Says it’s an insult for APC-led-NASS to entertain bill against minimum wage
By Victor Ahiuma-Young
Immediate past National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and former President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is livid that some state governors have refused to implement the N30,000 new National Minimum Wage, saying states that cannot implement the minimum wage should not exist.
The former Edo State governor in this interview, also believes it is an insult for the APC-dominated National Assembly to entertain a bill seeking to remove the minimum wage from exclusive legislative list to concurrent list.
I believe that we cannot continue to lament the crises that we face. They can be fixed, and they have to be fixed. I cannot accept for example that we will continue to rely on imported textile fabrics. If Nigeria provides for clothing requirements of 200 million people, you will have more than 10 million Nigerian workers employed directly. By the time you add the traders, and the others as well as tailoring and garment factories, employment generation will even be more.
I do not accept that with all the vehicles on the roads in Nigeria, that we have accepted that Michelin can relocate from Nigeria to another place, and sell Michelin finished tyres to us to drive our vehicles. I cannot even accept that Dunlop is gone, but its products have flooded Nigeria. We need radical industrial policies, this is no time for diplomacy, and it is time for frank, bold action, think big, and act even bigger.
I don’t believe that we can lament and wallow in self-pity and expect people to change what they do because they would have mercy. I believe we need to re-order the system and make it impossible for inequity to continue to flourish. I would not have become the President of NLC if the textile factories had closed. It means I would have been unemployed and I’m not sure what would have happened to my children and even now, my grandchildren. So, I have no difficulties in understanding the challenges that we face.
Army of unemployable youths
The real challenge I see is that many of these people are not going to be employable because they are not educated. We cannot accept the fact that Nigeria is the capital of out-of-school children. How can governors explain that? I was a governor and I ensured that every subsidy that the Federal Government provided for Universal Basic Education, Edo State Government under my watch paid the corresponding grant to ensure that not only did we have good schools, but that children had access (good roads) going to school. We even provided free transportation.
When these people (governors) say they don’t have enough money, I just can’t understand it. Talking about minimum wage, for example, I have seen a lawyer who registered a company for N250 million in this country. That N250 million was more than $2 million. A country that can afford to give one lawyer such money, that lawyer was writing every day that N30,000 minimum wage is not realistic. A governor that buys Toyota Land Cruiser for whatever is the price in Sokoto, in Kaduna, in Edo, in Rivers, in Zamfara, in Lagos, when they are buying those vehicles, do they tell the marketer; sell according to the ability of my state? They pay the market price. So, why will you selectively apply this very dubious logic of ability? Nobody has the ability for anything except what such a person believes in and nobody has resources for anything except what he or she regards as a priority.
You cannot have a National Assembly that takes so much every day, every week, and every month and on the floor in National Assembly, somebody is questioning why a Nigerian worker should earn $60 for 30 days which is about $2 a day. I am a believer that if you are at the top of a mango tree and you are feasting on top of a mango tree and I’m on the ground and you are trampling my head, I have to grab your feet.
War between rich and poor
I believe Nigeria would be fine. But the only thing I am worried about is the resurgence of ethnic champions and even religious bigots who now partition the country in a way that the ruling class unites in comfort, but they go back to their localities and play up primordial sentiments. I argued a few days ago that if there is going to be division, or if there is going to be a fight between anybody, it cannot be between North and South; East and West; it has to be between the poor and the rich. So, when you oppress your own people and they want to ask questions, you point to the other tribe or you point to the other religion. All those are not the issue.
The beauty of NLC and the organised national platform such as this is that they are organised across all the divides regardless of religion, regardless of any of those primordial sentiments, we need more of those national institutions. It is not me, for example, or anybody who has had an opportunity like me. I was once president of NLC speaking for all workers. Anybody who has had the opportunity to be a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria has no right to question the unity of our country. Anyone who has been a national player and those who are talking today is the people who are responsible for the destruction as it is today. Whatever we want to do, we must recognise that in every state, in every local government, in every community, we have the good people and we have the bad people.
Govs refusing to pay N30,000
I want Nigerian workers to organise, across all the primordial sentiments and become a force, capable not only of thinking or talking, but also assertive and prevent bad governance. We can’t accept any Nigerian governor today refusing to implement the minimum wage. He should not go to bed. President Buhari said, and I don’t think you can have more support than that, to governors: “How do you sleep Mr Governors, when you have not paid your workers salaries for one month, two months or six months?” If I have a Commander-in-Chief saying that, I don’t need any other licence to close down any of those states that refuse to perform. If your state is not capable or competent to meet the most basic social protection, then why should you exist?
Meanwhile, we can see the governors with all the social protection, with all the luxuries, how come the workers cannot have it? I was a governor, so, I am not talking out of envy. When I was governor, I increased the minimum wage to N25, 000 when some governors said N18, 000 was not possible. So, I know from experience every country created by God has enough to meet the basic needs of everyone, but no country has enough to meet the greed of a few. It must be clear to NLC that the sermon may not change it. We have to organise, we would not agonise. We have to fight, we would not wallow in self-pity, and we have to target and close down states that refuse to pay N30,000 minimum wage. If a right-wing National Party of Nigeria, NPN, the government could approve minimum wage and military dictator implemented it, how can All Progressives Congress, APC-dominated National Assembly even tolerate the motion to remove minimum wage from exclusive legislative list to concurrent legislative list? For me, it is an insult and very embarrassing that an APC- dominated House of Representatives presided over by APC progressive Speaker, allowed that motion.
Do we know the meaning of progressive? When Shagari Government introduced N125 minimum wage, Kaduna State Governor, Balarabe Musa of blessed memory and Abubakar Rimi of Kano decided that the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP, would pay better than NPN, and they decided to pay N127. That N2 extra, they said was to show they were progressive. The last time I had the opportunity to talk to progressive governors in Jos, I said to them, for Nigeria to know the difference between the progressive and conservative, it would be my joy to see that every progressive governor pay the N30,000. Nigerians always talk about America Federalism.
Can Nigerians borrow from the American President who says that to overcome the devastating consequences of Covid-19, they have to stimulate the purchasing power of ordinary workers, not only by giving them cheques as Joe Biden did but now voting huge sums of money to deploy to infrastructure so that more people can be engaged?
Any governor who fails to implement the N30, 000 minimum wage, which is the law, should not just be challenged by words of mouth, he should be engaged. These governors could decide to wear ear masks, but you can shut them down because workers have the power. That is why Organised Labour should not lament, not regret, not to appeal to emotion, but to face anybody who faces us as workers. Any governor who refuses to pay N30, 000 should not sleep. He should not, not for one month, not for two months. The same goes for any employers in the private sector too.
Celebration of May Day
What people should know is that the word celebration is not the conventional way you celebrate when life is in abundance and you are happy. The essence of May Day is simply to recognise that at the beginning of the industrial revolution, the world order was such that the worker was not allowed to come with another worker to protect their interest. You cannot compare the power of an individual with the power of an employer.
So, May Day is basically to celebrate all the sacrifices made by workers more than 150 years ago to just have the right to speak with one voice, and to challenge government as employer, as operators of the state as well as challenge private sector employers. It is not to suggest that people are happy. You can’t be happy when, according to statistics, so many people are unemployed and there is tension on the few who are employed with the absence of unemployment benefits.