The Nigeria Labour Congress wishes to salute the courage, resilience, sacrifice and patriotism of Nigerian workers in the face of daunting challenges in the preceding year.
On the Labour front, we note with burdened hearts, the spate of strikes across the sectors, especially in health and education largely because of the refusal or inability of government to honour agreements it voluntarily entered into with the unions. This led to avoidable disruption of services with consequences for students and vulnerable Nigerians with whom government had made its pact. Government’s behaviour further undermined the fragile peace and capacities in the sectors.
Collated reports from our state councils indicate that a number of state governments and some federal MDAs have not paid their workers for December as the year comes to an end. Of the 30 states reporting as of the 30th of December, 11 subjected their workers to a Christmas/New Year celebration without the December salary. Three of these, Benue, Plateau and Osun owed their workers arrears of salaries ranging from 3 to 8 months! Some federal government employees in the Ministries of Education, Labour and Productivity, among others, are owed arrears of salaries ranging from 1-3 months.
We condemn this insensitivity to the welfare of workers. Any State Governor who cannot pay workers their salaries, as and when due, has no moral justification for taking his own salary and allowances. We call on workers to massively reject these anti-worker politicians in the 2015 elections. Meanwhile, we direct our State Councils in the three states mentioned above to serve appropriate ultimatums on their government to pay the arrears of salaries or face disruption of services.
On the political front, little was done to deepen democratic culture in the polity as government, through the institutions of the State, especially the police demonstrated unacceptable intolerance of political opposition. Congress also notes with concern that political debates were non-issue-based and largely centred on mundane and primordial stireps.
Similarly, there were cases of gross human rights abuses, especially the cold-blooded murders in Abuja and Zaria in the name of pre-emptive strikes against Boko Haram. Government however deserves commendation for giving the Human Rights Commission free and unfettered freedom to conduct investigations and to reach un-influenced conclusions.
Despite the rating of the economy in the year as the biggest in Africa, there was little by way of practical performance: lending rates remained high making the cost of doing business unreasonable; the Naira was hugely devalued in the last quarter jerking up the cost of living and preventing Nigerians from benefitting from falling crude oil prices; the economy remained largely import-based in spite of the volume of the so-called foreign direct investment.
Not surprisingly, unemployment figures remain unacceptably high; crime rates quadrupled, poverty deepened, energy sector consistently operated at its lowest ebb ever, putting a question mark on the wisdom behind privatising the sector. Paradoxically, this poor service was marked by inexplicable high tariffs.
Insurgency rose to unprecedented levels leading to loss of territories, destruction of lives and properties, refugee problems and threat to food production. On a non-physical plane, the psyche of Nigerians was thoroughly brutalized.
The inability to locate and rescue the Chibok girls remains a dagger piercing the heart of the nation. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of these girls as we celebrate the New Year.
Insecurity came by other means in the form of kidnappings, pastoralist/farmer clashes, communal/sectarian skirmishes, etc.
In spite of government’s sworn commitment and the presence of a multi-agency task force in the Niger Delta, crude oil theft assumed a phenomenon in the year, accounting for as much as 30 per cent of national output. This has created loss of revenues and divestments. Closely linked to this horrendous crime is the degradation of the environment by illegal refineries, oil spills, cover-ups and related incidents.
It would appear that government does not have a structured response to the present volatility in the crude oil market sparked by commercial shale oil mining and deepened by crashing prices across the globe. Practically all the measures mooted or taken so far by government smack of shock and panic and clearly expose our vulnerability.
Clearly, this would have been avoidable if our suggestions had been taken on board by government. For instance we recall advising government time without number to boost the capacity of domestic refining instead of depending on imports whose landing cost is dependent on prevailing exchange rate and other motivations not far from usury.
In consideration of the vagaries of a mono cultural economy, we had similarly over the years urged the government to diversify the economy by developing other sectors of the economy.
In light of the following, we find it necessary to urge the government to take sustainably viable and proactive steps instead of punitive measures against workers whose quality of life has already been negatively affected by devaluation and other measures.
While we appreciate the difficulties brought on by the collapse in oil prices, we caution against the imposition of unselective austerity measures. Already, workers continue to bear the brunt of the savage devaluation of the Naira with possibility of collateral consequences. We also strongly advise against consideration for rationalisation of staff. We support government initiatives to tax the rich through luxury taxes. More importantly, we are convinced that the surest way to manage the budget under austerity is to reduce the cost of governance. Bloated prerequisites of political office holders must be cut. Prerequisites and comfort of politicians need to reflect the reality of the times. Mr President and the state house must lead in this regard. The size of the Presidential fleet, the cost of running the State House and the retinue of political jobbers can all be reasonably cut without reducing the effectiveness of the Presidency.
We condemn the imposition of exploitative electricity tariff and urge caution in case this leads to some further unpleasantries. We note sporadic protests against these tariff hikes in cities across the nation including Benin, Enugu, Lagos and Kano.
We still stand by our time-tested position that the only permanent solution to the crises of petroleum product pricing is adequate domestic refining. Accordingly, we urge government to put in place realistic appropriate legislation and policy in order to realise this.
The year 2015 is an election year whose outcome will mark a watershed in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. We call for fair, transparent and credible elections. We insist, Nigeria is bigger than any partisan interests and its sovereignty and inviolability are sacrosanct. Workers are enjoined to come out en mass to perform their civic duty as well as defend their vote. Power lies in the voter’s card.
Government is also called upon to fashion out a comprehensible and implementable national security strategy that is capable of dealing with the myriad of threats to our unity and sovereignty.
Finally, as we urge workers to brace up for a tough year, we wish them a prosperous new year. Tough times don’t last forever.