How to successfully implement minimum wage, set agenda for national development, by Wabba
The Treasurer of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba speaks to COLLINS OLAYINKA of our Abuja Bureau on why labour movement should set agenda for national development, how labour will achieve implementation of minimum wage and defend Nigerian workers interests. Excerpts:
AS the Treasurer of the NLC would you say that Congress is ready for its delegates’ conference, which is slated for next month?
I am convinced that Congress is indeed ready for the delegates’ conference because we all know that it is a ritual that takes place every four years. The conference gave a clear four-year notice that it will take place this year. From 2011, we were well aware that come February 2015, there would be another delegates’ conference where the present leadership will give account of what it has done in the past four years and fresh mandates will equally be given to another set of leadership for another four years tenure. A lot of committees have been put in place for the conference and a lot of caucuses meetings going on. The nomination into every office has closed and the report of the nomination committee has been published in some national dailies as required by law.
How would you rate the past four years of the out-going administration?
I think that the leadership has done the best it could under the circumstances it found itself. We are happy that the NLC still commands respect among most Nigerians. That shows that the leadership was able to keep the flag flying for the past four years because the common man on the street still sees the NLC as the last shelter to run to in terms of engaging government on issues that relate to their welfare. I think we have done our best and the rest is left for the public to access.
There is this believe that the NLC always rotate its presidency between the North and South. Will this be the case during the next month’s delegates’ conference?
Yes I have not heard that but that is not the true position of things. Let me say that from the beginning, religion, trade sector or section of the country has never been the determinant factor in NLC elections. What we used to have was ideological leanings. But since ideologies collapsed, the basis of emergence has always been acceptance and competence. The North/South dichotomy noticed was purely an accidental development; it was never planned. Most of the elections of the NLC have always been contested for without anybody forced to step down. In 2007 when Abdulwahed Omar was elected president, three people indicated interest with two stepping down and Fidelis Edeh, the then President of Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) contesting against Omar. Other people also contested with Adams Oshiomhole in 1999.
It was believed that there was a meeting where the position of the president was ceded to the private sector.
No that is not what happened. What happened was that various caucuses were meeting and it was at some of those meetings that that was muted. It was not a general thing. Besides, a consultation of history will indicate that there was not a time when any candidate was disallowed from contesting base on religion, tribe or sector. It has always been on the basis on acceptance and competence. It is therefore wrong for anybody to say that the presidency of the NLC was zoned to any particular person because of where he comes from or from which sector he or she is from.
Most Nigerians still believe that the NLC did not tackle state governments enough in ensuring the implementation of minimum wage. How do you react to this?
Going by the record before us, many states are implementing but we do know that there are a few states that are yet to begin implementation. Our state councils have the responsibility to follow up on implementation at the state level. We have done all we could at the federal level to support them and also engage some state governments that are not implementing. It is really unfortunate that some state governments have failed to see workers as people that produce the wealth but rather choose to treat them shabbily. We engaged the Enugu state government on the need to implement the minimum wage and were locked up by the state government. It is very unfortunate that state governments will rape the constitution brazenly. The minimum wage is a constitutional issue where the Federal Government will set the minimum under which no tier of government or private sector will pay workers. While I believe that we need to continuously engage the state governments, I think some of our structures at the state level are becoming weaker and weaker unlike what we had in the 1990s and early 2000s when structures in the state were vibrant. There are fragmented unions in most of the states where the minimum wage is not implemented and this caused lack the capacity to productively engage state governments. How to strengthen our state council is one issue the delegates’ conference will deliberate upon seriously. We shall find a way of measuring state councils’ performances and also how to sanction those that are found wanting. Now that the old minimum wage is yet to be fully implemented, how do we negotiate new one because the current one is almost due for renegotiation. There is no state in Nigeria that will say it cannot pay the minimum wage. Most state governments see workers as liability and not as engines that drive development and the workings of governments.
Is the labour movement gearing up for another round of agitation as government may be forced to reduce the workforce or seek how to reduce its wage bill in the face of dwindling oil revenue?
This says a lot about how our economy has been managed by successive governments. Most countries of the world especially those that rely on hydrocarbon for their revenue prepare for the raining days like this. But that is not the case in our country. What Congress is thinking about now is to propose economic development alternatives apart from what our team of Economists is doing to assist government. I believe there are alternatives to everything in life; nobody or government has monopoly of knowledge . . .
There was a time NLC was working on alternative development agenda. What happened to that process?
Well, I am not sure if report of that process was presented to any organs of Congress. I think that such process should be an ongoing process because policies and characterizations of doing things do change from time to time. I am saying that there is the need to fashion out an alternative development agenda that will capture the reality of the moment like the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market and its attendant effects on the economy. I think what the NLC needs now is an Institute that is wholly dedicated to research to address growing concerns in the economy as they emerge.
What do you think labour should do in the next four years in order to increase its voice on national issues?
It is very important that labour has a position and loud voice on every national issue either for or against or has an alternative. This is the only way we can remain relevant. Labour must take positions that are based on research, information and knowledge.