In Nigeria, the urgency for comprehensive mental reorientation and systemic overhauling

These are not the best times for Nigeria and Nigerians. The state of anomie doesn’t give room for any form of joy or smiles as melancholy has gained a strong foothold nationwide. Nigeria perpetually maintains perennial rankings in the bottom quartile of global socio-economic and political developmental indices. Coming on the heels of two key reports that labeled Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world and one of the most miserable places on earth, it would not be out of place to say the country is on a tailspin. The hopelessness is so palpable and conspicuous that its strong whiff is everywhere. The most inexplicable thing that beats logic hollow is the open acknowledgement of helplessness, preponderance of fatalism, seemingly overt resignation to fate and tacit admission of defeat by both government and citizenry alike in the face of the myriad quagmires of variegated shades and sizes assailing the nation.

The despair of our time includes the actual threat of war, increasing polarization of wealth, rising incidence of kidnapping, banditry and armed robbery, ineffective electoral system, mounting youth restiveness and restlessness, resurgence of Boko Haram terrorists, marauding gangs of bandits and killer herdsmen, systemic failure of government at all tiers, emerging virulent strain of democracy, worsening human development indices, failing educational systems and standards, growing lack of confidence in the judiciary, restructuring and the escalating pace of insecurity nationwide.  Others include inadequate electricity supply, pipe borne water, social /health services, employment opportunities, road network etc. Despite the flaunting of socio-economic successes on all fronts by the present administration, a professor said the purported landmark achievements are invisible to a majority of Nigerians. Another observer lamented that poverty and despondency bestrides Nigeria’s terrain like a foreign invading and conquering army

Quite auspicious is the complete evisceration of the last vestiges of social solidarity, expanded concept of kinship and brotherhood that once embodied Nigeria’s humaneness. The torrents of depressing news and incidents all over the country give impetus to the growing perception that the nation has lost its soul. Already, a critical mass of Nigerians mostly youths have already written off Nigeria. Look at the high proportion of people who are hell bent on fleeing the country by either road or ship. Also check out the large number of people applying for visas at various embassies and departing MMIA on a daily basis. In 2017, an International Organization for Migration report said that the majority of the potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy by sea are Nigerian women.  

Is humane recovery ever possible on our benighted shores; are we desirous of change; are we ready to change?  What can be done to halt Nigeria’s present descent? What will pull Nigeria out of this disheartening nadir? Is there anything meaningful that the average Nigerian can do? Like in the game of thrones, the odds are clearly stacked against us as a people and as a nation.  The proclivity to rescue Nigeria from the jaws of the mythological kraken is dampened by our collective docility in the face of overwhelming difficulties at all phases, frightening psychological, physiological and rights abuses and atrocious existence in very onerous and heart-wrenching circumstances. What is happening is that Nigerians are clearly detached from reality by living a lie, exuding a false feeling of sanity and pretending that all is well in the face of overt dysfunction and chaos. The truth is that Nigeria is suffering from a terminal ailment and is on the verge of slipping into life support mode.  

The year 2020 represents an opportunity, a time for all of us to act fast to save Nigeria. Nigerians who love peace, equality and justice should comprehend the inevitability of embarking on a serious and comprehensive overhauling of our individual mindsets and all our systems and to organize against pernicious politicians, civil/public servants, corporate hawks, contractors and other people who have virtually held Nigeria by its jugular for decades. We should realize that only a united and organized mass of Nigerians across ethnic, religious, cultural and political divides can propel Nigeria to its desired and deserved heights. Nigerians must come together and start thinking of rising above primordial, ethnic, religious, mercantile and other sentiments in order to generate the required constructive social change that can turn this country around and create a fairer, more just, law abiding, open and more caring society.

(Photo Credit: AlJazeera / Reuters / Afolabi Sotunde)

The time is now: Time to ramp up the struggle for Nigerian women workers’ rights


Today marks another epoch in advancing and championing the cause of women’s rights, equality, safety and justice worldwide. This year’s theme, Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives, references past struggles, the progress that has been made, the tenacity of those who have made the achievements possible and the challenges of the future. Women have recorded giant strides and made great advancements in several spheres over the past decade, but significant gender inequality and widespread discrimination still persist in the world of work.

Employment is central to empowering and emancipating women.  Qualitative jobs, positive work environments and good employment conditions are essential for women to self actualize, maximize  potentials, enhance status and contribute to development at all levels. A clear evaluation of the dynamics of the average Nigerian work setting reveals that women workers still have a long way to go in terms of enjoying basic rights and dignity and participating fully as stakeholders. Working women in Nigeria disproportionately and frequently encounter stunted promotion progression, lopsided hiring practices overt discriminatory policies, sexual harassment/violence, working conditions disparities, limited training opportunities, poor employment security and are concentrated mostly in three D jobs.  As a result, Nigeria is losing out on utilizing women’s skills, ideas and expertise.

Women workers face a war on their rights on all fronts. Nigerian Labour laws are outdated and do not contain enough provisions to protect women workers’ rights and address their issues. Weak remedies in these laws enable employers to impugn and assail women workers’ rights. Nigerian trade unions fail to protect women workers’ rights, advance women issues and promote qualitative participation in trade unionism. Nigerian women routinely cater for their children, sick family members, and elderly parents, a mass of unpaid work which they combine with paid work. Meanwhile, the employment policies of majorities of public and private sector establishments in Nigeria fail to take these into consideration.

Nigerian women workers have issues organizing and mobilizing themselves and using the power in their numerical strength to change their situation. They have failed to maintain a united front against their oppressors at work. For example, Nigerian women workers cannot even produce the national president of trade unions in sectors that they dominate, such as the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees, National Union of Hotels and Personal Services Workers, National Union of Textiles Garment and Tailoring Workers and Nigeria Union of Teachers. The necessity for the mass spectrum of women workers in Nigeria to unite and lead the campaign to fight for their rights is long overdue.

In some Nigerian workplaces, pregnancy can translate to demotion, punitive transfers and even termination of employment. The Labour Act Cap 198 LFN 1990 54 (1) stipulates a maternity leave of 12 weeks, but many Nigerian enterprises deny women workers this basic right. In some cases, companies have served women termination letter four weeks after giving birth or during their confinement or after delivery. Others deny women of the benefit of enjoying both annual and maternity leave in the same year. In some cases, marriage, childbirth, weight gain and aging have also been sufficient grounds for overt discrimination and maltreatment.

Women workers habitually endure overt and covert sexual comments, innuendos, provocations and unwarranted sexual advances in Nigerian workplaces. Even married women are not left out, as the “sacred institution of marriage” is no longer a hindrance to sexual harassment. Women are viewed as part of the perks of the job for the pleasure of some ogas at the top. It is an open secret that several public institutions and private sector firms demand some form of gratification in kind from women workers to earn promotion, get favourable postings and obtain positive reviews.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 affirmed that globally gender parity is shifting into reverse this year for the first time in a decade. Nigeria also witnessed increasing gaps in participation, remuneration and advancement between women and men in the Education participation and opportunity sub index with a decline from 118th position on the 2016 Index to 122nd position in 2017. The 2017 International Trade Union Confederation’s Workers Rights Index rated Nigeria among the world’s worst countries for workers. In the same perspective, Walkfree Foundation’s Global Slavery Index  2016 classified Nigeria among the ten countries with the largest estimated absolute numbers of people in modern slavery in the world. The linkage between the three reports and the situation of women at work in Nigeria and the fact that women bear the brunt of the results of the reports cannot be controverted.

The negative multiplier effects of the assault on the dignity, rights and person of women are evident in terms of heightened employee turnover, development of inferiority complex syndrome or depression, strong resentment and loss of self worth, creation of hostile work environment, non utilization of potentials due to by passing qualified women for promotion, positions, employment, general lethargy through loss of motivation and morale necessary to work. Denying women basic rights hurts their long-term earning capacity, on-the-job performance and professional integrity. As noted in the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, as the world moves from capitalism to an era of talentism, competitiveness on a national and organizational level will be decided more than ever before by the innovative capacity of a country or company. In this new context, the integration of women into the talent pool becomes a must. But when women are being oppressed and unfairly treated, how possible is it to maximize their limitless potentials and utilize their assets?

It is time to ramp up actions geared towards removing all systemic barriers to women’s employment status, ensuring that all women workers have a level playing field at work, curbing all forms of gender discrimination, putting an end to the systemic undervaluing of work traditionally performed by women, ending all forms of sex stereotypes, misconceptions and bias about women and their capabilities at work and discarding the notion that workplace policies are modeled on traditional male norms. It is time to stop the humiliation, assault and inhumane treatment women workers in Nigerian workplaces endure daily.

This can be done when all of us individually and collectively join forces as stakeholders to ensure that women workers are accorded their rights, treated with dignity, taken care of fairly and given unfettered access to employment opportunities. Male workers can take a pledge that we will not demote, discriminate against, take adverse actions at, intimidate, denigrate and sexually harass and then accord all respect and rights to women workers. Trade unions should do more to put an end to the abuse of women’s rights in Nigerian workplaces. NLC and TUCN as the central labour organization need to set their shoulders more firmly against the boulder of oppression that burdens women workers despite their immense contributions to national development.

Employers associations led by NECA have a big role to play by telling their members to curb unfair labour practices and workplace policies that obviate and abridge the rights of women workers. The Federal Government should double its efforts to safeguard the rights of women workers.  They should partner with the National Assembly to enact effective labour laws that can protect the basic rights of women at work, take special cognizance of and offer special protection for pregnancy, motherhood, childbirth, care and related issues.

Ramping up the struggle for women workers rights entails initiating changes to how people, associations, and organizations and society interface with, perceive and regard women,. It encompasses amending and expunging obnoxious laws that encumber women workers’ rights and dignity and involves creating effective and durable women policies, programmes and institutions that can protect women’s rights. Ramping up the ante for women workers rights entails involving everybody to stand up for and speak against this situation. The Executive Director of UN Women noted that healthy societies have a wide mix of voices and influences that provide the checks and balances, the differing threads of experience and perspectives, and the debate that shapes good decision-making. The silence of these voices bodes ill for any society.  The time is more than ripe for these voices in Nigeria to speak up and lead the struggle to end the retrogressive abuse of women workers’ rights and promote decent work, fair conditions of work and a level playing field for women in employment in Nigeria. The time is now.

.

(Image Credit: Pulse).

.