NIGERIA AT 60: CELEBRATING TOGETHERNESS
A Press Release by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress
On behalf of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and indeed Organized Labour in Nigeria, I wish to congratulate Nigerian workers, the Nigerian people and the Nigerian Government on the occasion of Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary. This is indeed a very remarkable milestone in the history of our country.
The journey of Nigeria’s nationhood cannot be complete without mentioning the great and timeless contribution of the Nigerian working class in the liberation and developmental struggle for Nigeria. The role of Organized Labour in defying the British imperial rule especially through the June 22, 1945 General Strike and Labour’s demand for the respect of the rights of Nigerian workers and people to decent work, just wages and actualization of self-government was a defining moment in Nigeria’s history. Organized Labour has continued to play the role of a vanguard pan Nigerian institution standing as a check to neo-liberal and anti-people policies of successive governments.
Sixty years in the life of a working person is usually the age of retirement from active service. One of the major demands on retirement age is reflective introspection and honest appraisals of one’s life – the highs, the lows, the goals, the misses, the successes, and the failures. If one is able to dispassionately and truthfully examine one’s life, there should be lessons learnt that would inform behavioral adjustments for the rest of one’s life and as a lesson for younger persons and future generations. This is the point where Nigeria is at sixty. There is no more evading of critical national questions. Now, is the time to face them squarely.
Nigeria is doubtlessly a country amazingly blessed and richly endowed by God. There is virtually no mineral resource that is lacking in Nigeria even if it occurs in trace quantities. Beyond the mineral and natural resources that abound in the country is the great diversity of human resource that populate Nigeria. Nigeria is made up of 250 ethnic groups. Within these ethnic groups are 371 tribal groups and among these tribal groups more than 500 languages and dialects are spoken.
Nigeria is one of the few countries in the world that has such a rich diversity of ethnic groups per square kilometer. This is the very reason Nigeria has been described as an extremely ethnically diverse multinational state. As the most populous black country on the planet, Nigeria’s true wealth lies in her people and not in silver and gold. We believe that it is the celebration of the rich diversity of the Nigerian people that informed the theme of this year’s Independence Anniversary – Together. Being together after sixty years of independence despite being through very tumultuous moments in our national life including experiencing a very bloody civil war is certainly something to celebrate. But being ‘together’ must have a stronger value than mere physical co-existence and enforced tolerance of ourselves.
At sixty years, we must confer a bigger value to our being together. Our togetherness amounts to nothing if we are not tapping from the wealth of knowledge, experience and cultural diversity of the Nigerian people. Our being together amounts to nothing if the rich intellectual resource of our people is not applied to solving key developmental issues. Our togetherness might as well be a liability if we fail to use the political process to achieve national consensus on the Nigeria of our dream, how to construct our dream country and recruitment of an enabling leadership that can midwife our collective developmental aspirations.
It is a spite on our togetherness, a big disservice to our natural endowments and a huge slap on the resourcefulness of our people if after sixty years Nigeria is still importing toothpick, pencils, and needles from abroad. We make a huge mockery of the biggest assemblage of black people on the planet if at sixty years we are unable to refine our own crude oil. Indeed, Nigeria is the only OPEC country suffering from this self-inflicted malaise. It is unimaginable that with the abundance of water sources, vast windy terrains, coal and large deposits of natural gas, Nigeria struggles to generate and distribute up to 5000 megawatts of electricity, a sum insufficient to power some airports abroad.
It is sad that at sixty years, our political leaders still prefer to send their children to schools abroad and treat themselves in foreign hospitals since our public schools and hospitals have been so terribly mismanaged. Truly, the message Nigerians especially workers get when our political leaders say that we are together is that we are together to the extent of baking the national cake. When it comes to eating from the cake, Nigerian workers and people are shut out in the cold and rain while those who had forced their way to positions of political leadership corner the collective wealth for themselves and their families alone.
It is in light of these reflections on our journey in nationhood that Organized Labour adopted some of the positions we took in our recent engagement and negotiation with government over the increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as ‘fuel’ or ‘petrol’ and the astronomical hike in electricity tariff. We told government that the so-called deregulation cannot just be about incessant increases in the price of refined petroleum products but should be more about the efficient management of our God-given resources especially our oil refineries for the benefit of the Nigerian people especially workers and the poor. It was on this basis that government for the first time since Labour’s age long struggle against incessant increases in the pump price of petrol yielded to the demand by Labour to set timelines for the complete overhaul of Nigeria’s refineries and include our unions in the oil and gas sector in this process to observe progress being made.
On the issue of hike in electricity tariff, Organized Labour reminded government of the provisions of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that stipulated that the commanding heights of the national economy must be managed by government in the interest of the people. We pointed out to government the folly of making a profit of about N400 billion from the sale of our electricity assets to private investors and then going ahead to spend N1.5 trillion on an asset that had already been sold. This clearly justified our conclusion that the privatization of the power sector was a failure and the recent hike was only an attempt by government to pass off its own failure in the power sector privatization program to poor Nigerians.
Consequent upon our argument, the Federal Government was forced to suspend the recent increase in electricity tariff and constituted a high powered committee made up of representatives of Labour and Government to examine the challenges in Nigeria’s power sector in order to find a more sustainable and mutually acceptable tariff plan and enabling conditions for electricity consumption in Nigeria especially the unjust and vexatious issue of estimated billing against poor Nigerians. These dividends from our recent negotiations are consistent with the contribution of Organized Labour in Nigeria to the genuine togetherness of the Nigerian people and the harnessing of the intellectual and physical abilities of Nigeria for national development.
Mindful of the deleterious effect of the insurgency of the novel corona virus disease (Covid-19), Organized Labour had also used the opportunity offered by the recent negotiation with government to ensure that workers are not completely left high and dry by the recent twin harsh policies of government. We insisted that we must be able to provide workers with affordable means of transportation. The Federal Government promised to release to the two labour centres 133 CNG/LPG Autogas mass transit buses for workers. Workers who are also interested in setting up agricultural facilities were also promised direct access to Federal Government’s agriculture loans in a short time.
As a pan Nigerian mass membership-based organization, the Nigeria Labour Congress would continue to seek for real solutions, not cheap populism, to the challenges that beset the Nigerian people and the Nigerian workers. On this commemoration, we renew this bond with Nigerian workers and the Nigerian people. Labour would continue to be the voice of the voiceless, the voice of caution, the voice of unity and the voice that galvanizes ‘togetherness’ towards realizing the huge potentials in the destiny of Nigeria and her immensely talented people.
Once again, we wish Nigeria and Nigerians a very successful 60th Independence Anniversary. We urge every Nigerian to renew their faith and hopes in a Nigeria that is truly together on the principles of justice, equity and fairness. It is our hope and expectation that going forward from this 60th Independence commemoration, Nigerian citizens would discover that the power to make our togetherness count for something lies in every Nigerian. We all have our contributions to make towards building a great country that speaks well of the black race. This can be achieved through laying a strong foundation for decent work conditions, secured environment, participatory democracy, free and fair elections, accountable leadership and diligent commitment to building a vibrant economy that is export oriented, job yielding, inclusive and provides a resilient base for sustainable prosperity and for the wellbeing of all Nigerians regardless of ethnic and religious orientation.
Happy 60th Independence Anniversary!
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
1st October 2020