As Osinbajo, Saraki promise reforms
By Bimbola Oyesola and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The organised labour, under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), yesterday, told the President Muhammadu Buhari government to fix the economy or quit office.
The message was delivered during mass protests against rising cost of living in Nigeria, which attracted thousands of government workers and other Nigerians from all walks of life, in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities. The protest was tagged, “National day of action against corruption and for good governance.”
In Lagos, the workers marched from Yaba through Ikorodu Road, Maryland, Ikeja to Alausa Secretariat, seat of Lagos State government, bearing placards and chanting solidarity songs.
Music icon, Charles Oputa, popularly called Charlie Boy, took the protesters by surprise when he joined them at Ojuelegba end of Ikorodu Road, in Lagos.
Addressing workers before launching out from the NLC office in Yaba, Lagos, Vice President, Amaechi Asugwuni, who led the Lagos protest, said Nigerians were tired of sufferings inflicted on them through bad governance.
“This rally is long overdue and I can assure you that prolonged protest is on the way, because, Nigerians have ears; they can hear; they have eyes; they can see and you can hear from people on the street that they are hungry. The turnout here is not a joke; it is a clear message that Nigerians are sending to the government: if they don’t know what to do, let them leave,” he said.
The labour leader said the rally was necessitated by the outcry of people who were worried about the increasing cost of food, goods and services.
Charly Boy, in his address, charged the government to restore the nation’s economy and make lives easier for the common people.
He, however, said Nigerians should watch out, in the next two months, for the mother of all rallies, noting that the country would be shut down.
At the office of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in at Alausa, the protesters were joined by rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who commended NLC and TUC for organising the protest.
He noted that the demonstration of the people to defend their rights was a clear message that Nigerians have not seen the change promised.
“The change is fake. The administration is almost half time and Nigerians have continued to suffer. Buhari should know that his honeymoon is over. Let us get organised. Enough is enough.”
In Abuja, the organised labour took the protest to the National Assembly and seat of power, the Presidential Villa.
NLC Chairman, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said the groups were protesting the delay in the upward review of minimum wage amid increasing cost of living in the country.
Said he: “We are here to demand good governance and express our support in the fight against corruption. More importantly, we demand respect for rule of law, greater accountability and transparency in governance.”
He expressed worry that Nigerian workers had been the major victims of the fallout of corruption and bad governance.
Wabba said: “Today, the dollar rate is N500 to one dollar and the salaries of Nigerian workers have remained the same. Therefore, we are here to urge the National Assembly to play an important role to ensure that life is made better for Nigerians. We cannot succeed if the fight against corruption does not succeed.
“We appreciate the efforts by the National Assembly to ensure financial autonomy for the local governments and this must be sustained because money meant for the local governments does not get there.”
The NLC chairman further expressed concern that in spite of the bailout funds to states, meant for workers’ salaries, “the living condition of workers have not been improved because many are not paid.”
He explained that pensioners in the country were owed up to seven months and called on the National Assembly to synergise with other arms of government to pay them.
Contributing, the TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama, said the inflation rate in the country was growing astronomically.
He said it was time for governments at all tiers to go back to the drawing board to revive the country’s economy.
“Whatever it takes, we must review the structure of our economy.
“If we must have to kill corruption, the laws have to come from the National Assembly. Nigerians are hungry, the cost of living is high; no houses, no light and factories have gone comatose,” he said.
In his response, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said it was time to go into action towards addressing the numerous challenges confronting Nigerians.
According to him, “it can’t continue this way. The exchange rate is high; cost of things in the market have gone high, but only the workers’ salaries remain the same.
“By the next time we will meet, I will tell you what the National Assembly has done to improve the living condition of Nigerians.”
An attempt by the protesters to access Presidential Villa was blocked by security personnel at the Three Arms Zone. Thereafter, the labour leaders were allowed to select some of their leadership to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to register their protest.
At the meeting, Osinbajo was handed an 18-point agenda, which include demands that public office holders forfeit assets they refused to declare.
Osinbajo told the unionists that Buhar’s administration inherited an economy where 22 states were owing salaries up to six or eight months and had to offer bailout three times, at a time it was losing 60 per cent revenue on account of restiveness in the Niger Delta.
Osinbajo, who lauded the labour leaders for taking up the campaign on behalf of Nigerians, said a democratically elected government must constantly report to the people and be accountable to them, hence the reason he was receiving unions. He gave assurance that government will take action on the many demands raised.
According to him, Nigerians must endure the pains of a biting recession if the country would be better, as there was no gain without pain.
The acting president reiterated that Buhari’s administration was committed to the wellbeing of the people and added that it has judiciously managed its lean resources to ensure it keeps up with its responsibilities, as the country was operating “at less than 60 per cent of revenues as at 2015 till today.”
Osinbajo decried that some Nigerians were averse to the anti-corruption fight, which is helping the government save up its resources.
According to him, “every time you fight corruption, the way we are trying to fight corruption, there is a major fight back, because corruption in this country is wealthy, powerful, influential and it is in every aspect of our lives. It is practically all institutions, including religious institutions.”
He said: “The social media campaign of ‘hastagbringbackcorruption’ is an orchestrated one. Nobody that is suffering can say bring back corruption.”
He encouraged Nigerians to speak up against corrupt officials and those trying to derail the course of justice.
On labour’s demand that due process be followed, Osinbajo said the country needed an honest leader and has that in Buhari.
“If the leadership of this country is not honest, there is no way this country can survive. We will continue to go round the circle. Things might be difficult today, but I am completely sure if we stay the course, this country will not only get out of recession but also go to the path of sustainable development. If we don’t fight corruption all we are doing is a waste,” he said.