] Issa Aremu, Reinventing civil society
The thematic sub-committees of the National Conference Committee on Civil Society, Labour, Youth and Sports resume work today at Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja. Trade unions, student movements and varying forms of civil society have been at the fore front of the struggle against colonialism, for democracy and development dating back to early 19th century. Indeed Nigeria parades robust trade union movements, vibrant civil society organizations as well as student movements with varying characteristics of a pluralist society that Nigeria is. Since the Committee of which yours sincerely is the deputy chairman started work last Monday, it has generated a number of policy ideas aimed at reinventing the relationship between the state, business on one hand and labour and civil society on the one hand for a new partnership for greater democracy and development. After much deliberation, the Committee accepts that the failure of governance is a good opportunity for civil society groups and labour as well as youths in Nigeria to even demonstrate greater national relevance. Undoubtedly the Committee among others is set to reposition the civil society to return to good old days when civil society groups were vigilant, sensitive and moved against the miscarriages of justice, impunity and non-accountability of the military political office holders. If civil society groups commendably halted military dictatorships of the late 80s and 90s, then they should even do more to deepen the current democracy, moderate the incipient civilian dictators, put pressures on governments to ensure uninterrupted power supply, create jobs and terminate unemployment, guarantee good quality education and health, halt mass poverty and re-industrialise the nation and ensure security and peace. Nigeria has undoubtedly made much progress in democratic process, with serial national, state and local government elections including internal parties’ democratic elections. However this democracy needs urgent quality control. It must deliver the promises of water, light, roads and security. Only vibrant civil society groups could serve as a check on the political class over non-service delivery. The Committee therefore sets to come out with strong recommendations to enhance the capacity of civil society to serve as a check on bad governance. Or, better put, civil society groups must help to bring about good society. Part of the challenges will be making civil society groups financially independent thus making them less dependent on foreign donors with all the attendant positive implications for national development and security. Reinventing civil society also means building internal democracy in civil society organisations and creating governance structures that facilitate accountability. Civil society groups can only give what they themselves must have; accountability and internal democracy. The problems facing the youth are more acute, falling which to address them now portends explosive dangers as we have seen with youth unemployment and manipulation of the idle youths by political opportunists for violence and insurgency. The Committee is convinced that there can be no youth empowerment without first youth development that can only come through skill acquisition, quality education and value adding decent employment. Labour issues are even more diverse covering minimum wage, social protection, and productivity and employee compensation. The Committee sets to push for decent work agenda that must include sustainable productive secured jobs in both private and public sectors, jobs that have minimum social protection floor through minimum wage at work and minimum pension after work. It’s time we kept. By the time criminal illegal recruiters of labour (contrary to the spirit and content of the country’s labour laws) out of their business of fraud, tears and deaths as we sadly witnessed with the recent immigration service recruitment tragedy that claimed score of lives of applicants nationwide. This national conference must initiate recommendations that accord labour the dignity of entry and exit just as capital is being accorded generous protection of the state. Undoubtedly labour and labour issues must be on the exclusive list of what structure of Federalism this conference is coming out with.
Nigeria is truly a sporting nation. It has been participating in the Olympics and other global sporting competitions since 1948 with hundreds of medals to show in boxing, foot ball, swimming among others. In recent time, Nigeria has made significant progress in football development. But what is good for football is even more desirable for other sports that include table tennis, swimming, boxing, and scores of other sports. At the end of the Committee work, the point should be made that Nigeria’s Minister of Sports should not just be an unofficial Minister of football . Holistic development for sports, as recreational activities and business activities to employ and empower the mass of the youths is desirable. The Committee is expected to be addressed Monday and Tuesday by some resource fellows from National Directorate of Employment (NDE), National Pension Commission (PENCOM), NSITF and ILO among others.