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Editorial

Fast-Tracking The New Minimum Wage

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Sequel to the suspension of the nationwide warning strike embarked upon by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in conjunction with Trade Union Congress (TUC) to drive home their demand for the implementation of the new minimum wage agreed upon by the government and the unions, the National Council of States rose from it meeting of 25th November, 2010 with a pronouncement that it has okayed the recommended N18, 000.00 as the national minimum wage.

Prior to the Council of State meeting, labour had sounded a note of warning that it would not tolerate any further compromise on the agreed wage and that implementation must commence this year. According to the NLC president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, labour would not hesitate to demand for the payment of arrears if the government pushes the implementation of the wage to next year.

The action of the Council of State has actually brought to its final phase the tortuous struggle by labour for a new national minimum wage in Nigeria.

The council acted expeditiously in view of the grave danger nationwide strike actions pose to the economy and might also pose to the impending general election.

At a time when rising inflationary trend and other economic indices have resulted to very high cost of living, the Nigerian workers pay package, especially those in the public and unorganised private sectors, has remained standstill and continued to be cited as being among the poorest in the world. This is even as the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), charged with the responsibility of maintaining, among other things, a public wage policy that will guarantee maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status as stipulated in chapter II, Section 14 (2) and 16 (1)-(2) of the 1999 constitution, concerns itself only with the upward review of wages of political office holders to the detriment of other categories of workers.

The present stance of labour can be justified against the background of the deep understanding patience and patriotism labour has demonstrated so far. From an initial demand of N52, 000 as the national minimum wage, it was persuaded in the light of presentations made by other stakeholders to settle for a more realistic wage of N18, 000.

While we commend labour for the maturity it has demonstrated in the struggle, we also call on the National Assembly to rise up to the challenge of the final phase of the wage struggle by speedily passing the bill into law.

We say so because the National Assembly has recently received commendations for bravely tackling the challenge of strengthening the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), through appropriation of funds to perform its role effectively. It has also been applauded for the swift attention it has paid to various other bills seeking to reform the electoral process in  order to ensure a free and fair 2011 election that will help to deepen democratic practice in Nigeria. In the same vein, NASS should see the bill seeking to guarantee industrial peace desired for the smooth conduct of the 2011 elections as yet another task of urgent national importance.

The nation cannot afford another national strike especially at a time it is struggling to accommodate various aspects of the electoral process within the existing time frame left for the conduct of the 2011 general election.

If labour is forced to embark on another round of industrial action in or before January 2011, such action will definitely disrupt some of the election programmes already scheduled by INEC. For example, the voters registration exercise slated for January, may be disrupted and any other adjustments in the election time table could result to a constitutional crisis of unimaginable proportion. Even if the electoral process were to go unhindered, the nation’s drive towards becoming one of the 20 industralised nations of the world by 2020 will seriously be hampered by industrial unrest.

It is, therefore, important that all necessary steps are taken to create the much-needed industrial harmony between the government and  labour in order to ensure that 2011 and Vision 202020 elections progress without any hitch.

One sure way of ensuring this harmony is through the speedy passage and implementation of the new national minimum wage bill and we think the onus lies on the National Assembly to once more demonstrate the usual commitment and patriotism by giving a legal backing to the agreed wage.

We also urge the federal, state and local governments to kick-start arrangements towards the prompt implementation of the new wage as soon as it is passed into law.

A cue can be taken from the Rivers State government which has already set up a committee to work out the modalities for the implementation of the new minimum wage as soon as possible.

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Editorial

No To Generator Ban Bill

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A few months after the Senate rejected a resolution to ban the importation of generators,
the Senator representing Niger South, Alhaji Bima Enagi, initiated a bill that seeks to prohibit the importation and use of generating sets in Nigeria.
Titled “A bill for an Act to Prohibit/Ban the Importation of Generating Sets to Curb the Menace of Environmental (air) Pollution and to Facilitate the Development of the Power Sector,” it stipulates, at least, 10 years imprisonment for an offender.
The proposed law also notes that “Approval for exclusion shall, however, be obtained from the Minister of Power, who shall brief the Federal Executive Council quarterly on approvals granted.” The bill further directs “all persons to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect, in the country.”
The bill excludes generators for essential services, especially for medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services, elevators (lifts), escalators, research institutions and facilities which require 24 hours electric power supply.
Ostensibly, the bill seeks to curb environmental pollution and accelerate the pace of development of the power sector. Obviously, there is an overwhelming decoy to view the new bill as stemming from patriotic zeal. But a critical appraisal easily uncovers the hollowness and utopian disposition of that piece of proposed legislation.
The projected law is inoperable and a barefaced invitation to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Ironically, the same reasons that lent the ban unworkable for people in essential services form the basis for its likely failure. For now, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the anticipated law to achieve the touted objectives are non-existent.
The bill is vacuous and, therefore, should not have passed through the first reading. Having gone through that level, it should be discontinued forthwith to conserve public funds and save more of valuable legislative time. Elsewhere, painstaking research and intellectual rigour are put into the conception and reflection of bills that serve the public interest, but this bill bears no such nugget.
In their quest to expedite action on the bill, the Senators seem to care less about the facts on the ground concerning the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nigeria. For example, in mid-2019, electricity power generation dwindled from 4,000 megawatts to an abysmal 2,039 megawatts.
On April 25, 2019, there was an entire shutdown of Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogbo and Papalanto Power Stations. There has been a significant abatement in power supply to Nigerian households from 42 percent attained in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 37 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Public power supply to commercial and productive establishments was worst during the same period.
This is why we gasp in amazement at this projected law. No one is in doubt that generators are a nuisance and a national pandemic, posing a huge threat to the health and well-being of Nigerians. It is equally correct that the device consumes about $14 billion import bills annually, but there is a need to inquire into the reason for their prevalent use.
Of course, it is the epileptic public power supply in the country. The truth is, without generators, the Nigerian economy will flounder as businesses reckon on them for survival. Every institution (public or private), including the formal and informal sectors of the economy, depends on them for power supply. This is why they are a necessary evil.
To advance electricity supply in the country, the federal government privatised the power sector in 2013, leading to the creation of 11 distribution companies (DISCOs). But year after year, both the government and the DISCOs have always blamed and accused each other for being responsible for the inadequate power supply.
We are aghast at why our Senators keep introducing bills against the use of generators in a country with a brazenly capricious power supply. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s office was projected to spend N46 million on fuelling generators in the 2019 federal budget.
Rather than become upset at the importation of generating sets, the Senators should examine how the country got into this mess, and why the federal government injected a prodigious N1.7 trillion into the power sector following the privatisation with its 49 percent equity stake, while the DISCOs, who are major stakeholders, have invested only a pittance. Having investing such whopping sum to improve public power supply in Nigeria, the situation appears worse now than ever before.
Although Senator Enagi’s bill may be charitable, it is hasty. Nigeria must first address the hazardous power supply situation before considering a bill to outlaw generators, if need be. In a country where the national grid collapses customarily without these generators, what will be left of the economy?

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Editorial

COVID-19: Enforcing Rules In Rivers 

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This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 20 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, 474,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with 21,300 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and China where the pathogen originates from. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 65 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with one fatality recorded and two discharged. Six others are to be discharged in Lagos any moment from now. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made three broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government on Wednesday was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of paramilitary outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
In spite of these commendable efforts by the state government, The Tide observes that the level of compliance with restrictions in the state is abysmally low. There appears to be apathy and indifference by the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives even when the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Of particular worry to us is the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overload their vehicles, while many people still transact their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believe in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man state ministerial committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for the state government to rally traditional rulers, religious clerics and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the public awareness.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to suggest that, as a way of encouraging public compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19, the state government should consider some stop-gap measures to cushion the effects of its directives. One of such measures might be suspension of issuance of government’s tickets to commercial drivers in the state pending the time the fight against Coronavirus will be over, while also putting a permanent stop to tolls collected from transporters by the police at various stop-and-search checkpoints.
We also consider it apposite that the state government makes sanitizers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidized and affordable rate.
However, while the state government must rally its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.

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Editorial

NDDC Advisory Committee

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President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 10, 2020, inaugurated an Advisory Committee for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Committee which was constituted in accordance with the provisions of Part III, Section 11 (1a) of the NDDC Establishment Act (as amended) comprised the nine governors of the Niger Delta region and the Ministers of Niger Delta Affairs and Environment.
According to Section 11 (2) of the Act, the Advisory Committee will have the responsibility of advising the NDDC Board and to monitor the activities of the Commission, with a view to achieving set objectives as well as to make rules regulating its own proceedings.
While inaugurating the Committee, Buhari recalled that his administration had in 2016 launched the New Vision for the Niger Delta (NEVIND) to bring sustainable peace, security, infrastructure and human capital development to the region. He told the governors that the abuses of the past made it necessary for them to demand strict and diligent oversight, henceforth.
The President said that the medium to achieve this important objective was through the Niger Delta Ministry, NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). He tasked the members to carry out their new assignment effectively and with utmost diligence, working closely with the relevant ministries, adding that he expected to see positive changes in the affairs of the NDDC and on the ground in the Niger Delta region.
Buhari tried to justify his decision to inaugurate the Committee ahead of the reconstitution of the NDDC board when he said: “This is to enable us develop insights into the affairs of the Commission which will properly guide the board when reconstituted once the forensic audit exercise on the Commission is concluded…”
Responding on behalf of members of the Committee, Delta State Governor and Chairman of South-South Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, said “We do not want to criticise what has happened in the NDDC for quite some time, but the fact is that co-operation between the states and NDDC has not been strengthened over time and we have various cases of duplication of projects that are not properly planned.
“But I believe with the inauguration of this body, we will be able to sit down, work in collaboration and supportively to bring greater development to our people.”
He thanked the President for constituting the advisory committee and also granting the request of the region’s governors for a forensic audit of NDDC.
Going by the Act establishing the NDDC during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration 20 years ago, the agency has the core mandate to formulate policies and programmes and execute same for the development of the Niger Delta region in the areas of industrialisation, transportation, agriculture, health, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity, telecommunication and employment generation.
Even as belated as the inauguration appears, The Tide commends Mr. President for the bold move, especially considering that the Committee comprises mainly governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Already, and just as Governor Okowa hinted in his speech, there is lack of collaboration between administrators of the regional interventionist outfit and governors of its member-states. And this had resulted in the duplication of efforts, funds misapplication, shoddy jobs and outright projects abandonment.
For instance, here in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike had since berated the NDDC for failing to live up to the expectations of the Niger Delta people. He drove this point home when the former NDDC Acting Managing Director, Professor Nelson Braimbaifa, visited him last year, during which he complained that the Niger Delta states were never involved in the design and siting of projects.
Wike had accused the NDDC of owing his government a refund of the state’s counterpart contribution for the building of the Mother and Child Hospital on which the agency reneged. The state has almost completed work on the project single-handedly.
We also recall the disagreement between the Rivers State Government and the NDDC over the construction of Igwuruta-Chokocho-Okehi Road and the recent sealing-off of the latter’s corporate headquarters over a N50 billion tax debt.
The story is almost the same elsewhere across the region. In Akwa Ibom State, for example, Governor Udom Emmanuel, in 2017, accused the NDDC of poor job execution, project abandonment and distortion of the state’s development master plan.
We believe that with the advisory committee now in place, any incoming board of the NDDC will be better guided in terms of projects selection, design, siting and execution so as to ensure quality delivery and avoid duplication of efforts.
It is also expected that the governors will be in a better position to monitor the progress of any NDDC projects sited in their respective domains.
The 28-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State will continue to stand out as the kind of high profile projects the Niger Delta region needs at this period. Surely, the N24 billion project, built by the NDDC in partnership with The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), could not have been a success if the state government had not provided the necessary environment.
Finally, given the years of exploitation, neglect and injustice suffered by the region, we implore the NDDC, its new advisory committee, major stakeholders, foreign donor agencies and interested private sector partners to seize this noble opportunity to begin to collaborate in a way that will bring about a reversal of the present dire circumstances of the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.

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