New Year Message by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)
On behalf of Nigerian workers, it is our pleasure to welcome Nigerians to the year 2013. As a New Year, we believe that it holds new hopes and aspirations for the Nigerian nation. However, given the disturbing trend in the economy and governance in the past year, which were characterised by incessant job losses and unemployment, insecurity, and corruption, as well as unparalleled impunity, the sustenance of good governance would require re-srategising and more commitment to a peoples-focused and oriented policy thrust in the interest of the Nigerian poor.
To workers and the Nigerian people, it would entail a demand, ever than before, our collective will of struggle and patriotism, to check this apparent drift in the affairs of state in the interest of working families and the Nigerian people.
The economy, during the year 2012, was characterized by a number of maladies, with dire consequences for workers and the Nigerian people. In particular, the crisis of unemployment continues to be the greatest of these. Official statistics puts the unemployment rate at above 24 percent. As alarming as this would seem, it actually disguises the enormity of the unemployment problem given the huge pool of disguised unemployment and underemployment. The incidence of unemployment among the youths is even more alarming. Though official figures indicate over 40 percent of them as unemployed, the reality is that about 60% of youths remain unemployed. On average, graduates of the nation’s universities and polytechnics continue to remain unemployed four years after discharge from the mandatory NYSC scheme. Other categories of less qualified youths have been roaming the streets in millions without gainful employment. Thus, resigning to a life of perpetual destitution and despondency in a country blessed with so much resources and potentials.
The underlying inflation in the economy has also continued to erode the purchasing power of workers’ incomes, making the N18,000 Minimum Wage largely a poverty wage. Aggregate inflation, which officially stands at 11.7 percent in the third quarter of the year, might be misleading as the fuel price hike in January, the increase in electricity tariffs and the floods in the third quarter of the year that have been major culprits driving inflation, have largely disempowered working families.
Consequent upon the above, poverty remains endemic as increasing numbers of families and households are unable to meet their basic needs. To compound this situation, thousands of families displaced by the massive floods in various parts of the country continue to live in refugee camps awaiting resettlement.
This abysmal economic outlook is prevailing in the face of official aggregate of the economy touted to experience respectable growth. The growth rate of GDP is flaunted to average about 6.5 percent based on data for the first three quarters of the year. While this is lower than the corresponding rate for 2011, it is way above the global growth rates for comparable national economies.
However, our concern about this respectable economic growth is that it does not translate into industrial development and better life for the Nigerian people. The economy continues to experience incessant factory closures, and with no visible industrial policy, has led to continuous informalisation of work and de-industrialisation, unemployment has continued unabated, and hyper-inflationary pressure, which has been most severe in the food, energy and transport sub sectors have impoverished majority of Nigerians.
Rather than throw up figures, which the World Bank has recently alleged are largely obsolete in Africa, the challenge should be to promote employment generating growth so as to break away from the malady of jobless growth, evolve a sustainable industrial policy as well as decisively tackle the menace of high cost of governance and pervasive corruption.
We note the positive developments in the rail transport revival effort. The resumption of rail services between Lagos and Kano is commendable. We call on government to pursue with vigour the revival and modernisation of other rail routes and the new rail lines announced recently.
We also note the timely passage of the 2013 budget by the National Assembly. We hope that the executive would ensure diligent and timely implementation of the budget so that it will impact positively on the economy and Nigerians.
As we end the year 2012, we recall that the year presented one of the most difficult challenges, not just for Nigerian working people, but to all Nigerians. The year had started in needless pains as the government welcomed us all into the year 2012 with a mindless increase in the pump price of petrol, which led to a national strike and mass protests for days in January.
One of the positive outcomes of that strike is the various probes that have been conducted on the issue of fuel subsidy. The revelations at those probe have vindicated the historical position of labour and civil society organisations that the downstream sector of the oil industry is enmeshed in unprecedented and horrendous corruption, and the rabid obsession of the ruling class to make the economy dependent on imported petroleum products was for the purpose of enriching themselves to the detriment of the Nigerian people.
While we commend the heroic protests of workers and the Nigerian people we commend the National Assembly for their positive interventions.
We particularly appreciate and applaud the House of Representatives which held a special session on a Sunday with the hope of averting the avoidable national crisis the nation was plunged into.
Government will be unfair to the Nigerian people if they fail to expeditiously prosecute those who have stolen so much, and caused so much trauma and death to the people. We hold the view that no one is above the law in any decent society and if our government is committed to the enthronement of good governance and a corrupt-free society, they must get the named beneficiaries of the oil subsidy scam to not only refund all the money they have stolen, but also serve appropriate jail terms. This, will be the only acceptable condition for continuous industrial harmony by workers and the Nigerian people.
The year 2012 had ended on a sour note as the impunity perpetrated by government functionaries came to a head on the issue of payment of Minimum Wage to Plateau state local government workers. It was only in the face of a sustained strike by the workers for six months and the threat of a national solidarity strike that the government of Plateau state signed an Agreement on December 20, 2012. Before then, the state government had deployed the full regime of security agencies, including the Police, men of the State Security Services and the army, to arrest, intimidate, harass and maim protesting workers. Political thugs were also sent to terrorise workers.
It is rather sad that a National Minimum Wage which was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the President since March 2011, is being observed in the breach by some state governments. More worrying is the spectacle of the Federal government, which should defend its own law, allowing state governments to use its security forces against protesting workers who are only standing up for their rights as protected by the law. Such unprecedented impunity is not only malicious and base, but anachronistic to cherished democratic values. The much touted social dialogue, which should be the basis for resolving industrial disputes, has no meaning to some government and most employers.
May we remind those governors who are yet to implement the new national minimum wage that they are in gross breach of a national law which they swore to uphold. In fact, if we operate a true democracy where the state houses of assembly are independent, this singular act of not complying with the minimum wage law is an impeachable offence
It is our resolve that the few states that are still reluctant to pay the Minimum Wage to some categories of workers will come under full focus by the labour movement. The struggle will no longer be left in the hands of the state councils, but handled in conjunction with the national leadership of the labour movement.
The past year has been most challenging as Nigeria had her worst security problems. Several parts of the country were bombarded with bombs, most of them suicide bombs, especially in some parts of the north, as well as Abuja; in addition to rising cases of kidnappings in the southern part of the country. Cases of armed robbery, assassinations and extra judicial killings also rose in the year 2012.
We believe the government need to handle these challenges with more commitment and result-oriented actions by ensuring that law enforcement agencies are not only well equipped and efficient, but must be accountable to justify the confidence reposed in them to protect lives and property of the Nigerian people.
We recall that Congress held a very successful National Peace Summit in September 2012 with major stakeholders, including President Jonathan where serious issues that we believe are responsible for the current security challenges were discussed and solutions proffered.
The labour movement has never hidden its commitment to national peace and cohesion as a movement that cuts across regions without ethnic or religious bias. We shall devote this year to continue to explore and provide quality response to the threat to peace and unity of the country.
Once again, on behalf of all Nigerian workers, we wish every Nigerian a happy, prosperous and fulfilling New Year.