ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS (NLC), COMRADE AYUBA WABBA, mni ON THE OCCASION OF THE NLC STATE DELEGATES CONFERENCE HELD ON 25TH APRIL 2019
On behalf of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NLC, I wish to join the Chairperson of the State Council of Congress to welcome delegates to the 2019 State Delegates Conference. I bring you warm fraternal and solidarity greetings on this very auspicious occasion.
As you already know, the 12th National Delegates Conference of the NLC concluded with the election of members of the National Administrative Council (NAC) on February 6, 2019 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. In tandem with the provisions of our constitution, states delegates conferences are holding today in all the states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The State Delegates Conferences will enable us to complete the process of constituting the National Executive Council of the NLC which is the organ next in authority to the National Delegates’ Conference – the highest decision-making body of Congress.
The NLC and its affiliates have a proud record of adhering to our democratic traditions as contained in our constitutions. We are known for diligence in holding statutory organ meetings and conferences. We have also built a reputation of conducting transparent elections. The process we are engaging today is in furtherance of a tradition that our forbearers in the labour movement handed down to us.
We use this opportunity to congratulate State Governors, State Houses of Assembly members elected during the just concluded 2019 general election. May we remind our recently elected public office holders that holding any public office is akin to holding public trust. We all must strive to use our different public positions to make our country a better place. This we can do by addressing issues of governance especially the widening inequality and poverty prevalent in our society.
This conference is very significant in many ways. It is coming on the heels of Nigeria’s general elections. It is also happening at the cusp of celebration of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centenary. We cannot also forget that the 40th Anniversary of the Nigeria Labour Congress took place about a year ago. There is, therefore, no better time for sober reflection on our journey as workers, as the citizens of a great country and as partners in the global solidarity movement.
The theme of the 2019 National Delegates Conference of the NLC was “Towards a Decade of Activism for the Promotion of Labour Unity, National Re-birth and Development”. This theme mirrored our shared perspective during the NLC at 40 celebrations – “NLC at 40: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, National Unity and Social Justice”. The two themes perfectly portrayed our commitment to national unity, rebirth and development. They also underlined our understanding that genuine national rebirth and development can only happen in an atmosphere of social justice and respect for workers cum human rights.
This States Delegates Conference, thus, goes beyond the election of leaders to provide leadership to our state councils for the next four years. It is a veritable space to re-evaluate our commitment to the cause of Nigerian workers. This State Delegates Conference challenges us to take a pilgrimage to the traditions and ideals of our founding fathers.
At the June 2015 and 2016 Strategic Leadership Retreats of the NLC, we made a collective pledge to return to the founding principles of our movement. Our resolve in this regard is supposed to find expression in the renewal of our commitment to genuine struggle for social justice, workers rights and human dignity. I expect that in this Conference we will awaken a fresh passion that seeks to invest ourselves completely in the fight to improve our collective working and living conditions. I urge every delegate, labour leader, organizer, women and youth leader to leave this conference asking “how can I be of better service to Nigerian workers, the labour movement and to the Nigerian State?”
This clarion call to service makes no better appeal than now when our nation is confronted with a myriad of social, economic and political challenges. You will agree with me that these challenges show up more monstrously in states. Some of our state governments are still owing arrears of salaries, pension and gratuity. This ugly situation has persisted despite Federal Government’s bailout and budget support initiatives which at the last count is close to two trillion naira. I expect that this State Delegates Conference will elect labour leaders who will take on headlong this evil trend and punitive injustice against workers.
We have demonstrated tenacity in the pursuit of a new national minimum wage for workers. We have held several rallies, protest marches at both federal and state levels and even embarked on a few strike actions to press home our demand for a new national minimum wage. A few weeks ago, the two chambers of the National Assembly passed the National Minimum Wage (2019) Amendment bill. The bill was assented by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 18, 2019. There cannot be a more perfect May Day gift for Nigerian workers.
Well, the upward review of the national minimum wage is not so much a gift as it is the right of workers. This right was delayed for too long. As Mr. President ordered during the signing into law of the National Minimum Wage (2019) Amendment bill, we call on all employers of labour to commence payment immediately. I urge the incoming leadership of our state councils to make the immediate payment of the new national minimum wage of N30,000 and review of monthly pension by state governments your top priority.
We have crossed the bridge of the debate whether state governments can pay the new national minimum wage or not. The feedback we got from the nationwide rallies for a new national minimum wage which took place in January 2019 indicated that most state governments are willing to pay the new national minimum wage once Mr. President grants his assent. The truth is that if state governments cut down on high cost of governance and corruption, they will be more than able to pay the new national minimum wage of N30,000.
We completely reject proposals to increase the Value Added Tax (VAT) as a means of funding the 2019 budget. We warn that any increase in VAT or PAYE would not only rob workers of the minimal relief from the increase in the national minimum wage but would also leave our economy in dire straits. We urge government to consider other progressive ways of financing the budget. Government should adopt progressive taxation in a manner that captures more people in the tax net and also ensures that the rich and luxury items are properly taxed.
Sill on the economy, we should all be concerned with the shape, structure and dynamics of our national economy. High inflation and poor salaries have combined to erode the purchasing power of workers. The design of our economy is essentially rent-seeking and exclusivist thus undermining productivity and job creation. Our industrial base is almost totally decimated due to erratic power supply, shabby physical infrastructure and poor policy choices. This leaves us with an economy stuck in the backwaters of subsistence production. Succinctly put, we have managed to develop an economy that specializes in exporting jobs and prosperity and importing joblessness, poverty and misery.
Dear Comrades, the commanding heights of our economy are being parceled away to private interests with little or no commitment to nation-building and social progress. The consequence is that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider by the day resulting in widespread tension and upsurge in violent crimes. Even the rich cannot sleep at night because the poor are awake to hunger. Indeed, an unjust economic system is a threat to everyone including the oppressors.
We call on government to adhere to the provisions of Chapter Two of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution which states inter alia that government must ensure that that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group.
Unfortunately, the social infrastructure that lays the foundation for shared prosperity is being undermined on daily basis by those who we elected to public offices. The state of our public schools and hospitals leaves a lot to be desired. It is a tragedy that the public schools that produced today’s elites have been abandoned. Our elites now take pride in showcasing the foreign schools their children attend while not giving a hoot that the children of the poor are being left behind. Our public hospitals that used to be referral centres across the continent are now shadows of their former glories forcing our citizens to take to very costly medical adventures to hospitals around the world. Indeed, the deconstruction of our public institutions has come full circle.
We call on the Federal and State governments to make the recovery of public services especially public schools and hospitals their foremost developmental priority. Education has the potential of positively transforming the children of the poor and reducing social tension. Also, a nation with a healthy workforce and citizens is a wealthy nation. We must invest in our healthcare system especially in terms of improving our human resource, medical equipment and other critical facilities as a statement of our commitment to upholding human dignity.
Furthermore, we wish to caution the government against contemplating any further increase in the price of refined petroleum products especially the premium motor spirit (PMS). We understand that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has advised the Federal Government to remove the so-called “petrol subsidy” which is a euphemism for increase in the pump price of petrol. This advice is ill-willed and completely insensitive to the suffering of most Nigerians.
Congress believes that the current regime of petrol subsidy reeks of corruption. The crisis in our downstream petroleum sector is occasioned by the failure of successive governments to deploy the political will to end the national shame of importing refined petroleum products. Nigeria is the only oil producing country caught in this malady. It is our abiding conviction that the chronic anomaly of “petrol subsidy” as primarily fueled by constant devaluation of the naira and fluctuation in the international price of crude oil can only be solved permanently by getting our local refineries to work optimally. We will resist any attempt to transfer the cost of incompetence by government to the masses.
We are all witnesses to the waves of bloodbath and brigandage surfing across our country. There is hardly any day that passes without one incident of armed robbery, kidnap for ransom, militancy or terrorism attack making headlines. We call on government at both federal and state levels to urgently rejig our security architecture, structure, and management. Clearly, the current approach has failed. We also call for a robust and sustainable response to renewed security challenges in our country even if that means an increase in the budget for internal security so long it is judiciously and transparently used.
The political arena offers one of the most effective spaces for tackling almost all the challenges that we have already highlighted to bring about socio-economic transformation. Unfortunately, the conduct of the last general election left a lot of sour taste in the mouth. Incidences of hate speech, vote buying, ballot box snatching, abuse of provisions for manual accreditation, logistics tardiness, isolated cases of violence, and a spate of inconclusive elections trailed the 2019 general polls. These electoral infractions did not only erode some of the grounds won as a result of the push by the NLC and its allies during the 2007-2011 campaign for electoral reform in Nigeria but also presented new threats to efforts to consolidate and deepen our democracy.
The chaos in our electoral space is only symptomatic of the crises of governance bedeviling our country. We cannot lament forever. The onus is on us as the working class to recover the political initiative through the reactivation and repositioning of the Labour Party. We took very concrete resolutions at different levels of leadership and ultimately at our last National Delegates Conference to recover the Labour Party as the political vehicle for the actualization of the socio-economic transformation that we desire for our country. I urge you to use the occasion of this Conference to mobilize workers in the state to build robust political structures at the state and local government levels.
My dear comrades and our guests, with the foregoing scenarios, you will agree with me that the challenges before us as workers and as a movement are quite humungous and daunting. I must, however, add that the odds facing us are not insurmountable. We can and we will dare these concerns and by the grace of Almighty God we shall prevail.
Relying on God and refusing to play our own part will not cut the ice. We need to intensify efforts in building unity within our ranks. We must always speak truth to power. We must resist policies inimical to workers especially anti-unionization, casualization and out-sourcing. Above all, we must ensure workplace democracy as a sign of our maturity to take over the space currently being mismanaged by a failed political class.
It is in this vein that I urge you to elect people that have a reputation for selfless service as leaders of your state council. I implore you to elect only leaders that have over the years demonstrated strong affinity to the ideals of the working class. I strongly advise that you elect leaders that have shown a track record of accountability and sacrifice. Overall, we expect that leaders who have demonstrated ideological clarity and consciousness within the context of exploitative industrial and state relations system in our country will emerge at this conference.
It is impossible for all the contestants at this delegates conference to be elected into office at the same time. I therefore urge the winners to be magnanimous in victory and the losers to adorn a sportsmanly attitude. If our interest is really to serve the workers, we do not expect extreme reactions to the outcome of this State Delegates Conference.
Finally, I call on leaders who will emerge from this conference to make accountability, humility, discipline, and collective leadership their watchword. We do not want a situation where state council executives would conspire to defraud Congress of deductions and contributions remitted at the state level. We have taken a very stern position on this. I am sure none of the new leaders who will be elected from this Delegates Conference would want to be the scapegoat.
I also urge the new executives to ensure that you complete any assignment left undone by your predecessors. The conduct of local government elections in the few states yet to comply with the directives by our national leadership since 2015 should be your first assignment.
We have also taken a decision to fully identify with the ILO Centenary celebrations this May Day. I urge all our state councils to reflect this in your preparations, programmes and activities for the 2019 May Day.
The 2019 May Day should be celebrated in unity by the Organized Labour family using one platform in each state.
I wish all of us a very successful State Delegates Conference and a memorable 2019 May Day celebrations.
Thank you all for listening.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni