*Adds: elites must adjust to reality that Nigerian identity transcends ethnicity, religion
*Describes NLC a Pan-Nigerian institution
The Buhari administration under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has not only invested heavily in infrastructure development, it has also laid the foundations of commitment to social protection and welfare of citizens, particularly the poor and most vulnerable.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this today in his speech at the National Delegates’ Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Abuja, where he was Special Guest of Honour.
Speaking on the theme of this year’s conference, “Building People Power, National Unity and the Quest for a New Social Contract,” Prof. Osinbajo noted that when all Nigerians, especially its political elites, begin to see the country’s diversity as an asset, rather than a tool for division, its socio-economic and cultural capital can be further deepened.
Noting some of the achievements of the APC government under President Muhammadu Buhari, the Vice President stated that the “administration’s heavy investments in transportation infrastructure – road, rail, sea and river ports – which reduce the distances between our people and link localities to markets and enable trade, travel and tourism, are more than just infrastructural connections, they are also social bridges, and cultural roads and rail ways crisscrossing our vast tapestry of dialects, foods, music, dances, customs and more.”
The VP also highlighted the Buhari administration’s prioritization of social welfare through the different components of its globally recognized National Social Investment Programmes.
“Following from our -APC- manifesto, our administration sought to lay the foundations of a state committed to social protection. We are catering for our children through the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme which feeds children daily and for our unemployed youth through programmes such as the N-Power scheme. Over 4 million people have benefitted from the Government Empowerment and Enterprise Programme (GEEP), and other support initiatives under the National Social Investment Programmes,” the VP recalled.
While emphasizing the significance of a social covenant in society between the people and the State, Prof. Osinbajo noted that “the social covenant also importantly must provide for those who cannot work. And it would seem that only an intentionally progressive left of centre ideological bent can without losing its soul deliver on this aspect of the covenant.”
According to the VP, the APC and the Buhari government belonged to this (social covenant) end of the ideological spectrum.
He added that Federal Government under the Buhari administration also established the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities and the National Centre for Senior Citizens to cater for the needs of the elderly and citizens with disabilities.
“This is a demonstration of our commitment to inclusion – especially of groups that have long been relegated to the margins. In a democratic society. The ultimate demonstration of people power is the right to freely elect leaders of our choice.
“It is through the instrumentality of the ballot, that citizens regulate and discipline their leaders and hold them accountable. In a few weeks, Nigerians will have the opportunity to demonstrate their power by voting in favour of which candidates and parties have what it takes to manifest the future that we want,” he said.
Prof. Osinbajo said “while social inclusion and shared prosperity appear simple enough, it is the creation of an environment that enables talent, innovation and commerce to thrive, that produces the wealth and prosperity, the jobs and opportunities necessary to pay for the social contract.
“No nation can improve the quality of life of the people without producing more, and without removing barriers to business and commerce,” he stated.
Similarly, the Vice President further noted that Nigeria’s diversity would deepen its unity and will further unlock the immense potential and talents of Nigerians for innovation and productivity.
“Our diversity is neither a liability nor a curse; it is, in fact, a blessing and an asset. Diversity deepens the pool of sociocultural capital available to us; we are enriched by the frothy ferment of the vast multiplicity of perspectives which provide us with a treasury of tools for innovation and productivity,” he said.
Countries that have learned to hack the diversity principle are now leading the global race for prosperity and progress, he added.
Prof. Osinbajo, who was of the view that national integration was a journey, noted that, “Politicians who continue to traffic in division and discord are behind the times and have failed to take note of how much more integrated our society has become. I submit to you that it is the elites of our nation that must adjust themselves to this reality and conduct their politics accordingly.”
Underscoring the power of unity in driving social inclusion, fairness, equity and justice in diverse societies, the Vice president also observed that the major issue was not the country’s diversity, but “our capacity to manage it with a sense of fairness, equity and justice. “
“There is no denying that diversity can be a harbinger of friction. It is natural. As different groups from various backgrounds and with different worldviews mingle, their interaction is characterized by a degree of tension and even conflict. All diverse nations find their unique ways of managing the tensions, which inevitably arise from the co-mingling of an assortment of peoples,” he added.
The Vice President then highlighted the importance of maintaining civic spaces in promoting “robust engagements across society and with government and other civil authorities with a view to continually fine tuning the social contract.”
Thus, “the Labour Union and other groups charged with the protection of economic civil and political rights must vigilantly prioritize the protection of the civic space,” the VP stated.
According to him “it is often the case in multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies such as ours that already existing ethnic and religious fault lines are manipulated for social or political advantage and sometimes with the disastrous consequences of civil strife and communal conflicts. This is one of the reasons why the NLC is such an important institution.”
Reiterating his call for unity in deepening social inclusion and justice in society, the VP further noted that the “occupational identity” that united all NLC members by their shared vocations as working-class Nigerians, was one “that cuts across lines of ethnicity, religion and gender” and a reason why “the Congress is a veritable pan-Nigerian institution.
That collective “Nigerian identity”, as he described it, was a critical edge that the NLC must not lose, the VP said.
“In our markets, motor parks, business centres, in popular culture and our social spaces, a Nigerian identity has emerged transcending ethnicity and religion… Our destinies have become so interlinked as to be inseparable,” he emphasized.
Emphasising further, the Vice President noted that “those who hold on pathologically to our differences as the sole grid for defining our national condition are missing the evolving social realities on the ground. The fact is that despite the divisive rhetoric of demagogues and the utterances of those who profit from disharmony, Nigerians do not hate each other.
“Every day, millions of Nigerians of different ethnicities and creeds comingle, make common cause and forge friendships across our fabled fault lines. They partner to do business, to engage in philanthropy and advance their political goals. They are trading, intermarrying and migrating across this land in search of better livelihoods.”
He urged that value addition must be prioritised by both government and private sector across industries so as to improve national productivity, “especially in our areas of comparative advantage.
“For example, in agriculture, our focus must be on processing raw produce, adding value means more jobs and the value chain makes more money, same with mining, more beneficiation.
“Already, we have seen quite a few investments in gold refining, manufacturing especially light manufacturing is key, we can be the factory for the continent, we have been discussing the prospects of zero taxes for machinery generally, machines mean production in one form or the other.”
Commending the NLC for organizing the conference, the Vice President urged them to develop a framework that will guide organized labour in Nigeria in the coming decades.