TEXT OF A WELCOME ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC), COMRADE AYUBA WABBA, mni AT THE 2021 NLC ROUNDTABLE ON SOCIAL PROTECTION COVER
I bring you very warm fraternal greetings from the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress. It is my delight and an honour to welcome you all to this Roundtable on Social Protection Cover with the theme ‘Expanding Social Protection Cover and Ensuring Effective Implementation in Nigeria’.
The decision to hold this Roundtable was a fallout of the recent 2nd National Peace and Security Summit organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress. From the paper presentations made at the summit and the ensuing expert and plenary discussions, it was firmly established that the crisis of physical insecurity in Nigeria has very strong ties with human insecurity especially as marked by the dearth of social protection cover for the poor and vulnerable in our society.
Social Protection is essential for human security and social justice. It is the foundation for peaceful societies committed to shared wealth and prosperity.
The United Nations over a decade ago endorsed Social Protection floor for Fair Globalization. Equally, ILO Convention 102, ILO Recommendation 202 and the SDG Goal 1.3 on social protection systems for all by 2030 give credence to the centrality of social protection to stability and progress.
A social protection floor such as basic income security including cash transfers where needed, pensions, disability benefits, unemployment benefits and support, maternity protection, child benefits. Also, universal access to essential social services such as health, education, water sanitation and housing makes a lot of difference.
Social Protection is a fundamental human right intended not only to set a minimum social security floor but also plays an important role in alleviating poverty and providing economic security for all. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights recognize the right of all to social security. As a human right and component of decent work, social protection allows working conditions that are safe, fosters family values, provides for compensation in case of lost or reduced income and permits access to adequate healthcare.
Before the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, there was a gross underestimation of the deficits and gaps in global social protection cover especially in developing countries including Nigeria. The pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequalities and significant gaps in social protection coverage, comprehensiveness and adequacy across all countries. Furthermore, pervasive socio-economic challenges such as high levels of economic insecurity, persistent poverty, rising inequality, extensive informality and a fragile social contract have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the failure by governments of the world to deploy social protection cover for all.
The COVID-19 insurgency has also exposed the weakness of the current global economic model and social protection system. More than 4 billion persons (53% of the global population) are completely unprotected against economic shocks. With about 17.4% social protection cover, Africa has the least social protection coverage for its citizens leaving most Africans vulnerable to economic shocks, poverty, hunger, huge sickness burden, illiteracy, and destitution.
The state of social protection cover and standard of living indices leaves very little to desire. As at 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that about 83 million Nigerians representing 40% of the total population live in abject poverty. As at March 2021, 33.3% of Nigerians are unemployed. We have never had such high numbers of the army of the unemployed in our country.
Tragically, most of the unemployed and under-employed in Nigeria are caught in the web of perpetual misery as they lack the basic skills and training to break forth from the stranglehold of poverty. In the absence of any modicum of sustained social protection cover, the only available alternative is to resort to a life of crime. This is the reason many of young people are being attracted to terrorism, kidnap-for-ransom, rural cum urban banditry, armed robbery, militancy, prostitution, thuggery, and other forms of violent crime.
At the last NLC Peace Security Summit, the point was adequately made that bullets and bombs will not resolve the ongoing war against terrorism, armed insurgency and violent crimes in Nigeria. The children of the poor that we failed to educate yesterday and even today have become and will become the nightmare of the children we are training. The frustrations of our fellow compatriots who are illiterate, unskilled, jobless, and devoid of the shock absorber of social protection will ultimately be the graveyard of not only peace in our country but also civilization as we know it today. This is not alarmist!
The fate of Nigerians who are fortunate to have jobs is not any rosier. Many workers in Nigeria including those in the public service are not covered by any form of social protection cover making their work highly precarious. While most of the Federal Government employees are covered by the Contributory Pension Scheme, the lot of workers in the employment of our states and local governments leaves very sour taste in the mouth. In the Concept Note included in the Program for this Roundtable, the facts are presented. They are very disturbing!
Out of the 36 states and the FCT, only five states have been consistent in the payment of pension benefits under the Contributory Pension Scheme. These States including those on pension schemes different from the CPS have been very consistent in the payment of pension to retired workers. Only five states have group life policy and sinking fund on pension. Only six states are funding accrued rights. Only seven states have made provisions for Retirement Benefits Bond Redemption Fund Account. Only eight states have concluded their actuarial evaluation. Only ten states are consistently remitting both employee and employer contribution.
The challenge with the foregoing scenario is that instead of making progress with expanding coverage of the Contributory Pension Scheme to cover all workers in the states, we are dealing with a situation of total relapse to the old order of accumulated pension benefits indebtedness that left most of our retirees frustrated and angry post retirement. This situation is totally unacceptable.
Despite the structural reforms on the Social Insurance and Employees Compensation in Nigeria, very insignificant number of workers are compensated in the event of workplace mishap and attendant loss of job and livelihood. It is important that we take steps to ensure that the ‘Workers Funds’ domiciled with the NSITF works for workers. The scope of the fund should also be expanded to accommodate Nigerians whose work and activities are in the informal economy.
It is very unfortunate that despite contributing enormously to national development, only a few workers can boast of having decent shelter over their heads. It is worrying that most workers have been forced to take up rented abode in the suburbs of our cities. This paints a graphic picture of the refrain ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’. A major flank of the crisis of the disappearance of the middle class in Nigeria has a lot to do with the inability of workers to own their own houses. How do we reduce the housing deficits among the working class of Nigeria and thereby change this ugly narrative?
Health is wealth! The right to quality and affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right. Universal Healthcare Coverage is a bridge to actualizing healthcare as a fundamental human right. Sadly, since the creation of the National Health Insurance Scheme in 2005, 70% of Nigerians still pay out of the pocket to access healthcare. So many others resort to selling off assets anytime they or their loved ones fall sick. Those without assets to sell either self-medicate using unorthodox means or simply lay sick at home and await death. Many workers and pensioners are caught in this web. The big elephant in the room is how do we achieve Universal Health Coverage for all?
An emerging concern from the deficits in Nigeria’s social protection cover is the climate of poor confidence coefficient on governance among the general population. Many State governments are guilty of this as exemplified by the tardiness and recklessness in extending and administering the Contributory Pension Scheme in the states.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention Number 102 of 1952 lists the nine branches of social security to include medical care, sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, old-age benefit, employment injury benefit, family benefit, maternity benefit, invalidity benefit, and survivors benefit. The minimum objectives of Convention 102 include population percentage protected by social security schemes, level of minimum benefit to be secured to protected persons, as well as to the conditions for entitlement and period of entitlement to benefits.
Just yesterday, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres called for accelerated action on social protection and jobs as an escape door from uneven global recovery and future crises. The UN Secretary General called for measures to achieve job-rich recovery and a just transition to a sustainable and inclusive economy.
In specifics, Mr. Guterres called for jobs and social protection cover that would create at least 400 million jobs and the extension of social protection cover to 4 billion women and children currently without coverage. The Secretary General also went ahead to recommend a number of policy measures to achieve the goal of Jobs Investment, Social Protection, Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Recovery.
a. Development of integrated national and inclusive recovery strategies for decent job creation, especially in the care and green sectors, universal social protection, and a Just Transition, and ensure they are aligned with macro-economic and fiscal policies which are underpinned by sound data;
b. Expand investment in Social Protection Floors as a percentage of GDP in national budgets; and
c. Design policy measures to extend social protection to workers in the informal economy, and to foster the progressive formalization of enterprises and employment, including in the care economy.
At this Roundtable, we hope to glean from the perspectives of experts and stakeholders in the fields of Pension Administration, Social Insurance, Mortgage Banking, Health Insurance, Industrial Training and other aspects of social protection on how best to strengthen regulatory governance of the social security sector. We are also focussing on how best to increase public confidence in contributory schemes; how to achieve universal health coverage; how to realize affordable cum social housing for workers and also for the less privileged; and how we can explore ways of extending social security cover to every Nigerian whether working or jobless.
Before I end this welcome address, I wish to send a note of caution to some members of Nigeria’s political elites who are already overheating the polity on the account of the 2023 general election. A few weeks ago, precisely on the 5th of July 2021, the Southern Governors Forum met in Lagos and demanded that power must go to the South in 2023. Just recently, precisely last Monday, 27th September 2021, the Northern Governors Forum met in Kaduna and made a counter demand that power must remain in the North.
As a national institution and a pan Nigerian organization, the Nigeria Labour Congress expresses shock at such statements from both the northern and southern political hemispheres of our country. It is indeed sad and unfortunate that our politicians find the time and nerve to discuss 2023 when 2021 presents a foreboding cloud of insecurity, social tensions and general despondency manifest in our empty kitchens, unsafe streets and overflowing IDP Camps. We warn that such statements show utter disregard for the cruel predicament and sufferings of ordinary Nigerians and workers struggling with the pains of broken politics and governance dysfunction in our country.
The 2023 elections must not be used as an excuse to unleash fresh dimensions of intractable and internecine security crises in Nigeria. Therefore, it is important that the political class must mind what they say. Suffice it to say that visionary leaders think of the next generation while dysfunctional leaders think of the next elections.
In summary, we demand for a new Social Contract including universal social protection cover from Nigeria’s political class!
Just as we did with the NLC National Peace and Security Summit, we promise to develop and publish a comprehensive Report arising from this Roundtable. The Report will also be disseminated to various stakeholders as an advocacy document for necessary reforms.
Once again, I welcome you all to this Roundtable.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni