We are creating consciousness for action in 2023 – NLC scribe Ugboaja




General Secretary Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Emma Ugboaja speaks on issues bordering on 2023 general elections, the alternative labour is bringing, minimum wage and insecurity. MOSES JOHN brings the details. Excerpts

Labour deciding 2023 

We are starting a push, a political push to get the working family to become ultra conscious. We are not carrying out an enlightenment campaign as usual. No, we’re not trying to draw people’s attention or create awareness. We want to create consciousness because consciousness will lead to action. So it’s not about awareness. It’s about consciousness. The consciousness that will lead to the action that will make people get that PVC, the consciousness that will lead to action that will make people not only get PVC, but insist on voting. Not only insisting on voting, insist on confirming that their vote counted. 

So it’s not about whether the President signs Electoral Act or doesn’t sign the Electoral Act. If they don’t want decency in the country and think brutality is what is going to be, it will not work. Like we sing during some of our rallies, we ask “how many people can they kill”? 

Because they’re pushing us to a level that people will know there is nothing left, and it’s dangerous for everybody. When you push people to the point that they feel there is nothing left, there is nothing worth living for. There is no hope. There is no answer. You that has put them in that position, you are not safe either. 

If you go down our literature, you will verify when we have warned, right from the structural adjustment times into the era of subsidy; fuel subsidy removal. We had warned that let’s not push Nigeria to a point that the accumulated capitalist wealth will now not be able to be enjoyed within our vicinity and they thought we were blowing hot air, they thought we were saying what wasn’t possible. But within two decades, it is in our faces now. 

Insecurity 

You now move and people warn you don’t drive SUVs to certain parts of the country. Don’t put this type of plate number, don’t use this type of personnel. Right now, the chicken has come home to roost. So, now, you’ve accumulated the wealth but you can use it. Is that not how they define madness? Because when you accumulate and pack up what you can never put to use, is that not the definition of madness?

So you have madness at the very top level. Before now, the thinking was that they can go abroad, but COVID brought them down to earth once small and say; can you think, can you take a step back and think? Still our people are not thinking. Every day we’re begging: sign and some people are saying don’t sign. This group says sign, the other group says don’t sign.  

You are not supposed to be begged to do what is right for the country. We need to do what is right for the country. If not, the country will do what is right for you. Well, reality is now step by step getting dawn on everybody. They should continue playing games and politics but one day, they will be the ones to suffer for the great injustice and wickedness they are doing to Nigeria and her poor citizens. 

You think you will continue to suppress Nigerians, but there will be a limit to it. And that is the danger because when it starts, they will tell you it’s organised labour but it’s not a matter of  organised labour. Organised labour is part of society and will play its role while other members of society will play their roles as well both as individuals and as organisations. 

Inaction of labour 

When people begin to postulate on high heavens that Labour hasn’t said anything, but it is not about Labour saying anything, it is about you, also! What are you doing? You don’t say Labour should say, and you are busy walking about morosely. Everybody should take responsibility. If everybody takes responsibility, the people who are oppressing us very few in number, they’ll be the ones that will run. 

2023 General elections 

We  have kick started. Internally, we have put together what in the interim we intend to enlarge moving forward. I am talking about what we christened the Nigerian Labour Congress Working People Charter of Demands on governance. The charter contains what we feel should be the way forward, having x-rayed the problems that have besieged us for a while now in education and health sectors, in management of the economy and security. 

You talk of North-East, our people have been killed as teachers, have been killed as nurses, we have lost drivers, we have lost all members of our working families. You go to the South-East, same. Southwest, same. Northwest, same! So we feel it. They say he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. 

We don’t have double passport. We’re all Nigerians. We don’t have capacity to fly abroad for treatment. We are treated by our sisters that are nurses. We are taught by our teachers that have not been paid but feel that their commitment is to the children they see everyday in their neighbourhood and therefore salary or no salary, they keep going to teach while those that are opressing us are busy flying that children abroad where they think they will know better. 

Next step 

So clearly, we have had this put together. Now we’re taking up the next step. The next step is to have a larger conversation. And the first step in the larger conversation will be happening on the 2nd of March, 2022 at the NAF Centre, where we intend to have a one-day conference on the way forward politically for Nigerian working people. 

We are tired of people getting into government and then telling us: “comrades you know, we didn’t know it was this bad.”  We’re tired of hearing such crap being said by people. We’re tired of people telling us “this can’t be done”; when they get into the place. Now, we want answers right now. We know what the issues are. And we want people addressing concretely, roadmaps, implementation steps, timelines on how this can be done, so that we can then measure the different proposals we have. And then pick the one that is best for Nigeria. 

That’s the direction we are going. So we’re going to be having that conversation. After that,  we will then go and  have a mega what we call “people show of  force” at the Eagle Square Abuja. This is for Nigerians to know, for the politicians to know that they have come to the end of the road, that we  have had enough of the shenanigans. 

So we’re going to come out, not paid for by anybody but as a people who want the way forward. So, clearly for us, it’s about taking our own hands so that people will then stop asking us what are you doing to respond to a government policy that is anti-human, anti- people. So we want to address it from the roots, from the beginning. And that is the take-off and our hope is that by the time we put six months of intense work on this, 2023 can never be business as usual in Nigeria anymore.

Minimum wage

We can agitate for legislation. We can lobby for legislation but the moment it becomes law, you take it away from the realm of us (organised labour) as interest groups, and it becomes the burden of government to implement. 

That is the challenge we have. People  keep misplacing the burden of responsibilities. Our responsibility was to advocate, to push for the level of wage that we felt was necessary and needed for a working family to exist in our country in the circumstances we find ourselves. When we have struggled and gotten that to become a law, how on earth will it not be our responsibility to enforce it?  

So the challenge is on the government. Why are you government if you can no longer guarantee the respect of laws under your watch? If you now can throw your hands up in the air and it then becomes survival of the fittest, then you are no longer government. 

So it is about putting the responsibility where it should be, because for us, even the minimum wage is no more enough. So it’s not a function of why have they not paid? We know that it (N30,000 minimum wage)is completely meaningless now to the working family. So the challenge should be why will a government make a law and then ignore the law? 

Does it mean that now if  there is a law on don’t carry arms, then they expect every Nigerian worker to carry arms and go and enforce collection of his money from the government? What if we tell the working families to rise up, use a machete, use a stick, and to go to my house and collect your money, then the roll out the tanks?

But for stability of society everybody has contributed their sovereignty to a body  for the purposes of sanity of society. Why are some people thinking that they are bigger than others?
End.

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