The battle for the new national minimum wage has now moved to the states, and, for organised labour, it is time to take appropriate action against states that have failed to keep to the December 31, 2019, implementation deadline.
The global vice president for Africa and Arab nations of the Public Service International (PSI), Peters Adeyemi, notes that the rascality of some of some governors would not make them comply with the deadline from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), hence the shutdown of such states is inevitable.
Adeyemi who is also the general secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), observed that workers have never achieved the implementation of minimum wage without a struggle.
In this interview, the labour leader also looks at the fate of Nigerian workers under the present economic situation in the country, government policies, opportunities available to Nigeria at the PSI and other issues.
Minimum wage ultimatum
I think the reality is that it is important for the NLC to make the pronouncements that they have made or else there would be accusations left, right and centre. But the truth of the matter is that because of the rascality of governors, most of them are not likely to work with the NLC’s timeline, but the good thing is the NLC has already given a deadline. So, what follows, that cannot be another deadline. What should follow that is NLC should move to the states. We have never achieved the implementation of minimum wage anytime without a struggle. We have to shut down some states and I am not sure anything will be different this time around, because we don’t have any other choice than to go to the states, where they are not ready; we shut down the place. That is, for me, the only way that the NLC can go and, if they do it, it won’t be strange, it’s just like following tradition. The tradition has always been, states will remain adamant, states will remain incorrigible, stubborn, they continue to tell lies that they don’t have the resources to pay and one other thing that NLC should do at the national is to closely mark the state council officials, so that they don’t go and collaborate with state government and then frustrate the negotiation. If NLC is combat-ready, we also have to work on our state officers to be combat ready because there is no way NLC national can succeed in getting anything from the state government, if the states councils compromise on this very important struggle. I think the NLC will take its next step. For us as industrial union, it’s also difficult to tell you what we can do because we are also part of the whole and the issue of minimum wage even at the level of the state, will not be the fight of NASU alone because if our members are affected, there would be other workers who belong to other unions in the other sectors that will also be affected, so the best platform to coordinate and to effectively chart this struggle will be at the level of NLC and the TUC coming together and then doing the needful. I am convinced that the NLC will do that and from there we can then proceed.
Welfare of workers
Terribly bad. I don’t know how Nigerian workers have been able to survive. That’s the truth. Nigerian workers have not been fairly treated in all ramifications. I think Nigerian workers are just struggling to survive, while politicians are having a field day. How will a worker survive on N30,000? Meanwhile, those who are in the position of responsibility to pay the N30,000 are saying it’s not possible. We are in a state of hopelessness and I pray our government, both at the state and federal level, will not push the Nigerian workers to the wall because to push an hungry man to the wall, he would fight back. I pray that they would not do that. In fact, they have further even aggravated the poverty of the masses by this announcement of the so-called N30,000 because everything have gone up. The cost of buying foodstuffs have gone up. The cost of transportation has gone up, the cost of virtually everything. Electricity, even though without light, has gone up. So, it’s heartbreaking. It’s not a situation that can last for too long before an average worker will then have no reason, because it is when you are fairly treated that you will even do the job. If you don’t have the resources to maintain your home, even when you are on the job, your mind will not be there.
The Senate is operating outside the country, they are operating outside reality. An average senator in this country doesn’t know what is happening to an average worker. He earns so much, he has so much money that he doesn’t think; he thinks everybody earns like him. That passage was an anti-climax of anti-union and anti-people policies of our Senate and for me it’s nonsensical. It’s adding insult to injury. Our Senate is detached from the people that are supposed to have elected them and that is a problem. A problem in the sense that you can’t even say authoritatively that what happens in Nigeria is election. So when people are selected, when they get to the office through some strange means, they are detached from the reality. How can you be talking of increasing VAT on the nonsensical excuse that countries around us are paying more. In fact, are they not aware that some of those countries that are around us have stable power supply. You go to Ghana, no power failure. So you don’t spend so much money buying petrol and whatever. They keep on citing countries, they refused to tell us those countries have much more progressive incentives for the working people in those environment which we don’t have. So it’s appalling that the President actually signed the bill into law.
What Labour should do
I can’t speak on behalf of Nigerian workers because I am not the president of NLC. What I know is that, as the General Secretary of NASU, I think that action is challengeable. Labour should challenge it. We can’t fold our hands. If my other colleagues in the movement feel it’s right, I don’t believe it’s right. It’s challengeable because they are adding insult to injury. Minimum wage has not been paid, you are increasing VAT, approving charges on withdrawal from banks, in fact the other day, I learned that somebody in communication said that we talk too much and that there would be communication tax. So, all of this is injurious to the health of an average worker who earns nothing. You pay with one hand and you use different types of taxation to take the money back, I think it’s challengeable.
My reaction will be multi-dimensional in the sense that you can find some benefits when you have the National Assembly that is not from the party with the executive. There are some benefits in that, there are certain things that do not go through. Then there are whole lots of disadvantages when you have a situation when the National Assembly and the Presidency are from the same political party. So it’s very easy and you can find out that that was why the party in power at the federal level did everything to ensure that its party controlled the majority in the house. So, many more things will happen. It may not be progressive, but they could use the majority they have in the Assembly. There’s virtually nothing we can do about that. We will just blame ourselves, if it’s possible for us to blame ourselves that such has happened. It also happened in the US immediately after the election of Trump, that both the House and the Senate were (dominated by) the Republicans, but thereafter, you see the tide changed and the Democrats took over the House, one can see what is happening now in the US, it’s because they now have a House that is controlled by the Democrats and you have a Senate that is controlled by Republicans. If it has been Republicans in the House and the Senate, one would not even see what is going on now because they would suppress it; that is the first way to look at it.
The second way to look at it, I took cognisance of one important statement the President made. He said the money they made even from the sale of our crude is not enough to run the expenses of the country, so they have to find ways by which they deal with all of those things. So if that is a statement of fact, they don’t have any other choice than to go and look for loans, that is the truth. Because if the President can come out and say that what we get as revenues from everywhere, but it also difficult not to puncture that because we have some problems. I have some problems with the fact that regularly and constantly it has been announced that JAMB is making so many billions, the Customs is making trillions, FIRS is also making trillions. So clearly if all these federal government outfits are turning in so much money, why do we need loans and then where is the money? If the money is there, why do we need loans? Somebody must be telling some lies and somebody must be telling some truth. So, for me, it’s a delicate issue and I don’t think we can unravel this. Even the Freedom of information Act (FOI), is not working because it should be possible with the FOI for us to access information and know exactly how much money beyond the one that we get from the sale of the crude come to the government. What is the totality of all government gets every month from all sources and what is the totality of our expenditures so that we can begin to look at what is the totality of our income and then subtract it from the totality of our expenditures, do we have a balance? EFCC has been recovering, both money and properties; where are these monies? It can’t just end on the pages of newspapers and announcements that so much has been collected. Where is the money?
Economy in depression
Yes, it is depressed. Government functionaries have said that economy is not depressed. But from the meagre thing they gave to education, to research, to health, it can only come from a depressed economy. If the economy is not depressed, the releases they made, budgetary allocation to these sectors should be far more than what is being allocated right now. And then don’t be deceived, government will tell us we are out of recession, but have you seen that sign on Nigerians, go anywhere you can see that our infrastructures have collapsed. The roads are impassable. So for us I think it’s still a depressed economy. Never mind that government celebrate that they are out of recession., That is on paper, we have not seen the practical. For us it’s unfortunate, average Nigerians are suffering.
Nigeria’s re-election as PSI vice president
I think it is cheering news, something that generates hope, because our relationship with PSI has been on the positive side, particularly in trying to bring African and Arab countries’ workers together. There is a whole lot of injustice that has been going on, exploitative tendency of employers, and poverty is ravaging the continent. So, what PSI is doing is to bring all the affiliates in Africa together so that we can challenge some of these exploitative policies. What we also trying to do is work on how we can secure trade union units that have been eluding us for a while. Workers speaking from different perspectives, workers should be able to speak with one voice. Then there have been a lot of campaigns that we have been involved with, campaign against privatization, campaign against private public partnership, problem of taxation, tax injustice, tax holidays, violation of trade union right and a whole lot of campaigns. With this re-election, there would be continuity in the struggle for the sustainance of these campaigns with a view to taking it to a higher level. It will also add to the enhancement of the visibility of African PSI activities in the main PSI, because prior to this time our visibility has been on the low side. Since we got into office we have moved that visibility up. There’s no way that you can talk of Adeyemi in PSI globally that people will tell you they don’t know whom you are talking about. We have also enhanced what we pay to the PSI globally. Unlike what it used to be that people just think that PSI is just an organization where you will always wait for their tickets so that one can travel. We have told them that, that is not the way to do it, we have to put our money there so that our voice can be heard and we can have mouth to talk. This re-election will further enhance that and I must say, I was even shocked with my level of acceptability within the continent. It’s marvel. My nomination was done by delegates from Kenya, not even Nigeria and most of those guys who are supporting me, am also happy that even the Nigeria affiliates were solidly with me, no dissent opinion. That shows for the first time, that Nigeria can go out and speak with one voice. So our programs that have been on, this re-election will further strengthen those programs with us being able to move forward. Then our visibility, the African continent in PSI will further be enhanced and our struggle, our campaigns on all the issues that affect the African workers will be intensified.