Let me begin by wishing all of us gathered here, mainly our two federations of Trade Unions – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), a happy celebration of May Day in solidarity with organized labour the world over. I salute and pay tribute to all Nigerian workers and working families. It is on your hard work, innovation, resilience and patriotism that our nation is building the structures for true greatness.
I must also seize this opportunity to acknowledge the historical contributions of Nigerian working people and organized labour to the political, economic, social and cultural development of our nation. The Nigerian organized labour has always been at the forefront of the push for a better Nigeria, from the struggles for independence; right through to the clamour for the restoration of the democratic order, and, in the last 19 years, for the sustenance of the freedoms guaranteed by our democracy. I must also say that Nigerian organized labour has contributed actively towards helping Nigeria get out, in record time, of an economic recession arising from past economic mismanagement.
This administration has remained committed to improving the welfare of the Nigerian people. When we came into office at least 22 States were owing salaries, some for a whole year. If you recall in November 2015, the President said and I quote, “all my life I have always earned a salary, so I understand what it means when your salary is not paid or when it is not enough.”
Just last year, Mr. President speaking to governors visiting him, again went back to the issue of salaries, I don’t know how any of you can go to sleep at night knowing that your workers have not been paid. The President’s concern for workers is not theoretical or rhetorical, but one borne out of experience, and respect for the sweat of the working classes, This is why we evolved mechanisms to bail out all the 36 states of the Federation, to the tune of N1.91Trillion so far including Paris Club repayments, in recognition of the shortfalls in their finances arising in particular from the oil shocks of 2015/2016.
We have extended this support regardless of party affiliation, to enable the States settle the backlog of arrears and salaries and pensions of workers. At the inauguration of the National Economic Council in 2015, President Buhari publicly declared that our administration will support every State, because poverty is no respecter of ethnic group, religion or party affiliation.
While we do recognize that payment of salaries and pensions is essential, we are also conscious of the fact that the increasing cost of living and the recognition to ensure a fair and decent living wage, has rendered the Minimum Wage Instrument which is currently in force obsolete. Accordingly, President Buhari on November 27, 2017, inaugurated a Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee to renegotiate the National Minimum Wage for our workers.
As you are all aware, the subject of a National Minimum Wage for the Federation is within the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). This means it is primarily the responsibility of the Federal Government. Although, there are arguments regarding fixing minimum wage in a Federation such as ours, it is the responsibility of government to establish the necessary social protection for all Nigerian workers based on the ability of each tier of Government to pay.
The argument for a national minimum wage, therefore, cannot be faulted, because minimum wage is the minimum amount of compensation an employee must receive for putting in his or her labour and as such, should be anchored on the principles of social justice, equity, and fairness. We believe that those who can pay above the social protection floor are free to do so, as many have been doing in many States and sectors of the economy.
This administration has no intention of presiding over the dismantling of the gains of organized labour through the years, especially almost four decades ago. Our hope therefore, is that the Tripartite Committee comprising government, labour, and the private sector, will expedite its assignment to enable the Federal Government to present an Executive Bill on a new National Minimum Wage to the National Assembly for passage into law, as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Federal Government and the State governments will continue to work together, to improve the conditions of workers across the country.
Great Nigerian workers, it will be belabouring the point, to say that a virile organized labour is a vital institution for our nation at every point in its development. In our political and democratic evolution, a virile labour is a sine qua non. In the interest of the men and women of our society, who need a voice to speak loudly against economic or social injustice, Labour must remain united.
Let me seize this opportunity once again, to reiterate this administration’s commitment to the unity of the Nigerian organized labour, to serve as a bulwark against divisive forces, internally and externally. Accordingly, I advise that the Nigerian labour movement must employ its leadership skills of conflict resolution and utilize all the internal mechanism to resolve conflicts, because factionalization is not an option and not the answer.
I must at this point, appreciate the Nigerian labour movement, for being a strong pillar of support for our anti-corruption agenda. The government recognizes the fact that, indeed, the first line real victims of corruption are the Nigerian workers and working families, along with the rural poor. They are the ones who suffer the most from the corruption of the political classes.
It is regrettable that despite the enormous revenues Nigeria earned from oil in recent past, we still have problems with payment of salaries and pensions of workers, largely due to mismanagement and corruption. I assure you that under our administration, we will ensure that we expend every kobo of public funds, towards securing the welfare of all Nigerians.
We have continued to demonstrate our commitment, to the welfare of Nigerians by ensuring, that we protect the socially excluded and socially vulnerable. For the first time in the history of our country, we are implementing a full social protection programme, through a youth employment scheme, N-Power, Micro-credit to small businesses, Conditional Cash Transfers to the poorest, and a Home Grown School Feeding programme. So far we have employed 200,000 graduates in our N-Power programme, and we are bracing up to do 300,000 more.
Today, we are feeding over 7million children in 22 States, and we have employed 70,000 cooks. So far, we have given over 362,000 Microcredit loans, and our target is to give 1million of such loans especially to market women and artisans. We have also given cash transfers over 300,000 of the poorest Nigerians our Conditional Cash Transfers. Our target is to give this benefit to 1 million of the poorest.
The issue of course is that every country, of the size of Nigeria, especially a developing country, must have a social protection policy; we must have a safety net. The resources of the country must be used to protect those who either cannot work, or are vulnerable and poor in ways those who experience it can imagine. We take it as our duty, as a progressive government, to ensure that we protect the poor and vulnerable, and this is the main objective of the programmes that we have put in place.
These programmes have been targeted at the most vulnerable segments of our society, and are meant to ensure that we build a socially cohesive society, in which the resources of the country work for all. We will continue to apply public funds in such a way, that no section of the country or segment of the population, suffers social exclusion.
It is also the reason why we have prioritized agriculture in our economic planning. Our investment in the sector is paying off; importation of rice has dropped to just 2%. Millions of farmers, producing rice, sorghum, millet, tomatoes and other grains, are earning decent returns on their investments. We will soon be self-sufficient in both rice and tomato paste. We will soon be sufficient in our food as the President has said, “we must grow what we eat.” It is up to us, to ensure that we are self-sufficient in our food production and it is the duty of our government and we have considered it our historical task to ensure that we are able to provide food that is home grown and available to all Nigerians for cheap.
We have no choice but to improve our business environment, our business environment must enable medium and small scale businesses to work. To this end, we are committed to ensuring the reduction of interest rates so that businesses can have access to cheap credit. It is important to encourage young people in technology, innovation and the entertainment industry. We intend shortly, through the instrumentality of an advisory body, to mainstream the incentives available to the rest of industry to these new businesses.
Let me say also, as you are all quite aware, that insecurity has remained a big challenge for us all. But we are determined to face this challenge and secure the country more than ever before. To this end, Mr President and the Security Council have been engaging in rigorous stock taking, with a view to reengineering our security architecture to meet the challenges of the mindless killings in some parts of the country, including the threats of marauding herdsmen, cattle rustlers and bandits.
It is our duty to secure the rights of farmers, and all citizens, and to ensure that herders also can rear their cattle, especially as we have proposed in well-resourced ranches. But there are also criminals who want to stoke religious and ethnic crisis. Criminals who want to divide the country, using all manners of excuses including the recent attacks.
What is the explanation for anyone to go into a church to kill priests and worshippers? We recognize that while the protection of lives and property is a primary responsibility of government, it is also incumbent on us as citizens to share in this responsibility, as security is a collective responsibility. This country belongs to us all.
Our country is great because of the talents of our people, from every tribe, tongue, and religion. Our diversities are our strength. We must reject every attempt to divide us; our focus must be on developing our economy, providing opportunities in industry, manufacturing, technology for our young people. To borrow from Dike Chukwumerije, a young Nigerian poet – “we must build bridges not walls.”
We must continue to have faith in our great country. I thank you for your continued patience all workers of this nation, and your sacrifices towards moving the nation forward. Nigerian workers are by any estimation, the most patriotic segments of the population. You are amongst the most committed taxpayers, because your taxes are deducted at the source. Hence, nobody can deny you the right to interrogate government and how public funds are expended at all times. You remain amongst the few organizations that have risen above primordial sentiments and have gone across tribe and ethnicity and religion to come together to unite for a common purpose.
We believe that the worst is over for Nigeria. Accordingly, we will do everything within our powers to sustain the current economic recovery efforts. We will continue to reinforce our macroeconomic policies, to achieve sustainable economic stability and growth. We will also continue to ensure that growth comes along with more jobs and a fair and just distribution of the national wealth.
This administration has come this far, always counting on the continued support and goodwill of the Nigerian organized labour. I am confident that together we would achieve our objective, of building a united and prosperous nation.
Thank you all for your attention and may Almighty God bless us all and our great country, Nigeria.
Senior Special Assistant to the President, On Media and Publicity,
Office of the Vice President
1st May, 2018