With the sacking of Prof. Maurice Iwu as Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, FIDELIS SORIWEI writes that organised labour is determined to press for holistic electoral reforms.
After 50 years of restricting its relevance mainly to the defence of the Nigerian workers and protection of their welfare interests, the organised labour has expanded its concerns in the country.
The labour leadership used the last May Day celebration to highlight the fact that workers had assumed additional responsibility of holding the political leadership of the country accountable.
What this means is that the clenched fists and street protests while demanding for better living wages and welfare for workers, which are the regular features of labour/government relations, would not suffice. Because of the prevailing societal challenges, Labour has come to accept that it has become imperative for workers to indicate interests in the political process of the country.
The 2010 May Day celebration entitled, â€50 Years of Nationhood: Challenges of Good Governance, Unity and Credible Electionâ€ gave an insight into the turning point in the labour movement. Before the main event, a rally held at the Eagles Square, Abuja, a Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Promise Adewusi, had said that Nigerian workers would take more than passing interest in the politics of the country.
Adewusi also revealed that in looking inward, the workers had taken the deliberate rational step to shed the toga of complacency in issues of sensitive concern to the progress of the country. Specifically, he said henceforth, sitting on the fence would never be an option for workers when the leadership of the country was the issue.
According to him, it is also the view of Labour that the bane of Nigerian leadership which shows in underdevelopment, festering corruption and embezzlement of public funds, crime and related vices, is traceable to a flawed electoral system in the country. Thus, he said, henceforth, Labour would join other stakeholders to hold politicians and those in public offices accountable.
Expectedly, last Saturday, the day set aside for the celebration of workers all over the world, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress went beyond the traditional emphasis on labour related issues like minimum wage and general welfare package for the Nigerian workers. In their respective addresses at the Eagle Square, presidents of the NLC and TUC, Messrs. Abdul-Waheed Omar and Peter Esele, called the attention of the then Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and indeed, the political leadership, to burning issues in the country.
The scourge of flawed elections and urgent need to ensure a holistic implementation of the Justice Muhammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committeeâ€˜s report, insecurity, decay in infrastructure and poor state of the power sector, alongside the traditional May Day agitation for a living wage and improved general welfare for the workers, were brought to the fore.
before then, in November 2009, organised labour had allied with a Coalition of Civil Society Organisations to demand the adoption of the Uwaisâ€˜ committeeâ€˜s report which is considered the antidote to electoral fraud and violation of the sanctity of the ballot Nigeria. The NLC and TUC had also demanded the sacking of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu, as a demonstration of governmentâ€˜s sincerity on electoral reforms.
During their protest march against Iwu, labour had vowed to mobilise Nigerians to prevent the holding of the 2011 general election if the FG failed to heed their demand. The FG eventually eased Iwu out of the INEC last week.
But Labour is insisting that the removal of Iwu was the starting point in the struggle for the enthronement of genuine elections in the country. Omar said in his May Day address that only a holistic adoption of the Uwais committeeâ€˜s report in the Electoral Act would save the country from the frightening prediction made by the United States of America and some other international agencies about its continuing existence.
The NLC president said, â€One of the reasons for the failure of political leadership in our country is the way in which political leaders emerge. Our history shows that the majority
of those in political leadership arrived there through a heavily flawed electoral process. This is why the country as a whole has been clamouring for electoral reform. Of course, we have had various electoral reforms in our 50 years of independent statehood. However, at no other time is electoral reform more important than now.
â€Comrades, over the last two years, government has dragged its feet on pursuing the implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Report on Electoral Reforms to their logical conclusion. We want to encourage government to see that implementing the programme of reforms is the surest path towards ensuring that the disaster that many have foretold will befall the country will be averted. It is the only way to returning to the path of building a sustainable and robust democracy that can meet the challenges in our political economy. In more specific terms, we demand the implementation of these fundamental recommendations, among others, as suggested by the Uwais Committee.â€
Although, Omarâ€˜s counterpart in the TUC, Esele, made similar comment, he devoted much of his address to the looting of public funds in the country. Esele challenged the Acting President to overhaul the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with a view to re-energising the commission to fight corruption.
Esele, a unionist from the oil and gas industry, alleged that the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry had been stalled because of the large-scale fraud involving the multibillion petroleum subsidy. He claimed that a good chunk of the money released to subsidise importation of petroleum products was being used to fund political campaigns.
He advised the FG to provide the infrastructure and necessary relief packages required for a full deregulated of the downstream sector as a solution. The activist also urged Jonathan to prove seriousness of the revival of the war against corruption by prosecuting all those involved in the $180m Halliburton bribery scandal.
â€This administration must go beyond words in its fight against corruption by ensuring that all those whose fingers are in the till are brought to justice. There is no other way to prove this except by prosecuting those involved in the N27bn Halliburton contract scandal. We are using this opportunity to call on the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to pursue this case to a logical conclusion and this administration must ensure that no one is above the laws of our landâ€¦
â€We are of the opinion that the N340bn paid as subsidy, 20 percent of this amount is laced with fraud and inefficiency. This amount can be recovered if a comprehensive audit of the template used by the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency to effect payment to the importers of petroleum product is carried out,â€ Esele said.
In summary, Labour identified corruption as the sole reason for the rot in infrastructure, citing the Niger Delta Development Commission, PPPRA and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation as among government establishments where a culture of theft of public funds at a staggering scale had become endemic. Organised labour said the alleged missing N1.6tn from the PPRA and N1.2tn from the NDDC coffers should be investigated thoroughly.
However, apart from the quest for credible elections, demand for effective prosecution of the war on corruption, Nigerian workers expressed deep worry over the loss of value on human life, the countryâ€˜s slide into anarchy, adverse effect of the comatose power sector on the economy, among others.
The labour leaders did not leave the Eagles Square without telling President Jonathan labourâ€˜s position on his decision to leave the Ministry of Power without a substantive minister. They insisted that the non-appointment of a minister would not yield better results than did the petroleum ministry under former President Olusegun Obansanjo.