February 11, (THEWILL) – Nigeria stares at another possible industrial action soon as its major labour unions have threatened nationwide strikes across critical sectors to protest the Federal Government’s failure to honour agreements meant to alleviate the dire economic realities facing average citizens. This current impasse will bring to the fore once again the deep mistrust and disillusionment ordinary Nigerians have long harboured towards the political elite, as well as the labour establishments that are meant to represent them.
Decades of corrupt governance and tone-deaf policies have estranged the average Nigerian from the ruling class. Successive governments have presided over a progressively declining standard of living as inflation erodes purchasing power and economic mismanagement fuels joblessness.
The National Bureau of Statistics’ latest figures paint a sobering picture with indices of food inflation, unemployment and youth unemployment hitting staggering levels. Experts have criticised the government’s poor fiscal policies as responsible for the poor state of things.
However, despite preaching shared sacrifice, the political elite have carried on with scandalously opulent lifestyles, indifferent to the deepening misery around them. Outrageous government expenditures – from luxury SUV purchases to extravagant foreign travels for extended entourages have been the order of the day, while the immiseration of civil servants worsen.
Several state governors and legislators have squandered public funds on vanity projects rather than tackling issues, such as the crippling education sector and rising unemployment across the country. This callous disconnect between the ruling class and average Nigerians struggling with rising poverty has severely damaged public trust.
The Labour unions, which should be the voice of the working class, have similarly disappointed. Though established to represent the rights of the common Nigerian, prominent unions have been accused of betraying the trust of their members by allegedly entering backdoor deals, accepting bribes from government officials to compromise the struggle without achieving any long-term gains for workers.
In the past, there have been examples of widespread criticism when the Nigeria Labour Congress suspended national strike actions after the government agreed to set up a committee, despite no concrete progress on the key issues, such as minimum wage implementation and fuel subsidies that were not benefiting the common man. Such events have reinforced perceptions that certain labour leaders compromise integrity for personal gains, further eroding faith in the sincerity of unions to fight selflessly for ordinary Nigerians burdened by economic hardship.
This pervasive sense of distrust and disconnect from the leadership class, both in politics and labour, has profoundly dangerous implications for Nigeria’s stability. The country risks significant economic losses and social upheaval if the threatened strikes make an already bad prevailing situation, even more dire.
More critically, the breakdown in trust risks disenfranchising citizens further and embedding animosity between the elite and average Nigerians. This resentment stems from a perception that political and labour leaders do not experience the same hardships they impose on the public through policies and strikes, nor do they prioritise citizen welfare over parochial interests.
Rebuilding public trust is crucial to steering Nigeria away from the brink of conflict. The government needs to hearken to the yearnings of the people and demonstrate genuine empathy with the people’s suffering after years of adopting seemingly uncaring policies. Political leaders must connect directly with citizens and initiate people-focused programmes and schemes that can provide sustained alleviation of the suffering of the many. By directly addressing issues mostly affecting them – be it food costs, job creation, social security nets, a rapport of trust can begin to grow.
Furthermore, the pervasive culture of corruption that enables gross mismanagement must end. Government expenditures should be streamlined – projects and travel unessential for public welfare should be scrapped. Anti-corruption drives must improve accountability in public procurement and contracting, with any savings channelled towards long-neglected sectors like public education, healthcare and housing to benefit of citizens directly.
Similarly, Labour unions need internal reform to become truly representative. Independent financial and electoral audits can improve transparency around union activities, while mandatory public disclosures of finances can assure members that leadership acts solely for their welfare. Codes of ethics and conflict of interest declarations can increase accountability around negotiations.
Additionally, unions must reconnect with workers frequently through town halls, workplace visits and mobile apps. This improves understanding of emerging labour issues, helps unions craft relevant demands rather than vague calls for strike, while also building worker participation in unions beyond dues collection. Younger, more dynamic leaders from non-traditional backgrounds should be encouraged to also revitalise unions.
Re-establishing public faith in political and labour leaders requires them to sincerely prioritise citizen welfare above self-interest. The government must walk the talk of austerity and shared sacrifice when making policies. Labour must clean house – removing entrenched interests who have sold out workers before – and truly stand up uncompromisingly for the rights of the common Nigerian.
To pull the country from the brink, the government and Labour leaders must transform to once again mirror the virtues and aspirations of ordinary Nigerians long betrayed but now increasingly impatient in their demands for leaders with empathy, integrity and genuine commitment to national rebirth.
As political tensions escalate, the government should lead by example – reducing extravagance amongst officials and emphasising transparency in public expenditure to fund economic relief measures. Similarly, labour unions must reconnect through extensive grassroots engagement to understand worker priorities and rebuild internal trust and cohesion.
Re-establishing faith requires having the courage to implement reforms. The government can audit public contracts and curb graft by enforcing existing transparency laws while also increasing spending oversight by independent bodies. For labour, independent financial audits and mandatory declarations of union expenditures and leader assets can counter allegations of self-enrichment and compromise.
Through sincere initiatives and leading by example, the government and labour unions can bridge today’s yawning trust deficit. Officials must empathise with citizens suffering economic hardship while unions must reconnect with workers and defend their rights uncompromisingly. Only by walking the talk of integrity, transparency and selfless service can Nigeria’s leaders across the political and labour spectrum re-establish faith with her long suffering but resilient people.