The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has expressed readiness to tackle the Federal and state governments in defence of workers welfare and rights in general.
Having drawn the battle line against the Federal government over its plan to increase fuel pump price to N340, the largest labour centre in Africa specifically named Zamfara, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Cross River, Imo and Abia, as the chief states that take workers’ welfare, especially the payment of minimum wage, is taken for granted.
NLC in its first press release for 2022, signed by its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, described these states as “thorns in the flesh of workers in the formal sector in the country.” The labour centre further spared no word in its criticism against federal and state governments’ “hardship-driven policies that breed poverty among Nigerian citizens.”
“In 2021, Nigerians were exposed to the most turbulent and unpredictable market realities. A bag of beans that sold for about N18,000 in January 2021 currently sells for about N32,000. A bag of maize that used to sell for N,000 at the beginning of 2021 soared to a new high of N18,000. The same goes for other staple food such as garri, rice, yam, cassava, palm oil and spices. With the increase in the prices of food items also came general inflation of other goods and services.
“The cumulative impact of the prevailing hyper-inflation on the static wages earned by workers can only be imagined.
For many Nigerian workers and people, the year 2021 should rather be forgotten in a hurry. While Organised Labour may not have complete control on market forces, especially with regards to inflation in the prices of essential goods and services, as a pan Nigerian workers’ representative and mass-oriented movement, Labour, through proactive engagement with government, was able to limit increases in the prices of very critical commodities and services such as petrol and electricity tariff.
“In the course of the past one year, the government had made a number of attempts to increase the pump price of petrol and hike electricity tariff but Organised Labour had stood in the way in defence of the interest of Nigerian workers and the masses of our country. Our argument has been that there is a limit to the imposition of hardship and suffering on the fragile shoulders of the Nigerian people. It is gratifying that amidst the deteriorating conditions of living, Organised Labour was able to rise up to ensure that the masses were not completely run over by market forces enabled by the anti-people policies of government and at the whims of shylock capitalists.
“Still, the government is not relenting in its determination to push through further increases in the pump price of petrol and which as usual had been dubbed as “removal of petrol subsidy”. Well, Organised Labour has made its position clear on this matter. We have told government in very clear terms that Nigerians have suffered enough and will not endure more punishment by way of further petrol and electricity price increases.
“Our position in this regard is predicated on four major grounds. First is our concern on the deceit and duplicity associated with the politics of “petrol price increase” by successive Nigerian governments. The truth is that the perennial increase by government of the pump price of petrol is actually a transfer of government failure and inability to effectively govern to the poor masses of our country.
“We are talking of the failure of government to manage Nigeria’s four oil refineries and inability to build new ones more than 30 years after the last petrochemical refinery in Port Harcourt was commissioned; the failure to rein in smuggling; and the failure to determine empirically the quantity of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The shame takes a gory dimension with the fact that Nigeria is the only OPEC country that cannot refine her own crude oil.
“All we hear from the government are half-hearted media pronouncements on efforts to allocate funds for the rehabilitation of our public refineries. On ground, there is no commensurate action. Between 2012 and now, about $9.5 billion has been spent on Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), Greenfield Refinery Projects and even public investments in private refineries.
“The tragedy is that despite these humungous investments of public funds, the government continues to present the crisis of mass importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria and the consequent import-based pricing regime of refined petroleum products as a fait accompli. This neo-colonial narrative in Nigeria petroleum sub-sector is what the Nigerian working-class family has rejected as unfathomable and unacceptable as it is antithetical to the notions of sovereignty and self-actualisation and a mockery of the sacrifice of our heroes past.
“At our organ meetings which took place between December 15 and 17, 2021, the Nigeria Labour Congress took a decision to protest the planned hike in the pump price of petrol by the government. The protest has been scheduled to take place in all the 36 states of the federation on January 27, 2022. The protest in the state would culminate in the submission of protest letters to the 36 state governors. Subsequently, on February 1, 2022, there would be a national protest to be held at the Federal Capital Territory. We urge Nigerian workers and people to dust their sneakers and fully participate in the peaceful protests and rallies aimed at salvaging our economic future,” Wabba said.
On the issue of minimum wage, NLC said, “Nigerians would recall that the national minimum wage was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2019. Since then, the implementation of the national minimum wage has been a tale of mixed fortunes across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. While some states are in compliance, others are not.
“While most of the states in the North West geopolitical zone have started implementing the new national minimum wage, there is an exception in the case of Zamfara State which has refused to pay the national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment to workers in the state. In the North East, the exception is Taraba State which is yet to fully implement the new national minimum wage. In the North Central, there are still challenges of full implementation in Benue and Kogi States.
“In the South West, most of the states are already in compliance. In the South South, the weak link is Cross River State which has spurned all negotiation agreements and entreaties to pay workers in the state the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment. In the South East, the Imo and Abia State governments remain thorns in the flesh of workers. Apart from refusing to fully implement the national minimum wage and consequential salary increase, the state governments have also been promoting clandestine and rogue labour leaders unknown to the labour movement.
“In line with the directives of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress, we have asked our state councils to commence industrial actions against state governments that are yet to implement the new national minimum wage and pension. It is disheartening that amidst the current economic crunch prevalent in the country, some state governors still need persuasion to pay workers the national minimum wage.
“The Nigeria Labour Congress is also very disturbed about the penchant by some state governors to owe pensioners arrears of pension and gratuities. We commend the Federal Government for clearing most of the accrued benefits of our pensioners. Kudos should also go to some state governors who have shown serious commitment to the payment of pensions, gratuity and other accrued benefits to their retirees. In the North West, the Kebbi and Jigawa State governments have been very responsive to the welfare of pensioners.
“While the Jigawa State Government has institutionalized a responsive pension administrative system, the Kebbi State Government recently released funds to defray pensions and gratuity arrears in the State. In the North East, the Governor of Borno State recently cleared about N12 billion arrears of pension and gratuity indebtedness. In the North Central, the Governors of Kwara, Niger and Plateau States have been very proactive in settling accrued pension benefits in their states.
“In the South West, the Lagos State government has continued to blaze the trail in paying its pension and retirement obligations. The Oyo State government has also been consistent in redeeming its pension liabilities. In the South East, the Anambra State government has paid its pension obligations up to November 2021. In the South South, the Cross Rivers State government is defaulting in paying gratuities.
“The Congress calls on errant state governments to show the fear of God and pay the pension and gratuity of aged retirees who committed their entire lives to public service. The blood of our pensioners dying for lack of care is splattered all over your hands.”
On the issue of insecurity, NLC said, “One of the worst vicissitudes of 2021 was the escalation of insecurity across the length and breadth of Nigeria. In the past year, Nigerians were harassed like no other year. In the rural places and in the urban centers, Nigerians were not spared the foreboding unease and horror of medium to high intensity violence. Ranging from terrorism in the North East of Nigeria to banditry and kidnap-for-ransom in the North West to intermittent invasion of farmlands by herdsmen in the North Central to attack by the Unknown Gun Men in the South East, upsurge in militancy in the South West and South South, it appears that Nigeria is gradually collapsing into one ungovernable space.
“The increased spate of insecurity across the country comes at such a huge cost not only in terms of loss of precious lives but also in the dislocation of whole communities and the socio-economic life of the people. There are already palpable fears of intense hunger in 2022 owing to the inability of many farmers to go to farm. Even those who managed to go to farm in many northern states were stopped from harvesting their crops unless they pay special fees to criminals and rogue elements who are carving out autonomous governing spaces for themselves across the length and breadth of our country.
“Two days ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released a statement warning that with the increasing siege of insecurity all over the country, there is a huge risk that the 2023 general elections might not take place. This is serious. Nigerians would recall that a similar situation played out during the last governorship election in Anambra State where upsurge in killings, kidnapping, militancy, thuggery and sit-at-home directives from non-state actors elicited concerns from a spectrum of stakeholders on the possibility, feasibility and viability of the elections. Fortunately, given the massive deployment of security forces all over the country to Anambra State, INEC was able to conduct free, fair and largely peaceful election in Anambra State.
“Clearly, the current state of insecurity in the country is now no longer a threat just to life and economic activities but also constitutes a potent danger to Nigeria’s democracy. Unlike the Anambra State elections, the variables would not likely be the same in the prosecution of the 2023 general elections as the polls are expected to take place at the same time all over the country and security resources would be thinly spread. There is no gainsaying the fact that all hands must now be on deck to solve once and for all the escalation and persistence of insecurity in different parts of the country.
“It is pursuant to this clarion national call that Nigerian workers would no longer afford to stay on the fence while the country burns and politicians’ party. Nigerian workers are now ready to proactively engage the political process in the quest for active demands for the recovery of our common sanity and collective wellbeing. After all, Nigeria does not belong to only professional politicians who now see the national endeavor as a cash-out exchange. Certainly, Nigerian workers must make their votes count in 2023,” Wabba added.