Ahead of his inauguration on May 29, the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has promised to take tough and hard decisions to reposition the country for the benefit of the citizens and workers.
He solicited the people’s cooperation and support for his incoming administration in fighting poverty, ignorance, disease, disunity, and ethnic and religious hate, which he described as “common enemies.”
The President-elect said these in a statement to commemorate the 2023 Workers’ Day on Monday just as the Nigeria Labour Congress demanded that the retirement age for civil servants should be raised to 65 years and the length of service to 40 years.
The pledge by the former Lagos State governor is coming against the backdrop of the high inflation, huge foreign debts, infrastructure deficit, high youth unemployment and insecurity confronting the country.
In the statement titled, ‘President-elect’s solidarity message to Nigerian Workers on International Workers’ Day,’ Tinubu said his ‘Renewed-Hope Agenda for a Better Nigeria’ was a covenant he was prepared to keep.
However, the former Lagos senator revealed that the ensuing weeks after his inauguration would require doggedness as the public service reforms he hopes to implement would require tough decisions.
“My plans for better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt out in my Renewed Hope Agenda for A Better Nigeria. It is a covenant borne of conviction and one I am prepared to keep.
“In Nigeria, I shall have the honour and privilege to lead from May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage, to have a decent life and provide for your families.
“The days ahead will, however, demand better understanding and cooperation from all sides, because leadership will require that we take tough and hard decisions so that our people and all Nigerian workers can live more abundantly,” Tinubu said.
Tinubu demands cooperation
While extending a hand of fellowship to the organised labour, he assured that they would find in him an ally and fellow crusader for social and economic justice for all Nigerians.
He also promised to keep his pledge for better working conditions for the workers as espoused in his agenda for the country.
He noted, ‘’On this special day, as your President-elect, I extend my hands of friendship to the Nigerian workers through the two central labour unions – Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress.
“In me, you will find a dependable ally and co-labourer in the fight for social and economic justice for all Nigerians, including all the working people.
“Your fight will be my fight because I will always fight for you. My plans for better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt out in my Renewed Hope Agenda for A Better Nigeria. It is a covenant born of conviction and one I am prepared to keep.”
Addressing workers during the May Day event at Eagle Square in Abuja, the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, asked for a fresh retirement age for civil servants in the country.
Ajaero also called for a general review of core civil servants’ salaries to narrow the gap between other civil servants’ emoluments and those in other segments of the public service.
He said that the extension of years of service should go around, as it had been done in other sectors of the public service in the country, disclosing that only a few other establishments, including the core civil service, are now left out.
“We are, therefore, demanding that the age of retirement and length of service in the entire public service, including the civil service, be reviewed upward to 65 years of age and 40 years of service, ” he said.
Ajaero said that the union had, over the years, demanded salary review but had yet to receive the Federal Government’s attention.
“It is necessary to recall that we have continued over the years to demand that the salaries of core civil servants be beefed up to narrow the gap between their emoluments and those in other segments of the public service.
“They all possess the same educational qualifications and cognate experience on the job. So why the disparity?” Ajaero queried.
NLC on gratuities
On gratuity payment, the NLC president said union leaders had, on several occasions, presented the issue to the government without any positive response.
He noted, ‘’Fellow comrades, we have consistently presented the issue of gratuity payment to the government but nothing has been done in that regard.
“As you are all aware, the concept of gratuity payment to employees is predicated on the fact that those who have laboured for public institutions or private enterprises are entitled to the proverbial golden handshake from their employers.
“Thus, gratuity is a monetary benefit given by an employer to his/her employee at the time of retirement without the worker making any financial contribution whatsoever to the fund.”
According to him, such a lump sum was meant to enable the retiree to finance any post-retirement endeavour of his/her choice.
“The Pension Act did not abolish gratuity payment and we demand its restoration in many public sectors where it has been stopped, ” the labour leader said.
In his remarks at the event, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Chris Ngige, explained that a total of 1.6 million poor households had benefited from the bi-monthly payment of N10,000 by the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.) under the National Social Investment Programme inaugurated in 2016.
He said, “In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari launched the National Social Investment Programme, currently the largest of such programmes in Africa and one of the largest in the world.
‘’The National Social Register of Poor and Vulnerable Nigerians now has 32.6 million persons from more than 7mn poor and vulnerable households, identified across 708 local government areas, 8,723 wards and 86,610 communities across the 36 states of the country and the FCT.
“From this number, 1.6mn poor and vulnerable households are currently benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer programme, which pays a bimonthly stipend of N10,000 per household,”
Speaking further, Ngige also noted the regime’s efforts towards the improvement of the living conditions of Nigerians.
He added, “Not forgetting the housing sector; the Family Homes Fund Limited incorporated by the Federal Government of Nigeria in September 2016, is the implementing agency for the Buhari Administration’s National Social Housing scheme.
“More than 2,000 hectares of land with titled documents have been given by 24 states under the Buhari administration’s Social Housing programme, which can accommodate about 65,000 new homes.
“Under the National Social Housing programme, Nigerians will be given at least 15 years with a monthly payment at a six per cent interest rate to pay for each housing unit.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria provides an N200 billion financing facility, guaranteed by the FGN, states like Enugu, Nasarawa, Delta, and Kano have benefitted their workers from the scheme.”
In a related development, workers in Abia State have confronted Governor Okezie Ikpeazu over the arrears of pensions and other emoluments being owed the civil servants in the state.
In his speech during the 2023 Workers Day celebration in Umuahia, the acting state Chairman of NLC, Pascal Nweke revealed that the state was yet to pay senior secondary school teachers 28 months’ salary arrears.
He also said the outgoing governor had not settled over 14 months of salary arrears for Junior Secondary School teachers while the 27.5 per cent Teachers salary structure has not been for over 10 years.
Abia workers lament
The state government, the labour leader said, had also failed to pay the Abia Line Network 36 months’ salary arrears, while the local governments have refused to implement the national minimum wage.
Nweke stated, ‘’The list includes SEMB – 18 months and non-implementation of minimum wage; Abia State Library – 14 months of salary arrears and non-implementation of minimum wage; Abia State College of Health Sciences and Management Technology –Two months’ salary arrears and non-implementation of CONHESS to Social Welfare, Livestock, Veterinary and Health Workers in the LGAs since 2009.’’
“It also includes non-payment of leave bonus allowances to Abia workers from 2013 till date; non-payment of seven months arrears of check-off dues deducted from workers salaries to their various unions and 43 months of pension arrears and 21 years of gratuity.’’
The workers also regretted that “security agents have turned Abia roads to ATMs by extorting money from road users, especially our members in NURTW without qualms, while others face double taxation in the hands of touts and hangers-on.”
According to him, workers and their families in these areas are finding life difficult, appealing to Okezie whose tenure expires on May 29, to ameliorate the pains and suffering of the workers.
The state Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Ihechi Enogwe exhorted the governor-elect, Dr Alex Otti to fulfil his election promises, discontinue selective payment of salaries and pensions as well as ensure regular payment of salaries and pensions and the liquidation of salary arrears.
The chairman of the occasion, Chief Charles Ogbonna saluted the courage of Abia workers, saying “It is a crime against humanity to owe salaries and pensions.”
Ikpeazu, who was represented by the Head of Service, Onyii Wamah saluted the courage of “both the leadership of the workforce and the entire public/civil servants for their commitment, resilience and painstaking disposition in the face of obvious challenges arising from the delay in the payment of their salaries in the last two months.”
He announced his approval of a new retirement age of 65 years or 40 years of service for teachers in the state “with effect from next week.”
Otti, in a statement he personally signed, assured the workers that their sad experience of the past years would be a thing of the past under his watch as governor come May 29.
He commended the workers in the state and local government civil services for ensuring that the wheels of the public service continued to spin despite being owed many months of salary.
The statement read, “I’m aware as usual that most of you will be celebrating this year’s May Day on empty stomachs as a result of non-payment of salaries.
“Be assured that such a sad experience will become a thing of the past going forward. I commend your resilience, long-suffering and uncommon dedication to duty in the service of our dear State.”
In Oyo State, the NLC demanded a new wage structure that would enable workers to meet up with the current economic challenges in Nigeria.
The NLC Chairman in the state, Kayode Martins, made the call during his speech at this year’s worker’s day, held at Adamasingba Lekan Salami stadium in Ibadan, the state capital.
Corroborating his view, the Chairman of the Trade Union Congress, Bosun Olabiyi, also appealed to the government to provide a conducive environment for workers.
He asked the state to address the casualisation of workers to curb the injustice being meted out to them.
Governor Seyi Makinde promised that his government would embark on an aggressive global investment drive.
Meanwhile, there was a mild drama during the programme when a member of the National Union of Electricity Employees fell down from a ladder after it broke.
He was reportedly demonstrating how electricity workers perform their duties when the incident occurred.
In Katsina State, workers celebrating May Day complained about the terrible security situation and challenged the incoming government to accord security a top priority.
Speaking at the celebration, the TUC Chairman in the state, Muntari Ruma stated, ‘’The issue of insecurity is another matter of serious concern. Except for politicians, who are heavily guarded, no one is safe anymore, whether you are at home or your workplace or at home, the market, the worship centre or even walking in the streets.