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Workers Day: Labour flays increasing debt under Buhari government

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja and Gloria Nwafor, Lagos
02 May 2020   |   4:25 am
The various debts incurred by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government have not improved public good in the last five years, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has declared.


• Seeks Rehabilitation Of Refineries
• Insists Workers Must Not Be COVID-19 Sacrificial Lamb
• ULC Demands 20% COVID-19 Donations To Fund Research Institutes
• Oshiomhole Advocates ‘Stakeholders’ Capitalism’

The various debts incurred by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government have not improved public good in the last five years, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has declared.

In his commemoration speech, titled: “COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Socio-Economic Impact on the Nigerian Working Class,” to mark this year’s May Day, popularly called International Workers’ Day, President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said most borrowings by Nigeria have been used to finance consumption rather than production.

He explained: “We are largely borrowing to consume. Our hospitals are not being re-tooled with first class facilities. Public schools are still an eyesore to basic decency. Our road network still does not support a 21st Century economy. Apart from renewed vigour in the rail system, the rest of our transportation infrastructure belies our developmental aspirations. So, what exactly are we doing with our loans?”

On his part, the United Labour Congress of Nigeria (ULC), demanded an investment of 20 per cent of the entire donations received by the Federal Government towards mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic to fund the activities of various research institutes across the country, especially those related to medical, pharmaceutical and herbal research to tackle the ravaging scourge.

At a press briefing to mark the day, ULC President, Joe Ajaero, insisted that the most effective strategy to fight the pandemic and, indeed, other national challenges is to build solidarities and widen inclusivity across various divides.

Waba pointed out that contradictions in the management of Nigeria’s hydrocarbon industry has also exacerbated the debt imbroglio and specifically identified government’s inability to rehabilitate the nation’s refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna as one of the major drivers of poverty in the country, insisting that massive importation of refined petroleum products for many decades is a sure way to bankruptcy.

“Leakage in the pipelines related to the debt overhang is the contradictions in our petroleum sector. Our dependence on imported refined petroleum products have left us perpetually broke. The NLC continues to shout itself hoarse that the roadmap of massive petroleum products importation is a certain pathway to economic bankruptcy.

“No developing country would spend her scarce foreign exchange on the importation of refined petroleum products as we do and remain solvent,” stated.

The reduction of the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, by about N18, owing to over-recovery as dictated by the global plunge in the price of crude oil, was not enough to convince Wabba that Nigeria is on the right track in the management of its hydrocarbon sector, as he said: “Nigerian workers insist that it is anomalous to subject the price of a product sourced from Nigeria to the volatilities of global commodities market. Nigerians should be the first partakers of the fruits of our resources. To fix our leaking oil revenue pipeline, we must recover, resuscitate and revamp our refineries.

“The habit of being penny wise pound foolish must end. It is no rocket science to fix old refineries. The technology for modular refinery is handy. We cannot rely on the promise of private refineries to fix the shame of being the only OPEC country that does not refine her crude.

“Furthermore, we must deal with the inefficiencies and corruption in the oil sector. The time is now! The current plunge in the price of crude oil might be our last warning to take full control of our oil resources and genuinely diversify our economy.”

Wabba submitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has opened a new vista of world of work where giant steps have been taken to incorporate devices, machines and artificial intelligence into work schedules and environment, urging workers to brace up for a world where machines would struggle for space in the workplace with human beings.

He stated: “… Right before our eyes, the future of work is being born. The increased encroachment of devices, machines and artificial intelligence in spaces where human beings held forte will bring with it, a host of new challenges in the work place. In many advanced economies, the discussion is gravitating towards universal social welfare system, where human beings are paid basic allowances to take care of their needs, while machines do most of the work.

“Conscious that human beings are at the centre of existence and production, we must be prepared. We must gear up to protect income, promote decent jobs and advance sustainable livelihood. We must be willing to learn new skills that will keep us relevant in the 21st Century workplace.”

While acknowledging the need for government to put in place palliatives to revive businesses, the NLC helmsman argued that the recent $3.5 billion stimulus package for SMEs and other businesses, as announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), should go to businesses that need it the most, adding that a major criterion for access to the grant must be a signed commitment by the beneficiary businesses not to lay off workers or undermine the existing wage structure in their organisations.

Michael Okpara Square, venue of the yearly Workers’ Day celebration looking deserted due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Enugu…yesterday. PHOTO: MIKE AGADA/BJO/NAN

Wabba maintained that Nigeria has valuable lessons to learn from the ravaging COVID-19, saying: “In Nigeria, we must find ways to recover our dilapidated social infrastructure, particularly our health and education sectors. We must realise that the greatest wealth of Nigeria is not crude oil, but the Nigerian people.

“We must educate our people. We must cultivate a healthy population. We cannot just keep loading our out-of-school children onto the back of lorries each time there is a pandemic. We need to fix our eyesore of 16 million out-of-school children.”

Another lesson Nigeria must learn, Wabba insisted, is to grow its local economy, noting: “Instead of the craze of globe trotting in the name of looking for investors, we must look inwards to encourage local talents, innovations and enterprise. We want to see government take the challenge of local innovations seriously.

“This also means that we must adequately fund research. A country that neglects research is a country that has consigned herself to perpetual servitude. Nobody would grow our economy for us. The reality is that capital mobility would be a lot harder in the next few years following the COVID-19 pandemic, as richer countries are also struggling to rebuild their own economies.”

He also stressed the need for Nigeria to expand and strengthen its social safety nets.

While labour commended the federal and many state governments for offering palliatives to poor Nigerians during the lockdown period, Wabba urged the government to expand and strengthen the social safety nets by capturing more poor Nigerians, especially the urban poor and the working poor, particularly workers in the informal sector, who depend on daily income for survival.

Describing this year’s celebration as an unusual one, Ajaero urged the federal government to immediately set up a post-COVID-19 think tank, whose membership should be wide and inclusive to come up with a roadmap that would drive the nation out of the expected challenges that are inevitable.

He rejected the plan of the Kaduna State government to cut the salaries of workers in the state, describing it as unacceptable and vowing to resist the move in the spirit of solidarity and if he has implemented it, the salaries cut should be returned to the workers immediately.

Similarly, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), felt sorry for workers who are often trapped in precarious working conditions and constant battle with job insecurity.

PENGASSAN President, Ohaeri Ndukaku, said with the ensuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the low oil revenues, the situation may even be compounded and urged government and employers to come together and look at the best possible ways to deal with the issues on ground.

Meanwhile, a former president of NLC, Adams Oshiomhole, has urged the institutionalisation of what he called “stakeholders’ capitalism.”

He defined the expression as coming together of employers, workers as represented by the unions and government, to formulate policies that would prevent total collapse of the economy post-COVID-19.

The immediate past governor of Edo State and National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) argued that while it is desirable to bail businesses out, it is imperative to design how businesses that benefit from such largess pay back.

He also submitted that employers paying workers salary is not a privilege, but a right of workers who have rendered service on which payment is expected.

On its part, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) said despite challenges posed by COVID-19, employers were resolute to maintain their obligations to their workforce.

NECA Deputy Director, Corporate Office, Abuja, Adenike Ajala, said with the slight relaxation of the lockdown from Monday, May 4, there is the hope that productive business activities would gradually pick up and enable employers save jobs where the elastics have not snapped.

NECA opined that employers and workers owe the economy joint responsibly to sustain productivity and competitiveness of business for continued employment of our workforce.