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Workers’ Day: NLC laments rising poverty, unemployment, urges incoming administration to be proactive

Photo Collage of Sen. (Dr.) Chris Ngige, Honourable Minister for Labour and Employment (l), and NLC Leaders

*The Nigerian workers across several sectors of the economy decry the current level of hopelessness, urging the incoming administration to address worsening poverty, insecurity, unemployment, inflation, high cost of living and attendant frustration across the country

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), on the commemoration of the 2023 Workers’ Day May 1, has described the past year as “terrible and excruciating” for millions of workers, and other Nigerian consumers.

The leadership of the Labour Union noted this development as the workers join their counterparts globally to mark International Workers’ Day (IWD) otherwise known as “May Day”.

ConsumerConnect reports workers in several sectors of the country’s economy, including petroleum, electricity, maritime and manufacturing among others, on the occasion, frowned on the current level of misery, poverty and hopelessness across Nigeria.

They, however, urged the incoming administration to deliberately address the worsening poverty, insecurity, unemployment, inflation, high cost of living and frustration in the West African country.

Situation ‘tortuous’ for workers, says Labour Union

In his remarks on the 2023 Workers’ Day, Emma Ugboaja, General Secretary of NLC, reportedly said: “The last one year has been torturous for Nigerians, especially workers in every sector.

‘’Tertiary education has been severely fractured, the manufacturing sector has been comatose as energy supply, layoffs and high cost of doing business have characterised the sector.” Ugboaja stated, “there was no growth due to the inability of operators to access foreign exchange to buy raw materials, spare parts and other necessities.

“This impacted negatively on the workers, stagnated wages and worsened unemployment and poverty in all sectors.

“Road transportation was among the worst hit because the supply of petroleum products was disrupted in most parts of the year to the extent that besides the scarcity, the prices were prohibited and unaffordable.”

The NLC Scribe also noted: “The health sector has remained in a sorry state.

“Government officials are comfortable driving government vehicles, they are comfortable living in government houses and among others, but uncomfortable going to government hospitals. It has been terrible.

‘’The cost of living has been criminally high, unemployment, poverty and insecurity of life and property are just beyond description. The last year was really bad.”

Expectations from incoming administration in Nigeria

As regards expectations from the incoming government in Nigeria, Ugboaja said: “We expect the struggle for the rights and welfare of workers to be more intense because when President (Muhammadu) Buhari made a famous quote in the earlier part of his eight years’ regime to say he wondered how state governors went to beds and slept, knowing that workers were being owed huge arrears of salaries, he was speaking directly to the pains and feelings of workers.

“He had also in appreciation of the torture and agony the working people and their families were going through as a result of his inability to manage the refining capacity and fuel supply in Nigeria, resisted the pressure from cosmetic economists that see everything wrong in discussing production.”

The General Secretary also explained: “He had resisted their pressures to continuously increase the fuel pump price, knowing that they were urging him to set the nation on fire.

‘’However, we have a President-elect whose direct voice said the opposite, even in his campaign.

“His own direct voice said he was going to deal with the issue of managing the downstream sector pressure, not minding the level of protest and anger that will be borne out of it. “That clearly shows you a direction of his insensitivity.”

He further stated: “It is not like Buhari who denied every word that was spoken to convince Nigerians to vote for him, and the storyline we got was that it was never said by him, but by his supporters and party.

‘”In this case, it was a direct quote from Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the direction he would pursue regarding the mainstream of the Nigerian economy, which is fuel management.”

He as well said: “You know that effort to refine in Nigeria cannot cause an uproar, but set up of refineries in Nigeria will cause jubilation.

“It will be a spontaneous scream for joy if Nigerian refining capacity is restored.

‘’What will present an outrage and force people into the streets will be an astronomical rise in the cost of petroleum products.”

Ugboaja also projected: “So, we are waiting with bated breath to know what will happen.

“In fact, this might be the first time we will be wishing that a politician will not honour his campaign promise.

“It is an irony and cruel joke. But it might be one time in Nigeria that electorate will be praying that a politician does not honour his campaign statement.”

How workers keep Nigeria going: Ugboaja

In describing the importance of workers’ committed efforts at sustaining the country’s economy, Ugboaja said: “Whatever that comes, we are prepared to face the challenges because we have no other country but Nigeria.

“But for workers, there won’t be Nigeria. When our leaders rush to spend holidays in other countries, the workers are the ones that keep the country going.

“When they rush to spend time in hospital beds outside the country, Nigerian workers keep the country going.”

He also lamented the Nigerian workers “do not have the luxury to do what they do.

“They (leaders) spend their holidays outside the country to the detriment of our economy.

“They pursue their health status outside the country to the detriment of our economy.

“They pursue the education and training of their children and family members outside the country to the detriment of our economy.”

The General Secretary of NLC further averred: “So, the workers are the ones that keep the Nigerian economy going.

“We are Nigerians and it is us that would continue to cry and struggle to keep our country because we do not have any other place.

“They have dual nationalities and they have homes all over the globe.”

In terms of surviving the comparatively inclement working conditions in the economy, Ugboaja declared: “We are here; it is our life and we are not going to lay back and get crushed.

“We are down but we are not out. He that is down needs fear no fall.

“We will keep crawling, struggling and pushing to get on our feet.”

Conditions ‘best described as modern-day slavery’ -Oil workers

On the 2023 Workers’ Day, Prince Williams Akporeha, President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum Workers (NUPENG), was quoted to have said: “The last one year has been traumatic and frustrating for workers in the oil and gas sector.

“The working conditions have continued to worsen and workers are going through what can be best described as modern-day slavery.

“The rate of casualisation, outsourcing and contract staffing of workers is very alarming.”

Akporeha also disclosed that “every day, the job security of workers is being threatened with one form of a precarious employment policy or another.

“Full employment of workers is disappearing like the wind, while non-pensionable employment policies with unbearable working conditions have become the order of the day.

“It is unbelievable that workers in the sector are paid between N70,000 and N100,000 monthly.”

Way forward in oil and gas sector

According to the NUPENG Chief, “we cannot continue like this.

“We call on the incoming government to be more assertive on the welfare of Nigerian workers in the oil and gas industry.

“The incoming government should eradicate slavery employment policies that dehumanise Nigerians in their fatherland.”

He also stated: “It is also important for the incoming government to deal with the Japa syndrome by creating gainful employment opportunities for the youths and providing basic social amenities, social security, stable power supply, security of life and property, quality and affordable healthcare services, among others.”

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