It is with a deep sense of humility and keen sense of duty and history that I stand before you today in commemoration of yet another May Day. Last year’s May Day, I and my colleagues stood before you to deliver an address on the theme: “The Working Class and the Quest for Socio-Economic Revival”. Then, we spoke against the background of biting challenges in the polity and the expression of optimism that the new political dispensation under the APC government of President Muhammadu Buhari would bring about a positive change in the lives of Nigerians, as promised in the party’s campaign slogan of “change”.
Comrades, our Chief Guest of Honour and distinguished invited guests, in the last twelve months since our last May Day, we have since run into full recession that has wreaked untold havoc on the nation’s economy and brought indescribable pain on the Nigerian citizenry, especially, Nigerian workers and the poor masses of our people.
The on-going recession has affected and provoked all manners of reaction and responses from various sectors of the economy including organised labour.
Choice of this Year’s Theme
We have as theme for this year’s May Day “Labour Relations in Economic Recession: An Appraisal”. We were propelled to choosing this theme to enable us have a moment of reflection on how we, members of organised labour whose main reason for existence is the defence of the rights, privileges and aspirations of the working class and pensioners, have fared in defending these rights, of our class from being eroded.
Comrades, no doubt the challenges in the past twelve months are very daunting; it takes some courage to stand and pose such an obvious unpalatable assessment before you our members who have borne the vicious brunt of the ravaging recession in the last twelve months and more.
As workers in this Eagle Square and in the various venues around the country where this May Day is being commemorated today know so well, the immediate consequences of the recession on our economy have included crippling budget short-falls, massive devaluations of the Naira, shortage of foreign currencies, a steep rise in inflation, job losses, non-regular payment of workers and pension entitlements and significant drop in social spending and capital expenditure; all of which have combined to make life very miserable for the majority of our people.
Nigeria and UN Human Development Index 2016.
The dire situation of our country is graphically captured in the recently released United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) for 2016. This is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators used to rank countries in four areas of human development. For the second consecutive year, we have been ranked 152nd out of 188 countries for which these human development indices were compiled. With an average life expectancy of 54.5 years, Nigeria has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, as we are ahead of just 8 other countries.
In the area of infant and maternal health, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, (UNICEF), found that “Every single day, Nigeria losses about 2,300 children under five and 145 women of childbearing age. This makes our country the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality in the world.
In terms of education, the huge population of out-of-school kids presently put at 10.5 million remains an unbeatable embarrassment. According to the Nation, the World Federation of Teachers, in 2016 categorised Nigeria as among the 10 countries accounting for majority of children denied access to education.
Government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan
Precisely on March 7, 2017, President Buhari launched the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020. We acknowledge the effort of the government so far. We also take special notice of government’s economic recovery blueprint, a comprehensive and detailed piece of work. We call for its timely and judicious implementation so that it does not suffer the fate of previous blueprints.
It is our view, however, that what is needed is a return to comprehensive planning with clear articulation of sectoral priorities and projects. It is only through this mechanism that we can ensure growth and true development that would be job creating and poverty eradicating.
Given the critical and important role railway development can play in stimulating and facilitating economic development in a country as vast as ours, we applaud the efforts of government in investment in rail infrastructure. We need to emphasize, however, that the full benefits of these investments can only be reaped if provisions are made for minimum thresholds of local labour and other inputs that must be engaged in the design and building of these systems. In this regard, urgent steps should be taken to unleash the full potential of the Ajaokuta Steel project, the output of which ought to provide the raw material for the tracks and rolling stock associated with railway development.
It is equally pertinent to note that the Maritime Sector of any nation is key to national development and economic recovery in Nigeria. Therefore, it is paramount that the government should develop the maritime infrastructure, especially the access roads to our Ports and remove all the bottlenecks in order to ease the cost of doing business in Nigerian Ports.
The Challenge of De-Industrialisation
We are gravely concerned about the continuing rate of de-industrialisation in our economy. In particular, manufacturing continues to decline faced with the challenge of inadequate power supply, high cost of credit, inadequate foreign exchange supply and depreciating value of the naira. This trend needs to be reversed with a focus on key areas of the economy such as automobile, textile, petrochemical, agro allied, refineries, fertilizer and pharmaceutical industries. Other areas with great potential for growth and development include building materials, milling, paper and paper products, solid minerals, iron and steel and boat building, etc.
State of Education
Our Educational Sector has continued to decline as a result of poor funding and crisis caused by government’s penchant for not honouring collective agreements. The persistent industrial actions by the unions in the university setting, over the years, is traceable to the characteristic habit of government in reneging on agreements that it freely entered into with the unions.
Today, tens of thousands of Nigerian youth are going to other shores- in Africa and beyond to pursue their university education. The foreign exchange the country loses to this venture is considerably high. The problem of underfunding in our education system is such that we have in all the 57 years of independence not been able to, as a nation, meet the UNESCO target of spending 26% of our annual budget on education.
This problem cuts across all tiers of government. As I speak today, the Central Bank of Nigeria is in custody of billions of Naira, funds representing the Federal Government’s share of the Universal Basic Education Fund, which state governments are expected to draw from by paying their own counterpart funding. Majority of the states have failed to benefit from this fund for 2017 because they have not provided the required matching funds. This is the state of things as far as funding and provision of necessary infrastructure for our education system is concerned.
The huge progress that has been made in Asia, and in the advanced countries of the world, are due to the investment these countries have made in developing their human resources; in the education of their youth and adult population. Unless we change our attitude and pay more attention through adequate funding of our education and research institutions, we will not be able to move from our state of underdevelopment.
State of Health Care Delivery in Nigeria
It is a well-known fact that our healthcare delivery system in the country is in a state of shambles. Poor funding by all tiers of government and corruption in the healthcare system are some of the reasons responsible for this state of things.
The 2016 UNDP Human Development Index on healthcare for the country has only exposed the deep rot in the system, which has to be comprehensively addressed, will entail the commitment of the Nigerian government to put massive funding at the disposal of the healthcare delivery system to among other things upgrade infrastructure and procure modern healthcare technology and equipment for our hospitals and primary and secondary healthcare facilities.
The Minister of State for Health was quoted on the 14 of October, 2016, during the commissioning of a healthcare facility in Jalingo, Taraba State, that Nigerians spend over $1 billion annually on medical treatments abroad. This capital flight and medical tourism, in which both the rich and the poor alike are forced to seek medical treatment abroad for their illnesses, even for the most basic ones that can easily be treated in properly functioning healthcare facilities in the country. The Nigeria government must work to ensure that it meets the Africa Union’s Ministers of Health minimum benchmark/threshold of at least 15% annual budget for healthcare.
As a developing society, the government of Nigeria must consider the health of its people as one of its biggest responsibilities. If government is able to address the incidences of corruption, and underfunding, a lot of mileage can be covered in addressing the problems of the sector.
Pension and State of Pension Administration
In the last 12 months, we have witnessed serious deterioration in the administration of pension in the country. The incidences of MDAs and other employers withholding deductions from workers’ salaries and not remitting same to their Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs); cases of workers leaving public service and having to wait for up to 15-18 months for their pension issues to be processed; and non-payment for those who are already pensioners – especially by state governments are some of the problems bedevilling the pension system currently in the country.
Many state governments have used the excuse of the current recession to stall and delay their workers from joining the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS). Despite all the hitches associated with the CPS, its benefits far outweigh the demerits. A critical factor here is that it is funded, and the funds once paid into the Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) of workers, are protected from the general mismanagement and misappropriation that we see at virtually all levels of governance.
We wish to use this May Day to call on the Federal Government to prevail on its MDAs and the Ministry of Finance and Accountant General’s office to promptly remit all outstanding deductions to the respective PFAs of workers.
Furthermore, we wish to again restate the point we have made over and over again that the over N6 trillion that has accrued in the pension fund since the coming into effect of the 2004 pension reforms is not free money, nor are the funds, government’s.
We will resist efforts to remove the stringent conditions attached to their investment.
Protecting and Defending Workers Right in the Last 12 Months
As leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress and industrial unions, we have spent the last twelve months since our last commemoration here in Eagle Square in May 2016, fighting a series of battles to protect and defend workers’ rights. This ranged from public sector workers struggles with state governments, majority of whom were not prepared to prioritize payment of workers’ salaries and pensions in the various state civil services. We fought against retrenchment in both the public and private sectors of the economy; we fought for firms and manufacturers to get foreign exchange allocation to keep our factories from closing, and our jobs moved to other shores, and countries in the sub-region. Within this period, we fought against the steep increase in the price of fuel; and we fought against corruption and for good governance.
Struggle Against Increase in Price of Petrol
Comrades, distinguished invited guests, soon after our May Day celebration last year, the Federal Government increased the pump price of fuel from N86 a litre to N145 a litre. The uncompromising disposition of the Federal Government cheered on by state governors forced us to embark on a nation-wide strike.
In spite of the challenges encountered during the struggle, we stood by our tradition of defending workers’ rights and interests. Petroleum products price increase has been a recurring decimal for the past two decades or more and the argument has been the same. We continue to wonder why as a country we cannot refine our products locally for domestic use and even for export, which in the long-run would create a chain of benefits.
The full implementation of the all the palliative measures to cushion the effect of the increase in fuel price as recommended by the technical committee is still being awaited. We call on the government to expedite action on the implementation of the recommendations.
Struggle for a New Minimum Wage
One of the things that were expected to come out of the palliative committee was a technical committee that would prepare the preliminaries for setting up of a tripartite committee to negotiate a New National Minimum Wage. Comrades will recall that the NLC and our TUC counterpart had submitted a written demand for N56,000.00 new minimum wage in 2016, even before the May increase in fuel prices which had triggered huge increases in cost of transportation and the attendant spiral increases in costs of most consumer items and services across the value chains.
The technical committee has recently submitted its report to government, and we call on government without any further delay to constitute the tripartite minimum wage negotiating committee with a time lag, to submit a new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers.
As we had mentioned in many of our recent public presentations, for the on-going fight against corruption to be won on a sustainable basis, civil servants must be paid appropriate wages. While not making excuses for those engaged in corrupt practices or the corruption pandemic in our system, the truth however is that where the monthly wage of a worker is as low as N18,000.00 under the current economic situation, workers with the least inclination to steal public funds become vulnerable. Therefore our campaign for a living wage is one of the best insurance against corruption in the public service.
Plight of Federal Civil Servants
The challenge of non-payment of promotion arrears in Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, which has accumulated into billions of Naira need to be urgently addressed.
Also, of concern is the issue of training and retraining of workers, which is essential in enhancing productivity.
It is a known fact, that Agriculture can become the main stay of Nigeria’s economy; therefore, the attention given to the sector by the present administration is commendable. We call on the government to implement the long awaited hazards allowance for Agric. and Allied Workers.
Fight Against Corruption and For Good Governance
In furtherance of our campaign for good governance and struggle against corruption in the country, the Congress in collaboration with our TUC counterpart held protest rallies simultaneously in Abuja and Lagos on February 9, 2017. This was the second of such rallies since we took over the mantle of leadership of congress in March 2015.
During the February rally, we drew attention to President Buhari’s 12-point covenant with Nigerians on corruption and good governance during the presidential campaigns of 2015 and the need for his administration to follow-up on their implementation.
We have maintained our historic commitment to the fight against corruption in our country because we are clear that our lack of development is largely attributable to the level of corruption in our polity. We call on the National Assembly to speedily promulgate the whistleblower bill, which the Executive Arm of government informed Nigerians last December, was before the National Assembly. The successes the policy had garnered in the last five months of its announcement with billions of Naira already recovered on account of this is testimony that it is a right strategy in the fight against corruption.
However, as our members experiences at Federal Medical Centre, Owerri and in a number of tertiary institutions have shown, unless an iron-cast protection is guaranteed by legislation, corrupt public officers who are exposed, can seek to victimize those who exposed them. In the Federal Medical Centre’s case, the indicted Medical Director, Dr. Angela Uwakwem, is threatening those who exposed her, and withholding paying their three months’ salaries and denying them promotion.
The fight against corruption needs to be embraced by all Nigerians. As a TV hostess, Adeola Fayehun, of the Keeping it Real TV Series, has recently stated, Nigerians need to act, they need to get angry over the disclosures and discoveries of huge amounts of cash in Naira and foreign currencies that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is unearthing from the most unlikely or hidden places. This is because these amounts stolen by these people could, as she says, “transform our hospitals and equip them” into first class medical centres; these amounts could transform our tertiary institutions of higher learning into world class institutions; build standard hostels, world class libraries, cafeterias, and make us do away with crowded and dirty hostel accommodations. With the amounts being stolen from our common treasury, our roads shouldn’t be death traps, full of potholes, as we clearly have the capacity, financially, to construct well-paved roads!
For us, there is the need to strengthen the fight against corruption and make it holistic and speedy enough for Nigerians to reap the benefits by deploying the recovered looted funds into meaningful development ventures. We call on the National Assembly to expeditiously pass into law the two Executive Bills that we consider critical to make the fight against corruption effective, as follow; “The Special Criminal Courts Bill”, which was submitted to the National Assembly last years; and the “Whistle Blowers and Witness Protection Bill”, meant to protest whistle blowers and witnesses from injury, death, economic sabotage, job termination, etc.
Struggle for Local Government Autonomy
In the last several weeks, our comrades in the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) have traversed all nooks and crannies of the country in a renewed campaign for Local Government Autonomy as an independent tier of government. We fully endorse and commend the nation-wide campaign by NULGE to free local governments from the strangle-hold of governors, who have been holding democracy hostage in the local governments within their respective states.
We urge the National and State Assemblies to ensure that the constitutional amendment scales through this time around to free our local governments.
On the Aviation Sector
The recent pronouncement by the federal government to concession four of our most viable Airports call for caution. Our aviation sector unions have raised serious concerns about issues of security, fate of thousands of workers and pensioners in the employment of FAAN and other aviation agencies. They also raised concerns about the experience of existing concessions/privatization like those with Bi-Courtney Aviation Services, owners and managers of MMA2 – which owes FAAN about N3.8 billion, even as FAAN by its obligation continues to provide services such as aviation security, fire cover, rentals, marshallers, electricity, water and other sundry services.
Government should also withdraw/cancel concessions in all FAAN revenue generation points, to allow for public accountability and transparency.
As patriots, we as Nigerian workers are categorically and unequivocally opposed to any move to concession and privatize our Airports!
Revival of National Carrier
We had hoped that the current administration would prioritize the refloating of a national airline; given its obvious numerous advantages to our nation with the highest number of airline patrons across the African continent. It is unbelievable that a country of over 180 million people cannot boast of a national carrier despite the many reasons why we should be doing so.
For reasons of enhancing our tourism potentials, within and outside the country, adding to our gross domestic earnings, serving as National heritage, boosting our international air transportation system, serving as catalyst for deserved international charge and reciprocity given several unutilized routes across the world, to mention just a few reasons why it is necessary to have a national carrier.
The experience of many of the private airlines that have gone under clearly demonstrates that, that route is not an alternative to a proper reflecting of national carrier by the Nigerian government.
State of Electoral Reforms
In our last May Day address, we talked about unfinished reforms in the electoral system. Since then we have had elections, a number of which had been inconclusive largely because politicians did everything to subvert the electoral processes for individual and party gains. President Buhari within the period appointed the Senator Nnamani Committee on electoral reforms; and the Senate passed the recent amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act.
We appreciate the Senate’s positive amendments to allow for electronic voting, including the use of Smart Card Readers, and providing for legislation on the death of a candidate before completion of elections, which aptly takes care of the confusion that arose from the last November elections in Kogi State.
We further appreciate the Senate for criminalizing electoral offences for falsification of results. This is a welcome development, as the recent indictment of about 202 INEC officials for accepting gratification in the last elections is a national shame that should be checked.
However, we believe that its work has not been far-reaching enough in view of the dire challenges still confronting the nation in the electoral process and the subsisting robust recommendations of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee Report.
There is need for the establishment of an Electoral Crimes Commission for a holistic apprehension of electoral crimes and checking the unprecedented mayhem and violence that have continued to be blight on the nation’s electoral process. There is also the need for appropriate amendments to ensure that the process of determining election petitions, including appeals must be concluded before the swearing in of elected officials to save public funds in the hands of those with illegal mandates and the anxiety and graft that go with such uncertainties.
It is our hope that the Senator Nnamani Panel set up by President Buhari will come up with the above and other salient recommendations from the Justice Uwais Committee before it, and that the current administration would work for their legislation and implementation in time for the 2019 general elections.
We call on INEC to take a cue from the 2015 elections, which was acclaimed to be the most credible, fair and free process in our electoral history, to strengthen its preparations towards subsequent elections including the 2019 general elections by proper adaptation to technology given the challenges of e-voting and the use of Smart Card Readers. The electoral body must also perfect its logistics arrangements to ensure that electoral materials are delivered on time, commence the continuous voters registration exercise, intensify voters’ education and stakeholder’s consultations for adequate enlightenment of the citizenry.
Security and Chibok Girls
We shall use this celebration to congratulate the government and people of Nigeria on the successes recorded in the fight against terrorism and the gradual return of normalcy to the North-East of Nigeria, and the return of peace to the Niger-Delta region.
However, the victory over Boko Haram cannot be complete without the rescue unharmed of the girls. It has been three years since they were abducted in painful and complicitous circumstances.
Owing to the effort of this government, 81 of these girls have been reunited with their families or in secure locations pursuing their education. However, 195 are said to still be in captivity. We therefore, call on the government, especially Mr. President to step up the process of the rescue of the remaining girls in captivity. No demand can be said to be too much for their freedom.
Senate-Executive Face Off
Never in our recent history has a government gained so much goodwill and acceptance by the citizenry in the face of excruciating economic crisis. This seeming benevolence of the people has failed to propel the government to move faster in governance and implementing some of its policies. This unfortunate state of affairs has been partly attributed to the acrimonious relationship between the Executive and the National Assembly, especially the Senate. This ought not to be, as the ruling party, APC, controls the federal government and has a majority in the hallow chambers.
For this lack of synergy between both arms of government, the 2017 budget remains comatose in the Senate, and the screening of 27 Commissioners of INEC kept at abeyance. The implication of not passing the budget almost five months into the year translates into delay in delivering on infrastructural and political development, and will negatively impact on preparations on the electoral body in conducting upcoming elections.
Though the contention has been the rejection by the Senate of the Acting EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, twice for confirmation and the insistence of the Federal government on his appointment, some have hinted on other motives for this bad blood. Based on facts in the public domain, the position of both arms of government is wrong-headed and does not warrant holding the nation to ransom.
While the point has been made by the Senate, we find it rather unwarranted for it to play politics with the issue and refuse to carry out its statutory functions. We call on the Senate and the Federal government to bury the hatchet to expedite the passing of the budget and the screening of the electoral officers in the interest of the nation. We also urge the APC as the ruling party to get its act together and wade into this face-off with a view to giving sustainable traction to implementation of government policies.
For democracy to work there must be synergy in the work of the three arms of government through meaningful consultations, constant communication and collaboration for the common good of the Nigerian people.
We have an ongoing migration crisis where our youth take unimaginable risks travelling from Nigeria and other West African countries across harsh terrains in the Sahara Desert and through the Mediterranean Sea upon reaching Libya in their quest for greener pastures in Europe. In the process there is a recent report of a thriving slave market on migrants of African descent, including Nigerians, passing through Libya to Europe for work. The African migrants are sold for ridiculous amounts and are held in ransom for up to 3 or more months to engage in forced labour and sexual exploitation. While mass graves have been discovered in the desert, 3,777 persons had died in 2015, 600 were officially recorded last year to have lost their lives.
Given that over 90% of our youth who undertake these hazardous and precarious journeys do so for economic reasons, our various layers of government from local government, to state and federal must see the degrading treatment of our nationals by other nations as a compelling challenge to fix our country and our economy, so that the much sought after jobs and decent living can be provided here in our country, and in the African continent. This is why we will continue to ask our various governments to deliver on their electoral promise to create millions of jobs for our teeming youthful population.
We similarly call on our government, that it must do more to impress it on other nations that our citizens must be treated with dignity, if they have to be repatriated home from destination countries. A recent feature in the Daily Trust (24th April, 2017) puts the estimated number of Nigerians in various detention camps, waiting to be deported at over 10,000.
In the same vein, we need to do more as a nation to convince the African Union to take a tougher collective stand against the maltreatment of African migrants by their European Union counterparts.
On our part as organised labour, we are taking up these issues with our counterparts in Europe and elsewhere where these inhuman treatments of our people are manifest. We have also taken it upon ourselves to start an awareness programme among our youths against the unreal belief that there is a greener pasture out there in Europe and America – that we need to necessarily work together to make our governments caring and accountable.
This is the unfortunate and ugly side of the current neo-liberal globalization in the world today: while capital is free and can be moved from one part of the world to another within minutes, labour is restricted and chained. As neo-liberal globalization also concentrates an unbelievable amount of wealth in the hands of the tiny one per cent (1%) of the population in developed (and developing) countries, this has engendered an upswing of negative nationalism in the developed societies of Europe and North America. As Nigerians, and as Africans, we as organized labour must endeavour to get our governments to protect our citizens from the double jeopardy of hostility in their home countries, while they work to take over our economies, and preventing it from working in our interest.
Since our last May Day, we have witnessed at least two incidences of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa – in December last year and in February this year. While condemning this brother on brother attack on Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Zambians, Malawians, Sudanese and other Africans, we had called on the South African government to go beyond condemning the attacks, and investigate, prosecute and punish persons or groups that might have played any role in the mindless attacks on fellow Africans. We had contended that such a firm action would send a message that those who instigate and/or participate in xenophobic attacks would not go unpunished.
Subsequently, a delegation of our National Assembly went to South Africa to do an on the spot assessment of the situation, and met with their South Africa counterparts, government officials, the Nigeria Union of South Africa and the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki (who had lived in Nigeria for over 3 years in the late 70s). We hope that the Nigerian government will study their report and follow up with necessary communication with the South African government to ensure that the ugly incidences of attacking fellow Africans for their unfulfilled economic aspirations and expectations are brought to an end.
We equally, on that occasion last February called on African governments to demonstrate responsive, responsible and accountable stewardship to their people as ways to mitigate the growing frustration and despondency among the ordinary people of our countries.
Recently too there have been disturbing cases of mob attacks on Africans and Nigerians in India. African diplomatic missions must firmly condemn such attacks, and let the Indian government know that if these attacks are not checked, there will be repercussions. Our government needs to come up with a swift response mechanism against any foreign government that violates the fundamental human rights of Nigerians in any part of the world.
Unwavering Support for the Cause of Western Sahara
The Nigeria Labour Congress has over the years being unshaking in its support for the independence of Western Sahara. We have in the past, had delegations to the liberated territories of Western Sahara led by a previous President and ranking officers of Congress. Since our last May Day, an important development in the Western Saharan struggle for total independence has been the return to the African Union (AU) by Morocco, which left the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) about thirty years ago in protest over the admission of Western Sahara as an independent African state into the OAU.
Morocco currently illegally colonises two thirds of the territory of Western Sahara, against the wishes of the Saharawi people. This is with the complicity and support of the United States of America and France. Now that Morocco has decided to return to the AU, Nigeria must work with other member states of the AU to get Morocco to accept the independence of the Saharawi Democratic Republic (SADR) and pull out from the occupied territories. President Buhari, during his first coming as Nigerian Head of State, stood for social justice on Western Sahara, and opposed Moroccan colonialism of a fellow African country. Thirty years afterwards, we call on the Buhari government to remain steadfast in support of the independence struggle of the Saharawi people.
Cuba: We stand with our Cuban Comrades!
On this May Day, we extend our solidarity greetings to the people of Cuba. We continue to salute the resilience and perseverance of the Cuban people. Even in the face of decades of economic blockade, military threats and isolationism, Cuba was able to stand the test of time and the Cuban human spirit triumphed over its mighty neighbour, the United States of America, which, for over five decades tried to bully the Cuban people to submission.
We must never forget the sacrifices that Cuba made in the fight against colonialism, global imperialism and the evils of apartheid in countries like Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and South Africa. And a couple years ago, Cuba again demonstrated divine solidarity by sending thousands of doctors including other medical personnel to combat the Ebola virus in the affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. These achievements were realized under the revolutionary leadership of Fidel Castro. The legendry Fidel Castro left the world stage at the ripe age of 90 a few months back. This is the 1st May Day being celebrated since his death. Our Castro embodied the greatness and the gallantry of the Cuban people.
We call on the Nigerian government, African nations and the international community to continue to support Cuba and intensify pressure on the United States to fully lift the economic embargo on the Cuban people. They must ensure that the momentum of achievements of the Obama administration in opening up diplomatic ties and encouraging minimal exchanges and transactions with Cuba is not truncated by the Trump administration, but propelled to greater heights for complete removal of the unjust economic sanctions.
On this May Day, we must remember the struggle of workers in neighbouring countries. Lawyers and teachers as well as other organisations in civil society have been on strike and street protests for over 6 months protesting against horrendous human rights violations perpetrated by the government on the English speaking people of North West and South West regions of the country. For this, government has arrested a number of persons including lawyers, teachers, members of Parliament, students and other activists, who have been languishing in jail under the most horrible and inhuman conditions. The crisis has also witnessed the cutting off of internet services as well as several politically-motivated killings, assassinations, maiming and torture of trade unionists and other activists considered opponents to the government’s systematic discrimination and dehumanization policies against the English speaking regions of the country. To escape this brutality of the state, hundreds of activists have been compelled to flee the country and go into exile in several countries including Nigeria.
We join trade unions and other civil society organisations, to call on the Cameroun government to stop this wanton arrests and detentions, demilitarize the English speaking regions of North West and South West and restore their internet access, and accede to demands to hold a Constitutional referendum that will determine the form of government best suited to the two systems of Anglophone and Francophone inherited in the country based on historical circumstances.
We further urge the Nigerian government to work with other neighbouring countries as well as African Union to bring an end to the crisis and bring about peaceful resolution of this avoidable crisis.
Going back to the Theme of this Year’s May Day
Before concluding the speech, we need to go back to the theme of the celebration and reflect on what it entails for us as Leaders and cadres of the Labour Movement. As we all already know, Labour relations in times of economic crisis are often turbulent. We have had continuing crisis of non-payment of wages, allowances and pensions almost across board. Even with two bailouts by the Federal Government and Paris Club loan refunds to states, as at this May Day, about 12 state governments still owe their civil servants several months of unpaid wages, pensions and gratuity.
We have no doubt that the debtor states have deliberately sought not to prioritize payment of workers’ salaries and entitlements. Reports have indicated recently that part of the problem of state is that of obtaining loans that tied the states to debt bondage. Cutting down on cost of governance and keeping security vote at not more than 5% of the state’s revenue, will go a long way in making resources available to address the current situations in most states.
For the working class, pensioners and their families across the world, no day can be greater than today. For us in Nigeria, the observance of May 1 as a national holiday did not come easy. Barely six months in office in 1980, the progressive governors of old Kano and Kaduna States, the late Mallam Abubakr Rimi and Mallam Barabe Musa declared May 1 as a public holiday. This patriotic initiative propelled the Federal Government under Alhaji Shehu Shagari to declare May 1, 1981 a national public holiday. We must therefore, continue to pay tributes to these visionary leaders as we celebrate this year’s workers day.
This address cannot be complete without saluting the courage, resilience and patriotism of Nigerian workers who have borne the burden of the profligacy and sins of the unrepentant ruling elites. But enough is enough, as there is a saying that for every good story, there is an end.
Distinguished guests, Comrades, permit me to conclude this address by paying tribute to our founding fathers who bequeathed to us this marvelous vehicle of struggle for the liberation of the oppressed workers of the world and of the Nigerian nation. We pay tribute to all the leaders of our movement from Pa Imoudu, our Labour Leader No 1, to all those who have led our movement at the National NLC level, and at affiliate levels, and at State Council levels, etc. On this May Day, we commit and dedicate ourselves to the service and cause of working class movement.
Dare to struggle!
Dare to win!!
Victory is ours!!
Thank you very much