Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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This year’s May Day celebration, better known as Workers Day was generally low key and indeed was generally unnoticed by many people. For one, it was subsumed in the Sallah celebration, marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. So, media and individual attention shifted more to the Eid-el Fitri celebrations. Actually, the day fell on a Sunday and the umbrella labour organization in Nigeria (the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress) had declared that the Day would be marked the day after Ramadan which not a few people projected to be Sunday. However, the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria declared that fasting was to continue on Sunday because the new moon had not been cited. And so the Moslem festival was celebrated on Monday, May 2, the day the Labour authorities also decided to celebrate Workers’ Day 2022. I cannot remember when the May Day was not marked on its due date, over the years. As this year’s Workers’ Day celebration clashed with Sallah/Ileya festival, people were receiving more of ‘Happy Sallah’’ greetings than “Happy workers Day” message. Virtually none, to all intents and purpose, remembered that it was also a Workers’ Day celebration. On the real May Day itself, first day of the month of May, people were receiving and sending instead, “Happy Sunday, Happy New Week, Happy New Month” messages.
Apart from the clash with Eid-el fitri, people had apparently expected the federal government to declare a three-day holiday for the week, one for Workers’ Day and the other two for Sallah. Instead the government announced Monday and Tuesdays only as public holidays to mark both May Day and Sallah, taking the shine off the Workers’ Day. Another thing that rivetted most peoples’ minds off the Workers’ Day celebration is that majority of Nigerians are either unemployed or under-employed. Only a relatively small proportion of Nigerians are working full time. So, Workers’ Day celebration really appertains to a small percentage of Nigerians. The majority feel it does not concern them. Even for workers to whom it relates, many of them are weighed down by economic and social struggles that they cared less about it, to all intents and purpose.
Still this year’s Workers’ Day was celebrated on Monday with the usual speeches, notably in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre and Abuja, the nation’s capital. Significantly, the new chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abdullahi Adamu, Turakin Keffi, was present; ditto the former APC chairman, himself a veteran labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, among others. President Mohammadu Buhari was represented by his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. NLC national chairman, Comrade Ayuba Wabba this time, donned an additional cap as chairman of the international body. Both the chairmen of the NLC and TUC used the occasion to announce to the world that the TUC chairman in Kwara State was among those killed in the unfortunate Abuja–Kaduna train that was attacked by terrorists, highlighting another menace for today’s workers.
Overall, May Day 2022 was sombre as the average Nigerian worker grapples with the challenge of keeping his head above water in addition to catering for the basic necessities of his family, namely, food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare.
The number of persons dependent on a salaried worker is increasing due to rising unemployment and underemployment. And with purchasing power shrinking due to galloping inflation, it is to be expected that this leads to frayed nerves. We have witnessed and are still witnessing a multitude of strike actions.
The incidence of hypertension has increased among workers of all classes and other segments of our population. Depression, which we generally do not consider as a health problem and so hardly talk about, is higher in our communities now. Jobs are shrinking. Unemployment is a curse, under-employment is a lesser curse of sorts. What is more, salaries and wages are no longer regular in many organizations as workers no longer get their pay and stipends as and when due owing to general economic downturn. Thus, many workers no longer joyfully keep tab of the days of the month in expectation as there is no certainty as to when or if they would get their salaries and wages in any particular month. Consequently, hope is replaced by depression.
Many Nigerians seek solace in religious activities; others seek to drink away their concealed sorrows and depression but as even the price of alcoholic drinks have soared, they are now turning to local brews – burukutu, ogogoro, etc. Still, others go to the extreme of taking intoxicants some of which I understand are now sold over the counter in many places. All of these, however, provide only temporary relief; they do not remove the underlying causes which are rooted in social and economic crises.
Notwithstanding the external pretensions, people are increasingly in need of physical healing (hypertension, depression) and healing of the soul, culminating in seeking answers to the great questions of life, namely: what is the goal of a life on earth; why are we here; where do we go from here; why is there suffering and injustice on earth; why are some born into earthly opulence and ‘enjoyment’ and others condemned to a life-time of penury and earthly sufferings; why can we not all be happy here on earth from the day we are born to the day we take our last breath; why is there hatred; why, why, why…? All of us have been assailed by some of these questions at one time or the other and not being able to think them through logically, we often brush them aside. They continue to crop up now and then, urging us to seek as the words reverberate in us, “Seek and you will find”. Many endeavour to suppress these questions through diversions, by enmeshing ourselves in one form of modern day entertainment or the other. Still, we are hunted by the questions, why, why, why….