By NBF News

Indeed, those in the labour world have high aspirations of what Nigeria ought to be. A nation where there will be food on the table of every Nigerian, decent work, manufacturing sector functioning optimally, where there will be light to drive the economy, where Nigerians can move around without fear of being kidnapped or go to bed without fear of attack by hoodlums where as producer of oil Nigeria will be saved from the embarrassment of turning a watch night in a bid to buy 10 litres of fuel to move on the road or keep the generator working because one cannot remember the last time electricity comes up. It is quite an enormous list.

However, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Comrade Abdul Wahed Omar, in this text frankly stated the NLC line of action in the New year to make the country what the workers can be proud of. Excerpts:

The year, 2010 had been quite demanding for our country and people. We began it with the uncertainty about the health of our late President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

The transformation of President Goodluck Jonathan from Vice President to Acting President became so contentious that it rocked the very foundations of our political system. The almighty saw us through this and gave us the wisdom to forge ahead. Quite tragically, we ended the year with the insane massacres in Jos which are coming a few months after the 50th Independence anniversary bombings in Abuja. The NLC demands of the elite not to politicize the Jos killings. Bombing innocent people has no basis in religion, regionalism or politics; Government has the duty to bring the culprits to justice.

The killings also exposed the absence of serious intelligence work; there is no reason why the security agencies have not succeeded in infiltrating criminal groups who commit such heinous crimes against the Nigerian people and polity.

The 2011 elections
The 2011 general elections hold a lot of promise for the country; a pledge that the people will choose freely their leaders for the next four years.  While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the onerous task of conducting free and fair elections, it is our collective duty as Nigerians to ensure that it succeeds. It is our responsibility to ensure that our votes count, that security agencies carry out their duty of ensuring free elections and that politicians who seek to heat up the polity with messages of hate, intolerance and divisiveness are not allowed to lead the country at any level.

The NLC demands of the political class to be issue-based rather than seek to personalize politics. We also call on the people to fully participate in the entire process: from voter registration to actual election and governance.

Cost and quality of governance
The quality of governance at all tiers is still very low; many local governments have simply become sharing centers where monthly allocations are apportioned to various political interests. Yet, local governments are designed to be the closest tier of government to the people. Many state governors also indulge more in propaganda than meeting their basic obligations to the populace.

The year 2011 should be a year Nigerians begin to insist on their sovereignty over all levels of power.

The judiciary has become a redeeming agency; delivering justice and ensuring that the political will of the people as expressed through their votes prevails.  The 2011 elections will pose new challenges and we appeal to the judiciary to be prepared and courageous enough to deliver justice.

As part of transparency, the NLC calls on the National Assembly to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill and to open its financial books to public scrutiny.  It should cut drastically its jumbo pay packet.  If the parliament is not transparent, it cannot effectively exercise its oversight functions without fear or favour.

Minimum wage and worker's welfare.
It is sad that worker's welfare continues to be neglected. Even when the labour movement out of patriotism and a desire for industrial peace agreed to a national minimum wage of N18,000, government has failed to get this near-starvation wage implemented.

The primary duty of labour in the New Year is to get the N18,000 National Minimum Wage Bill passed, and implemented. We advise state and federal governments to ensure the speedy implementation of the new wage because the labour movement will be demanding arrears.

The NLC also calls on various organizations and personalities in the country, who had prevailed on the labour movement in November to shelve its warning strike over the new wage to ask government to keep to its side of the bargain. Everything must be done in this new year to avert an avoidable general strike and industrial crisis over the Minimum Wage.

After years of appealing to employers and putting pressure on government to protect the basic rights of workers to decent employment, the NLC has decided to directly tackle employers in 2011who enslave workers. As a first step, it is resuscitating its Anti-Casualisation Committee to check the evil effects of casualizing permanent work, depriving employees of basic right to paid leave, job security and unionization. We call on employer federations, the legislature and the executive to join us in restoring the dignity of the worker at the workplace.

Mass employment and unemployment
The policy direction of the Federal Government in the 2011 Budget as regards employment generation is commendable. We identify with its plans to initiate a new National Job Creation Scheme and its emphasis on labour-intensive public works. We, however, caution that the scheme should not be reduced to another bureaucracy where money is thrown at a problem with little positive results. The congress also advises that the labour movement should be involved in the Scheme to ensure that the interests of the working class is protected and projected.

Also commendable is the government's policy of reviving industries such as that of textile which had closed down over the years. However, we find its decision to re-open the floodgates of textile and furniture importation as a defeat of the very policy of re-industrialization. We call on the Federal Government to protect local industries as is done by patriotic governments across the globe.

Education crisis
The NLC is sad that our education at all levels is in crisis. There is confusion on the education system while mass failures in the post- primary school leaving examinations dictate a thorough review of the system. Also, quite worrisome is the poor funding of tertiary institutions that has led to strikes especially in state universities.

In 2011, there is the need for the Federal Government to initiate steps to restore normalcy in the education system, find solution to mass school certificate failure, and work out ways of funding and improving infrastructure especially at the tertiary level.

The continuation of the amnesty programme in 2010 saw to relative peace in the Niger Delta.  But the fundamental challenges of sustainable development and mass unemployment for the youths of the area remain. Therefore in 2011, the Federal Government must meet most of these challenges as well as those posed by the Islamic fundamentalists of Boko Haram, and the criminals who have made street bombings, kidnapping and armed robbery their profession. We appeal to government to employ more of intelligence work than the physical combat of crimes. This is more so when the criminals are getting more sophisticated.

The Congress remains opposed to the auctioning of the refineries in the name of deregulation.

For us, the continuing crisis in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry with such symptoms as products scarcity, non-functioning of our refineries, inefficiency and corruption in the regulatory agencies and total dependence on importation of fuel is not only a national disgrace, but is completely unacceptable.

Our country remains the only major oil producer whose domestic fuel consumption is based on importation. This scenario is not only harmful in social and economic terms; it is equally perilous in the context of our national security.

We wish to explicitly restate that we are unequivocally opposed to any reform that would only lead to increases in the prices of petroleum products with its attendant spiral effects on the entire economy.

The fact that 2010 enjoyed steady supply of petroleum products at official rates, which is highly commendable, shows that it is possible to ensure the improvement of the welfare of people with commitment from government. It also reveals that if there is the will and commitment from all and sundry, things can work smoothly in Nigeria. We can only ask that this steady and adequate supply of petroleum products be sustained.

The power sector
The issue of power generation and distribution remains a daunting challenge. The sector has equally gulped billions of naira without commensurate improvement in services. This sad situation has led to the closure of factories or relocation of many businesses from Nigeria to neighbouring countries where there exists improved power supply.

In the face of this lack of improvement, and largely due to the failure of virtually all privatized public companies, NITEL being the most glaring example, Congress is opposed to the planned privatization of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).  In this regard, we will support and strengthen the struggle of the electricity workers against the privatization of the electricity sector in the country.

Congress will also resist the planned increment in electricity tariff which we see as putting the cart before the horse, the logical step to take is to first improve the generation of sufficient power before the question of increasing tariff.

International affairs
Congress is proud of the Federal Government's positions on the political crisis that rocked Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry and Cote d'Ivoire. We urge the government in the New Year, to lead moves to restore normalcy in Cote d'Ivoire by ensuring that the peoples' choice, Alassane Ouatara, leads an undivided country. A military solution is quite tempting, but it will lead to the needless loss of lives and possible disbandment of the Ivorian military which will create fresh problems.  More innovative ways of easing out Laurent Gbagbo is required for lasting peace in that country.

It is our conviction in Congress that one of the greatest challenges for us in 2011 is to become more proactive citizens; to collectively become very active participants in our democratic process, take our destiny in our hands and push for a better society built on the principles of participatory democracy and good governance.