‘Nigeria’s problem is not about system, but faulty procedure we have adopted’

Wabba

In this interview with COLLINS OLAYINKA (Abuja Bureau), the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, says accountability and transparency must guide the calls for the restructuring of the country.

There are calls for restructuring, and the argument is that it would engender competition among states and reduce wastages by the Federal Government. What is your view?
Well, we must also be wary of politicians that advance all manners of arguments. If we are structuring in the line of the recommendations of what some other people are saying that we should restructure to the former six regions, are we making progress or we are regressing? The obvious fact is that if we restructure to six now, we are retarding because there is no gainsaying that the creation of states have also brought development closer to the people, that is a fact. Just look at those states at the time they were created, the level of development and what it is now. I think what is required is the issue of good governance, accountability and transparency. That is the only thing lacking and nobody wants to address that issue. It is a fundamental issue in Nigeria. In the context of Nigeria, you can restructure many times, what brought about the fall of these regions? It is the same issue that brought about the fall of those six regions and we now said let us go to states. We started with 12, 19 now we have 36. Once we don’t address this very important fundamental issue of governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law, whatever type of government we have, whatever restructuring we have, the problem would still be there. We think that politicians are shying away from saying the truth. The truth is the systemic corruption in our system, which cuts across all levels have undermined the issue of good governance and a lot of politicians are shying away from that fact, they are hiding under the issue of restructuring. Because if we restructure and you now return to regions, certainly you know it is going to be chaotic, because Nigeria is too big to be administered in that light. I think the advantages of where we are today outweigh the advantages of going back to those six regions.

Our argument is that we would continue to argue on the basis of logic not on the basis of sentiments, cannibalizing, but on basic ingredient of governance, which are transparency and accountability, once we have in it place, every region would have a sense of belonging. The issue of centralism would not be there. Many other countries that are bigger and more complex than Nigeria, China, for instance, who are over a billion people, but still have a transparent system, where corruption is a capital offense, when you steal, you are sure that you are going to die and therefore they have a system that can cater for everybody. I recently attended a conference where 21 countries were present, they were telling us, in the last five years; they were able to bring 80 million Chinese from the lower echelon of the economy to the middle level. They are also meticulous about statistics, but in our own case, can we say of such things? Those are the different things. So I think the issue of restructuring is basically a political issue that politicians have been using to try to undermine our interest. So we don’t support such an avenue where people would advance it. A labour is a pan-Nigerian organisation; we are not regional, religious. As a pan-Nigerian organisation, our focus must be beyond some petty politics and some petty sentiments.

The argument by the proponents of restructuring is that bicameral legislative houses is taking much of the money that Federal Government is getting and the 36 states are too many to maintain…
All of this still boils down to lack of good governance because for instance, the processes of these budgets are not transparent, they are so bogus. You can see how the budget of the National Assembly progressively grew from less than N100 billion to N120 billion. There is a time it reached 150 billion. So, obviously it is a systemic problem. Whatever system of government you have, if we don’t reduce the cost of governance, we would continue in this light. We need to reduce the cost of governance.

NLC has repeated severally that why must we have security votes? There are some states that are not viable, they don’t generate enough revenue but yet monthly they have over two billion as security votes. Why should it be so? Why should we have great needs that add no value to governance? This is the reality.

In Switzerland, the Prime Minster goes with only three persons, her vehicle, the driver and possibly one aide in only one vehicle. The problem is not about the system, because any system that we import, why did we actually migrate from the parliamentary system to the presidential system? It is the same process, same arguments that were advanced.

What we need to do is actually to inculcate good governance into our structure, because all of these things cannot work if we cannot reduce the high cost of governance. Why for instance should somebody serve for eight years and collect millions of Naira and severance package whereas a worker would work for 35 years or 60 years of age yet he cannot get a peanut as a retirement benefit?

Until we are able to situate all of this…but our political elite would not situate this argument within the context of what is reality. They will always divert our attention to other bogus issues that in this context do not make meaning. What makes meaning is for us to situate whatever argument within the reigning reality.

The system of government in Nigeria is the most expensive worldwide. Our legislators receive the highest salaries in the world. This is where the problem is. It is not about the system, it is about a faulty procedure that we have adopted.

You said Labour is going to consider voting against people who stand against minimum wage, within the context of democracy we are practising, less than one year and some months there would be another election, what informed this and how will labour movement mobilise its workers to enforce this?
Every forum I have attended of recent that has to do with organised labour, visit to our affiliate, conferences have made the point very clear that for Nigerian workers, it’s enough of lamentation. In many states many are not being paid not because the money is not there but because those governments don’t see payment of salary as a priority. They prefer to award bogus contracts, receive kickbacks and therefore allow the situation of workers continue the way they are. We cannot continue to lament. I have made the point very clearly that some state governments have done very well. We want to reward those that are doing well but for those that are not doing well, it is a game of numbers. Even if in that state, we have only 100,000 workers; let us also demonstrate that we are not happy with such a system. That is the approach I want us to take because we are key stakeholders in the Nigerian project and if workers are key stakeholders in the Nigerian project, workers, their families, pensioners would form a very sizable number of people that are informed of the electorate and therefore we must also exercise our franchise to elect people that we think have been able to defend our interest. Politics is about interest and workers must be able to situate their interest and vote for people that actually support their interest. It is a campaign we have started and we are taking it from one union to another. We have also instructed our members those that don’t have the permanent voters’ card must be able to have that because for a long time we have taken some of those things for granted. When people are comfortable, they forget that there is suffering but now that there is suffering people would remember also that, ‘we are out of the comfort zone and therefore we must exercise our franchise.’

What will NLC do in order to ensure workers comply?
We are going to be involved in mass workers’ education. Firstly, we are going to constitute the local branches of NLC. We have provision for local branches in our constitution for the 774 local government councils and we are going to put this into effect. We want to have labour at the council level and we already set a timeframe to achieve that. This would be the avenue where this workers’ education will commence where workers would continue to be enlightened by our social partners. I think this is going to work because we have the number.

Take for instance, check the number of pensioners, teachers, local government employees, and see if we are not so many in terms of number that can easily dominate the political scene. We have what it takes in terms of number, intellect and in terms of contributing positively to the political landscape.

I think for long we have been relegated to the background not because we are not relevant but because we took everything for granted. But now I think time has come that we must also be able to advance our interests economically, politically and otherwise.

The starting point is that we must be able to say enough is enough for those that are exploiting workers and are treating workers as slaves. Every union that I have visited, there is lamentation on precarious work situation and lack of decent work.

If a worker has worked for 30 days, his salary is legitimate, it is nothing extravagant, spectacular, it is for him to be paid. Any leader of conscience must find a way to address those challenges and it must be in the context of what will actually douse the situation in some cases with absolute arrogance people have wave workers with the wave of hand to say they are not actually elected to pay salaries. Any governor that cannot pay salary should resign. And we have made that point severally because the primary purpose of governance is welfare and wellbeing of the citizen including their security. Any governor that cannot provide all of these doesn’t need to be there.

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Ayuba WabbaNLC


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