Lockdown: Another extension may spark off unrest, NLC warns

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has faulted the palliatives by the federal government to the poorest of the poor, calling for an expansion of social register to cover Nigerians affected by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.

The Congress, in a letter addressed to Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said the stimulus package should be in consultation with other social partners.

After the initial lockdown order on FCT , Lagos and Ogun states by President Muhammadu Buhari, the order was renewed for another two weeks, with a promise that palliatives would be given to the poorest of the poor.

Expectedly, Nigerians differed over the extension. The president however said it was for the good of all.

Although the federal government announced the palliatives, most Nigerians still called for a more inclusive arrangement that would cater for a greater number of citizens.

NLC’s fear

But in a letter dated 14th April, 2020 and signed by NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the NLC warned that extension of the lockdown beyond one month may spark social unrest by the citizens.

He said: “While we commend government for being proactive, we opine that the stimulus package would be best served through consultation with social partners. Labour and private sector employers have a good understanding of industries where jobs and production are in most danger. 

“We also believe that palliatives distribution by Government can be improved through increased stakeholder participation. Mass-based organisations such as labour has the grassroots presence, especially at wards and units, and can ensure that palliatives get to those who really need them–the poorest of the poor who cannot afford a meal per day. We posit that using the old platform will not deliver the desired result.

“The most critical need of the poorest of the poor among us is to beat hunger. Government palliatives should be tailored in a way that guarantees poor Nigerians especially daily income earners at least two daily meals.

“Thus, we call for an expansion of the national social register to capture individual Nigerian workers who do not live with their families. Resources provided for the national school feeding program should be re-channelled to feeding our poor, aged and destitute.”

Comrade Wabba, who is also the president of ITUC Global, also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to include other social partners on the inter- ministerial economic response of the pandemic.

“Beyond the threat of COVID-19 to health and life, there are also very real threats to livelihood. Jobs are under threat. Many employees are finding it difficult to source money to keep workers at work and sustain the production lines. It has been projected that the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 would ripple on, at least, for the next two years. 

“Many countries around the world are mobilizing resources to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many governments have set up COVID-19 response teams devoted to economic and income recovery. Governments are also engaging with organized labour to find a human faced approach to dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic,” the union said.

On the inter-ministerial economic response announced by President Buhari, it said: “This is commendable. Yet, it is critical that social partners are carried along in fixing socio-economic questions being thrown up in the current COVID-19 fight. Well, Nigerian workers wear the workplace shoes and would feel most the pinch of COVID-19 aftershocks.”

On the need to extend the current lockdown, Comrade Wabba urged the federal government to play a balancing game by also consider how Nigerians were faring.

“While we understand the public health imperatives for extending the lockdown in some parts of the country, it is also very important to underscore the fact that the states currently under total lockdown are the economic and administrative nerve centres of Nigeria. 

“This is very dicey. As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of corona virus, loss of income and the accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and deaths. This is the time to play the balancing game. The truth is that our economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension.

“Prolonged lockdowns are best effective in the short term. In the medium to long term, the human instinct to survive would kick in and restraint might lead to the collapse of law and order. Within the first two weeks of the lockdown in some parts of the country, there were widespread acts of civil disobedience, inducement of law enforcement agents to gain passes and even various forms of violent crimes. No one is sure how long this dam would hold. We fear that the situation will get out hand if the lockdown exceeds one month.

“As part of our engagement and contribution towards fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the NLC is working with one of its affiliates – the National Union of Textile, Garments, and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria – particularly through its branch in Abuja to mass produce affordable face masks for Nigerians. The official unveiling of the initiative will take place in a matter of days,” Wabba further said.

Pensioners  

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) Wednesday expressed worries over the safety of its members and the older people in the country amidst the raging pandemic.

In a statement by NUP General Secretary Elder Actor Zal, the union said the group was worried by the medical experts’ revelation that the pandemic was unfriendly with the aged people and those above 65 years were worst hit and hardly survived the pandemic if contacted.

The NUP further said based on the fact that the organisation is a union for the aged, the national secretariat of the union would be shut down and all activities suspended from April 24 to May 27, 2020.

It also appealed to all pensioners and elderly people to obey all the directives of the government and observed all the protocols by staying at home within this period.

The union further reinstated her earlier call for the inclusion of pensioners in the government palliative and relief materials being distributed to cushion the effects of the lockdown on the citizens.

“Having critically analysed the situation in the country upon the ravaging Covid-19 epidemic, the national headquarters has decided to extend the shutdown of its activities from 24th April to 27th May 2020. 

“In line with the last press release from this office dated 24th March, 2020 and the increasing numbers of coronavirus victims in our country, it became very necessary for safety measures to extend the shutdown of the unions activities for the next one month, especially as the medical experts has revealed that corona virus is unfriendly with the aged people above 65yrs old.

“Therefore, the union activities shall resume officially on Wednesday 27th of May 2020 by which time we expect this pandemic to have been contained to the barest minimum and a vaccine for the virus would have been found.

“However this decision is subject to further directive by the federal government/state government on the ongoing lockdown.

 “Equally, we wish to appeal to the federal government through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to consider the inclusion of pensioners in the palliative packages as requested earlier in our press release of Wednesday 15th April, 2020.”

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