New Year Message To Nigerian Workers,By Abdulwahed Omar and Chris Uyot

nlc-logoAs we come to the close of the year 2013 and usher in the New Year, we salute Nigerian workers and the Nigerian working people for their resilience, commitment and hard work during the year. As workers and citizens, they faced many excruciating challenges during the year.
Workers faced the challenges posed by a labour market characterised by high levels of unemployment and the associated problems of job insecurity. For those looking for jobs and those entering the labour market for the first time, particularly the youths, the daunting odds of finding a job continued to be a source of fear and panic during the year. We implore the millions of Nigerians who are still searching for work to keep faith and hope alive.

We call on governments at all levels to put job creation at the centre of all their activities. Government needs to deploy policies to promote the creation of jobs. Government spending on projects and programmes must be evaluated in part on the basis of how many jobs such projects and programmes will create. Sectors of the economy with high job elasticity of growth need to be identified with a view to initiating policies to promote growth in such sectors. In this way the malady of jobless growth, which has come to characterise the economy, can be moderated.

In the course of the year 2013, there were several industrial relations challenges. Among these was the long-drawn contestation of electricity workers over the privatisation of the power sector. The handling of labour issues in the privatisation process could have been more diligently handled. Even till date, many workers are yet to receive their full entitlements.

The ongoing constitutional review by the National Assembly with an attempt by the Senate to distort the National Minimum Wage Act against workers interest was another sour note in labour relations in 2013. While Congress appreciates the intervention of the House of Representatives which had given a commitment to ensuring the attempt to remove labour issues, especially the Minimum Wage, from the Exclusive list will not be passed, we hope that the Senate will also fulfil its promise to do same as this will be the only way to guarantee sustainable industrial peace and harmony in the country in the new year.

Also, anti-worker and anti-union practices in the banking, telecommunications and oil sectors, among others, during the year clearly demonstrate that workers’ and union rights guaranteed by the constitution of our nation cannot be taken for granted, but would have to be continuously fought for in the coming years. We salute workers and union leaders as well as activists who have kept up the struggle in defence of those rights.

There were several strikes and work stoppages during the year particularly in the public sector. For over five months the nation’s public university system was completely shut down due to the strike embarked on by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. While we are glad to be associated with the process which led to the final resolution of the strike, we believe that a more proactive disposition of government to industrial disputes is needed to ensure that the nation is not subjected to such lengthy strikes.

As we come to the close of the year, some of these strikes and threat of others linger on. The strike by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics remains unresolved. Threats of strike by the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, the Non Academic Staff Union of Universities and other unions in the university system remain. Also, unions in the oil sector have signalled downing of tools following proposed arbitrary sale of public refineries. While the strike by medical workers and nurses was apprehended not long ago, the Nigerian Medical Association only last week suspended a five-day warning strike over long standing labour issues. The sceptre of a long drawn shut down of the nation’s health sector remains early in the new year.

These and other festering industrial relations issues need to be engaged in a more purposeful and timely manner so as to spare the nation the trauma of long and frequent strikes. Government needs to invest in developing and sustaining robust industrial relations machinery capable of apprehending and resolving industrial disputes in a timely manner. Above all, Government must develop the courage to honour all agreements with labour.
As citizens, Nigerian workers along with other Nigerians were impacted upon by various developments during the year 2013. These included developments in the economic, political, security and social spheres.

The Economy
The economy continued to be plagued by the continuing challenge of unemployment. Official statistics put the unemployment rate at 23.9 percent. An analysis of the disaggregated unemployment data shows that the youths bear the greatest brunt of the unemployment problem. The unemployment rate among the youths has been put at 37.7 percent. Some estimates actually suggest that the figure is over 50 percent! A recent independent survey showed that 56 percent of youths were unemployed, 9 percent were underemployed and only 35 percent was fully employed. These are frightening statistics which indicate a ticking time bomb for peace, security and social cohesion in our country.

While Government ostensibly appreciates the enormity of this challenge, as it has designated the 2014 budget as a budget for job creation, we are worried however, that other than the labeling, there is nothing in the budget which is significantly different from previous budgets. The structure, scope and policies follow closely previous budgets which have not significantly delivered on job creation.

Another feature of the economy, which emerged in 2013, is the dwindling and unstable public finances of the country. This year has been characterized by government earnings’ underperformance. In particular, earnings from oil have fallen below budgetary expectations resulting in budgetary under financing in both the federal and state governments. Recent disagreements between government officials and inconclusive Federation Allocation Committee (FAC) meetings highlight this emerging threat to the national economy.

The major underlying factor is the fall in official figures of oil production. This figure has fallen to approximately half of the projected figures in the 2013 budget and even below the production levels in the worst days of militancy in the Niger Delta. Daily production figures have hovered between 1.3 and 1.5 million barrels. This situation has arisen largely due to increase in oil theft. Official figures on production are only a small fraction of actual production as huge amounts of crude are stolen. According to government itself, the value of stolen crude oil is estimated at over 6 billion dollars per annum.

The continuance of this iniquity holds dire consequences for this country. Accordingly, in spite of vested interests, government must be seen to commit itself to stemming this ignominious act. This process should include the harnessing of the crude refining process by local individuals instead of the futile boot tactics by the task force.

To compound the matter, NNPC has not been transparent and up to date in making remittances to the Federation Account in respect of crude oil sales and the allocation to it for domestic consumption. The recent embarrassing altercation between the Central Bank and the NNPC over shortfalls in remittances has further left a sour taste in the mouth. When the Central Bank comes public with figures, Nigerians expect such figures to be accurate, verifiable and incontestable. The flip flop on the amount owed the Federation account by the NNPC has further compounded the opaqueness which characterizes the management of oil revenues and resources in our country.
We support the demand by the oil sector unions for the urgent passing of the Petroleum Industry Bill PIB next year. It is unacceptable that the petroleum sector is still regulated by the old Petroleum Act of 1969. The PIB with all the proposed inputs by all stakeholders will undoubtedly promote transparency and accountability and national benefits.

Looking into the future, there is the need to recognize that the international market for Nigerian crude is likely to shrink as alternative sources come on stream. Investment in shale gas development in the US and other countries are beginning to yield results. Congress will continue to articulate for greater transparency in the management of the oil sector and diversification of the economy.

With respect to inflation and the exchange rate, there were mixed developments during the year. According to official figures, the inflation rate remained in the range of 8.2% to 8.9% during the year. While this might be welcome news, it needs to be pointed out that this may also signify the weakening in aggregate demand in the economy which could forebode an economic slowdown in the medium term.

The value of the naira, however, came under severe pressure. While the Central Bank continued to insist that it would defend the value of the naira within its target band of 150 – 160 naira to the dollar, the naira value fell to 163 to the dollar in the third quarter of the year. In response to this pressure, the CBN re-introduced the Retail Dutch Auction System (RDAS) to replace the Wholesale Dutch Auction System (WDAS) in the management of the foreign exchange market. According to the apex bank, “the re-introduction of the RDAS is expected to prevent round tripping of foreign exchange purchased at the CBN official window to unauthorized channels”. The CBN also announced a ban on the importation of foreign currencies, except with approval. It also withdrew the operating licenses of twenty bureau de change establishments.

While these appear to be appropriate measures, it is nevertheless doubtful that they will be sufficient to stabilize the value of the naira. For one thing the falling earnings from oil underscore the weak supply of foreign exchange. Furthermore, as we move closer to 2015, preparations for elections are likely to exert pressure on the value of the naira. It will be recalled that similar pressures exerted by the 2011 elections led to the abandonment of the earlier target band of 145 – 155 naira to the dollar.

Also, a New Automotive Policy was approved by the Federal Executive Council during the year 2013. This policy seeks to revive the domestic automotive industry, which has virtually collapsed. We recall that in the 1970s, a domestic automotive policy led to the establishment of Car assembly plants in Lagos and Kaduna. The new policy seeks to attract auto makers to come and establish plants in Nigeria. Three automotive clusters are to be established in the country in Lagos-Ogun, Kaduna-Kano and Anambra-Enugu states. A 70% duty is to be levied on imported cars with a view to protecting domestic car makers. Moreover, government continues to emphasize the need to have a Nigerian car which will sell for between 1.2 and 1.5 million naira.

As part of the new policy, a lot of publicity has been given to the envisaged phase out of tokunbo car importation. It is important to stress that the phasing out process must be done in a manner that does not impose hardship on Nigerians. If made in Nigeria cars are on the market in sufficient quantities, if they are of comparable quality to imported cars, and if Nigerians are economically empowered sufficiently to purchase them, tokunbo car demand will automatically phase itself out.

Furthermore, while affordable Nigerian cars are desirable, the safety, durability and serviceability of such cars must not be sacrificed. There is need for lessons to be learnt from the experiment of the 70s. A revival of iron and steel and petrochemical plants needs to be incorporated into the policy in order to avoid a situation where domestic value addition remains minimal as in the cases of the Lagos and Kaduna plants. In signing memoranda of understanding with potential auto makers, clear time lines need to be incorporated on attainment of stipulated proportions of local content.

On a positive note, we observe that industrial policy targeted at the revival of the textile sector has begun to yield desirable results. A number of textile plants have been reopened and recapitalized and labour absorption is on the increase. We urge government to sustain these policies and replicate them in other sectors so as to promote re-industrialization.

Another policy initiative which government announced in 2013 is the plan to privatize the nation’s refineries. The poor state of the nation’s refineries is unfortunate. What we have canvassed for all along is the promotion of competition in refining. Government needed to deploy a regime of incentives to attract private refiners to operate side by side with the public refineries, the operations of which should be fully commercialized. We remain worried that privatization is becoming a smokescreen for distribution of national assets to cronies and political hangers-on.

It is our view that the selling off of such vital assets as the refineries is a weighty enough issue which should not be embarked upon without an open national debate. Given that the country is in the process of embarking on a national dialogue, the issue should be apprehended as part of the agenda of the dialogue.
We therefore emphatically re-state the position of Congress and the Nigerian masses, which were aptly expressed during the June 2007 protest, that privatizing the existing refineries is not in the interest of Nigerians as it will bring more hardship to the people. Nigerians are therefore bound to react against this bad policy should it go ahead as contemplated by the Government.

During the year, corruption and excessive cost of governance continued to weigh down heavily on the economy. In spite of frequent criticism, government is yet to squarely address the issue of corruption. It is the view of the Congress that the levity with which corruption is treated is substantially responsible for the economic woes of the country. Most of the high profile cases involving corruption have remained unresolved. In spite of the monumental sums involved in the fuel subsidy scams and the overwhelming evidence against the scammers, the trial process is being frustrated as a buy-time tactics to make Nigerians forget.

The Congress finds it disgusting that government would want to play roulette with the lives of its citizenry. It should be obvious by now that political affinity cannot put food on the table for the majority of Nigerians. Accordingly, we call on the government to diligently prosecute these big thieves. Nobody should be above the law even if they funded the elections of everybody in the party.

The cost of governance continues to undermine national development. A cursory examination of our national budgets reveals huge sums allocated to frivolous items of comfort of government officials. These include building and re-building of accommodation and offices, expansion of the presidential air fleet, entertainment and feeding, among others. In addition, high remunerations and perquisites, out of tune with the realities of the economy, enjoyed by political office holders continue to rob the nation of vital resources needed for the transformation of the lives of the majority of Nigerians who continue to battle poverty and deprivation.

The Polity
In the political realm, the year 2013 has been characterized by escalating political tensions and an ascendency of the politics of acrimony. While recognizing that party politics is based on contestation of ideas and politics, this needs to be done in a manner that does not necessarily undermine the stability and functioning of the polity. A situation in which even issues of national security become unnecessarily politicized just to score political points against opponents is unacceptable and not in the overall national interest.
During the year, we also saw the resurgence of arbitrary deployment of power reminiscent of the days of military rule. The use of the police in Rivers State, the invasion and break-up of peaceful assemblies, gatherings and protests on a number of occasions are part of the ominous political developments which we must avoid going into the new year.

Some of the political skirmishes during the year were grave sources of national embarrassment. We place in this category the shameful festival of exchange of letters towards the end of the year. Without prejudice to whatever issues the various letters may have raised, the manner and in some cases language of the exchanges have seriously dented the image of our nation. We appeal to Nigerian leaders, past and present, to rise to the level of statesmen and refrain from words and actions capable of undermining the image and stability of the nation.

Another worrisome political development during 2013 is what looks like a reversal in the progress towards creditable elections in our country. Earlier, hopes had been raised with successive elections that a gradual improvement was taking place in the quality of elections. The elections in Anambra State jolted such hope. There appeared to have been a significant retrogression in the capacity and performance of INEC. This is particularly worrisome as we move closer to the 2015 general elections. We call on INEC to undertake a post mortem of the Anambra elections and an extensive evaluation of its own internal structures so as to ensure that the debacle of Anambra is never repeated.

We call on Nigerians to participate fully in the National dialogue scheduled for 2014 and to help place on the agenda crucial issues of national development and management of national resources for the benefit of the majority of Nigerians rather than for the few members of the ruling class.

The Challenge of Security
Insecurity remained a major national challenge during the year 2013. The Boko Haram insurgency continues to pose serious threat. The declaration of state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States yielded initial successes and ushered in relative calm in the polity for which government received commendation from the citizenry. The same cannot be said of the situation at the moment as the Boko Haram insurgents seem to have regrouped, slipped behind military and security forces to unleash mayhem on civilian populations, especially students who have been mass-murdered in hundreds. Recent successful attacks on military posts and installations show that the battle is far from over. We call on all Nigerians, irrespective of political affiliation to rally behind the government and the security forces in the fight to restore security to our country.

Another security challenge which continues to agitate the minds of Nigerians is the increasing incidence of extra judicial killing. The Apo 9 incidence in Abuja and the frequency of reports of Nigerians killed by police and security personnel in all manner of unjustifiable circumstances highlight this challenge. Our security forces must be seen to protect citizens and not constitute a source of threat to them.
The crimes of kidnapping, robbery and rape are on the ascendency. We call on the police to step up intelligence and surveillance so as to reign in these crimes undermining insecurity of citizens.

In the coming year, Congress will deepen its internationalist work within international labour regional organisations and the ILO to promote decent work agenda and strengthen international working class solidarity. We reaffirm our commitment to the working people of Western Sahara, the last colony in Africa, in their liberation struggle for freedom and liberty from the yoke of Moroccan rule. Colonialism should not be accepted in modern Africa. We commend the Nigerian government for their support to the Sahahawi’s, and urge more to be done in the new year. We also call on the African Union AU to intensify support for the liberation of Western Sahara, as well as put an end to the avoidable war in South Sudan. Indeed the challenge is for the continent to work for a greater united country rather than further balkanization and civil wars.

Social Developments in 2013
At the social realm, we celebrate with Nigerians the achievements of our national football teams during the year. The winning of the African Nations Cup by the Super Eagles and the Under 20 World Cup by the Eaglets marked the height of social achievements during the year. The Super Eagles qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil capped up these positive developments in 2013. While we salute members of these teams, we call on all Nigerians to rally behind the Super Eagles as they prepare for Brazil 2014 and hope for greater glory in the new year.

Happy New Year!!!

Abdulwahed Ibrahim Omar Chris Antigha Uyot
President Ag. General Secretary

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