WORKERS CHALLENGE GOVT ON 50 YEARS OF NATIONHOOD
The Workers Day popularly known as May Day is celebrated worldwide by all the workers and it has always been used as an occasion to draw the attention of both the government and other members of the society to the plights of workers. At this year's May Day celebration held at Eagle Square in Abuja, Comrade Peter Esele, President-General Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), x-rayed this in his address entitled: 50 years of Nationhood and the Working Class: Challenges of Good Governance, Unity and Credible Elections.'
A cursory look at the post independence history of this nation shows a history defined by great potentials and minuscule achievements, poverty amidst mindboggling wealth, a revolving door of military adventurism and civilian visionlessness.
The conclusion is inescapable: Nigeria is where she is today because of whom her leaders are; and the overwhelming evidence of the great damage poor leadership has done to this much abused nation is evident in every sphere of our life. The fact remains that between the last time we had this rally here a year ago and now the lot of the Nigeria workers who are the 'proverbial goose that lay the golden eggs' have not witnessed any significant improvement. We have continued to watch helplessly, as a few cabals amongst the ruling class have continued to hold the nation hostage and plunder the wealth that we all labour daily to create.
It is in keeping up with a tradition that started almost three decades ago, when the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi-led Kano State Government first declared May1, public holiday, that we are gathered here today to mark this day amidst the usual pomp and pageantry. I must not forget to crave our indulgence, to observe a minute silence for the man who blazed the trial for others to follow by declaring today public holiday in his home state Kano in 1980. The Federal government declared the first national holiday a year later in 1981.
This year's theme was chosen to appraise challenges and obstacles you and I face 50 years after, and that today is declared as a public holiday is a testimony to the hard battles that workers in this country and in other parts of the globe have waged for workers' rights and social justice. It is also a reminder to each of us present here that these are the many challenges that still confront working people and the poor in Nigeria, and which remain obstacles to sustainable human development. They will not go away until we enforce the tenants of solidarity forever.
The working class has been at the forefront of the struggle for a democratic, non-gender, prosperous and united nation. We have understood and consistently maintained that workplace struggles cannot be separated from broader social struggles; that economic justice and equality cannot be achieved without national liberation. We have also argued that, these struggles cannot be separated from the struggle for gender equality and, specifically, women' emancipation. Towards achieving this, TUC has set in motion necessary machineries to make women more active in the struggle at all levels and in no distant future TUC Women commission will be unfolding their strategies.
In the year of the eleventh anniversary of our democratic breakthrough, and the 50th anniversary of our historic 1960 independence from Britain, the question still remains: How has the working class has fared?
Human capital development
Indeed, labour, employment and productivity matters are increasingly occupying the front-burner of contemporary global discourse. This is not surprising because, in the pursuit of sustainable development, human capital, as symbolized by the collective strength of TUC, has been identified as the greatest and most valued resources any nation can be endowed with.
It is on record that many developed countries achieved greatness not because they were endowed with abundant material resources, but simply because they are able to turn their human capital to resourceful and productive uses. It is on record that Nigerian workers have stood their own in the competitive global environment. With a huge human resource base of about 150 million people and an endowment of vast material resources, Nigeria has no excuse whatsoever for occupying a seat in the league of poor nations.
TUC therefore calls on the government to channel the human capital potential of the Nigerian worker towards optimizing productivity and economic growth of a nationhood that we all crave for.
State of the nation
As we approach 50 years of independence, it is perhaps time to reflect on the progress we have made thus far and to consider the challenges facing us as a nation. The journey from independence has been nothing but weary and arduous. The story of hopes raised and dashed; the story of corruption and bad leadership; the story of abysmal failures on the economic front. Although there have been some progress at the peripherals, for most Nigerians, these 50 years have been the story of woe.
As we steadily march towards the 2011 General Elections, one issue on the minds of every well-meaning Nigerian is whether the electoral process will be free and fair. This is were you and I come in. We must all be more involved in the contestation for political power under any political platform. However, the good news is that President Jonathan said on his recent trip to U.S. that he is confident that Nigeria can indeed organize credible elections that will be free and fair in 2011. He also pledged that the on-going electoral reform will produce credible elections, noting that one of the ingredients of the reforms in the electoral system was that votes would be counted and declared at the polling boots. Mr. President while we are willing to give you benefit of doubt that you might indeed have the magic wand, we want to let you know that the whole world is watching.
On our part we have set in motion machineries for the political education of all our union leaders who will in turn retrain others. We will also partner and network with patriotic civil society groups and nationalists in the country towards taking control of the machinery of government. We must also stand together to say no to attacks on our hard-won political rights, as politics is too important to be left to the politicians alone. The Congress calls on the various arms of Government to ensure that the electoral reform proposed by the Justice Mohammed Uwais's led committee is given the attention it deserves, to save us from another embarrassment in the comity of nations.
I would like to note with regret, the sad and disheartening the way the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi died a completely avoidable death due to the insecurity in the country. The security situation in the country especially our highways is so poor, that hoodlums to take over our highways once night falls and kill and maim their helpless victims, with no help from those who are paid to protect them. Perhaps Rimi would have survived the attack; the fact that he had to wait outside the Teaching hospital, for 15 minutes for a stretcher to convey a former governor even on self recognition to the ward did a great damage to his condition before help could get to him.
This then leaves little to our imagination the treatment that ordinary Nigerians receive daily from our so-called hospitals, majority of which are in very deplorable state. It is against the above background, ladies and gentlemen, that I welcome the recent reports credited to President Good luck Jonathan, that the Federal Government will no longer be interested in funding medical trips for its officials abroad.
He said funds used for such trips would be channeled into developing tertiary hospitals across the country to international standards; as such trips have led to loss of the nation's scarce foreign exchange through unbearably rampant trips abroad. It is our prayer that he finds the political will power to pursue this decision to a logical conclusion. By so doing quality healthcare will no longer be the exclusive preserve of the ruling or upper class, those of us here today will now go to hospitals and get drugs for simple ailments like malaria which unfortunately has become the leading cause of death in Nigeria due to lack of access to quality healthcare.
Power sector reform
We commend steps taken by the President to reform the power sector with utmost sense of urgency. We appreciate the importance being attached to the reform of the sector and all the measures put in place by the President to ensure close monitoring by placing the ministry under his supervision, in addition to declaring an emergency in the Power sector. We however want to appeal to the Federal Government to take advantage of the international commitment from the World Bank to assist Nigeria in its much desired power sector reforms to ensure that a lasting solution is put in place. Anything less than putting an end to this era of an economy driven largely by generator will amount to squandering the international goodwill and attention the power sector reforms have attracted.
After several weeks of muscle flexing between, the Executive and the Legislature, over some grey areas President Good luck Jonathan, only last week signed the 2010 Appropriation bill into law. The N4.6trillion budget is predicated on an oil production capacity of 2.35 million barrels per day, an oil price benchmark of $67 per barrel and an average exchange rate of N150.00 to U.S. dollar.
While we welcome the signing f the much-awaited budget, the fact remains that what we have is an Appropriation bill of N4.6 trillion with a deficit of n1.52 trillion or 4.66 per cent of GDP, calls for a lot of concern. The budget was signed amidst wide speculation that the Federal Government has taken a loan of $915 million from the Word Bank, out of which $179 million would be drawn in the 2010 fiscal year ostensibly to finance the budget deficit of N1.52 trillion. The question is why burrow more money and increase the county's indebtedness, when already a total of N463.1 billion in the budget will be used for debt servicing.
Just this week the new minister of Finance said the nation's economy is growing at 6.6 per cent. It is unfortunate that the Country has no statistics to show how much of jobs has this growth created or probably its a 'jobless' growth He said it was important for the country to enhance the quality and efficiency of spending; adding that part of the Federal Government's duties was to ensure a coordinated fiscal and monetary policies. Also consumer inflation is expected to stay double digits through 2011 as government slashes fuel subsidies and increases budgetary spending.
State of the nation highways
Senator Sanusi Dagassh, Minister for Works told us recently that Nigerian roads are the worst in the world, after inspecting the Benin/Ore road, which has become a conduit pipe for his predecessors in office to siphon public funds. With an estimated 25 avoidable deaths daily and an average of 475 weekly, from accidents caused by the deplorable state of our roads and highways; we hope the Minister will not to toe the line of his predecessors, despite her tears still fail to make any difference on the deplorable state of the road. The Ministry must deliver on the promise of ensuring that work on all the road projects in the country are completed in record time.
Standard of living
The standard of living of the majority has been a case of 'hand to mouth.' Poverty and crime are rampant on the back of unemployment in excess of 50 per cent. Despite promises by successive governments, the country remains in darkness due to lack of power, stifling the growth and investment that are so badly needed to create jobs and lift people out of poverty. We started our journey of independence about the same time as countries like Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, to name a few.
All these countries have long overtaken us despite our oil wealth and joined the league of industrialized countries. One will be correct if said that these 50 years have been the story of leadership that has failed its people; this is the story some describe as a failed state. We have hospitals dangerously unequipped, with doctors armed only with stethoscope and drip whilst the rest of the world is racing ahead with modern technology.