The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has reviewed the year 2015 and described it as not only eventful, but challenging for workers, just as it outlined its expectations and fears in the New year, 2016.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said in his New Year message to Nigerians and workers that 2015 was particularly a trying year economically as a result of falling crude oil price, compounded by massive corruption and maladministration by the Jonathan administration.
Mr. Wabba said the situation was worsened at the state levels as state governors across political parties further incapacitated workers and Nigerians through reckless plundering of state resources.
He said the situation was so bad that by May 29, 2015 handover date, most of the governors could neither perform the ceremonial handing over, nor pay workers’ salaries for between three to nine months.
Rather than finding creative ways of reviving the economy devastated by their mismanagement and lack of foresight, the NLC President said the country’s leaders resorted to Nigerian workers and the people as scapegoats.
The NLC boss said the workers would be entering 2016 faced with uncertainties and other challenges, saying they expect the Buhari administration to provide succour to the people in areas that have eluded them for decades.
He warned against recent threats by the Nigerian Governors Forum to abandon the N18, 000 national minimum wage, or consider sacking workers in the new year, saying: “We will fight to defend the right of workers to be paid take home wages that can actually take us home.”
Mr. Wabba accused President Buhari of giving tacit support to the governors, by agreeing during his maiden presidential media chat on Wednesday that states may not be able to with the minimum wage.
The President, he pointed out, cannot empirically defend his support to the states, arguing that there was no state that cannot pay much more than the minimum wage if corruption and extravagance by public office holders were removed.
Although it said it was ready to negotiate with government on the review of workers salary, the NLC said such negotiations would be predicated on the precondition of upward review.
Mr. Wabba wants government to identify notorious businesses and multinational companies evading taxes and get them to comply accordingly.
“Government needs to impose property tax on the several hundreds of flashy estates and other structures in Abuja and several state capitals across the country. Some of these structures have remained unoccupied for years, making us to believe that they are properties developed with laundered funds,” he said.
Accusing government of conniving with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF, to exploit the current low crude oil price to remove fuel subsidy, the NLC said this was a unique opportunity for Nigeria to diversify its economic base.
“Virtually all parts of our country is blessed with one form of agricultural produce or the other. Our governments need to invest in modern agricultural infrastructure so that we can bring back the groundnut pyramids, the cocoa and palm plantations of the First Republic,” the NLC stated.
It condemned government’s plan to withdraw subsidy on petroleum products and deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry, saying workers would resist the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu’s desire to increase fuel prices in the name of “price modulation”.
Despite the minister’s recent statements, Mr. Wabba said the workers would hold President Buhari to his words that “there is indeed no fuel subsidy to be removed”.
The NLC blamed the country’s problems on endemic corruption in all facets of the society, saying the greatest casualties were the average Nigerians who are in perpetual economic bondage, lack of basic infrastructure and violence and general insecurity of lives and property.
The recent exposure of the massive corruption scam by the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, the Congress said, has strengthened the workers’ resolve to support President Buhari’s resolve to fight and defeat corruption.
The NLC vowed to intensify its campaign for good governance in 2016, along with its battle against corruption, by working with professional bodies and other credible groups to “institute a mechanism of accountability and assessment of all public office holders”.
It promised to convene a National Civil Society Summit before the end of the first quarter to address how they could hold political leaders to account and make them responsive to the developmental aspirations of the people.
“The summit will agree on mechanisms for developing a scorecard for cabinet ministers and state governors on good governance index to be released every December,” the labour body explained.
The summit, the NLC President said, would work with the Nigerian Bar Association, to devise ways to block loopholes in the country’s justice system to prevent treasury looters from evading justice for upward of seven to 10 years.
On the way forward for the oil sector, the NLC urged the federal government to expand the country’s domestic refining capacity by building decentralised modular refineries to guarantee supply of 100 per cent of the country’s fuel needs.
In the light of dwindling oil revenues, the NLC asked government to take drastic action to reduce the high cost of governance in the three tiers of government by cutting salaries and allowances of “certain political and judicial office holders” put at about N1.126 trillion annually.