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1.1 Background to the Study
The growth of trade unions in strength, size, and vibrancy in Nigeria has been phenomenal just like in any other part of the world. Since Nigerian workers perceived that their welfare has been neglected by the exploitative mechanisms employed by both public and private enterprises, the dimensions of this growth patterns rose astronomically. Between 1912 and 1987, there was an increase from 14 to over 40 union bodies; 4,629 to 1,242,408 total membership strength and 330.6 to 29581.1 average memberships per union (Fashoyin, 1992). This explains why trade unionism has become a desired form of association for workers. It is also to ensure job security, stability and the restoration of the dignity of their professions which in turn enhances national development. These unions operate on different levels depending on their modus operandi; they use different means to press home their needs, and also in seeking for recognition in the political sphere. Over the years, trade unions have persisted in their collective efforts to maintain a standardized culture in the labour market (Okolie, 2010).
Political and civic participation serves as the foundation for effective democratic representation and good governance. Notwithstanding the centrality of these issues to scholars across the social sciences, the role of unions in political participation has received surprisingly little attention, particularly beyond the issue of voting behavior (Putnam, 2000; Kerrissey and Evan, 2010). However, political participation in the last decade has taken new dimension such includes the use of not only the electronic and print media such as radio, television and print networks but social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Infact this form of political expression is operational in the developed countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Africa. Particular reference to Nigeria’s 2011 Presidential election, President Jonathan mobilized great followership of over half a million on Facebook by 16th of April 2011. To further buttress its efficacy, Twitter was acclaimed the most efficient medium to communicate with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as revealed by researchers (Essoungou, 2011). Likewise in another electoral process in 2011, various civil society and interest groups employed social media to monitor incidents related to Zambia’s September 2011 presidential elections. The Bantu Watch, a civil society-driven website utilised Facebook and Twitter to encourage registered voters and interested parties to report incidents involving election-related violence, hate speech, corruption and other matters both online via the website and via text messages (Ndhlovu, 2011).
Nigerians have organized themselves in a variety of ways; based on religious affiliation, ethnic identification, occupational category, and gender. These have impacted Nigerian politics at various degrees depending on their organizational capacity, membership numbers and any other relevant issue. For the most part, political participation has been limited to casting votes in occasional electoral contests, working for political candidates/parties during brief periods before these electoral contests, and working for civil society organisations to impact the political process when possible. These opportunities have not been consistent, especially within the periods of military regimes which are mostly hostile to these identities. Given the emotional attachment that people have with these identities, during periods of crisis; groups mobilized along these lines to engage in intergroup conflict that are occasionally violent and politically destabilizing (Kaiser, 2005).
According to Nwoko (2009), trade unions had always represented the vanguard of the working class’ interests against capitalist exploitation all over the world. In contemporary times however, especially in developing countries, they have come to assume roles that transcend the traditional role of protection of workers’ welfare and class liberation. Unlike in other countries, trade unions have formed real oppositions to the ruling party especially on critical issues that affect the ordinary citizens. The case of Nigeria is different; the consciousness of organised labour in Nigeria offers a typical model of an organized conception of collective action and attests to the usefulness of labour unionism in place of a failed party opposition in a democratic state especially in a non-Western European state. Nwoko further stressed that this disorder of the Nigerian state system has produced practices hitherto unimagined in a democratic setting, yet it should be perceived as one of the challenges of the Nigerian democratic experience.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) being the largest representative of labour formations in Nigeria was established in 1978. It emerged after series of restructuring of the indigenous trade unions into about 43 affiliate trade unions. These include the following:
In addition, the NLC currently has over four million members. It naturally prides itself as one of the most representative federations in the world; organizing blue and white collar workers, professionals, pensioners, workers in formal and informal employment and the public and private sectors. Therefore, as an authentic working peoples’ organization, it must necessarily be capable of addressing the diversity of interests, rights and concern of the entirety of the working people. Today, it is also noted as one of the most influential non-State actors in Nigeria (www.nlcng.org). Obono (2011) notes that the significant role of Nigerian trade unions within social movements and on the political scene in the fourth democratic dispensation cannot be undermined, the period was marked by major mobilizations in which labour played an important part. Throughout a tumultuous democratization occurring under economic adjustment, the trade unions have spearheaded popular movements that have confronted both military and civilian regimes.
This study accessed the activities of the Nigerian Labour Congress as the umbrella union representing the majority of workers in Nigeria in relations to workers welfare and their attitudes towards participation in politics; with particular focus on civil servants. This was carried out with particular reference to the experience of workers in Edo State, Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Research is undertaken in order to throw more light on issues whose statuses do not seem very clear, in doing this, there is need for the researcher to properly formulate the problem(s) he or she is investigating (Omorogbe, 2002).
Globally, labour is undergoing notable transformation, transitions and decline (Kerrissey and Evan, 2010). This is of great concern to industrial relations scholars and policy makers. For instance, a nation like Canada is contemplating the adoption of Works Council as used in Europe to substitute trade unions in their workplace relations (Adams, 1987), this will relegate collective bargaining. Today, the effects of globalisation and internationalization of labour have led to casualisation, mass retrenchment of labour, and elimination of local congress’ (Oluranti and Kehinde, 2011; Olaewe, 2012); this leads to goal displacement. These developments are changing the image of unions, and drawing attention to the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies in their organization and administration. In addition, the influence of international economic organizations in Nigeria for example the Bretton Woods institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that promote the principles of liberalisation and laissez-faire market paradigm are also of concern to policy makers (Obadan, 2003). These institutions promote policies such as Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Policy Support Instrument (PSI), which are exploitative and have complex philosophies that border labour greatly.
The Nigerian Labour Congress today has been the subject of considerable research and commentary in terms of its nature, role, functionality and effectiveness in ensuring the welfare of the Nigerian worker and the protection of their rights in industrial disputes with the public and private labour employer (Aiyede, 2004). It is therefore noteworthy that the weakness in political parties’ vibrancy has created a vacuum that labour deems fit to fill. A study carried out by Muttaqa (2011) revealed that political parties in Nigeria have gradually lost their ideological posture of interest aggregation and articulation, with the aim to capture political power. They have become mere avenues of getting subvention from the government, while in other instances; they are branches of the ruling party. For instance, since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999, opposition parties have sunk in to the ruling party due to thirst for power.
Globally, trends of political events have shown the potential of encouraging political participation or apathy. By the late 1950s, it was already noted that free elections create “a sentiment of popular consent and participation in public affairs” (Mackenzie & Robinson 1960; Post 1963). For instance an assessment of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Progamme (SURE-P), Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) in December 2012, a total of 1429 firms applied and registered for the scheme that seeks to create opportunity for graduates to be attached to firms/organizations for mentoring in order to enhance their employment chances. 605 firms were registered, 168 firms were approved, 65,199 graduate interns applied for the scheme out of which 136 graduate interns were verified but only 81 applicants were beneficiaries of the scheme. Although the shortfalls were attributed to poor internet facilities; insecurity in some northern states, poor state of potential firms/organization, poor response from large organized private sector and weakness identified in the web operational system for matching of interns with firms. This policy has not achieved much, as such; the unemployed graduates who were targeted to benefit from this scheme can lose interest to participate in the political process. This behaviour can be further encouraged as the assessment reported that large organized private sector did not participate in the project because they lacked interest in the scheme (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2013).
In addition to the above, the labour movement has been noted to have made minimal success at insulating its members against unfriendly government policies such labour downsizing, relegating the capacity to induce higher productivity, encouraging professionalism, eliminating inefficiency, minimising indolence (Isiaka, 2013). On this premise this study will examine the following issues:
In addition, this study will of essence examine the degree of freedom the NLC in Edo State enjoys as it promotes policies and programmes in the interest of its members.
1.3 The Objectives of the Study
The aim of this study was to examine the activities of the Nigerian Labour Congress as they relate to workers welfare and participation in politics. The following specific objectives helped us achieve this aim.
1.4 Research Questions
1.6 Scope of the Study
The study focused on the activities of the Nigerian Labour Congress between 2002 and 2012 on workers welfare and political participation; particularly public servants in Edo State.
1.7 Justification of the Study
A study of this nature which attempts to examine the trade union institution takes into consideration global dynamics that influence labour in recent decades. Decline in unionism globally is a phenomenon that is of great concern to scholars and industrial relations experts; this is one of the reasons why this study will be necessary. Dunn (2011) revealed that the processes of spatial changes “globalization” and social reorganizations described by terms like “post-fordism” and the “new economy” are typically held responsible for labour’s misfortune. As such this study shall show if there is any, the degree of decline of unionism in Edo State in particular Nigeria in general.
Though trade unions are global and characteristically alike, the different environment where they operate posses some unique challenges to them (Okolie, 2010). These differences could include, political apathy, modes of resource generation and degrees of political alliance for power and social recognition. These and other peculiar challenges this study will endeavour to illuminate.
The stability of the trade union movement inevitably precedes industrial harmony and national development (Isiaka, 2013). This can be ensured when workers development and growth is ensured, thus developmental policies and programmes put in place by labour and government will be examined in this investigation.
The study is necessary particularly in contemporary Nigeria especially in this political dispensation in establishing the relationship between labour activism and political participation. Dyck and Gimpel (2005) noted that understanding the sources of political participation and, perhaps more importantly, the character of abstention, is an ongoing concern of political scientists, journalist, pundits, non-profit advocacy groups, and others bent on electoral reform.
In addition to the above, examined the issue of labour autonomy in the light of the move for state corporatism proposed by the Nigerian government in 1975 to incorporate the industrial relations system into governments mainstream administration as practiced in Ghana under Late Nkrumah, when the Trade Union Congress of Ghana became an agent of the ruling party; The Convention People’s Party (CPP) (Nwaocha, 1981).
Lastly, it is hoped that the findings of this study will not only add to the existing literature on labour activism; but in addition, issues examined, findings and recommendations reached will serve as useful tools for policy makers and implementing agencies in the fight to mitigate the unending challenges of workers and the labour movements the world over.
1.8 Definition of Concepts
For the purpose of this study, some of the concepts used in this study are defined hereunder.
Activism An intentional action aimed at achieving political and socio-economic change especially as an organization with particular goals, aims and objectives.
Apathy A situation of dislike or lack of commitment to a common course arising for the effects of activities generated from the general perception of the common course or an intrinsic weakness of failure of the common course.
Career The progress and actions taken by a person throughout a lifetime, especially those related to that person’s occupation. It is often composed of the jobs held, titles earned and work accomplished over a long period of time, rather than just referring to ones position.
Collective Bargaining These are predominately non-political means of resolving all forms of industrial conflicts or crisis within appropriately regulated operational frameworks; that which should be beyond mere substantive agreements, but it should boil down to price and power issues.
Civil Society The aggregate of non-governmental Organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens; individuals and Organizations in a society which is independent of the government
Deregulation This implies the absence of control or regulation of the prices of petroleum products of government leaving the determination of prices to the interaction of forces of demand and supply which also rule out subsidy and encourage competition, efficiency and increase output in the petroleum industries.
Development Focuses on building the knowledge and skills of organizational members so that they will be prepared to take on new responsibilities and challenges. (Jones, George and Hill, 2000)
of labour: The intensification of worldwide labour relations, practices and standards in distant localities in such a way that they shape local labour practices and events occurring many miles away and vice versa.
Goal displacement This is the substituting by an organization of the goal(s) which it was established to serve for other goals.
Government Policies These refer to the decisions by the government these which could be Fiscal; relating to taxation and government spending or expenditure while the other is Monetary relating to the regulation of the money supply and interest rates by the government in order to control inflation and stabilize the currency through the Central Bank.
Industrial Relations Usually refer to the relationships between labour and capital that grows out of employment.
Labour The people who work or are available for work in a country or company; such which could be skilled and unskilled labour
Politics The activities involved in getting and using power in public life and being able to influence decisions that affect a country or society.
Politician A person whose job is concerned with politics, especially as an elected member of the executive, legislative arm of government. It also refers to a person who is good at using different situations in an organization to try to get power or advantage for him or herself.
Political Parties These are organizations designed to gain control of the government by putting its members into public office(s).
Staff Development Involves the training, education and career development of staff members (Adamolekun, 1983).
State Corporatism An industrial relations system in which the labour movement is made a vehicle for implementing government policies. The trade union under such circumstances tends to lose its fundamental independence of action which is vital for healthy industrial relations.
Trade Unions A continuous association of wage earners or salaried employees for maintaining the conditions of their working lives and ensuring for them a better and healthier status in the industry as well as the society.
Training Primarily focuses on teaching organizational members how to perform their current jobs and helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be effective performers
(Jones, George and Hill, 2000).
Welfare Practical or financial help that is provided often by the government for people that need it.
Workers According to the Nigerian 1971 Labour Act, a worker or an employee is described under this Act as a person who enters into a contract of employment with an employer; whether such a contract is a contract of service or a contract to personally execute any work or labour.