Amid the growing wave of insecurity in the country, the organized labour on Wednesday asked the Federal Government to show more zeal and commitment in tackling the resurgence of terrorism, armed banditry, kidnap-for-ransom, militancy and resource conflicts in the country in recent times.
Also, the group reiterated its demands for a decisive action by the government to halt the negative trend of consistent hike in the prices of petrol and other essential public utilities like electricity tariffs translating to very piercing pain for citizens.
These were contained in the State of the Nation address by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, at the first meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the group on Wednesday in Abuja.
Labour sees a rebound in the country’s economy as the world continues to open up and demands for goods and services increase amid the gradual recovery from the devastation of COVID-19.
But it doubts whether the higher crude oil prices in the international commodities market would translate into a better life for Nigerians as a result of the government policy on petrol pricing and electricity tariffs.
Reviewing the impact of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy, Mr Wabba commend the industry and commitment of the Nigerian workers to survive regardless of the adversity.
Impact of COVID-19
Quoting the International Labour Organization (ILO) January 2021 report on the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, the labour leader said the virus wiped off 225 million full time equivalent working hours from the labour market.
In all, the report said about 114 million jobs were lost temporarily, in addition to a further 33 million jobs disappearing permanently due to the pandemic.
In Nigeria, he said apart from the pandemic resulting in the country’s GDP shrinking by 34.1 percent, leading to a 14 percent increase in poverty headcount rate in the country, about 27 million Nigerians were pushed headlong into poverty.
With recent reports of the discovery of vaccines, the NLC President urged the workers to remain vigilant to ensure every Nigerian worker and a good proportion of the population is vaccinated.
Reiterating his call for the provision of affordable and available vaccines for Nigerians and people in less developed and developing countries of the world, Mr Wabba said the current pandemic demands the best of international goodwill, cooperation, and solidarity to overcome the scourge.
On the Economy, the NLC President restated the continued struggles against incessant increases in the prices of petrol and hikes in electricity tariffs, saying the government has continued to renege on its promises on the issues.
He recalled the resolve by Labour to embark on a nationwide strike following the increase in fuel prices and electricity tariffs late last year which led to the agreement with government to set up a technical committee to examine the root challenges in the downstream petroleum sector and the electricity sector.
Despite the agreement to suspend further increases in petrol price and hike in electricity tariff until the committee submits it report, the NLC said the government has reneged on the promise more than once.
He the rising prices of crude oil in the international market which should be an advantage for Nigeria has become a major disadvantage to Nigerians as government insists importation of refined petroleum products and higher cost of electricity services.
Blaming the problem on the failure of successive governments and the current administration to revamp the country’s domestic refineries, Mr Wabba said Labour will continue to oppose the use of import parity prices to calculate the landing cost of petrol and other refined petroleum products.
“We insist that the resuscitation of our refineries and the overhauling of the entire value chain in our downstream petroleum sub-sector are the only sustainable ways to halt the embarrassing mass importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria and the high price volatility that comes with it,” he said.
On electricity tariffs, the NLC blamed the problem on pressures from neo-liberal global market forces, poor policy choices by the government, dereliction of duties by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and investors and general inefficiencies in the system.
The NLC President condemned the continued benchmarking of the value of gas used by the electricity generating companies against the dollar in running the power stations.
He criticized the government for failing to force the electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) to mass deploy prepaid meters to electricity consumers, as the DISCOs are hoarding and selling at exorbitant rates to frustrated consumers.
Insecurity and breakdown in governance
On Security, the NLC said never in the history has the country been emmeshed in insecurity turbulence and crisis as we witness today.
In the past two years, he said the country has witnessed an intense resurgence of terrorism, armed banditry, kidnap-for-ransom, militancy and resource conflicts all over the country.
Alluding to a serious breakdown in governance, Mr Wabba said in the absence of a firm response to the persistent confrontations between herdsmen and farmers, many Nigerians are beginning to resort to self-help.
“The tunes, discordance, reactions and counter-reactions from these informal frequencies have constituted in themselves new grand threats to the security, stability and sustainability of the Nigerian project.
“We cannot fold our hands and watch Nigerians engage themselves in ethnoreligious squabbles. The dangers are too significant to ignore.
“We call for a new verve of zeal and commitment in the war against terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, communal unrests and clashes,” he said.
National Minimum Wage and Minimum Pension
On the National Minimum Wage and Minimum Pension, Mr Wabba said some states are yet to implement the national minimum wage of N30,000, reminding them that the National Minimum Wage is an Act of the Parliament which is binding on all employers in the country.
He blamed the State governors as the worse violators of the national minimum wage law, proposing special penalties against public sector employers who violate the law.
Besides, he said the country should consider the use of the court of law to assert the sovereignty of the laws and compliance on the issue.
On negotiations on the consequential increase in salaries as a result of the new national minimum wage, the NLC frowned at some states that are yet to conclude negotiations for salaries adjustment, saying this was unacceptable.
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