By Omeiza Ajayi— ABUJA
In the wake of Wednesday’s protest to the National Assembly in Abuja by organised labour against decentralizing the minimum wage structure, Director General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum PGF, Salihu Moh. Lukman has hit back at labour, saying the protest was needless.
At a news conference Wednesday in Abuja, Lukman who was once a top official of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, said labour’s usual resort to protests and strikes have become outdated, urging them to perfect their negotiation skills.
According to him, the protest will not stop the National Assembly from considering bills that have to do with decentralizing the minimum wage structure.
A member of the House of Representatives, representing Sabon Gari Federal Constituency of Kaduna State, Mohammed Garba Datti had recently sponsored a bill to move minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution in line with recommendations of the report of the All Progressives Congress APC Committee on True Federalism.
However, the organised labour had, on Wednesday, attached a protest to the National Assembly, armed with placards carrying various inscriptions like ‘On national minimum wage we stand’, ‘No to relocation of minimum wage to Concurrent List’, ‘Yes to minimum wage on exclusive list’.
Lukman, who said he was speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the APC governors, said: “We are not saying they should not protest but this protest is needless.
“I can guarantee that it is not going to stop the process in the National Assembly. It is not also going to take away the issue. We need to work with them to develop this democracy and we can only do that if every constituent unit and citizens in those units can negotiate with the constituent governments and get results.
“As it is, we are all frustrated and that is what we should be addressing. This ‘we against them’ that labour is creating does not exist. We should be applying ourselves to resolving the problems of this democracy. There are fundamental problems bigger than we can imagine”.
Lukman added that a structure that imposes the same minimum wage on a state as buoyant as Lagos and a state that is less buoyant like Zamfara or Yobe would impact negatively on productivity, as workers in Lagos would feel shortchanged and therefore not give their total commitment to their job.
According to him, even if all states commence paying the N30,000 minimum wage, the problems of Nigeria’s workforce would still remain unresolved.
He said; “I want to be able to engage labour even though some of them continue to accuse me of being sponsored by a governor.
“But it is not just a governor. I have 20 governors sponsoring me. I am happy to have the knowledge that would attract all the consideration of being sponsored.
“I believe the future of this country is about negotiating these issues. I have respect for the NLC and TUC leadership but my advice to them is that they have better capacity in getting things done.
“In fact, this country is where it is because they are not really applying themselves in the right direction.
“The total number of membership of NLC, and I am being generous, is not more than 20,000 for the whole country. I left NLC in 2006 and at that time, the total membership was about 4,000.
“But I am giving it to them because they have organised new sectors. There are new areas and so it is possible they have risen to 20,000. That is a very critical mass but they need to be guided and led properly.
“Assuming every government pays N30,000, will that solve the problem of workers? So, nobody should deceive anybody. We all have a lot to do in this country.
“It is not about dancing on the streets, but they should develop their capacity. I am saying they have lied by saying that people proposing that minimum wage and labour issues should be moved to the Concurrent List, that they do not want the National Minimum Wage.
“I heard the NLC President, which is a disappointment, arguing that when it is not negotiated at the national level, it means it is not a ‘National’ Minimum Wage.
“I am saying you can still negotiate it at the national level but the methodology is important because you are looking for a benchmark which everybody should be able to pay. It is not about coming to the federal government.
“I am worried about the situation where anything that appears contrary to what labour wants, the next thing is to go on strike. My belief is that the main business of labour is negotiation and negotiation is about applying knowledge and information that you have,” he stated.