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NLC warns Buhari; Be careful with anti-people economic reforms

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SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF NIGERIA LABOUR  CONGRESS, COMRADE AYUBA WABBA, mni, AT THE OPENING OF THE NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING OF CONGRESS HELD AT THE DANKANI GUEST HOTEL, SOKOTO ON 10 NOVEMBER 2016

PROTOCOLS

It is my honour and privilege to welcome all members of the National Executive Council and guests to Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate.

NEC, being the highest organ of Congress, second only to the National Delegates Conference provides us the opportunity to do an appraisal of the state of the nation, condition of Nigerian workers, pensioners, their families, the economy, the world of work, social and security challenges confronting us as a nation.

In the past few months, we have carried out series of engagements and campaigns on disputes of rights and interests. These includes hike in electricity tariff, petroleum products price increase, tax justice, decent work, intervention in some states on the issue of non-payment of salaries, pension and gratuity.

Let me salute all of us for providing necessary guide and leadership in all the struggles, especially on these challenging areas.

Comrades, distinguished guests, the working class and their families are no doubt passing through very excruciatingly challenging period occasioned by the harsh socio economic difficulties our country is going through as the cost of goods and services has more than tripled while salaries, wages and pension remain static. The free fall of our national currency, the Naira that has so far defied all the remedies put in place by the Central Bank has clearly compounded the living conditions of wage earners and indeed the growing poor and downtrodden. 

While we salute the courageous performance of our military in the battle against insurgency in the north eastern states, let me condole with the Nigerian Army over the unfortunate death of seven gallant soldiers who recently paid the supreme price in the battle. 

May the souls of Lt. Col. Abu Ali and his colleagues who were killed in the course of the battle rest in the most perfect peace. 

We commend the Federal Government and the Nigerian military as well as other security agencies for their dexterity and commitment to the battle against terrorism, we believe the ongoing dialogue between the government and the Niger Delta militants to address the issue of economic sabotage in the region is a commendable step in the right direction as the country has lost a lot of resources due to the attacks on oil installations and other supply facilities. We urge all Nigerians to support the option of dialogue as this has always proved effective in achieving peace, especially at a period when our country is obviously suffering deeper in the prevailing regime of global economic recession.

Comrades, it is impossible for any country to develop without industries. Nearly all productive industries in Nigeria, especially those in the manufacturing sector has closed down while some relocated to neighbouring countries especially in the West Africa sub region.

Some of the factors that have led to the collapse of industries include consistent increases in the price of petroleum products, lack of regular public electricity and general infrastructural decay. 

Power stability is indeed very important and critical to industrialisation, self-sufficiency and economic growth and it is scandalous that eight months after the 45% hike in electricity tariff and years after the privatisation of public electricity, we still fall short of enough electricity.

In fact, the 45% increase in electricity tariff has been declared illegal by a court of competent jurisdiction and the operators has since ordered its reversal. Rather than obey the order of the court, the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, an umbrella body for the DISCOs has been canvassing for 200% increase in the tariff. We must not allow this and we reject their proposal in its totality because it would amount to crude exploitation and insensitivity 

We therefore reiterate our demand for full adherence to the judgement of the Federal High Court which ruled at its siting in Ikoyi, Lagos that the increase in electricity tariff should be reversed immediately. We must all respect the rule of law and the DISCOs must not be allowed to disobey the court order with impunity.

While Nigerians are still struggling to cope with the severe hardship imposed on them by the last increase in the price of petroleum products, there are ongoing media campaigns and contradictory statements by the NNPC and government officials on yet another plan to review the template for the pricing of petroleum products 

We are totally opposed to any further increases as we are yet to see the benefits of the last increase even as the current Minimum Wage Act has not been reviewed. It would amount to unleashing further hardship on workers and the poor if any further price increase is allowed.

The government must not take us for granted; indeed the patience and perseverance of the entire populace must not be taken for granted as we will sure mobilise the entire citizenry for mass protests in addition to other legitimate actions to resist any further increase.

What is urgently required of government is not another increase but a downward review of the current pump price of petroleum products.

Comrades, the current National Minimum Wage Act has long elapsed and as you are already aware, we have long submitted our proposal for a review but Government seem not in a haste to recognise the urgency in attending to our demands. 

Nigerian workers and pensioners are as important to the growth of the economy and must not be allowed to continue to suffer further hardships. We therefore reiterate our call on government to treat the review of the minimum wage and pension with the utmost urgency they deserve.

While we commend the Federal Government in its sustained battle against corruption and determination to ensure good governance in our country, we urge that the battle should be more systemic and institutionalised with strong laws and institutions strengthened enough to sustain the battle. Our country has been seriously harmed both in image and resources by the impunity with which public funds were looted for decades such that what we need is beyond a flash in the pan approach.

We will support government in all areas that will promote good governance at all levels and all facets of the Nigerian society as long as it sustains its commitment to delivering people driven governance that will promote decency and growth in all spheres of our socio economic and political endeavour.

But we will not support the plan by the Federal Government to borrow more money from anywhere as we obviously have enough to attend to our immediate needs. For instance, if the government vigorously pursues those in possession of our collective wealth, especially multinationals who have refused to remit funds meant for corporate Nigeria, we would have enough to rejuvenate the economy and the quality of the lives of our people.

NEITI has already been quoted to have discovered that $22billion (Twenty two billion dollars) has not been remitted by multinational firms to the federation account. This amount alone can take care of some of the areas any new loan is expected to be expended on. 

If we must borrow, perhaps such borrowings, on terms strictly not against our collective interests and in particular not designed to deepen our debt burden, it should be directed towards revitalising rail transportation and roads and not for servicing remunerations or tastes of public office holders. Loans must have specific targets in public interest and strictly directed to their original uses; that is if we must take any at all.

We are also opposed to the idea of giving public funds to bail out commercial banks or interests, especially the recent proposal to give out $7 billion as bailout funds to commercial banks without any repayment schedule whatsoever.

While we also support the need for budget reform, we urge the government to ensure that the process is all inclusive, transparent, accountable and in line with the principle of good governance.

Once more, we urge government to be very careful with the process of economic reforms and development as it has become clearer around the world that neo liberal prescriptions handed troubled economies has not been of any help but rather further unleashed mass poverty and infrastructural decay on recipient countries and their citizens.

The prescriptions only generate massive wealth for the tiny few rich while devastating the quality of lives of the citizens.

Indeed, a prominent report by Forbes has alarmed that “unless it changes, capitalism will starve humanity by 2050”. 

We should not be seen to be accepting alien economic recovery policies that have been proven to be responsible for our problems in the first instance as all previous prescriptions from the Breton Woods institutions have only ended up destroying our economy and impoverishing our people.

We have enough intellectual capacity in our country that can develop people driven policies that is truly rooted in our specific circumstance for the recovery of our economy.

Comrades, in conclusion, it is my pleasure to inform you that as part of equipping our state councils with higher intellectual capacity to manage contemporary challenges of our struggle, we have organised a retreat to hold immediately after this NEC meeting.

#The retreat, with the theme: “Strengthening the Labour Movement in the Face of Contemporary Socio Economic Challenges” will hold from Friday, 11th November to Saturday 12th November 2016 here in Sokoto.

We urge the leadership of all our state councils to be punctual and participatory at the retreat. As leaders, we must always be prepared for to have all that is required to lead our people because, as Nelson Mandela, popularly known as Madiba had said, “real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people”. We must therefore not hesitate to make any sacrifice for the freedom and progress of our members. 

Comrades, guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening.

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