There was pandemonium, yesterday, at the Eagle Square, Abuja venue of National May Day celebration, organised by leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and their Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, counterpart, as aggrieved workers disrupted proceedings over absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo.
The workers were infuriated that President Buhari had not attended a Workers’ Day celebration since he took over power in 2015 and had not deemed it necessary to send the Vice President to represent him.
They expressed angst that the President kept sending the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, to represent him, an official they feel could not take responsibility or make categorical statements on matters affecting workers.
Trouble started when Mrs. Abiola Bawa, Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Empoyment was called to present the address of the minister, Dr. Chris Ngige, who sat at the state box with other dignitaries.
At this point, the workers became restive, insisting the Minister delivered the address himself.
Efforts made to persuade the workers to allow the Permanent Secretary read the minister’s address fell on deaf ears as they started chanting: “We no go gree, we no go gree!”
At this juncture, Senator Ngige stood up from the state box and ran to the podium.
Initially, there were cheers for him, but as he started to talk, the workers did not allow him, as they said he had come to make another empty promise as he did during the last May Day.
In the melee, former President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, also rushed to the podium to calm the situation but the cheers that greeted his coming died down immediately he wanted to address the workers as they also resisted him.
As confusion persisted, attempts by the Police to clear the podium were also resisted by workers, who started throwing empty water cans to the podium.
Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, was immediately whisked away by security operatives through the exit door of the state box, followed by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
As soon as the dignitaries were spirited out of the venue, many unions left the venue without the traditional march-past.
However, a few unions that were left observed the march-past without any government official taking salute.
However, the Federal Government also, yesterday, assured of speedy passage of the new National Minimum Wage bill.
President Muhammadu Buhari said this in a message to mark the 2017 May Day Rally. His words:
“I am happy to inform you that Government will give expeditious consideration to the proposal contained in the Technical Committee’s Report which was submitted to it on April 6, 2017.
“Government will take necessary steps to implement the final recommendation of the Main Government/Labour Committee as it relates to the setting up of new National Minimum Wage Committee and the needed palliatives.
“This is in order to reduce the discomfort currently being experienced by the Nigerian working class.
“I want to assure you that government will continue to do all at its disposal to better the lot of all Nigerians and more importantly to provide a commensurate welfare for all Nigerian workers", he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Ngige, who stayed behind after other government officials left the venue, claimed intelligence reports revealed that the rally was infiltrated by non-union members.
His words: “What has happened today is that this place has been infiltrated by non-workers and as you know, there is some factionalization within the labour federation in Nigeria. So what is playing out here, as we can understand from intelligence report, is that there is some infiltration by people who don’t belong to the unions here and so that is what we are seeing.
“The Federal Government has been paying salary as at when due. The Federal Government has bent backwards not to retrench in such a situation that we have found ourselves but that is the cardinal programme of the administration, that we will not lay off any worker; we pay them.
“In fact, sometimes the Federal Government has to borrow to fund the budget to pay. So, we have been doing that; we are worker-friendly, we have been doing promotions, we have been doing new recruitment in the civil service and in the parastatals. So, this government is really friendly, labour-friendly, worker-friendly.”
He assured that in the next three months, the minimum wage committee will start work, while government has concluded plans to pay backlog of arrears of allowances.
Reacting to the development, President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, said workers were not happy that neither the President nor the Vice-President was on ground to address the burning issue of minimum wage.
He said: “Workers are insisting that either the President or the Vice-President should be here today (yesterday). Many of our members are facing serious hardship. It is an expression of the way workers are feeling, the situation is biting very hard.
“Some of them could not make it here today. Some of them cannot afford one square meal per day. So, it is a demonstration of the situation on ground. The truth is that Nigerians have been pushed to the wall.”
Addressing workers earlier in his May Day speech, Wabba insisted on upward review of the national minimum wage, restating NLC and TUC’s demand for N56,000 minimum wage.
He called on the National Assembly to immediately pass the whistle-blower bill into law, saying “we call on the National Assembly to speedily promulgate the whistle-blower bill, which the Executive Arm of government informed Nigerians last December, was before the National Assembly.
“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 follows: “The Special Criminal Courts Bill”, which was submitted to the National Assembly last year; and the “Whistle Blowers and Witness Protection Bill”, meant to protect whistle blowers and witnesses from injury, death, economic sabotage, job termination, etc.”
On his part, President of TUC, Bobboi Kaigama, lamented that the nation’s economy was almost prostrate and needs urgent action to bring it to life.
“Is it not painful that even the NNPC does not know how many barrels of crude is produced daily? Our economy is sick, so our priorities must be right. If we miss it now, we may never get it right again.
“I personally feel irked each time politicians and employers recommend downsizing, redundancy and slash in wage as the only way to sustain their business instead of cutting down on their ostentatious and flamboyant lifestyle.”
Meanwhile, President of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, Joe Ajaero, in another rally at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, insisted on N96,000 minimum wage, arguing that there were no signs that Nigeria was getting out of recession.
He said: “We want to reiterate that recession is not mere statistics but something that is objective and felt concretely in the lives of the ordinary people of Nigeria. Recession for Nigerian workers and peoples means deeper poverty, it means hunger, it means denial of access to basic education, health care and other social services.
“It means more diseases and sicknesses, it means little nourishment and much more, it means more death for the working poor. It means increasing abuse and violations of our rights and privileges in the various workplaces as the bosses seek ways to beat the stranglehold of recession.
“This, to us as workers, is the reality called recession. It is on record that many state governments are unashamedly owing their workers salaries of up to one year, while government officials are immersed in unbridled consumption.”
In another development, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State has assured the state’s civil servants that his government would immediately implement the proposed N56,000 national minimum wage, if the Federal Government approves it.
The governor, who gave the assurance at the commemoration of 2017 Workers’ Day in Gombe yesterday, was represented by his deputy, Charles Iliya, who is currently the acting governor.
“As soon as the Federal Government approves the new minimum wage, our administration will implement it within the limit of our resources,” he said.
He called on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Nigerians to be resilient and support government efforts at moving the country out of current economic recession.
Similarly, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, reiterated his call for a N50,000 minimum wage for Nigerian workers.
In his statement through his Special Adviser, Media, Uche Anichukwu, Ekweremadu said: “I felicitate with our workers who toil day and night to move the nation forward. But we must collectively show the workers that we care beyond lip service. Importantly, it is high time we raised the minimum wage from N18,000 to N50,000. It does not make sense to preach anti-corruption alone without giving people the opportunity to earn honest and meaningful living. The truth is that the take-home pay can no longer take the workers home.”
Where it does, it cannot keep their homes happy because they can hardly afford a bag of rice, let alone pay school fees, and foot other basic bills.”