By Bimbola Oyesola
As the count down to 2023 begins, call it the lone voice of the one crying in wilderness as we read in the Bible, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba in this interview with Daily Sun has warned that there’s danger ahead should the country continues in the present flagrant disregard to nation’s and individual’s sanctity.
Wabba laments the desecration of the land with innocent bloods which he said must surely call for vengeance, the politicians working across purposes with individual and sectional interests and the judiciary which is the last hope of ordinary man being infiltrated by corrupt individuals.
He also speaks on what the NLC plans to do to change the narratives in 2023, noting that people’s power need to be harnessed to change the rule.
The Labour leader also bares his mind on what has been the fate of Nigerian workers since the pandemic, explaining that every worker on fixed wages have now been pushed from the level of prosperity into the level of poverty.
Nigeria workers situation as Nigeria turns 61
Thank you very much. There’s no gainsay to say that the pandemic, in fact, just this morning, the UN Secretary General reported that we lost over 200 million workers globally. Therefore, that also affect us here in Nigeria especially in the informal sector and the private sector of the economy including States.
So it has been a very challenging year, coupled with the issues in the economy. The micro economy industries are not very cheering and basically, every worker that is on fixed wages have now been pushed from the level of prosperity into the level of poverty. It’s a reality.
Cost of goods and services have skyrocketed, in some cases, it’s 100 percent increase.
I can give you one example, cooking gas. Cooking gas today, the increase is almost 100 percent, same with goods and services.
This is how to measure the prosperity of a nation. The prosperity of a nation should reflect on the prosperity of the citizens and that is what we consider as GDP.
But, here we are, the National Bureau of Statistics is giving us some statistics that tend to point to the fact that things are improving but the pockets of ordinary Nigerians, including workers is drying up by the day, many cannot send their children to school and social security cover have been reduced to virtually nothing.
So I can say that for the last one year, I think it has been gravitating from a bad case situation to a worst case situation.
Many workers have not been paid in some of our sectors and some have threats of being disengaged.
So this is the very gloom picture that we have in place but the real threat is about the issue of the disconnect between our political elite and the citizens. They don’t see some of those challenges as real challenges, in fact, with what has happened in the last one month, their focus is already in 2023.
But I have warned seriously that we must also take some of those challenges seriously and continue to offer good governance if not, if the attention have been switched over to 2023, we should pray that we should have a peaceful 2023, because first, it’s to preserve the unity of our country and the issue of togetherness before we now begin to look at our political interests.
That’s why I have condemned in a very strong terms, the seemingly divide between northern governors and southern governors I think what should preoccupy them is how to address the insecurity, dwindling fortune of our economy with the flow falling of the naira, make sure that the commanding height of our economy are working and are in place, particularly the manufacturing sector, provide jobs for the teeming youths that are unemployed. And, we have two categories of the youths, those that are trained, imminently qualified but don’t have any placement any where and are roaming the streets. And we have a category and they are in sizable number, they have not gone to the four corners of the class room, no education, no skill and they’re now within the urban cities because they have been displaced from the rural areas and they’re a threat to every body.
So basically, nothing has been provided for them, they don’t have any social security cover, no skill to look for a job, and in most cases what they do, are to become tools, ready to be manipulated. In fact, they are political thugs and in most cases they are those perpetrating the issue of banditry and other social vices.
So this is the real situation that we are in and that is why as a pan Nigerian organisation, NLC is very concerned because I keep saying that NLC is a pan Nigerian organisation. we have every tribe and religion.
So where they discuss tribal issues, we will be not be there, issues of dividing Nigeria we will not be there and where they will be discussing their own interest, certainly NLC will not be there.
So, we have actually issued a very strong warning to say that all of us should be concerned, but importantly, the political elite because if we are not careful, it then means that we will be preaching amber of division, discord and at the end of day the country will be so divided that it will be difficult even to unite the country.
So that is the real situation today and I can say that it has not been rosy , it has been so bad and many Nigerians are gullible to what is happening now. And that’s why you see that the poor is blamed in most cases for their predicaments.
Somebody has not eaten for three days, instead of looking at those he elected to represent him because there’s a disconnect between him and them, he will look at his next neighbor and his next neighbor is the reason why he has not eaten.
When a country reach that stage, it’s something that everybody needs to be concerned. That’s the stage we are and that’s why I said that, coupled with the challenge of COVID-19, all the working class and many Nigerians are actually in a very precarious situation.
Jobs lost in Nigeria during pandemic as a result of government’s unresponsiveness?
One of the issues affecting us is that we don’t have credible data. Even at the level of NLC, I cannot say we have data because each day, workers lose jobs.
In other clime, because of the unemployment benefits, they have credible data because when you lose your job, you are sure that there’s a social security cover that you can rely on and then you go and register either in a public or private sector and your name and data will be captured.
But in our own case, even the unions don’t have that especially also the informal sector
NLC putting politicians aspiring to power on their toes
The situation we are in terms of mobilizing our people and our responses, if you see- on all topical issues, NLC have actually had a platform, different approaches to the issues, some it will be street protest. And I can give you a sizable number of processes that we have engaged, some advocacy but one thing that is obvious is that our politicians are becoming more and more adamant. You can organize the best strike, protest the best advocacy yet, nothing changes and therefore we are going further, this is about the five platform we are organising because of the centrality of this issue and for people to take responsibility, that’s why we are organising this round table.
The next one will be about our political engagement, that we also need to sensitise Nigerians because it’s obvious that the political elite are just using Nigerians to play chess.
At the eve of every election they bring theories and theories and because Nigerians are gullible because of the poverty they will actually buy some people over including the media professionals.
We need to hold our political elites accountable, that’s the function of NLC and the civil society organisations.
Even a sizable number of civil society organisation have been bought over.
You remember when we did protest in 2015 against fuel increase, all those that we worked together, they withdrew to say let’s allow time.
But we said no, as NLC if all our social partners are withdrawn, for posterity we will declare our action even if we are alone but time will come when Nigeria will say where is NLC to assist us. I made that statement, very profoundly because of the fact that we have seen that politicians are the same.
They are the same because of the fact that it’s about the class contestation versus we. And that is why it’s easy for them, to be in Party A in the morning and the evening, if his interest is not met jump over to Party B. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.
In fact, in other developed democracies, a Democrat will never change, he can vote somebody if he believes that the candidate of his party is not somebody that agrees with his philosophy. So he can go and vote a candidate but not for him to jump over from party A to party B. And that is what has made their democracy to be strong, stable and holding people accountable.
But in our own case, in fact, you will be surprised even the statement that somebody made earlier and when he is decamping the statement he will make. That is what has made our issue very pathetic.
So the responsibility squarely, we are going to take it up to continue to mobilize Nigerians using every means and this platform we are having is part of the means.
In the last two weeks, we have started our study cycle, we have reenergize the study cycle that is going to take place in the work place across all our unions. In fact, after the training, we have given them responsibility, we have also dedicated some resources to make sure that workers education is a continuum and that workers should be able to work assiduously to build an information dissemination process and educate many Nigerians because many Nigerians are gullible.
Let share with you part of the things that we will be doing.
There’s what is working in Nigeria. it’s a plan of what we wanted to do and it has worked else where, in the advanced democracies. In fact in the present regime in the US, unions played a very important role particularly our counterpart, the American federation……, that’s why the first person that Joe Biden fired was an employer that has been a torn in the flesh of workers at the labour commission and he openly campaigned for workers to join a union, that unions can actually bring a desired change.
We want to see leaders that can think in that way. We want to see leaders that will say let us build strong institutions instead of undermining all our institutions.
Today many of our institutions are being undermined, you can see judiciary that is supposed to be the hope of ordinary man.
Few weeks ago, the chief judge of the federation was intervening because judges were giving the same judgement, the same court of cognisance jurisdiction, giving contradictory pronouncement.
That means, the Independent of judiciary is also affected and so our critical institution. That is the difference between our democracy and advanced democracies.
In advanced democracies, the institutions are very strong they are stronger than any leader and they can call any strong leader to order, that was what happened in the case of the United States.
Even when their former President approached many courts, the courts were independent, the judgements were unanimous to say that you have lost the election please go and make sure you respect the rule of law. Same with their security agencies. All their security agencies were unanimous and all other institutions.
But in our own case, it’s about the interest, and if it’s about the interest, the institutions can be undermined.
So we want to strengthen institutions to play their traditional role of holding any person accountable, no matter his level in the society.
Yes, even the labour party, we are trying to reorganize the party because what has happened to the Labour Party is to the effect that the politicians try to harness the labour Party.
As we are aware, the party was formed, promoted by NLC to serve the interest of the workers, not only workers, NLC, TUC, our civil society organisations and Nigerians that want credible platform. But along the line, I think they have tried to harness the party to themselves and we had a cause to challenge it in the court. At the last judgement we got was that, yes, the party was registered by the NLC to promote the interest of Nigeria workers and that they should be all inclusive conference to bring about credible leaders. That has not been respected. We went back to the court and the last sitting, there was an adjournment and we are working towards making sure that we recover the party and then get people that are credible.
If we don’t get people that are credible then there would be no difference between the Labour Party and others.
So we want credible people at the helm of the affairs of the party and not only that, that people will be admitted into the party will not also be like others. It’s a party with a different philosophy, ideology of a working class. There must be criteria to give you a platform, you must earn the confidence of Nigerians, confidence of trade union movement that you are different from others. And the manifesto is explicit.
It is only the party that has logo of the family, ‘baba’, ‘mama’, ‘pikin.
All other parties, it’s either you have umbrella, animal, they’re not human centered.
We believe in human centered approach to development, not about primitive accumulation of wealth and cleverly that is why founding fathers know that the totality of what we will be doing as government will be about the people, welfare and wellbeing.
Basically this is how we want to engage the issues. I know that the issues are really overwhelming because it’s like a lone voice in the wilderness. But we are up to the task and we will continue to play our role. And many people have become very delusional. In fact, every day, I receive more than a thousand calls. Somebody will be on his bed relaxing, if he see a negative development, he will call Presidio what are you doing about this? And when you call for action, the same person will still be on the bed to ask you how the action succeeded. They don’t know that the people’s power need to be harnessed to change the rule
We need to change the rule to work for the people not for the political elites, and that is the issue that is confronting all of us as Nigerians.
So we will continue to offer our platform, proper engagement, speak truth to power and try to see how these can be changed. And Nigerians need to come to the side of labour to be able to get all of these.
How Nigeria got to this level
Well progressively, we have not met the progress that we ought to have met when you look at our resources, human and natural resources, ought not to be where we are and that’s why each time people make comparison with countries that we started together, China, Asia people make comparison. But for obvious reasons and I think for that of leadership because everywhere in the world that they were able to transform their country, you can center it to one leader that was progressive and forward looking.
Nigerians are good followers, I remember the days of War Against Indiscipline, and because we so much believe that system can be transformed, if you want to urinate you look back, left and right, you do it carefully.
Nigerians can change, the only issue is that we need leaders with foresight that have the people at the center of their heart and have requisite knowledge, the energy to be able to reform the system and make sure that we are able to work for the people.
Secondly, some of the neo-liberal policies that our leaders adopt hook line and sinker have been part of our problem and Labour has said that time without number.
You remember the issue of SAP, structural adjustment program by IMF. No where has it worked in Africa. I remember at one time their best example was Argentina until the economy of Argentina collapsed and there was no example again. And they have changed the model.
We must have home grown solution to problem. No two issues are the same. When they are talking of Liberalization, outsourcing, privatisation, I used to ask them, at what level of development, either America or Europe have they adopted some of those policies. Some of them were more than 100- 200 years.
We know that of UK, it was only Margret Thatcher. But at that time education was free, social services were free, people were able to develop, economies were built, critical infrastructure built-in Europe.
How will you compare our states even when our roads are not good? It will not work, that is the bane of our problem and that’s why we have not made the progress we ought to have made.
One, leadership deficits, long term plan have not been there. Even when you have plans, successive leaders don’t actually key into the plan.
In terms of resources, we have everything to arrive at greatness.
And then the issue of conspiracy theory. We have become a trading post for the entire world particularly Asia, Europe and America because of enormous resources that we have. They will come, buy our raw materials, go and refine it and come back to sell it to us. And our leaders could not do anything, that is the major issue that has affected our economy.
When our colonial masters were here, a decade after they left, everything was working. Peugeot assembling was here, Volkswagen, Beetle. That time you can afford to buy new car. Then my father bought a new motorcycle. Today, not everybody can afford new motorcycle.
Every worker then can afford one type of vehicle or the other, if your grade level does not allow you to get a loan to buy Peugeot 504, you can buy Ladder, Beetle, Panel Van.
Our currency was well appreciated, that was immediately after independence and in the first republic and thereafter, things started to go hay wire because most of those industries left and therefore we are nearly importers. And it started when we then recognise that importation pays than producing those products at home because we ought to have produced and use the entire West African market.
All our political elite that will receive the support of the West in most cases, some of those policies have been sank into their heads and they’re buying it. That’s why when they come into the office, it will be difficult to change some of those negative narratives.
Basically, we need to get people that will do the biding of Nigeria to change the negative narratives and we can then change the situation. If not, I don’t see how we will be able to stop lamentation and then begin to appreciate and celebrate our country.
I think the only thing that we celebrate is that the country is still one. There are many countries that have disintegrated. And we shouldn’t take it for granted.
But in terms of progress, we are not yet there.
Going into politics after office
You know that I will be in office till 2023, basically the process must have commenced then. My plan is not actually to jump into it, we can play some roles to bring about credible people. Possibly in the future after my term in the office.
The way things are going, if we don’t retract our steps and reorder our steps and make sure that we look at the interest of the country instead of the individual and sectional interest, I see danger ahead because all intent and purposes even the politicians are working across purposes. Nobody is looking at the country and that is where the danger is.
So from what is going on, except we are able to retract our steps and and God helps us because a very bad situation as it were in the past, God has always intervened.
You remember the issue of June 12, I was a student then, people were moving from North to East, every body was carrying his load on his head because nobody knew precisely the next moment and God in his mercy was able to stablize the system and at the end of the day, even the person that was at the center of the affairs died and there was a new beginning. That was how we were able to stablize to where we are. so God can intervene through any means but if we continue to go the way we are going basically I foresee danger and every right thinking Nigerian will tell you that there’s danger because where people that are supposed to unite us are now dividing us, looking at self centered interest, then that poses a lot of danger.
Basically, as someone that is optimistic, I believe that God will intervene because they said Nigeria is a very religious country and so in some of those cases, it’s not even our making, but God will make a way for the poor and less privileged.
I keep saying, the blood of the innocent that is shed on daily basis and nobody cares for them there will be vengeance. There’s no day you read a page of newspaper that the blood of the poor is not shed.
The entire land has been desecrated with blood of the innocent. Usually, it’s something that should prick our leaders and all of us.