Deregulation and Minimum Wage: LASCO Rounds off Nationwide Rallies in Abuja
Deregulation and Minimum Wage: LASCO Rounds off Nationwide Rallies in Abuja
DSM Calls for a 48-hour Warning General Strike and Mass Protest
Report of Labour’s Abuja Rally
By Keye Ewebiyi
On Thursday October 29, 2009 the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) completed its series of nationwide rallies with the grand finale held in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. Similar protest marches had been held in Lagos, Oyo, Delta, Borno and Enugu states. The protest commenced at about 9:45am at the popular Berger Junction, moved through Herbert Macaulay way and ended at exactly 3:15pm at the National Assembly Complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja.
The nationwide protests were embarked upon against the proposed deregulation of the downstream sector of oil industry, for a N52, 200 minimum wage and the implementation of the Justice Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee report.
Despite the light rainfall that morning, the protest march had about 2,000 people drawn from various parts of the country including members of the affiliate unions of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Other Organizations that participated include Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Gani Fawehinmi Movement for Good Governance (GFMGG), United Action Democracy (UAD), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Alliance for Credible Election (ACE), Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party (CMB-LP) and some student unions.
There were stopovers at Wuse Market Junction, NNPC Junction and FCDA secretariat for public sensitization. Speakers at the protest include the NLC President Abdul Wahed Omar, General Secretary John Odah, LASCO Co-Chairman Dipo Fashina, Co-Secretary, Abiodun Aremu, TUC President-General Peter Esele, and Labour Party National Chairman, Dan Nwanyanwu. Others include Civil Society Organisation President Uba Sanni, ERC National Coordinator, Hassan Taiwo Soweto and Femi Falana.
protestors on the march
In his opening speech, Abdul Wahed Omar warned the Federal Government against deregulating the oil sector as well as privatizing the Nation’s oil refineries. He said if carried out, deregulation would mean increase in the price of fuel from the present N65 per litre to N104 per litre, which would translate into general increase in the prices of goods and services thereby forcing many already pauperized Nigerians deeper into the dungeons of poverty. He challenged government to subject these policies to a national referendum to test its popularity among the masses while also calling on Nigerians to reject in totality the proposed deregulation of the oil sector. Already, there is fuel price increase, fuel queues and hoarding in Lagos, Abuja, Asaba, Jos and Calabar. This is the shape of things to come if the deregulation policy is eventually implemented.
On minimum wage, Omar called on the federal government to immediately implement N52, 200 minimum wage. “The current minimum wage being paid to Nigerian workers is among the lowest in Africa despite huge oil wealth amassed on daily basis. It cannot sustain workers’ basic needs in the face of increasing cost of living. Government must provide stimulus package for workers to cushion the effects of the global economic meltdown and carry out a regular and general wage review to meet up with inflationary trend” he added. While the wages of political office holders have been increased by over 800% in the last two years, wages of Nigerian workers remained stagnant for the past ten years.
On electoral reform, he bemoaned the move by President Yar’Adua to sweep the Uwais’ Electoral Committee Report under the carpet. In his words, “The Uwais’ Report must not be abandoned but must be implemented to the letter; we believe that it is only a truly independent electoral body that can guarantee free and fair election which will make the people’s votes count, as well as restore confidence in the electoral process”. The Justice Uwais’ Electoral Committee had recommended among many things that the Chairmanship candidates of the Independent National Electoral Committee (INEC) be screened by the National Judicial Commission, which will then forward three shortlisted candidates to the National Council of States, which shall appoint one upon ratification by the National Assembly. This is against the present practice whereby the chairman is singlehandedly appointed by the President. Also, the committee recommended that electoral disputes should be resolved before swearing-in of elected officers and that INEC should be granted financial independence.
We of the DSM have consistently argued that it is not enough to have a credible electoral reform. Without a formidable working people political alternative, which the Labour Party could be transformed into if built and repositioned by Labour, the electoral reform will only amount to creating level playing field for the different sections of the thieving ruling elite and anti-poor, pro-establishment political parties in the contest for political power.
On his part, the President-General of the TUC, Peter Esele urged Nigerians to take their destinies into their own hands by beginning to ensure that their votes count at elections through genuine agitation for electoral reform. He also warned the Federal Government not to embark on deregulation which he said would make Nigerians poorer. In his words “I have no problem with deregulation but I have problems with those who want to implement it without understanding deregulation. What the masses need is not deregulation but adequate food, healthcare, education and security which can only be provided by a government produced through a credible election”.
“The only thing that can liberate all of us from exploitation and oppression is for us to stand for ‘one man, one vote’ which can only be achieved through the implementation of the Uwais’ Report. Nigerians should have the power to hire and fire public officers” he further added.
The chairman of the Labour Party, Dan Nwanyanwu, commended workers for the large turn-out. He also urged them to join the Labour Party as it is the only existing working class political party that could provide the much desired change in the country.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto, ERC National Coordinator and DSM member, who spoke on behalf of Nigerian students and youths, expressed solidarity with the labour unions against the planned deregulation of the oil sector and for the implementation of the proposed minimum wage. He called on the labour leaders to declare a nationwide warning strike after the protest to further press home the demands. He submitted that only a social revolution by a working peoples’ government with socialist programme can bring to an end the sufferings of the Nigerian masses. He challenged the labour leaders to build the Labour Party as a fighting working class party with socialist programme that could wrest power from the ruling elite at all levels.
The protesters carrying placards and singing anti-deregulation songs picketed the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Also, the protest train stopped at the Federal Capital Development Administration Secretariat where a protest letter was delivered to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja for onward delivery to the President, and was received by the Minister of State for FCT.
Under heavy police surveillance, the protesters led by the labour leaders trooped into the National Assembly complex and were received by the representatives of the leadership of the two arms of the national assembly, the senate and the house of representatives. The Senate President, David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole were conspicuously absent.
Dr. Dipo Fashina, LASCO Co-Chairman, warned the parliamentarians not to support the deregulation policy of the Yar’Adua government because if they do, they will be regarded as the enemies of the people. “If the National Assembly does not support the extreme poverty into which the masses have been thrown, then they must oppose deregulation and support N52,200 minimum wage and electoral reform” he stated.
While delivering the protest letter to the parliamentarians, the NLC President urged them to legislate in the interest of the masses by fulfilling the demands of the protest. However, he threatened that if “government fails to meet the demands, the labour movement will have no option than to embark on a national strike after the protest”.
Receiving the letter, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour and Productivity, Senator Wilson Ake and the chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Character, Senator Smart Adeyemi (a one-time President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists) gave the assurance that the National Assembly would look into the demands and advise the Federal Government appropriately.
11 DSM members from Lagos, Ife and Benin participated in the successful protest with the sales of 330 copies of the DSM paper, Socialist Democracy. DSM banner calling for a 48-hour warning general strike and mass protest and the nationalization of the commanding heights of economic with democratic control was hoisted at the protest. The special leaflets on deregulation (see http://www.socialistnigeria.org/?p=1544) were also massively distributed.