By Rita Esegine
As Nigerian workers join their counterparts across the world to celebrate workers’ day, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Muhammadu Buhari, Ahmed Lawan and Femi Agbajabiamila, respectively, have once again distanced themselves from the workers in the auspicious day.
Recall that President Buhari who workers support helped in his enthronement to become Nigeria’s President in the 2015 general elections, has never identified with workers during May Day celebration as former President Goodluck Jonathan, did.
Addressing workers however, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, reel out many achievements of the All Progressive Congress-led party government in the past 7 years and promised a consolidation on the successes of the administration.
Osinbajo mentioned that Buhari Administration has among many other things, increased teachers’ retirement age, engaged over 4 million Nigerian youth in quasi employment through NPOWER and other programmes, healthcare insurance scheme, enacted Not-Too-Young-To_Run law, and others. He noted that regardless of many challenges faced by the Buhari-led government, the administration is steadfast in tackling issues that directly affects workers’ welfare and wellbeing.
Furthermore, he listed national minimum wage and establishment of over 1 million micro and small businesses, upward review in salaries and wages of men and women in the Nigeria Police Force as part of President Buhari government’s broader commitment to safeguarding the country and improving the living conditions of the citizens.
“The question of what sort of politics can deliver good governance and development is decisively answered by progressive politics. As a progressive, I believe that good governance and development mean compulsory free education for the unlettered, universal healthcare coverage , inclusion for the alienated, social mobility for the poor, justice for the wronged and social security for the vulnerable. The progressive vision of Nigeria is of a nation in which the relations between the government and the governed is defined by a social covenant. It is of a society in which no Nigerian is left behind. It is of a canopy of inclusive and broad-based prosperity in which the security and the welfare of each citizen is guaranteed.
“This administration has embarked upon the most ambitious programme of social protection in sub-Saharan Africa. We are catering for our children through the Home Grown School Feeding Programme which feeds 9.5 million children daily and for our unemployed youth through programmes such as the N-Power scheme. Over 4 million people have benefitted from the Government Empowerment and Enterprise Programme (GEEP), and other support initiatives under the National Social Investment Programme.
“We established the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the National Centre for Senior Citizens to cater for the needs of our compatriots that live with disabilities and our elders. This is a demonstration of our commitment to inclusion, especially of groups that have long been relegated to the margins.
“In the realm of politics, the enactment of the Not to Young to Run Act which modifies the age restrictions for seeking public office not only opens doors of opportunity for more youth engagement in politics; it is a further demonstration of our commitment to inclusion in all its ramifications.
“As we battled to contain the spread of the corona virus here in Nigeria, almost all economic activity was grounded. But we understood the dangers that portended to our citizens and to our general economy. That is why during the pandemic, the Federal Government placed Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSME) employees on payroll support to get them through the period, as part of its Economic Sustainability Plan. We introduced the food for jobs agricultural programme. Providing support for over 4 million farmers. We started the most ambitious social housing programme in our nations history , 300,000 homes at N2m. As part of the same Economic Sustainability Plan we started the solar Naija programme to connect 5million homes with solar power.
“We set up the MSME Survival Fund which disbursed over N56.8 billion to over 800, 000 people. The Fund also provided grants, free business registration and payroll support to over 1 million artisans, micro and small business owners.
“We have increased the retirement age of teachers so that they can spend more years in service educating our children. Recently, we implemented an upward review of the salaries and wages of the men and women of the Nigeria Police Force as part of our broader commitment to improving the welfare and service conditions of those charged with safeguarding the rest of us.”
The VP further said; “No Nigerian, especially one who contributes to the development of the nation by way of labour, should be denied primary health care because of affordability. Currently, only workers in organized labour benefit from the current health insurance system. Our goal is universal health care, to fund it we must look beyond our meagre Federal and State budgets the answer is compulsory insurance coverage for all Nigerians.
“Our focus is not only on the health of those currently in the workforce; we are also concerned about our senior citizens who spent their prime in service. There is absolutely no reason why any retiree should go into debt or be unable to access healthcare in retirement. This is why the Federal Ministry of Health has established a Ministerial Committee whose mandate is to come up with a framework for the provision of Health Insurance coverage for our retired senior citizens. I must mention here after 15 years of stagnation that we have now reviewed the hazard allowance for doctors and other health workers. The circular to that effect has now been released and it is with effect from December 2021.
“We will also expand and deepen implementation of the Employee Compensation Act so that workers all over the country receive compensation for injuries suffered in the line of duty and in the case of death, their dependents are adequately compensated.
We must continue to take care of our people, especially when they are no longer active. No society has achieved appreciable levels of development without looking out for the older demographic of its population, especially those who have faithfully served the country.
“No one should go into retirement worrying about how they will make ends meet. It is because of this that last year, the Federal Government implemented an upward review of pensions under the Defined Benefit Scheme, in line with the review of the National Minimum Wage. Through PTAD, we have been able to fully liquidate inherited liabilities of many defunct agencies and companies, and settle significant portions of the few that are yet to be fully liquidated.”
Concerning the ongoing ASUU strike, the Vice President said, “We are not unmindful of the anxieties of our children and their parents who are plagued by thoughts of an uncertain future as they stay home because their universities have been shut by an industrial action. I appeal to the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the broader labour community to seek the path of dialogue.
“Disagreement and debate have always been part of the relationship between labour and the government. Even as we disagree today, we must not do so as mortal adversaries but as members of the same progressive family. We both want the same thing – a country that works for all and offers each citizen a fair deal – even if occasionally we differ on how to achieve this goal. But at all times, we have through dialogue found a path forward.
“It in this spirit that I call on ASUU to embrace dialogue with the Government and I call on the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress to help facilitate a resolution of this dispute through dialogue. I believe that we can find a path forward in good faith. And this is what we will do.”
However, the Organised Labour in a joint address by the the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba and Comrade Quadri Olaleye, respectively, at the May Day celebration held in Eagles’ Square Abuja yesterday, said that workers will unanimously vote against political parties and persons that have sponsored, supported and executed anti-labour polices, in bid to discourage bad governance and incessant policies that engender economic hardship in the country.
The Organised Labour conspicuously vowed that about 16 million block votes of workers, pensioners and other circles of influence in the country, will go to the political party that has the welfare and interests of workers and the masses at heart.
Reiterating their stand, the two labour centres also vowed to ensure Nigerians no longer suffer social injustices as a result of the action or inaction of governments, by proceeding to mobilise the citizenry against any poor performing government without waiting for elections to vote them out.
The joint Workers’ Day speech also listed the core labour issues confronting Nigerian workers and the masses to include; the failure of some state governments to implement the national minimum wage especially Abia, Taraba, Cross River and Zamfara states.
Other core issues also listed were: abuse and humiliation meted out at pensioners; decent work deficits; violation of human, workers and trade union rights; and the consistent and unabating industrial crisis in the university system involving academic and non academic staff unions.
Labour said: “It must be our collective endeavour to put the Workers’ Charter of Demands at the front burner of 2023 politics. We can make this happen by mobilizing every Nigeria worker and pensioner to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) ready. We must be ready to engage political parties especially working class friendly parties and progressive political interests across the country to ensure that a significant number of candidates who would be for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of our Charter.
“Beyond engaging the politics of 2023 general elections, Nigerian workers just accept partisan politics as a fundamental way of life for the protection, survival and flourishing of the working class.
“We will no longer wait for elections to mobilize Nigerians to take charge of the destiny of the destiny of their country. We will be more proactive and pronounced in the daily political undertakings of our country. We will mobilize the Nigerian people to monitor and engage the performance of those we elect into political offices. We will match the performance metrics of the political class against Workers’ Charter of Demands. Their readings on our scale will determine the swing of the pendulum of workers’balot.
“Pursuaint to the foregoing, organised labour is energizing it’s structures down to the grassroots. We are facilitating the emergence of a progressive pro-Nigerian Workers’ political coalition. If your political party is truly progressive and worker friendly, you will be discussing with us. The over 16 million block votes of Nigerian workers, pensioners, our families and other circles of influence will go to political parties and candidates that assure us that the dreams of Nigerian workers and people would no longer be treated as governance addendum or as objects to be trampled under.”
Labour further noted that after series of serious discussions with progressive political parties and groups in the country, it has resolved to rescue Nigerians from the “grips of continuous misrule and bad governance,” through its political party, the Labour Party.
“Workers can no longer play the ostrich while a section of our professional political class play the roulette with the welfare of workers and the destiny of our country. History will be very unkind to us if we continue to stay outside the rings of politics and trust that our placards and protests will change the iron claf determination of many of our politicians bent on looting, enslaving and leaving in their wake smokes of destitution and despondency. Given the scale of disappointing returns on governance and national development, we must now do the needful.
“There is no better time than now to enter the political rings and engage more vigorously with the questions of our collective survival as a people and as a working class who produce the wealth that the political class squanders at whim.
“Instead of engaging the issues of physical security, social protection, decent wages, unemployment and poverty eradication,fixing the economy, our politicians are more interested in zoning of political offices and threatening the peace of our country which is already greatly imperiled. Clearly it is a failed political class that would wish to keep the masses,workers and the daily socioeconomic struggles we face as footnotes in the 2023political agenda.”