Minimum wage crisis has exposed FG’s insincerity

By Barr. Malachy Ugwummadu

Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu is the National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on minimum wage crisis, economy, nation’s leadership problem and sundry issues.

Do you agree with state governors that the organized labour’s insistence on N30,000 as minimum wage smacks of unpatriotism?

First of all, the Minimum Wage Act envisages periodic review of the minimum wage in Nigeria. This is the best labour practice all over the world to take care of exigencies of the productive life and earnings of the workforce. It is indicative of the changing trend in inflation rate, purchasing power and the general state of the economy. It’s not so much about an unpatriotic labour as the governors want to put it; it is about the state of the law. The fact that successive governments have not been sensitive to the law does not warrant an attack on labour as an unpatriotic movement. What it does on the contrary is that it has exposes the government as not being as responsive and responsible as it should. The governors debate and arguments about paucity of fund cannot be tenable. The Buhari government should do much better in securing the economy of this country. It is not true that there is no money. The problem has to do with lots of leakages, wastages and the governors’ failure to set their priorities right. It is even in government’s interest that adequate attention should be paid to the remuneration of the work force as against the redundant political office holders. The unfortunate thing about the whole issue is that by and large, both parties had concluded this matter. It is only a reflection of the traditional tendency of government to renege on promises that have come to the fore again. So, the governors cannot at this point be saying labour is unpatriotic. It is quite unfortunate that rather than taking responsibilities, the governors are passing the buck to labour. Successive governments inclusive of this present one have unwittingly exposed the very scant premium they placed on the issues of labour. The same way that you see very scant attention to education at all levels.

Prolonged strike is imminent going by NLC’s position over governors’ threat of retrenchment, what is the way out?

If the governors should go ahead to implement the policy of retrenchment, it will backfire and further exposes them to ridicule. Don’t forget that this is an election year. Nigeria government does not understand any other language apart from pressure. On the way out of this crisis, the battle-line has been drawn and parties seemed poised for a showdown but my advice is that government should recognized that they have never won this battle. It must therefore found a way by which it will meet labour at a middle point. That middle point is not to start another round of negotiation because labour had effectively box government into a corner. Therefore, government need to summon an emergency meeting of all stakeholders with a view to implementing what had earlier been agreed upon because the agreement on the payment of N30, 000 as minimum wage is not a unilateral decision. I urge labour to maintain its position because freedom is usually fought for and can never be achieved on a platter of gold. Freedom comes by struggle, including the blackmail that is now being pushed out by government. Labour can effectively challenge any malicious and willful retrenchment of their members on account of an insistence that the law must be implemented, observed and enforced.

Do you share the view that labour did not set its priorities right by not pushing for a robust economy?

Yes. It is good to struggle for an increased wage but having an increased wage without dealing with the socio-economic conditions that renders that increased wage nugatory, then, nothing has been achieved. Assuming labour is even given N50,000 as minimum wage and the rate of inflation arising from the unproductive nature of the economy is not checked, it will all boils down to nothing. Therefore, I think labour should understand that it is not just about wage but about a total package of a responsive and responsible government that is able to re-organize and re-order the economy in such a way that you don’t even need N30,000 minimum wage to be able to live a meaningful life in Nigeria. Therefore, all these areas of wastages like the National Assembly becoming unproductive as well as the propensity to undermine the economy, among others are things that labour ought to be tackling. This is what should be labour’s priority rather than seeking for an increased minimum wage which can be given to them and at the same time not be useful to them.

About 72 members of the House of Representatives are pushing for the adoption of parliamentary system of government. What do we stand to benefit by jettisoning the presidential system of government we are currently running?

The only argument in support of a parliamentary system of government as oppose to a presidential system is the size of government. The parliamentary system allows the emergence of members of parliament as part of the executive. This will invariably shrinks the size of government and subsequently reduce the cost of governance. That is the argument of the protagonist of parliamentary system of government. But it does not stop there. A much more fundamental challenge facing us as a nation is character and content of the people who are state actors. Therefore, we need a total orientation in this country. This does not come by wishful thinking. Nigerians need to focus more on the quality of leadership as against the concern about the system of government in place. Of course, the system can always be restructured one way or the other, but the emphasis must be on having right set of people to operate the system if we must get it right as a nation.

Is there any hope of surmounting the leadership problem as the nation goes into another general election this year?

It is very unfortunate that the factors that will determine a change in the scheme of things are not yet present. One of those factors is an effectively mobilized populace. By this, I mean a properly orientated voting populace. Secondly, there is lack of consensus by the newly emerged political parties to provide a credible alternative. Identifying other political actors with sufficient capacity to move the country forward has remained a problem. The new political actors presented by newly emerged political parties do not even have the wherewithal to wrest power from the existing political actors.

What is your fear on plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the 2019 general election with the 2010 Electoral Act?

I have my concerns, though the election will hold with or without the 2018 amended Act. The question is; do we stand a chance to improve on what we had in previous elections if the 2019 general election is conducted with the old Electoral Act? The 2015 general election was a remarkable improvement on what we had in 2011 and 2007. The improvement that we had in 2015 was largely due to the use of card reader and electronic transfer of results by INEC. These are two major components of the 2018 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill and if they had scale through, the interference of individuals in the sovereign will of the people would have been greatly reduced. This would have helped us to further consolidate on the gains of our past election experiences and I think the president ought to have assented to that Bill. Unfortunately, the National Assembly is very polarized at the moment. Although, this is not unhealthy in democracies but it’s quite unfortunate that this is happening at a time when they ought to rise above political interest and revoke the president’s veto. What I think is going to happen if INEC conduct the 2019 general election with the 2010 Electoral Act is that we may not be able to consolidate on the gains of 2015 elections.

What are your expectations of the nation’s justice system in 2019?

Judiciary as a major arm of government must run away and dissociated itself from anything associated with corruption within the justice delivery system. The reason why this must be taken seriously is that the notion of justice disappears not at a point a case is either won or lost but when the public loses confidence in the process itself. So, we should be concerned about the capacity of corruption and corrupt practices to undermine the notion of justice.

It is on this basis that we are asking the NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) to honourably step aside not because he pleads guilty to the alleged fraud charge or because his presumption of innocence as enshrined in Section 36 (5) of the Constitution no longer exist, but for him to make a sacrifice not to drag the Bar into this mud of corruption trial.

Secondly, the funding of the judiciary must remain a priority in such a way that the immediate financial support to run the arm of government must be judicially and transparently applied towards the end of justice.

The issue of professionalism which has to do with training and re-training of judicial officers is also of importance.

The delay in justice delivery can be addressed by activating and ensure full implementation of some of the legislations put in place to ensure speedy conclusion of cases. In Lagos state, for instance, there is the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) 2011, which the Federal Government basically copied and replicated in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.