NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS
TRADE UNION CONGRESS
“Labour, Politics and the Quest for Good Governance and Development in Nigeria”
Workers’ Day Address of
Organized Labour in Nigeria
Comrade Ayuba P. Wabba, mni – President, NLC
Comrade Quadri Olaleye, FCIA – President, TUC
Presented in Commemoration of the 2022 May Day
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) welcome all Nigerian workers, pensioners, labour veterans, allies in civil society, women, youth and all people of goodwill to the commemoration of the 2022 Workers’ Day.
The celebration of May Day also known as International Workers’ Day is always the high point of the recognition of the role of the worker in building and sustaining the social and economic systems of the world. May Day which took its roots in 1886 Haymarket Struggle continues to embody the aspirations, commitment, and sacrifices of workers for dignified livelihood, decent wages, pristine working conditions, inclusive development and a fair stake in the reward of surplus value.
While we felicitate with our Christian and Moslem communities on Easter and end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid-El-Fitr tomorrow, we salute the tenacity, altruism and sacrifice of Nigerian workers. Despite very tough odds sacked against us, we remain undeterred in our quest to contribute to the building of a great country. Workers continue to report for duty in the most security challenging parts of Nigeria. We have workers who are still reporting to duties in our hospitals, schools and other workplaces despite the fact that they are owed arrears of salaries, allowances and other benefits. Our police officers and paramilitary especially the junior cadre put their lives on the line despite being denied decent wages. Our soldiers continue to pay the supreme price in the fight against crime and terrorism despite grave limitations in their service conditions.
This is the reason this May Day is dedicated in honour of the selfless service, sweat and sacrifice of Nigerian workers and indeed the working class all over the world. It is our relentless toil that till the farmlands, dig the mines, lay the rail tracks, build the cities, construct and run the factories, and provide the services that make our communities liveable. Without our brains and muscles not even a single wheel of productivity can turn because the truth is that workers produce the wealth. So, on a day like this we celebrate the great value we bring not only to the workplace but also to society and to humanity.
Theme of May Day 2021
The theme for this year’s May Day is, “Labour, Politics and the Quest for Good Governance and Development in Nigeria”. It is very timely as it contextualizes the mood of the nation, the challenges facing the motherland and the role of workers in advancing the solution. This is especially so in light of the approaching 2023 general election.
At the 2021 May Day, our focus was on the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the novel corona virus largely contained, we must adjust to life beyond the pandemic. Pursuant to this, we must be mindful of the huge constraints and dislocation that the COVID-19 pandemic left in its wake especially massive upheavals in the workplace particularly as marked by mass job losses, job destruction, increased pressure on social infrastructure and setbacks in the national economy. These challenges have been compounded by a rather lethargic disposition and performance by the political class.
At the 2022 Workers Political Conferences organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, it was established that the prevailing unfair cum unjust industrial practices against workers in our country and the deterioration in the standards of living are all products of political decisions. In more specific terms, political leaders by acts of commission and omission produce the social outcomes of mass retrenchments, indecent wages and pensions, hyper-inflation, spiralling wave of unemployment, endemic poverty, weak social protection cover especially with regards to the dearth of quality education, affordable health care, and robust physical security.
Careful not to be accused of blowing our own trumpet, we must say that Organized Labour in Nigeria following the footsteps of the forebears of the Nigerian labour movement has continued to fight and defend the interests of the working class using the tools of labour standards provided for in our laws and international conventions. Yet, our experience over the years shows that our engagement with the political decisions that eventually crystallize as labour administration in our country sometimes is akin to dragging a bull out of the barn. It is clear that this approach as effective as it has been, remains limited.
The logic must now be how to prevent the menacing bull of industrial injustice from accessing the barn of the workplace. This is the point where labour must confluence with politics. Workers can no longer afford to play the Ostrich while a section of our professional political class play the roulette with the welfare of workers and the destiny of our country. History will be very unkind to us if we continue to stay outside the rings of politics and trust that our placards and protests will change the iron-clad determination of many of our politicians bent on looting, enslaving and leaving in their wake smokes of destitution and despondency. Given the scale of disappointing returns on governance and national development, we must now do the needful.
Fellow workers and dear citizens, there is no better time than now to enter the political rings and engage more vigorously with the questions of our collective survival as a people and as the working class who produce the wealth that the political class squanders at whim. The absence of serious engagement by our professional political class with the real issues that define our lives and set the limits of decent living even as the campaigns for the 2023 general election gets underway should alert and alarm Nigerian workers. Instead of engaging the issues of physical security, social protection, decent wages, unemployment and poverty eradication, fixing the economy, our politicians are more interested in zoning of political offices and threatening the peace of our country which is already greatly imperilled. Clearly, it is a failed political class that would wish to keep the masses, workers and the daily socio-economic struggles we face as footnotes in the 2023 political agenda.
The history of the global working class has been that of continuous struggle between workers and the owners of capital who collude with political actors to form a formidable neoliberal force that keep workers out of the proceeds of the surplus value that workers generate. The truth is that the acreage of victory they have enjoyed so far is proportional to the acoustics of vanquish we have yielded to them especially by our cold-hearted engagement with politics. As they say, it is the person who wins the war that writes the history of the conquered. When politicians work with owners of capital to conquer the political space, they write our destiny. Nigerian workers and pensioners have slept enough. Now, we must use our numbers and organizing skills to re-construct and control the political narratives of our country for good.
We will not be the first to do this. The founding fathers of the labour movement in Nigeria did not sit on the fence as the fight for the political liberation of Nigeria from colonial forces raged. Workers were in the forefront of the struggle for our national independence. As a matter of fact, the campaign to free Nigeria from imperialist rule remained in the shadows until the national strike action of June 1945 which was led by labour leader number one, Late Pa Michael Imoudu.
We also have examples of Trade Unions all over the world which have not only been able to engage in partisan politics but have been able to win political power. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom (UK) have held power and majority seats in the UK Parliament at different times. Workers Political Party in Norway recently won the majority seats in the Norwegian Parliament and has formed the government at the centre.
In Brazil, President Lula Inacio Da Silva, President of CUT Brazil, the counterpart organization of NLC and TUC, led the Workers Party of Brazil to unprecedented national electoral victory in 2002. Under Lula’s government, some of the most progressive and extensive social reform programmes were executed which lifted more than 20 million Brazilians out of poverty. In South Africa, there is a close working relationship between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which helps protect workers’ rights. The Australian Labour Party (ALP) in 1910 became the first Workers Party to form a national government. The Labour Party won the general elections in New Zealand in 2020. We can go and on.
The President of the United States, Mr. Joe Biden, was elected with the full support of the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). In one of his messages to trade unions, President Biden has this to say, “I am not ashamed to be called a Union President… I’d not be standing here without labour, without union – union labour. I intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history.”
Establishing the importance of popular participation in Politics, Bertolt Brecht cautioned that it is only political illiterates who do not know that the price of beans, petrol, house rent and so on are all products of political decisions. This is why there is a field of study called Political Economy showing an intrinsic link between Politics and the Economy.
The National Economy
Most Nigerians, irrespective of rank, sex, sect or age, are living witnesses to the indescribable hardship that has besieged us in recent months resulting in the sharp drop in the quality of our lives. The continued de-industrialization of our economy, the wide deficits in physical infrastructure and embrace of neo-liberal policies by successive governments have continued to impoverish and enslave our people.
The continued floundering and devaluation of the Naira elicit grave concerns. Nairametrics.com reveal that by 31st December 2021, the Naira closed against the dollar in the parallel market at N565 compared to N460 at the end of 2020. In April 2022, the Naira continued in its free-fall as it nestled at N581/586 against the dollar. There are indications that the free fall would continue given the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its global economic fallout.
The direct corollary of this on inflation has been profoundly negative. Records from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that though the average composite Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the 12 months period ending in February 2022 over the CPI average for the previous twelve months was 16.73 per cent, the country’s annual inflation rate went up to 15.7 per cent from 15.6 per cent in the previous month. The high inflation was largely driven by fuel shortages and concomitant effects on costs of transportation, commodities and services.
In April 2022, the inflation rate had risen to 15.92 per cent as food and energy prices soared. As an import-dependent country, the negative effects of these are better imagined. It went so bad that even the prices of locally produced goods and services were affected. President Muhammadu Buhari captured it succinctly when he admitted that in the past 18 months Nigerians have never had it so bad, not even during the civil war. Yet, there are no signs that things will get better.
According to a credit rating agency, Agusto and Co, unemployment in Nigeria rose to an all-time high of 35 per cent in 2021 up from 33.3 per cent as at the last quarter of 2020. Econometrics projections suggest that the unemployment crisis in Nigeria would hit 40 per cent in 2023 and 44 per cent in 2024. Such unemployment figures spell trouble.
Information from the Debt Management Office reveal that Nigeria’s total public debt rose by 20.2 per cent to N39.56 trillion. As at 31st December 2021, our debt profile had risen from $86 billion, an equivalent of N32.92 trillion in 2020 to $95.77 billion.
In the same period under review, Nigeria’s external debt service rose 37 per cent to $2.1 billion. The combined effects of these rising debt profile have taken their toll and continue to take their toll on the ordinary citizens and workers who are the victims of the profligacy of the rich and powerful and are the ones always asked to belt-tight.
The Energy Sector – Electricity Sub-Sector
Closely related to the poor performance of the Nigerian economy is the near comatose state of our energy sector especially as marked by the frequency of power failure. The epidermic of power failure has been part of our national life. Our fathers went through it. We are suffering it. Our children are trapped in it. And there is no sign that their own children will not go through “Up NEPA… Down NEPA!” This is tragic.
In the past one month, the national grid has collapsed about four times. This is of great concern as it has a direct bearing on our national security coupled with higher running costs for businesses, total collapse for many enterprises especially start-ups and a progenitor of utter discomfort to all. In the long run, poor citizens and workers are the ones who pay the real price of energy failure. It is disconcerting that while quality of electricity service plummets, tariffs shoot through the roof without any justification. Despite plenty promises by government and the electricity regulatory agency, many Nigerians are still denied access to pre-paid meters and so are subjected to outrageous estimated billings. There is no better distaste of neo-colonialism than this.
The challenges in our electricity sub sector persists despite the acclaimed goodness that the power sector privatization program promised. In spite of humungous bailout support funds fleeced from public coffers to the so-called private investors who bought our electricity assets dirt cheap, our power generation and distribution blues keep getting worse. The truth is: we have been badly scammed.
Organized Labour in Nigeria calls on the Federal Government to take advantage of the five-year review window provided in the Electricity Sector Privatization Reform Act, already overdue, to scrap and reverse the electricity privatization exercise. We also demand transparent investigation into the power sector privatization program which we believe was hijacked by a few entitled Nigerians to corner the commonwealth without thought for value addition. Enough is Enough!
Energy Crisis – The Downstream Petroleum Sub-Sector
Nigerians may wish to recall that earlier in the year there was a return of long queues at filling stations across the country. This crisis of shortage of refined petroleum products including the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) also referred to as fuel, Diesel, and Aviation Fuel, was triggered by the importation of adulterated fuel which caused substantial damage to many vehicles. The failure of government to quickly arrest the ugly situation exposed Nigerians to the horror of agonizing long hours of queuing for petroleum products.
As a result of the scarcity, the prices of refined petroleum products shot up in most parts of the country thus worsening the crisis of inflation in the cost of goods and services. For the first time in our history, the cost of air tickets was hiked by more than 100 per cent at once even as domestic airlines threatened to suspend operations. Many factories were forced to scale down production or completely close down as diesel which have largely replaced public electricity supply was nowhere to be found and when available was sold at cut throat prices. Banks and many corporate offices were forced to reduce their working hours just to cut down on galloping operational costs. The impact of all these on the economy, jobs and productivity can only be imagined.
In the midst of our recent energy crises, the promoters of deregulation of the downstream petroleum sub-sector went tongue-tied. Obviously, there was nothing more to say given the grand failure of their prescription of deregulation as marked by wholesale importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria and the killing of our local refineries and ancillary value-chain industries. All the promises of surplus availability of refined petroleum products and at cheaper prices quickly imploded as the scarcity loomed and prices soared incredibly.
We have deregulated diesel, aviation fuel and kerosene. Yet, these products are hardly available and their prices continue to soar beyond the reach of the average Nigerian and businesses. This should set off the alarm that something is fundamentally wrong with our approach.
More shocking is the fact that everyone in Nigeria’s petroleum importation chain has managed to explain away their culpability in this shameful ordeal and they have indeed been given a clean bill of health. As usual, it is workers and poor consumers who have been compelled to bear the trash and count their losses. Does the government care?
Fellow Nigerians, just as Organized Labour has been saying for many years now, the only sustainable solution to our energy crisis is the rehabilitation and optimization of our local oil refineries and the building of new ones. It is sad that Nigeria is about the only OPEC country that cannot refine her crude oil. It is a shame that we are running helter-skelter looking for Diesel which is one of the easiest crude oil derivatives to produce especially using Modular Refineries.
As if the chaos in our downstream petroleum subsector is not enough, there is a ticking time bomb in our upstream petroleum sub-sector – Oil Theft. According to recent statistics presented at a meeting in Abuja between the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Oil Producers Trade Section, and the Independent Petroleum Producers Group (IPPG), Nigeria lost $3.2 billion in crude oil theft between January 2021 and February 2022. According to the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Mele Kyari, over $1.5 billion dollars has been lost to crude oil theft in the first quarter of this year alone.
The menace of organized crude oil theft has been reported to be very rife around Bonny Terminal, Forcados Terminal and Brass Terminal Networks creating crude oil loss of about 91 per cent. This means that even the current increase in the price of crude oil in the international commodities market is not translating to significant revenue for the country. Yet, we are forced by the comatose state of our refineries to import refined products at very exorbitant cost. It beats us why we cannot even organize the artisanal refineries and regulate them. Already, we are unable to meet OPEC oil production quota. Now, we know the reason for this is not just under-investment in the sector but crude oil theft. Yet, our government is running helter-skelter looking for funds to borrow. So, head or tail, we are losing. This is an acute symptom of a failing State. This is tragic. This is totally unacceptable.
Expanding Web of Insecurity
It is a shame and a slap on our face as a country that the heinous crimes in our upstream and downstream petroleum sectors are perpetuated right under the noses of our security operatives. Right before our eyes, we are witnessing episodes upon episodes of armed terrorist attacks all over the country. A few weeks ago, we witnessed a catalogue of chained terrorist attacks. In Plateau State, scores of Nigerians were massacred. Shortly before then, terrorists invaded the Kaduna Airport and stopped an aircraft taxing on the runway from taking off.
Shortly after, precisely on 28th March 2022, armed terrorists waylaid an Abuja-Kaduna bound train with bombs and bullets. By the time the attack was over, about seven Nigerians were killed including the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress, Comrade Musa Lawal Ozigi and the Kwara State Chairperson of the TUC, Comrade Akinsola Akinwunmi. Many more Nigerians suffered different degrees of injuries. And many of the passengers were kidnapped and taken away into the bush. Till today, most of them are still being held captive by terrorists.
It is disheartening that despite the funds invested into national security especially in the fight against terrorism, it appears the terrorists are getting bolder by the day. In the past few years, these marauders have attacked military facilities and checkpoints killing our soldiers in the process. All over the country, it is one tale of criminality or the other. There was a time such tales were unthinkable in Nigeria. What has changed? Why are we becoming more and more vulnerable? Are the terrorists now stronger than our collective will? These questions are soul searching and deserves very honest answers and actions.
Social Infrastructure: Education
In our address last year, we had made the point that “with over 13 million out-of-school children, old school curriculum, kidnap of school children (insecurity), underfunding of the sector”, we cannot deny the fact that we have a major crisis on our hands. No nation develops better than the state of its education. Our public schools once rated among the best in Africa and attracting scholars from all over the world have now become a shadow of themselves. Many of our students now study under trees. Our classrooms and other school facilities are dilapidated. It appears our students and undergraduates spend more time out of school than in school owing to endemic strike actions. Very worrisome is the fact that those superintending over the rot in our education system enjoyed free bursary, free meals and scholarships as students.
As we celebrate this May Day, our university students are at home as a result of strike action caused by the failure of government to respect Collective Bargaining Agreement reached with university workers. We have already issued an ultimatum to government to resolve this national embarrassment or they will have all of us to contend with. We are fully mobilized to resist a system of Social Apartheid that keeps the children of the poor at home while the children of the rich are in school.
The Crises in our Health Sector
Our health sector has not fared any better in the last couple of years. Our health facilities that used to be the reference point in Africa have been stripped to the bones. The total allocation to healthcare in the 2022 budget is N820 billion, out of the N16.39 trillion federal budget presented to the National Assembly. This represents about 5 per cent of the 2022 national budget and a far cry from the 15 per cent allocation to public healthcare as agreed by the Abuja Declaration on Health.
There has been an upsurge in industrial crises in our health sector. We are concerned that government has refused to adjust the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS) for health workers. It is very unfortunate that government exacerbates the frailties in our health sector including the abysmal medical workers to patient ratio by not according the desired attention to the needs of our health workers. While our government treats our health workers with levity, other countries are constantly poaching our best hands with mouth-watering salaries, benefits and incentives thus worsening the brain drain syndrome in our health sector. This is truly tragic and unacceptable.
In the face of the near collapse of our education and health sectors, Nigerians are now resorting to sending their children abroad for their education and health needs. According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerians, between 2010 and 2020, spent $39.66 billion in educating their wards abroad and attending to healthcare needs. Out of this amount, $28.65 billion was paid by Nigerian parents and guardians for their wards to study abroad, while $11.01bn was spent on getting needed healthcare-related services in foreign countries. This depletion of our public and private resources on medical and education tourism is certainly not the way to develop a country neither is it sustainable.
A recent ILO Report, it is estimated that only about 10 per cent of the economically active population in Africa south of the Sahara are covered by statutory social security schemes. The ILO posits that Nigeria spends less than 2 per cent of her GDP on social protection, one of the world’s lowest. Given the gale of youth unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness and poor benefits for senior citizens including the inability of those covered by formal pension schemes to access same as and when due, Nigeria sits on the keg of social gunpowder.
During the 2021 NLC Roundtable on Social Protection, it was established that the inadequacy of social protection cover in Nigeria amidst the galloping unemployment and poverty crises is responsible for the upsurge in violent crimes and the luring of our young people to terrorism. The provision of social protection cover, given the position of the Nigerian Constitution, is a cardinal duty of government and when government breaks this crucial pact with citizens, the kind of social rebellion and violence that we see all around are the results you get.
Critical to the realization of universal protection are rights to freedom of association, speech, collective bargaining, and equal opportunity for all and equal treatment of all irrespective of gender, race or creed including young workers, migrant workers and workers in the informal sector. These rights are provided for and guaranteed by international and national laws and conventions especially under the auspices of the United Nations, International Labour Organization, African Union, ECOWAS and our domestic laws. It is worrisome that these rights appear to be observed more in the breach than in compliance.
Climate Change and Just Transition
At the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015, countries of the world that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change resolved to peg global warming at 1.5oC through a 45 per cent reduction in green house emission by 2030 and zero emission by 2050. This conveys serious implications for economies like Nigeria’s that is heavily dependent on the exploration and sale of fossil fuel.
Given recent downturn in global climate patterns especially increase in natural disasters, the world has moved from climate change advocacy to climate change emergency. The continued reliance on and use of fossil fuel has been identified as a major threat to our environment, our ecosystem and sustainable livelihood. This has necessitated the global campaign for a shift to a less carbon green economy that is sustainable. For developing countries which economies are natural resource dependent, this comes at a very high price for jobs and livelihood. Trade unions response to this is the call for Just Transition to greener and climate resilient economies but with very strong consideration for job security especially for workers in climate change vulnerable sectors such as the oil industry, manufacturing, mining and agriculture.
Good Governance and National Development
During the May Day of last year, Organized Labour identified poor governance as the precursor to the challenges of unemployment, poverty and insecurity in Nigeria. Today, these challenges have worsened. This unfortunate scenario must compel us to examine the structure and delivery of governance in Nigeria. The ongoing constitution amendment process offers us a very veritable opportunity to make adjustments in the following spheres of governance in Nigeria:
- Infrastructural Development
While we commend the government of President Muhammadu Buhari for its commitment to the completion of key infrastructural projects such as the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, the Abuja Kano expressway, the Lagos Ibadan railways, the Kaduna Kano railways and the Port Harcourt Maiduguri railways, we must say that Nigeria continues to lag behind many of her peers in the comity of nations with regards to the provision of critical infrastructure.
As at 2015, Nigeria’s National Infrastructural Stock hovered around 35 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. Speaking at the high-level side event of the Glasgow COP 26 which took place in December last year, President Muhammadu Buhari remarked that Nigeria needs an investment of up to $1.5 trillion in the next ten years to close its infrastructural gaps. The areas of needs include investments in public electricity assets, rehabilitation of our old dilapidated refineries and construction of new ones, continuous improvement and expansion of our rail network, investment in natural gas development and pipeline infrastructure, rehabilitation of our roads especially those leading to the nerve centres of our economy such as the Apapa-Oshodi-Wharf road, the dredging of our internal waterways and construction of jetties, expansion of fibre optics wires and facilities to facilitate faster and cheaper internet broadband connections and reconstruction of our broken social infrastructure especially public schools and hospitals.
In light of the humungous infrastructural challenges facing our country, it behoves on the government to be very shrewd with resources. The time when it was said that our problem is not money but how to spend it belongs to the past. Right now, we are looking for money to meet our developmental needs. The attitude of those in government must show commitment to value-for-money. We do not have money to waste.
- Manufacturing and Industrialization – Support Micro, Small and Medium Scale Businesses
Government must prioritize manufacturing and industrialization by facilitating the provision of raw materials, foreign exchange at official rates, enabling infrastructure and removal of multiple taxation for manufacturing concerns. We condemn the recent excise duties on carbonated non-alcoholic beverages. This unpopular policy has hiked the price of these beverages, eroded the capital base of soft drinks companies, endangered many jobs, and could deepen destitution given that many Nigerians depend on these products to keep hunger away.
Officially, there are over 41 million Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME’s) in Nigeria. The MSMEs in Nigeria contribute approximately 50 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product and generate about 59.6 million jobs which aggregates to 86.3 per cent of Nigeria’s workforce.
Yet, the state of MSMEs businesses which are mostly in the informal economy gives serious cause for concern. The governance deficits identified in the foregoing in addition to austere regulatory measures have combined to escalate the infanticide of small and medium scale businesses especially start-ups and enterprises in the informal economy.
Operators in Nigeria’s MSMEs are also buffeted by weak financial base, multiple taxation and exploitative business practices in the hands of public utility companies especially DISCOs. The pressure on MSMEs by disruptive public utilities service delivery aggravates the huge transaction burden on the MSMEs who are forced to generate about 50 per cent of the energy to run their businesses and maintain production.
We wish to draw the attention of government to the mounting debt owed contractors working on numerous projects across the country. The truth is that it is workers who receive the heaviest punch when government owes contractors. We urge governments at all levels in Nigeria to settle debts owed contractors in order to preserve millions of jobs in the construction sector and save the sector from collapse.
We call for diligent oversight and implementation of our laws on Local Content and Expatriate Quota. We call for determined efforts against smuggling which is the nemesis of local manufacturing especially in the agricultural and textile sectors. We call for increased structural, logistics and financial support for the agriculture and textile sectors.
Autonomy for Local Governments, State Judiciary and Legislature
In the ongoing struggle for autonomy for Local Governments, State Judiciary and Legislature, Organized Labour has been in the front of the campaign for the independence of these institutions from the apron strings of state Governments. This is in order to strengthen good governance and bring development to the grassroots. The current state of affairs in the local governments and the other two arms of government in the states can best be described as undemocratic, an indictment of our political development and a shame on our ruling class.
The failure of the local government system is at the root of the collapse of the security architecture in our country. Funds that should have been used to build roads and hospitals, create employment, maintain schools and provide security at the grassroots are often siphoned and diverted for other uses or pocketed by most state governors. The massive gale of under-development in our hinterlands has not only exacerbated rural-urban migration but has also deepened mass poverty, destitution and the resort of many of our youth to violent crimes and other moral vices.
Also, a great concern for sustainable democracy in Nigeria is sustained compromise of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), who have come under the political influence of governors. The collusion between Governors and SIEC officials make mockery of local elections to the chagrin of opposition political parties. To guarantee a level playing field for all political actors, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should conduct all local council elections in Nigeria.
We commend members of the Senate and House of Representatives for overwhelmingly passing the bills on financial autonomy for the local governments, state judiciary and State Houses of Assembly. However, the battle is not yet over as concurrence of the State Houses of Assembly is required to sign the bills into law by the President. To this end, Organized Labour working with the leadership of NULGE, JUSUN, PASAN and others affected by these issues have continued to engage vigorously. On 7th April this year, Organized Labour laid siege at the Abuja venue of a meeting of State Governors and Speakers of State Houses of Assembly to insist that autonomy for the local governments, state Judiciary and legislature should be part of the agenda for their discussions. We will intensify this struggle until victory is achieved.
CORE LABOUR ISSUES
Fellow workers, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture, we need to project very strongly the concerns that directly affect Nigerian workers and impede our collective and individual aspirations.
The National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wages is the minimum income floor enshrined in the law to safeguard the livelihood of low-income wage earners. Fellow workers, the plot by a section of Nigeria’s ruling class to kill the National Minimum Wage by removing it as an item from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List came up again very strongly in the process of the current constitutional amendment.
The leadership of Organized Labour took this challenge by the horns and mobilized workers across the length and breadth of our country to resist this evil agenda. As we speak, that agenda has been defeated at the National Assembly as the bill for the removal of the minimum wage from the exclusive to the concurrent list was not listed by the National Assembly as part of the bills transmitted to State Houses of Assembly. Once again, we commend the leadership of the National Assembly for standing with Nigerian workers and people by rejecting this agenda.
It is very sad that up till now, three state governments are yet to commence the payment of the national minimum wage. Specifically, the culpable state governments are Abia, Taraba, Cross River and Zamfara. The affected states should pay their workers the national minimum wage immediately or risk the wrath of all workers in Nigeria.
Industrial Crisis in the University System
For the past few months, unions in the university system have been on industrial action over the consistent breach of agreements by the federal government. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has down tools for over 3 months, and 3 other unions in the universities have also declared strikes in protest over their treatment. These are Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated institutions (NASU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT).
The issues in dispute include: renegotiation of the 2009 Agreement, meant for review every 3 years, challenges with the implementation of the Integrated Payment Payroll Information System (IPPIS), funding of tertiary education system in the country, non-payment of arrears of Minimum Wage for university staff, and earned allowances, minimum wage arrears, and autonomy for universities among others.
We note with concern that protracted industrial actions in tertiary institutions arise from non-implementation of Collective Bargaining Agreements that the Federal Government signed with unions. Topical issues in these agreements include the issue of university funding, earned allowances and other welfare issues facing university staff.
We are grieved at the pattern of Social Apartheid in our society as revealed by the incessant strike actions in our universities. Over 95 per cent of students constituted largely by children of the poor who cannot afford the huge fees charged by private universities are at home while children from rich homes who are in private tertiary institutions at home and abroad are comfortably pursuing their education unabated.
This evil must stop immediately. As part of the solutions we had proffered to this issue, we demand that government must implement agreements it reached with workers in our universities and polytechnics. We have already given a 21-day notice for the resolution of the industrial crisis in our universities. At the expiration of this notice, Nigerian workers will be left with no other option but to embark on solidarity actions with unions in universities for our students.
Pension and Gratuity Payment
The plight of pensioners remains a major source of concern not only to organised labour, but all persons of conscience and goodwill. As we address you today, most pensioners are going through unimaginable trauma and harrowing experiences. They have been short-changed, abused and subjected to all manner of humiliation and indignities with some dying in line-ups in so-called unending biometrics and verification exercises. Most pensioners are not only denied their minimum pension, but are also subjected to irregular pension payment. Even when such payments are paid to pensioners on Defined Benefit Scheme, they hardly reflect actual retirement earnings and benefits of our retirees.
Recently, the debate to use part of pension funds for investments have been making the rounds especially given Nigeria’s huge foreign debts. Perhaps, prodded by moneybags in the business community, members of the National Assembly had mooted the idea for investments of pension funds in infrastructural development. The argument that these funds running into trillions of naira are “idle” amidst the urgent need to grow the economy should be taken with a pinch of salt.
While it is true that the sorry state of infrastructure in the country is a sore point in our national life and the situation in part is responsible for our shrinking economy, these are not sufficient reasons to invest pension funds without recourse to due process as prescribed in the Pension Act 2014 as amended. Lest we forget, the reasons for migration from the Defined Benefit System (DBS) to Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) was due to government’s inability to pay pension to retired workers as and when due. This sad situation arose from non-funding of the pension or diversion of such funds or outright embezzlement.
The leadership of Organized Labour demands respect of the provisions of the Pension Act as amended which stipulate that only a percentage of Pension Savings should be invested in assured risks. We make this appeal especially to PENCOM and the National Assembly. Never again would we surrender the life savings of our retirees to opportunists in government and their predator cousins in capitalist circles.
The quest for good governance and sustainable national development cannot be attained without decent work. This is because decent work is about people and people are at the centre of development. Decent work deficits are manifest in insufficient employment opportunities, low wages, poor social protection cover, denial of rights at work and weakness in social dialogue. The significance of Decent Work to development is underscored by its inclusion as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 8) which talks about the promotion of sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and attainment of full productive employment and decent work for all.
Violation of Human, Workers and Trade Union Rights
At the heart of Decent Work is the freedom of association and the right to organise – the right of workers to join trade unions of their choice, set their own rules, organize their own activities, and manage their funds without interference by employers or employers’ associations or even government. Unfortunately, these fundamental trade union rights have been undermined by many employers and governments in Nigeria.
Recently, the Kaduna State Government issued a circular demanding fresh registration into trade unions for civil servants in the state. We wrote to the State Government to demand that the action of government was defective, illegal, ultra vires, and does not stand the rigours of the law, logic, good conscience and public morality.
We also have other instances of violation of workers rights especially in our banking, oil and telecommunication industries where casualization of labour is on the increase. Recently, MTN Nigeria refused to negotiate with the recognized trade unions in their workplace rather constituted their own trade union which they referred to as the “Employees Council”. In South Africa, MTN respects all the labour laws. Nigeria cannot be different. We have written the management of MTN to warn them of the illegality of their actions and the consequences of the same.
In the same vein, we condemn the continued strive by some people in the corridors of power to concession our airports. From the Transaction Adviser’s report, there is clearly no justifiable reason for government to hand over airports built with public funds to private investors whose sole objective is profit maximization at public pain. Our experience with such moves is that the first thing the concessionaires do is to casualize labour and perpetrate all manner of decent work deficits. Private investors who believe that there is gold mine in running airports should build their own airports and recoup their investments afterwards. They should stay off profitable airports built at public expense.
We wish to remind slave drivers who are denying workers their rights to full and productive employment to amend their ways as Organized Labour will use the instruments of the law and the muscle of our solidarity to casualize your operations. We will not shed our sweat and blood to secure Nigeria’s independence and then surrender our freedom to shylock capitalists who elevate profit above human dignity.
a) Need for General Salary Review in the Civil Service, Police, Armed Forces and Para-Military
We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for announcing salary increment for our teachers and police officers last year. We urge relevant agencies of government to translate this presidential declaration from a promise to actual deposits in the bank accounts of the concerned workers. In this vein, we demand an upward review of the salary of core civil servants, officers of the Nigeria Police Force, members of our armed forces and para-military agencies who make huge sacrifices to keep us safe. We believe that it is only just to narrow the gap between their emoluments and those of employees in other segments of the public service.
We also commend Mr. President for excepting Permanent Secretaries from Contributory Pension Scheme and for approving that they earn their salaries for life. This is a good motivation for those who have devoted all their lives in the service of our nation and people. In the same vein, we demand the payment of gratuity to all retirees. What is good for retired Permanent Secretaries is also good for all retirees.
b) Need for upward review of retirement age
While thanking President Muhammadu Buhari for the recent increase of the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years, we also call on government for an upward review of the retirement age and years of service in the entire Public Service. Certainly, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
c) Need for payment of gratuity to civil servants
We urge governments at all levels to respect the provisions of the 2014 Pension Reform Act which did not remove the payment of gratuity to workers. We urge the Federal and some State governments that had ceased paying gratuity to clear their arrears. It is gratifying that many private sector employers continue to pay gratuity. We commend Lagos, Borno, Jigawa, Kebbi, Oyo, Kano, and Yobe state governments for leading in gratuity payment. Gratuity for retiring officers should be restored in public service to compensate for workers’ service years. We also call for immediate payment of a new minimum pension to Nigeria’s retirees whose retirement benefits are subject to such adjustment.
Moving Forward: Addressing the Challenge of Political Participation in the Quest for Good Governance and National Development
The solutions to the foregoing challenges are captured in the Workers’ Charter of Demands which prioritizes equity, fairness and social justice. Our Charter demands for free and quality education up to tertiary levels for every Nigerian child. Our Charter of Demands insists that every Nigerian should access free and quality healthcare from cradle to grave. We, therefore, canvass for robust political commitment to increased budgetary allocation to education, healthcare and social welfare.
Our Charter of Demands makes the argument for a restructuring that engenders sustainable development. Our Charter of Demands posits that politicians should no longer be allowed to send their kids to schools abroad or treat their sicknesses in foreign hospitals while the children of the poor are trapped in endless strike actions and poor medical facilities which their failed leadership has imposed on all of us.
Our Charter of Demands also makes a strong case for decent work for Nigerian workers. We are saying that those who contribute to Productivity and Wealth Creation must be the first partaker of their own toil and sweat. We are demanding that instead of criminalizing picketing and strike actions, politicians should criminalize non-payment of salaries (“no pay… no work” should replace “no work… no pay”) and refusal to honour collective bargaining agreements just as the case currently is with the ongoing strike action in our universities.
Our Charter promotes decent work conditions for workers including equal pay for work of equal value, training, predictable promotion and affordable housing close to workers’ places of work. Our Charter also demands prompt payment of pension and other retirement benefits to our aged pensioners and the protection of all trade union rights.
Our Charter of Demands seeks reform to the rentier culture of shipping out our crude natural resources and importing the finished products at greater costs to Nigerians. Nigerian workers have been consistent for the past forty years in demanding effective and efficient local petroleum refineries. We call for the re-industrialization of our economy now.
Our Charter of Demands is a pact of emancipation for Nigerian workers and people. It seeks sustainable remedies to the fundamental challenges militating against Nigeria’s political, economic and social development. Our Charter also demands adjustments in the structures and institutions of government especially those at the grassroots.
It must be our collective endeavour to put the Workers’ Charter of Demands at the front burner of the 2023 politics. We can make this happen by mobilizing every Nigeria worker and pensioner to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) ready. Next step is to engage politically. We must be ready to engage political parties especially working-class-friendly parties and progressive political interests across the country to ensure that a significant number of candidates who would vie for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of our Charter.
It is helpful that the 2022 Electoral Act allows INEC to fully deploy electronic voting systems for future elections. We hope this will help us achieve transparent and credible elections in 2023. We expect workers’ votes to count in 2023. We expect free, fair and credible elections. We urge INEC and security agencies to stamp out the menace of vote-buying and electoral violence during the 2023 polls. INEC should also perfect the Bi-modal Voter Accreditation System to drastically reduce resort to incidence forms and disenfranchisement of eligible voters. In 2023, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that all votes count.
Beyond engaging the politics of 2023 general elections, Nigerian workers must accept partisan politics as a fundamental way of life for the protection, survival and flourishing of the working class. We will no longer wait for elections to mobilize Nigerians to take charge of the destiny of their country. We will be more proactive and pronounced in the daily political undertakings of our country. We will mobilize the Nigerian people to monitor and engage the performance of those we elect into political offices. We will match the performance metrics of the political class against Workers’ Charter of Demands. Their readings on our scale will determine the swing of the pendulum of workers’ ballot.
Pursuant to the foregoing, Organized Labour is energizing its structures down to the grassroots. We have established political committees in all the states and local governments of Nigeria. We have captured the imagination and interest of our youth and female workers. We have plans to set up the most extensively linked Situation Room on Elections. We are facilitating the emergence of a progressive pro-Nigerian workers’ political coalition. If your political party is truly progressive and worker-friendly, you should be discussing with us. The over 16 million block votes of Nigerian workers, pensioners, our families and our other circles of influence will go to political parties and candidates that assure us that the dreams of Nigerian workers and people would no longer be treated as governance addendum or as objects to be trampled under.
The Labour Party
Strengthened by the provisions of our Constitution on the right of workers and indeed all Nigerians to freedom of association and the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in the “INEC vs Musa” 2003 case in which the apex court ruled that trade unions and workers can form and belong to political parties of their choice to advance their interests, we have intensified efforts to reposition the Labour Party.
We have also engaged in serious discussions with progressive political parties and groups in Nigeria for the possibility of a grand coalition that will rescue Nigerian masses from the grips of continuous misrule and bad governance that our citizens have been subjected to for a very long time. If there is ever a time to make the difference, it is now. With our votes, we can make the difference in the 2023 general election.
Organized Labour in Nigeria remains committed to our fraternal bonds of friendship and fidelity in solidarity with the global working-class.
Organized Labour in Nigeria joins millions of workers and progressives all over the world to celebrate the resilience of the Cuban Workers and Government in the more than sixty years of very severe sanctions and embargo orchestrated by successive American governments and their western allies. It would be recalled that after the 1958 revolution that gave birth to the Republic of Cuba, the American government through laws passed by the United States Congress stifled the economy of Cuba. In the 1990s, the Government of the United States expanded the economic sanctions against the people of Cuba by introducing the Torricely Law and the Helms Burton law. These laws introduced an extraterritorial character to the economic blockade against Cuba by coercing other countries to refrain from doing business with Cuba.
Despite the debilitating sanctions, Cuba continues to make great progress in education and healthcare innovation and services. Successive Cuban governments have managed to maintain a reasonable and dignified level of public services. Even amidst the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban people and government through medical outreaches in different parts of the world have demonstrated unusual solidarity with the rest of humanity including countries in the axis of the multifaceted sanctions against Cuba. Cuba has also gone ahead to develop a potent vaccine against COVID-19.
But there is so much that a people can bear amidst a debilitating blockade. COVID-19 which has brought many nations not experiencing prolonged economic sanctions to their knees has hit Cuba very hard. Yet, majority of Cubans cherish their ideology of socialism untainted by neo-liberal policies that prospers the few to the detriment of the many.
We wish to reiterate that Cubans have a right to self-determination and choice of a political culture that advances their social and economic aspirations. No nation can and should impose their own will on Cubans. The beauty of democracy is the availability of alternatives. The Cuban people have chosen their alternative. Cubans have chosen their political path. They have defended their identity. This should be respected.
The United States and her allies should immediately rescind and remove all the economic sanctions and blockade against the people of Cuba. Clearly, there is no morally defensible reason for the United States of America to sustain the six decades of international punishment against the Cuban people and their government. It is gratifying that most Cubans continue to show faith in their government and in the political system they believe works for them. The least the United States and her allies can do is to allow Cubans to decide their own fate. The people of Cuba need a break from cruel sanctions – Enough is Enough!
We are reminded again this year that the Republic of Western Sahara remains the only colonial enclave in Africa. Shamefully, the enslavement of the people of Western Sahara is not at the instance of western imperialists but at the hand of their fellow Africans particularly the government of Morocco and the tacit complicity of some super powers in global politics. This is now more than thirty years since the world resolved through a United Nations Resolution to commence the process for the independence of the Saharawi People from the colonisation of the Kingdom of Morocco, yet, the fate of the Republic of Western Sahara and her people continue to float in the balance.
At this year’s commemoration of the International Workers Day, we once again invite all peoples and nations of goodwill to renew their commitment to ensuring the liberation of the Republic of Western Sahara. We also call on the African Union and the United Nations to do more in terms of diplomatic and economic pressure on Morocco until the people of Saharawi Republic get their full political independence.
It is very sad that the hurricane of military dictatorship that descended on Myanmar since 1st February 2021 has continued to dig in. Instead of respecting popular demands for the restoration of democracy, the junta in Myanmar has intensified its savage repression of its perceived political enemies and civil rights activists. The scourge of persecution, indiscriminate arrests, and killing of peaceful protesters have replaced democratic associations and interactions in Myanmar including the curtailing and roll back of trade union rights for workers in Myanmar.
We use the occasion of this year’s May Day to demand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar without further delay. We also call for the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience being held under extremely harsh conditions in different detention centres in Myanmar. We demand that workers’ rights and privileges especially the right of freedom of association, the right to organize and right to collective bargaining should be fully restored and respected.
The Harvest of Coups in Africa
Organized Labour in Nigeria views with great concern the harvests of violent military overthrow of democratically elected governments in a number of African countries. This madness is beginning to wear some method. In the past decade, Africa has witnessed about 37 coup d’états and coup attempts. In the past one year alone, about eight coups d’états and attempted coups have taken place in Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Guinea.
This dangerous descent to totalitarianism is reminiscent of how one coup d’état in Togo on 13th January 1963 eventually opened the womb of many more military overthrows of democratically elected governments in Africa. Till today, Africa is yet to recover from decades of military intervention and steering of the ship of state.
A very disturbing scenario out of the recent coups in Africa is the rolling out of drums by the civilian population to celebrate such democratic reversals and antithesis. Perhaps, apart from Sudan, where the citizens actually rallied to dismantle the long dictatorship of Omar Bashir and to resist the counter-coups that have since overtaken the popular revolt, military coups are being accepted in many other African countries.
While we condemn the resurgence of military coups in Africa, we must caution that the increasing acceptance of military governments as was the case in the 60s and 70s is a strong indictment on political leaders on our continent. The truth is that democracy is not just about scheming to grab votes and form governments. It is the business of delivering on the needs and aspirations of the people. Democracy must remain the government of the people, for the people and by the people.
Despite the challenges with the democratic systems all over Africa, we warn that the worst democratic government is still better than the best military government. We, thus, call for the restoration of democracy in all countries of Africa where the military currently holds sway.
We commend the recent democratic elections in Venezuela and the continuous effort to strengthen participatory democracy in the country. We also commend the current engagement by the United States, chiefly as a result of the global energy crisis, to relax the oil and gas embargo placed on Venezuela. Just as the case with Cuba, we urge that all economic and social sanctions imposed on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela be lifted. Venezuelans should be allowed to decide for themselves the kind of democracy and government they want.
The War in Ukraine
We condemn the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the massive human catastrophe it has unleashed. The manner of the prosecution of this war violates the principles and values of the United Nations and the ILO especially as derived from the 1919 Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War which also advocates Dialogue and Social Justice.
We empathize with the workers and ordinary people of Ukraine whose lives have been violently disrupted by this atrocious war. We call for the cessation of hostilities and demand that all the parties must return to the negotiating table. We enjoin the international community to rally round Ukraine to help it rebuild its people, economy, infrastructure, services and workplaces that are being damaged by this terrible war.
Comrades, if we say that our country is at crossroads, it would just be an honest effort in modesty. Our motherland is passing through very dire times. We are unassuming of the fact that the delicate chord of our survival and togetherness as a people is sustained by the resilience of the working people of Nigeria. This is a solemn truth we must celebrate today. It is also a clarion charge to rededicate ourselves to nation-building. The truth is that the reward for a good work is more work. We cannot yet rest on our oars until our work is truly done and completed.
Fellow workers, the task before us has been defined. There is no better, more strategic and more critical site for sustainable nation building than the construction site of politics. It was Plato who warned us that the price for refusing to report at this important site is that we would be ruled by men and women of inferior quality and shallow thinking. Workers wear the shoe of productivity and perfectly understand the pain of building. We are most equipped to make the needed change that our country needs. This is because we know what the issues are since the challenges that buffet our country are what we work at daily.
This is not the time to keep complaining while the problems keep compounding. We must take the initiative now and out of relative obscurity discover the mission and destiny of our dear country and fulfil it. It is just unthinkable to imagine that we would betray this moment.
Comrades, we can take inspiration from our forebears who invested the blood and sweat that liberated our fatherland. We must dare the slave drivers. We have nothing to lose except our chains. Posterity beckons on us. We must answer this generational call of national emancipation that would herald the actualization of the Nigeria of our dreams.
We wish to dedicate this May Day to Nigerian workers and pensioners who have kept the dream alive. Amid some of the worst working conditions, you have never failed to continue contributing to the building of a great country. As we all strive together towards controlling the levers of political power, we will soon achieve the goal of surplus value not only in economic terms but also in social returns.
We appreciate the steadfast solidarity and partnership of our friends and allies in the civil society and the international trade union movement particularly those of the ITUC, ILO, LO-Norway, FNV Netherland and LO-Sweden. We appreciate other socially conscious unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral organizations such as the Fredrich Ebert Stiftung, Solidarity Centre, Zambian Congress of Trade Unions, ACFTU, RENGO-Japan, CUT-Brazil, AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress – United Kingdom, CNT Senegal, Tunisian General Labour Union, General Union of Algerian Workers HAK-IS, Turkey and our trilateral partners – South African Congress of Trade Unions, Kenyan Confederation of Trade Unions (COTU-Kenya) and Ghana Trade Union Congress and other trade unions in Africa and beyond for their right hand of fellowship for many years. We look forward to strengthening these partnerships in the years to come.
Finally, we pay tribute to the memory of workers, labour leaders, and veterans of our movement including the Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress, Comrade Musa Lawal Ozigi, and the TUC Kwara State Chairperson, Comrade Akinsola Akinwunmi whose lives were cut short by the terrorist attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train on 28th March 2022.
We also remember other workers and citizens who either lost their lives or were injured in that savage attack. We demand immediate release and freeing of those abducted in that attack and compensation for the dead and those wounded in that carnage.
We also remember the Chairperson NLC Edo State, Comrade Sunny Osayande who we lost some weeks ago to the cold hands of death.
As we rise in the honour of their memory, may we observe a one-minute silence for them. May their souls and those of other faithful departed rest in perfect peace.
Long Live Nigeria Labour Congress
Long Live the Trade Union Congress
Long Live Working-Class Solidarity
Long Live International Solidarity
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni Comrade Quadri Olaleye, FCIA
President, NLC President, TUC