Text of a Goodwill Message to Nigerian Workers on New Year’s Day, 2022, by Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni, President, Nigeria Labour Congress
I wish to convey New Year felicitations to Nigerian workers and people on behalf of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). I congratulate the Working-class family in Nigeria, our highly esteemed pensioners and the great people of our country on the celebration of the 2022 New Year Day.
In our New Year Message for 2021, we expressed the collective desire by Nigerian workers to thrive and live a better life especially after the dislocations occasioned by the novel corona virus disease and the return of life, work and business to seeming normalcy. While some workers and Nigerians were able to regain their balance after the lifting of the lockdown associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, so many others are still unable to find their footing especially our compatriots who lost their jobs after the lockdown. We will continue to stand with workers who lost their means of livelihood to the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging in sustained social dialogue with employers especially using the Memorandum of Understanding signed between organized Labour and Employers’ Association as a veritable advocacy tool.
The socio-economic pains inflicted by the unprecedented lockdown in 2020 continued to manifest throughout 2021. The evident trails of the huge dislocation could be easily identified in the escalation and hyper-inflation of basic goods and services. Last year, 2021, Nigerians were exposed to the most turbulent and unpredictable market realities. A bag of beans that sold for about N18000 in January 2021 currently sells for about N32000. A bag of maize that used to sell for N9000 at the beginning of 2021 soared to a new high of N18000. The same goes for other staple food such as gari, rice, yam, cassava, palm oil and spices. With the increase in the prices of food items also came general inflation of other goods and services. The cumulative impact of the prevailing hyper-inflation on the static wages earned by workers can only be imagined.
For many Nigerian workers and people, the year 2021 should rather be forgotten in a hurry. While Organized Labour may not have complete control on market forces especially with regards to inflation in the prices of essential goods and services, as a pan Nigerian workers representative and mass-oriented movement, Labour through proactive engagement with government was able to limit increases in the prices of very critical commodities and services such as petrol and electricity tariff.
In the course of the past one year, government had made a number of attempts to increase the pump price of petrol and hike electricity tariff but Organized Labour had stood in the way in the defense of the interest of Nigerian workers and the masses of our country. Our argument has been that there is a limit to the imposition of hardship and suffering on the fragile shoulders of the Nigerian people. It is gratifying that amidst the deteriorating conditions of living, Organized Labour was able to rise up to ensure that the masses of our people were not completely run over by market forces enabled by the anti-people policies of government and at the whims of shylock capitalists.
Still, the government is not relenting in its determination to push through further increases in the pump price of petrol and which as usual had been dubbed as “removal of petrol subsidy”. Well, Organized Labour has made its position clear on this matter. We have told government in very clear terms that Nigerians have suffered enough and will not endure more punishment by way of further petrol and electricity price increases.
Our position in this regard is predicated on four major grounds. First is our concern on the deceit and duplicity associated with the politics of “petrol price increase” by successive Nigerian governments. The truth is that the perennial increase by government of the pump price of petrol is actually a transfer of government failure and inability to effectively govern to the poor masses of our country. We are talking of the failure of government to manage Nigeria’s four oil refineries and inability to build new ones more than thirty years after the last petrochemical refinery in Port Harcourt was commissioned; the failure to rein in smuggling; and the failure to determine empirically the quantity of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The shame takes a gory dimension with the fact that Nigeria is the only OPEC country that cannot refine her own crude oil.
During the negotiations that trailed the last increase in petroleum prices, Organized Labour made a cardinal demand on government which is that it must take immediate steps to revamp and rehabilitate Nigeria’s refineries. A Technical Committee was set up to monitor progress in this regard. As we all know, the work of the Technical Committee like our abandoned public refineries has ground to a halt and further negotiations with government adjourned sine die for nearly one year now. As a responsible social partner, we have at different times called on government to show us what they are doing in response to our demands but silence is the response we get.
All we hear from government are half-hearted media pronouncements on efforts to allocate funds for the rehabilitation of our public refineries. On ground, there is no commensurate action. Between 2012 and now, about $9.5 billion has been spent on Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), Greenfield Refinery Projects and even public investments in private refineries. The tragedy is that despite these humungous investments of public funds, government continues to present the crisis of mass importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria and the consequent import-based pricing regime of refined petroleum products as a fait accompli. This neo-colonial narrative in Nigeria petroleum sub-sector is what the Nigerian working-class family has rejected as unfathomable and unacceptable as it is antithetical to the notions of sovereignty and self-actualization and a mockery of the sacrifice of our heroes past.
Even in the classic example of capitalism, there is something called the theory of comparative advantage where a country deploys its strategic assets to secure the highest possible positive outcomes for its citizens. Unfortunately, successive governments in Nigeria have failed to take strategic advantage of our natural endowment in oil and gas especially our prime position as the highest producer of crude oil in Africa to expand our economy, induce economic growth and engender sustainable national development. Today, instead of referring to crude oil as the blessing that it is, we now commonly describe this gift of God to Nigeria as “Resource Curse”.
The quagmire of the Dutch Disease or Resource Curse in our country is most exemplified in our downstream petroleum sub-sector. The despair of our unfortunate Catch 22 situation is that government increases the pump price of petroleum products when the price of crude oil increases and falls in the international commodities market. The explanation is that such increases automatically translate to increases in the price of refined petroleum products. When the price of crude oil falls, the excuse is that the enormous pressure on the value of the Nigerian Naira occasioned by drop in forex revenue exacerbates the crisis of Naira devaluation and causes hike in petrol price.
Even to the blind, the solution is clear – Nigeria must regain her capacity to locally refine petroleum products. There is no escaping the fact that our public refineries must be made to work. There is no short cut to the reality that we must replace the exploitative and subservient policy of Import-Based Price Regime with Local Production Based Price Regime for refined petroleum products. There is no explaining away through disingenuous Power Point presentations, procured rallies and over-rehashed publicity in the media the simple fact that as a major Oil Producing country in the world and after nearly seventy years of oil exploration in Nigeria, our country cannot deliver on efficient and effective public petroleum refineries. Nothing dents the image of Nigeria and presents us as a country incapable of providing governance as the failed narratives in our downstream petroleum sub-sector.
Second, we are concerned about the missed opportunities and hemorrhage of potential revenue to public coffers that government’s continued apathy to reconstructing the current negative narrative in our downstream petroleum sub-sector. The advantages and multiplier effect of local refining of petroleum products in Nigeria are enormous. There is the angle of mass job creation, increase in revenue accruable to government, promotion of environmental integrity in oil bearing communities as the scourge of artisanal refining with its deleterious impact on the environment and the consequent unrests and agitation such oil pollution precipitates would take a nose dive. The truth is that with self sufficiency in oil refining, Nigeria will be able to meet not only demand for local consumption but also will be in a grand position to cater for the refined petroleum needs of the sub region and the African continent as a whole.
Unfortunately, the comparative advantage that government fails to see as strategic business opportunity, private investors such as Dangote Group are taking this advantage and are moving mountains and valleys to syndicate finance from institutional lenders to establish one of the largest petrochemical refineries in the world in Lekki – Lagos State. For us in the labour movement, we do not believe that government is shortsighted to the huge benefits accruable to the commonwealth by the robust development of the downstream petroleum sector especially through investment in the rehabilitation of our four public refineries and building of new refineries.
Given the direct relationship between the outrageous amount said to be invested in the payment of the so-called petroleum subsidy and the pressure to get foreign loans from Bretton Wood Institutions to meet perennial shortfall in revenue, we believe that the crisis of the under-development of Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector, the comatose of our four public refineries and the inability of successive government to right this economic sabotage smacks of an international conspiracy at the behest of local collaborators to keep the Nigerian economy and people perpetually on their knees.
The suggestion by government that the remedy to this malady is to stop further payment of the so-called petrol subsidy is akin to cutting one’s nose in order to spite one’s face. What the government is proposing is to abandon the Nigerian workers and people to very cruel market forces whose sole drive is profit maximization. This is why we believe that private investment in building petroleum refineries is not enough. Government must ensure that public refineries also work. This way, there would be true competition and Nigerians would be able to derive the most benefit from a resource that God freely and amply made available to the Nigerian nation.
We have also already described the idea of paying transport allowances as robbing ourselves to pay ourselves as the amount being bandied for such transport subsidy clearly outstrips the amount that is currently expended on the so-called petrol subsidy.
Third, as a pan Nigerian organization, Organized Labour is concerned that the crisis in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector is further aggravated by the persisting tumult in the upstream subsector. It was recently reported that almost 200 million barrels of crude oil were lost in 2021. This was as a result of crude oil theft, ageing infrastructure, poor long term investment outlay, poor security of our inland waterway, and challenges arising from conflicts with oil bearing communities and host communities of oil facilities. This is very unfortunate. Even more disturbing is the fact that just like the failed TAMs, no major culprit has been arrested and successfully prosecuted.
Our fourth ground for rejecting any further increase in the pump price of petrol is based on our agreement with government in September 2020 that any further increase in the price of petrol should be shelved until government and labour undertakes a review of the state of local refineries in Nigeria and until government takes commensurate action to revamp our public petroleum refineries. It is in these lights that we consider the current proposals by government at the clear promoting of Bretton Woods Institutions to increase the pump price of petrol as anti-people, insensitive and a disservice to the welfare of Nigerian people which government is constitutionally mandated to protect.
At our organ meetings which took place between December 15 and 17, 2021, the Nigeria Labour Congress took a decision to protest the planned hike in the pump price of petrol by government. The protest has been scheduled to take place in all the 36 states of the federation on the 27th of January 2022. The protest in the state would culminate in the submission of protest letters to the 36 State Governors. Subsequently, on the 1st of February 2022, there would be a national protest to be held in the Federal Capital Territory. We urge Nigerian workers and people to dust their sneakers and fully participate in the peaceful protests and rallies aimed at salvaging our economic future.
Furthermore, the Nigeria Labour Congress has already barred its mind on the recent signing into law of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) by President Muhammadu Buhari. The agitation by different segments of society clearly shows that this very important piece of legislation which Nigerians have kept vigil over for so many years still does not sufficiently address the deficits of governance, oversight, investment, environmental integrity, local beneficiation and the use of petroleum resources to advance the cause of the ordinary Nigerian worker and citizen. We call on the two chambers of the National Assembly to immediately commence the process of reviewing the Petroleum Industry Act to reflect the aspirations of Nigerian workers and people.
Nigerians would recall that the national minimum wage was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2019. Since then, the implementation of the national minimum wage has been a tale of mixed fortunes across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. While some states are in compliance, others are not.
While most of the states in the North West geopolitical zone have started implementing the new national minimum wage, there is an exception in the case of Zamfara State which has refused to pay the national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment to workers in the state. In the North East, the exception is Taraba State which is yet to fully implement the new national minimum wage. In the North Central, there are still challenges of full implementation in Benue and Kogi States.
In the South West, most of the states are already in compliance. In the South South, the weak link is Cross River State which has spurned all negotiation agreements and entreaties to pay workers in the state the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment. In the South East, the Imo and Abia State Governments remain thorns in the flesh of workers. Apart from refusing to fully implement the national minimum wage and consequential salary increase, the State governments have also been promoting clandestine and rogue labour leaders unknown to the labour movement.
In line with the directives of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress, we have asked our state councils to commence industrial actions against state government that are yet to implement the new national minimum wage and pension. It is disheartening that amidst the current economic crunch prevalent in the country, some State Governors still need persuasion to pay workers the national minimum wage.
The Nigeria Labour Congress is also very disturbed about the penchant by some state Governors to owe pensioners arrears of pension and gratuities. We commend the Federal Government for clearing most of the accrued benefits of our pensioners. Kudos should also go to some state governors who have shown serious commitment to the payment of pensions, gratuity and other accrued benefits to their retirees. In the North West, the Kebbi and Jigawa State Governments have been very responsive to the welfare of pensioners. While the Jigawa State Government has institutionalized a responsive pension administrative system, the Kebbi State Government recently released funds to defray pensions and gratuity arears in the State. In the North East, the Governor of Borno State recently cleared about N12 billion arrears of pension and gratuity indebtedness. In the North Central, the Governors of Kwara, Niger and Plateau States has been very proactive in settling accrued pension benefits in their states.
In the South West, the Lagos State Government has continued to blaze the trail in paying its pension and retirement obligations. The Oyo State Government has also been consistent in redeeming its pension liabilities. In the South East, the Anambra State Government has paid its pension obligations up to November 2021. In the South South, the Cross Rivers State Government is defaulting in paying gratuities.
The Congress calls on errant State Governments to show the fear of God and pay the pension and gratuity of aged retirees who committed their entire lives to public service. The blood of our pensioners dying for lack of care is splattered all over your hands.
One of the worst vicissitudes of 2021 was the escalation of insecurity across the length and breadth of Nigeria. In the past year, Nigerians were harassed like no other year. In the rural places and in the urban centers, Nigerians were not spared the foreboding unease and horror of medium to high intensity violence. Ranging from terrorism in the North East of Nigeria to banditry and kidnap-for-ransom in the North West to intermittent invasion of farmlands by herdsmen in the North Central to attack by the Unknown Gun Men in the South East, upsurge in militancy in the South West and South South, it appears that Nigeria is gradually collapsing into one ungovernable space.
The increased spate of insecurity across the country comes at such a huge cost not only in terms of loss of precious lives but also in the dislocation of whole communities and the socio-economic life of the people. There are already palpable fears of intense hunger in 2022 owing to the inability of many farmers to go to farm. Even those who managed to go to farm in many northern states were stopped from harvesting their crops unless they pay special fees to criminals and rogue elements who are carving out autonomous governing spaces for themselves across the length and breadth of our country.
Two days ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released a statement warning that with the increasing siege of insecurity all over the country, there is a huge risk that the 2023 general elections might not take place. This is serious. Nigerians would recall that a similar situation played out during the last governorship election in Anambra State where upsurge in killings, kidnap, militancy, thuggery and sit-at-home directives from non-state actors elicited concerns from a spectrum of stakeholders on the possibility, feasibility and viability of the elections. Fortunately, given the massive deployment of security forces all over the country to Anambra State, INEC was able to conduct free, fair and largely peaceful election in Anambra State.
Clearly, the current state of insecurity in the country is now no longer a threat just to life and economic activities but also constitutes a potent danger to Nigeria’s democracy. Unlike the Anambra State elections, the variables would not likely be the same in the prosecution of the 2023 general elections as the polls are expected to take place at the same time all over the country and security resources would be thinly spread. There is no gainsaying the fact that all hands must now be on deck to solve once and for all the escalation and persistence of insecurity in different parts of the country.
It is pursuant to this clarion national call that Nigerian workers would no longer afford to stay on the fence while the country burns and politicians party. Nigerian workers are now ready to proactively engage the political process in the quest for active demands for the recovery of our common sanity and collective wellbeing. After all, Nigeria does not belong to only professional politicians who now see the national endeavor as a cash-out exchange. Certainly, Nigerian workers must make their votes count in 2023.
Already, the Nigeria Labour Congress has developed a Charter of Demands of minimal irreducible expectations of the Nigerian people from the ruling political class. The Congress aspires to use this document to engage politicians and leaders of thought going into the 2023 elections. There is no gainsaying the fact that the era of cheap political sloganeering has passed. Now, Nigerian electorate led by the working class are ready to ask the pertinent questions of development. We would demand from politicians and the political class the dividends of the investment of our hopes for a stronger, inclusive and resilient economy; a Nigeria that is secured, stable, sustainable, peaceful and united; a Nigeria of equal opportunities where the child of the cobbler can still aspire to reach the top through a dint of integrity, resourcefulness, hard work, and faith; a country where public infrastructure works and inspires pride in citizens; a Nigeria where workers and pensioners reap the fruits of their reward on earth especially through prompt payment of decent wages cum pension benefits; and a land where the things that sustain a productive and full life are available, abundant and affordable.
In demonstration of the zeal in our pursuit, we remain committed to recovering the Labour Party and repositioning it as a vehicle for the unbundling of the hopes of a great nation into a reality that we and posterity can touch and handle. We are not unaware that the journey ahead would be arduous but when has anything good ever come easy? We urge workers and our allies in the students movement, youth groups, professionals, employers, market women, civil society, artisans in the informal economy and Nigerians of all faith persuasions to dream again of the possibility of a country that places people before profits and where productivity and not patronage is the handle that open doors.
In practical commitment to proactive political engagement and in the bid to be part of the solution to the ravaging security crisis in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress organized two national summits. The first was on National Peace and Security while the second was on Social Protection Coverage. The distillates from both interventions show that the scourge of physical insecurity in Nigeria cannot be solved by bullets and bombs alone but more fundamentally by the provision and extension of social protection cover to Nigerians especially the most vulnerable in our midst – the aged, the youth, women, persons living with disabilities, and the unemployed.
Nothing exposed the level of vulnerability in Nigeria and the acute need for robust social protection cover as COVID-19 pandemic. Within a few weeks of the lockdown, most Nigerians were faced with the daunting pang of hunger and despair as their little savings were quickly exhausted. The subsequent looting of public warehouses was only symptomatic of the keg of social gunpowder that the country sits on. We must learn useful lessons from that experience and lay enduring social foundations for our people. There is no virtue in delaying positive action so that the evil day does not overtake us. The time to act is now. The political class must wake up from a protracted slumber.
Fellow compatriots, the scourge of COVID-19 pandemic is still with us especially with the advent of the Omicron variant. We urge all Nigerian workers to take the vaccine in order to increase our chances of surviving the current plague. While this remains a voluntary choice, we must also understand that we all have a responsibility to continue to observe public health protocols, conduct regular testing and celebrate responsibly.
Concluding this New Year Message, we urge government at all levels in Nigeria to be more attune to the needs of the populace, the welfare of workers who are the hands that create wealth and the estate of the downtrodden, the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable. The task of recovering the peace and sanity in our country; rebuilding our social infrastructure especially public schools and hospitals; revamping physical infrastructure particularly roads and rails; rehabilitating our institutions of governance especially through focused, virile and autonomous local government administration; liberating the space for popular participation in politics through fundamental electoral reform especially as expressed in the spirit of the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill which President Buhari withheld assent to; expanding the space for industrialization; and creating an enabling environment that fosters accelerated socio-economic progress must now be on the top of the political menu and not treated as a dessert.
We also urge workers to remain productive and steadfast in the calling of nation building. 2022 would be what we make of it. Going forward, we must be ready now to do what it takes to keep our hopes and aspirations alive.
Once again, we wish all Nigerian workers Happy and Prosperous New Year!
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