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Buhari silent on varsities’ strike, deregulation as workers boo Ngige

By Collins Olayinka, Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Gbenga Salau (Lagos) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
02 May 2022   |   4:32 am
The current industrial action by the four tertiary institution-based unions and uncertainty surrounding the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) were sidelined in the address of President Muhammadu Buhari at the May Day event, which held yesterday in Abuja to mark Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day.

President, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Waba (left); former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and Labour Minister Chris Ngige at the Workers’ Day in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Govt hypes regular salary payment as feat
• End ASUU strike or we’ll mobilise students to truncate your presidential ambition, S’West NANS tells Nwajiuba
• Challenges Osinbajo to match words with action by settling ASUU/FG face-off within seven days
• Reps Minority Caucus laments workers’ fate
• TPAP-M urges workers to unite, take over power in 2023

The current industrial action by the four tertiary institution-based unions and uncertainty surrounding the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) were sidelined in the address of President Muhammadu Buhari at the May Day event, which held yesterday in Abuja to mark Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day.

Rather, the President, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, mentioned payment of salaries since his assumption of office as a major achievement.

The Vice President, a Professor of Law and a presidential aspirant in next year’s general elections, insisted the Federal Government has never underestimated the importance of labour in the dynamics of politics and good governance.

He urged labour to always exercise restraint in their declaration of trade disputes with their employers so as not to jeopardise workplace industrial relations, harmony and ensure maximisation of profits and sustainability of the establishment or enterprise.

Buhari noted that part of his achievements as President is ensuring prevention of job losses during the pandemic.

His words: “I am glad to note that during the global job losses that happened due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian workforce suffered minimally. I commend the employers in the private sector for listening to the plea of my administration in this regard and I also applaud workers for imbibing the spirit of social dialogue and bi-partism in resolving issues of concern that arose at the time.

“We still need such consultative and conciliation meetings to continue on a regular basis to enable us at all times to engage in social dialogue and amicably resolve issues of mutual concern to us and the nation in general on a negotiation table and not to rupture industrial harmony over such issues in dispute.

“During this period, my government did not retrench a single worker, paid salaries and wages as and when due and even provided palliatives and COVID-19 enhancements.”

The President further stated that the Bankers’ Committee through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also maintained the same situation for banks and their workers, while Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) were encouraged to continue to live and exist by some capital injection to their businesses.

President Buhari hinted that his government would continue in this spirit to share its resources appropriately to all areas of need.

MIDWAY into celebration of the International Labour Day, there was mild drama as the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, was booed by workers, who also sang anti-government songs.

The Minister, who was represented by the Federal Controller of Labour, Lagos State, Mr. Nnamdi Simon Enuah, continued reading Ngige’s speech despite the noise and chants. The anti-government songs started from the wing where teachers and universities workers were seated, with some other workers joining.

Surprisingly, a larger number of the workers who were not initially singing the anti-government songs joined immediately the Minister’s representative got to a point where he said he wanted to list all the good works President Buhari has done for the people and workers, including projects executed that benefitted workers.

At that point, the noise in the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan, venue of the Labour Day celebration became deafening with virtually all the workers singing anti-government songs, including blowing short vuvuzelas to drown the voice of the Minister’s representative. They did not stop until he completed reading the speech and left the stage.

MEANWHILE, the Southwest zone of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), yesterday, vowed to truncate the presidential ambition of the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, if he refuses to take decisive steps towards ending the ongoing strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

The student body also challenged the Vice President to prove his love for students by ensuring settlement of the face-off between the Federal Government and ASUU.

Nigerian workers displaying their voter cards at the Workers’ Day rally in Abuja… yesterday. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

In a statement made available to The Guardian in Ibadan by leaders of the association, Olatunji Emmanuel (Coordinator), John Alao (Deputy Coordinator) and Opeoluwa Awoyinka (Public Relations Officer), the body demanded the immediate resolution of issues surrounding ASUU strike and looming one by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP).

The students said the likes of Nwajiuba should not be anywhere near leadership position as he is completely bereft of leadership traits.

They said: “Today (Sunday) marks 75th day of dilemma, confusion, plan disruption and disorientation for university students due to the ongoing ASUU strike, which was orchestrated by the systemic failure we call education ministry in Nigeria.

“This yearly calamity, which has assumed a pandemic status is apparently the least of worries for President Buhari and his Education Ministers.

“In the same disconcerting manner, the Minister of State for Education, Nwajiuba paid N100 million to signify his intent to contest for president in Nigeria.

“In a sane society, the likes of Nwajiuba should not be anywhere near leadership position as he is completely bereft of leadership traits. Aside from Nwajiuba being a political lightweight, his appointment as well as that of Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education, have been bedeviled with unprecedented disappointment, ineptitude, incompetence, outright work apathy and disservice to the Nigerian students.

“It is, therefore, not farfetched to say that his ambition is dead on arrival. Unless drastic actions are taken to end ASUU strike, we shall mobilise Nigerian students in absolute dedication to truncate Nwajiuba’s presidency plans,” they vowed.

The students also tasked the VP to use his good offices and experience as a university don to resolve the lingering strike within seven days.

The students said: “We hereby call on Vice President Osinbajo who has been moving all around the country preaching the message of hope for a better Nigeria; his claim will be justified if he deems it fit to settle the conflict between Federal Government and ASUU because he that will come to equity must come with a clean hand.

“Much is expected at a time as this from Vice President Osinbajo, who previously served as Attorney General of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007 with a professional title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and also as a Senior Lecturer of Law at the University of Lagos, which makes him a bonafide member of ASUU.

“Vice President Yemi Osinbajo should use his good offices and experience as a former lecturer within seven days to proffer solution to the lingering ASUU and Federal Government issues so that our campuses can reopen.”

THE Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives, in solidarity with workers, yesterday said it is unhappy that Nigerian workers are going through a raw deal under the harsh economic situation in the country.

The caucus, led by Ndudi Elumelu, lamented that Nigerian workers are observing Labour Day in pain, agony and despair given the suffocating working condition and general economic hardship occasioned by what it termed “the insensitive, corrupt and overtly inept All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.”

The Minority Caucus insists that given their long-standing patriotism, sacrifices and dedication to the development of our nation in spite of the odds, the Nigerian workers deserve a better welfare package.

“Our caucus holds that if the APC government curbs its corruption, end its wastefulness and imbibe prudent management of our economy, it can indeed spare a better deal for the workers and enhance their welfare; an entitlement they truly deserve,” it noted.

The Caucus also urged the Federal Government and all stakeholders to urgently resolve the issues surrounding the lingering industrial action by lecturers in public universities in the country.

“On our part, our caucus assures that we will continue to initiate and give legislative backing to efforts tailored toward improving on the welfare and productivity of the workers.”

ALSO, The Peoples Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M) has urged workers to unite and take over power in 2023. This was contained in a statement signed by Prof Omotoye Olorode and Comrade Jaye Gaskia, of TPAP-M Secretariat, while expressing solidarity with ASUU, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and others.

The statement also acknowledged the heroic struggles of workers, which the Labour Day was set aside to commemorate. The theme of 2022 International Workers’ Day is ‘Labour, Politics, and the Quest for Good Governance and Development.’

The statement reads in part, “TPAP-M, a coalition of individuals and organisations committed to the emergence of a mass workers party and the socialist transformation of Nigeria and whose primary social base is the working class, is urging labour unions in the country to organise and mobilise workers for political action towards conscious political participation.

“Nigerian workers are not only interested in politics, we are interested in who governs and which class governs. This is why as a movement, we are committed and dedicated to working with our allies to ensure the ultimate emergence and installation of a workers’ government – not only in name, but more importantly in deed; and the construction of a workers’ state in place of the exploitative and oppressive Bourgeois capitalist state, and the commencement of the process of the Socialist transformation of Nigeria.”