It is with a feeling of great honour, privilege but with due humility that I welcome comrades to this session of the Central Working Committee (CWC) OF Congress. This CWC meeting is particularly significant because it is holding just immediately after the 1st anniversary of the last delegates’ conference of NLC in which the current leadership was elected into office. The CWC meeting is also coming at a time Nigerians are feeling the heat and harsh realities of the economic crisis in the country, whose immediate cause in the drastic fall in the price of crude oil, which is the primary source of our nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
The response to the prevailing economic situation by all tiers of government in the country has been a further source of worry for many Nigerians, especially Nigerian workers, who are the first historically, to be put up for sacrifice each time the political elite mismanages our economy.
Our Journey from Eagle Square
Since our election at the Eagle’s Square, Abuja; slightly over 12 months ago, in March 2015, we have strived to lead from the front Nigerian workers in the effort to rebuild and rekindle the confidence of workers and the masses on the leadership of the Congress. Despite the challenges and distractions from some of our colleagues who refused to accept that they lost in their bid to lead Nigerian workers, we combined our efforts to bring these comrades back into the fold with tackling the many problems facing Nigerian workers that required urgent attention.
Some of these problems which we inherited included the non-payment of salaries and pensions, especially in various states, arbitrariness on the part of some state governments in retrenching workers and other anti-worker policies.
We have sought to address these challenges by confronting them head on. We have also found time to address other national issues which we felt were important in trying to build a new Nigeria, which in our optimist’s view, the new government’s slogan of “Change” represents. This informed our mobilization early in the day in our leadership, for the nation-wide anti-corruption and for good governance rally. Our hope was that this will help to strengthen the hands of President Buhari, as we are convinced of his genuine commitment to fighting the scourge, which is one of the formidable forces keeping our nation down from developing and achieving our full potentials as a nation blessed with huge natural endowments.
Organizational Building Challenges
When we were offering ourselves for leadership of Congress, we were very clear about our understanding of the internal challenges which our movement faced. These challenges articulated in our Programme of “Returning to Our Founding Principles,” and we ensured that majority of the motions that were debated and passed as resolutions came from affiliates who reduced these Programmes into implementable motions/resolutions.
We similarly took the important step of calling a National Leadership Retreat in Tinapa, Calabar, Cross River State, in the last week of August, 2015 to look at these issues in greater detail and the steps we need to take to go about the systematic implementation of the issues/programmes that are needed to return our movement from the drift we observed, for us to be able to serve our movement more effectively.
The report of that Retreat is ready and we are committed to the implementation of its outcomes. As part of that process, we had planned to start a tour of affiliate industrial unions at the beginning of the year, to obtain first-hand information on the organizational challenges being faced by our affiliates. Unfortunately, the first quarter of the year is ending without our being able to start this tour. Let me use this opportunity to affirm that doing this tour remains at the top of our priorities, as we had promised that this will be used to gather all the pressing challenges of our affiliates, and then using them as additional materials for developing our strategies for the rebuilding and strengthening of Congress affiliates.
We are conscious of the fact that if we are not careful, we can as a leadership, have all our time taking up by the sporadic breaking out of bush fires which we will always be called upon to go out and quench. This is especially why the leadership had to lead two mobilization visits to Imo State at the beginning of the year.
The Owerri engagements with Governor Rochas Okorocha went very well, and we wish to commend our affiliates who turned up at rather very short notices and did the necessary mobilization of their members to force Governor Okorocha to retrace his steps of adding over 3,000 workers to the unemployment market. We similarly got him committed to regular payment of the workers in the state civil service.
You will recall at our last NAC meeting held on January 28, 2016 in Lagos, a number of issues came up for discussion and execution. One of these issues was the unjustifiable 45 per cent increase in electricity tariff. A joint stakeholders’ meeting on Increment on Electricity Tariff led by the Congress which held a day earlier, had come up with a communique with the following conclusions:
The increase is illegal, unfair, unjustifiable and a further exploitation of the already exploited Nigerians;
The due process in the extant laws for such an increment was not followed in consonance with Section 76 of the Power Sector Reform Act, 2005;
There has been no significant improvement in service delivery coupled with the fact that most consumers are not metered in accordance with the signed Privatization Memorandum (MoU) of November 21, 2013 which stipulates that within 18 months gestation period, all consumers are to be metered;
There is a subsisting court order dated May 28. 2015 by Honourable Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, in the case of Toluwani Yemi-Adebiyi versus NERC & Ors, that there shall be no increment until the determination of the substantive suit;
The increment at this time negates the present biting prevailing economic recession vis-a-vis an attempt to further impoverish the poor masses.
Accordingly, the Stake Holders demanded an “immediate halt of this morbid and exploitative intention” with a warning that an observance in the breach would attract a response such as the mobilization of all Nigerians to resist the new tariff, mass protest or picketing of all DISCOs nationwide, and a directive to all consumers to reject any bill with the new tariff.
Armed with this mandate, Congress commenced the simultaneous process of mobilization and strategic communication with relevant government institutions and individuals with a view to having a peaceful resolution. Amongst the individuals and institutions reached were the Minister of Power, NERC and the leadership of the National Assembly, all to no avail.
In furtherance of the mandate given to it by the Stake Holders Forum on Electricity Tariff and affirmed by the NEC of January 29, 2016, Congress called out a national action in the 36 states of the federation including Abuja, which was adjudged as hugely successful.
In Abuja, the protest train visited the corporate headquarters of Abuja DISCO, NERC and the National Assembly where the members were received by the Senate President himself with an appeal to suspend the protest and assurance of intervention.
Sequel to this, a joint forum (comprising critical stake holders in the power sector) led by the National Assembly and of which Congress was part, was set up with a view to finding an enduring solution. In the interim, the Senate had ordered a return to the old tariff structure even as some questioned the legality of such an order. The players in the power sector did all they could to frustrate this process including outrageous demands, threats to declare force marjeure and with the possible consequence of a power sector collapse.
While this was on, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, affirmed his earlier pronouncement by a warning reported in the Blueprint of Tuesday, February 16, 2016 thus:
“The point must be made that obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly take the oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution is desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a constitutional democratic society like ours, this is meant to be a norm.
“It is an act of apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the Law and the necessary rules meant to regulate matters.
“I must say it loud and clear that the government of this country shall be a government of laws and not men”
Very strong words but little action yet from the government. In spite of this, it is worth informing the meeting that Congress in conjunction with TUC and members of the Stake Holders Forum on Tariff made an elaborate submission to the Senate preparatory to a public hearing.
While the process is on, the tariff increase has remained, and under a worsening power supply situation. Not a few Nigerians are groaning under this burden. Not a few of them look to the Congress for a solution.
On Thursday, March 31, 2016, “power generation crumbled to zero megawatt for three hours”. This underscores the gravity of our situation.
What is the way forward?
When the first incident of fuel scarcity occurred under this government, we put it to sabotage and urged the government to deal decisively with the saboteurs but with an eye to enhanced local production as an enduring solution. When the second incident happened, we similarly reasoned the same way.
However, with the latest incident of prolonged scarcity and confession by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources that scarcity will persist till May as he is not a magician, regular scarcity might as well be a familiar feature, and we would do well to brace ourselves for long spells, except government does the needful.
We must however make the point that spells of scarcity will not be acceptable to Labour and other Nigerians because the human and economic costs are unimaginable.
While we appreciate government’s effort to make available on an uninterruptible basis, such effort must be seen to be result-yielding and immediate. Because of the place of petroleum products in the lives of the citizenry, it’s scarcity even for a day generates ripple and crippling effects. We dare say one of the fastest ways for government to lose its credibility before the ordinary citizenry is scarcity of petroleum products because the combined effects of scarcity of petroleum products and low power supply create misery for the people as well as have a damning impact on travel, jobs, productivity and the economy as a whole.
We are concerned and we must similarly find a way forward.
It is gratifying to note that the government has straightened its relationship with the critical stake holders (including IPMAN) which it says will henceforth guarantee regular supply at N86 at NNPC filling stations and N86:50 at non-NNPC filling stations. Without prejudice to the on-going government’s initiative at finding a lasting solution, we believe subsisting fuel scarcity is caused by an interplay of corruption in the system; the existence of a cabal that defies the structural changes at NNPC; national and international politics around production, sale and consumption of oil; sabotage in the management of the refineries; award of contracts for turnaround maintenance (TAM) without regard to the companies that built these refineries and smuggling.
Also not helpful to the system is the regular friction or power play between lifters or distributors of products such as Major Marketers, Independent Marketers, Association of Tank Farm Owners and others in the chain.
It is worth mentioning that government institutions in the sector such DPR and PPPRA which are expected to function independently as well as regulate the system, have either been sidelined, weakened and brought under the control of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
Accordingly, we call on the government to do the needful by demonstrating the will and capacity to restore sanity, discipline and transparency to the downstream sector of the industry. The statutory roles of these agencies should be restored so they can function properly. Government should also deal summarily with corruption in the sector. It should never allow itself to be blackmailed or cowed into taking decisions that in the long run will not be helpful to the ordinary Nigerian.
There are pending cases from subsidy scams inherited from the last administration. They came into limelight following our nation-wide protest against unjustifiable increase in prices of petroleum products of January 2012. Nigerians are keen to know what has become of the reported criminalities by the high and the mighty.
In view of the following we demand the diligent prosecution of all those found wanting in the distribution of fuel products, cold or fresh cases.
We demand the constitution of the boards of NNPC and PPPRA. The latter is a 26-man board vested with powers of regulating prices of petroleum products. Today, it is a one-man show!
We have issues with the Kaduna State Government. In January this year, the Kaduna State Council drew the attention of the Congress to the twin issue of delay in payment of salaries of a segment of workers due to a prolonged staff audit exercise and the death of 28 workers at the venue of the verification exercise in Zaria. Although the Governor promised compensation, to date, not even the salaries they died for have been paid to their families.
In our intervention, we drew the attention of the government to the fact that deduction and remittance of check-off dues is not at the pleasure or discretion of government but is governed by Section 16A of the Trade Unions Act (as amended 2015) which states inter alia:
“Upon the registration and recognition of any Trade Union specified in the Third Schedule of this Act, an employer shall;
“Make deduction from the wages of every worker who is a member of the trade union for the purpose of paying contributions to the Trade Union so registered; and “Remit such deductions to the registered office of the Trade Union within a reasonable period or such period as may be prescribed from time to time by the Registrar”.
While we are happy to report to you that this intervention worked, we are concerned that barely two months after, the government of Kaduna State has come up with something new and, perhaps, more insidious.
On my way from the burial of the late Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr Ocholi James, SAN, the Chairperson, Kaduna State Council reached out to me to say the Governor, in violation of the extant laws and practice, had issued a form requesting workers to tick “Yes/No” to belong to trade unions. I smelt a rat and gave clear and precise instructions that workers should not fill this form with an assurance that I would be in Kaduna the next day being Saturday in company of the TUC President to address workers.
We did address workers as promised as could be evidenced by the reports in the media. I brought back to Abuja a copy of this form, which I here present to you for perusal. The form is called “Special Exercise on Staff Verification”, with an instruction to tick “Yes /No” with regard to union membership. The form also demands that workers disclose the name(s) of the union(s) to which they belong.
This government’s latest policy or directive is not only an affront but a direct violation of the fundamental and constitutional rights of workers as enshrined in Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); Conventions 87 and 98 of ILO (ratified by Nigeria); and the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act which guarantee the right and protection of workers to freely associate, unionize and operate independently of government.
The decision of the State Government to unilaterally conduct a membership audit of union members constitutes a gross interference in the internal affairs of the unions and is an illegality.
We have since gone back to Kaduna to mobilize resistance to this policy via sensitizing more workers and using strategic contacts in government circles. We have done a strong letter to the Governor but which we are yet to release. We also reached out to Femi Falana, SAN, who has given us a draft letter to the governor. Please, note that a legal option avails us an opportunity of instituting multiple suits against the Government of Kaduna State since each union is a legal entity of its own.
It is my firm belief that the final decision on the strategy to be used will be taken by you at this meeting.
We commend President Muhammadu Buhari for taking bold measures or decisions aimed at rebuilding the economy. Some of these decisions include re-newing or strengthening relations with nations of worth, signing of bilateral or trilateral agreements, creating a safe haven for investment, fighting corruption, restoring internal security, tracking and recovering looted funds, resisting pressures to further devalue the Naira and other measures.
In spite of all this, the Naira continues to fall against the major currencies; inflation continues to rise, commodity prices mount, the productive sector continues to shrink with more loss of jobs. Very few employers are paying salaries as when due. We need no telling that the situation is serious.
Government must consult more widely and come up with an enduring solution. In spite of its effort so far, clearly lacking is the absence of a credible economic team with a coherent policy capable of responding to the present challenges. Labour is serious enough a component of this polity to be considered to be part of this team when government constitutes one.
In spite of the initial controversy around the national budget, it has been passed by the National Assembly. The National Assembly is deserving of commendation for going through the budget with a tooth brush and for exposing the imperfections in it. President Buhari is equally deserving of commendation not just for the courage in expressing outrage at the criminal padding of the budget by the budget cabal but for having the single-mindedness to deal with this situation.
The passage of the budget is expected to open or free up the economy. Our observations will not be complete without commenting on the decision of Mr. President to withhold his assent until the details on the budget are transmitted to him by the National Assembly. First, it is within the province of Mr. President to so do as a matter of personal style or principle. Moreover, we have had a presidential precedent. But beyond all this, it is pertinent to note that, the right of due diligence which the National Assembly exercised to the hilt and led to the unearthing of discrepancies in the budget should similarly be extended to Mr. President. Accordingly, we identify with his position that the details of the budget be first transmitted to him, in spite of the challenges this might present.
Non-Payment of Salaries
It has been observed that many employers including the public sector, have reneged on their contractual obligation to their workers by virtue of refusing to pay salaries as when due. This has exposed workers and their families to all manner of difficulties and embarrassment. Some states, even after collecting bail-out funds have refused to pay, citing all manner of excuses.
Our holy books tell us that a labourer deserves his wages! Violation of this well-known dictum is not only abhorrent and reprehensible; it is criminal and not acceptable to us. Accordingly, we have instructed our unions and councils to furnish us with the details of debtor-employers for the purpose of a sustainable engagement on the streets. We by this statement put our state governments and other MDAs on notice. Except they pay up now, they shall keep a date with us.
Rivers State Election Re-Run
We condemn in strong terms the serial violence and deaths that trailed the re-run elections into the State and Federal Houses of Assembly in Rivers State.
No one’s ambition or ego is worth the blood of the innocent. It should be obvious to the promoters of violence that their acts of violence are counterproductive as could be evidenced from the relative low turn-out of voters at the said elections.
Accordingly, we demand a halt to further acts of violence in the state; prosecution of sponsors and executors of violence; orderly and transparent elections; justice and compensation for the innocent lives lost.
Finally, flowing from the gale of inconclusive elections in recent times, we find it necessary to advise INEC, to do all that is necessary in order not to lose the momentum it gained at the general elections last year which earned it commendations across board.
We recall that in the aftermath of severe security challenges that led to the convening of not a few security fora, including the one jointly convened by The Sun Group of Newspapers and the Nigeria Police Force, President Muhammadu Buhari had pledged to order a recruitment of 10, 000 police officers and men as a response to the dearth of security personnel.
It is gratifying to note that about six months after, the government has decided to make true its promise. The recruitment of 10, 000 Nigerians into the police force, though will not solve the unemployment problem in the country, it will almost certainly ease the tension in the land. A similar gesture in other sectors will cause a positive spark. We therefore urge the government to demonstrate the necessary commitment to further employment-generation.
However, we will use this opportunity to appeal to the police authorities and other Nigerians in the position of authority to conduct this exercise with all sense of responsibility, care, transparency, justice, equity and minimum discomfort or pain to the applicants. There is hardly any family that does not have an army of applicants. This, however, should be no justification for subjecting this process to a selfish end or abuse.
Comrades, with these preliminary comments, do permit me once again to welcome you to this meeting.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni