Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba has told governors who are not ready to implement the new national minimum wage to brace for confrontation with organised labour.
Wabba, who spoke at the 11th Triennial Delegates Conference of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) in Abuja, said governors should remember that they swore an oath to abide by the laws of the land, adding that the national minimum wage is now a law which they must implement.
He said what happened to former Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari and his political structure was a kind of punishment from God for subjecting workers to untold hardship.
Comrade Wabba said “Minimum wage has never been given to workers on a platter of gold. I am happy that the Jigawa State government has promised to pay. I have also heard the Oyo State governor says they are not able to pay.
“But before the election, he said he was going to pay. We are going to fight them tooth and nail. It is already a law and they have sworn to uphold the sanctity of our laws. We have enough in this country, especially there is prudency.
“The challenge we are having is not an act of God, but man made. When we were fighting for this minimum wage, I remember one of the governors came to the public hearing and was speaking from both sides of his mouth.
“I am not surprised that at the end of the process, his entire political structure in that state was wiped out. He said it is the act of God and I say it is the punishment of God.”
Speaking on the security challenges facing the country, Wabba said until the nation was able to identify the sources of arms in the country and those sponsoring the purchase of the arms, addressing the security challenges will remain a mere dream.
He added: “I have seen what our armed forces have done and I want to commend them. But they need to go further. The question begging for answer is, how can a poor Nigerian acquire an AK47 rifle and be using it to fight a fellow poor. Something must be wrong and somebody must be responsible for providing these weapons.
“We have not been told who is providing these weapons for these poor Nigerians to fight themselves. We must interrogate this and find out who is providing these weapons. Without that, the issue of insecurity in Nigeria cannot be handled.
“The starting point is finding out who the sponsors are because that is the first step towards solving the problem of insecurity in Nigeria. Without addressing this problem of insecurity, development will elude us.
“Labour has played a major role in national development and so, there is political consciousness among workers. The issue of development and democracy are linked together and you cannot change the system if you are not inside. So, we have a lot to do and we require all our system and all our members to confirm with our rich tradition.”
The delegates conference, he said, provides an opportunity “to interrogate where we are coming from and what we need to do to change the rules. The rules cannot be changed through wishful thinking. Our leaders must be instigated to change the rules.
“When you hear the language of capital, you will know that workers are in trouble because the language of capital is profit and more profit. That is why the issue of the use of automation and technology is coming in and not because they can not employ more workers.
“It is only because they want to maximise profit. We must continue to work together because the issues of workers is the same. We should resist attempt to divide us along any line.
“As union leaders, we must speak to power. If we cannot speak to power, certainly, we cannot be labour leaders. Therefore, I challenge all of us to back and collaborate because the issues affecting our members and Nigerians need urgent attention.
“It is not about resources because we have enormous resources that have not been tapped. There are less than 300 people who have borrowed about N5.5 trillion from the banks and the money has not been returned, yet we are crying that there is no money.”
In his remarks, Chairman of the occassion and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), challenged organised labour to stand up and force the ruling class enforce extant laws in promoting the welfare of Nigerians.
He said: “Knowing that those in government will not allow the welfare of the people, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress can force the ruling class to enforce some of the laws to promote the welfare of workers.
“What Section 16 of the constitution provides for is a living minimum wage. The N30,000 minimum wage is not a living wage. But it was a battle to increase the wage to N30,000.
“Apart from that law, we have the National Pension Reforms Act, the National Health Insurance Act and the Employees Compensations Act and the Factories Act. All these laws are observed in their breaches. I am therefore challenging you to challenge the government to ensure that the minimum wage be paid by state governments.
“The Federal Government must sit down with labour to ensure that the wealth of our country is not dissipated. That is why I call on Labour to collaborate with the Federal Government to fight corruption to a stand still because you are the greatest victims of corruption.
“All our governors now fly chartered jets and you cant pay minimum wage if you have to fly chartered jets. I, therefore, call on NLC and TUC to set up a committee that will sit down with real economists that will let you know that Nigeria is one of the richest countries of the world.
“A government agency NEITI has disclosed to all of us that the Federal Government has refused to collect 22 billion dollars and N376 billion from the NNPC and this is money that should gone into the federations account and distributed to all tiers of government.
“Secondly, for the past 18 years, the Federal Government refused to collect about 60 billion dollars from oil companies under the Onshore Inland Basin Act. Three state government went to court last year and the Supreme Court gave a judgment asking the Federal Government to collect the outstanding royalty.
“The government has refused to implement that judgement. Please let us collect this money and monitor the disbursement so that it is not privately diverted”.