INCESSANT STRIKES AND DISRUPTIONS OF THE ECONOMY: TIME TO HALT THIS GROWING MALADY

For more than six months, the Association of Senior Staff Union of Universities infamously called ASUU embarked on a needless strike that lasted longer than its usual biennial rumpus. Nearly an entire academic session was wasted. I severely criticized the wanton economic waste and disruption of academic calendar of Nigerian students. I argued that ASUU had misused the instrument of Strikes to the point that it had become counterproductive, even for them. I thought that it had become infradig and demeaning for academicians to use the same method over many years to solve the same problem and still hoped for different outcomes. My take was that ASUU has perpetually used the instrument of strikes as a blackmail weapon to force their employers to "agree" to what they neither have the resources nor the willingness to implement . The Federal Government would 'agree' just to get the pressure off their backs and avoid political backlash and in the process buy some time. A year or two later, implementation will cease and ASUU will return to the trenches and the cycle will repeat.

I have always held the view that the only sustainable way to resolve employee- employer disputes is through COLLECTIVE BARGAINING , not with knives dangling over anybody's head but with agreements freely reached by the righteousness of positions and strong persuasion, often involving compromises but always allowing superior logic to overthrow inferior logic.

I am constrained to raise the same issues with the current embarrassing and bewildering National Strike of the Nigerian Medical Association(NMA) which has caused so much disruption to the Public healthcare delivery to Nigerians . Between Lecturers and Doctors,I do not know which holds the World record in going on strikes. It used to be the National Association of Resident Doctors( NARD), essentially doctors in postgraduate training who can go on strike up to four times in a Year( warning strike, real strike, sympathy strike and non implementation strike), but so very often the NMA, an otherwise respected and respectable professional association of medical doctors joins in this denigrating malady. How a group that claims leadership in the health care team can subject Nigerian patients to constant pains in the name of fighting for their professional rights or even for the benefit of healthcare delivery in Nigeria as a whole leaves me baffled and befuddled. Who knows how many patients have died since the current malady? And at a time Nigeria is facing the most virulent demonic attacks affecting the health of the Nation- Boko Haram and Ebola Virus, the leaders of NMA have ignored all appeals.

Without prejudice to the righteousness of the issues in dispute, Iam completely opposed to the use of strikes, blackmail or force in exacting concessions from the government, employers or from the people of Nigeria. Yes, a symbolic one day strike in extreme cases perhaps when you are dealing with a recalcitrant employer can be tolerated but to call out doctors, Pharmacists or Nurses for weeks from work is simply inhuman and contradictory to their professional oaths. What is worse, when a professional association, rather than a trade union interferes in what is essentially an employee- employer matter, the matter gets complicated . And this is part of the reason, many of us are asking for the restructuring of our Federation so that we can practice true federalism. Why should doctors who work for Arochukwu Local Government insist to be given the same emoluments and conditions of service as those that work at the Federal Medical Centre in Ebutemetta Lagos. Problem of over centralization! Every body goes to Abuja with a bowl at the end every month to share National cake!

Some people say Healthcare is important, but so is Education, so is Security, so is Power, and so is Transportation. Some say Medical Profession is important but so is Engineering, so is Accountancy, so is Policing, and so is Journalism. Every sector of the Nigerian economy needs fundamental restructuring and massive investment. Every Profession needs better pay and enhanced welfare schemes. No one was forced into any profession though and no one is compelled to remain in any .But none of these can be achieved in a sustainable manner through workouts, work stoppages,strikes or lockouts. Therefore for ASUU, NMA and their like to continue to insist on interminable strikes as a way of causing reformation in Education and Healthcare is patently inappropriate . Can we imagine the damage that will be done to our fragile polity and economy, if all government employed professionals use the arcane strike option as a means of forcing desired change in the way the government runs its institutions.

What is required to sort us out and perhaps make employers more responsive to the demands of its employees, is to completely de-regulate the economy, transferring much of the economic powers to the private sector and the consumers. This will promote competition and better allocation of resources. Here the consumer is the one that will price all professions and the services they supply, not some mundane colonial carry over thinking that one profession is more important than the other or that one professional must be assured of higher wages and secured leadership positions which relate to neither the value he creates nor to his leadership impact. When this is implemented in a restructured federation, where the States and local governments have the freedom to pay wages for services in line with what the market is offering and what they can afford, then we will achieve a better appreciation of the relative value of each profession and every professional within a given profession.The law of supply and demand in a free market remains the most universally acceptable way of placing value on products and services, including those of the NMA members.

But until we get there, given the penchant for majority of our Nationals to prefer centralization instead of decentralization as borne out in the recent National conference, we must take some very drastic actions to halt this growing malady of disrupting the economy by some professional or trade groups. First, is that all groups that want to be involved in the negotiation of workers salaries and welfare must be registered as trade unions. Government and all employers must no longer negotiate with any other associations on these issues, if they were not officially registered and gazetted trade unions. Two, all demands and negotiations with regards to salaries and welfare must be undertaken in line with the collective bargaining principles enshrined in our labour books and laws. Every other method that involves any form of coercion must be outlawed. Thirdly, the approved methods and timelines for declaring trade disputes must be followed strictly by all parties. Fourthly, employers and employees must negotiate in good faith and conscience. They must accept only what they have the ability to deliver. They should never allow themselves to be cowed, bullied or blackmailed into accepting what they know they can not deliver on and can not unilaterally repudiate what has been collectively agreed. Fourthly, every aggrieved party, must have recourse to the National Industrial court for adjudication. It is the courts responsibility to see to the enforcement of its pronouncements. Recourse to self help must be prohibited by the courts as well. Fifthly, the Nigerian public must stand up against selfish professional or trade groups who use the pain, suffering and blood of fellow Nigerians to pursue their narrow interest while pretending to fight for the people. This is why we are united against Boko Haram. The same must be done against Every association or trade group whose style and operations may be different,but whose actions yield similar pains on the People.

We must stop bringing disrepute to our Nation and then start looking for whom to blame. We complain of falling standard of Education. ASUU and NASU strikes have done far more damage to the quality of our tertiary education than the lack of infrastructure in my opinion, and the unpredictable temperament of our doctors has contributed more to foreign medical capital flights than lack of equipment in our hospitals. Let us stop this malady today, Nigerians.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR.

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