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At last, NLC embraces el-Rufai

At last, NLC embraces el-Rufai
February 11
08:10 2020
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At a first glance, the news item seemed like ‘’fake news’’, the kind that proliferate the social media but reputable newspapers also reported the story As a result, all doubts of its authenticity fizzled out. For example, on January 22, 2020, Daily Trust published a story on page 22, suggesting that a new leaf has been opened, especially in the otherwise frost relationship between the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) and Kaduna State Government.

In fact, the headline which read ‘’NLC hails El Rufai, pledges loyalty,’’ was quite telling. According to the report, the Kaduna State chapter of the Congress has pledged unalloyed support to Governor Nasir El Rufai for being the first to implement the new minimum wage. In the letter dated January 6, 2020, NLC also registered its gratitude to El Rufai’s “vibrant administration, for the regular and sustained prompt payment of salaries, pension and union dues.’’ In addition, the organised labour further “acknowledged the massive ongoing infrastructural projects embarked upon by his administration which has created job opportunities to the teeming youth in the state.’’

Specifically, the letter which was signed by Comrade Ayuba Suleiman and Comrade Christiana Bawa, state chairman and secretary respectively, also praised the Governor for his unrelenting efforts in ensuring the security of lives and property in Kaduna State. The organized labour commend the efforts of His Excellency for renovating and upgrading 255 health facilities in the State and the ongoing recruitment of health workers, as well as the implementation of Contributory Healthcare financing. Likewise, NLC also advised El Rufai to appoint a veteran unionist as either Special Assistant or Special Adviser on Labour Matters, in order to bridge the communication gap between Labour and Government. According to NLC, such an appointment will help to highlight Government’s laudable programmes and policies. Or, really?

In 2018, NLC had locked horns with Kaduna state government over the disengagement of incompetent teachers, describing El Rufai’s administrations as a ‘’draconian leadership.’’ In 2015, after being sworn in, one of the first things El-Rufai did was declare a State of Emergency in the education sector. This was as a result of the poor and inadequate infrastructure in public schools, alongside lack of competent teachers to impart knowledge to the growing population of children in the State. The Governor therefore, embarked on massive rehabilitation of existing schools and construction of new classrooms across the State. Simultaneously, it verified and tested the competency of the teachers. Teachers who failed to score 75% of the test which were basic primary school questions, were sacked. On the whole, 22,000 teachers failed the competency test and they were given the boot. The Governor immediately embarked on recruitment of qualified teachers through a rigorous transparent process to ensure genuine applicants who have the credentials, competency, skills and knowledge are employed to replace the disengaged teachers. At the end of the process, 25,000 competent teachers were recruited, with an additional 3,000 to improve teacher-pupil ratio in the public primary schools.

Indeed, this action infuriated organised labour and in November 2017, NLC engineered a protest against the sacking of teachers. The workers, led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the NLC National President, demanded that the government should rescind its decision or have the entire labour force to contend with. Marching and singing anti government songs along major roads in the state capital, and carrying placards with various inscriptions, the workers asked the Government to recall the teachers who failed the competency test. They argued that Government had no constitutional powers to organize such examination for teachers because only the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria has the mandate to do so. They also gave El Rufai two weeks to cancel the dismissal of teachers, or they will embark on an indefinite strike.

Similarly, NLC came head-to-head with labour during the down-sizing of civil servants and the rationalisation of 4,042 local government staff. In January 2018, it organised what can be termed ‘’mother of all strikes’’, which turned out to be the ‘’father of all capitulations’’. As early as 7am, thousands of workers from across Kaduna State had converged at the NLC state secretariat along Independence way by Lafiya road. NLC President Wabba, alongside labour leaders from the 36 states, including General Secretaries of various industrial unions across the country, were present.

Before the procession, Wabba had commended the workers “for coming out in large numbers despite the intimidation.’’ According to him, ‘’this is to say that democracy has come to stay, this is to say that citizens have their rights to freedom of association. It is a fundamental human rights that no force on earth can stop”. Decrying the sacking of workers, the NLC President said “this is not the democracy we bargained for. Democracy is about the rule of law, about respecting human beings.’’ He reminded the crowd that ‘’we are fighting for the rights of 36,000 workers and their families who were disengaged from Kaduna civil service.’’ Last November, Wabba had recalled, they had protested against the sack of 21,000 teachers ‘’but as we speak, over 4000 local government workers have been issued sack letters. Over 8000 workers from ministries, departments and agencies including tertiary institutions have been served letters.’’

At 10 am, they marched peacefully, chanting solidarity songs and holding several banners, to the Government House, with soldiers and policemen providing security for the protesters. Significantly, the march took about two hours and no unsavoury incident was recorded throughout the procession.

In spite of all the strike actions, nothing had changed as the government still went ahead with its policies with positive outcomes. Not only did enrolment in public primary schools increase with over a million pupils in the first year after these policies were put in place, but the quality of education has also improved evidently. From primary six pupils who were not able to write or spell their names, to proper grammar speaking pupils who not only introduce themselves but can hold a conversation, read, comprehend and write like their counterparts elsewhere, the transformation has been awesome. To leave no stone unturned, Governor Nasir El-Rfa’i recently declared free education from primary to secondary school levels. Likewise, as at today, Kaduna State has local governments that are fully autonomous, paying salaries and as when due, meeting their financial obligations and executing projects without getting bailouts from the State Governments. In addition, the civil service is younger, more result-oriented and IT-savvy with improved service delivery.

In addition, another recruitment exercise is in the offing, especially to fill the skills gap of the service. An online recruitment exercise was launched on 1 August 2019 and had attracted 41,971 applicants. The applicants were asked to create profiles and write a 1,000-word essay. Those who passed the essay stage, which was assessed for Use of English and Plagiarism, were asked to take an online Computer-Based Aptitude Test, at their own convenience. Results of the aptitude test was provided to the applicants immediately after the test, and those who made the cut-off mark were invited for a face-to-face screening to check validity of their documents. Those who emerged successful out of 5,351 that made it to the screening exercise, will be invited for interviews by email, as was done all through the process.

After all said and done, NLC has realised its mistakes, probably due to wrong information or ignorance, that tackling the Governor of Kaduna State was an exercise in futility. Luckily, three years later, it has retraced its steps and has embraced Malam Nasir El Rufai, for his foresightedness and his pro-workers policies, especially being the first Governor to implement the minimum wage, at a time when other states are still dragging their feet on it.

Nabilah is a special assistant on media and communication in Kaduna state government.

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