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Right of Reply: Bayo Onanuga and his atavistic longing for military rule 

By Anthony Ubani

The arrogance, Insensitivity and total lack of democratic reflex of the Tinubu administration and its eagerness to constrict civic spaces has been further evidenced by the indecorous and intolerant language used against organised labour, since negotiations for workers minimum wage increase began. Bayo Onanuga, spokesperson to President Tinubu, who has been leading the offensive against organised labour and every one who dares take a contrary position to the all-knowing Tinubu administration, raised his rhetoric to unacceptable and distasteful levels when he excoriated organised Labour for shutting down the national grid in the course of their legitimate protest for living wages. As if that was not bad enough he proudly boasted in a threatening manner that they should “be thankful that Nigeria is not under a military regime.” To be clear, I am not in support of shutting down the national grid, airports and other such critical infrastructures. But Bayo Onanuga should understand that those who make peaceful change impossible make hostile change inevitable.

Bayo Onanuga and his pay masters have had months to demonstrate empathy for the plight of Nigerian workers and come up with a policy position that is agreeable to both parties. But the Tinubu administration chose to play to the gallery until organised labour went on strike as a last resort to press home the urgency and importance of their demands. Must the government always wait until organised labour go on strike before they do what they know is the right thing to do?

To remind Labour and by extension Nigerians that they should “be thankful that we are not in a military regime” is the height of irresponsibility and provocation. Such an anti-democratic statement should not come from any public service official in a democratic setting let alone the spokesperson of the President. Is Bayo Onanuga longing for a return to the days of military dictatorship? Is he glorifying the inhuman and horrible atrocities of the military against Nigerian workers? Is Bayo Onanuga aware that the history of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria cannot be written without a generous mention of the invaluable contributions of organised Labour? Is Bayo Onanuga aware of the years of sustained repression the Nigerian labour movement endured during the military era ‘when the state took punitive measures to rein in workers’ protests and struggles for socio-economic and political justice?’ Is Bayo Onanuga aware that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has as part of its mission to ‘lead the struggle for the transformation of Nigeria into a just, humane and democratic society?’ With all the hardship that Nigerian workers are currently undergoing, do they still have to be subjected to threatening reminders of the inhumane treatment they suffered under military dictatorship?

Bayo Onanuga should tell us: if Nigerian workers should also be thankful that they have been receiving a paltry minimum wage of N30,000 since 2019 while just 469 members of the National Assembly alone appropriate N344.9billion as their budget, as the data for 2024 shows?

If Nigerian workers also should be thankful that they now buy a bag of rice in excess of N80,000 when the same bag of rice sold for less than N8,000 a few years ago?

If Nigerian workers should also be thankful that electricity and transportation costs alone now take over 60 percent of their monthly income?

Or perhaps Nigerian workers should be thankful that at a time when extreme poverty, hunger and insecurity have them in a strangle hold, government is busy fiddling with the banal politics of a new national anthem. Should Nigerian workers continue to suffer and live in abject squalor to keep Bayo Onanuga and his ilk happy? President Bola Tinubu should call Bayo Onanuga to order. Nigerian workers are already going through more than enough suffering and hardship to be shot in the face with the saber-rattling-tongue of an over excited and misguided Presidential aide.

Nigerian workers are not a conquered people. They deserve more than a modicum of respect and civility when public service officials engage them. Disagreements over policy or political positions are invaluable for a healthy democracy. These disagreements must not however provoke disagreeable language.  Public service officials like Bayo Onanuga who are paid with taxpayers’ money should be circumspect, respectful, decorous, prudent, conciliatory and measured in their choice of words while addressing any section of the Nigerian public. That, I believe is not too much to ask for in this seamy season of monopoly democracy in Nigeria.

Anthony Ubani, Executive Director, #FixPolitics Africa, writes from Abuja.

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