Wednesday, 01 May 2019 15:52

[OPINION]: May Day and the travails of workers - Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Last Saturday, Nigerian Labour Congres (NLC), Kano State Chapter, launched a multi-million movie “Hakki (The Right)” produced in collaboration with Iyantama Multimedia. According to Kano State NLC Chairman, Comrade Kabir Ado Minjibir, the sole aim of the film is to depict and publicize how workers pathetically fare especially in the private sector, with little appreciation or monetary compensation.

The chairman added that an independent investigation conducted by the state union has led them to a shocking revelation that there are about 700 companies/factories in Kano State that have no unions at all. Workers suffer in silence with no sign of their emancipation in the foreseeable future, adding that the labour union in collaboration with the state government is working round the clock to put an end to the workers’ misfortune.

I have not watched this unprecedented movie entitled, “Hakki (The Right)” yet, but from its title and the reason d’être behind its production coupled with my experiences as a former school teacher at some private schools, I am sure it is going to portray sleepwalking, emaciated characters detached from their families and locked up within some walls for many hours by a job that pays but little.

The protagonist (possibly an anti-hero) will be a man-child that shares the traits of both child and man. He is a man because age is weighing him down and by days, he is wearing himself out. He is a child because vicissitudes of daily life have refused to allow him to see beyond his nose or think outside the box, let alone jump out of his seemingly comfort zone.

He is caught in the intense inescapable webs of winning bread for his family. He will have little time for his children and wife. And all along he makes but little that he barely caters for the family. Ultimately the little stopgaps are utterly inadequate for him to chart out a new beginning.

He can neither settle his medical bills or that of his family nor can he provide for their educational needs, for a simple reason that he has sold out his labour-power to a job that dissipates his physical and mental capabilities for pittance; and he is now a slave to a will-never-be-enough wage.

Probably at the eventide of his life he is overcome by abject poverty and uncertainties of what the future has in store for him. He eventually dies of heart attack or high blood pressure.

May Day is not only a work-free day but a day of celebration for workers all-over the world with long but varied history. Today, Nigerian workers are expected to join other workers around the world to mark this historic day.

In Nigeria it was the first public holiday declared by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) government in Kano State in 1980, before it later spilled over to other states. It became national holiday in May, 1981.

As we celebrate this historic day, we should float a means that will lift that shackles of slavery off the necks of works, for my memory is oscillating from fate of a worker to another. I have seen the devil of labour eyeball to eyeball.

Let me begin with Mr Joseph (not a real name). Mr Joseph is a worker to one security guards company (that needs no mention) in Kano. He was posted to a school where I taught for three good years. I still remember his two kids. Their mama used to bring Joseph’s food to the school.

He once told me that the school pays the company the sum of N25000,00 but the security guards company pays him N15000,00. The chairman of the company is the alpha and omega. He delays the payment until when he deems it fit to do it.

I could not imagine how Mr. Joseph managed to lead his life or provide for the family until when I saw him fuming amidst hot tears. I later learnt that one of his children was badly sick and he had been lobbying for a loan from the school management, which it could grant. I do not know how Mr. Joseph will describe his employer or celebrate this day.

However, expats are arrogating more power to themselves. They are somewhere far and untouchable. Is this possible in their countries? I do not know. All I know is that they establish private schools and factories to enslave Nigerians. And nobody cares to do something about it.

I have remembered Umar Danhaki of blessed memory. He was such a worker with amazing right attitudes to work. He worked for twelve hours a day and was scarcely seen by even parents all in the name of making ends meet.

Any time he tried to break away from the chain of this pseudo-slavery practice, he would be whipped in by gnawing hunger and strong thirst.

One fateful day, Umar was crushed to death by a huge container in the course of discharging his duty. Then his wife was heavily pregnant. A source told me his family received chicken feed from the factory. It is an old story.

I know of Umar’s death and its cause. I believe the factory’s reluctance to adequately compensate his family because of what one-leg, middle-age man I met once told me of how he lost his leg. He even showed me the factory.

“Young man, two years ago I used my two legs as you do. But now I can only move around with the help of these crutches. I was just working normally as usual unbeknown to me a heap of sacks I was working by was gradually sliding.

“All I can remember was the shattering pain that snaked into the capillaries of my body and my windpipe was choked. The leg was later amputated to get rid of the gangrene. Do you know what? They have not paid me my dues two years later,” the man said.

From devastatingly poor condition of service to the criminalization of even a meeting of more than two persons in some organizations out of fear of forming unions, from poor wages to lack of job security, employers are  bringing out their clear picture of being an appendage to slave masters.

Governments at all levels should step up efforts to emancipate workers from the hands of their torturing employees, for their extremely difficult experiences are nothing to write home about. They are a bitter pill to swallow and this is happening in a supposedly democratic clime.




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