By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is important to state briefly for the benefits of those that missed the first part of this intervention that this piece is targeted at using a clear links with key aspects of a report by ONE Campaign, an International Development Agency that tracks development among Africa countries, submitted May 29, 2013, to the African Development bank, during the Bank’s annual General meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, to establish how sustained failures by the government (state/Federal), today exacerbate incessant strike actions in the country.
Essentially, while encouraging readers to find, and possibly go through this report which among other concerns, accused Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DR, of dragging the continent backward, as a result of the two countries inability to spend 15 percent of their budget as agreed by African Union, for the health and education sectors, some readers with critical minds have within this space raised the questions as to the integrity/correctness of the report?
Others have also asked; hasn’t things/policy direction changed in the country given the advent of an administration different from the one under which such damning observation was made?
Of course, in absolute terms, the only possible explanations to these questions in the opinion of this piece are that the position canvassed by the report cannot be faulted. Secondly, as to the question about the likelihood of change, things have indeed, changed under the present administration-but have only morphed from challenge to crisis.
The facts are there and speak for it.
Aside from the fact that the captured disobedience to, and Nigerian government’s non compliance with such directives, goes beyond the ‘banality’ of African Union’s agreement on education and health to include other critical dynamic that today fuels incessant strike actions in the different sectors of the country, there exists enough evidence pointing to the fact that despite being a signatory to many international bodies that profess and hold human rights in reverence, Nigeria as a country has notoriously become reputed for fragrant disobedience to such rights.
There are however, reasons attributable to the existence of this state of affairs.
First and very fundamental is public office holders’ reluctance to appreciate governance from a rights-based perspective. Governance in Nigeria adversely affect and promote the non- infusion of human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in development initiatives.
This is closely followed by the awareness that in case after case, when formulating public policies in relations to work, health and education sectors, such effort/situations are usually devoid of clear definition of problem as a nation, stripped of goals to be achieved, or the means chose to address the problems and to achieve the goals. More practical but regrettable, is that such effort has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means to enjoy any of these objectives.
This is inevitably a common feature of a society where there exists concentration of government/wealth of the nation in the hands of a small group who dispenses it disproportionately in ways that creates limited gains for the masses and weaker incentives for the institutions.
Take the right to work as instance, the concept/phrase “the right to work” was coined by the French socialist leader Louis Blanc in light of the social turmoil of the early 19th century and rising unemployment in the wake of the 1846 financial crisis which led up to the French Revolution of 1848. Today, it forms an integral part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Among other provisions, it states that the States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. the steps to be taken by a State Party to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.
Lamentably, separate from the inability of successive administrations to have it domesticated, there are in fact further realities that plague the full realization of this right here in Nigeria. For instance, instead of Government (state/Federal) working in consonance with the above protectionist provisions through formulations of policies that engineer prosperity in the country, what masses have witnessed is but policies that throw Nigerians out of jobs. It has gotten to an alarming rate that at a time the global community is preaching living wage, the Federal/state Governments are preoccupied with enthronement/promotion of minimum wage of Thirty Thousand Naira (N30,000), that is about 60 USD.
In my views, there is no way incessant strike action will not be an order of the day in a society with such leadership.
Moving from right to work to that of health, the situation is not different here in the country. This is happening despite its universal recognition. For a better understanding of this right, it is a right that focuses on the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and provisions; it’s been argued elsewhere that there exists a link between the right to health and other human rights. Human rights are interdependent, indivisible and interrelated.
This means that violating the right to health may often impair the enjoyment of other human rights, such as the rights to education or work, and vice versa. The importance given to the “underlying determinants of health”, that is, the factors and conditions which protect and promote the right to health beyond health services, goods and facilities, shows that the right to health is dependent on, and contributes to, the realization of many other human rights. These include the rights to food, to water, to an adequate standard of living, to adequate housing, to freedom from discrimination, to privacy, to access to information, to participation, and the right to benefit from it.
More specifically, article 2 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights underlines that States have the obligation to progressively achieve the full realization of the rights under the Covenant. It also contains entitlements, namely; the right to a system of health protection providing equality of opportunity for everyone to enjoy the highest attainable level of health. Two, a country’s difficult financial situation does NOT absolve it from having to take action to realize the right to health.
Unfortunately, the brazen inability by both past/present administrations at state/Federal to meet this entitlements/condition explains why Nigerians are crying.
More specifically, workers are crying via strike actions that the capital flight lost to medical tourism in one year by Nigerians is huge enough to build a world-class hospital in this country that can attend to these needs, create employment, bring back the array of Nigerian medical specialists littered the world over and bring foreign earnings to the nation’s coffers.
Nigerians on their part are particularly not happy that the same medical tourism which in 2017 alone kept President Buhari away for about 150days is left unaddressed.
Even as Nigerians continue to cry because of this state-sponsored poverty and human degradation/deprivations, the present failure by the government more than anything else give details why ‘the poverty of African leaders certainly does not mean material poverty, but lack of commitment to duty, lack of vision and greediness characterized by corruption’,
For solutions to incessant strike actions in the country, watch out for the third/ concluding part of this opinion piece.
Utomi, is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;jeromeutomi@yahoo