An Address by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba,mni at the Opening Ceremony of the National Colloquium Organised by the NLC on the theme “The Labour Movement and The Future of National Unity: What Role for Restructuring” held on Wednesday 23rd August, 2017 at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja.
On behalf of the National Executive Council of Nigeria Labour Congress, it gives me great privilege and honour to welcome our distinguished invited guests from all works of life, our penalis, and participants to this forum, which we have titled: ‘‘ The Labour Movement and the Future of United Nigeria: what role for Restructuring’’. We decided to convene this colloquium in response to recent developments in our polity, and the stringent and vocal calls for the restructuring of our nation.
The discourse among the political elites in our country in the last few months has been so heated that suddenly many involved in this debate have thrown caution, decency and decorum to the winds, and threats and counter threats, all having grave consequences for our cooperate existence as a nation , have become the order of the day.
Two months ago, we had cause to address a press conference to express our unhappiness and dismay at the tone and language of the conversation, and desperate threats to the cooperate existence of our fatherland. Since the onset of this latest stage of our political discourse, both the proponents and the opponents appears to be gravitating towards ‘‘restructuring’’. For some it means resource control component of fiscal federalism. Yet other groups see restructuring as increased access to political and economic resources and institutions of governance.
We have similarly heard stringent calls for Nigeria to return to regions of the first republic, others to remodel our federation along the Abatcha era denominated by six geographical zones into six regions; yet others have called for a return of parliamentary form of democracy.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished invited guests, panelists, ladies and gentlemen, we in the Nigeria Labour Congress feel that posing our discourse along these and other critical areas of our nation’s inability to make progress over nearly six decades of independence would be more productive, and would also detox the toxic polemics around ethnicity, regionalism and religious affiliations of our people.
Without intending to preempt or influence what our panelists have to say, I wish to use this opportunity to restate a few things about our understanding of the Nigerian crisis which has in the recent times manifested in the clamour for restructuring. As we have said time, and time again, the large part of our problem as a nation has been caused by the very poor leadership that our political elite have provided in the governance of our country. Our inability to ensure that the rich resources this nation has been blessed with is administered in a way to benefit the vast majority of Nigerians has been at the centre of our crisis. In this respect, any effort to seek to be sustainable in addressing our recurring problems must address the failure of governance.
Many of the commentaries as to why our country is not working, have contended that our crisis of development is as a result of the fact that we are not practising what they called “true federalism”. There are others who have sought to blame our current situation on the so called mistake of the British in amalgamating Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914. Some others say we are too diverse, too big to remain as a single nation.
We strongly believe that like other big and diverse entities, such as the United States of America, India and many countries in continental Europe like Germany and Austria, there is nothing peculiar in our nationhood. Many of these countries became federations as a result of wars, and from these adversities, they have managed to forge strong nations amidst their diversity. In population terms, we are under 200 million, far less than India and China both of which have over 1 billion people each and yet they are fighting to ensure that territories they consider part of India and China remain theirs. In the same vain one of the main strength of the United States of America is their diversity as a rainbow nation.
History, time and again, teaches us that being of the same ethnic stock alone is not a recipe for peaceful co-existence and development. Somalia is an unfortunate example of a nation that despite its homogeneity in terms of ethnicity has in the last three decades or so become a basket case of clan wars and instability on our continent. Even within our dear country, contemporary history is replete with intense clannish hostility.
Many of the prominent figures in the forefront of the current agitation for restructuring of our country have had opportunities to play important roles in the governance of our country in the past, and are still part of the governing structure in various ways. What has been their position and indeed contribution to what our country is currently passing through, as a huge country with big potential, but never being able to translate this huge potential to true greatness?
When we addressed the press in June at the height of the agitation, we made the point that we will be missing the point if we blame the structure of our federation for the many ills that our country is currently going through. These include the gross socio-economic injustice, the poor living conditions of our people, the inability (indeed refusal) of states to pay a living wage or even ensure the payment of salaries as and when due, the massive unemployment, our lack of productivity as a result of de-industrialization, the galloping inflation in our land, the devaluation on our currency, among others. These are problems caused by the developmental models our ruling elites consciously chose, as well as their greed and penchant for corruption and primitive accumulation.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude this brief address by saying that while we welcome the debate on how best to make our union work, we will continue to underscore the need for good governance in our country as a basis for any realistic development and eventual emancipation of our people. If the resources available to us as a nation were well managed and not stolen by both the public and private sector operators, from all parts of the country without exception, the escalating problems of unemployment, decaying infrastructure, non-funding of education, health care and other social services, would be adequately addressed.
As we stated during our June press statement, most of the issues in contention can be resolved through good governance, sustainable and transparent fight against corruption and addressing inequalities and injustices in the system.
I look forward to a lively engagement in the discussions that will follow.