far back as 1957.
Governor Bello in making pronouncements on the banning of unions, allowedhimself to swim in a pool infested with illegality. His Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, who by the nature of his schedule of duties, is expected to be his legal lifeguard, stood looking helplessly because as an emperor, his word is law and legal advice is noise in his presence. Bello must realise that forming and joining trade union(s) is a Fundamental Right guaranteed by ILO conventions, extant labour laws and the Constitution. Section 24 of the Trade Unions Act gives Unions automatic recognition, once they are registered. ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) guarantee this right. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention establishes the right of all workers and employers to form and join Organisations of their own choosing without prior authorisation, and lays down a series of guarantees for the free functioning of such Organisations without reference to public authorities. Nigeria has ratified this Convention and domesticated it in her labour laws. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, gurantees the right to form and belong to a trade union. This section provides that “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form and belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his right”.
Industrial relations falls under the exclusive legislative list of the Constitution. Therefore it is only the National Assembly that has power to legislate on trade unions matters for the whole of Nigeria. Registration and withdrawal of Certificate of registration of any Union is exclusively a federal issue. His pronouncements on the banning of trade unions is ultra vires the powers granted his Office in the Constitution and therefore of no effect.
He and his colleagues should discontinue the Force Labour practices they are currently involved in as it is an illegal practice that is contrary to international Convention and extant labour laws.
Political parties should ensure that political office holders elected under theplatforms of their parties, endevour to be good ambassadors of their parties and implement the manifestos of the party. If oil soils one finger, it will mess up the whole hand.
Ivor Takor, mni
Legal Practitioner, and former National President of NASU and former National Treasurer of Nigeria Labour Congress.