A SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENTS OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC) – COMRADE JOE AJAERO AND TRADE UNION CONGRESS (TUC) – COMRADE FESTUS OSIFO AT THE 2023 MAY-DAY CELEBRATIONS HOLDING IN ABUJA
Every year at this time, we gather in many parts of the world in celebration of work! Without work, the society as we know it today fails and without work, wealth creation becomes impossible. Our gathering is to honour those who make the world of work possible; Men and women without whom the world of work becomes impossible. It is indeed a day chosen to celebrate the very existence of our societies for without work, the society ceases to exist. Today is therefore a celebration of the very basis of our society and the globe thus, it is a celebration of the pivotal role which workers have played and continued to play to sustain humanity.
At this moment of our inaugural May Day as Presidents, we bring you warm felicitations from the leadership of both Congresses and their various Organs especially the mass of Nigerian Workers who toil day and night to create the enormous wealth that has sustained our nation in the midst of the mindless theft and misuse of resources generated by workers by those occupying and bestriding our various corridors of power. Organised labour in Nigeria welcome you all!
Comrades and guests, It is with great pride and honour that we celebrate the great men and women whose efforts have built the great cities of the world, men and women who have worked day and night to keep our nations going in the face of wanton deprivations; workers who against all odds both human and material kept our societies supplied and serviced. Indeed, it is a celebration of resilience and a deserving annual tribute to workers who in the midst of insurgency kept working; that group who were owed salary arrears running into months yet, they kept the machinery of state operational, that group who were hounded and denied their democratic rights yet, they persevered; that special group of people who were denigrated and taunted by the ruling elite but have kept trudging on out of their love for humanity and our nation, that special breed of persons who jump into the mines to extract resources and turn them into finished products for the benefit of society. It is our day!
We salute you Carpenters and Wood workers, Mechanics, Engineers, Pilots, Road sweepers, Construction workers, Domestic workers, those that work to lay the Pipelines, the Electricians and Technologists, the Nurses, Doctors, Lawyers, Secretaries, Sportsmen and women, Operators, those that produce our foods and beverages, Agricultural workers, Teachers at various levels, Engineers, Technicians and indeed those who engender the creation of wealth all around the world. We doff our hats for you!
It is not that we are comfortable that we celebrate! It is not that we are not exploited neither is it that we are not emasculated! It is not that we are not denied, pauperized and afflicted! Our celebration is a recognition of our fundamental role in breathing life into our societies. It is borne out of our recognition of the near divine and pristine duty to global sustainability; an understanding shaped by the fact that workers remain the only key to life. We may have gone unappreciated but we realize that without us, Nigeria and all the nations of the world will become dysfunctional. No wheel can turn anywhere in the world without us!
These and much more drives our decision to thump our chest and shout hurray to encourage ourselves even in the face of the daunting challenges that confronts us at the various shop-floors, Pits, Mines and other workplaces as a result of the unwholesome actions of the bosses and those occupying our various public offices. The Lizard fell from a great height and nodded its head to encourage itself that it has done well. Today, just like the Lizard, we salute ourselves! We have done well! If the Society can pollute the very air it breathes for survival, it becomes clear why our leaders treat us with scorn. We are indeed workers and we are proud of what we do! Work not only defines us but also defines our nation! In this celebration, we echo it and cause it to resonate all around our communities, nation and the entire globe!
However, the question is whether our leaders realize this and if they do, whether their actions and Policies are shaped by this understanding. Any nation that is thinking seriously about development will not joke with its workforce but unfortunately, our leaders treat us with near disdain and sometimes with outright contempt. If not, why would the welfare of workers be seen as charity? Why would governments at diverse levels owe workers arrears of Salaries running into years without remorse? Why the lethargy in payig workers their hard earned income?
You cannot continue treating us poorly and expect a miracle from us. We are shaped by how we are treated as anything that happens to us in the world of work impacts us positively or negatively causing us to either withdraw of commit more to work. It is therefore very simple, if our social partners want more from us, if they want to increase productivity which is the basis for national development then, they must be prepared to treat us better. They must be prepared to treat us first as humans then, as major contributors to wealth creation.
That is why we have chosen to celebrate ourselves this year under the theme “Workers Rights and Socioeconomic Justice” through which we seek to remind ourselves and the society of the critical nexus between the welfare of workers and Socioeconomic rights and privileges because as we say; workers rights are human rights. The dynamics of workers rights shapes the character and quality of life within the socioeconomic framework.
Workers welfare is central to the achievement of socioeconomic justice which is key to national and global sustainability The realization that without crafting a more responsible and creative way of organising Production and Distribution of global resources; that we may be embarking upon a collective journey to doom; a collective race to the bottom; led to the call for a rethink of the existing Economic world order. This eventually led to the creation of platforms to foster a more inclusive world that would build a new globe that enthrones shared responsibilities and shared outcomes built on equity.
Equity, fairness and Justice underpins the survival of societies and creates resilience for nations in the midst of upheavals and turbulence. It provides a belief thus a buy-in for all the critical segments of the society allowing continuous solidarity and cohesion within the disparate groups of the society. Every nation needs this criticality to make progress. Nigeria it should be noted needs the presence of this mass to jump start the process of development.
That is why even the drafters of our Constitution recognizes the essence of Socioeconomic justice as critical to our nation’s development. Chapter two of the Constitution dealing with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy specifically speaks to these rights though it has remained unjusticeable thus far in our nation. Sections 14 – 24 indeed further attests to the desire of the Constitution to ensure the protection of these rights across our nation. That is why we keep saying that it is unfortunately the character of leadership that determines the fulfillment of Socioeconomic justice. It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that the right characters access leadership position so as to guarantee and protect the rights of workers as an adjunct of Socioeconomic justice.
Obviously, there exist a necessity to show understanding of our long term goals as a nation anchored on the fine principles of Socioeconomic justice to avoid actions and programs that may in any way marginalise and exclude certain segments of the society especially workers. We must therefore have a zero tolerance for parochialism and greed especially that which pertains to self interests and desires. Provisioning for the masses and workers is pivotal and should be given supremacy.
Poor wages excludes, Increased Decent-work deficits alienates, abuse of workplace rights and privileges dishonours, unpaid salaries strips workers of their humanity, violation of rules of engagement defiles, harassment and intimidation of workers humiliates and refusal to grant access to social infrastructure for workers reduces. Poor nutrition, Increasing number of working poor and restricted access to decent Housing, Health and Education combine to dehumanise and subjugate the rights of Nigerian workers. Subjugating workers rights, subjugates the entire society.
Socioeconomic justice allows for a more equitable, fair and just globe especially in the midst of the inexorable march of globalization and its attendant consequences of increased alienation and polarization of the society thus exacerbation of the internecine struggle between the existing classes, groups and cleavages in our nation. The SDGs and its predecessor MDGs with all their weaknesses are products of this thinking which are becoming bedrocks for global action against the imperfections of the current dominant ideology and its subsequent world order.
It is on record that without Socioeconomic Justice, about 16,000 children die each day globally before celebrating their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes meaning that almost 70 million children under five will die by 2030 if nothing is done and a third of these deaths occur because of under-nutrition. These are children of workers!
According to the UN’s official statistics, there are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of North America and the European Union. Hunger is the greatest risk to health worldwide, killing more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Workers especially in our nation are exposed to increasing hunger because our salaries are poor. Our salaries are poor because our leaders steal our collective wealth while our employers do not want to share organisational profits equitably.
In 2015, one in three people (2.4 billion) still lack access to adequate water and sanitation facilities and around 4.2b persons globally are living in poverty and are denied access to the basic necessities of life while a few continue to profiteer. Nigeria as the headquarters of the world poor according to NBS accounts for about 133m of that number and majority of this number are workers. If the rights of workers to decent wage and income is ensured, more people will be lifted out of poverty since the income of one worker sustains on the average about 20 other persons.
Annual preventable death rate far outweighs the fatalities from any other single event in history since the Second World War, and around half of those affected are young children. If this atrocity continues at current rate, some 255 million more lives could be lost by the end of 2030 – equivalent to the entire population of Nigeria and other West African countries combined.
Where is Socioeconomic justice when workers and the masses of the globe are dying while global wealth has grown to about U$300 trillion as technology advances and the club of Billionaires kept increasing their share of globe’s wealth while fewer individuals continue to control a larger portion of these wealth. There is no Justice in a world that has kept over 50% of the globe in Poverty while 98% of the population have access to less than 10% of the globe’s resources.
It is a crucial reminder that society cannot make progress if workers are not treated fairly. It is a reminder of the centrality of the worker in determining Social inclusion which is key to sustainability. In essence, we seek to underlay the importance of championing the cause of the worker and see in it a source for driving social progress.Nigerians and Nigerian Workers need evidence of the commitment of Nigerian leaders to ensuring their safety, their security, their progress and eventually their liberty. It is only the proof of these that can reconnect the masses and workers with the government.
In our celebration this year, we seek to reestablish the mutually causative relationship between the nature and quality of the way workers are treated and the depth of Socioeconomic justice that exists within our societies especially in Nigeria. This relationship is mutually reinforcing and has wider and complex implications for our nation. Deeper protection of the rights and privileges of workers ensures greater socioeconomic justice which leads in building a nation that is more cohesive and is able to withstand the fissures and powers of centrifuge that seeks its disintegration.
It is therefore not charity or a DASH when workers salaries are improved! It is not a give away when we insist on better deal for the workers who are the geese that lay the golden egg! It is neither self-seeking to ask for more Decent – work compliance in our workplaces nor group speak when we articulate, protect and project our rights as a key social partner. It is truly out of our love and commitment to the survival of the nation that we seek the fulfillment of these rights. All these, inject positive multipliers into our societies thus make our nation better and more progressive.
We must deliberately and collectively seek the protection of workplace rights to protect our nation. It is a collective duty and the surest path to build a nation as our national anthem summarizes;”..where peace and justice shall reign”
STATE OF THE MOVEMENT
Comrades! our movement remains stronger than ever before. We are on a rebound at the cusp of overcoming most of the challenges of the past. Efforts are being made to reinvent ourselves by digging deep into ourselves and resolving the internal contradictions within the movement. This will help us to purge ourselves of the obfuscating shibboleths that weigh us down so that we can build greater strength and capacities to engage the realities that confront us both as workers and a people.
To this end, we are beginning to resolve the identified crisis in some of our industrial unions and State Councils and stepping in to nip in the bud emerging ones wherever they are envisioned. Internal capacities are being built both within the Congress and the affiliates to strengthen our collective effort at delivering increasing benefits to our members and Publics.
Recall that on the 7th and 8th of February this year, the NLC held its 13th quadrennial delegates’ conference which elected new leadership and this was followed later in March by the election of new leaders across the 36 states of the federation including Abuja to run the affairs of our state councils. There are pockets of difficulties which have been resolved within the confines of our dictates and traditions.
Since then comrades and guests, we have hit the ground running reconnecting with our various allies both in the Civil Societies and in other platforms that had hitherto for one reason or the other felt alienated. We want to report that this is still ongoing but significant results have been achieved which puts us in better pedestal as a movement to critically query and interrogate present and future challenges that may confront us. The bond between us in the NLC and in the TUC is stronger than ever before.
However, many challenges still abound. These are both within and without our ranks while others are generated by those forces who lack the requisite understanding of what trade unions represent. As a result, our movement continues to experience threats and attacks from forces who are determined to corner unduly larger percentages of the earth’s resources to the detriment of workers and global majority. They seek to weaken and strangulate trade unions as a credible voice and platform for the articulation and protection of the rights and privileges of workers and masses. Rights to organise and collectively bargain including to freely associate have variously been trampled upon by these forces especially in our clime with brazen impunity.
We remind you that some state governments continue to refuse to comply with the provisions of the 2019 national minimum wage act while some others have pocketed deducted check-off dues belonging to trade unions. Some private sector employers have begun to act in total disregard to our laws and the various rules of engagement governing industrial relations in our country. Flagrant disobedience to our laws is abhorrent thus all employers that are not complying with the dictates of our extant labour laws should be prepared for more robust engagement with organised Labour.
Recently, we engaged the Government of Abia state to address serious industrial relations infractions in the state which led to an industrial action but was resolved via an agreement. However, Imo state under governor Hope Uzodimma has posed a peculiar challenge to the rights of Nigerian workers. The state government sponsored a violent attack against the NLC in the state disrupting the State Delegates Conference organised to elect new leaders of the Congress in the state. This was because the workers resisted attempts by the state government to impose its stooges on them who it believed will continue to collude with it to continue inflicting pains and reign of terror on public servants in the state.
Currently, workers salaries in the state are in arrears, pensions have gone unpaid, workers are declared ghost workers while on their duty posts, leave allowances and gratuities remain unpaid as the government has broken all records of impunity against workers in Nigeria. To show its contempt for dialogue, the state government without reason aborted the signing of the agreement which it had reached with us to resolve the dispute arising out of its ill-treatment of workers. The government uses violence against its workers and was responsible for invading, ransacking and stripping of the state secretariat of the NLC. We have since reported this incident to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and will continue to pursue it until it is satisfactorily resolved in favour of Imo state workers.
Despite these challenges, the beautiful thing though is that our responses are very critical in determining their outcomes. This singular understanding means that our destiny remains in our hands. We must therefore continue to rebuild our movement so that our responses to these forces will be more creative and robust to yield the desired outcomes for our members and the trade unions.
As part of our response comrades, with your permission we shall mount a robust campaign rising out of this celebration against all the states and private sector employers involved in the denial and dehumanisation of workers all over the nation. We shall continue to work with the registrar of trade unions to give voice to all strata of workers whose voices are mute because no trade union currently represents them and we shall continue to insist on deepening and expanding our engagements at the revived NLAC to ensure that our extant laws and statutes remain in sync with international best practices and current realities.
Comrades, the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) is under attack by some south west Governors who claim to have disbanded the Union in their domains. This is unacceptable and a total breach of our constitution and the laws governing Industrial relations in the country.
At this time of great trepidation in our nation! At this time of despair and anxieties! At this time of deep schisms and at this time of hopelessness which have left our dear nation tottering at the edge of the precipice; the trade union movement remains one of the few bastions of hope and light. This responsibility may seem enormous and insurmountable but our resolve deploying our usual instruments anchored on our innate traditions and philosophies will surely empower us in pursuit of this onerous mission.
The controversy surrounding the venue of this year’s May Day celebration on demonstrates to all of us the nature and character of the battle ahead for all of us as workers, as a people and much more as trade Unions.
The withdrawal of the approval given to us long time ago to use the Eagle Square which is our traditional ground few days to today and the eventual re-validation is a clear signal of the intention of those who have captured the corridors of power. Nigeria is at the crossroads, and requires an honest and concerted effort to sail to safety. We have discovered that the more some patriotic Nigeria work to sustain the unity of the country and economy the more some tear us apart. They do not really care about what befalls the country because they have dual citizenship. ns!
We must stand together now more than ever before to withstand the forces that are crystallizing against us. The nation needs us! The masses need us! Market men and women need us! Students need other and other different segments of the society across the geographical spread need us! We must stand together with them!. Our strength is in standing together both as workers and as a people!
We can make history. We will make history. It is possible. Come comrades. Come fellow soldiers. Let us make history together. Our nation needs us. Let us recreate Nigeria. The paradise we all dream and want can only be built by us. No one will do it for us but it starts today with our collective decisions to stop impunity in every facets of our nation’s life. It comes with a determination to fight all forces of retrogression. It comes with a single-minded pursuit of the enthronement of equity, fair play and justice in every areas of engagement as a nation.
That is why it is critical that we begin by enthroning justice for Nigerian workers through the drive for the eradication of all untoward industrial relations practices in our various workplaces.
THE STATE OF THE NATION
It is totally shocking listening to the ethnic profiling and violence that has erupted before, during and after the last general elections which in all portends great danger for our nation. The use of inflammatory words that deepens our national cleavages remains unacceptable and the attempt to brand some groups in certain ways to muzzle free speech and criminalize the holding of opposing views speaks to the level of intolerance that pervades our nation.
Nigeria transcends individual or narrow political interests of whatsoever kind and those that insist on placing their personal interests above that of our nation are the real enemies of the country. We condemn in unmistakable terms the idea behind the use of violence to intimidate and cow other segments of the country to submission when sane dialogue and mutual respect would have sufficed.
The just concluded general elections remain the most hotly contested in the history of electioneering in our country and the reasons are obvious. However, it also remains the most distorted, corrupted and abused. It marked a dangerous watershed in our political engagement as a people and as a nation. It brought with it huge opportunities for our nation to turn the corner and become great or to continue to dwell in the cesspit of underdevelopment.
However, as has been demonstrated, INEC seems to have chosen the wrong path. A route that has perceptibly dashed the hopes of many Nigerians throwing them into despair and hopelessness destroying the rebounding belief that our nation can get it right once again. The patriotic fervour that preceded the election has never been witnessed in a long time in our country and all of us had believed that INEC was going to ride the crest of that wave to make history by following its promises but that was not to be. That fervour has dissipated and almost replaced with melancholy while the people rues a lost opportunity. The electoral umpire built our collective hope based on their pledge to abide with the Electoral Laws and its own guidelines to provide a level playing ground for all the participants yet surprisingly it chose to do otherwise.
We do not want to know who were declared as winners but we view it from the fact that the process was hugely flawed as there was a wide gap between what was expected within the ambit of the Law and morality and what was pronounced by INEC as the outcome. The process heavily contaminated the outcome and was therefore largely perceived as not being a reflection of the wishes of the electorate who had expectantly cast their votes at the different polling units across the nation.
A willful subversion of the rules made to guide the elections and acts that may have intentionally frustrated the BVAS clearly questions and undermines the credibility of an election. To us, it was like INEC shot itself at the foot by the several guarantees it gave to our citizens and deciding to shift the goal post when the match had already started. Compliance with its own Guidelines and the electoral act would have secured the integrity of the election and its outcomes irrespective of the nature of the individuals that emerged victorious.
Perhaps, the present disquiet in Nigeria would have been avoided or reduced if INEC had paused in its indecent haste as we suggested to look into the grievous allegations made by the parties before announcing the final outcome. This would have saved INEC from being perceived as working towards an outcome that had been been arranged before the elections began. The truth is that INEC by its actions heavily undermined its credibility thus undermined whatsoever it came out with and this is not good for a country with highly sensitive cleavages and sub-nationals. One of the immediate consequences of that shoddiness in handling the Presidential election was the dampening of moral and withdrawal of citizen support and believe in the electoral process. The ensuing Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections witnessed a very low voter apathy as participation nosedived from around 36% voter turn out as witnessed during the presidential to about 16% during the state level elections. There is no other faster way to destroy a nation than what INEC did. Its action almost amounted to a subversion of our nation.
The Adamawa Gubernatorial supplementary election debacle bears an ugly testimony to what is possible in Nigeria through INEC, the Security agencies and the politicians! INEC has wasted all the work we collectively did towards ensuring viable and credible elections since 1999 and made our nation a laughing stock in the international arena.
However, the results have been announced and aggrieved parties have advisedly gone to the Courts which remains their democratic rights; the need to tone down the rhetoric have become important to allow the Judiciary concentrate and do its work. The level of propaganda after the results were announced seem to have reached a higher crescendo than during the campaigns with accusations and counter accusations some of them akin to outright blackmail and threats to muzzle voices of dissent. We will not support any action that undermines the right to peaceful protests and the freedom to associate. Free speech is key to survival of any democracy and this must be respected as we go into the various adjudicatory processes.
On this note, we call on the Judiciary to exercise due diligence in its handling of the various elections petitions presently before them. Nigerians expect the processes to be transparent and in keeping with the rules of the game and avoid actions that would further alienate them from the people. We see in the present election petitions huge opportunities for the nation’s Judiciary to redeem itself, restore its dignity and ascend that moral height once again as the revered true champion of the people and our nation.
Our promise is that the trade union movement in Nigeria using its various networks will monitor diligently the handling of the various petitions in our different courts to ensure that Justice is done. We urge the Judiciary to stop the delay
Our nation has unfortunately become a country led by men and women whose delight seem to be in enacting policies that are detrimental to the progress of the nation. The economy is on auto pilot struggling on its own to survive while those entrusted to manage it kept throwing filth and injecting toxins into it. It is serially abused and has therefore become one of the most mismanaged economies in the world. All the key macro economic variables are not promising with inflation at double digits, unemployment worsening and rising and at nearly 40% with youth unemployment very high at 65%; Exchange rate depreciating steeply while the debt stock continues to rise.
The two key broad instruments for a successful management of any Economy as experts have pointed out remains having the right mix of Monetary Policies and Fiscal policies. These are supposed to work in sync to create an effective and a successful economic systems but to all intents and purposes, the reverse is the case in our system as we have witnessed terrifying discordance between the managers of these two elements in our economy.
An economy is a system with deep structural linkages which ought to work together at all times to drive growth, progress and development. Interdependence of these structures is key to a bouyant economy; if the Educational sector is sick, the entire economy suffers shortage of human capacity and if the Agricultural sector is under-performing, food and raw materials availability becomes negatively impacted. If Monetary Policies lead to cash crunch, it shrinks economic activities that in turn shrinks revenue thus impacts negatively the GDP.
The structures ought to complement each other not oppose each other. It is this complimentarity that serves as the keel and rudder that keeps it balanced and sailing even in the midst of choppy waters. In a nutshell, when there is a structural dissociation, the economy experiences schisms and suffers dislocations that must be corrected for system balance and sustenance.
The CBN’s Currency redesigning effort for example was a good policy that was badly managed because it was not properly coordinated especially with other structures of governance so rather than achieve the expected results, it created deep dissonance in the system which inflicted humongous suffering on the populace destroying in the process the lives and livelihood of millions of Nigerians. The Informal economy lost about 50% of its businesses while productivity shrunk to about 41% and the entire economy took a hit estimated in Hundred of Billions. It took our systematic intervention comrades to correct this aberration and save our nation.
Our debt profile as a nation must worry every patriot and it worries us not just as workers but as citizens of Nigeria. We have warned repeatedly of the dangers of excessive borrowing of foreign exchange denominated loans and alerted the nation of the inherent danger urging the nation’s economic managers to desist but all of these fell on deaf ears with some very unfortunate attempts at justification. This prodigious borrowing has almost left our nation’s economy stranded and fiscally insufficient.
It is projected by the Debt management Office (DMO) that by this month, our total Public debt will be about N77trn meaning that by the time this administration exits on the 29th, each Nigerian will be owing about N384, 860 only. Today, our external debt profile stands around U$42b and is increasing and the debt to GDP about 39% then the most worrying, our debt service as at 2022 to revenue stands at 81% but this year’s budget shows that it is at 123% meaning that we will be unable to service our debts without borrowing that is for every N100 we earn as income, we need to borrow additional N23 from somewhere just to pay interests on our debt.
Our Economy is in the doldrums. We wonder why these does not scare the nation’s leaders? We wonder whether they do not understand the implications of these for our nation both now and in the near future. We wonder why they refused to learn from the former debt trap which we successfully exited under the deft management of the Presidency of Obasanjo and his team of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala? We wonder why they insist on eating our future now and putting us into another slavish debt trap?
It looks like in our nation, the only reason we borrow is to steal because we cannot see its benefits on the people. We insist that while nations can borrow for productive reasons such as investments in well thought out projects, it is unhealthy to borrow for consumption. Even a child knows this and that is why we are surprised that at this dying period of this administration, it has decided to receive loans of USD800m as it claimed to cushion the suffering it plans to inflict on the masses of this nation. If this is not a Cash out then, it is entirely ill-advised and counter-productive given the history of such in our nation.
We call on the Federal Government to consider the incorporation of transition fuels such as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as an addition to currently available energy in Nigeria. The use of Compressed Natural Gas which is a lot cheaper can also be a long-term alternative to petrol thus saving Nigerians of the current and future spiraling cost of petrol.
We urge our economic managers to be more prudent and seek ways to deliberately diversify our economy by deepening manufacturing capacity and investing in human capital that would drive youth creativity which is key to industrialisation. We advocate a freeing of Capital for MSMEs and then a deliberate direct investment by governments at all levels in setting up manufacturing entities across the nation. Hiding under the neo-liberal maxim that government has no business in business rings hollow and not true. In a weak economy like ours, Government has business in business and we must invest in businesses to drive economic growth in our nation.
Investment in Education is truly an Economic Investment and that is why we worried that a nation that is serious about development allowed its Universities to be on strike for over 8months. This is not how Economies are managed and this is not how Human capital are built. The incoming administration must ensure that this does not happen again by resolving all the remaining issues with ASUU including payment of the 8 month Salary arrears owed lecturers.
THE ENERGY SECTOR
Comrades and Guests, it is crucial that any nation that cannot manage its energy resources effectively and efficiently is doomed. One of the key factors holding us down as a nation is our inability to manage this sector effectively for the benefit of the citizens and the nation. Power however it is generated remains key to jump starting any economy while Oil and Gas is critical to a robust energy success in every country. It is therefore crucial for government to work with the people to create frameworks that would make energy work for Nigerians instead of for the few who have succeeded in capturing the state.
For decades now, we have used all forms of persuasions to make the Federal Government fix the refineries and possibly build new ones but all to no avail. There seem to be a deliberate sabotage of our domestic refineries to ensure that it remains none operational so that few fat cats will continue profiting from the sinful importation of refined petroleum products into the country at the detriment of the Economy.
Your Excellencies, comrades and guests, Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing country in the world yet it is the only OPEC country that cannot refine her crude. Our dear country extracts crude, exports to refine and import to sell to the citizens and turn around to talk about subsidy. We insist that we will no longer allow any increase in Petroleum product prices in whatever guise until all of our Local refineries are reactivated and are fully operational. We will not allow the continued gang up of the elite against Nigerian workers and masses to continue unabated.
Congress has been following the activities going on at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Trading Limited especially as regards assigning products to marketers. We also watch with keen interest the goings on at the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA) to ensure issues of cargo clearance, tracking compliance, route inspection, metering calibration/maintenance, accurate delivery to trucks, record keeping, etc. are expeditiously taken care of. We demand the inclusion of NUPENG and PENGASSAN in the Steering Committee set up by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Your Excellencies and comrades, the plight of the power sector has not changed 10 years since after privatisation has been well documented by us and the reasons are very obvious. As long as those who sold the Companies remained the buyers, Nigerians will continue to experience serious challenges in the power sector.
The only way to make progress in the Power sector which is crucial for national development is to review the Privatisation exercise for the purposes of a reversal. What is going on in that sector defies economic logic and reason despite all the Billions in U$D lavished to revive it.
Our nation;s Judiciary seems to have been heavily compromised and has lost its moral authority in the eyes of many Nigerians. When the refrain; go to Court from Politicians after every electoral heist becomes rampant; it makes mockery of the judiciary and its various processes. That refrain shows the contempt with which our Politicians have come to hold the Courts and strips the Lordships the usual reverence attached to their offices. It shows a desecration of a once hallowed entity but which they have now besmirched.
Many public commentators have aired serious dissenting views to some judgments from our hallowed temples of justice. There are instances where some judgments have departed from time tested and honoured foundations of equity, fairness and logic and rather relying on technicality to decide very sensitive public interest cases. In recent times, courts of coordinate jurisdictions have delivered contradictory judgement thus throwing the unlearned public into very serious quagmire of which to obey.
Nigerians as we speak are still amazed at the judicial wizardly of the Lordships of the Supreme Court who gave judgment in the Governorship election in Imo state. People are still surprised how a person who is not the candidate of his Party was declared a winner under a party which the same Supreme Court had declared that its candidate was another person? We are still surprised who the authentic candidate for the ruling party was in that election due to the ruling of the Supreme Court or was there a provision in our Laws for independent candidates?
Nigerians are still astonished at the ruling of the same Court on the issue of the Candidacy of Senators Akpabio and Lawan for a seat in the Senate against the dictates of the Electoral Act which clearly forbids candidates from running for two positions in the same election.
Some of these questionable rulings have greatly undermined the judiciary and deeply worries us as we go into the elections petitions since mainly the same judges will preside over the processes again. We are deeply concerned and hope that the Judiciary will use the opportunity to redeem itself rather sink deeper into the murk.
Fellow Comrades, we have consistently presented the issue of gratuity payment to the government but nothing has been done in that regard. As you are all aware, the concept of gratuity payment to employees is predicated on the fact that those who have laboured for public institutions or private enterprises are entitled to the proverbial golden handshake from their employers. Thus, gratuity is a monetary benefit given by an employer to his or her employee at the time of retirement without the worker making any financial contribution whatsoever to the fund. Such a lump sum is meant to enable the retiree finance any post-retirement endeavour of his or her choice.
The Pension act did not abolish Gratuity payment and we demand its restoration in many Public sectors where it has been stopped.
NEED FOR GENERAL SALARY REVIEW IN THE CIVIL SERVICE
It is necessary to recall that we have continued, over the years, to demand that the salary of core Civil Servants should be beefed up to narrow the gap between the emoluments of Civil Servants and those of employees in other segments of the public service. They all possess the same educational qualifications and cognate experience on the job, so why the disparity?
REVIEW OF RETIREMENT AGE TO 65 FOR ALL PUBLIC SERVANTS
The need to review upward the retirement age and years of service in the entire Public Service has become imperative. Extension of years of service as was done in other sectors of the Public service, we believe should go round. Only few other establishments including the core Civil Service are now left out. We are, therefore, demanding that the age of retirement and length of service in the entire Public Service including the Civil Service should be reviewed upward to 65 years of age and 40 years of service, whichever comes first.
THE AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA (AFCFTA)
Organised labour in Nigeria commends the Federal Government for taking a popular position on our country’s engagement on the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). By listening to the voice of organised labour and other stakeholders especially through co-opting labour in the national processes for engagement with AfCFTA, government has demonstrated that we make better progress when we strive forward together.
In order to consolidate the progress made on AfCFTA, we demand that the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement should be reviewed to include a social and labour protocol in order to accommodate the concerns of workers for decent work conditions. It is important to note that the objectives of AfCFTA would be defeated and cascade to a race to the bottom if the parameters of decent work such as trade union representation, social protection mechanisms, social dialogue, living wages and workplace rights are mainstreamed into the AfCFTA trade instrument.
THE NATIONAL RESEARCH AND INNOVATION COUNCIL BILL
The NLC and TUC calls upon the out-going government of President Buhari to quickly sign into Law the National Research and Innovation Council Bill which serve as one of the legacies of his government.
We believe that this will help boost research to generate much needed foundation for our nation’s quest for industrialisation. Without Research the quest for industrialisation will turn into a pipe dream as this remains the basic infrastructure for technological advancement of any nation. A nation is only as rich as its capacity for Research and Innovation.
We have observed with consternation the present war mongering across Europe, Asia and America over the War in Ukraine. We are alarmed at the Nuclear threats and are worried that instead of the parties seeking ways to deescalate and stop the carnage to lives and properties, the tempo of the war drum is still increasing. We are afraid of the continuing escalation and its consequences on the people and workers of the world. We need peace to make progress as a globe.
Organised Labour in Nigeria calls for understanding especially between Russia and the US including the EU to end the war and return to the table. The international community must deploy the time tested instruments of dialogue to resolve the issues that led to the war in Ukraine so that warmongers across these nations can be put to shame.
War does not benefit workers and the masses. It is mainly workers and the people that die in Wars! This war is therefore not for the protection of the people of the world neither is it in our interests. It is purely driven by those who profit from wars – the bourgeoisie either in the West or in the East. We call for global peace and a cessation of hostilities so that the killing of men and women and the huge suffering will end.
On this note, we welcome the peace treaty signed between Saudi Arabia and Iran which has brought to an end the war in Yemen and is bringing peace to many parts of the middle East. We note the role played by China in that effort and urge other leading nations to emulate this effort for global peace.
We use this opportunity to once again call for the total freedom of the nation of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) who are under forceful occupation and repression by Morocco. The entire world remains in bondage as long as this people are in bondage. Let the United nations pursue their independence now. Western Sahara must be free.
Nigerian workers call on the warring Generals in Sudan to sheath their sword for the sake of the people and workers of Sudan. Allowing personal pursuit to destroy a nation and a people is most callous and allowing themselves to be used as pawns by foreign powers to against the wishes of the citizens of the citizens serves none of them any good. We call on them to immediately allow the ceasefire already negotiated to hold so that lives and properties will be protected. The AU must step in robustly to restore peace to that nation.
We call on the United States of America to stop its economic embargo on the nation of Cuba and withdraw its blockade of that nation. We had thought that the Obama policies would have been geared-up to allow for full restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The US remains the bastion of democratic expressions and should allow this find traction in its relationship with the people and nation of Cuba.
Comrades and guests as we wind down our speech, it is important that we understand that no society can make progress by excluding its major stakeholders; the workers and masses from having an equitable share of the nation’s resources. If we are serious about increasing productivity and making progress as a nation then, we must seek ways of ensuring that the rights and privileges of workers are not only protected but that they are granted unfettered access to socioeconomic justice.
To this end, we suggest deliberate actions by the government to expand and strengthen the nation’s existing Social Security framework. The Social Investment Programme (SIP) ought to be given legal backing by speeding up the legislative processes towards codifying it in our laws. This will deepen engagement in those areas and provide stronger backing to our quest for socioeconomic justice to all Nigerians.
We also call on the federal government to begin the process of ratifying conventions 102 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Social protection. This is central to the actualisation of Social justice and inclusiveness. It provides appropriate guarantees for workers rights to survival during and after work life and also guarantees access to decent life for many Nigerians.
It is important that Nigerian leaders understands that without guaranteeing the rights of workers, without allowing workers to win, Nigerians and Nigeria will not win. We are Nigerians; when we win, our nation wins and makes sustainable progress. It is the duty of government to provide the right environment for this to happen.
Our nation must lead with a job led growth. When jobs grow, income increases and the economy is revved higher but we need to protect those that work in these jobs. To protect them, we must ensure that the right legal environment is created and frameworks for compliance with laws are established.
We therefore demand:
- The deepening of the engagements at the NLAC and expanding the periodicity of meetings
- Establishing constant tripartite workplace audits have become inevitable
- Encouraging the registration of more unions to cover the unorganized sectors
- Speeding up the trade dispute resolution mechanism
In view of the rising wave of impunity in our workplaces and the actions of Public sector employers, we will soon commence:
- Actions against state governments that are yet to fully implement the 2019 national minimum wage law and owes arrears or Salaries, Pensions and allowances etc.
- Actions against private companies nation-wide that have turned their workplaces as platforms for lawlessness the dehumanization of workers.
This speech will not be complete without making the following demands:
- That the proposed U$D1.2b National Census scheduled to hold before May 29 this year be halted to allow the new administration to handle it
- That the privatisation of the Electricity sector be reviewed in favour of Nigeria
- That the resumption and ramping up of the activities of kidnappers and bandits since after the election should be quickly addressed
- That the Judiciary should purge itself and redeem our democracy by its handling of the various election petitions before it
- The setting up of an independent panel to investigate the INEC chairman and his team in their conduct of the last general election
- Investigate the spending of N12b by the Aviation Ministry to buy 10 fire trucks
- Stop the ongoing legislative madness in the NASS that seeks to stop Medical personnel from taking employment outside the country.
- Continue the objective of returning the local refineries to full capacity and invest in new refineries but in the short-run, sort out the supply bottle-necks that has made product availability difficult in Nigeria.
- The outgoing President must take steps to ensure that those in his administration planning last minute heist of the nation’s treasury are stopped
- The stoppage of every action, program or policies that may inflict any form of suffering on Nigerians and workers
- The federal government should not heed not just IMF’s advise on Tax increase but all of its economic pieces of advises as they are poisonous to our nation’s economic health.
Once again comrades, we reiterate our preparedness to resist every action of the government to inflict suffering on Nigerian workers and masses. We will not allow our members to be turned mindlessly into beasts of burden any longer. We will stand together as workers and as a people to protect our rights to decent work and social justice!
Our hands are extended to you all and to our civil society allies! It is our civic duty to remain together! Our hands joined across the divides and the regions of our great nation! We build solidarity and we will build power! With these, we shall build a nation that would become the envy of nations anchored on the supremacy of the rights of the sovereign masses! It is our duty to hold our governments accountable to the people! Let us gird our loins!
We wish workers all over Nigeria and the world a wonderful May – Day celebrations! It is our day! We shall meet again in 2024!
Long live the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)! Long live the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Long live Nigerian workers!!! Long live Nigeria!!!!
Aluta Continua! Victoria Acerta!!