Leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) seized the occasion of the 2018 May Day celebration to assess the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, scoring him low on key economic indices, particularly on job creation, industrialisation, power supply among others.
In buttressing their point about the dismal performance of the administration, the two Labour centres said there has never been a time they did not struggle for emoluments that justifies their level of contribution to the national economy.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba said beyond the current struggles for the implementation of a new national minimum wage, it ought to have dawned on the Buhari administration that N18,000 minimum wage could no longer sustain an average worker in Nigeria.
Wabba also took on the government on escalating level of poverty, saying more than 70 per cent of the country’s population live below the poverty line.
He noted that based on international economic forecast, Nigeria may soon overtake India as the poverty capital of the world despite significant differences in our population size.
TUC President Bobboi Bala Kaigama corroborated Wabba on dirty politics and poor democratization process in Nigeria, while Wabba observed that as a build-up to 2019 general elections politicians must take the interest of the electorates above primordial interest, Kaigama said it was regrettable that politics and corruption have become intertwined to the detriment of the masses.
The TUC President noted that the continued neglect of the health sector has opened a floodgate of brain drain, medical tourism among others.
He also took on state governors some of whom he alleged still owed workers salaries because they diverted part of the bailouts given to them.
“Despite the enormous contribution of Nigerian workers and the labour movement to national development, the issue of improved conditions of service, standard of living and welfare has always been through demand and struggle.
“Our economy remains largely import driven and dependent, though described as mixed, our economy is essentially rent seeking and suffers from systemic distortions.
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“The over dependence of our economy on crude oil revenue for a very long time continues to expose us to severe shocks from price fluctuations in the international crude oil market. This was a major issue that landed us in the last recession,” Wabba told workers in the nation’s capital who came out en masse to observe the May Day.
Kaigama also stated, “Politics and Corruption are like Siamese twins in our country. Politics is the highest paying job today and you do not really need all the degrees in the world to earn your millions. It has become a do-or-die affair and a lot of corruption embedded.
“According to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, states have shared N1.9trn Paris Club Refund, which probably excludes the proceeds from NLNG initially released to offset accumulated salaries of workers.
“In spite of this, Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) declared that some state’s debts have exceeded their revenue by over 480 percent. Another big challenge.
“Truly, we can see some noticeable signs on the fight against corruption; but it needs to be more inclusive and far reaching to avoid suspicion of one sidedness.
“The recent invasion of the hallowed chamber of the Senate and carting away of the mace shows the peak of insensitivity on the part of most people in the chamber.
“The Senate, from history, is constituted by men and women of character; people who have excelled in their respective chosen careers, and with good oratory and wisdom.
“Expectedly, when honourable men and women interrogate issues, ideas and thoughts may differ but should it be to the extent of inviting hoodlums to desecrate the hallowed chamber? We condemn it in its entirety and insist that the culprits must be brought to book to forestall such in the future.
“We also do not believe that suspending any National Assembly member is the way out of dealing with divergent views amongst members”.
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However, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who represented his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, at the event, said no reasonable person can underscore the relevance of workers in nation building, but that previous administrations cannot be extricated from the dire situation which the country has found itself.
Osinbajo said from the inception of this administration about N1.91trillion went into providing bailouts for states to pay workers as a result of the badly beaten economy.
According to him, Buhari also shares workers’ pain contrary to what naysayers believe.
The VP said, “I salute and pay tribute to all Nigerian workers and working families. It is on your hard work, innovation, resilience and patriotism that our nation is building the structures for true greatness.
“I must also seize this opportunity to acknowledge the historical contributions of Nigerian working people and organized labour to the political, economic, social and cultural development of our nation.
“The Nigerian organized labour has always been at the forefront of the push for a better Nigeria, from the struggles for independence; right through to the clamor for the restoration of the democratic order, and, in the last 19 years, for the sustenance of the freedoms guaranteed by our democracy.
“I must also say that Nigerian organized labour has contributed actively towards helping Nigeria get out, in record time, of an economic recession arising from past economic mismanagement.
“This administration has remained committed to improving the welfare of the Nigerian people. When we came into office at least 22 states were owed salaries, some for a whole year.
“If you recall in November 2015, the President said and I quote, ‘all my life I have always earned a salary, so I understand what it means when your salary is not paid or when it is not enough’.
“Just last year, Mr. President, speaking to governors visiting him, again went back to the issue of salaries, I don’t know how any of you can go to sleep at night knowing that your workers have not been paid. The President’s concern for workers is not a theoretical or rhetorical one, but one borne out of experience and respect for the sweat of the working classes.
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“This is why we evolved mechanisms to bail out all the 36 states of the federation, to the tune of N1.91 Trillion, in recognition of the shortfalls in their finances arising from the oil shocks of 2015/2016.
“We have extended this support regardless of party affiliation, to enable them to settle the backlog of arrears of salaries and pensions of workers. At the inauguration of the National Economic Council in 2015, President Buhari publicly declared that our Administration will extend support to every State, because poverty is no respecter of ethnic group, religion or party affiliation.
“While we do recognize that payment of salaries and pensions is essential; we are also conscious of the fact that the increasing cost of living and the recognition to ensure a fair and decent living wage has rendered the Minimum Wage Instrument obsolete.
“Accordingly, President Buhari inaugurated, on November 27, 2017, a Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee to renegotiate the National Minimum Wage for our workers.
“As you are all aware, the subject of a National Minimum Wage for the Federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“Although there are arguments regarding fixing minimum wage in a federation such as ours, it is the responsibility of government to establish the necessary social protection floor for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of Government to pay.
“The argument for a national minimum wage, therefore, cannot be faulted because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and as such should be anchored on the principles of social justice, equity, and fairness.”