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Minimum wage and ASUU wars lost once again

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By Dele Sobowale

They came forth to war, but, they always fell —James Macpherson, 1736-1796.

JAMES Macpherson was the father of Sir John Macpherson, a former governor-general of Nigeria, who handed the baton of office to Sir James Robertson who was our last British ruler before independence. He noticed how many times his Scottish brethren went to war against the English and have ended up defeated.

minimum wage
minimum wage

Public hearing: NLC insists on N30,000 as new minimum wage

His lamentation recorded above serves as a fitting summary of the “sound and fury signifying nothing” to which the nation was treated by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in the last three or four months.

We all will remember the empty threats by the two bodies that no election will take place this year unless a minimum wage is passed and the billions owed to the universities, since Yar’Ádua’s government are paid. After thirty years writing these columns, and with a very keen recollection of other skirmishes by the two organisations, it was clear to me that another defeat stared NLC and ASUU in the face.

Nigerians went to vote on Saturday and there is no Minimum Wage Bill passed. In fact, the House of Representative Committee, which first started “working” on the Bill, soon closed shop – for three predictable reasons from previous experience. One, it was impossible to form a quorum to take decisions. Two, it was impossible to form a quorum because virtually all the members were out campaigning either for re-election of for their parties. Three, the political class, APC, APGA and PDP had successfully swindled the NLC into accepting the presentation of the Bill to the National Assembly, NASS, was a demonstration of good faith on the part of the Executive and Legislative branches of government to get a Minimum wage bill passed.

It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are –O. Henry 1862-1910.  

The NLC leadership fell into a trap and were willing accomplices in the swindle for obvious reasons – obvious to strategic thinkers, that is. The strike and election disruption threats constituted the only weapons available to NLC and ASUU. Once that power is removed the two organisations can talk, shout or go on strike until dooms day and the issues on which they went to battle will no longer be resolved as they want. Again, permit me to explain.

With the elections concluded, several governors on their way out – Amosun, Ajimobi, Ambode, Yari, etc., have no incentive to work on any minimum wage bill implementation in their states. Even a fool knows that you can’t remove a lame duck governor. He is already packing his bags.

The outgoing governors, now untouchables, who will still be in charge until May and whose consent is needed for the bill to pass through various State Houses of Assembly, will provide support to their colleagues who might continue in office as well as incoming governors. At the very least, they will delay passage and implementation. It is well known that majority of governors are not prepared to pay N30,000. Now they have the upper hand in the negotiations.

All the above assume that President Buhari is re-elected. Even if he is, passage of a bill, note the word “a” because it is deliberate and because the bill that might be passed by the lawmakers might not call for N30,000. The mood of the NASS after the elections will determine what gets passed. So, even a re-elected President might not be enough to get the bill passed – if the mood in the NASS is nasty after the elections.

There is no need to list seriatim all the obstacles standing in the way of the bill. It is merely important to point out that leaders of the NLC made a strategic blunder when they agreed to call of the national strike after a hastily and ill-digested bill was sent to the NASS. Certainly, that bill, if it ever receives serious consideration by the lawmakers will be sent back to the presidency to be re-presented. There are too many vague aspects to the bill as it is. It cannot be implemented as it is.

Failures are divided into two classes; those who thought and never did and those who did and never thought— John Charles Salak

While the NLC has sent the same “Generals” to engage the “adversaries”, the ASUU almost always sends a new set of “field commanders”. The current crop, clones of the former ones, exhibit two traits of their predecessors. First, they are intelligent but not wise. Two, they are the wrong “generals” for this war. They learnt nothing from the history of past encounters with the Federal Government.

When in 2017 ASUU once again threatened to go on strike, what followed was the first paragraph of the article written in August of that year.

ASUU Blackmailing Buhari’s Govt For Jonathan’s Breach of Promise

“I must confess that the government has not fulfilled its part of the bargain. Though we are unhappy that ASUU went on this strike without following due process…” said the Minister of Education, our own Adamu Adamu. It was very noble of him. I cannot remember another example of a Federal Minister offering apology and confessing to a mistake by the government in my almost thirty years of writing weekly columns.

It is really noble of him – especially when one realizes that the problem was inherited from the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administrations from 2009 to 2015. It is even nobler of the minister because the former leaders of the Academic Staff Union of Universities were the architects of everybody’s current misfortunes. The agreements they now want to enforce were reached during the halcyon days of crude oil when crude prices rested comfortably at over $100 per barrel.

Buhari’s government reminds me of the tenant moving into a room whose previous tenant accumulated “NEPA” bills of twenty thousand naira or more before absconding. “NEPA does not care about the former tenant, they grab the innocent new occupant. But, because there is no alternative to NEPA the innocent tenant is forced to pay. It happened to me before when renting an office at Ikeja. It is blackmail plain and simple and that is what ASUU is doing now to Buhari’s administration. As usual, the charge against the unethical ASUU can be proved by going back to the history of ASUU and the FG since 2010.

Nothing has changed since then – except that ASUU in 2019 is making claims based on promises made in 2009. They allowed Jonathan to wriggle out of the agreement twice – in 2011 and 2015 – when the price of crude was over $100 per barrel. Now, they want to collect when we now pray to get $60 for the stuff and the number of public universities has escalated – thanks to the irrationalities of GEJ and Buhari.

As ASUU embarked on its march to the war front, it was clear that they were doing something without a clear thought of what they sought to achieve. They dropped their arms when apparently handed a small sum. Was that the   reason for mobilisation, for disrupting universities programmes and for asking lecturers not to participate in the elections? It is doubtful. In the end, ASUU turned a serious matter into a farce. They are not sure where the money promised is and how much each university received.

These are the people training our leaders of tomorrow. Right now, the bulk of the agreement reached in 2009 remains unpaid. In 2022, another ASUU leadership will call the universities out on strike. “Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over again and accepting a different result”?

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