Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the 16 years of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as an era with unprecedented and irresponsible expenditure.
He spoke 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.
He claimed no tangible infrastructure was built.
Buhari who recalled the negotiations that led to the approval of the N30,000 minimum wage, said he had to ask Minister of Labour and Employment, 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 for her to carry, instead of reducing, she added to it.
“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 some of the roads, especially the main ones, from here to Onitsha to Port Harcourt (remain the way they were) since PTF days not to talk of new ones in spite of monies they earned from petroleum in 16 years. You know the rail was virtually gone. 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 ensure (payment to) pensioners who were dying to collect their entitlements. So, really, there were terrible management of this country in 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 labour for their patriotism during the presidential and National Assembly elections.
“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 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.”
Wabba assured Buhari that the workers were partners in progress.
“Government and labours are primarily partners in progress. The success of government is linked to its workers and the success of workers is linked to government.”
The NLC leader 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.
“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.”
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.