By Kelechi Azubuike

Cautions Buhari on freedom of press
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday condemned the sealing of the National Stadium, Surulere to prevent workers from celebrating yesterday’s Workers’ Day, warning the new acting Inspector General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arise to learn from the misadventures of his predecessors by operating within the ambit of the law.

It also demanded N90, 000 as minimum wage for workers in the country, saying that the five year operational period of current N18,000 minimum wage would come to an end this year and must be reviewed.

CROSS SECTION OF NIGERIA WORKERS CELEBRATING AT THE 2015 MAY DAY CELEBRATION HELD AT THE EAGLE SQUARE ABUJA. PHOTO BY ABAYOMI ADESHIDA 1ST MAY 2015

The factional President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, made this known in his message to mark yesterday’s Workers’ Day, at the stadium in Lagos.

The NLC, also, cautioned the incoming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, rtd, against attempts to abridge the freedom of the press as witnessed by the recent attempt to ban the African Independent Television, AIT, from the coverage of his activities just as it praised Buhari for distancing himself from the action of his aides on the issue.

Ajaero warned that workers in the country would always defend the rights of Nigerian citizens when ever such occasions arose.

‘’In this direction, we commend the President elect, General Buhari on his directive cautioning his aides over the AIT incident. It is quite reassuring that the President-elect recognizes the freedom of the press, because in a democratic setting, respect for the rights of citizens is given. However, let it be known that we will stand up at all times to defend the rights of workers and also be counted as defenders of the rights of citizens,’’ Ajaero said.

INVASION OF STADIUM

On the sealing of the stadium, the NLC Chairman said, ‘’We condemn the unprovoked siege by fully armed mobile police on the peaceful gathering of workers at the venue of this year’s workers day celebration. Early this morning, the National stadium was sealed, preventing thousands of workers that trooped to mark the 2015 May Day (from entering).

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‘’We warn the IGP to learn from the misadventure of his predecessors and ensure that he operates within the ambit of the law. We have a fundamental right to peaceful assembly and information. The IG should know that no one can intimidate us not to exercise our fundamental rights.

On the recent general elections in the country, Ajaero, also paid special tribute to both the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan and General Buhari for their patriotism as demonstrated during the last general elections.

According to him, the ‘’organized labour appreciated their mutual statesmanship and patriotism, avoidance of despair and unhelpful negative triumphalism after the historic free and fair 2015 Presidential Elections commendably conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

‘’Like other Nigerians, working people look forward with excitement to the swearing in of General Buhari as the fifth democratically elected President on May 29. The President elect must consolidate on the positive labour market policies of President Jonathan and correct the negative measures. Apart from endemic corruption, the greatest task at hand is the urgent need to transform oil dependent-economy to a diversified industrialized economy.

‘’As we celebrate the dignity of labour, we also salute all incumbent and incoming governors, legislators and other political office holders. ‘’

SIGNIFICANCE OF MAY DAY

He said that ‘’May Day offers us the great opportunity to celebrate the dignity of labour. For the working class, it is a period of reflection and a period to celebrate the social and economic achievements of the labour movement and canvass improvement in wages and conditions of work generally,’’ and asked them to ‘’work together at all levels to restore the belief and confidence of the working people in the NLC as the bastion of hope for the masses and as the strong voice for the voiceless in our nation.

‘’The labour movement should and must be responsive to the yearnings and aspirations of not only members/affiliates but must always be ready to provide alternative socio-political and economic policy framework that will help to galvanize increased productivity and shared prosperity for the Nigerian people.’’

Ajaero’s statement further read, ‘’As you are aware, today marks another significant demonstration of our collective resolve to chart a new course and a new beginning for our movement in Nigeria. It is a day to reaffirm our commitment to retrieve the movement from the hands of those who believe that the struggles to improve the conditions of workers, defend the rights of the working people and improve the socio/economic and political situation of our country lies in the comfort of the government offices and by cow- towing with politicians.

‘’It is very important to re-emphasize here that our struggle to provide leadership for the NLC is borne out of our collective desire to restructure the congress as a vibrant trade union centre after the misadventure of the past four years under the fraudulent and inept leadership of Abdul Waheed Omar.

‘’We cannot continue to lament about failed conferences and failed reconciliation, it is time to dust our boots, tighten our belts and rededicate ourselves to the multiple challenges facing Nigeria working people. Luckily, we have a fresh opportunity with a new government in place from this month.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

‘’We use the occasion of the May Day to re affirm our commitment to defend the rights of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining as enshrined in our constitution and labour laws and explicitly reaffirms the commitment to uphold ILO conventions 87 and 98.

THE ECONOMY

‘’The critical challenge for the incoming administration is that that the steady growth of the last decade has not translated into improved well being for the majority of our people. The Nigerian economy had recorded impressive growth averaging about 6 per cent in the last ten years yet over 70 per cent of our people remain poor surviving on less than two dollars a day. Nigerians are expectant that the Buhari administration will address the widening inequality and poverty in the country.

‘’The growing inequality can only be addressed by a serious commitment to developing the critical sectors of the economy and opening of the agricultural sector and the revival of manufacturing. Value-added activities in agriculture and manufacturing will open up the space for creation of mass decent jobs for millions of our young school leavers. The current unemployment rate is unacceptable, the government must act decisively to address this challenge.

‘’The development of the real sectors and increased value-added in manufacturing are quite critical for creation of mass decent jobs, elimination of poverty and for building a virile and sustainable economy.

‘’We shall engage the in-coming administration on these issues. We demand a macro-economic policy regime that will address stability in the currency exchange regime, progressive tax administration and the management of customs and excise duties in manners that will promote local production of goods and services. We must say bye to the destructive regime of duty waivers.

PETROLEUM INDUSTRY

The sudden emergence of long queues at fuel stations in major cities as a result of insufficient supply of petroleum products across the country is deeply worrisome. This worry is further compounded with the recent release of the audit report into the account of NNPC which just revealed a tip of the iceberg of the deep rooted mismanagement, maladministration, wastages and corruption in the Petroleum industry.

To demonstrate the lack of political will of successive government, the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which is expected to bring into the sector the much anticipated reforms that will make the oil industry yield the maximum returns to the country, investors and general further investments in the oil and gas sector is yet to be passed since year 2000.

We therefore call on the new government to commence the reform of the oil and gas sector with the immediate passage of the PIB.

REVIVAL OF TEXTILE INDUSTRY

The President elect has commendably made revival of textile and garment industry as part of his party’s overall strategy to re-industrialize the county and create mass employment for the millions of unemployed. The new administration is right to reinvent this sector which has propelled newly industrialized countries in recent times such as China, India, Balgadesh and Indonesia among others. Nigeria boasts of a large polyester base. Combined with the 170 million population rich in fashion and clothing and huge labour force of some 70 million potential workers, Nigeria has the potential of producing 1.2 billion meters of cloth per annum and create at least 3 million direct jobs in textile sector! The President elect must realise that past presidents including Obasanjo, Yar Adua and Jonathan made similar pledges to revive textiles with innovative policies include import bans and intervention fund.

Key problems facing the textile industry in particular and manufacturing industries in general are infrastructural inadequacy, raw materials, electricity supply, smuggling, counterfeiting and faking among others. All these problems call for strong government interventions not less.

ELECTRICITY SUPPLY

Our effort to develop as a nation cannot materialise except we are able to resolve the lingering energy crisis in our country. As we have seen, privatisation has not any way improve the supply of electricity to industries and homes across the country. This power poverty has led to factory closure and impoverishment of homes. This cannot continue again. Government must take the lead in the effort to improve power supply in our country.

RAIL TRANSPORTATION

We commend the outgoing Government for its commitment and effort with regards to the ongoing rehabilitation, re-equipping and modernisation of the rail transport sub-sector. We urge the incoming Government to follow this path, sustain and improve on the investment in the railway sector with a view to making the rail transport sector public transport that requires no privatisation in any guise.

THE CHALLENGE OF INSECURITY

The impressive GDP growth rate recorded in recent years notwithstanding the social crisis facing the country deepens in the last four years with rising unemployment and poverty levels fuelling increased crime rates and avoidable violence across the country.

We therefore expect the incoming administration to adopt a two pronged approach of dealing with the problem at the root through by decisively taking action and developing policies and programmes to revitalize local industries and promote value adding processes in agriculture as a way of addressing the high level of unemployment and poverty in the country. This can then be complemented with restructuring of the security architecture and investment to address new dimensions of kidnapping and terrorism as witnessed in the south east and north east in recent years.

We commend the Nigerian Military and the combined ECOWAS force for the excellent job they are doing on terrorism.

CHIBOK GIRLS

We are happy with the cheering news of the release of hundreds of girls and women by the Nigeria Military. But we are worried that there is no clear indication that the 219 school girls kidnapped in Chibok were part of those rescued.

Notwithstanding, we commend the well-coordinated operation of the Nigeria Military and the joint regional forces which is already yielding results as troops in the last few days rescued 200 girls and 93, women and an additional number of hostages.

MINIMUM WAGE

We cannot address the challenge of income inequality and poverty without addressing the question of salaries and wages for working people because there is intricate linkage between income, consumption and production. We assure that we will continue to use the instrumentality of collective bargaining to improve the wages and salaries of our members.

In the immediate the incoming administration must be put on notice that five year tenure of the national minimum wage ends this year and we are putting before the new administration a proposal of N90,000 for negotiation with the Federal Government and Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA. This modest proposal is based on the unstable micro economic environment, naira devaluation and the high rate of inflation.

FUNDING OF EDUCATION

The issue of funding has been at the centre of the perennial crisis in the Nigeria University system in particular. It is time to work out a systemic and enduring solution to this challenge if Nigeria must meet its human capital needs. One critical step is for the incoming administration to urgently work towards the 25 per cent budget benchmark for education in the Country. It is also important for the Government to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are carried along in policy formulation and implementation to avoid the incessant strikes in the sector.

ABIDING FAITH IN NIGERIA

Nigerian workers are very patriotic and committed to the nation’s growth. We love our country Nigeria. He who loves not his country can love nothing. We are patriotic citizens who believe in the unity and oneness of this country. But we also believe that no nation can make progress without addressing the welfare of its citizens particularly the working men and women. Workers everywhere deserve good living and working conditions. We call on those in authority to show greater concern for the welfare of workers.

GOOD GOVERNANCE

Critical to our success as a nation is the issue of good governance. Nigeria has the capacity to meet up with her contemporaries in other parts of the world in all aspect of development if the challenges of good governance are properly addressed. This calls for the sharpening of our instruments for policy formulation and implementation in all the key sectors of the economy. We must deepen the democratic process. We must hold our political office holders accountable in the current democratic dispensation. NLC under our leadership will continue to be in the forefront to press for good governance, accountability and credible elections in Nigeria.

For us and our allies in the labour movement, the least we can do is to keep these issues on the front burners of our national discourse. Therefore, we urge all state councils to do the same in their respective states.

 

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