Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Indefinite nationwide strike hits National Museums

Indefinite nationwide strike hits National Museums
On Wednesday, 20 November, 2013; the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) made good its threat with the launch of a nationwide indefinite strike by workers of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
Paradoxically, this work stoppage comes barely a week after Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, the immediate-past director general of the NCMM, held a major press briefing; where he claimed all was well with the Commission. We were not invited to the press conference, but according to feedback mauricearchibongtravels got from some of those that attended, Mr. Abdallah Usman had blamed disgruntled elements for perceived misinformation about the situation at the NCMM.
However, the current strike is confirmation that Usman fed his guests with a misrepresentation of the true situation. In any case, we would have shunned any invitation to that charade because Usman’s tenure as Director General (DG) had elapsed since 4 November, 2013. In that circumstance, his act; if it did not constitute an illegality, threw up another question: how was funding for the jamboree sourced? And, who gave approval for that expenditure?
This latest strike means a shutdown of every museum, zoo and other outposts run by the NCMM across the country. The role of a museum in the local tourism industry could hardly be exaggerated, because the museum could make the difference to the vibrancy or otherwise of the local tourism industry and vice versa.
Unfortunately, the strike is bound to take enervating toll on Nigeria’s tourism industry. Imagine the many foreign tourists already in the country that would have loved to visit our museums but cannot do so because of a strike. Aside from foreign tourists that are already here, there must be others, whose planned trip to Nigeria would now be put on hold, pending resumption of work at Nigeria’s National Museums.
All of these translate into huge losses for the nation, not to talk about its blighting effect on Nigeria’s image. However, it must be pointed out, that the ongoing work stoppage could have been averted, were some of the issues raised by AUPCTRE addressed. Embroiled in controversies over the last eight years, the NCMM is an agency of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.
The current indefinite work stoppage is sequel to a 21-day notice served on NCMM director general. In a memo, dated October 30, in which AUPCTRE issued the mandatory 21-day notice of its plan to embark on industrial action, the labour activists demand; among others: “The whereabouts of N225m handed over by Mr. Akin Roberts”; “The whereabouts/balance of N47m posted into IAMS accounts in December 2011 out of which only N16m was expended for the payment of arrears…”; “The whereabouts of money budgetted for staff training in 2013 as no visible training has taken place”; “Reversal of lease of DG, NCMM Quarters on Adeola Hopewell, Victoria Island for N24m”; and, “Reversal (of sale) of portion of land in MOTNA, Jos for construction of a filling station”.
It could be recalled that NCMM workers went on strike from January 10 to the 17th, 2013. And, no fewer than 10 strikes or rumours of strike have hit the NCMM in the last six years. Usman had been NCMM DG in the last four of those half-a-dozen years.
Several key political office holders and civil service top brasses, including head of service of the federation; minister as well as permanent secretary of the ministry of tourism, culture and national orientation;  were each given a copy of that warning.
Labour held rallies Wednesday at National Museum/NCMM stations in Benin City, Jos and Lagos et cetera, to flag off their nationwide indefinite strike. In Lagos, labour activists addressed workers at NCMM station in Onikan on 19 November. Proactively, authorities of the Jos-based Institute of Archaeology and Museum Studies (IAMS) had fast-tracked semester examinations, to ensure that academic programmes were not disrupted by the strike.
Speaking on the eve of the commencement of the strike, Secretary of AUPCTRE, NCMM Chapter, Mr. Adogah Abdullahi, declared the protest was inevitable; following failure by the Commission’s management to meet any of their demands. “Please, be informed that our strike, earlier slated for January, 2013, will now commence tomorrow (20 November)”, Abdullahi had told mauricearchibongtravels during a telephone conversation last Tuesday.
A circular was sent to labour executives at each NCMM station to “hold congress and direct workers to stay home in observance of the strike”. The union executive explained that the strike, earlier called for January this year, was suspended because of promises made to NCMM workers by Mr. Abdallah Usman, the now out gone director general; following intervention by Tourism and Culture Minister, Chief Edem Duke.
“Shamefully, none of the promises made to us, which led to the suspension of our plans to strike in January was fulfilled. These promises were made, more than nine months before Abdallah Usman’s tenure came to an end on 4 November”, Abdullahi rued. Expatiating, the labour scribe added that the strike was necessary “to achieve a better, efficient and corruption-free museum system”.
Mr. Abdallah Usman was forced on the nation, while Senator Jubrin Bello Gada was Tourism and Culture Minister; and, many museum watchers still remember, how; during Gada’s tenure, hundreds of millions of naira were diverted and allegedly spent on dubious projects.
Catalogue of curios
It is worth pointing out, that the NCMM has been accephalus since Abdallah Usman’s term elapsed on 4 November. Going by bureaucratic convention, an acting DG should have been named for the NCMM on or before 4 November, but more than two weeks since Usman’s exit, the Commission has been rudderless.
Meanwhile, mauricearchibongtravels had gathered from impeccable sources that the out gone DG had been served a letter to handover on Wednesday, 13 November; but he chose to scorn that memo, which emanated from the office of the Permanent Secretary.  
The NCMM is in a quandary, despite boasting four substantive directors; viz: Dr Musa Hambolu, Dr Barth Chukwuezi, Bode Oke and Oluremi Adedayo; Director, Research, Planning and Publications; Director, Educational Services and Training; Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA); and, Director, Monuments, Heritage and Sites (MHS) respectively.
A telephone enquiry regarding comment from the tourism and culture minister drew a blank. The minister’s Special Adviser (Media), Dr Taiwo Oladokun, was not forthcoming because “The Hon. Minister’s phone lines could not be accessed possibly due to GSM network challenges”.
When contacted on Tuesday, 19 November; Dr Barth Chukwuezi, NCMM’s Director of Educational Services and Training told mauricearchibongtravels: “He (out gone DG Usman) travelled”. In other words, the NCMM could go to hell because a man, whose tenure had elapsed, chose to ignore a simple directive from the de facto head of a ministry.
Thus, what should normally be a simple administative process has now morphed into such a perplexing curio that it requires a nationwide shutdown of national museums to address. It tells a lot about Nigeria, that consideration for fortunes of an individual should take precedent over the overall interest of the nation; this, in spite of the fact that Abdallah Usman’s performance as NCMM DG was at best calamitous.

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