Address Presented by Comrade Ayuba Wabba [image above], President, Nigeria Labour Congress at the Opening Ceremony of the Otuwa Special Delegates Conference on 23rd October, 2015, at Yar’adua Centre, Abuja
I wish to welcome you all on behalf of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the entire working people of Nigeria to this historic event, the Special Delegates Conference of the Organisation of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA).
For us the working people of Nigeria, the revival of OTUWA is a significant milestone that cannot be overlooked. The theme of this Conference, “Uniting Workers to Promote Regional Integration in West Africa”, is germane, most especially at this time that regional integration and cooperation is a worldwide phenomenon, inspired by the success of the European experience.
Regional integration is a process in which neighboring states enter into an agreement in order to upgrade cooperation through common institutions and rules. The objectives of the agreement could range from economic, to political to environmental, although it has typically taken the form of a political economy initiative where commercial interests are the focus for achieving broader socio-political and security objectives, as defined by national governments. Regional integration has been organised either via supranational institutional structures or through intergovernmental decision-making, or a combination of both.
Past efforts at regional integration have often focused on removing barriers to free trade in the region, increasing the free movement of people, labour, goods, and capital across national borders, reducing the possibility of regional armed conflict (for example, through Confidence and Security-Building Measures), and adopting cohesive regional stances on policy issues, such as the environment, climate change and migration.
Regional integration arrangements are a part and parcel of the present global economic order and this trend is now an acknowledged future of the international scene. It has achieved a new meaning and new significance. Regional integration arrangements are mainly the outcome of necessity felt by nation-states to integrate their economies in order to achieve rapid economic development, decrease conflict, and build mutual trusts between the integrated units.] The nation-state system, which has been the predominant pattern of international relations is evolving towards a system in which regional groupings of states is becoming increasingly important vis-a-vis sovereign states. Some have argued that the idea of the state and its sovereignty has been made irrelevant by processes that are taking place at both the global and local level.
Regional integration agreements have led to major developments in international relations between and among many countries specifically increases in international trade and investment and in the formation of regional trading blocs. As fundamental to the multi-faceted process of globalisation, regional integration has been a major development in the international relations of recent years. As such, Regional Integration Agreements has gained high importance. Not only are almost all the industrial nations part of such agreements, but also a huge number of developing nations too are a part of at least one, and in some cases, more than one such agreement.
Regional integration and cooperation is the way forward in Africa as there are many regional externalities that can only be addressed through regional cooperation. Following the implementation of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) common external tariff (CET) in January 2015, this June saw the launch of the Tripartite Free Trade Area among 26 countries, accounting for over half of Africa’s GDP and, with 632 million people, 56 percent of the continental population. A Continental FTA is also to be launched in or around 2017.
Therefore, reviving OTUWA for Regional Integration is a reflection of a growing appreciation of the benefits to be derived from regional unity and cooperation of workers as represented by trade union organisations in West Africa, in meeting the challenges posed by current globalisation and increasingly competitive world markets.
As we know, globalisation is the main driver of internationalisation both in the business world and trade unionism. Globalisation as currently practiced is screwed to favour the powerful, developed nations and big businesses to the detriment of less developed nations, especially those of Sub-Sahara Africa, and has negatively affected our workers and particularly trade unions members.
It is our belief that trade unions regional solidarity is a possible solution to the continent’s deep and prolonged labour, economic and social crisis, at a time when the working people are experiencing the ‘race to the bottom’, prevalent neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization of national economies, while the continuing decline of state-imposed barriers to inter-country flows is paving the way for increased regional trade.
To support the laudable idea of international trade unionism and foster regional integration, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) offered to host the OTUWA Secretariat and provide logistics support for its initial take off for one year as part of its commitments to the existence of a formidable West African regional trade union organisation. The NLC shall continue to play a vital role in the sustenance of OTUWA and other African regional trade union organisations for the benefits of the workers in the sub-region and Africa as a whole.
Regional aspirations as shared by West African statesmen, intellectuals, and citizens alike reflect a general desire to break the confines of the nation-state, and a denial of all that divides the region, including the multiple barriers to the free movement of goods and services, people, and capital among countries, and differences in legal, governmental, and educational structures. Therefore, we the working people as represented by the different national trade union organisations must form a strong and formidable force by having a strong regional trade union organisation to be able to effectively engage businesses and remain relevant in the scheme of things.
The most compelling reason why the working people of the West African sub-region must come together under a formidable trade union organisation, is that like the West African countries, they are very small, not only in population, but also in terms of economic output, so also are our trade unions or labour centres. Since development requires the organisation of social and economic activity on a much larger scale, we must have large and big trade union organisations in the region to be able to engage meaningfully. This is because a big trade union organisation brings with it opportunities for a wide range of benefits associated with it; increased specialization, technical skills and capacity, competition, access to a wider range of technological knowledge, and greater sharing of ideas and experience in all areas of endeavour.
We must reflect on the fact that West African countries today are weakly integrated nationally, regionally, and internationally. Ethnic and socio-political divisions are particularly dominant in the region. Our trade unions are small and labour centres significantly fragmented in many of our countries, and these are impediments to regional integration. Regionally, West African countries are divided by a wide range of institutional, legal, socio-economic and cultural barriers. At the international trade union level, West Africa is increasingly marginalized.
Comrades, looking at all the above mentioned barriers, what we require at this moment are efforts on all fronts to build and ensure a strong regional trade union organisation to address and overcome the sense of disconnectedness in international trade unionism and the global labour movement.
At this juncture, I once again welcome you all to this all important Special Delegates Conference of OTUWA and call on you all to take advantage of Nigeria’s hospitality and explore the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Thank you all.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba
President, Nigeria Labour Congress