By Bimbola Oyesola
It is another Workers Day. But in Nigeria it is being celebrated with a difference. As Nigeria Labour movement marked the day in unison with other parts of the world, the challenges at home are more daring than fighting for an eight hourday working condition.
Since the celebration of the last May Day till now, the fortune of Nigerian workers has really not changed for better, if anything, the inflation has dealt workers a stronger blow. Due to this, workers have had to contend with high cost of daily essentials like foods, electricity bills, skyrocketing petroleum products prices to insecurity and others, without any commensurate increase in wages.
However, the two labour centres have come to terms that the time to end agonising is now and Nigerian workers need to step out and take their destiny in their own hands. This perhaps informed this year’s Workers Day’s theme,
“Labour, politics and the quest for good governance and development in Nigeria”.
Both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in March this year organised separate political conferences and since then have not failed to emphasised labour readiness to take over the leadership of the country through mass mobilisation of the workers and other likemind Nigerians.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba speaking during the Workers’ Political Conference in Abuja said labour would make it happen with over 10 million workers, eight million pensioners and their dependants and families which runs into 40 million people.
“We can make this happen by mobilizing every worker in Nigeria to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) ready.
“The next step is to engage politically. We must be ready to engage political parties especially Workers Political Party and progressive political interests across the country to ensure that a significant number of candidates who would vie for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of our Charter,” he said.
Wabba explained that the conference sought to lodge the interests of Nigerian workers and people to political candidates and to prevent them from bypassing critical questions of national development as the elections draw nearer.
“The purpose of this Political Conference themed “Commitment to National Emancipation and Development through Effective Engagement by Nigerian Workers” is to reconstruct the critical bridge of issue-based politics that accommodates the interests of Nigerian workers and people. Our determination is that in the run up to the 2023 elections, we must not allow professional politicians to evade critical questions of national development.”
According to Wabba, the labour Charter listed arrays of Demands which reflect the interest of the Nigerian workers in the coming elections.
He listed some of the demands to include: equity, fairness and social justice.
Others are free and quality education to tertiary levels for every Nigerian child, access to free and quality healthcare from cradle to grave, among others.
“This is why we have developed a Workers Charter of Demands. Our Charter of Demands prioritizes equity, fairness and social justice. Our Charter of Demands asks for free and quality education to tertiary levels for every Nigerian child. Our Charter of Demands insists that every Nigerian should access free and quality healthcare from cradle to grave. Our Charter of Demands makes the argument for the kind of restructuring that brings sustainable development to real Nigerians currently struggling with the crumbs.
“Our Charter of Demand posits that politicians should no longer be allowed to send their kids to schools abroad or treat their sicknesses in foreign hospitals while the children of the poor are trapped in endless strike actions and poor medical facilities which their failed leadership has imposed on all of us.
“Our Charter of Demands also makes a strong case for decent work for Nigerian workers. We are saying that those who contribute to Productivity and Wealth Creation must be the first partakers of their toil and sweat. We are demanding that instead of criminalizing picketing and strike actions, politicians should criminalize non-payment of salaries and refusal to honour collective bargaining agreements just as the case currently is with the ongoing strike action in our universities.
“Our Charter promotes decent work conditions for workers including equal pay for work of equal value, training, predictable promotion and affordable housing close to workers’ places of work. We have also made a case for prompt payment of pension and other retirement benefits to our aged pensioners and the protection of all trade union rights.
“Our Charter of Demands lampoons and seeks remedy to the lazy rentier mentality of extracting our natural resources in their crude form and shipping them abroad for processing and then importing the finished products at greater cost to Nigerians. This has been the crux of our struggle with the so-called deregulation of the downstream petroleum industry which is just a euphemism for the incessant increase in the pump price of petrol. Nigerian workers have been consistent for the past forty years demanding for effective and efficient local petroleum refineries. We have over the years held back the dam of oppressive petroleum products pump prices and hike in electricity tariff thus saving Nigerian people trillions of Naira that would have gone into the pockets of shylock capitalists and their collaborators in government.
“Our Charter of Demands is a pact of emancipation for Nigerian workers and people. It is our duty to put it at the front burner of 2023 politics. We can make this happen by mobilizing every worker in Nigeria to get their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) ready. The next step is to engage politically. We must be ready to engage political parties especially Workers Political Party and progressive political interests across the country to ensure that a significant number of candidates who would vie for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of our Charter.” He maintained.
TUC Political struggle
Representing the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba at the 2022 Trade Union Congress (TUC) Political Conference similarly in March, which held just a week after the NLC, Najeem Usman Yasin, Chairman, NLC Political Conference and NLC Deputy President gave reasons for political renaissance among workers.
“Given the unpalatable outcome produced by the indifference of the enlightened, conscious and committed branch of society to politics, it is important that we talk to ourselves in order to reset the political interests and objectives,” he said.
He reasoned that there is no gainsaying the fact that the country needs her best women and men now to salvage the ship of state which is now sailing dangerously adrift.
According to him, the increasing wave of insecurity, unemployment, poverty, hunger and short supply of basic amenities and utilities including petrol show that things are really falling apart in the country.
He said, “The job of fixing our country cannot be left to professional politicians. I say so because in the past twenty years of the current democracy and for the most part of over sixty years of our independence, our politicians have demonstrated great talent in serving themselves, families and cronies. Comrades, it is this self-service that has brought us close to the edge of great national disaster. We now need a new breed without greed who will serve the interest of Nigerian workers and people. There is no better place to get this crop of politicians than from the working class, professionals and ordinary people who have excelled in their fields of calling.
“2023 is the year to retire all professional politicians who campaign without commitment to any manifesto. 2023 is the year to retire professional politicians who see politics as an end and not a means to serve the ordinary people of our country. 2023 is the year for workers, professionals, market women and men and our youth to organize and mobilize their colleagues to do the needful – which is to use our Permanent Voters Cards to send professional politicians to their permanent retirement. 2023 is the year that political campaigns will be on the basis of clearly defined manifesto which must resonate with the demands of Nigerian workers and people.”
He expressed that this is what informed
NLC decision arising from its well-attended Peace and Security Conference in April 2021 and the Social Protection Roundtable in September same year to distil salient matters that matter to Nigerian workers and people and has consolidated them into a CHARTER OF DEMANDS.
He stated that many professional groups and political interest organizations have identified with the Congress Charter of Demands and are ready to run with it.
Calling for unity among workers, Yasin added that the proof of the workers seriousness must be in the resolve of every worker to register, collect their Permanent Voters Card and vote on Election Day during the 2023 general election.
“We must also resolve to organize in our workplaces, families, communities, worship centres and social spaces and get Nigerians to line up behind political parties and candidates who pledge to implement the Workers’ Charter of Demands. This is just the minimum. There is no better time than now to tell professional politicians in Nigeria that our 12 million plus votes will decide their fate in 2023,” he said.
The Trade Union Congress at its political conference has stated that there is urgent need to enthrone transformative governance through democratic emergence of competent and visionary leaders at all levels.
To make this a reality, the Congress has hit the road to inaugurate working groups diving Nigeria into zones.
It has stated this,
“That the zones will commence the implementation of the working template on the mobilisation of members of TUC in their respective state and zone towards political participation.
‘’That the zones will commence the process of organising town hall meetings, awareness rallies, political roundtable and other means of reaching out to workers and citizens in general.”
It was also agreed that there would be a uniformed guideline and rule of political engagement which should be designed for use at all organs of the Congress, adding that the Congress would also come up with a development agenda blue print as a working-class policy alternative to address development gaps in all sectors of the Nigerian economy.”
The TUC President, Quadri Olaleye has maintained that Nigeria workers will play active role to elect credible leaders into position.
According to him, TUC political commissions in the Western, Northern, and Eastern parts of the country, will sensitise all workers and the people towards playing their roles; getting their PVC and making themselves available for the election.
Explaining the theme of the conference, “The role of Organised Labour in promoting participatory democracy and good governance in Nigeria: Perspective on 2023 General Elections”,
Olaleye noted that the Congress has discovered that the inactive participation of workers in politics has put them in a pitiable condition and is one of the reasons affecting the implementation of the minimum wage since 2019.
He said, “We want a situation whereby in 2023 elections, all workers will be fully mobilised to go out and elect the best candidates, as 2023 is very important to the working class in the country.’’
He assured that members of the political commission across the country will work assiduously to sensitise workers.
The TUC indeed inaugurated both the South South, South East and South West commissions, but however had a set back as he lost two of his leaders, Secretary General, Barr. Musa Lawal Ozigi and Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Kwara State, Comrade Akinsola Akinwunmi in the Abuja-Kaduna train bomb attack that killed innocent passengers on their way to Kaduna for the inauguration of the Northern commission.
This however has not deterred the organised labour who has since rolled out its agendas and intensify effort in the struggle for the political reclamation of the country.
Partnering with other parties
The NLC President said Labour will not rule out partnership with other political parties but reiterated that workers will only vote candidates, parties that subscribe to its Charter of Demands in the 2023 Election.
Wabba, said the bottom-line is that Nigerian workers are completely tired of cycles of broken promises that threaten to turn their hopes into nightmares.
He said, “Nigerian workers have resolved to participate actively in politics. In contrast to the shameful reduction of the political discourse to mundane altercation on zoning formula amidst the burning national questions of insecurity, inflation and insolvency of the economy, Nigerian workers would engage the 2023 general election on issues premise.
“We have developed a Workers Charter of Demands as our irreducible minimum standard.”
X-raying problems confronting the workers and Nigerian poor masses, ranging from flagrant disrespect to collective bargaining signed with universities workers to minimum wage, the NLC demanded that government and private sector employers should meet workers halfway and put a glow to their hopes.
He added, “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.
“Workers should also be conscious that we all have a collective duty in this regard. At the cornerstone of our class duties must be political consciousness. At the March 2022 Nigerian Workers Political Conference, we all agreed that politics is at the root 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.”
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