Abuja (Sundiata Post) – As President Muhammadu Buhari marks his last May Day in office today, labour unions have scored the administration and state governors low, saying they pauperised workers and inflicted hardship on Nigerians.
They lamented the galloping inflation in the country which they said had eroded the 40 per cent pay rise recently approved by the Federal Government with effect from January.
Last week, the government paid the 40 per cent increase in allowance to various categories of federal workers but labour leaders said the pay rise had been lost to inflation.
The Consumer Price Index reported by the National Bureau of Statistics in March 2023 indicated that Nigeria’s inflation rate accelerated to a new 17-year high of 22.04 per cent.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria has one of the highest inflation rates globally and the seventh highest in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022.
When Buhari took over in 2015, petrol was sold at N87 per litre but it is presently dispensed for N196 despite the payment of subsidies by his regime.
Cooking gas prices also shot to N822.16/kg from N256/kg in eight years while electricity tariffs were hiked to N68 per kilowatt per hour from N27.20/kWh despite power outages.
Though the regime increased the minimum wage to N30,000 from N18,000, the workers submitted that food inflation which skyrocketed from 9.78 per cent to 22.72 per inflation had eroded the increase.
Speaking to The PUNCH on Sunday ahead of the May Day commemoration, the last in the life of the Buhari regime, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress also flayed governors for not paying adequate attention to the welfare of workers in their states.
‘FG inflicted pains’
The National Treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Hakeem Ambali, submitted that the outgoing regime had inflicted heavy hardship and suffering on the Nigerian workers.
According to him, the workers have suffered job losses, insecurity, economic hardship and other calamities under Buhari.
Ambali, who is also the President of the National Union of Local Government Employees, stated, “Under Buhari’s administration just like every other successive administration, we have witnessed so many losses of jobs. Some governors laid off so many workers in the North, East and West. There has been a loss of lives as a result of banditry and kidnapping, especially in the South-East, South-West and in the whole North.
“As for today from my union, the National Union of Local Government Employees, we reside and work within the remote part of the country; any attack on government installations and infrastructure affect our people. Most of them were kidnapped in Kaduna.
“Also, one will realise that the road network is so poor. The erratic power supply has also reduced chances of Nigerians getting their daily living.’’
The labour leader further observed the lack of social safety net in the country even as he scored the Buhari regime low in terms of fidelity to labour laws, citing the abuse of labour laws and practices by the government.
He noted, “Looking at COVID-19 that ravaged the country, the government failed to have a social security scheme that is backed up by social polity and social legislation to care for the retirees, aged and the vulnerable.
“For us in the labour movement, we have not fared well at all. There has been abuse of labour laws and practices. No thanks to the way some of the appointees handled labour matters.
‘’So many states failed to pay the minimum wage. Some did not pay the contributory pension to the PFAs and that has created a lot of hardships for retirees in Nigeria. Rest is no longer sweet because of the backlog of money that was owed, retirees.’’
The NLC treasurer was optimistic that the incoming government would perform better, stressing the imperative of a paradigm shift in anti-people policy.
He referenced the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria which he said pauperized Nigerians and destroyed several businesses.
The NULGE President stated, “I believe the new government will do better. There must be a paradigm shift from the policy that is at the people. The forceful seizure of cash by the Central Bank of Nigeria policy under Godwin Emefiele put Nigerians to penury and a lot of hardships. Businesses collapsed and many people lost their daily living.
“I believe the incoming government will do better. They need to have sound policies that will be for the people. They will also create jobs and put in place social welfare policy that will rub up on Nigerian people.
“There is a massive road infrastructural gap and there is also a massive gap in terms of healthcare, provision of electricity and even in the removal of subsidy. Nigerians believe that the refineries must be made to work. There must be a local content policy. How can we be the only nation in the world that is producing crude oil and also importing PMS?”
‘Minimum wage meaningless’
Corroborating the NLC, the Ogun state chapter of the Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Union of Pensioners scored the Buhari regime low in the areas of citizens’ welfare and wellbeing.
The state chairman of TUC, Akeem Lasisi pointed out that the high cost of living had made nonsense of the minimum wage.
He said “With the present high cost of living and hike in transportation and the rest, it seriously inflicted pains on the workers because the so-called minimum wage cannot take you anywhere. Workers are in serious pain because the salary can no longer take you anywhere.”
The Ogun State NUP secretary, Bola Lawal said the Buhari regime’s policy made many Nigerians poor, citing the hikes in fuel pump prices and electricity tariffs
“I score him low, very low. Nigerians are suffering. When we talk of electricity and fuel price; we are really suffering. I score him very low,” he said.
For the organized labour union in Sokoto State, the outgoing regime performed below workers’ expectations.
Speaking on behalf of the state NLC chairman, a member of the state executive council, Abubakar Bello argued that the government got most of its policies wrong.
He said, “Almost all the policies introduced by the outgoing administration were anti-masses which contributed in no small way to the suffering of the ordinary citizens.
“From the closure of the border to the ban on foreign rice without putting up machinery good enough to monitor our market and to the recent naira redesign, the policies were wrong.’’
While conceding that pensioners enjoyed an increase in pension under the outgoing government, the Secretary of the NUP in Osun State, Mr. Dele Aina, maintained that the high cost of living has eroded the benefits of the increment.
According to him, the high cost of living has made life difficult for pensioners as many of them that left the service in the 90s still earn N500 and N750 monthly pensions.
Aina said, “The economy is harsh under this administration, and we still have many pensioners earning as little as N500 and N750 as monthly pension. They are state pensioners.
“Buhari increased the monthly pension of federal pensioners but the state here has not implemented that. Imagine someone earning N500 in this economy. Life is difficult for them. They left service in the ‘90s. Generally, life has been more difficult with the harsh economy we are living in.
“He did increase federal pensioners’ take home but the high cost of living has eroded what would have been the benefits of the increment.”
Speaking in a similar vein, the Chairman of the TUC in Osun state, Adebowale Adekola, said the Buhari regime failed to properly manage the country’s economy.
“Workers are suffering under the Buhari administration. Look at exchange rates, naira redesign and other policies of this administration. They negatively affected us as workers. The administration failed to manage the economy properly, “Adekola concluded.
For the Bayelsa State chairman of TUC, Laye Julius, Nigeria workers had become “worse off” and the citizens “poorer” than they were before 2015, stressing that Buhari performed below expectations given his campaign promises.
According to him, the turnaround maintenance of refineries, subsidies and social programmes, including the 774,000 jobs, were avenues for the government officials to feather their nests while inflation and unemployment rates increased astronomically.
Laye said, “So, the people have found themselves poorer than they were. For workers, it is very pathetic because we live on a fixed income. The minimum wage was increased in 2019 but nothing has happened five years after; no discussion. Workers are worse off between 2015 and now.
“So in all, compared to where we are coming from when they took over and where we are today, you will understand that poverty is walking tall in the country.”
In the view of the Plateau state chapter of the NLC, the response of the FG to workers’ welfare in the past eight years was a disaster.
Speaking with The PUNCH ahead of the May Day celebration, the state chairman of the NLC, Eugene Manji, said, “The plight of the workers in Nigeria has been moving from bad to worse since this administration took power in 2015. The N30,000 minimum wage has been completely eroded by high inflation to the point that they are left with nothing at the end of the month.
“If you go to the market and see the prices of goods which have gone very high, you will wish this administration did not come on board and just left everything the way they were before its arrival.
‘’Imagine a worker with four family members he can hardly feed; the situation is that bad. So, as far as I am concerned, I will score this administration very low on workers’ welfare.”
The Enugu State TUC Chairman, Ben Asogwa said all the indices under the Buhari regime were unfavourable to Nigerians.
“For us to appreciate the situation clearly, there is a need to do proper data analysis. In 2015, the petroleum pump price was #87 while the minimum wage was #18,000. This implies 206.9 litres of fuel.
“In 2023, PMS has no regular price, but choosing from the commonest price, it should be at #230 while the minimum wage is N30,000 equivalent to 130 litres. Looking at the result, can you say that we are better off? All the factors under consideration are shown in red.
“The corruption we witnessed in 2015 has become hydra-headed under the present government. The present government has sold our old dog and replaced it with a monkey,’’ he stated.
In a similar tone, the Public Relations Officer, NLC, Anambra State chapter, Mr Chisom Okey, contended that Buhari is leaving Nigeria worse than he met it, citing the high cost of living in the country.
‘’This regime has inflicted a lot of pain on Nigerians and the records and actions are there to show for it. As it is now, the common man is the worst for it,” he added.
According to the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Wale Oyerinde, a combination of policy inconsistencies and inherent contradictions in the fiscal and monetary policies landscape contributed to further pauperising Nigerians.
Evaluating the eight years of Buhari in power, Oyerinde, said, “It is apt to say a combination of policy inconsistencies and inherent contradictions in the fiscal and monetary policies landscape have contributed to further pauperising Nigerians. It is doubtful to say that workers have fared better in the last seven years.”
In a statement to commemorate Workers Day, Oyerinde said Nigeria is becoming a pariah state to investors, with over 60 different levies and taxes.
Oyerinde in a statement on Sunday in reaction to a report that the FG has again hiked taxes said the economy is bleeding and has continued to struggle for survival.
He urged the Federal Government to suspend the implementation of the increase in excise duty and the introduction of new taxes and levies across the board.
He said that the increase if implemented will be counter-productive, adding that it would aggravate the current rate of unemployment and encourage smuggling.
He stated, “The Federal Government should not leave behind a legacy of tax burdens that would endanger the fragile growth achieved in the economy on the altar of revenue generation.
‘’What the government should do is reappraise its adherence to the principles and spirit of fiscal discipline as enshrined in various legislations. With over 60 different levies and taxes, Nigeria is fast becoming a pariah state to investors.
‘’The organized businesses are bleeding and have continued to struggle for survival. To this end, we urge the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency suspend the implementation of the recently announced astronomical increase in excise duty and the introduction of new taxes and levies across the board.’’
He continued, ‘’The road map as previously agreed should be adhered to in the spirit of policy consistency. The increases, if implemented, will be counter-productive as it will aggravate the current rate of unemployment, encourage smuggling, discourage foreign direct investment, and reduce the purchasing power of Nigerians. It will actively promote the relocation of businesses to other countries.’’
The NECA DG said that as the global economy continues to witness disruptions, there is a need to protect not only workers’ rights but also human rights.
Assessing the workers’ condition in the last eight years, the Deputy President, TUC, Tommy Etim noted that the government needed to create an enabling environment for Nigerians to thrive, arguing that no administration can address all the challenges the country was facing.
He took a dim view of the regime’s indebtedness, stating that it would pose a challenge to the incoming government.
Etim said, “In all, Inflation, unemployment and underemployment; these have been there and no government can solve all these challenges. I would rather score a government higher if it has touched the lives of workers than to score a government that provides all the infrastructures without a meaningful livelihood for the workers.
‘’It does not make any economic sense because it is still the same workers that will use the infrastructure. So, if the environment is not conducive for workers, they become an enemy of the infrastructure.
“Agreed that this government has over-borrowed and it is an ill-will that will not be good for the incoming administration. That is why we said to create an enabling environment for the socio-economic mix that will give the workers the opportunity to save if they have higher pay.’’
However, in its assessment of the regime, the Nigerian Union of Pensioners hailed the President for addressing its members’ welfare.
The NUP spokesperson, Bunmi Ogunkolade disclosed that pensions were being paid as and when due by the FG, adding that the union had written a letter to appreciate the President and confer on him the ‘Grand Commander of Nigeria Pensioners.’
He said, “Before Buhari took over in 2015, we were owed 42 months arrears of 33.4 per cent of pension increase of June 2010 but when Buhari came, he paid us all in two years. Since 2015 till date, we have been paid monthly pensions as when due.
“Even during the recession and COVID-19, he continued paying pensions. When there were serious complaints from us about some state governments, he gave them bailouts to pay pensioners in their states. We have even written him a letter to confer on him the Grand Commander of Nigeria Pensioners.’’
Ogunkolade knocked some state governments for owing backlogs of pension running into several months.
He said only Lagos, Ondo, Kaduna, Jigawa, and Borno State governments are not indebted to pensioners.
The NUP spokesman noted, “Some state governors are waking up now, but some state governors are not doing well. For instance, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom is owing 38 months of unpaid pension. Abia, Enugu state governors are owing too.
‘’In Rivers state, they have refused to implement any circular or increase in pension in the last 15 years. Most of them are not paying gratuity to their pensioners. The last time some paid was in 2012.”
A former General Secretary of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Olayinka Abioye, observed that workers have not enjoyed commendable welfare since 1960.
He said salary increases might not satisfy workers and suggested other benefits such as housing and gifts.
Reacting to the criticisms, the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, refuted the labour leaders’ claims on workers’ welfare.
He added that the recent increment in allowances showed that the government is concerned about the plights of workers and doing everything within its power to improve the economy.
He said, “Tomorrow (today) is Workers’ Day and the president will address the labour unions, Nigerians and the whole world. The minister will also speak. I am sure in their speeches, they will proclaim what the federal government has achieved.
“From the speeches, you will know what they have and what hasn’t been achieved. If anybody tells you minimum wage has not been implemented, that is a lie.
“There is no government, ministry or agency that is paying less than N30,000 a month. Civil servants’ income was recently increased and everybody has been paid. After these, if any Nigerian says the current administration has not achieved anything, maybe the person is not living in Nigeria or doesn’t monitor the news.”
Meanwhile, the Peoples Redemption Party has renewed calls for promoting the welfare and rights of Nigerian workers, stressing that every worker deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.
The PRP National Chairman, Falalu Bello in a May Day message on Sunday, also hailed all Nigerian workers and offered sincere appreciation for their hard work and contributions to the growth and development of the nation.(Punch)