NLC MAY DAY SPEECH 2009
ECONOMIC CRISES AND CREDIBLE ELECTORAL REFORMS:
MOBILISING FOR POSITIVE CHANGE
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 2009 National May Day Rally. In particular, I am pleased that Mr. President and many other senior government officials are here with us. You are all welcome. I also wish to particularly welcome to this May Day Rally all the workers, pensioners, senior citizens, the unemployed, traders, transporters, students, civil society activists and other Nigerians who have come from all parts of the Federation to be part of this occasion. Last year we held this rally together with our comrades from the TUC. The comrades from the TUC are again here with us this year. I salute them and the unity and solidarity that they have brought to our movement.
Significance of the 2009 May Day
This year’s May Day is not like any other that we have had in the past. It is taking place against the background of a major economic crisis that has affected peoples and countries around the world as at no other time in history. While the Great Depression must have had brought as much and perhaps even more pain to large numbers of people, the world was not as interconnected then as it is now and therefore, its impact was not as widespread as it is now. We are told by no other bodies than the World Bank and IMF that we shall lose more than 50 million jobs between now and the end of 2010 alone. It is doubtful if the entire workforce of the world was up to 50 million, in 1929.
The large scale on which the crisis is being felt also speaks to the magnitude of the problems that it has brought to different workers and different countries. In a country such as ours where there was already an economic and political crisis, the current global crisis of capitalism cannot but compound an already bad situation. What is more worrying is the fact that the Nigerian government appears not to fully understand the nature of the crisis before us and therefore what set of actions needs to be taken to protect our people. We therefore have absolutely no reason to be cheerful on this day, our own day! Rather, we must see this May Day as a call for reflections that must produce the kind of positive changes that we seek in our lives and in the governance and economy of our country.
The problems we face today
Let me enumerate some of the problems that workers, pensioners, senior citizens, the unemployed, traders, transporters, students, civil society activists and other Nigerians who have come from all parts of the Federation have brought to the table today. Some of these problems can be seen painted on the posters that adorn every nook and corner of this forum. When we look at the list of problems, we will find that many of them are not different from those that were displayed last year at this rally, or the year before. Indeed, over the last twenty or so years that I have been attending May Day Rallies, some of the problems have continued to appear. Last year, for example, in my address at the May Day rally here, we observed that:
‘Nigeria is still grappling with years of gross mismanagement of our resources, especially in the last few years. From what we have seen from the probes of the power sector and other revelations of high-level corruption, Nigeria works only for a few people in government and their daughters, sons, wives, husbands and associates. We cannot explain how
Emphasizing that the economy was trapped in the “malady of jobless growth”, we had advocated for a shift in government policy to focus particularly on job creation.
The global crisis and its impact on our people
It is highly regrettable that, one year after these observations, the situation has not become better but worse. The global crisis of capitalism has merely added fuel to these problems.
To begin with, the crisis brought to an end the longest commodity boom period since the war. The collapse of oil prices has had immediate and significant impact on the Nigerian economy. Government finances have fallen sharply, the naira exchange rate has depreciated significantly and there is now a general slowdown of economic activity. The stock market has experienced a huge meltdown.
The greatest victim of these sad developments has been the Nigerian worker. The already weak labour market has become more precarious, resulting in unprecedented numbers of the unemployed. Those who are lucky to remain in employment have found their standard of living steadily eroded as food and other consumer goods prices have continued to rise.
In February of this year alone, many companies shed thousands of jobs; a number of textile factories laid off 5000 employees; Dunlop laid of 400 employees; PAN laid off 565 of its 753 employees while Cadbury laid off 300 employees. The virus of job losses has continued unabated. Following the global crisis, the nation has lost huge revenues as a result of the sharp drop in crude oil prices. While crude oil prices were high, the nation’s rulers squandered or mismanaged the revenues; unlike Norway which saved its excess crude earnings or Mexico which saved its excess earnings from its main export of copper, our rulers regularly gathered to share whatever accrued as excess crude oil earnings. Today, with the sharp drop in oil prices, our rulers are looking to workers for more sacrifice forgetting that we got no benefits but suffered greatly even when a barrel of crude oil sold at USD147.
How to respond to the global crisis domestically
Distinguished Comrades and Compatriots we call on government to urgently develop and implement a pro-active policy response to the crisis. While we are aware that there are two government committees on the management of the economic crisis, we are not aware that any has come up with a clearly articulated response to the crisis. On the other hand, what we see is a concern largely with the impact of the crisis on government finances. This much was clear from the presentation made by the Governor of the Central Bank earlier this year. The problem with this approach is that it limits government’s focus in seeking interventions. Because government sees the crisis in terms of the fall in its revenues, it then pursues measures to shore up government finances without a careful consideration of their implications for other sectors of the economy.
For example, in order to shore up its revenues, government has deliberately allowed a steep depreciation of the naira. However, this measure has failed to consider the implications of the policy for the real sector which has a high import content in its production inputs. Again when most other countries have interest rates of below 3%, our government has allowed an interest rate policy that keeps the interest rate at 20% or above. This has failed to consider the implications for businesses which will need to borrow money to aid their recovery.
Distinguished invited guests, Comrades, periods of crisis are usually the best periods for rethinking and re-charting development. At the global level, many countries and individual observers are already speaking about and taking steps to realise the urgent need to re-create new global governance and regulatory frameworks. There is a great deal of awareness now that a new global financial architecture, which will take into consideration the diverse stages of development, needs to be fashioned. Moreover, it is recognised and being advocated that the process of doing this must be inclusive of all interests and that at the national level, there will be need for inclusive national discourse on the philosophy to drive development. Unfortunately, in
Thus rather than embark upon programmes of massive injection of funds into the public sector to generate jobs and employment, the Nigerian government is marching in a direction totally different from what is suggested by the appropriate policy and action response to the crisis. Today, our government is still pursuing privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation. Instead of putting in place a stimulus package, the Nigerian government is pursuing deregulation of petroleum products’ prices. Now, more public sector enterprises are to be handed over to the private sector, roads are to be concessioned while a largely uncreative foreign led and foreign dominated private sector is still being seen as being in charge of leading the development process in
We call on government to change course, to learn from its own history, to take account of common current responses that are being adopted in different parts of the world, including the
Comrades, these common experiences and existing wisdom show that the path to recovery lies in stimulating and reinvigorating the labour market. We therefore call for job creation strategies and initiatives linked to infrastructural development. We call on government at all levels to commit to public works related employment as quick and short term interventions to stimulate the economy.
Comrades, we insist that workers need to be given a stimulus package by raising the minimum wage and reviewing wages upward. To continue to maintain the legal minimum wage at
While the salaries of workers were increased by only 15% in the last three years, emoluments of the Public Office holders was increased in the last 20 months by 800%.
The tokenism of a 20% cut in their pay cannot be the response to the scandalous inequity in the present compensation scheme. I wish to, therefore, use this medium to call on the Federal government to as a matter of urgency convene the platform for negotiating a new minimum wage without further delay.
Comrades, if there is any lesson that the world is learning from the present crisis, it is that unregulated or ineffectively regulated markets cannot be relied upon for stable global and national economies. There is need for strong government regulation. At our stage of development, we believe that the government must continue to play the leading role in guiding national development through investment. In this regard, we have argued that there is need for government to return to the macro-economic planning framework that characterised the nation’s development efforts from the mid nineteen sixties until the late nineteen seventies. It is these efforts that built our refineries, our petrochemical plants, our steel plants and other major industries. These are the same industries that government has had no problem dashing out for the purpose of growing a Nigerian private sector. We have always opposed mindless privatisation and will continue to do so especially in the light of current responses to the global crisis even in the advanced capitalist countries. Some of these responses have seen the wholesale nationalisation of businesses previously thought to be the high ground of private enterprise. Whether these measures are temporary or long term, they prove the point that government, rather than the private sector, must lead the process of development. We therefore call on government to review all public enterprises that were dashed out under the privatisation exercise and to halt any such kind of privatisation of public sector enterprises.
Corruption and the public sector
Admittedly, corruption has rendered public management extremely perilous and ineffective. But the appropriate response is not privatisation but combating corruption. If anything, what the current global crisis of capitalism has shown and the cases of business scams such as those of Madoff (who stole $50 billion using the stock market) in the
‘…The issue of corruption lies, in part, at the heart of the failure of development efforts in
We want to use this opportunity, yet again to urge Mr. President to show a more passionate commitment to the fight against corruption in
We urge stricter and more vigorous prosecution of those accused of corruption by the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies in
Deregulation of petroleum products prices
This point takes us directly to the ongoing measures of government for the deregulation of petroleum products’ prices. I want to state unequivocally that Congress remains committed to its long held position on this matter and will therefore do everything in its power to save the nation the catastrophic consequences of this ill-advised policy. At a time when most nations of the world are pulling back from the realms of market fundamentalism and are adopting measures to protect their economies and citizens, it is sad that our government is allowing itself to be goaded and stampeded into adopting ideologically driven policies that will in the long-run wreck the welfare of Nigerians and the economy’s capacity to compete. If deregulation is allowed,
What government does not seem to realise is that, because of the chain effect petroleum prices have on every other commodity or service, even the savings it hopes to make by deregulation will be subsumed into the inflation that will ensue.
Fixing existing and building new refineries
We call on government to fix existing refineries and build new ones. This is what is happening in several of the oil producing countries. These countries have realised that more revenues are earned by a country when primary commodities like crude are refined domestically and then exported. We call on government to halt the exportation of crude for refining only for the refined products to be imported into
Also, we have argued many times before, given the high rate of dependence on private energy generation by manufacturers and other producers, necessitated by the unstable and unpredictable power supply and the near total dependence on road transportation for the movement of goods and persons, it is obvious that the cost of domestic production will escalate substantially as petroleum products’ prices rise. This will further lead to a loss of competitiveness of domestic goods and services in the domestic market. The obvious result is that the objective of growing the economy will become unrealisable. The implication of collapsing domestic production and the shutdown of domestic firms and factories for the goals of reducing unemployment and poverty is, of course, obvious. Shut downs resulting in lay-offs will continue to swell the ranks of the unemployed, as well as delay the recovery of the economy. In order to prevent the emergence of these implications, we are willing to work with government to eliminate inefficiencies and corruption in the management of the Petroleum Support Fund and sharp practices in the downstream sector of the industry.
Bringing light to the darkness in the energy sector
Power generation and availability are among the most vital needs of any economy for development. They have major implications for employment, job creation and national productivity. Yet, everyone in
In this regard, Nigerian workers in particular and the Nigerian people in general would like government to shed light on what has become of the Elumelu – led House of Representatives Panel of Inquiry into the contracts for electricity generation in Nigeria. While the amounts claimed to have been spent on the contracts range from USD16 billion to USD6 billion and while substantial parts of these funds were believed to have been stolen, the fact of the matter is that no one has been formally arraigned by government to account for any wrongdoing. Nigerian workers call on government to act with integrity in this matter. While the Nigerian Labour is aware of the repeated promise of the President to solve the riddle of the power sector, Nigerian workers need to see specific measures and steps being taken to deal with the problem. We would like to warn that unless this happens, Nigerian workers may have no choice but to also declare their own state of emergency on the issue.
The problem of rail transport in
Rail transportation has emerged as the most important means for transporting the largest number of people and the highest volume of goods in modern societies. It is also therefore a sector that can employ large numbers of people. It has therefore been a matter of national disgrace that the rail transport system bequeathed to the country by the colonial authorities not only could not be improved and modernised but was allowed to collapse by government. While corruption has been cited as a major factor in the collapse of the railway system, its consequences have been enormous for the entire economy. There is no doubt that it has adversely affected the level of wear and tear of the road networks, the number of accidents on our roads, the level of evacuation of goods and products and the cost of services. The NLC therefore welcomes the new initiative of government which promises to reverse the decline of the past decades. However, for the desired results to be attained, the workers of
Now let me turn to the most serious problem that today faces the nation, a problem that has been largely responsible for almost every major disaster in our country, including the disaster in the paradoxical situation of a nation that has the potential to be among the richest and most developed on earth but which still ranks as one of the poorest in the world, and without whose solution therefore, no meaningful progress will ever be made possible in Nigeria. I speak to the problem that is responsible for the festering crisis in
In 2007 President Yar’Adua moved to set up the Justice Uwais Electoral Reforms Committee not only to douse tempers but also to assure the entire country that the mistakes of the past would NEVER again be repeated. In taking this action, the President staked his personal credibility and reputation and also that of his government on the work and recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Committee. The action of government reduced the anxiety about the political future of the country; but it also created expectations that the factors that led to the setting up of the Electoral Reforms Committee would be adequately and boldly addressed not only through the work of the Committee but also through the decisions that government would take on the recommendations. If anything, the major fear throughout the entire period of the work of the committee was whether it would exercise the courage to come up with recommendations that would address the electoral worms that were eating away at the foundations of the country.
Public expectations from the process of electoral reform were particularly high on a number of issues. These included:
The Electoral Reform Committee may not have done a perfect job; however, the country was pleasantly surprised to find that it had exercised a great deal of courage and displayed rare integrity in tackling most of the gravest electoral problems that had bedeviled the nation over the last forty-five or more years.
First, against the background of the shameful role that INEC had played in previous elections, the consequences of this shameful role and the expectations of the people of Nigeria, the Electoral Reforms Committee came to the conclusion that INEC needed to be fully independent by ensuring that its chairperson was appointed through a process that removed the power of appointment from the President. The Electoral Reform Committee recommended that the position of INEC chairperson would be advertised and that following the selection of three persons by a transparent process, the council of State will then choose one of the three, and forward to the Senate, which would then confirm the appointment as chairperson. This recommendation which would have ensured that an INEC chairperson will no longer have to do the bidding of the President and that INEC would no longer be able to blatantly rig elections in favour of the President and his / her political party has been regrettably thrown out by the Federal Executive Council and the Council of State.
Secondly, recognising that the issue of rigging and how riggers benefit from the crime of rigging lies at the heart of the failed democratic experiments in
In these and other areas, the government has decided to stick with existing practices that have several times brought the nation to the brink of disaster. We want to ask: whose interests is the government serving: those of the Nigerian people or those of a few powerful politicians who believe that
On our part, we have resolved to stand by the Nigerian people. We have decided that we will defend the recommendations that truly answer to the aspirations of our people. We have decided that we will resist the attempt to impose the wishes and interests of the powerful upon the majority of Nigerians.
We have decided that we shall organise massive protests until these wishes of Nigerians for genuine electoral reforms are met.
We have decided for a start that we shall, in consultation with our Civil Society allies and other patriotic Nigerians, mobilize 20 million Nigerians to sign a petition asking the National Assembly to stand by the recommendations of the Electoral Reforms Committee.
Comrades, around this square and in every May Day ground throughout the country, there are registers for you to sign your signatures. This is to endorse our call on the National Assembly and government to fully implement the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee.
We call on our civil society partners to intensify their efforts to ensure that the darkness which has engulfed the political life in our country since independence is lifted. This can only be guaranteed when elections are made free and fair.
We shall refuse every effort to blackmail us; to paint our efforts as self-serving. We shall not relent until those who are bent on defeating
Review of Labour Laws
Comrades, before the National Assembly are some Labour bills intended to fundamentally review Labour Laws in our country to make the practice of industrial relations more effective and less cumbersome. However, some forces are trying to use the process of the review of our Labour Laws to once again reopen the agenda of weakening the NLC and its affiliate unions.
We hope that the National Assembly as it did in 2003 and 2004 will stand up for organized Labour and defeat the renewed attempt to weaken the Trade Unions.
With globalization and the rampaging powers of multinational corporations, the trade unions are the only forces that can fight the exploitation of workers in the private sector. We hope that our National Assembly members would not allow the clandestine moves to weaken our movement to see the light of the day.
Ongoing Teachers’ Strike in some States
Comrades, it would be recalled that Teachers embarked on a six week strike over the Teachers Salary Scale (TSS), last year. Following the protracted strike, it was agreed that the 27.5% wage increase approved for teachers in primary and secondary schools would be implemented in January 2009. It is a thing of regret, that this agreement has not been implemented by some states in the country. This is responsible for the ongoing strike by teachers in some states of the federation.
We call on the state governments concern to follow the path of honour and implement the wage increase so that normalcy can be restored in the primary and secondary schools in the affected states.
Plight of pensioners
As we mark this years’ May Day, the plight of our heroes past and senior citizen continues to be a source of concern to us in the labour movement. Arrears in payment of pensions running into several months, stagnation in the review of statutory pension for upwards of seven years contrary to the five years provided in the constitution, and delays in payment of gratuities have continued to plague our pension administration system in the country.
The collapse of the financial system globally which has led to some colossal losses in the Nigerian stock market, had meant that some of the pension funds invested in the Stock Exchange by the various Pension Fund Administrations (PFAs) are either lost or at the risk of being lost. Despite the assurances of the Pension Commission (PENCOM), we wish to use this occasion to call on government to give sovereign guarantee that the contributions of workers will not go down the drain in the Pension Industry.
The International situation
A major development occurred in the world when Barak Obama was elected and then sworn in as the new President of the
We urge President Obama to also continue with his vision of a new role for government and the public sector in the economy. Those of us in Third World countries are perhaps more painfully aware of the limitations of allowing full reins to an underdeveloped private sector which pretends to the mastery of leading a development process to which it has not contributed. Governments around the world need to be strengthened to play a greater and stronger role in curbing the activities of the market in our lives.
The decision to bring the
Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs)
We wish to use this occasion to restate our earlier opposition to
Comrades, our distinguished invitees, the theme of this year’s May Day Address ends with the need to mobilize for positive change.
A people who are not mobilized for positive change will always complain about how their lives could have been better but how it is so much worse than even their worst expectations. We should stop complaining. Our new slogan should be “Organize: Do not Agonise!” This slogan summarises the essence of our mood on this May Day. As we leave here, we should be resolved to defend our individual and collective integrity. We should be prepared to resist bad rulers, bad government policies and bad government decisions. We should be prepared to resist when our votes are stolen, when the electoral reforms that we expect and desire do not come, when fuel prices are raised by government in the name of removing subsidy only so that a few will reap more huge profits from inflicting pain and suffering on our lives.
In this regard, as resolved by our National Executive Council at its meeting on March 10, 2009, we shall begin a series of National rallies protests to put pressure on government to reverse its plan to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry and privatise our refineries. The protest rallies are also intended to put pressure on government and the National Assembly for the full implementation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee recommendations as well as for a living national minimum wage. Together with our civil society ally—Labour-Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), we will commence the national rallies from
Finally, comrades, let us end this address by giving five loud ovations to the people of Ekiti state who are today fighting so that their votes, and therefore ours will count!
Patient and long suffering comrades!!!!Esteemed invited Guests, I salute you.