The Federation of Informal workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON) with 170 affiliate informal sector organizations in Nigeria in 21 states of Nigeria hereby uses this medium to cry out at the new spate of attacks on poor working people in the informal sectors of the Nigerian economy. Specifically, we protest very vehemently the recent ban on importation of mini generators by the Federal Government. Available records show that current supply of electricity at 3, 262.4 megawatts represents only about 1.6% of the estimated need of 200, 000MW in Nigeria. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the National Association of Small Scale Industries (NASSI) have estimated that their members spend an average of about NGN2 billion (about $12 million) per week on self-power generation. It is worthy of note that that estimate does not include the expenditure on self power generation by micro business and informal workers. The Nigeria Customs service (NCS) has offered the rather vacuous argument that the ban is informed by the fact that the mini generators are “… causing air pollution and destruction of our lungs and breathing system”. While this reason sounds good, it raises very big issues:
- Why are the massive diesel electricity generating units used by banks, factories, school, hospitals etc. that emit much more carbon than the petrol mini engine “I pass my neighbour” generating sets excluded from the ban?
- Why has the Federal government been pussyfooting over the much talked about continued gas flares in the Niger Delta by multinational oil corporations when we know that those flares have severely damaged our environment while imperiling the lives of millions of people in Niger Delta communities?
- Without affordable electricity from the national grid, and in the absence of affordable alternatives such as solar power, will this ban not merely spur on massive importation of these electricity generating sets from neighbouring countries to meet a real need for them?
It would appear therefore that singling out the mini generators is not necessarily bourn out of a concern for our well being but an attempt to scapegoat poor working people in the informal sectors of the economy that largely depend on this generators to power their little workshops and businesses. Given that these are also the big vote banks that voted in the government, it is a most unkind punitive pay back that threaten our right to employment and decent livelihood.
The Dangote Group and other Nigerian Employers’ Abuse of the Local Content Law
We also use this opportunity to point out the extremely damaging policy of the management of the Dangote Group of Companies to continually import foreign workers to perform skilled and unskilled jobs that Nigerians are eminently qualified to perform in flagrant violation of the local content law. Badly affected by this are certified welders and fitters, construction workers such as tillers, plaster of paris (p.o.p.) technicians, masons, carpenters etc. The standard practice has been to bring in Indian and Chinese as well as Togolese workers to perform these tasks. But Section 3(2) of the Act specifically stipulates inter alia that“….exclusive consideration is given to Nigerian indigenous service companies which demonstrate ownership of equipment, Nigerian personnel and capacity to execute such work on land and swamp.” Also, Section 37, 38 and 39 of the Act requires operators to submit a programme for the ‘promotion of education attachments, training, research and development’ of local personnel by operators. It is sad to note that while foreign companies have tried to comply with this law by training and retraining local personnel to perform these low skill jobs, local employers such as the Dangote Group and even some state governments have preferred to import workers violating the Local Content Act and the Expatriate Quota Policy with alarming impunity at a time a lot of Nigerian youths are dying for lack of employment opportunities.
- We call on the Federal Government, rather than ban mini electricity generators at this time and subject Nigerian working people especially in the informal sector to aggravated hardships, to immediately focus on providing electricity firstly, by unveiling a coherent plan of investments in the power sector that will signal marked improvements in electricity power generation in the country. With affordable, neat electricity made available, informal workers will be too happy to abandon the use of electricity generators!
- In the interim, government should step up awareness about the dangers of using the mini generators in confined places to minimize the health hazards associated with carbon emission in such circumstances.
- We also call on Federal Government, the Nigeria Immigration Service as well as the Nigeria Police to enforce immigration laws as well as the Local Content Act and stop the influx of unskilled and semi skilled foreigners being massively brought into the country by such indigenous employers as the Dangote Group in order to free the space for more Nigerians to be gainfully employed while government and local employers should also step up vocational and technical education of our youth as well as retraining of those already in the trades.
- Finally, we also use this opportunity to reaffirm our long standing demand for social security for informal workers in accordance with Section 16 (2d) of the Nigerian Constitution. Specifically, we demand social pension for informal workers above 60 years, state supported pension contribution, maternity care and support for informal working women, comprehensive health insurance as well as care and support for the disabled.
FIWON also uses this medium to inform the general public that its members will embark on public demonstration to back up this demand first in Lagos and then in other parts of the country. The first demonstration will take place in Lagos on December 10, 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Day, for this is a serious human rights issue for informal workers; the right to livelihoods!