State governors owing workers’ salaries across the country have been advised to resign their appointments or devise a means of offseting the debts they are owing. Giving the advice in an interview with SATURDAY SUN, former President, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Hassan Sunmonu said the failure of the governors amounts to crime against humanity. The Septuagenarian Labour Leader who also served as General Secretary, Organisation of African Union Treaty, OATTU for several years also spoke on other national issues including the crisis in the NLC, pipeline bombings in the Niger-Delta, bail-outs for states among a others. He spoke to ‘TUNDE THOMAS. Excerpts:
AS a veteran and former President of the NLC, how do you feel by the inability of many states to pay workers’ salaries and allowances?
It is an unfortunate development. It is sad that Nigerian workers are being subjected to hardship as a result of the failufre of the governors to pay salaries.
But who do you blame for the ugly development? What a shame, if over 20 out of 36 states can’t pay the salaries of workers running into several months in many states.
My take is that nobody should be blamed but the governors themselves. When the going was good, did the governors make any provision for the rainy day? Many of them became too over-dependent on monthly allocation from Abuja to the extent that they neglected other avenues of making money. It was when the price of oil crashed, and the monthly allocation was affected that the governors’ eyes opened.
They neglected totally or failed to develop their Internally Generating Revenue (IGR) sources, . Now they are paying the price of their foolishness. It is unfortunate that it is the workers that are being made the scapegoat.
Are you saying that IGR could have assisted the governors in this period of crisis?
Of course. If you have a solid IGR base, you will not have too much problem. Look at the period the Federal government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo seized Lagos State monthly allocation for 4 years, did Lagos State collapsed? No. Lagos State survived because it had a strong IGR base. Leaders must always be proactive. You don’t wait for danger to knocking on your door before you take measures to protect yourself.
Most of these state governors have become lazy because they always look forward to the monthly allocation from Abuja.
But what is the way out of the present logjam?
There is no way but for the governors to pay what they are owing their workers. It is a crime against humanity to owe workers and pensioners. Any governor who can’t pay should resign. A labourer deserve his wages. Salary is not a privilege but an obligation. It is a big shame that over 20 out of 36 states can’t pay workers.
The irony of it is that these governors who can’t pay their workers are still collecting security votes and other allowances running into millions of naira.
What an injustice– enough is enough, we should call a spade a spade.
Some governors have been reported to have mooted the idea that workers should forego the arrears being owed them, so that they (governors) can start payment afresh …
Cuts in … What a wicked proposal. Workers should never agree to such arrangement. What the governors owe, they must pay. Failure to pay salaries can trigger a lot of things. A hungry man is an angry man. Non-payment of salaries can lead to upsurge in crime. It can also trigger a revolution. It is unfortunate that Nigerian workers appear to be docile, otherwise, in other climes, things like this can trigger an uprising.
My suggestion is that any governor that can’t pay should resign — that means he has failed.
Some embattled governors have asked for another bail-out from the Federal government to clear salary arrears, how do you see the development?
To me that is still a palliative measure. That is a fire brigade approach. For how long will the states continue to ask for bail-outs? The solution lies in the ability of the state to boost their IGR. When states have solid IGR base, they have no business going cap in hand to Abuja for the so-called monthly allocation.
But what about states that lack the avenues to generate huge revenues other than depending on monthly allocation?
Such states have no reason to exist. We should even abolish all the 36 states and collapsed them into six regions just as we have the six geo-political zones.
With six states in each region, the regions will become more vibrant, and all these problems will stop. We should also jettison the present presidential system we are practising. It is too costly. It is too expensive. We should return to the parliamentary system to save costs.
It may sound unbelievable, but in reality, most of the states in the present 36 states structure are more or less glorified local governments.
Bail-outs is not and can never be the answer to the present problem. There will be no end to it.
As a former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, how do you feel by the continued polarisation of the NLC?
It is an unfortunate situation and very sad. As pioneer president of NLC, I feel sad that NLC can no longer speak with one voice. I felt bad that NLC can no longer present a common front to protect the interests of Nigerian workers.
I believe there was no basis for that. Although the NLC has been having crisis, a reconciliation committee which I headed was set up to unite the Wabba and Ajaero factions. Governor Adams Oshiomhole and other veteran labour leaders were also members of that committee.
The committee worked for 15 months and we concluded our assignment with Wabba and Ajaero signing written documents with which they embraced peace. Wabba, in that document also signed by Ajaero and his group, was recognised as the authentic President of the NLC. That document is still in my possession. I’m shocked and surprised that Ajaero has continued to parade himself as NLC president.
Are you saying sir that by signing the document, Ajaero ought not to further parade himself as factional president of the NLC?
That is what I’m saying. In that document, Ajaero acknowledged Wabba as the president of the NLC. Why he suddenly turned back to start parading himself as factional president of the NLC is what is baffling to me. I have not only been the pioneer president of NLC, but a former Secretary General of Organisation of African Union Treaty Union, an organization that represent the interests of all African workers. In all my years as a labour leader, I’ve always been on the side of truth and justice, I will honestly say that Ajaero disappointed me. Why did he sign the document of reconciliation when he knew he would not abide by the terms therein? Ajaero should stop parading himself as NLC president. He should not be an impostor, Wabba is the authentic NLC President.
Ajaero also betrayed the organized labour again when he organized a parallel May Day rally last May 1, 2016 contrary to the agreement in that document that there should be only one May Day rally by the NLC which was to be led by Ayuba Wabba. Why Ajaero continued to behave like this I don’t know. But he should be very careful so that some powerful forces do not use him to destabilise NLC. From the look of things, it appears some forces are manipulating him. He should however be very careful. Some forces including government may exploit the situation to weaken NLC, and if that should happen, it will have far-reaching consequences.
How do you feel by the turn of events in NLC?
I’m highly disappointed. I’m disappointed that personal interest and ambition are being put over and above the interests of Nigerian workers. Majority of Nigerian workers are not happy by what is happening. How can you have two factions of NLC showing up to negotiate with government like it happened during the recent general strike? There was no reason whatsoever for Ajaero to lead a different faction to negotiate with the Federal government, he should have been part of Wabba’s delegation.
I’m highly disappointed that Ajaero, after signing the document of reconciliation now turned back on that peace agreement. He voluntarily signed the agreement, it was not under duress, this is not how a labour leader should behave. His action and behavior in this matter is unprecedented in the history of labour movement in Nigeria. To me, Ajaero’s action showed that it is personal interest and ambition that matter to him but not collective interest of Nigerian workers.
What efforts will your reconciliation committee make again to bring Wabba and Ajaero factions together?
As far as we are concerned, there are no factions in the NLC. We have only one authentic NLC that is being led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba. Wabba was duly and democratically elected as the President of NLC. Myself and other labour veterans including international observers were there when he was elected, and there is only one NLC in Nigeria.
Fears are being expressed that Ajaero’s faction may break away to form another labour centre, how do you react to this?
For him and his supporters to do that will not be in the best interest of Nigerian workers. He should not contemplate that.
There was a time I heard him saying that his own faction of the NLC is for the private sector, that is very funny and strange. That has never happened since 1978 when NLC was formed. NLC is one umbrella body that caters for the interests of all workers both in the private and public sector.
What is your advise to Ajaero?
Ajaero should not embark on a futile mission. He should return to the mainstream NLC fold.
About two years ago before the crisis started, Ajaero was the Deputy President of the NLC, why does he want to break away now? He should not allow himself to be misled. Ajaero is still young and dynamic. NLC need him. But he should not allow personal ambition to becloud his sense of reasoning. He should embrace peace. His name should not go down in history for the wrong reason.
Some people have suggested that the Federal government should negotiate with the Niger- Delta Avengers if only that will bring peace to the restive region. What is your take on this?
How do you negotiate with criminals and unpatriotic elements? Government should not negotiate with them. They should be fished out and dealt with. Their sponsors should also be fished out and punished. The militants can’t continue to hold the nation to ransom. What else do they want? Federal government put the Amnesty Programme, and under that scheme, many young men from the region were offered scholarships to train overseas. They were also collecting monthly stipend. Be they the Niger-Delta Avengers or whatever name they call themselves, the Federal government should not negotiate with them. The military should do its job. They should restore sanity to the region, and also they must provide protection for the oil pipelines to prevent them from being blown up.
There is ncreased agitation for wage increase, and the NLC had even demanded N56,000 minimum wage for workers, but some people have expressed concern about the possibility of that in view of the fact that many state governments can’t even pay the current N18,000 minimum wage, and many of them are owing workers’ salary …
Cuts in … Under the labour law, minimum wage is to be reviewed every five years. NLC is in order by demanding a new minimum wage.
How Nigerian workers are coping with the present situation, only God knows. Nigerian workers are being paid peanuts against the backdrop of the present economic challenges. Nigerians are resilient and so far, they have been showing support for Buhari’s government, but he in turn should ensure that he put in place welfarist programmes to address the problems of poverty. He should not allow neo-liberalists in his party and outside his party to influence him to adopt IMF prescriptions for revival of Nigeria’s economy. He should be vigilant. He should be wary of taking advise that may put Nigerians up against him.
What is your assessment of one year of Buhari’s administration?
Buhari is on the right track. So far, he has exhibited traits of a good leader determined to make a positive change.
I know the expectations of many Nigerians are high but we should not forget that Buhari inherited a lot of mess from Jonathan. To clear this rot is not a day’s job. We should exercise patience with him. Look at the extent of looting of public funds under Jonathan’s administration: It is monumental and mind-boggling.
Buhari is trying to set the economy back on the track, but while doing that, he should try to diversify the economy. We should be less dependent on oil as our sole source of revenue. We should develop the solid minerals and the agric sector. They are also money-spinners like oil.
What should be done to looters and the looted funds being recovered?
Looters should not be spared. They should be punished. Looters have violated both the laws of God and of man. They should not be spared.
If a man who steal chicken is not spared, how do you spare somebody that stole billions or millions of naira? Looters should be punished and there should be no plea bargaining: Plea bargaining will provide escape route for looters.
Recovered loots should be used for socio-economic benefits of Nigerians.