By Bassey Udo
As Nigerians joined other Christians around the world to celebrate Easter, which signifies the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Monday condemned the inability of the government to end the rein of “social apartheid” in the country.
The President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said in an Easter message to workers that the workers’ body has also taken a position to support on candidates and political parties that subscribe to their Charter of Demands.
In the message titled: “A Hope that Never Dies”, Wabba listed the charter of demands, which he described as irreducible minimum standard, to include answers to national questions on insecurity, inflation and insolvency of the economy.
Nigerian workers, he said, were completely tired of cycles of broken promises that threaten to turn their hopes into nightmares, Wabba noted that millions of workers, pensioners and people were celebrating this year’s Easter Season amid pains and anguish, as a result of deadly events in the country in the last two weeks, which severely tested their faith and hope.
Apart from the recent mass killings in Plateau State, the terrorist assault on Kaduna Airport and the Abuja-Kaduna train bomb attack that killed innocent passengers, Wabba said the Labour community was thrown into deep anguish, with the loss of two of its peominent members in the two incidents.
The Secretary General of the Trade Union Congress, Musa Ozigi, was killed in the train attack, while the Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Kwara State, Akinsola Akinwunmi was involved in the incident in Plateau.
Describing the incidents as a “shocker to most Nigerians”, the NLC President said both were awakening the people to the “reality of the expansion of the wings of evil on our shores.”
“We demand that government must ensure the swift and safe return of all abductees. We also demand compensation for all those killed and injured in the attack,” he said.
Lamenting the fate of millions of Nigerian university students, especially those attending public institutions of higher learning, who are celebrating Easter at home as a result of the ongoing strike by the lecturers, Wabba blamed it on the inability of the government to deliver on commitments reached with academic and non-academic staff.
The situation, he said, was even most tragic, when considered that majority of the affected students were children from poor homes whose parents cannot afford to pay the outrageous fees charged by private universities.
“Tragically, while students from poor homes are held back by frustrating cycles of strike actions, the children of the rich and powerful are in private campuses learning. There is no sadder premiere of the Social Apartheid in our society than the intermittent and protracted strike actions in our public universities,” the labour leader said.
On the situation with workers, Wabba said it was difficult to imagine that many workers, particularly in Cross River, Taraba and Zamfara states, were yet to enjoy the national minimum wage almost four years after being signed into law.
Also, he said Nigerian pensioners were not spared the pain, as many of them were denied their gratuity and pension arrears, noting that while wages remain the same and sometimes unpaid, the cost of living keeps skyrocketing.
Besides, he said inflation has continued to erode the purchasing power of workers, as the Naira continues to lose its value.
“We must stress that all workers, including military, police, and para-military deserve decent wages and pension,” he said.
Of very great concern to theworkers’ body, Wabba noted, was the deteriorating energy crisis in the country, including a terrible ordeal of scarcity of refined petroleum products, resulting in the cost of diesel, aviation fuel and petrol generally soaring to unprecedented heights.
He recalled that at some point, the airlines threatened to shut down operations, even as the price of air tickets increased by more than 100 percent owing to diesel scarcity.
Due to the high energy cost, the NLC President said the few surviving industries in the country have been forced to either completely shut down, or to significantly scale down their operations, with grave implications for job security.
This, he said, has compounded the unemployment crisis in the country, with most banks forced to reduce their working hours with dire consequences for national productivity and economic growth.
“The prevailing chaos in our energy sector is traceable to the embrace of neoliberal and anti-people policies by successive governments. The full deregulation of diesel, and aviation fuel has failed to deliver on its promises of abundant products supply and cheaper prices. Today, Nigerians pay far more for diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel and yet these products are hardly available. While the promoters of deregulation have suddenly lost their tongues, the burden of this grand failure has been transferred to Nigerian workers and the public,” he said.
Apart from the downstream petroleum sub-sector, Wabba said the same challenges are manifesting in the electricity subsector, pointing out that since the privatization of the power generation and distribution assets in the country, the promise of constant supply of electricity remains a mirage.
In the past one month, he recalled that Nigeria electricity consumers have experienced about four episodes of collapse of the national electricity grid, amid the steady deterioration of public electricity supply to the lowest level in recent history.
Despite the demand for the review of the privatization exercise every five years by the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, Wabba lamented that there was currently no concrete plans to carry out the review.
He reiterated Labour’s call for the scrapping of the Electric Power Sector privatization programme in view of its monumental failure to make affordable and constant electric power available to Nigerians and their businesses.
Also, the NLC called for the total jettisoning of a deregulation policy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry,as its promoters equate to wholesale importation of refined petroleum products, which benefits only middlemen profiteers and their partners in the corridors of power.
“Nigeria can and should refine its crude oil to generate refined petroleum products, including diesel which is one of the easiest to refine bye-products of crude oil, especially using modular refineries. Nigeria can make refined products constantly available to ordinary Nigerians at very affordable cost,” Wabba said.
Despite all the very challenging and depressing conditions, he said Nigerian workers have continued to show faith in their country and demonstrate the never dying hope for a better tomorrow.
“This is the reason we still turn up at our duty posts, despite being owed arrears of salaries. It is the urge of this hope that never dies that motivates us to keep contributing to the cause of nation building and wealth creation. The Congress salutes this indefatigable spirit of Nigerian workers. We urge our fellow workers to keep believing that a new Nigeria that is worker and people-friendly is possible in our life time.
“This Easter, we ask government and private sector employers to meet workers halfway and put a glow to our hopes. We demand respect for Collective Bargaining Agreements signed with unions in our tertiary institutions and other sectors. States yet to fully implement the national minimum wage should do so immediately. We demand immediate clearing of pension arrears owed our retirees. Employers should deliver on prompt salary payment, periodic salary increment, promotion, regular training, access to social housing, affordable healthcare, paid vacation cum sick leave and compensation for injury at work.
“Congress pledges to continue to deploy labour standards to fight for and defend the rights and interests of Nigerian workers. of the unfair and unjust industrial practices being meted against workers especially with regards to wage structure, pension administration, living standards, prices of goods and services.
On the emerging political dispensation in the country, Wabba said the Nigerian workers have resolved to participate actively in politics,but on condition that its Charter of Demands, which it declared would be used to engage Nigerians during the 2023 general electio,would be respected.
“We remain committed to the hope of a great Nigeria. As Christ arose from the dead, Nigeria will arise from the current ashes of despondency and chaos and take her rightful position in the comity of great nations. This hope of a great country enabled by her working people shall never die,” he said.