THE leadership of the organised labour and their civil society allies, on Thursday, protested in Abuja. They demanded that the Federal Government should reveal the identities of the lowers of the nation’s commonwealth. They also asked that their hands should be cut off to serve as a deterrent.
The protest organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, alongside their Civil Societies allies, also lamented that nothing so much had been achieved in the fight against corruption.
Displaying placards of different descriptions, the labour leaders said that the level of hardship in the country had risen to alarming proportions and that workers were the worst hit of the current recession and thereby demanded an increase in the minimum wage.
They also disclosed that they would soon drag some of the state governors to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, for the alleged diversion of bail-out funds recently released by the Federal Government for the payment of workers salaries, arrears, pensions and gratuity.
Addressing the workers during the protest rally for good governance at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, President of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said it was unfortunate that a few Individuals have stolen the nation’s commonwealth, while nothing had been done to bring them to book.
Wabba said the government must take concrete steps to prove to the world that it was serious to win the fight against corruption and recover all stolen money, stressing that the nation lost about $22 billion not remitted to the federation account from sale of oil and gas.
Advising the government to come hard on the looters of the nation’s treasury, Wabba said, said: “We must not allow a situation where few, because of their interest will hold the system to ransom.
“We are demanding an increase in electricity supply and they are saying lag more tariff, we are demanding an increase in the minimum wage and they say they are going to be paying in percentage. We should not be tired.
“Why should somebody steal one billion naira and walk the street free. We are demanding that they should be named and shamed. We are also demanding that one of their hand be cut off so that when we see them, we will know that they are people that have stolen our money.
“So, let us not be tired. Not to pay salaries and pensions is criminal. Not to increase our wages in this condition is corruption and so, we must demand good governance and support the fight against corruption.
“It is obvious that what we are doing today is in our collective interest. As the working class and our families and as Nigerians, we must always make our voice know and heard very clearly.
“Today, with what is happening in our system, we are actually at the receiving end because there is near absence of good governance and corruption is also fighting back very badly and we have been at the receiving end. Instead of addressing those challenges and paying salaries, what the are doing in some states is paying salaries in percentages.
“The height of this challenge is the absence of good governance, accountability, transparency and the rule of law, any system that does not have those ingredients, the first group that will suffer is the working class and their families and the citizens.
“That is why we are matching to canvass for good governance and also to lend our voice to say that the fight against corruption must continue. If you look at the NEITI report, it states clearly that unremitted fund from the sale of oil and gas amount to another 22 billion dollars.
“If we have this money, I am sure that the challenge we are passing through would not have been there. Few people connive to transfer this money into their personal account and we are saying tau government must find the will to implement these reports and whoever is affected must be made to refund the money.
“We should not be lamenting always that there is no money and that the economy is in recession. Enough of lamentation and we must take our destiny in our own hands to demand accountability, good governance and transparency and workers must not be made to be at the relieving end.
“The demand for minimum wage is legitimate. Governors are collecting more than the maximum wage. They were given bailout fund which they diverted; they were given Paris Club refund which they also diverted and yet we have pensioners not being paid for about 77 months. Is that an attribute of good governance?
“We must, therefore, lend our voice to these challenges because if we keep quiet. We will be consumed. We must struggle because he who is on the ground is not afraid of falling again.
“There should be good governance at all levels of governance and not limited to the centre alone. We have more challenges in the states and local government and so, it is our fight because it is an issue that affects all of us and we must continue to be united.”
Also speaking, the President of TUC, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama said efforts must be made to end corruption in the country as well as promote good governance.
He said, “We must end corruption in this country and support good governance. It is only in Nigerian that corrupt people are being celebrated.
“We want to tell the world that we are insisting that corruption must be fought to a standstill. Those people who are aiding and abating corruption should be prepared for the wrath of Nigerians.if you escort criminals to court, we will follow you there and disgrace you.
“Today, we have to show our displeasure because it is only Nigeria. Worker and the downtrodden that are suffering. Their pay is not increased, while we have daily increased in inflation and recession because of the stolen wealth that has not been redistributed to Nigerians.
“We have so much corruption in the states and local to the extent that the bailout fund given to them will be diverted. We are going to follow them with EFCC and ICPC to make sure that those diverting our bailout fund meant for the payment of salaries, pension and arrears of promotion must be dealt with. We have said it time and time again that we are prepared to fight those in government who are involved in corrupt practices.
“There is the need to also take the protest match to the National Assembly since corruption cannot be fought only on the part of the executive; we would take it to the doorsteps of the legislatures and to that of the judiciary.
“Concerning the minimum wage, we already have the demands before now and we presented the same. Even the United States of America, when Obama came into the office, the minimum wage of Americans then was five dollars per hour; he raised it to ten dollars per hour.
“In fact, there is agitation to $15 per hour. In Switzerland, it is $18 per hour. Our demand is N 56, 000. Anywhere in the world, you would never have it on a platter of gold until you struggled.
“South Africans struggled and liberate themselves. Nigerians and workers must continue to struggle to liberate ourselves. It is not easy to address government, employers of labour and the bourgeois class. Ours is a case that we continue to push till victory is certain.”
On his own part, the Vice President of IndustriAll Global Union and General Secretary of National Union of Textiles, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Comrade Issa Aremu said before the increment of petroleum pump prices, the organised labour had predicted what would be the outcome of the government policy, adding that the predictions had come to fruition.
Aremu said the only way to get the country out of the current recession was for the government to reflate the economy and pay adequate salary to workers, pointing out that without payment of salaries and allowances to workers, the fight against corruption will not succeed.
Protesting at the National Assembly over the rising cost of living, the NLC President, Comrade Wabba said they were protesting the delay in the upward review of minimum wage amidst increasing the cost of items in the country.
Wabba said, “We are here to demand good governance and express our support in the fight against corruption. More importantly, we demand respect for the rule of law, greater accountability and transparency in governance.
“Today the dollar rate is one naira to 500 dollars and the salaries of Nigerian workers have remained the same. Therefore we are here to urge the National Assembly to play an important role to ensure that life is made better for Nigerians.
“We cannot succeed in the fight against corruption does not succeed. We appreciate the efforts by the National Assembly to ensure financial autonomy for the local governments and this must be sustained because money meant for the local governments does not get there.”
He said despite the bailout funds to states for workers’ salaries, “the living condition of workers had not improved because many were yet to be paid.”
According to him, pensioners in the country were owed up to 77 months and called on the National Assembly to synergise with other arms of government to pay them.
The TUC President, Kaigama said that the inflation rate in the country was growing astronomically and that it was time for the government at all tiers to go back to the drawing board to revive the country’s economy.
He said, “Whatever it takes, we must rejig our economy. “If we must have to kill corruption, the laws have to come from the National Assembly.
“Nigerians are hungry, the cost of living is high, no houses, no light and factories have gone comatose.”
Responding, the Senate President Bukola Saraki, said it was time to go into action towards addressing the numerous challenges confronting Nigerians and that everybody should sit down and work out how to make necessary adjustments.
He said, “It can’t continue this way, the exchange rate is high, cost of things in the market have gone high but only the workers’ salaries remained the same. By the next time, we will meet I will tell you what the National Assembly has done to improve the living condition of Nigerians.”
But the protesters were stopped by security operatives from gaining access to the Presidential villa to deliver their protest message to the Acting President, Prof. Yomi Osinbajo.
The workers were stopped at the Federal Secretariat by heavily armed security operatives at about 11.05 am and were asked to send a delegation of their leaders to take their message to the presidential villa.
Initially, the workers rejected the request insisting that the Acting President either send a representative to receive their message or be allowed to gain access to the villa to deliver the message.
They, however, nominated twenty representatives from among them to take their message to the Acting President while the rest waited for their leaders while being entertained by the music of legendary Fela Anikulakpo Kuti, late Bob Marley among others.
Some of the inscription on the placards by the workers among other things demanded good governance, accountability and sustained fight against corruption saying Nigerians were tired of bad governance which has led to abject poverty in the country.
But after about two hours, the representatives came back from the Presidential Villa to inform the workers that the Acting President gave them the assurance that their demands will be looked into by the government.
Wabba who spoke on behalf of the delegation said: “Basically, I can say on good authority, that we have received the attention that we desired and what we expect is also that results should be able to follow.
“It has not been an exercise in futility and we have reminded them that we would continue in this business and that it is also our responsibility as workers, pensioner because we have been at the receiving end and therefore we must continue to advance the issue of good governance and also better issue that would advance a lot of Nigerians.
“This kind of engagement and conversation creates such a platform so that all of us can canvass for the issue of good governance and would also continue. I can assure that we have received favourable attention and response and we would follow up on the others.”