Goodwill message delivered by the president of Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni, at the 5th quadrennial national delegates conference of the National Union of Civil Engineering, Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers on Thursday, 23rd February 2017 at Grand Hotel, Asaba, Delta State
I convey to you the warm compliments of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress on the occasion of your 5th Quadrennial National Delegates Conference.
This conference avails all of us here present an opportunity to reflect not only on the state of this great union but the entire nation. I must say I feel honoured to be part of this process.
I will not hesitate to say that your union continues to remain one of the most respected and dependable affiliates of Congress.
Over the years, you have consistently been part of the national leadership of the Congress.
This is no doubt testimony to your strong internal governance culture, allegiance to the core values of the Labour movement and commitment to the struggle against oppression and exploitation.
You have been part of all our major struggles including the ones against casualisation, corruption, pump price increase, etc., etc.
Through them all, you never wavered.
It was therefore not surprising that your indefatigable President, Comrade Amechi Asugwuni made it with relative ease to the present crop of leadership of the Congress as Vice President, in spite of the intense competition.
I have no doubt that your Union will continue to play a leadership role in the affairs of the Congress.
I must also say that it is not only in the affairs of the Congress that the Construction Union will continue to be relevant.
The Construction Union indeed is critical to the national economy in all spheres or ramifications: in housing, transportation, aviation, oil and gas and even in the high sea.
Without construction, none of these sectors, I doubt, could come into being.
The quantum, quality and consistency of construction work determine the status of nations in the comity of nations.
Dubai today, is a destination to all nations largely due to the vision of its founder and construction work. We can go further back in time if necessary.
Aside from the prestige and GDP which construction adds to our national and personal lives, construction anywhere creates about the biggest chain effect.
From those who give out jobs, to contractors, architects, quantity surveyors, manufacturers, suppliers, workers, families to site petty traders, there is always something for everybody.
It is not surprising that the construction industry is a great economic stimulant. A visit to a simple construction site can attest to this.
It is workers that drive this huge process! So, clearly, you have a major role to play in moving forward our country. This is a responsibility you cannot delegate because only you know how to do it.
To underscore the critical role you play, everywhere presently is silent and dry because you are and your bulldozers and cranes, due to no fault of yours, are on holiday.
Part of the reason why there is this silence across our great nation today is the refusal or inability of state and federal governments to pay for jobs already done or their inability to mobilise contractors for new jobs.
In view of the considerable harm and pain this has brought upon everybody in the chain, especially workers, I would want to use this opportunity to call on federal and state governments to without further delay, pay their debts to both local and international contractors.
I have no doubt this will stimulate the economy in no small measure.
I also urge the governments to take other measures that are necessary to retrieve the economy from recession as Nigerians are going through indescribable suffering.
Not far on the list are corruption, high cost of governance and irregular payment of salaries, pensions and gratuities.
Let me use this opportunity to further pay tribute to your great union.
Despite the stinging economic recession the country has been enmeshed in, resulting in relocation of several multinational companies while not a few closed down, especially in the construction industry, your union has continued to grow stronger in financial strength which has kept you stable in service delivery to your members, the labour movement and the Nigerian people.
This is not only commendable but highly admirable as you have invested in high income yielding-portfolios before the advent of the economic slump.
I therefore commend you to other unions.
The stability of all affiliates of NLC and the unity of the movement are much more needed now as workers and the entire country have been compelled to contend with the challenge imposed on us all by the ongoing socio economic decline.
We cannot successfully overcome these challenges without a strong, united and focused movement. This is why we appreciate your union’s commitment to our collective struggles.
I therefore call on all members of the union to continue to support the leadership of the union at all levels and the Nigeria Labour Congress because without your support, the leadership will not be able to contribute effectively to the promotion and defence of workers’ rights as well as the advancement of good governance in our country.
Do not allow yourselves to be distracted by those who seek to weaken us by attempting to divide our ranks. Be focused and remain committed to the struggle we know!
I urge you to continue to remain faithful to the historical tasks that your union is known for by way of actively participating in action/activities that will ensure positive change; people driven governance and national progress.
As we have always noted, the ongoing economic recession is not only a resultant effect of corruption but the continued adoption of policies imposed by neo liberal institutions against our collective interests and wellbeing.
There can never be any external institution or country that will better develop policies that will serve the interests of our people and country than ourselves.
Happily, Nigeria is not in shortage of development experts that can fashion out profound, totally home grown development policies to move our country forward, if our leaders have the desired political will to call the bluff of over-bearing neo liberal institutions.
Our economy seems to have gone into a tailspin with the crash of the Naira and with the Central Bank appearing unable to offer a sustainable solution.
The truth of the matter is that we are an import-dependent economy and no import dependent economy easily survives recession except they take bold and conscious decisions.
I urge our leaders to take those decisions today so that history will absolve them of complicity.
Comrades, distinguished guests, our leaders will need our support in this task. We should not be economical with that support.
At the risk of repetition, Nigerians now pay three times what we used to pay before the last fuel price increase as the cost of feeding, education, transport, accommodation and related necessities have all tripled while salaries have remained at the same level in spite of our formal demand for a wage increase last year.
Most families can barely have more than one meal per day, resulting in diseases, hunger and squalor.
Companies that have not closed down or relocated are operating difficulties for lack of public electricity, bad roads, high currency exchange rates, high cost of petroleum products and depleting market with the dearth of financial capability of their customers. Inevitably, this has led to the reduction of their workers further saturating the unemployment market.
Comrades, we cannot afford to remain indifferent in the face of these overwhelming challenges. It is reason why we should nudge the government to do more.
It is reason why we should be on our feet instead of knees.
In my view, government needs to have a total review of its economic policies which must be people driven.
While we will continue to support the government in its fight against corruption, we do not see corruption as the exclusive cause of the ongoing economic recession.
For instance, only workers at the moment pay appropriate taxes. Yet everybody deserving of paying tax ought to pay! The rich should pay.
Thus, instead of increasing the tax burden of those already paying, government should compel those not paying to pay.
For us to recover from economic recession, government must design policies that will bring back industries, create productive jobs, revive public electricity, revalue the naira, encourage the growth of informal economy, resume local production of petroleum products, develop solid minerals and tourism, among other resources of global economic values.
We do not need any lecturing from the IMF or any external institutions to do this. We have vibrant and experienced experts that can develop policies on these.
Indeed, government should as a matter of urgency, convene a conference on the economy or assemble an all-inclusive team to develop an economic recovery framework that is people driven and people focused.
Finally, as you start your conference, I urge you to be peaceful and tolerant of other people’s views or feelings. We come from a culture of healthy debate.
This goodwill message will not be complete without my commending your leadership for their commitment, sacrifice and for organising this conference.
Comrades, on behalf of the National Executive Council of NLC, once again, I wish you the very best of your National Delegates Conference.
Thank you for listening.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni.