I am happy and delighted to see all of you here, my comrades, attired in such beautiful colours, to celebrate the 2012 Workers’ Day with the leadership of our dear state, led by His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi CON, a man of great vision and exceptional courage. May I on behalf of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State Council, seize this opportunity to formally salute our dear Governor on this 2012 May Day Celebration as well as officially congratulate him on his election as the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, (NGF).
I am indeed very thankful to God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, for the opportunity and privilege to celebrate another May Day in peace. Also, for keeping us alive and in good health, to mark the economic and social achievements of workers in our daily struggle for national development, as opposed to just the remembrance of those who were sentenced to death, following the 1886 Haymarket riot. Back home, you would recall that the struggle for the improvement in the welfare of the Nigerian Workers and Peoples’ Rights, from the colonial era, and even during the dark days of military dictatorship, leading to the democracy that we now have and the January 2012 General Strikes and protests, over the sudden and unilateral transfer of the burden of the payment for the corruption and inefficiency in the downstream subsector of the Petroleum Sector, to the Nigerian masses, in the form of fuel subsidy removal, have been championed by the Nigerian Trade Union Movement and our civil society partners. In doing so, it is important to remember as Clarence Darrow puts it that “no other offence has ever been visited with such severe penalties as seeking to help the oppressed”. Accordingly, many trade union leaders and members were severely penalised and persecuted. At best, some were incarcerated, beaten up, sacked, victimised, terribly harassed and in a worst case, forced to their early graves.
Today, we remember the Nigerian workers, who were massacred at Iva Valley Coal mines, gunned down at Burutu, bludgeoned and buffeted in many other parts of the country as they fought for the untrammelled freedom and prosperity of their fatherland. Today, we remember the Nigerian workers and students who lost their lives during the struggle against the June 12 annulment and the gallant struggles against the military dictatorships during the dark days of the post-colonial history of our nation. Today, we remember those who lost their lives in the various struggles against the various harsh and anti-people policies since the advent of this democracy in May 1999.
But more importantly, today, we celebrate the courage, patriotism, tenacity, nationalism and dogged determination of the Nigerian workers and the Nigerian Trade Union Movement in the fight for the liberation of our country from the shackles of colonialism and imperialism, as well as the fight for the improvement in the welfare of the ordinary Nigerians, even in the face of the worst forms of persecution, oppression , victimisation and repression. Today, we celebrate our great and courageous labour leaders, whose leadership, sacrifice, tenacity, courage and determination contributed immensely to the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria generally and Rivers State in particular , and for the privileges we enjoy at present, but take for granted. We are proud to say that without the exemplary leadership, courage and unparalled tenacity of purpose of these trade union leaders in the face of intimidating circumstances and unrestrained exhibition of awesome instruments of terror during the dark days of military dictatorship, the present democracy may not have come when it did or might even have eluded us. This is the legacy that has been bequeathed to us and it is a proud and elegant one!
Our Governor Sir, you will agree with us that there is no better way to celebrate our achievements and history as a movement than to ensure that we continue the struggle until the dreams of our founding fathers and past heroes are realised. The dream of a better Nigeria with marked improvement in education, health, welfare and wellbeing of all Nigerians without exception!
Instructively, the theme of our celebration today which is: ” RIGHT TO WORK, FOOD AND EDUCATION, A PANACEA TO INSECURITY”, aptly captures the present mood of the country and the fact that the Trade Union Movement in Nigeria in partnership with all well meaning Nigerians and organisations still have a lot to do in order to ensure that the labours of our founding fathers and heroes past are NOT in vain.
2. RIGHT TO DECENT WORK AND GOOD GOVERNANCE AS PANACEA TO INSECURITY
Our Governor Sir, hardly does any day pass in Nigeria, without a report of a massacre of Nigerians by Nigerians or at least, coordinated by Nigerians. Hardly does a day pass, without the report of a major violent crime committed against Nigerians by Nigerians. Hardly does a day pass, without the story of how large sums of money are stolen by Nigerians who are in positions of trust. The revelations at the various probes by the National Assembly are heart breaking as billions of Naira ( and more recently trillions of Naira) meant for the improvement in the welfare and condition of living of ordinary Nigerians are brazenly stolen by those who they are entrusted in their care. All these are examples of violence against the people of Nigeria. The killings and maiming of Nigerians, whether by Boko Haram, Militants, cult groups, kidnappers, armed robbers, misguided youths, political thugs and other forms of societal vices by deviant groups under whatever guise, are all examples of direct violence. There is also structural violence, which is the violence that does not hurt or kill through fists or guns or bombs, but through social structures that produce poverty, death and enormous suffering such as: corruption, injustice and bad governance.
The truth is that, no one will be able to properly address the problems of direct violence especially, those with ideological inclination without understanding the relationship between direct violence and structural violence. For instance, take a hypothetical example of a man who loses his land or fishing pond to oil /gas exploitation because of unjust laws. His son loses her mother because of poverty and crumbling social infrastructure in the Niger Delta, his daughter cannot further her education because the surviving parent is poor. Yet, they live closer to oil/gas pipelines. When she manages to go to school through community effort, She is told that there is no job for her. She becomes unemployed and frustrated. The community also becomes frustrated, and unable to sponsor others like her. They become abandoned and trapped in the heinous poverty circle while their God-given resources are carted away and used to fund a system of fiscal federalism that is a misnomer and unbecoming of any true federation. Their God given resources are also used to pay for the construction of the expensive city of Abuja, fund the huge corruption that we read daily in the newspapers, finance expatriate workers in the Oil and Gas Industry who enjoy highest condition of service, incomparable to any of their equivalent in the world, fund one of the most expensive National Assemblies in the world and provide for the lavish and hedonistic lifestyle of the privileged few Nigerians.
Our Governor Sir, you will agree with us that hunger, neglect, frustration and deprivation of this magnitude IN THE MIDST OF PLENTY is a serious form of violence, capable of pushing ( indeed has pushed) the man and his community into direct violence. The story is also not different in Northern Nigeria, where years of deprivation, neglect, corruption and misrule by the ruling elites have led to the emergence and establishment of dynasties of poverty in the form of ‘Almajiris’, and now we all cry over the terror in the land, occasioned by the ‘Boko Haram’ insurgence. Let me quickly add that I am not by any chance providing any justification for criminal activities. I am only showing how one crime, for example corruption, leads to another for example, the killings by ‘Boko Haram’ or militant/cult groups in the Niger Delta. This analysis in my view, is important if we must address the unacceptable violence, insecurity and wanton killings in Nigeria that is fast becoming a way of life in our beloved country.
Our Governor Sir, reflecting on the above scenario, the participants at the TUC Rivers State Public Lecture on the 2012 May Day yesterday, agreed that the theme of our Celebration today can be summed up as ‘right to decent work and good governance’. This is because, if people have decent jobs, they can access food and education and escape the poverty trap. Similarly, the capacity of any government to provide decent jobs, either directly or through the private sector and enable her citizens escape the poverty trap is a function of good governance. If the country is riddled with corruption and inefficiency, the resources of the country will NEVER trickle down to the majority of the people and so majority of the citizens will be impoverished, without decent jobs, no access to food, education, health care and so on. Perhaps, this explains why Nigeria, a country rich in natural and human resources, is facing one of the worst form of unemployment in human history. For instance, the 2011 Annual Socio-Economic Report, published by the National Bureau of Statistics show that the national unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 23.9% in 2011, compared to 21.1% in 2010 and 19.7% in 2009. The Bureau reported that total number of unemployed Nigerians rose from more than 12 million in 2010 to more than 14 million in 2011, with the figure increasing by 1.8 million between December 2010 and June 2011. These figures which are official, are in the view of many Nigerians, very low compared to the reality. In addition, they conceal the disguised unemployment and underemployment which are prevalent in our country. They also hide the disparity in the unemployment levels across states. The fact is that every year, thousands of graduates are turned out by our higher institutions , only for them to later learn that there are no jobs. Nigerian streets are also littered with army of jobless youths who ordinarily would have found gainful employment. The self employed are in despair as the epileptic power supply and terrible state of infrastructure make it impossible for them to successfully practise their trade. This army of jobless Nigerians especially, the youths constitute a real and imminent danger and a threat to Nigeria’s security, unity and democracy.
Our Governor Sir, another consequence of the absence of good governance is hunger and the denial of millions of Nigerians the right to food. The right to food is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed. It includes access to resources and to the means to ensure and produce one’s own subsistence: access to land, to security and to prosperity. It is a human right and not a political option that governments can choose to implement or to ignore. However, in the absence of good governance, nothing much can be done to guarantee this right. Last week for instance, the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina was reported to have revealed that Nigeria spent N1.3 trillion last year on the importation of four food items which it could produce locally and listed the food items as: rice, wheat, sugar and fish. Yet, each year, billions of naira are budgeted for Agriculture. Again, this perhaps explains why the 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks Nigeria as one of the countries with serious hunger challenge; while a Statistical report by the United Nations had posited that over 53.6 million Nigerians go to bed hungry every night! This is the population of Canada and Ghana when combined.
Yet, a fallout of the absence of good governance is the denial of the right to effective education to millions of Nigerian children. Article 13.2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) provides that the right to education includes the right to free, compulsory, primary education for all. An obligation to develop secondary education that is accessible to all, by the progressive introduction of free secondary education, as well as an obligation to develop equitable access to higher education, ideally, by the progressive introduction of free higher education. Kindly permit me to remind us that the ECOWAS Court in a landmark decision in 2009 and confirmed in late 2010 declared that all Nigerians are entitled to education as a legal and human right and as such, education is an enforceable right in Nigeria. The reality however, is that millions of Nigerians especially, children are denied the right to effective education because of the absence of good governance. The result is that, Nigerians who have the resources send their children and wards abroad for studies or to very expensive private schools. For instance it was recently reported that Nigerian money fuels the UK education sector to the tune of N246 billion as many rich Nigerians send their children to the United Kingdom to study. Recently also, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi revealed that about N155 billion is paid as tuition fees by 71,000 Nigerian students studying in Ghana. Each of these figures is more than the yearly budget of federal Universities in the country!
Regrettably, rather than SQUARELY address the social justice issues that are feeding the violence and insecurity across the country, the Federal Government continues to allocate more money to defence and national security. It is our considered view that government at all levels must embark on an aggressive war against corruption, poverty, injustice and unemployment, in addition to stepping up security, intelligence and defence activities. The truth is that it is only when we win the war against corruption, poverty, injustice and unemployment that we can effectively combat the unacceptable level of insecurity in the country. Until we do this, no amount of defence/security spending will solve the insecurity problems in Nigeria as ‘poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere’, or as Chukwuma Soludo puts it : “the poor cannot sleep because they are hungry, and the rich cannot sleep because the poor is awake. It would be in everybody’s interest to have an inclusive society”. An inclusive society in my view, is ‘a society for all’ in which ALL Nigerians feel VALUED and are TRULY considered in the planning and execution of government programmes, policies, legislations and activities. Furthermore, the country must be courageous enough to review her system of fiscal federalism such that states and local governments would be effectively motivated to grow their economies in their areas of comparative advantages, rather than continue to depend on federal allocation. The power sector should also be deregulated and the monopoly of the federal government in power distribution removed to allow states and private sector distribute the power they generate directly to the users rather than through the Federal Government or PHCN or any other Federal Agency.
3. RIVERS STATE TODAY
Our amiable Governor Sir, let me at the risk of repetition, restate that we are indeed very grateful to God Almighty for giving Rivers State a Chief Executive who understands the urgent need for economic development of our state. We are very delighted to be one of your social partners.
Our Governor Sir, you would recall that in your first tenure, you set out to build a new Rivers State for all. A new Rivers State where not just the child of the rich, but also, the child of the poor can have access to quality education. A new Rivers State where people can walk on dignifying pedestrian walk-ways. A new Rivers State where those in rural areas can have access to dignifying health centres. A new Rivers State with a network of roads, more like a revolution-not just in the urban areas but also in the rural areas. In your first tenure, you even went as far as putting your life on the line, just to ensure that peace returns to Rivers State. Today, Port Harcourt is bubbling with night life and Rivers State is one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. Today, the streets of Port Harcourt from Rumuola, Elekahia, Trans Amadi/Slaughter, NTA/Choba, Rukpakwulusi/Eligbolo, Stadium road, Eleme Junction, Eliozu, Old Aba road, Mile 1 to Mile3 axis of Ikwerre road, etc all wear new looks. This is no mean achievement especially when we recall the recent history of our state.
Our Governor Sir, we want you to write your name in gold especially, considering that your achievements in your first tenure are remarkable and surpassed those of your predecessors in the recent history of governance in our state. These achievements have set new standards in governance in Nigeria and we want to see you perform even better in your second tenure. To this end, we would like to respectfully PUT YOU ON NOTICE, that we will not compare you with any of your predecessors. For to do so, is to reduce the standard you have set in governance, going by your achievements in your first tenure. We will therefore, be comparing Governor Amaechi with Governor Amaechi. We will compare your performance in your second tenure with the standards you have set going by your first tenure achievements.
Our Governor Sir, in this your second tenure, we want you to consolidate on your first tenure achievements by completing the various on-going projects in the State. We also want you to deliver on your promise of twenty-four hour power supply to Port Harcourt and its environs as well as resuscitate all moribund Rivers State owned companies just as you have done to Risonpalm. It is our opinion that if you do these you will be remembered by generations of unborn Rivers people and your name will be written in gold. We will also share in the glory as your social partners. Accordingly, we respectfully appeal to you, to remain focused so that you will surpass your achievements in your first tenure!
4. COMMENDATIONS & CONCERNS FROM OUR AFFILIATES
Our Governor Sir, one of my members directly under your watch, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has asked me to thank you for the new Minimum wage and for the cars you purchased for directors. They however, appeal for the creation of grade level 17 in the State Civil Service and for the promotion of deserving Directors to that level. They also appeal to you for the payment of the arrears of the 70% negotiated salary structure and the arrears of the new Minimum Wage as earlier promised. They strongly plead that the Directors, just like the Medical Doctors, should be allowed to go with their cars upon their retirement .They also appeal that Promotion and annual increment should be paid.
Our Governor Sir, another of my members directly under your watch, the Nigeria Union of Pharmacists, Medical Laboratory Scientists and Professions Allied to Medicine (NUMPTAM) similarly asked me to thank you for the new minimum wage. They however asked me to inform you that there are a lot of unsettled issues in the health sector which if not properly and expeditiously resolved, could jeopardize your very commendable on-going reforms in the health sector. For instance, they expressed serious worries over the withdrawal of establishment circulars No.2 and 3 dated 17th October and 21st November 2011 respectively on the implementation of the new minimum wage for their members through establishment circular no.4 dated December 7 2011. They are also worried that many health workers have not been promoted for 5-6 years running. Furthermore, they have asked me to bring to your attention the outright and conspicuous omission of Medical Laboratory Scientists, Technicians and Assistance/Optometrists in the last employment of Health workers in the Hospital Management Board. This, in their view, is regrettable especially, considering that the focus in the 21st century is on diagnostic analysis of medical conditions, without which, treatment will just be a trial and error journey. They also asked me to thank you for the vehicles you gave to all medical doctors in the employment of Rivers State. They however, appeal that you extend the same gesture to all other Senior Health Workers.
Our Governors Sir, You have started well by giving cars to the Medical Doctors. We join NUMPTAM in respectfully appealing that you extend similar gesture to other Senior Health Officers . This in our view will boost their morale and impact positively on the quality of the health care delivery in Rivers State. The truth is that without the collaboration of these Senior health workers, the massive investment of your administration in the health sector will NOT trickle down to the people.
Our Governor Sir, my members in the oil and gas sector-the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) have asked me to thank you for the peace in Rivers State and for the cordial relationship they have enjoyed since your administration. They however, asked me to inform you that if their grievances as a result of which, the Minister of Labour on behalf of the Federal Government signed a communiqué with the oil/gas workers unions-PENGASSAN and NUPENG on April 12 2012, are not adequately resolved, they will have no choice but to withdraw the services of their members. One of such grievances is the reckless abandon with which the National Industrial Court (NIC) grants Exparte and other forms of injunctions and the undue delay in the determination of labour disputes as industrial cases continue for upward of three years without reasonable end in sight. More painful is that, as soon as these injunctions are ordered, there is practically no serious move to determine the substantive cases expeditiously. PENGASSAN matters with Pressure Control, Vam Onne/Marine Platform, Hydrodive, MRS Oil and Gas Plc, Baker Hughes are key among our matters are currently suffering the toll .Moreover, the absence of the NIC in Port Harcourt and the multi-location hearing approach of the NIC where one particular case will be heard today in Lagos, next sitting in taken to Calabar, and the next one is heard in Enugu worsens the situation and essentially makes it impossible for the oppressed workers and their unions to obtain justice from the courts. If they cannot obtain justice from the courts, or if the courts have now become instruments of oppression, they will have no option that to seek justice elsewhere or through other means, including total shutdown of the economy.
Also, my members, the Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association (CANMPSSA) similarly thank you for your various development projects. They however, asked me to inform you that the management of West Africa Glass Industry (WAGI) led by one Mr. Mirchandani has refused to pay the gratuity benefits of the over 320 staff of the company, laid-off in October, 2009 through redundancy . They humbly request that you urgently intervene in the matter as the families of the affected workers are facing unprecedented hardships. As we speak, a good number of the 320 workers are already dead! This is particularly painful, in view of the fact that the company has refused to respect the Award obtained from Industrial Arbitration Panel. They also asked me to inform you that following the acquisition of Eagle Cement by Ibeto Cement, that their members are threatened with job losses. However, what is greatly worrisome is that Ibeto is not Labour-friendly. Every effort made to unionise Ibeto Cement, Port Harcourt has not been successful over the years. They fear that Ibeto Cement is planning to lay off the workers without paying them their entitlements just like West Africa Glass Industry.
Similarly, my members, the Association of Professional Footballers of Nigeria (APFON) have asked me to thank you for your immense support to Sharks and Dolphins Football Clubs. They are also happy that action is being taken by the current Hon. Commissioner for Sports and the management of Dolphins and Sharks to pay the N29.6mln owed to players and coaches as decided in 2010 by the Players Welfare and Arbitration Committee of the Nigerian Football Federation. They however ask that you direct the Commissioner for Sports to expedite action so that the N29.6mln will be paid before the end of May 2012.
Our Governor Sir, my members in the Hotel, Recreation, Relaxation and Personal Services Sector, the Hotel and Personal Services Senior Staff Association (HAPSSSA) are indeed, grateful to you, for the payment of long awaited retirement benefits to the staff of Airport Hotel which had been on hold for over ten years. They earnestly look forward to seeing the Airport Hotel resuscitated as well as the establishment of more Recreational centres, amusement parks, modern beaches etc. to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the state. They have also asked me to thank you for the establishment of the Rivers State Carnival & Tourism Development Agency (RSCTDA). They however, observe that there is no representation of the Trade Unions on the Board of the RSCTDA. They respectfully request that appropriate modalities be put in place to ensure that the RSCTDA is staffed with professionals that have the cognate industry working experience as well as the inclusion of HAPSSSA, TUC and NLC on the Board of the Rivers State Carnival & Tourism Development Agency (RSCTDA).
Our Governor Sir, time and space would not allow me to mention one by one, what each of the TUC affiliate-unions has asked me to thank you for. Let me therefore, on their behalf, state that the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) identifies with your various people-oriented projects. Our members are indeed happy that peace has returned to Rivers State and appeal to all those companies and investors that relocated from Rivers State because of the hitherto security crises to return, as Rivers State is about the most peaceful State in Nigeria and the Government of the State is seriously upgrading our infrastructure. TUC Rivers State also use this opportunity to join the call on multinational Oil/Gas Companies to relocate their head offices to states where they carry out oil/gas production in order to engender mutual trust with their host communities and host States.
Our Governor Sir, we have no doubt that based on your record, you will remain steadfast in your development of Rivers State. Similarly, we have no reason to doubt that you will beat your achievements in your first tenure. On our part, we shall continue to support your administration and urge you to integrate organised labour represented by TUC and NLC into all the processes of governance so that workers and people’s interests will be articulated and protected at every level.
- 5. HIS EXCELLENCY’S 2008 PROMISE REGARDING TUC SECRETARIAT
Our Governor Sir, you would recall that in 2008, you made a promise to the TUC Rivers State to assist us build a befitting secretariat for our congress. Consequently, our Governor directed the then Secretary to the Rivers State Government (SSG), Senator Magnus Abe to look into the matter and advise as appropriate. In line with Our Governor’s directive, the then SSG reviewed our submission and forwarded a memo in September 2010 for Our Governor’s kind consideration and approval. The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State Council, most respectfully and humbly appeal to our Governor, His Excellency Rt.Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi CON to consider and graciously approve the said memo. We are indeed very hopeful that by our Governor’s benevolence, the TUC Secretariat will be a reality this year
and that we will hold our forthcoming Triennial State Delegates Conference in the that Secretariat.
Once again, on behalf of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State, I thank the Executive Governor of Rivers State Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, CON for his labour friendly disposition and for the cordial relationship that exist between the Rivers State Government and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State Council. Let me also use this opportunity to congratulate ourselves and our colleagues in the NLC for the unity and brotherly love that exists between us and the chance to have another memorable May Day celebrations together. For all our guests who despite their busy schedules came to personally celebrate this 2012 May Day with us with, we sincerely thank you and pray that God Almighty reward you exceedingly.
Finally, on behalf of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State ,I wish ALL workers in Rivers State and all over Nigeria a wonderful May – Day celebration!
Long live the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC)! Long live the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)!! Long live workers in Rivers State!!! Long live Nigerian workers!!!! Long live Rivers State !!!!! Long Live Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!!!!
Aluta Continua! Victoria Acerta!! Forward ever!!! Backward never!!!! Solidarity forever!!!!
- An Address Presented By Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu (JP, FCA) State Chairman Trade Union Congress Of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State Council On The Occasion Of 2012 May Day Celebration In Rivers State