By Bimbola Oyesola
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday directed workers in the seven states of Zamfara, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Cross River, Abia and Imo to commence indefinite strike to force the respective state governments to implement the new minimum wage.
Labour handing down this directive in its New Year message said that the affected states are yet to implement the new minimum wage.
This is even as it insisted that workers and the masses would not accept any further increment in the pump price of fuel in the guise of subsidy removal, urging workers and the citizens to prepare for total war against any hike.
President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, in his New Year message entitled: “Year 2022 felicitations: Keeping our hopes and aspirations alive in the New Year,” said that the directive to commence indefinite strike in the affected states was in line with the decision of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
He said: “We have asked our state councils to commence industrial actions against state governments that are yet to implement the new national minimum wage and pension.
“It is disheartening that amidst the current economic crunch prevalent in the country, some state governors still need persuasion to pay workers the national minimum wage.”
According to the NLC boss, “Nigerians would recall that the national minimum wage was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in April 2019. Since then, the implementation of the national minimum wage has been a tale of mixed fortunes across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. While some states are in compliance, others are not.
“While most of the states in the Northwest geopolitical zone have started implementing the new national minimum wage, there is an exception in the case of Zamfara State which has refused to pay the national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment to workers in the state. In the Northeast, the exception is Taraba State,which is yet to fully implement the new national minimum wage. In the North-central, there are still challenges of full implementation in Benue and Kogi states.
“In the Southwest, most of the states are already in compliance. In the South-south, the weak link is Cross River State, which has spurned all negotiation agreements and entreaties to pay workers in the state the new national minimum wage and consequential salary adjustment.
“In the Southeast, the Imo and Abia State governments remain thorns in the flesh of workers. Apart from refusing to fully implement the national minimum wage and consequential salary increase, the state governments have also been promoting clandestine and rogue labour leaders unknown to the labour movement.”
In a nine-page statement, NLC, among other things, said: “Still, the government is not relenting in its determination to push through further increases in the pump price of petrol and which as usual had been dubbed as ‘removal of petrol subsidy’.
“Well, Organized Labour has made its position clear on this matter. We have told government in very clear terms that Nigerians have suffered enough and will not endure more punishment by way of further petrol and electricity price increases.”
Reiterating its plan to resist further increase in the pump price of petrol from the proposed removal of subsidy this year, NLC urged Nigerian workers and people to dust their sneakers and fully participate in the peaceful protests and rallies aimed at salvaging the economic future.
Wabba said that the congress position was predicated on four major grounds, which he pointed out was first on the deceit and duplicity associated with the politics of “petrol price increase” by successive Nigerian governments.
He added: “The truth is that the perennial increase by government of the pump price of petrol is actually a transfer of government failure and inability to effectively govern the poor masses of our country. We are talking of the failure of government to manage Nigeria’s four oil refineries and inability to build new ones more than 30 years after the last petrochemical refinery in Port Harcourt was commissioned; the failure to rein in smuggling; and the failure to determine empirically the quantity of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The shame takes a gory dimension with the fact that Nigeria is the only OPEC country that cannot refine her own crude oil.
“During the negotiations that trailed the last increase in petroleum prices, Organized Labour made a cardinal demand on government which is that it must take immediate steps to revamp and rehabilitate Nigeria’s refineries. A technical committee was set up to monitor progress in this regard. As we all know, the work of the technical committee like our abandoned public refineries has ground to a halt and further negotiations with government adjourned sine die for nearly one year now. As a responsible social partner, we have at different times called on government to show us what they are doing in response to our demands, but silence is the response we get.
“All we hear from government are half-hearted media pronouncements on efforts to allocate funds for the rehabilitation of our public refineries. On ground, there is no commensurate action. Between 2012 and now, about $9.5 billion has been spent on Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), Greenfield Refinery Projects and even public investments in private refineries.
“The tragedy is that despite these humungous investments of public funds, government continues to present the crisis of mass importation of refined petroleum products into Nigeria and the consequent import-based pricing regime of refined petroleum products as a fait accompli. This neo-colonial narrative in Nigeria petroleum sub-sector is what the Nigerian working-class family has rejected as unfathomable and unacceptable as it is antithetical to the notions of sovereignty and self-actualization and a mockery of the sacrifice of our heroes past.”
The NLC president listed the second as the missed opportunities and hemorrhage of potential revenue to public coffers from government’s continued apathy to reconstructing the current negative narrative in the downstream petroleum sub-sector.
He noted that the advantages and multiplier effect of local refining of petroleum products in Nigeria are enormous, listing the angle of mass job creation, increase in revenue accruable to government, promotion of environmental integrity in oil bearing communities.
“The truth is that with self sufficiency in oil refining, Nigeria will be able to meet not only demand for local consumption, but also will be in a grand position to cater for the refined petroleum needs of the sub-region and the African continent as a whole,” he stated.
He said that the NLC has also already described the idea of paying transport allowances as robbing ourselves to pay ourselves as the amount being bandied for such transport subsidy clearly outstrips the amount that is currently expended on the so-called petrol subsidy.
He explained that the third is based on the fact that as a pan-Nigerian organization, Organized Labour is concerned that the crisis in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sector has further been aggravated by the persisting tumult in the upstream subsector.
“It was recently reported that almost 200 million barrels of crude oil were lost in 2021. This was as a result of crude oil theft, ageing infrastructure, poor long-term investment outlay, poor security of our inland waterway, and challenges arising from conflicts with oil bearing communities and host communities of oil facilities. This is very unfortunate. Even more disturbing is the fact that just like the failed TAMs, no major culprit has been arrested and successfully prosecuted,” he said.
On the fourth ground for rejecting any further increase in the pump price of petrol, Wabba said that it is based on the NLC agreement with government in September 2020 that any further increase in the price of petrol should be shelved until the government and labour undertake a review of the state of local refineries in Nigeria as well as government taking commensurate action to revamp the public petroleum refineries.
“It is in these lights that we consider the current proposals by government at the clear promoting of Bretton Woods Institutions to increase the pump price of petrol as anti-people, insensitive and a disservice to the welfare of Nigerian people which government is constitutionally mandated to protect,” he said.
“At our organ meetings which took place between December 15 and 17, 2021, the Nigeria Labour Congress took a decision to protest the planned hike in the pump price of petrol by government. The protest has been scheduled to take place in all the 36 states of the federation on the 27th of January 2022. The protest in the state would culminate in the submission of protest letters to the 36 state governors. Subsequently, on the 1st of February 2022, there would be a national protest to be held in the Federal Capital Territory,” he added.