Great Nigerian workers, on behalf of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), I have the honour of welcoming you to this historic May Day. It is a significant day and symbolizes the heroic struggle and sacrifices made by the global working class in the historic fight for decent working hours which culminated in the execution of four unionists in Chicago Illinois on November 11 1887. This was the historic origin of May Day.
The theme of this year’s May Day is : "Building Enduring Peace and Unity: Panacea for Sustainable National Development". The choice of this theme underscores the reality of our nation today. The challenges of insecurity continue to threaten peace and unity in our country. Yet, without enduring peace and unity, our nation cannot truly develop on a sustainable basis.
On the topic of this year’s May Day, I intend to start by saying enduring peace and unity are critical elements of nation building, and nations are built by exemplary men and women and sustained by institutions that promote good governance and thus socio-economic development.
Peace and unity are vital for the survival and development of any nation, and are an important part of modern society. If we go back into history, we see that the world used to be divided into empires and kingdoms that are in rivalry. In the modern period, however, nations or nation states have replaced empires as the basic unit of human political organization and have fostered peace and unity to ensure peaceful coexistence and social economic development. As an integral part of the modern world, therefore, Nigerians must be rightly concerned about building enduring peace and unity.
In the past few years, the nation has witnessed unprecedented security challenges that have tasked our imagination, resources and temperament. From the Niger Delta to the northern-most parts of the country , we have had one form of violent conflict or another that threatened the peace and security of the nation. Kidnappings, armed robberies, smuggling, communal and sectarian clashes, oil theft and human trafficking are rife. Unarguably, the most threatening of these is the insurgency in the North East. This has witnessed several violent killings, including attack on schools. One of the most trying of these has been the kidnapping of over 200 teenage girls at Chibok, Borno state. As Nigerians await the release of some of them still being held by the terrorists, our hearts bleed and we pray for their safety and release.
In all, scores of lives have been lost, critical infrastructure and properties worth billions of naira destroyed, and investor-confidence, shaken. There have been major displacements leading to unquantifiable human suffering and severe food shortages.
Beside the human and material cost of this "war" is another cost, the psychological cost. Every time a bomb goes off or the sound of a gun rends the air, something in us dies. The humanity in us is giving way to something sinister; a degenerate society incapable of human feelings or development, the perpetrators and the victims alike. I am afraid, we may lose our humanity and our society except something drastic is done.
We do not need any one to tell us that we have a serious situation on our hands. The war on terror does not seem to be going on well at the moment. Our security forces despite gallant efforts have suffered reversals, taking direct hits in their critical asset areas, raising concerns about their capacity or willingness to win this war. We are not unaware of the complexities of a war of this nature, but we demand better initiative and more commitment.
In spite of government’s effort, the situation, particularly in the North East, is deteriorating. The initial gains of emergency rule, clearly have been lost and the momentum squandered. The Boko Haram elements have matured into a full-blown terror group striking at high-profile targets with devastating effect.
Indeed, the choice of targets, regularity of strikes, weapons used, co-ordination and sophistication of their operations make them not only the leading terror group but the group to dread.
We feel seriously concerned about the state of the nation’s security infrastructure. In spite of the relative huge security votes in the past few years, it is weak and inadequate. We also believe conflicting political interests, ambiguous operational order and primordial sentiments are some of the factors undermining the counter terror war.
It is immoral to play politics with the lives of people. Accordingly, we demand an end to this unholy past time, this dirty politics. We must all rise in unison, shoulder to shoulder and confront this common enemy once and for all. We are almost certain that if any one was left in doubt about the universality of this war, the the Nyanya bomb blast erased all of that.
While we do this, it is important government confronts the root causes of this violence. Government must of necessity and urgency deal with issues of functional education, unemployment and poverty.
In spite of initial misgivings from some quarters, the National Conference has got on to a good start. Nigerians have been talking and interacting. It is the hope of Labour that unlike previous exercises of this nature, the outcome will not only be a reflection of the decisions of of the people, but will be implemented.
The role of the government will be critical in this direction. As the convener and funder of the conference, government has a great role to play in ensuring the proceedings are transparent and subjected to the will of the people via a referendum.
Happily, Mr President in his inaugural speech did say that although there is no provision for a referendum in our extant law, the executive would work closely with the National Assembly to ensure the proceedings are subjected to a referendum if necessary. I believe the President deserves our support.
For us at Labour, the conference is a great opportunity to re-design a new Nigeria that meets our expectations, allay the fears and concerns of all its constituent parts. A Nigeria that is at once strong and robust and prepared to exploit and deploy the relative advantages of its constituent parts for the benefit of the country. It is an opportunity too good to miss.
We are also aware that some vested interests among the governors are mobilizing some delegates to force through the balkanisation of labour and the negation of a national minimum wage as currently enshrined in the constitution. It is certainly the machination of a few privilege few in position of powers at the expense of the teeming Nigerians. This is an attempt to keep Nigerians in perpetual slavery and servitude.
I strong call on Nigerian workers and the teeming wellmeaning Nigerians to rise up against these retrogressive moves.
Comrades, less than a year from now Nigerians will be going to the polls to elect leaders that will govern them for the next four years. This inevitably brings to the fore the issue of credible elections for which we have consistently canvassed.
It is of utmost importance that the elections and electioneering processes are transparent and credible. We insist that votes must count. We have no business running a democracy if the votes do not count. It will not be acceptable to Organised Labour, if huge national resources are expended without justifying the end.
We find it disgusting and embarrassing that despite our experiences and huge resources expended on the electoral system, we have chosen to get it wrong most of the time while smaller nations are getting it right. Nigeria, we need not reiterate, ought to be the leading example in Africa.
We make bold to say the problem does not lie with the electorate but with those who seek political powers. We note with pain that the motivation for seeking, and the zeal for office is not service but vainglory and self-aggrandizement. The biggest business in town is political business. The reward is awe-some and bears no relation to the work done.
In the light of the following, we call for the full implementation of the Justice Uwais Report on Electoral Reform. Similarly, we demand that votes count in 2015. We advise politicians to play by the rules or there will be costs. Days are gone when workers folded their hands while fraudulent politicians violated and desecrated elections and electoral processes. We will no longer be by-standers. Nigerian workers will no longer be indifferent while some people toy with the destiny of this country. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
We have followed with keen interest the reform process in the energy sector which culminated in the sale of the power stations and related assets. The reform was premised on a profound improvement in service delivery. Remarkably, however, service delivery has plummeted, throwing the nation into darkness and raising further the cost of living and of doing business.
Increase in electricity tariffs are unabated
While we will not be drawn into the blame game between the players in the sector, we will urge government to settle once and for all issues pertaining to Labour relations. We also call for the development of manpower from the stock of the old staff of the Power Holding Company.
We recognize the fact that the overriding interest of any business investor is profit.
However, we wish to caution that this interest should not be allowed to jeopardize other interests which are critical to the over all health of the investment. Sequel to this, the new investors should resist the urge