In praise of strike
Until humanity blurs the power distinction that privileges the leaders and afflicts the led with misery, the magic for banishing strike would remain eternally elusive. Like in most post-colonial states, the power relations in Nigeria have rendered the majority of the citizens nugatory. The citizens’ input is not sought into how the resources of the nation are shared. Even if it is sought, it is not reckoned with when decisions are made.
This is why while the leaders have security, the citizens are left at the mercy of marauders, kidnappers and armed robbers. Again, the leaders can live in plenitude, thanks to the resources of the society, while the other citizens go to bed on empty stomachs. Yet, when the citizens say they are fed up, they are told not to complain. They are told that their complaining would ignite a crisis that could be hijacked by some political foes and that the path they must learn to maintain is that of acquiescence in their miserable state. Or are the citizens not being told to accept that they are fated to a life of misery when they are inveighed against for asking for a reasonable measure of a better life?
To be sure, the Nigerian leaders have only replicated in themselves the colonial overlords who wanted a better life than that of the colonised. It was such a deliberate socio-economic disparity that provoked what is normally considered the first major strike in Nigeria in 1897. This was when workers resisted an attempt by the colonialists to cut their pay in order to develop the then Lagos colony. Since then, the Nigerian citizens have been using strike as a weapon to bring the government to the path of sanity. Before the renascence of democracy in the country, strike was used to make the military to do what was right. That was when Frank Kokori became famous. He led a nationwide strike against the military’s invalidation of the June 12, 1993 election. Through strike during the government of Goodluck Jonathan, the citizens became aware of the humongous corruption in the oil sector. The citizens were aware of how some people were making billions simply because they were close to those in power.
It was the same government’s inability to anticipate and appropriately respond to the needs of the citizens that triggered the recently suspended workers’ strike under the auspices of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) . Here were workers who were being paid N18, 000 that was not even enough for them as fares to their workplaces. When they resolved that they could no longer live a life of misery occasioned by their poor wages, there were various attempts to dissuade them from going on strike. They were accused of being unreasonable for asking for pay rise when the country was just exiting recession. Nobody seemed to appreciate their riposte that those in leadership did not live as if the nation was just recovering from an economic crisis. They catalogued the indicators of the leaders’ plenitude: fabulous salaries and allowances, among others. Still, to discourage the workers, those in power and their cronies had recourse to an economic theory that when the people are given more wages there would be economic crisis: there would be inflation, employers would not employ more persons, etc.
The government’s reluctance to pay was manifested in its repudiation of an earlier agreement it reached with the workers. Worse, when the workers decided to go on strike, the government went to court to stop them. But the government grudgingly acceded to the demands of the workers when it realised that their going on strike would unleash calamitous consequences, especially in less than just two months before an election year. What has happened has shown that measures, albeit insignificant, to improve the welfare of the citizens can only be extracted from the government through strike. Thus, the blame should go to the government and not the workers for making strike an inevitable option for the citizens in asking for an improvement in their wellbeing.
As if university teachers knew that the workers would succeed, they began their strike a day before that of the NLC. The university teachers are complaining about the government not honouring an agreement for the release of more funds for the improvement of the university system .Yet, there is the criticism that ASUU needed not go on strike. The university teachers are told they are the intellectuals and that they should think outside the strike box to bring new ideas as to how to improve their lot and that of the university system. Like the workers under the aegis of the NLC, it is the government that has encouraged the university teachers to always go on strike. This is because whatever level of improvement the nation’s universities have got is often credited to the strikes that lecturers have embarked on . But the government that feels it knows so much would not bother about receiving advice from university teachers. If successive governments have been listening to suggestions, the nation would not be afflicted with its current crisis of development. Consider: there has been advice on how to make the polity work through restructuring and on how to develop the Niger Delta and stop the restiveness of the region. But all this wise counsel has been ignored by successive governments. Even when this current government in uncommon moments of brilliance espouses some ideas on how to make things better, it des not have the will to push through . This explains why when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo asked that oil companies should relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta, his government did not have the will to translate this to reality.
There is the cynicism that lecturers do not wholeheartedly discharge their responsibilities. The upshot, the charge goes, is that they only succeed in producing graduates who cannot compete with their counterparts from other parts of the world . Yet, we should only talk of the lecturers not doing well after we have provided them what they need to function effectively. It is only when this is done that we can have the right to discipline those who grudgingly discharge their responsibilities.
Since it is clear that our politicians who killed or lied about their certificates would rather steal money to settle their political debts than serve the citizens, the latter would have no option than to disrupt the system from time to time. With the increase of the minimum wage to N30,000 that the NLC has achieved through its strike, a template for getting a fair treatment from the government has been re-established. Rather than living with the delusion that the citizens have to wait for four years before they change their bad leaders, they can always exploit this weapon. Let the citizens who do not want to embark on strike but choose to live with their oppression not blame those who through it can get their dues.
Even beggars understand that strike is a great weapon of seeking redress at their disposal. Aminata Sow Fall’s narrative rendition persuades us that beggars can dictate how they should be treated, especially by their insensitive and venal political leaders, if they have the courage to go on strike. Wives who need more housekeeping allowance or are tired of domestic violence that is now common nowadays can go on sex strike. Yes, there is also domestic violence against husbands. But if they cannot also embark on sex or allowance strike, they have themselves to blame as they remain seen as the agents provocateurs.
Unlike their Greek counterparts of 411 BCE, 21st century women have not understood the power of sex strike. Lysistrata , the eponymous heroine of the great Greek comic playwright, Aristophanes, fully appreciated the power of sex strike many centuries ago . Lysistrata leads women to embark on a sex strike in order to stop their battle-loving men from prosecuting the Peloponnesian War between Greek cities. The grouse of the women is that in such wars, it is their husbands and sons who are the victims. The baleful consequences of the sex strike are men with painful erections that they cannot hide from the women they beg for coital succour.
Since the nation’s leaders have consistently demonstrated for over fifty years of post-colonial independence that they cannot voluntarily improve the lot of the citizens, the latter should consider strike as a means of reminding the former of the need to fulfill the obligations of their high offices . Anything less than this would amount to a willing acceptance of slavery in their own nation.
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