• We need willing partners in anti-graft war, says Buhari
By Paul Obi in Abuja
As Nigerians yesterday celebrated Workers’ Day, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) called on the federal government to urgently set up a special and separate account for recovered looted funds and channel such funds to job creation, describing rising unemployment as Nigeria’s greatest economic crisis at present.
The call came as President Muhammadu Buhari said government was in dire need of willing partners in the fight against corruption, stating that the administration remained committed to addressing the current economic ills in the country.
Represented by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the president said: “This administration shall effect positive change in the lives of average Nigerians to ensure that the downtrodden are elevated, and most importantly to fight the intense pain of corruption which has enriched the very few to the detriment of the majority of Nigerians who groan under the overwhelming weight of poverty and all the super structural and infrastructure maladies resulting from corruption.
“In this fight against corruption, I need you all to be very willing partners. Fighting corruption in the public service, in particular, requires workers to play a major role by cooperating with the government.”
Speaking against the backdrop of the excruciating economic hardship in the country, Buhari said: “I make no excuse as this government of the APC is determined to tackle headlong, all socio-economic ills that have troubled our nation and we shall evolve solutions to emerging threats to our wellbeing and the realisation of sustainable development, as well as growth anchored on equity and social justice.”
While requesting the cooperation of organised labour, the president observed that the partnership was necessary for a vibrant economy and increased investment.
“I request your cooperation and understanding as partners in progress. The need to ensure a conducive atmosphere devoid of incessant industrial actions becomes paramount to ensure no loss of man-days and accordingly, promote high productivity, which is a prerequisite for sustainable development based on increased investment, creation of jobs as well as protection of jobs.
“I further assure you that working together, this administration will protect workers’ rights and shall promote incentives for great productivity and enhance greater prosperity,” he said.
Addressing the large number of workers at the Eagle Square, venue of the Workers’ Day celebration, NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said the call for government to set up a special account has become imminent so as to address the monster of unemployment ravaging Nigeria, which he said was capable of derailing the country’s social and economic prospects.
Wabba said: “Nigerians had voted the current APC government under President Muhammadu Buhari in the belief that his personal integrity as a man of virtue and experience, would help to bring about positive change in their lives, as promised in the party’s campaign slogan of ‘Change’.
“This May 2016 marked the first anniversary of the coming into office of the current administration. What has been the scorecard of the government in addressing the problems it met on assuming the reins of governance? What has happened in the areas of national security, in the fight against corruption, in the efforts to revive the economy and provide jobs to Nigerians, to cite a few concrete areas in the last 12 months?”
The NLC stated that it takes the issue of corruption seriously, given the ripple effects it has on the nation.
He said: “As organised labour, we were perhaps the first to share the current government’s concern about the impact of corruption on our national life.
“We believe that one of the fundamental problems of our country at the moment is endemic corruption. This has penetrated all facets of our national life and is responsible in a very large part for our retarded development.
“Indeed, there is a convergence between our own promise to Nigerian workers during our 11th Delegates Conference in February/March 2015 and the campaign promise of President Buhari during the general election, which came after ours on March 28, 2015.
“This was what motivated us early in September 2015 to mobilise our members and allies in the civil society to have the one day national rally against corruption and for good governance.
“In our letter to Mr. President, the leadership of the National Assembly and state governors on that occasion, we canvassed for all stolen funds identified and recovered to be kept in a special account and appropriated for job creation, funding education, infrastructure and upgrading our health care infrastructure;
“The establishment of special anti-corruption courts to try corruption cases throughout the country; all elected and appointed public officers to publicly declare their assets and liabilities upon assumption of office; an urgent need to review and strengthen our anti-corruption legislations; an expansion of the whistle blowing and fraud protocol by the EFCC to include payment of 10 per cent of the forfeited undeclared assets to the whistle-blowers/informants when successfully prosecuted;
“For anti-corruption agencies to, as a matter of urgency, extend their searchlight to the two tiers of government, the states and local governments; the appointment of anti-graft judges as provided for in the ICPC Act, in the 36 states of the federation to handle corruption-related cases exclusively; and a drastic downward review of the unsustainable high cost of operating the current democratic dispensation.”
Wabba also deplored the federal government’s sloppiness at engendering a reliable electoral system for the country, stressing that the government’s indifference to the calls for thorough electoral reforms has severe consequences on the polity.
“In our last May Day address, we were full of praise for the former chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, for his firmness in refusing to be manipulated by politicians, and for standing his grounds in ensuring that new technological innovations helped to reduce rigging substantially in the March/April 2015 general elections.
“We also praised the statesmanly role played by then President Goodluck Jonathan in allowing the will of the electorate to prevail without executive interference.
“However, the required reforms needed to perpetually guarantee this nation free, fair and credible elections are not yet completed.
“Despite the fact that in the last 12 months of President Buhari’s regime, INEC has been left to run its show as it deems fit, the desperation of politicians of the two mainstream parties gives us a lot of cause for concern.
“Unless the unfinished reforms started with the partial implementation of the Justice Mohammed Uwais’ electoral reform committee are completed, we see danger ahead.
“Among these reforms waiting to be implemented is the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission. For us in organised labour, unless our politicians know that there is a real possibility that their electoral rascalities carry real penalties of jail terms or long-term disqualification from contesting for public office, the type of disgraceful mayhem witnessed during the recent election in Rivers and other states would continue unabated.
“Similarly, unless we fine-tune the procedure for the appointment of the chairman and key officers of the electoral management body as recommended in the Justice Uwais report, the current progress made in the independence and operations of INEC are not irreversible,” Wabba stated.
On the electricity tariff hike, NLC observed that all its demands “have failed to persuade government to do the right thing”.
“We have the mandate of the Central Working Committee (CWC) of congress that should this intransigence on the part of government, the Discos and Gencos continues, we must prepare to hold a national strike to force the reversal of the latest increases.
“We call on Mr. President to direct his officers running the agencies and ministry responsible for the electricity sector to respect the overwhelming wish of Nigerians, and halt the increase,” he said.
While tackling the governor of Kaduna State for the second time, the NLC president added: “As organised labour, we are determined to stop Governor el-Rufai from trampling on the fundamental rights of our members.
“We are not prepared to surrender our hard-won rights/freedom to belong to unions, to a governor, who yesterday (during the January 2012 fuel protests) was happy to wear our union T-shirt and march with us on the streets of Abuja.
“In the interest of industrial peace and harmony in the state, we call on the governor’s superiors in the ruling party to advise him to retreat from the path he has chosen.
“We want to ask our allies in civil society among professional bodies, market men and women, peasants and others to continue to join hands with us as we campaign to build a more equal society from what currently obtains.”
Also, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Bobboi Kaigama, bemoaned the approach the federal and state were adopting in running the economy.
“When a budget is delayed, the economy and the people suffer, which is exactly what we are facing right now. Nevertheless, we are not so much bothered about the increase or decrease in the budget provided the money is judiciously used. There is the dire need to increase investment in infrastructure as a way to revive the economy.
“For example, Dunlop closed shop because it was spending about N150 million to power its plants monthly. The federal government must show its seriousness by ensuring that the budget pays special attention to infrastructure and job creation.
“More teachers, military and police officers need to be employed. The private sector likewise needs a friendly environment to operate,” Kaigama said.
He stated that “the idea of empowering market women via loans is good. However, we frown on governors giving male and female goats to widows in the name of ‘empowerment’.
Getting graduates to sweep the streets can also not be adjudged to be empowerment. Under the framework system theory, when an organ is affected others naturally feel it too.
“When infrastructure, for instance, is fixed other sectors will find their bearing. We expect much from this government in the area of economic diversification into non-oil sectors such as agriculture, solid minerals, communications, science and technology and other revenue-generating areas,” he stressed.