By Funmi Komolafe, Victor Ahiuma-Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The 11th Quadrennial National Delegates Conference, NDC, of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which ended yesterday in Abuja, was not just about the election of a new set of leaders to lead NLC for the next four years among others, it also provided a unique opportunity for politicians in the two leading political parties in Nigeria; the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its All Progressives Congress, APC, counterpart, to out do each other and woo the over 3200 delegates from across the country, their families, friends and other guests including veterans unionists, ahead of the general election.
They used their thoughts on the socio-economic and political situations in the country to try to sway delegates and others at the conference with special focus on jobs creation and similar issues.
Speaking at opening ceremony of the NDC with the theme “The Working Class and the Challenges of National Security, Unity and Democratic Development”, APC’s Presidential Candidate, General Mohammedu Buhari, GMB, retd, told the delegates, “You believe that the labour of our heroes past and present shall never be in vain. You believe that our hopes and dreams can become reality. You believe in a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. You believe that we can rebuild the broken walls. You believe that our great country can set a standard for all of Africa to see. I pray that you will give me the opportunity to play a part in bringing about this CHANGE that the All Progressives Congress, APC, so strongly desires for our country, Nigeria.”
He said the three most challenging issues confronting Nigeria now were insecurity, the state of the economy and corruption that must be tackled at once before the nation could achieve any meaningful progress.
General Buhari lamented the menace of Boko Haram insurgents since August 2011, leading to the kidnapping of girls from their schools and women from their homes; slaughtering of boys in their dormitories and men in their farms; exploding bombs in public and private venues; and taking town after town in the northeast of Nigeria.
He decried the inability of the defence forces to arrest the situation despite the federal government’s defence budget that had gulped over $32.88 billion in the past five years.
According to him, “Our security situation in this country has never been so dire. Today, Nigerians have to endure, not just terrorist attacks in the North, but militancy in the Niger Delta, communal violence in the Middle Belt, cult wars in the South, and kidnappings, armed robberies, and common acts of thuggery throughout the country.
He equally spoke on the poor state of economy especially the devaluation of the national currency and its negative impact of the good, services and the purchasing power of the citizens.
The APC candidate explained that other challenges facing Nigerians today included youth unemployment, a lack of social services, corruption and poor governance, promising that “an APC government at the centre will treat Labour as a partner in moving the nation forward. Our plan to restore good governance, efficient and effective public sector stands to benefit the country’s labour force perhaps more than any other subgroup.
In line with our party’s manifesto, we will identify and promote growth of industries and give incentives for the use of local content. An APC government will protect and respect labourer’s right to organize, guaranteeing the rights to collective bargaining in good faith in law. We will promote new skills, equip youth for a modern economy through a network of local technology institutions to provide free training in courses for the unemployed.”
PDP, FG position
On its part, the PDP and the Federal Government speaking through the supervising Minister for Labour and Productivity, Mr. Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, insisted that PDP led federal government had been battling the security, economic, unemployment and other challenges confronting the nation head on.
He recalled that at the beginning, the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents were felt in about seven states including the Federal capital territory, but today their activities had restricted, saying “except for instance few isolated activities in the FCT, it has been restricted to three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where we have emergency rule.”
The Minster recalled that the first time the country faced such security challenges during the time of President Shehu Shagari and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigerians were united and it was contained, but lamented that today, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had been left alone to confront the insurgency.
While stressing that the government had been doing its best on the economy to improve the standard of living of the citizens, the minister noted that beyond any other government, “the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has not only reciprocated and appreciated but protected the right of Nigerian workers to unionize.”
According to him, no Nigerian worker had been intimidated by the present administration even when some of the strikes embarked upon by workers were being influenced; the government saw it as the legitimate right of Nigerian workers.
On jobs creation, he said the Jonathan-led administration had been creating more than 1.8 million jobs including those under Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, and promised that the government would do more.
Mr. Turaki told the delegates that the President Jonathan’s administration had consistently supported the labour union, boasting that today the nation had a government that “has absolute respect for the rule of law and the freedom of expression.”
Earlier, former President of NLC and Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, lamented the insecurity, growing level of poverty, poor state of economy, epileptic power supply, rising unemployment in the country among others.
According to him, “This conference is taking place at a very important time in our country. Our people want jobs, not just jobs, they want decent jobs. We want a wage, not the one that will make us millionaires, but a wage for the workers to meet their legitimate basic needs and to see something to save for the future. We want security to be able to come to work, return back home, sleep and wake up without having to rely on private security arrangement.”
Similarly, outgoing president of NLC, Abdulwaheed Omar, decried the level of insecurity, unemployment, poor state of the economy, power supply and among others.