The 2023 edition of Labour Day, a day set apart internationally to celebrate workers and to highlight issues pertaining to their rights and importance to the society, has come and gone.
But the soundbites of that day have continued to echo around the corridors of the state, especially by helping to provide answers as to why the incumbent, Governor ‘Seyi Makinde, was able to achieve the historic victory recorded in the March 18 governorship election in the state.
The day also enabled the workers from all over the state to relish the governor’s 47 months of unbroken commitment to their welfare.
Thus, rather than just a day to celebrate workers and promote issues about their rights and welfare, the May 1, 2023 celebration held at the Lekan Salami Stadium, Adamasingba, Ibadan, provided avenues for double celebrations- the celebration of the annual workers’ day and the celebration of the triumph of Makinde, the workers’ governor, as signposted by the last governorship election.
Written boldly on the faces of workers inside the stadium were joy, excitement and relief, as they marched past the governor, who has been their friend in the last 47 months and who by the fact of his victory on March 18, would stand by their side in the journey of moving Oyo State to the Eldorado for another four years.
Earlier, a couple of workers at the event had engaged in a chit-chat, with the crux of their chat being ‘what would have happened if Governor Makinde had lost in the March 18 election.’ One of them shouted ‘God forbid.’ The outspoken individual, whose name one would like to keep out of this piece, continued by saying: “I never had a doubt that the governor would win. He has done well. Workers and the people of the state have never had it this good. Imagine what the governor has been doing with the payment of salaries alone…”
Another colleague of his had cut in, stating how her aged father prays for the governor daily over the way his administration has treated pensioners by paying their full pensions on the same date workers get paid their salaries i.e. 25th of every month. It was at this point that a number of the discussants jokingly recounted their experiences about how pensioners nearly became party agents on the Election Day, with some even stating that it was not only pensioners that took up the roles of ‘defenders of GSM’s votes’ and that teachers, health workers, traders and artisans did not leave the polling centres for a minute in a bid to ensure that the governor continues in office.
It took the Aluta voice of the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oyo State chapter, Comrade Kayode Martins, to cut the chit-chat short, as this writer’s attention also shifted to taking points from the NLC chairman’s speech. His short but concise speech, however, proved to be a continuation of the discontinued chit-chat nearby, as he congratulated Governor Makinde on what he described as a well-deserved second term victory, saying: “His victory speaks volume and reflects the mind of the general populace.”
Typical of May Days, the union leader went ahead to praise workers and make demands on the governor. But through this, what played in this writer’s mind were the words of the workers: “we have never had it this good…”
Truly, things have never been this smooth between an administration and Oyo State workers, at least not in the last 12 years before Makinde assumed office in 2019. Between 2007 and 2019, different segments of Oyo State workers embarked on warning or full strikes more than 10 times, bickering with the government over minimum wage, salary payment, non-payment of pensions and gratuity to retirees, condition of service and all that. Teachers, tertiary institution workers, health workers and judiciary workers found solace in strike actions, as successive administrations played the ostrich on matters of their welfare.
Under the late former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, the state went from one labour crisis to another, with the workers declaring strike actions in 2007, 2008 and 2009 on different issues.
The succeeding government of Senator Ajimobi was also not any different, as workers went for the administration’s jugular immediately after it took office. The same tradition continued in 2012, 2016, 2018 and 2019, as labour unions pressed home their demands against an administration they considered insensitive to its plight.
I was still in the reverie induced by the reminiscences about how industrial unrest soiled the garments of successive administrations before Makinde, as provoked by the loaded words of the unnamed worker “we have never had it this good,” when I heard the soft words of Makinde, who some people regard as the Engineer of Modern Oyo State.
“Great workers of Oyo State. Welcome to the Workers’ Day Celebration 2023. Everyone here is playing an important role in keeping the economic wheels of Oyo State on the right track, and for this, I say thank you. It is because of your labour that Oyo State is now one of the top five economies in Nigeria…,” the governor’s words brought me back into the Lekan Salami Sports Complex, a landmark asset, which his administration revived and remodeled, and has become one of the achievements of an administration determined to change the narrative for good in Oyo State.
“Our first four years of serving you, the good people of Oyo State, is gradually coming to a close. In just 27 days, we will cross over to Omituntun 2.0. For the civil servants here, in 24 days, we would be celebrating a full 48 months of a promise kept,” Governor Makinde continued. But all that played in my head was how those words would have come out if residents of Oyo State had yielded to the falsehood and deceit of opposition elements, who wanted Makinde out at all cost.
The governor went ahead to recount how he had promised “never to pay Oyo State workers with bear with us at the end of any month,” speaking about his administration’s commitment to prompt payment of salaries and pensions, which has seen it pay workers and pensioners on/or before 25th of every month since he assumed office in May 2019.
He addressed how his administration started paying minimum wage from January 2020, how it paid increments from the backlog of promotions and consequential adjustments and paid 100 per cent subventions to state-owned institutions.
He went ahead to state how the economy of the state has been oiled and transformed through this unwavering commitment to workers’ welfare and how the administration was able to drastically reduce the infrastructure deficit in the state with the building and rehabilitation of hundreds of kilometres of roads across the five zones of the state.
The governor went on and on, stating the challenges and giving insight into how his administration will use an aggressive global investment drive to take the state to its Promised Land under Omituntun 2.0. But I was back in another reverie by that time. I had found a major solution to a puzzle, which had played in my head since March 18, 2023 and was too fixated on and excited about that answer to listen further.
On May 29, 2023 when Makinde would celebrate his fourth year in office, he will also take the oath of office for a fresh four years. How did he manage to achieve the feat, which was deemed difficult until former Governor Abiola Ajimobi broke the jinx in 2015 and people thought that would be a one-off? How did he achieve the historic victory, in which he polled twice the number of votes recorded by his main challenger, winning in 32 out of 33 local governments with 563,756 votes?
Students of politics and inquisitive individuals had tried to find reasons for the unprecedented margin of victory, but that search for answers came to an end at the May Day celebration. Makinde had kept his promise to the people of Oyo State by making them happy for four years and it was non-negotiable that the people of the state, renowned for their qualities of Omoluabi, would always go with a promise keeper.
The governor revealed how he had kept his promise to workers, and by extension, traders and other residents of the state, through prompt salary payment. He went on to highlight other areas where he showed fidelity to his campaign promises. But the opposition elements had misjudged that chastity, deriding salary payments as nothing. They had equally engaged in pointless grandstanding, claiming that Makinde had been an audio governor, with nothing to show for his time in office. Unknown to them, the workers and the people of the state, whom Makinde had served dutifully and committed to passionately, had their facts and would go on to appreciate and reward him.
In many of his campaign outings, Governor Makinde had, like a Mathematics wizard, which all engineers are expected to be, reeled out the amount of millions going into the economy of each local government area monthly courtesy of salary payments. He had always explained how the payment of billions of Naira in salary helps the economy of the state. But the unsuspecting opposition elements thought these counted for nothing until the people reminded them that they [the electorate] hold the ace.
A lot of people had tried to hazard different guesses as to why Makinde won massively. But the major answer lied in the governor’s words before the workers: “the last four years are 48 months of a promise kept.”
*Alao is the Special Assistant (Print Media) to Governor ‘Seyi Makinde, FNSE, D.Sc., GSSRS.