Electricity Tariff Increase, Bitter Pill For Workers To Swallow—Wabba | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Electricity Tariff Increase, Bitter Pill For Workers To Swallow—Wabba

Posted: Mar 29, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


Kachikwu’s Position On Fuel Scarcity Not Acceptable

Evolving developments in Nigeria’s polity, especially since the All Progressive Congress(APC)took on the mantle of leadership, has thrown up new issues on workers welfare in the country, such that salaries are now being owed workers in hitherto structured civil service system, particularly in states that were once considered vibrant. In this interview with President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who recently clocked one year in office, spoke on the ill timing of the electricity tariff increment by NERC, he speaks on this and other issues with INNOCENT OWEH. Excepts…..


One year in office as President of the NLC; reflecting back on the frosty election that brought you in, how would you describe the job as number 1 worker in Nigeria?

Well the crisis that greeted my election is not entirely new, in fact we have gone through this process for about the fourth time, during Hassan Somunu, it happened, and usually interest will always come to play when it comes to election of the congress, either through external or internal influence. If you go through our history we have always come out very stronger.

Secondly, he who claims to be a leader, should realise that it is the people also that would recognise who is the leader and who is actually being led. Unity is very important, that was why after the elections, the first thing we did was to constitute a reconciliation committee because it takes two to tangle and we have done that in good faith.

Our veterans have worked assiduously, they have terminated all issues of grievances, what is left to be done is to present the report to the National Executive Council and the position is that the election that brought me in cannot be controverted. It has been documented and that our colleagues on the opposing camp should find a way of working together with us, if there are opportunities of people that are leaving the mark we can then accommodate them, that was the decision and it’s known to all of us.

They also brought the issue of the state councils, which is in areas where there are challenges we should try to have an inclusive leadership at the state council levels, that is all, that is left to be resolved by the committee.

We cannot also continue to lament, because programmes do not wait for you to solve your internal problems first, if we have been docile the issue of payment of salaries in states would have been a monumental issue.

When I took over before the state council elections I gave an order that any state where outstanding salaries are yet to be paid should declare an indefinite industrial action immediately; which they did. From Jos Plateau State to Osun to many places, we told ourselves that the era of waiting to lament and say well until we are able to fix our internal problems.

Problems do not wait, it will continue to exist and on daily basis workers will continue to have problems. No doubt this one year must have been very challenging, what has been your staying power?

Do not forget that I have led one of the biggest unions in this country, by records it is the biggest union in terms of affiliation to the NLC and for the 10 years I have been at the helm of affairs, the union prospered from one level to another, in fact before I left my union was one of the best organised unions in the country.  Do not forget that in terms of affiliation, we paid N527million in the last four years and that have impacted on the union, when I came in our delegates were 9, from that we moved to 75 and then 258 and by the last conference we were more than 500 delegates through diligent organisation and many of our leaders have said so.

I have also served this organisation as a treasurer for the past eight years, so I know the problems, certainly it’s a different office, but I think the issues are the same, workers challenges everywhere are virtually the same. The only difference is that, when you look at the time we came in and the economy, it seems to be in a very bad shape and therefore workers can only thrive when the economy is also doing well.

Imo State was a recent flash point where workers stood for their rights against what they termed as violation of Labour laws by the State government, what measures are in place to guarantee workers against such situations in future?

It was not only in Imo State that we did that, but virtually all the states where we have challenges. We did same in Ogun recently. Osun State has been an outstanding case, whereas the employers have different tendencies, there are some that goes to the extreme to ensure that workers welfare are not even given any thought or attention, those are places that we insist that our laws must be respected.

Where workers are disengaged without following due process, like the case of Imo, we have intervened in many states, including issues concerning the bail out. It was an intervention which came as a result of agitations we made that workers should not be made to actually suffer the challenge in the economy.

And you see that intervention was given and in most states it was judiciously utilised, in few states where it has not been well utilised, we have also risen up to the challenge, including requesting that investigation should go on. You are aware recently EFCC arrested some high level officers in Imo for alleged diversion of some amounts and they are going to be prosecuted.

All employers of labour now realise the fact that, we will not take the issue of undermining the interest of workers lightly, in Lagos during the world industrialization day and world decent work day, where we visited a lot of factories and liberated a lot of workers, I remember a factory along Sango-Ota that we visited, we liberated those workers, some Chinese companies that we visited too.

All of these are happening concurrently, so that workers can now have a new lease of life for their unions to represent their interest. So, all of these are well documented to ensure that workers both in public and private sector get what they deserve.

The economic meltdown is taking its toll on the country and here you are calling on government for a review of the National Minimum Wage, how realistic do you think this can be?

The fact is that until you make your demands, nobody gives you your rights on the platter of gold. All through history wages of workers have always been gotten through a process of collective bargaining, which means a worker must make a valid demand putting the facts to justify his demand on the table and then a process of negotiation takes place and they strike a balance.

That is why convention 87 and 98 in our laws provides the right of trade union to represent the interest of a worker through a process of collective bargaining. From 1999, the first adjustment of minimum wage we got was not given to us by Obasanjo on the platter of gold, demands were made, issues were x-rayed and we then negotiated the figures we got. Basically what we are doing is not a new tradition; it’s something that has been in place.

Yes, we are aware of the economic challenges, but don’t also forget that we have instances and areas we can coach to make sure that the economy gets moving as it should, especially in recession like this, it is to ensure that there is production and keeping up purchasing power.

If you produce and nobody is willing to buy, the economy will be at standstill, even in the case of the US it was in the midst of recession that minimum wage was reviewed and purchasing power of people continued to increase, that is why General Motors can produce because during the recession General Motors were producing and nobody was able to buy.

So, if you are able to increase wages and boost the capacity of people to buy there will be buying and selling and production will stimulate the economy and take us out of recession. Look at the exchange rate which has made nonsense of the N18,000 minimum wage, when we signed the national minimum wage, it was equivalent to about $120 dollars, today when you look at the exchange rate, it’s even lower that $60 dollars, those are indices you look at.

Has it actually affected the purchasing power of workers, it is obviously yes, look at the issue of tariff, how much is provided in the minimum wage as allowance for utility, water bills, electricity, certainly it’s not up to two thousand naira out of the controversial N18,000. I know of somebody that bought electricity units worth N20,000 and it could not carry him for one month, these are some of the challenges.

Is the Labour movement encouraged by the responses coming from government, particularly this reneging on some of its electoral promises?

Particularly from the executive arm of government, I cannot say I am encouraged, you heard what the Minister of Power said that the tariff increase was a bitter pill that Nigerians have to force down their throat, certainly we will not accept that kind of explanation, because even in the medical field, now nobody swallows bitter pills, in fact it is sugar coated, so that it can be easy for you to swallow but where a minister would say it’s a bitter pill, it means he knows it and he wants to force it down our throat.

It’s something we never expected from him, because governance is about the people and if it is about the people, we must find a way of accommodating the people, more worrisome is the fact that we have tried to engage them and each time we do, to make facts available to them, they have tried to evade such discussion. We have written more than three letters to the minister to have this engagement with us but it’s like they are not ready.

We invited the NERC in Lagos, they said they have something doing. I don’t think there will be something more important than putting those facts before Nigerians, especially critical stakeholders like NLC, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.

NLC and civil society allies remain committed, in fact we are funding the process to ensure that at least the court process is not in anyway jeopardised, we are aware that they have hired some senior advocates, but the beauty of it is that it is about Nigerians, most of the frivolous applications they brought have actually been dispensed by the court. The only issue before the court is to try them for contempt which process will commence on the 19th.

There is no gain emphasizing that our nation is a dire economic csituation; what is the way out of this quagmire?

There is no doubt we have challenges in our economy and these challenge are caused by two major factors; one is the looting that has taken place in the system, where resources that have accrued to the Nigerian state have been looted. Secondly is the challenge of the fall in oil price because we know also that we over rely on one source of revenue, which is oil, with these two scenarios playing out, it means that as a country we have to think and work out of the box and I am happy that the government is trying to look at this angle.

If you look at the 2016 budget, substantially the funding of it is from non oil source especially the introduction of the single treasury account where over N2trillion have been mopped up. This is money that would have gone into people’s pocket because most of those agencies are revenue generating agencies, which hitherto generate revenue, but do not pay into government coffers.

Certainly in order to get out of this wood, three things we must do, first we must continue to patronise made in Nigeria goods because our foreign reserve have depleted and if we continue to cry for foreign goods, it means we have to continue to scratch for dollars to do those importation.

For instance, why don’t our armed forces produce their uniforms here in Nigeria, let these companies come into Nigeria and begin to produce, if we put that policy in place, I assure you that many companies will come to Nigeria and start production. In South Africa you cannot bring in a assembled car, you either assemble it there or you produce in South Africa, so also is China therefore you add value to their economy.

The oil and gas sector is once again plunged into crisis, what do you make of the unbundling plans of the NNPC by the FG and reactions coming from unions like NUPENG and PENGASSAN?

Our position have been very consistent in line with the unions in the oil and gas sector, first is that however good the policy is, you need to carry the stakeholders along, you need to discuss through this policy, look at the nitty-gritty through a process of dialogue and consultation before you can announce these policies.

I think that was what really happened the policy was pronounced before discussions with the relevant stakeholders and that’s why our affiliates in the oil and gas had to down tools and they had to come back to the round table to look at the issues. No doubt, NNPC needs a new impetus to be able to deliver because it is clear from what is happening, NNPC had been the wire house for corruption and therefore we will agree to do what is right to be able to deliver and make sure that those corrupt practices are eliminated.

But this process must take place within the context of dialogue, so that all of us would be on the same page, pushing this process and supporting the reform agenda because reforms can be positive and negative but in this case I am sure that it is going to be positive.

I also want to encourage the government, various agencies and ministries that they must identify critical stakeholders and continue to discuss policy alternatives with them before rushing out to make pronouncement, not churning out policies then coming back to start talking about the issue of consultation. That was what took place in the tariff increase, no consultation took place, they never invited us, what they claim was consultation was just their families, interested parties and cronies.

We know the position of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, we know the position of major consumers and Nigerian workers as advanced by labour, so who are the stakeholders they are talking about? There was no discussion and it’s one area that is lacking and I think late President Musa Yar’Adua have actually tried to look at that issue during his time and put a structure in place for dialogue to continue to exist.

That has added values to those issues because if you discuss with critical stakeholders areas that you think you know better, you will have better ideas and the policies will be strengthened and improved and people will key into it and we drive the policies together, because policies should be about the people and governance is about security and welfare of the people, so you must carry the people along if they are the end users of the product.


This has been our argument even in the unbundling and the processes of reforms that will take place but we know that we have always canvassed that NNPC needs to be sanitized, issues of good governance needs to be entrenched and that has been the talk of many Nigerians because of how subsidies have been managed in the past.

The fact also that most of these funds have been traced to key officers that mismanaged the process. Our idea is that reforms should be carried out but should be done in consultation with critical stakeholders.

You still have 3 years to go as NLC President, what is likely going to be your focus as the journey keeps unfolding?

The first thing I did on assumption of office with our leadership was to have a re-strategic retreat in Calabar, which was well attended, all our founding fathers were there including Governor Adams, all our leadership structures were there, where we looked at the idea of returning to our founding principles vis a vis what we want to achieve in the next four years of our administration.