Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to recall the 16 years of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rule, describing it as the era with unprecedented, irresponsible expenditure.
He said this during an audience with the leadership of organised labour comprising Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) led by the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, who were on a congratulatory visit.
According to the president, the PDP has not been able to successfully explain to Nigerians what they did with the unprecedented earnings during the period as no tangible infrastructure was built.
Buhari recalling the negotiations that led to the approval of the N30,000 minimum wage, said he had to ask the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, to remind the workers what his administration met on ground and what it has been able to achieve with minimal resources.
“During your negotiation with the Minister of Labour and when he briefed us in council on N30,000 minimum wage, I gave an analogy of a mad woman, who went to fetch firewood but then she realised it was too heavy to carry. But instead of reducing it, she added more.
“I said, we are struggling to survive as a nation. You (workers) knew what this country was earnings between 2009 and 2015, you knew the state of infrastructure when we came in; God gave them 16 years of unprecedented earnings. Multiply 2.1 million by $100 by 16 years. I don’t think the PDP has been able to successfully explain to Nigerians what they did with that money. Because of some of the roads especially the main ones, from here to Onitsha, to Port Harcourt since PTF days not to talk of new ones…monies they earned from petroleum in 16 years.
“You know the rail was virtually gone and power, I asked where is the power? They spent $16 billion on power and Nigerians are asking, where is the power? It was unprecedented, irresponsible expenditure. Most of you are unanswerable to Nigerians. I appealed to you through our mutual friend, the Minister of Labour to tell you where we found the country, where we are, and what we have been able to do with the resources available to us.
“Oil production from 2.1 million barrels per day went down to half a million. The militants were unleashed on this administration, and yet as confirmed by your leader, we had to assure pensioners who were dying to collect their entitlements. So really, there was terrible management of this country in the last 16 years and we are just trying to make up.
“We cannot succeed without your cooperation. I appreciate the pressure you are under from your respective constituencies, most especially if you have to submit yourself for elections, you have to prove to your members that you are with them rather than with the government and we understand.”
President Buhari also commended the labour unions for their patriotism during the presidential and National Assembly elections and how they assisted many Nigerians to travel to their constituencies to vote.
Buhari said: “You and many Nigerians stepped in to help many Nigerians exercise their rights to vote; you intervened as patriots not for political, religious and tribal reasons. You stood in during a very difficult period for all of us. On behalf of all Nigerians who benefited from your kind support, I want to say thank you. As a result of what you did, many citizens were able to travel and vote. I am also aware that many of your members were very active in voters’ education and the promotion of peaceful elections in your various communities. Thankfully, the presidential elections were conducted peacefully in most parts of the country.
“As we go to the polls this weekend, my prayer is that we also conduct elections in a non-violent manner.”
The president said he was looking forward to labour’s continued support and engagement as the nation cannot afford to go back to the days of violence.
Buhari thanked Nigerians for giving him another four years adding, “we will remain focused on our promises which remains security, economy and fighting corruption. I want to assure you that the next four years will be peaceful, prosperous and corruption-free. I, therefore, look forward to receiving your proposals so that together we can achieve these goals.”
Wabba, in his remarks earlier, assured Buhari that the workers are partners in progress.
According to him, “government and labours are primary partners in progress. The success of government is linked to its workers. And the success of workers is linked to the government.”
The NLC president said one of the finest hour of labour with any president of the country was Buhari’s bailout to states to pay salaries and pensioners.
Wabba said: “We all remember the special bailout, Paris Club refund and budget support package you introduced to support state governments during the recession. Your directive during that intervention was that state governments must offset accumulated arrears of salaries and pension liabilities. I remember you publicly and openly asked state governors, ‘how do you manage to sleep at night when the salaries of workers in your state are not paid?’
“For us, that was one of the finest moments we have had with any president in this country. I can stand here today and say your intervention was the difference between life and death for many workers.
“We also commend you for paying off the pension and accumulated entitlements of disengaged staff of Nigeria Airways and many other pensioners whose pension had been left to accumulate by successive governments. Despite the recession, you did the right thing.”
He urged Buhari as he plans for the next four years to focus on job creation, for unemployed youths, provision of affordable power across the country, reactivation and upgrading of the nation’s refineries and pipelines infrastructure, continued diversification of the economy, increased funding for agricultural research, upgrading of hospitals and academic institutions, revitalisation of the public service and revisiting the tenure policy which has made the civil service top-heavy resulting in indiscipline and stagnation.
The labour leader appealed to the National Assembly to earnestly pass the National Minimum Wage Act, while also asking the president to thereafter, sign it into law within the shortest possible time.
Wabba also urged Buhari to inaugurate the boards of National Pension Commission (PENCOM), National Insurance Fund Trust, Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies and National Labour Advisory Council.
According to the NLC president, these institutes are key pillars in labour-government relations. “The activation of the boards will surely ensure our successes to date are taken to the next level.”