BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
LABOUR leaders, workers, employers and other stakeholders gathered in Lagos from October 4 and 6th, at the 23rd Annual Education Conference organized by the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN, in conjunction with Nigeria Textile, Garment and Tailoring Employers’ Association, NTGTEA, to discuss the employment and job crises in Nigeria and ways of reviving the declining industrial sector, especially the Textile industry.
With the theme “Employment, Job Creation and the revival of the Textile Industry in a Transition Year, the conference attracted papers presentation by scholars, administrators, policy makers among others experts.
Welcoming participants to the conference, NUTGTWN President, Comrade Reginald Agulanna, said the conference, was to create a platform for stakeholders to discuss and initiate pro-active ideals for creation of sustainable and decent jobs through revival of the Nigeria textile industry
According to him, “there could be no better time than now to have discussions on such a theme as important as this. With the army of unemployed youths and the spate of crimes and violence as we are presently witnessing in our dear country, the importance of job creation and mass decent employment as well as the need for urgent revival of closed factories cannot be over emphasized.
“This has become very critical and necessary for lasting peace, social transformation and sustainable improvement in the standard of living of the Nigerian people.”
Speaking, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, lamented that government policies had not only destroyed jobs, but also industries.
Represented a deputy President of NLC, who is also the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, NLC President cited the planned removal of subsidy on fuel as another potential threat to the survival of industries and jobs.
He warned that “NLC is waiting for government to commence the exercise and once that is done, the Congress will take every necessary action to resist it.”
Comrade Omar said Nigerian workers and the masses had never benefited from deregulation citing the cases of Kerosene and diesel which had been deregulated but the products remained inaccessible to the common man.
He said “democracy has brought with it massive corruption into the country. We now have a situation where majority are living in abject poverty while a few are cornering the resources of the country”, and called on government to urgently address the menace warning that “if nothing is done, the situation would degenerate into an economic crisis where everybody would become victims.”
Unemployment, a time bomb
Speaking, General Secretary of NUTGTWN, Comrade Issa Aremu, faulted government statistics that unemployment rate in the country was 19.8 percent and said it was far above the government claim.
Comrade Aremu who is also a Vice President of NLC, warned that the growing unemployment crisis in the country portended a major threat to the stability of the Nigeria.
Recalling how unemployment triggered the recent revolution in Tunisia which later spread to Egypt, Libya and other parts of the Arab world, he said “from Tunisia, the revolution spread to Egypt. The unemployment figure in Tunisia before the crisis was 13.4 percent. The official unemployment figure in Nigeria today is 19.4 percent. We all know that unofficial figure it is far above that.
“I can tell you that the figure is more than 50 percent. If 13.4 percent can lead to protest and riot, Comrades I leave you with your imagination what 19.4 percent or 50 percent can do. The reason why I say it is more than 50 percent is what what happened about two years ago.
“The Nigerian Immigration Service placed an advertisement and invited some people for interview. They were looking for three Thousands workers, but one Hundred and Ninety-five thousands turned up. About five applicants died in a stampede. If you do the calculation that about one hundred and ninety-five thousands were scrambling for three thousands vacancies, it will give you a fair idea of the unemployment figure in Nigeria.”
Comrade Aremu also recalled former President Olusegun Obasanjo alarm on the unemployment crisis during the International Labour Organisation, ILO, conference in Geneva earlier in the year.
Aremu however said while he agreed with Obasanjo on the threat of unemployment, he lambasted the former President for not doing anything about the unemployment crisis during his eight years administration.
According to him, “If Obasanjo is worried about unemployment, Comrades, you guess is as good as mine. The only thing is that we should ask Obasanjo, when he was in power, how many jobs did he create? In fact, many textile factories closed down under him.”
NUTGTWN’s General Secretary said, “We have decided that we are not going to leave the issue of job creation to government alone because we should also be concerned about it. The problem of unemployment is more real than we imagine. There is nothing that finishes a man or woman than without a source of income which employment provides. We must take the issue of jobs seriously because joblessness can lead to desperation.
“If you find out the real cause of the so-called Boko Haram, it must be the poorest of the poor who look so hopeless and are available as suicide bombers. To create jobs, we must be concerned about how we revive the industry. It is only government that can help us revive the industry. When they tell us that government has no business in business, we tell them that business cannot be in business if government is not on duty.”
In a remark, Director-General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, Mr. Segun Osinowo, called for cooperation between labour and employers to keep factories afloat and sustain jobs.
He said: “Contrary to government claims that unemployment rate in the country is 19.4 percent, it is over 30 percent. We are very worried about the rate of unemployment in the country. We look forward to a time when government can make policies that can sustain jobs.
“The survival of jobs is a function of the survival of enterprises, when business collapses, the first casualties are the workers. You cannot talk about workers without enterprise. The survivals of employers depend on good governance. Employers and workers must work together to keep industries on and keep jobs.”