The President, Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, has vowed that the organised labour will resist any attempt by the state governors to renege on the continued implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage that had been in force since 2011. The NLC boss also spoke on the way out of the fuel crisis in Nigeria in this interview with OLUKEMI ADEBOYE. Excerpts:
What is the latest on the face-off between the state governors and the NLC over the threat by the governors to suspend or stop the payment of the N18,000 minimum wage in their respective states?
We are still in a state of shock that our governors could make such pronouncements. 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 the governors would 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.
Are Nigerian workers fools? No. It is not as if the governors don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay the money. Their problem is that of misplaced priorities. There are a lot of leakages in the system, which, when blocked, will ensure that the governors have more than sufficient funds to pay workers – look at the 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 every month? The money runs into hundreds of millions of naira per month. Why should the NLC now fold its arms and allow the governors to turn the state workers into sacrificial lambs? 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 at all levels needs to be drastically cut down. The hundreds of billions of naira our public office holders continue to fritter away in the name of governance should be the point, not the minimum wage.
Has there been any move for amicable settlement of the minimum wage issue?
We are open to dialogue. However, the continued implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage is not negotiable. We are even planning to demand for an upward review of the minimum wage in view of the present economic hardship. Many states are in the present poor financial state because of the developmental choices they make; largely on the basis of priorities they have chosen which have nothing to do with the public good. We however believe and still insist that workers’ salaries can’t be sacrificed on the altar of economic challenges because these are not the making of the 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 will be allowed to befall the 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 revenues. In the 1960s when Nigeria didn’t have oil as the main source of revenue, our founding fathers raised funds through efficient tax system and other forms of IGR to build solid social infrastructure and also pay living wages to workers. Our current crop of leaders, who put themselves up for elections to different government positions, must not only endeavour to deliver on their electoral promises, they must also pay living wages to their workers. This is not negotiable.
But the state governors were reported to have claimed that, apart from financial challenges, the minimum wage was inherited. What is your view on this?
It is not correct to say that the minimum wage was imposed on the governors. For the records, the 2011 National Minimum Wage came into effect after almost two years of agitation and series of negotiations among the representatives of the federal and state governments and the organised labour, with the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association representing other employers in the private sector. As the organised labour, we requested for N52,000 monthly minimum wage, but out of NLC’s patriotic disposition and consideration, we reluctantly agreed to the N18,000 minimum wage because it was grossly inadequate as a living wage. Many of the state governments, which submitted memoranda then to that tripartite committee, even recommended figures that were far above the N18,000 that was eventually agreed upon. The governors, who
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