By Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR
As we have successfully scaled through the crossroads of the old and new year, it brings out a sense of wistfulness of the past year, passed, of both our successes and failures. It also brings hope for the new year, starting new and making positive changes. Although you might expect a lot out of the new year, in reality it could be like every other night.
After looking over 2015, it seems the right thing to do is to look ahead on how to solve our socioeconomic problems in 2016. A new year often brings renewed hope for individuals, nations, and humanity. Naturally, we all pray and hope for peace and prosperity. It is a collective duty.
In 2015, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, humiliated at the polls, was soon to be forgotten. The departure of the native son of Otueke aroused near-erotic ecstasy of Nigerians who loathed him with such intensity that it’s hard to think of a comparison with any democratically elected president in Nigeria. Ironically, his Achilles heel has become his point of celebration internationally.
The then candidate Muhammadu Buhari didn’t have the fiery oratory. To be sure, he’s no Barack Obama. Buhari didn’t electrify the way Obama did. But the earnestness and patriotism about him are remarkably similar. After soaring through Nigeria’s political stratosphere on the promise of killing corruption before corruption kills us, General Buhari was overwhelmingly elected president. Thus, the new era of PMB.
In spite of dwindling economic fortunes of the country occasioned by falling prices of crude oil, some lawmakers, leaders and the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and ordinary Nigerians have raised high hurdles for PMB to scale this year in order to improve on the well being of Nigerians. How he does this, Nigerians wait with bated animation.
Hear them set their goals in the Vanguard Newspaper of Friday, 1st January, 2016:
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Senator Anietie Okon, said, President Buhari, should work towards keeping the country united and take charge of governance, if he desired peace for Nigeria.
“He should strive to hold the country together. The challenge posed by insecurity is daunting. Without substantial mileage on this subject, plans to enhance the economy will be snared. If the President desires peace and cohesion in the country, he should now take charge of direction of governance rather than the cavalier hands of approach, which has nurtured diverse sub-structures within his government and the APC engaged in a destructive competition for power and control with its own agenda in a war of attrition.
“We shall together stand in faith and trust through the good, the tough, the thin and the triumphs. Together, we shall be triumphant and bask in our God’s glory and blessings through the New Year,” Anietie said.
Also, Hon Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, PDP, Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency, Abia, said: “My expectations for the year is that the laws of Appropriations are fully operational and a truly independent judiciary, legislature and executive working relationships come to bear. It is also my wish that better economic policies that could checkmate insecurity, poverty, complete eradication of the reign of impunity in our great nation come to the fore.”
On its part, the NLC, which said that 2015 was eventful and challenging for Nigerian workers in particular and Nigerians in general, said the government should improve on the fortunes of the citizenry by cutting cost of governance, creating more jobs and increasing minimum wage.
In a statement by its President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, the NLC said: “given the massive support that Nigerians gave President Buhari as a symbol and icon of change, they expectedly harbour tremendous expectations that his government will deliver on a number of areas and provide succour that has for decades eluded them. For the NLC as a vanguard organisation of the Nigerian working class, we wish to use the occasion of the New Year to highlight a few of these expectations and indeed also our fears.
“Instead of using our current economic reality as a basis for deep reflection on how to revive and rebuild our economy, our political elite have instead chosen to engage Nigeria workers in battle. This is symbolised in recent threats by the Nigerian Governors Forum to abandon the payment of the N18, 000 national minimum wage, which was enacted into law in 2011, or in the alternative sack workers to join the army of the unemployed.
”Another threat against the poor masses of Nigeria is the vigorous advocacy by several representatives of the ruling class, their business elite collaborators, the World Bank and IMF, is that the Nigerian government should use the opportunity of the low price of crude oil to remove the subsidy on petroleum products. The argument, as we have heard over and over in the last 30-35 years, is that the money so freed from paying subsidy will be used to upgrade our infrastructure, provide educational and healthcare facilities among others.
“For us, the fall in the price of crude oil provides a unique opportunity for our country to go back to the basics; to diversify and make governments at every level to look critically at areas of its comparative advantage and concentrate efforts to make the difference in…
“An issue of great concern to the working class in Nigeria today is that of the national minimum wage which is due for an upward review. The National Minimum Wage Act of 2011 established parameters for re-opening negotiations for a new national minimum wage, which is to be reviewed every five years. Such review would take into perspective the purchasing power of the naira and prevailing rate of inflation. As things are right now, with the sharp devaluation of the naira, the existing N18, 000 minimum wage equally declined in value, thereby worsening the cost of living for workers.
“It is however bothersome that the governors flew a reprehensible kite of minimum wage reduction in 2015. NLC did realise that this was a strategy to get us talking about retaining the paltry sum of N18,000 as minimum wage instead of calling for an increment. We had responded accordingly and made clear our resolve to fight against any attempt to reduce the minimum wage, which would be illegal, as would be efforts to curtail an upward review, in line with the provisions of the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act.
“It was therefore discomfiting that President Muhammadu Buhari appears to have given tacit support to the governors’ gambit, in the course of his maiden presidential media chat on December 30, 2015. Echoing the claim that states might not have the capacity to (continue to) pay a mere N18, 000 as minimum wage. For us in Congress, the position of the governors supported by the views of the Mr. President cannot be empirically defended. There is no state of the federation that cannot pay much more than N18, 000 as minimum wage if corruption and extravagance on the part of the public office holders are stamped out. If people are at the centre of states’ policies, which is of the essence for ensuring development, the focus should be on economic empowerment of the working people.
“For example, during the 2-year negotiations which led to the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act, NLC and TUC demanded N52, 000 as minimum wage. Several states that said this was too much and they could not pay more than N32,000 would later still say that even N18,000 was too much. It equally has to be stressed at this point in time that reviewing the national minimum wage upwards is a multidimensional necessity.
“The unemployment crisis in the country is assuming a frightening dimension as there is hardly any household in the country where there is not at least two to three long-term unemployed persons several years after they had completed their schooling. We will continue in the New Year to dialogue with government and its various agencies on how the government of PMB intends to actualise its programme or promise of creating three million jobs annually.’’