BEING THE TEXT OF THE 2013 MAY DAY
SPEECH PRESENTED BY COMRADE ABDULWAHED IBRAHIM OMAR, PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIA
LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC) AT THE EAGLE SQUARE, ABUJA ON 1ST MAY 2013
It is with pleasure and a deep sense of history that I welcome you to this historic May Day celebration. This is the last Workers’ Day before our nation marks the Centenary of the Amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates to create what is today Nigeria. It is in recognition of this that we have chosen the theme of this year’s May Day as “One Hundred Years of Nationhood: The Challenges of National Development”.
Of course, critical historians will argue that long before the amalgamation, and indeed, long before the colonial powers set foot on our shores, powerful and vibrant nations existed in the geographical space that is today Nigeria. Nationhood was not therefore the creation of the colonial experience. But in the history of the world, nations wither and nations are born. What we are starting is the process of marking the centenary of the emergence of Nigeria as a nation, as it is today.
However, it is important to note that the role of organised labour in the process of our nation-building predates 1914, as the Nigeria Civil Service Union was formed in August, 1912, being the first trade union in Nigeria. Even before this years’ pockets of trade unions had existed without special recognition.
Your excellencies, Comrades, ladies and gentlemen, May Day is a day of symbolic reflection on the sacrifice made by the global working class in the historic fight for decent working hours which culminated in the execution of four unionists in Chicago Illinois in November 11 1887. This was the historic origin of May Day. In Nigeria, May Day flagged off in 1981, following its declaration the previous year by the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) government of late Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State. The Workers Day celebrates work, service and sacrifices: values that the May Day symbolizes.
Working Class Contribution to Nation Building
The sacrifices made by the Nigerian working class since the amalgamation of 1914 were enormous, especially anchored in the stiff resistance against obnoxious colonial policies such as poor wages in the wake of global depression that resulted in the general strike of 1945 over the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA). Another key sacrifice made by the Nigerian working class in the process of our nation building was the tragic, callous and unforgivable massacre of innocent miners at the Enugu colliery in 1949 in what has become known as the Iva valley Massacre.
Apart from strikes aimed at better working conditions in the colonial era, workers’ leaders played pivotal roles in the national anti-colonial movement. Pa Imoudu and other labour leaders were actively involved in the nationalist politics that guided the anti-colonial struggle alongside politicians like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and others.
In the post-colonial era, labour played significant roles in nation- building and national development. In the most trying period for national unity, culminating in the unfortunate civil war of 1967 - 70, organized labour remained one of the few truly pan national institutions calling for national unity, justice and peace. In truth, in the chequered history of threats to national unity, characterized by ethnic, regional and religious assertism and jingoism, organized labour has remained one national organization that has remained truly national and truly united and truly a unifying factor.
Organised labour played a pivotal role in galvanizing the nation to adopt its progressive anti-colonial and anti-apartheid policies. Indeed, on numerous occasions, organized labour, along with the student movement and other progressive organizations organized rallies and protests which over the years helped to shape and elevate the national anti-apartheid consciousness and commitment. The landmark ‘Thatcher must go’ protest of January 1988 in Lagos and Kano against the then British Prime Minister given her support for Apartheid in South Africa, is a case in point.
With the incursion of the military into national politics, labour was at the forefront of the struggles to end military rule. The struggle for democracy and de-militarization of our national politics resulted at times in the harassment and incarceration of labour leaders. In the course of these struggles, many workers paid the supreme sacrifice. The heroic role of the labour movement in this period was underscored by the oil workers’ strike to actualize June 12, and the historic campaign against the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) starting from the middle 1980’s, which culminated into the current mass protest against deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry.
Since 1999, labour has played significant roles in seeking to develop and deepen democracy in our nation. The various contestations over policies and governance which organised labour has led have helped to ensure that democracy is not seen just as the substitution of civilian rule for military, but as a system where citizens can influence the direction of national policies. Organised labour has remained active along with other progressive organisations and forces in resisting anti-people policies particularly in this era of neo-liberalism, in highlighting and fighting corruption and in seeking to hold governments accountable.
Your excellencies, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen, we could go on ad infinitum cataloguing our various roles and contributions. However, despite our struggles and the struggles and sacrifices of the Nigerian people to develop and nurture a nation of our dreams, a careful stock-taking as we approach one hundred years of nationhood will show that our nation remains faced with very grave challenges.
Challenges of National Development
Today, we have chosen to focus specifically on three key challenges which, if not dealt with decisively and in a timely manner, could very well undermine the survival of our nation. These are the challenges of unemployment, insecurity and corruption.
Unemployment: Comrades, you will agree with me that today, the country is faced by a monumental unemployment problem. Official statistics put the national unemployment rate at approximately 24%. As high as this rate is, it nevertheless camouflages the enormity of the unemployment crisis in the country. If underemployment and disguised unemployment were to be added to the figure, the monumental crisis will become more glaring.
More importantly, an analysis of the disaggregated unemployment data shows that the youths bear the greatest brunt of the unemployment problem. The unemployment rate among the youths has been put at 37.7%. Some estimates actually suggest that the figure is over 50%! Whichever way we look at it, it is obvious that we are facing an unemployment time bomb in our nation. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 197 million are unemployed worldwide in 2012. Of these, 74 million are young people between 15 and 24 years of age.
With an estimated 80 million youths in the total population, 30 to 40 million unemployed youths constitutes a veritable army of the hungry, disillusioned and angry that can undermine the stability, security and peace of any nation if left unattended.
There is an urgent need for decisive intervention to rein in the unemployment problem. The signals of strife and insecurity today are warning banners we cannot afford to ignore.
To overcome the problem of unemployment, Nigeria must promote strong industrial policies that recognize manufacturing as a key engine of growth and decent mass employment for the national economy.
The Federal government must urgently initiate a range of measures to revive and protect labour-intensive industries like textile, food and beverages, construction, iron and steel sectors etc. it is commendable that the Federal government had initiated the textile revival funds. The mid-term assessment of the impact of this long term fund at single digit interest rate has been positive. For instance, UNTL Kaduna, the largest textile mill that hitherto closed down in 2007 had reopened with direct jobs of 1,500 workers with prospect of further expansion.
We demand that the Bank of Industry (BOI) should be further recapitalized to enable it address the problem of financing of industries. In addition, there cannot be sustainable industrialization without uninterrupted power supply. Government must also stop the ongoing dumping of sub-standard and fake imported goods into the country. To continue to do so is to continue to export job prospects, dwindle our foreign reserve and foreign exchange earnings and continued importation of unemployment.
Nigeria must move away from a container economy in which almost every good is imported to a productive economy through an aggressive pursuit of industrialization Government must Support transfers of skills and technologies to accelerate industrialization and the creation of good quality jobs while safeguarding the environment. This can be done through a renewed commitment to meeting the UNESCO’s prescription of 26% of National budget to funding of education.
On our part, as a way to enhance the welfare of workers, the NLC has concluded arrangement with funding partners and housing developers to build over 600,000 units of houses across the country for sale at affordable prices and moderate interest rates to Nigerian workers.
Given the over 40,000,000 housing deficit in Nigeria, this modest effort by the NLC should be complimented by the Federal Government and other levels of government to give Nigerians a sense of belonging. As we speak to you today, the websites to access the requisite information regarding the mass housing Programme have been activated and will be officially launched tomorrow May 2nd 2013.
Also in the area of easing workers transportation, the NLC through the Federal Government Mass Transit Programme has obtained a loan to procure vehicles. Already, a total of 133 buses were been procured, and will soon be rolled out. Discussions on another batch of the same number of buses have been concluded, and will be made available to Nigerian workers. We call on the private sector and governments to continue to invest in social infrastructure especially transportation for Nigerian workers and the Nigerian people. While we commend the Federal Government in the initiative to revive the rail system, much has to be done to ensure a comprehensive coverage in the country.
Insecurity Today Nigeria faces severe, comprehensive and total security challenges that threaten its survival. In other words, we have on our hands a clear and present danger that needs an urgent and well thought-out solution if we must continue to remain as a nation. From the north to the south and from the east to the west, the nation is gripped in the throes of unprecedented violence.
Daily, innocent and ordinary people are slaughtered in numbers either in incidents of armed robbery, assassinations, kidnappings, arson, communal clashes or bombings, sectarian skirmishes and related acts of violence with a telling effect in every facet of our life as a nation.
The bonds that hold us together are being weakened. Our productive capacity is similarly diminishing. There is a feeling of loss of identity. We are scared and disfigured. As the nation lies prostrate, we are all shell-shocked. But much more worrying than all of this, is our inexorable loss of humanity, both the murderers and their victims.
At ordinary times and with lesser population, Nigeria was unable to feed itself, and accordingly, had to rely on food imports. The country's capacity to feed itself has been further undermined by a combination of increasing population, less arable land, serial conflicts and displacements.
The situation has been compounded by last year's massive floods. And if meteorological predictions are anything to go by, there is no guarantee that the years ahead may not be worse.
Violent conflicts, armed robberies, kidnappings, assassinations, arson, insurgencies and food insufficiency or insecurity or other forms of threat, do not occur by accident. Usually, they are products of years of poor leadership, bad governance, weak institutions, lack of accountability, corrosive corruption, political impunity, poor planning and prioritisation, socio-economic injustices and inequities.
As we have stated earlier, the effects of insecurity on us as a people and as a nation are multi-dimensional and grave. Slowly but surely the nation is being shut down, infrastructure destroyed, and lives wasted. There is resurgence of ethnic and regional fervor, displacements, capital flight, increase in expenditure on security at the expense of other more pressing needs, loss of jobs and income and many more.
However, we at the Congress have an unshakeable faith in the indivisibility and sovereignty of Nigeria. We believe it has enough space and resources for the expression of our individual and collective dreams and endeavors.
In the light of the foregoing, we call on the government to muster the necessary will and wisdom to tackle these security challenges. In furtherance of this, we throw our weight behind the on-going efforts to work out an amnesty Programme with the Boko Haram sect. For such a Programme to be successful, however, members of the sect must first and foremost embrace dialogue and negotiations.
We, therefore, call on members of Boko Haram to lay down their arms and step out for reconciliation talks. Nigeria is their country and its dismemberment or destruction, in our view, offers no way forward for any of us.
Food security remains germane to national prosperity and survival. Even if we have the best arsenal in the world, no army fights on an empty stomach. In spite of this common knowledge, very little has been done to ensure food security for our teeming population. Thus, there is a growing danger exacerbated by floods and strife.
Corruption Underlying the problems of unemployment, insecurity and the general problem of underdevelopment is the monumental corruption that continues to define our national life. Comrades, God has blessed our nation with ample resources and wealth which, if judiciously exploited and administered, can engender a national economy that is vibrant, dynamic and balanced where there will be no poverty, unemployment and avoidable strife. The crisis of underdevelopment which continues to engulf the nation is fuelled mainly by corruption.
Can we today in good conscience say how many barrels of oil are actually pumped from our reserves? Many fear that a huge number of barrels are unaccounted for or “privatised” daily. The Minister of Finance only recently declared that ₦155 billion worth of crude oil is stolen every month! Huge allocations, running into billions and trillions of naira, are made to power development, roads, agriculture, and other sectors annually without measurable corresponding impact.
Comrades, we must urge government to take the fight against corruption more seriously. Over the past ten years, there has been a catalogue of corruption allegations, against highly placed government officials, announced with fanfare, in some cases charged to court, but which have since vanished from national view without diligent prosecution. Many are beginning to fear that the more recent cases of oil subsidy sleaze will follow in the same unsavory path.
Of particular pain to us is the monumental corruption of those charged with administering pensions which has now come to limelight. The looting of pension funds while pensioners wait and die is a crime against humanity which must be made to attract the severest punishment possible.
Recent revelations on various pension scams have indicated the extent of the vulnerability of workers’ welfare funds in Nigeria. In brazen day light, workers’ pension entitlements are stolen with impunity. While Labour acknowledges the efforts being made to deal with these scams, it will undoubtedly continue to fight to ensure that all pensioners receive their entitlements as and when due. In this regard, Labour will be on the lookout to preserve the interest of existing pensioners, and that of workers in the new pension regime.
In furtherance of this, we call for legislation and policy that will not only safeguard the over three trillion naira contributed so far, but will severely deal with those who tamper with these contributions.
Given the ease with which these funds are stolen and the reluctance of government to deal with the criminals decisively, organised labour wishes to demand a bigger role in the administration of these funds. We also call for the strengthening of the internal governance of the pension regime.
In this regard, government should without further delay, appoint the board and management of PENCOM, as only the full compliments of seasoned, and dedicated board and qualified management that has integrity could moderate or even stop these incidence of scams.
Your Excellencies, Comrades, Ladies and Gentlemen, corruption remains the most serious factor undermining the realization of our economic potential. Government must not only make commitments to fighting it, government must demonstrate this commitment by its actions, by its style and by its body language. In this regard, we find the pardon granted to a former governor who was convicted of corruptly enriching himself as unfortunate and a major dent on the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. To reclaim lost ground, government needs to reassure Nigerians that it is still committed to fighting corruption by conclusively dealing with all pending cases of corruption.
Comrades, we belong to a comity of nations. Beside this, Nigeria is a leading voice in Africa. In line with this, please permit us to comment on the situation in the Western Sahara and other parts of the world.
The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic is the only country today in Africa under colonial rule. It is neither under the British nor the French nor the Portuguese, nor for that matter, under any other imperial European power, but under the boots of a fellow African country, Morocco, which itself is an ex-colony of the French.
For decades, the Saharawi Republic was recognized by the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, as a separate, independent country entitled to self-rule. But Morocco in conspiracy with a few countries has held on to this territory, dehumanizing, pauperizing and traumatizing its people.
Today, the Saharawi leave under the worst conditions known to mankind. We want to use the occasion of this May Day to call on the Nigerian government and the civilized international community to intensify pressure on Morocco to withdraw from this territory. The Saharawi, like other human beings are entitled to their freedom and deserve to be treated with dignity. Let the world break its silence today.
We also find it unjustifiable the continued blockade of Cuba and its economy by the government of the United States. It is condemnable and unnecessary. While we recognize the inherent ideological differences between the two, it is incumbent upon the US to recognize the right of sovereign nations to hold alternative and legitimate views. Accordingly, we call for the easing of sanctions against Cuba.
We find it intriguing that the US does business and even maintains healthy relations with nations whose citizens or governments conduct themselves in a manner that runs counter not only to US cherished values but its global interests. We wonder why Cuba is an exception.
The Cuban Five are victims of these frosty relations. Their continued detention is a violation of their personal rights as well as an affront to human rights. It also has the potential for denying the US its leadership role in championing the cause of global human rights. We therefore call on the Obama administration to make the bold and creative decision to free the Five. It could mark the flourishing of a mutually beneficial relation, and enhance peaceful co-existence.
NLC condemns the continuous violation of trade union rights in Swaziland. It is unacceptable that the only national trade union Centre, Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA) continues to be outlawed by government simply because it is demanding for the enthronement of participatory democracy hinged on multi-party democracy. We are in complete agreement that human and trade union rights cannot be fully enjoyed in an environment that is perpetually undemocratic. African trade unions should not tolerate regimes that violate trade union rights; the NLC therefore calls on the international labour movement to continue to queue behind the Swazi workers and peoples’ struggle for genuine democratic changes.
In Mali, because of the conditions in the country due to the ongoing conflict including the close down of schools, the exposure of women and children to all sorts of violence, unemployment among youth, HIV and AIDS etc. conditions continue to be dire and worsening.
The Nigerian government should use both the framework of ECOWAS and AU to evolve humanitarian campaigns in aid of Malian peoples. Humanitarian crisis is piling, there are scores of Internally Displaced Persons housed in Refugee camps just as the fighting rages. The incidence of migration of refugees will yet become a problem to Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
In Chad, we condemn the detention of union leaders and the infringement of trade union space. Chadian Government has just criminally prosecuted three trade union leaders for leading a workers’ strike to demand the implementation of a minimum wage agreement. During the trial, one trade union activist was sentenced to jail term by the presiding judge for contempt. He later died mysteriously in jail few days later. NLC adds it's voice to the ILO for sanctions against Chad for violation of Convention 144 dealing with tripartite consultation.
Congress is appalled that rape is fast becoming a weapon of war. This is the case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where scores of women have been raped and still being raped by militias and government forces in North and South Kivu where wars rage. We call on the international community and the Congolese government to act decisively to protect these women as well as investigate and prosecute persons culpable in this dastardly act.
Comrades, as we commence the process of stock taking of nation building since the amalgamation of 1914, let us all commit to building a united, just and egalitarian nation. While there are achievements which we can celebrate as a nation, the near one hundred years of our collective development have left many development deficits which we must seek to obliterate.
Let me end this address by saluting the dedication and resilience of Nigerian workers in the task of nation-building over the past hundred years. We salute the past leaders of our movement and their dedication to our nation. We look forward to a future that will be brighter for ourselves and our children and a nation that will be a pride and model to the black race in the future.
As in the past, we will continue to fight for the unity of the country, its peace and democracy. We want to assure you that Labour will rise once again to provide the needed leadership for the pursuit of these. Thank you
Long live Nigeria Labour movement!
Long Live International working class movement!
Long live federal republic of Nigeria.