NIGERIA - NLC : THE AGENDA OF NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS FOR PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI

Keywords : Nigeria

On April 2nd 2015, while congratulating General Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect on his victory at the polls, we did pledge to work with his government as well as develop an agenda with which to engage the government in moving the country forward. Today, as Mr President gets sworn into office, we find it necessary to share with him in a nutshell our thoughts on this ( as the government shall be availed the full content of the document at a later date).

Economic Issues

On the economic front, the painful, injurious and avoidable fuel scarcity is artificial with a sinister motive. We lend our support to legislation, policy and strategy that restore immediate regular supply as well as guarantee long term sustainable availability through enhanced local refining capacity

The diversification of the economy from oil is long overdue and is made urgent by recent developments in the crude oil production and market scenes, especially the shale oil and new findings across the world.

The enunciation of an agricultural legislation, policy and strategy that create synergy between industrial agriculture and small-holder farmers with a focus on internal food security and food export is a necessity.

The privatisation of the energy sector in the short term has achieved the exact opposite of what it set out to do. Accordingly, we canvass for a full audit of the privatisation process of the sector including tackling head-long, the challenges responsible for the unending darkness.

The economy continues to grow without jobs bringing benefits to only a few. We demand an economy that provides jobs and other benefits. Similarly, we demand a halt to the de-industrialization process and the free fall of the Naira. We believe the restoration of the textile industry will be a good starting point.

The development of an industrial policy that revives and harnesses the potentials of iron and steel and petrochemical complexes as well as the founding of national ICT centres are both desirable and necessary.

A coherent response to the national debt burden ( put at N1.3 trillion) that ensures government’s obligation to the citizenry is not encumbered and the erection of stronger fiscal buffers are similarly necessary for stabilizing and growing the economy.

On the social front, national security remains a major concern and requires an immediate solution that endures. In furtherance of this, the cognition of the underlying causes, the appreciation of the Gulf of Guinea and the North East as of core geo-strategic importance is essential.

Youth and women continue to be the most vulnerable in the country. Legislation and policy that sufficiently empower them through quality education and productive employment is our concern.

Natural and man-made disasters have created armies of refugees and destitute across the country. We therefore call on the government to constitute a National Trust Fund for Victims Support.

Education and health services are in shambles and need a declaration of the state of emergency.

A conservative national housing deficit of 20 million remains a national embarrassment which must be filled.

Millions of unemployed youths constitute clear and present danger deserving of immediate arrest complete with introduction of full social and unemployment benefits.

On foreign policy, in light of new realities, we canvass for the introduction of Nigero-centric policy with a focus on the strengthening of relations in all departments with our neighbours.

We similarly canvass for the doctrine of proportionate response in pursuit of projection of national power and protection of citizenry.

Corruption remains a national cancer that must be dealt with for the sake of national survival.

Similarly, the cost of governance at all levels including the Legislature is very high and morally reprehensible and must be brought down not through rationalisation of personnel ( as personnel emoluments constitute an insignificant fraction of cost of governance) but through wiping off of corruption and reduction of waste in the system.

Political Issues

Nigeria’s political growth, especially since independence has been characterised by instability, fundamentally due to lack of discipline, ideology and patriotism on the part of politicians and their parties.

Two recurring decimals have been impunity and electoral fraud in the system. Governments promoted impunity and violated the sanctity of the vote to the extent that the people did not matter.

The Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel, constituted by late President Umaru Yar’Adua with membership drawn from a spectrum of the society including the Organised Labour and Civil Society, made far- reaching recommendations. The 2015 elections, which were conducted along the lines of the Uwais Panel’s recommendations evidently gave hope for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. What is left however is the attitude of key players in the political system including security agencies.

The introduction of the card reader and Permanent Voters’ Card helped in no small way in ensuring the 2015 general elections were fair, credible and acceptable. However there is urgent need to improve upon the distribution system of the PVCs as not a few were unable to access their cards before the elections.

Similarly, continuous voter registration should be encouraged. The same polling/registration centres could continually be used for registration and collection of PVCs periodically. INEC only needs to make public announcements/enlightenment campaigns about the periods/ days these would be done.

A growing democracy like ours needs to be deepened and strengthened and we believe there is no better way than having strong and independent institutions that can act as checks and balances as well as guarantee the rights and privileges of the citizenry.
Accordingly, we wish to propose the following to the new administration:

1. That the Justice Uwais Panel Report be implemented in full;

2. That the PVC distribution system be improved upon;

3. That there should be a new national security philosophy that replaces impunity with civility by all state actors;

4. The cost of nomination forms should be low and unified for all political parties;

5. Necessary legislation and policy should be put in place to strengthen or guarantee the independence and viability of democratic institutions in order to check the overbearing influence of the executive .
6. To ensure the growth of party democracy, all political parties, beginning from their formation stage and in all their affairs must ensure transparent internal democracy devoid of any imposition or dictatorship in choices of who leads the party or who represents it;

7. Government should give full expression to true federalism through effective devolution of powers that guarantees political autonomy and secure tenure for local governments as well as freedom to use their allocations for development.

8. The National Assembly should be more proactive to the yearnings of Nigerians with quick and effective drafting and passage of bills that are helpful to our national development.

Labour-Specific Issues

Despite the country’s wealth, Nigeria remains ironically a country with a high level of economic growth co-existing with a high level of poverty and inequality. While this growth is skewed towards enabling the rich to get richer no attempt is made to ensure that the wealth trickles down to the extreme poor. The most affected, have been workers and working families under the yoke of poor remuneration, uncertainty in the workplace, absence of reasonable social benefits, vulnerable work conditions and retrenchments.

While the country in recent times is confronted with apparent fiscal and structural challenges exacerbated by low returns on oil price, the agony of workers should not be compounded by making them sacrificial lambs of economic mismanagement. Rather, the focus should be on job security and improving on the compensation structure as well as standardizing the social dialogue system to stem inequality and the brewing social discontent.

The starting point should be to clear the outstanding wages of workers who have been denied payment of salaries ranging from two to eight months by all tiers of government. To argue that these wages will be kept in abeyance because they were owed by past governments will be unfair and unjust as we believe that government is a continuum.

The National Minimum Wage negotiated in 2010 is legally due for a review. The case for a review is made compelling by spiraling inflation and the gross devaluation of the Naira, both of which have rendered the N18,000 meaningless.

Social and economic injustice and inequality have been further deepened at work place through casualization and contract labour both in the public and private sectors. While we will consistently and decisively confront this hydra-headed monster, we call on government to cooperate with us to eliminate this obnoxious practice by ensuring that employers who violate the extant laws on employment are brought to book. In a society predicated on social justice and dignity of labour, the practice of slave-labour and under-employment should be condemned and eliminated.

Despite spirited efforts to sanitise and strengthen the Pension regime, sporadic abuses abound as governments, particularly at the state level have refused to honour pension obligations to retired workers. While state governments should emulate the Federal Government to key into the new pension scheme and pay arrears of pension to retired workers, the urgent need for social security is long overdue to cover the unemployed and other vulnerable workers.

It is the height of political recklessness and irresponsibility of Chief Executives and political office holders, including legislators, who pay themselves hefty pensions and severance allowances, but deny payment of slavish pension and gratuity to retired workers who have served the country for as much as 35 years.

One of the major causes of protracted industrial actions in the educational and health sectors, as well as in other work situations, has been a distortion in the tenets of Collective Bargaining by government’s consistent observance of Collective Agreements in the breach. It is our view that democracy is nurtured and sustained by social dialogue for the proper articulation and aggregation of interests, due process and the rule of law. Thus, government and other employers must respect Agreements mutually reached with trade unions as failure to do this portends an invitation to a basket of strikes and anarchy.

Above all, there is need for a platform for robust engagement of government in redefining a new agenda to evolve policies that are people-oriented for sustainable development. This can be achieved by setting up a framework for tripartite partners on major policy issues of concern to workers and working families.

Comrade Ayuba Wabba mni

President

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