Govs should prepare for mother of all battles if they sack workers – Wabba, NLC president
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to declare a nationwide strike in January if any state governor announces the sack of workers in his end of the year address this month.
Making this declaration in an interview with the Saturday Sun, President, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba said workers across the country were prepared for a showdown with the governors most of whom he accused of being indifferent to workers’ plight and welfare.
‘’We say enough is enough. Why must these people think they will continue to make workers the sacrificial lamb. Instead of our governors to look inward, and think of how to improve their Internaly Generated Revenue base and also block series of loopholes through which public funds are looted,they now want to make workers scapegoat,this is not possible,we are going to resist it’’, he declared. Wabba also insisted that any attempt by the governors to reduce or tamper with the N18,000 will be resisted.
Urging governors to cut down cost of governance which he claimed was big burden on the state treasuries, Wabba, however, said that workers will be left with no other alternative than to fight if the governors failed to listen to the voice of reason.
“Governors should prepare for mother of all battles. They should not underestimate the resolve of the NLC to protect the interest of Nigerian workers. We will shut down government in any state where the governor stops payment of N18,000 minimum wage. Governors should prepare for mother of all battles. What is N18,000 that these governors say they can’t pay. Some of them spend more than N100,000 to feed their dogs, lions and other pets they keep monthly. If they can feed animals with N100,000 and above, why can’t they pay their fellow human beings, an average Nigerian worker N18,000 monthly. It is an insult, we are not going to take it,” Wabba declared.
Wabba also talked on other sundry national issues including fuel crisis,accumulated wages being owed workers, clamour for subsidy removal, proposal for a new national minimum wage and a host of others. Below is an excerpt:
The year is coming to an end, but it is obvious that many workers are not going to celebrate Christmas and New Year festivities as a result of unpaid salaries,what is the NLC doing about the situation?
It is an unfortunate situation. We are not happy at the way some state governors have been treating workers. We have been involved in a dialogue with some of them, and thank God we are getting positive response. But some of them are not co-operating.Imagine in this festive period,some workers have no money to celebrate with their families. They are hungry and angry.There is no way we can fold our arms and see workers dying. We are taking appropriate steps to get justice for the oppressed.
What is the latest on the face-off between the state governors and the NLC over the threat by state governors to suspend or stop the payment of N18,000 minimum wage?
We are still in a state of shock that our governors could make such a pronouncement. What is N18,000 in view of the current economic challenges in the country? Speaking realistically, what is N18,000 in a month? We were thinking that these governors will make an upward review of the minimum wage, but what we got in return was a shock. N18,000 is not a living wage, and our leaders know this and yet they are now saying they can’t even pay it.
But are Nigerian workers fools? No. It is not as if the governors don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay this money, their problem is that of misplaced priorities.
There are a lot of leakages in the system which when blocked will ensure that governors have more than sufficient funds to pay workers – look at duplication of political offices and political appointees by many state governors, what about jumbo salaries, allowances and other perks of offices these political appointees collect monthly, the money runs into hundreds of millions of naira every month.
Why should the NLC now fold its arms and allow workers to be made sacrificial lambs by the governors? Never. Some of these governors apart from living opulent lifestyles have also embarked on projects that have no direct relevance to the lives of the people. The cost of governance should at all levels need to be drastically cut down. The hundreds of billions of naira our public office holders continue to fritter away in the name of governance is what is not sustainable.
Has there been any move for an amicable settlement of the crisis?
We are open to dialogue. However, the sustenance of N18,000 minimum wage is not negotiable. We are even planning o demand an upward review of the minimum wage in view of the present economic hardship. Many states are in the poor financial state they are in today largely due to the developmental choices they have, largely on the basis of priorities they have chosen which have nothing to do with public good.
We, however, believe and still insist that workers salaries can’t be sacrificed on the altar of challenges of the economy which is not the making of workers. It has never happened in the history of our country and it will not be said that it is during our leadership of the NLC that this calamity was allowed to befall Nigerian workers.
The governors should reorder their priorities and again instead of waiting to go cap in hand to Abuja at the end of every month to collect allocation, they too should look inward with a view to increasing their Internally Generated Revenue.
In the ’60s when Nigeria didn’t have oil as the main source of our revenue, our founding fathers raised funds through efficient tax system, and other forms of internally generated revenue to provide development and also pay living wages to workers. Our current crop of leaders who put themselves up for election to different government positions must not only endeavour to deliver on their electoral promises, they must also pay workers living wages. This is not negotiable.
But the state governors were reported to have claimed that apart from financial challenges they were having, that the minimum wage was imposed on them, what is your view on this?
It is not correct that the minimum wage was imposed on the governors. For the records, the 2011 National Minimum Wage came into existence after almost two years of agitation and eventual negotiation by the tripartite of governments represented by the federal and state governments. The Nigeria Employers Consultative Association representing other employers in the private sector, and organised labour.
As organised labour, we submitted a request for N52,000 minimum wage, but out of our patriotic disposition and consideration, we reluctantly agreed to the N18,000 minimum wage even as it was grossly inadequate as a living wage. Many of the state governments who submitted memoranda then to that tripartite committee even recommended figures that were far above the N18,000 that was eventually agreed upon. The governors can’t, therefore, claim that the current national minimum wage was imposed on them. The records are there. We kept records of all these negotiations.
Some people that are sympathetic or are on the same page with the state governors over this issue are saying that things are not rosy with the governors, and that it was one of the reasons why they sought and were given bail-outs by the federal government, how do you react to this?
Like I said earlier, we strongly believe that there is no state in Nigeria today that can’t pay N18,000 minimum wage. The problems with the governors is about getting or setting their priorities right.
Even look at the bail-outs being talked about, NLC has to raise alarm when we discover that some state governors were making attempts to divert the bail outs to other uses instead of using it to pay workers salaries and pensioners arrears. We raised alarm when we discovered that some of them were diverting the bail-outs into fixed deposit accounts for personal gains.
It is sad that some of the governors elected to play politics with the welfare of their workers with some of them even quoted to have said that they reserve the right to do whatever they like with the intervention fund from the Federal Government since it wasn’t a loan. This kind of attitude is unacceptable to the NLC.
What is your advice for the governors on the issue?
It is very simple. They should endeavour to do the needful. As the saying goes, ‘a labourer deserves his wages’. What workers earn as salaries is even a peanut compared to the jumbo pay these political office holders and their associates collect monthly.
NLC is there to protect the interest of Nigerian workers. We are not going to shirk our responsibilities. We are also reaching out to TUC so that working hand in hand so that we can put smiles on the faces of Nigerian workers.
What is the way out of the recurring fuel scarcity like the one being experienced now?
As an oil producing nation, we have no reason to suffer a fuel crisis.
I will like to appeal to the Federal Government to find a way to identify and deal with the cabal behind the energy crisis. Obviously, some interests are benefitting from the current import regime we are running.
But is this supposed to be so? What is our business importing petroleum products when we are an oil-producing nation? I also disagree wit those clamouring for the removal of subsidy – these elements are anti-masses. Thank God, President Muhammadu Buhari has stated that subsidy is not going to be removed. He has not caved in to the pressure by anti-people elements. Removal of subsidy will trigger social unrest.
To get out of the problem, the Federal Government should build more refineries even outside Nigeria – this will make the product to always be in abundance.
NLC is outraged by continued fuel scarcity resulting in skyrocketing prices and long queues at filling stations in different parts of the country. The Federal Government should set up more refineries. Enough is enough – why must Nigerians be made to experience this hardship towards the end of every year? It is unacceptable.
I appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and bring an end to the agony being experienced by Nigerians in getting fuel.