Skip to main content

My Distaste For Professionals' Associations Or Trade Unions In Nigeria By A. S. M. Jimoh

March 11, 2016

As a graduate of engineering, I have never had the interest of being a member of my professional body. 


Over time, I have scrutinized many professionals’ associations and their conduct. What I’ve concluded is that trade unions in Nigeria are formed to promote misconduct among their members. Trade unions or professionals’ associations are money making ventures for their officials. That is why people spend fortunes or even kill to become leaders of these bodies in Nigeria. 

From the motor park union, the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) or Road Transport Employees Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), to the professional bodies of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) or the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), it is same goal: to protect the interest of their members even if such a member is a criminal.

While I am not here to convince anyone to drop out from being a member of a professional body or trade union, I am going to demonstrate specific events that have further alienated me from joining any Nigerian professional association.

In 2003, a group of nurses beat an old female patient at Okene General Hospital, hauled her from her hospital bed, and had her detained at the police station. Her crime? Her grown-up son had refused to participate in a so-called sanitation exercise organized by the hospital. The case got to the court as they insisted on teaching the woman and her son a lesson of life. On the day of the court proceeding, the umbrella body of nurses and midwives, the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANMW), shut down hospitals across local governments to attend the proceeding. Nurses who were supposed to be on duty abandoned patients to show solidarity with a wicked colleague. Is this what trade unions are all about? Instead of NANMW sanctioning their members who proliferate pharmaceutical stores selling substandard drugs, they defend the wicked conduct of their members.

Fast forward to February 2016. A certain Ricky Tarfa (SAN) was charged by the Nigeria anti-corruption agency for obstruction of justice and for being a bribe carrier within the judicial circle. His professional body members, SAN, the very people who are to be highly educated in law, to wit, discipline and morality, did not carry out an in-house investigation to ascertain the facts of the case. Instead, they trooped to the court to intimidate the judge and subtly obstructed justice, the very crime their colleague is being charged with. It leaves you with no hope when people who are supposed to be the personification of justice now congregate to pervert it in the guise of solidarity with a professional colleague charged in a criminal suit. Well, more revelations coming out are that there are more Ricky Tarfas among SAN than there are the likes of Femi Falana. Alas! Who our SANs are have been revealed.

Today, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) go on strike at the slightest provocation while closing its eyes to its members who divert public hospital equipment to their privately owned clinics. Likewise, the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) never punishes a member for wrong design, violation of design, breach of safety rules, poor execution of work or/and substandard production. The paramount interest of this body is the membership due even if such due are paid through blood money.

Periodically, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU’s) members go around universities to give pass marks in accreditation of courses and department, only to turn around the next day and accuse the government for lack of facilities in the same university they had accredited the previous day. Universities offering computer studies are without computer laboratory, yet ASUU member accredit them in order to keep their members on the job. 

When Boko Haram attacked the facilities of some newspaper publishers in Nigeria, they cried for the public to hear. Then they later received ten million Naira each as ‘compensation’ through their professional body. This time the public never heard of it. Several communities have had their lives destroyed by Boko Haram, but the newspapers association never deem it fit to campaign for the rehabilitation of such communities. If it is not our member, we cannot cut a deal.

I have heard of how a particular branch of All Nigeria Conference of Principal of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS) directed that all its members should build a personal house within one year of becoming a principal. How? By any means possible. In following this directive, admission into school become a racket, examination fees were being charged in absurd excess of the official fees, frivolous money such as prayer due, invigilators fees are being charged by principals, while also promoting examination practices.

Just two days ago, oil workers under the umbrella of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) went on a strike because the government restructured its owned oil company, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC). According to government, the reorganization that saw the creation of seven units is to bring efficiency to the corporation, make it a profit-making outfit and reduce the waste and corruption which the NNPC has become. 

Why are NUPENG and PENGASSAN opposing this? They were not carried along, they said. Whatever that means, the majority of the public knows why they did what they did. In the last eight years, oil revenue was being looted left, right and center, but NUPENG and PENGASSAN were in a mute mode since it was trickling down to their members.

The idea of protecting the interest of members of trade union to the detriment of the generality of the public has crawled to the non-professional and unskilled labor unions. For instance, if you contract a carpenter or bricklayer in the starting phase of a job, you cannot later invite another carpenter or bricklayer in a subsequent phase even when you find a better deal in price and skill. Their motto is that the man who starts a job must end it. The job owner’s interest is not an interest.

Professional associations do not exist just to protect the ‘interest’ of theirs members, but also to protect the society that patronizes their services. Around 2009, I stumbled on a publication of two years earlier by a nurses association in Canada. A section of that publication, running up to two pages, was on punishment meted out to erring members of the profession. One had her license either revoked or suspended for a lengthy period for helping a patient buy a cigarette.  Another had her license suspended for an offense as ‘little’ as borrowing money from a patient. Another was suspended for a year for delaying, even unintentionally, in giving out drug to a patient. In the case I cited above at the Okene General Hospital, the patient had her drugs seized by the nurses for her son’s refusal to participate in the exercise.

When I think I have ethics, principles, morals and fear of God, I would often have the revulsion to subscribe to a Nigerian professional association or trade union. Am I a saint? No. On a lighter note, but with all seriousness, my friends always say to me, “You will be forced to join once you want to practice or nothing for you in Nigeria.”

A. S. M. Jimoh ([email protected] or @anehi2008 on twitter)