Jonathan Shuns May Day celebration
• Police Prevent NLC Faction From National Stadium In Lagos
• Veteran Unionist, Issa Aremu Condemns Action
• Labour Tasks Buhari On Economic Revival
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan failed to attend this year’s May Day celebrations in Abuja for the first time since 2011.
Not only did the President not attend, he also did not send a representative, as the speech read by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Joel Danlami Ikenya, ostensibly believed to be that of the President, was withdrawn by aides of the minister, who explained that the speech read was that of the minister.
In attendance, however, was the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed.
In Lagos, attempts by the Joe Ajaero-led faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to hold a rally at the National Stadium was thwarted by security agents who sealed off the premises to prevent them from gaining access. They however organised their rally under the bridge adjacent the stadium.
In his speech, President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said the labour movement would closely monitor the incoming administration of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari in the revival of infrastructure that would serve as the foundation upon which to drive the country’s economic recovery.
Wabba decried the spending of about $40 billion on electricity by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led Federal Government without anything to show for it.
“It is truly tragic that despite sinking a whopping investment in excess of $40 billion for the past 16 years in the power sector, the only proofs we have to show for it are megawatts of darkness and gigabytes of excuses.
“Currently, power generation in Nigeria hovers around 3,000 megawatts. Yet, the $25 billion Three Gorges Dam in China generates more than 22,000MW of electricity.
“The excuse of inadequate gas for the power stations is already time-worn. The volume of gas that has been flared since 1956 when commercial quantities of crude oil and natural gas were discovered in the oil producing communities of Niger Delta, with all of its environmental and climatic consequences, is enough proof that blaming gas supply for our perennial national darkness is what it is- mere excuses,” he stated.
He said the NLC believes that regular power supply would unlock the potentials in the economy. Wabba then declared that the labour movement would hold the Buhari-led government to account based on the promises to Nigerians generally and to the working class in particular.
He added: “Apart from the above, the incoming government must revive the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, conceived to be the cornerstone of our industrialization, but unfortunately, our political class has refused to accept the simple truth that no country can truly industrialise without any iron and steel industry.”
He hinted that the NLC would soon set the machinery in motion for the review of the national minimum wage, which was last raised in 2010. Wabba stated that having implemented the wage for five years, it was naturally due for re-negotiation, given the prevailing economic realities.
He said: “The first direct symptom of the prevailing economic crunch, the continuous devaluation of the naira, has dealt devastating blows on the purchasing power of the Nigerian worker. This is unacceptable!
“The last national minimum wage of N18, 000 is clearly no longer of any meaningful economic value to workers, as the inflationary trends, engendered by the continuing devaluation of the naira, has made the minimum wage now grossly inadequate.
“The above situation, plus the fact that the five yearly circle provided for periodic review of the national minimum wage is almost at hand, we wish to use this May Day to give notice that we shall formally table a request for a new national minimum wage for the consideration of the tripartite social partners as soon as the incoming government is sworn in. This has become pertinent given current economic realities.”
He argued that the continued shrinking of the resources base of Nigeria should naturally call for urgent innovative ways to diversify the economy.
He stated that the free fall of the price of crude oil in the international market, the gross mismanagement of national resources by the political class and their cronies in the private sector and the failure of successive Nigerian governments to build critical infrastructure that can support the diversification of the national economy, have all contributed to the construction of current narrative of economic woes.
The labour leader maintained that Buhari must move swiftly to reduce costs of governance, block leakages, and institute reforms required for speedy economic growth and stability. To make these happen, he said government needs to be open and transparent, as well as accountable.
He listed organisational unity, promotion of internal democracy, ascendancy of unionisation, financial independence and solvency of the labour movement, education and training of NLC members, research and documentation, strengthening the labour-civil society alliances, national agenda setting on job creation and employment initiatives, national watch on democracy, development and good governance and building the political power of the labour movement as main priorities of his administration in the next four years.
For the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Bobboi Kaigama, Buhari should focus on the implementation of short and medium-term goals for the quick-wins, while charting routes for long-term goals.
Kaigama stated: “We expect the new leadership’s focus to be on soothing the pains of Nigerians who have constantly been faced with naira devaluation, inflation, corruption, paucity of power, breach of collective agreements by employers, unfriendly policies of the Bretton Wood institutions, hike in prices of petroleum products, Boko Haram insurgencies and ethno-religious violence and kidnapping.
“We also anticipate that the new leadership will provide more socio-economic infrastructure, maintain existing refineries and build new ones, so that we don’t have to import petroleum products in a country that produces petroleum.
“If we refine oil within our borders, the current slide in the global prices of oil would have less adverse effect on our economy.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the stoppage of the usage of the National Stadium in Lagos by the Ajaero faction, General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Issa Aremu, accused Ikenya of backing the Wabba-led faction.
Aremu added: “What is certainly unacceptable is the partiality of the Minister in attending one May Day in Abuja and using the police to prevent another through a lockout of the National Stadium to the NLC led by Ajaero. It should be noted that fees had been paid for the use of the stadium facilities on May Day. Jonathan’s administration cannot at this hour be seen to be unfair in its dealings with all segments of organized labour.
“We therefore condemn the role played by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police in shutting down the National Stadium against us. We will be taking legal actions to protect our rights”.