Ayuba Wabba became the new President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) through a controversial election process. Only recently, he inaugurated an eight-man committee aimed at rebuilding the cracks in the Labour centre. In this interview, he explains how the committee has progressed with its mandate, while commenting on some national issues that have been thrown up, following the victory of General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) in the recent Presidential election. Excerpts:
Now that a new government will come on board by May 29, what are the expectations of Nigerian workers from the President elect?
As working people and by extension Nigerians, we expect to see first the issue of good governance in terms of elimination of corruption, looking at the issues of development and putting the necessary infrastructures in place. Good governance also entails having a refining capacity to refine the petroleum products for our domestic needs because it is an irony that despite the fact that from the 60’s, God has blessed us with this very essential commodity, we still depend on importation; that is not good governance and to me that is the expectation of Nigerians.
Very critical is the issue of power. Once you are able to unlock the challenges in the power sector and we have power 24/7, I assure you that the potential of Nigerians, especially the working class, will then be unleashed and our economy and development will be unprecedented.
In the 1970s when we had steady power supply, there was nothing in Nigeria that we didn’t produce. Most of the companies that have migrated to other countries like Dunlop, did so because of the economic climate does not support industrialisation. Look at our textile industries, which we celebrated in the 70s and early 80s, have folded up because of one single challenge; power. So, power is critical to any development in the world and if we are to unlock the issue of development and also create the required employment capacity generation, the incoming government must look at the power sector and try to stabilise it.
Also, our capacity to refine petroleum products to meet our domestic need is critical. The fluctuation in exchange rate is because of unnecessary pressure put on the importation of petroleum products. It is our expectation that the new government will have the will to be able to bring about the desired change. For once, let us have the capacity to refine our domestic needs and therefore stop this issue of capital flight to buy refined products.
Thirdly, I am also sure that with the goodwill that the administration has received, especially with regards to the process of the election, I am sure also that the issue of corruption is one that we need to tackle headlong. From 1999 to date, a lot of commissions of inquiry have been set up. For instance, in the power sector and in the subsidy regime, you are aware of what happened in 2012 after the revolt by Nigerian workers and citizens. The investigation that went into the process and the scams that are yet to be concluded. So, tackling the issue of corruption is very fundamental to our development and I am happy that the new administration has actually informed us that they are going to take it headlong. So, our expectations as Nigerian workers is that they should be able to walk the talk.
Finally, the issue of peace and security is very important. Over the past four years, I think most of us have slept with one of our eyes opened. That is if you have slept at all. Because for me, where I come from, some people even find it difficult to sleep. Some people sleep on top of trees.
So, this is the situation and therefore, a lot of us expect that there will be return of peace and stability and the issue of insurgency will be addressed once and for all and therefore let us return to the peace that we used to enjoy in this country where you can travel all through the night. So, our expectation is that the security situation should be able to change within a short period of time.
Lastly, it is also important for me to place on record that the issue of the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerian workers is also very keen. And therefore very soon we will try to see how we can have an engagement. Because when you look at our purchasing capacity now, it is a fact that the exchange rate and all other indices have also affected the minimum wage. So, I think that it is high time we look at welfare and wellbeing of Nigerian workers.
Because ultimately, labour produce the wealth and therefore if we are looking at how to stimulate growth and development, we must also look at the issue of wealth creation and generation. Therefore, I think for us that lay the golden egg, our welfare is very important, especially the issue of remuneration and pensions. In some instances there are pensioners who have stayed for up to 6 months without being paid, including military pensioners.
It doesn’t go well for our society. For people that have put in their best for the progress and development of our country at the time they were very strong, now that they are very weak, they need the system to also support them. For no reason should we allow a situation where pensioners will go months without being paid their stipends.
Recently, you instituted a Reconciliation Committee to reconcile aggrieved members of NLC who lost out in the presidential race at the last delegates conference. How far has the committee gone with its mandate?
I am aware that the committee has started its assignment, because, even yesterday Comrade Adams Oshiomhole told me they have also written to him officially, because I saw the letter with him and that the committee has started the assignment. They have invited all parties so it is for all of us to agree to subject ourselves to the process. But, I am sure that we have given them all it takes to drive the process, using our time-tested internal dispute resolution mechanism to be able to reach out and then try to see how we can resolve the issues. I was informed that they have actually started and that the first meeting has been convened for April 8, for now that is the information I have.
Nigeria has just concluded its Presidential and National Assembly elections and just like almost what we had during the NLC election, we saw some issues that cropped up during the collation of results. How would you react to this incident?
I think in most cases, you find out that such processes, because the stakes are very high, people tend to act according to their emotion. But, I think ultimately, what we need to celebrate now and comment on is the fact that the process had been concluded very peacefully and we need to also congratulate ourselves as Nigerians for having pass through this process peacefully without hitches. Certainly, in the course of the process, a lot of things must have happened, but I think what we would be looking at now is the outcome not those issues that arose during the process.
I think all of us today are winners and we can walk with our heads very tall anywhere in the world to say that democracy in Nigeria has thrived, we have transited very peacefully from one ruling party to another party and I think we can see the peace in the atmosphere. To me that is most important.
I also want to urge all of our politicians to actually play by the rules and try to imbibe the spirit of give and take and respect the outcome of the process even when it favours us or not, I think that is a very clear message that has come out of this contest, even where somebody lost he should be able to accept defeat with honour and when somebody wins he should be able to extend hands of fellowship to the other contestants in the overall best interest of our country and our people. That to me is the message that all politicians and those aspiring to venture into politics must imbibe. In other developed democracies these are tenets that are well respected and I think we can draw some lessons and inspirations from what transpired that even before the last votes was collated and when the winner was very obvious and clear, the sitting president called the president-elect to congratulate him.
I think it is a new development in our democratic culture and it is something we need to carry on board and entrench into our structures. I hope that the remaining elections will follow suit, those that will loss will also accept defeat in good fate because there will be another time always. I think what tried to happen in the process is actually something we need to play down and try not to make it part of our culture, because people think that violence or not accepting defeat is part of our culture as Africans or black people.
That notion has been ruled out and we have corrected that impression. For me that is the joy and am sure that now that the process has gone fairly and transparently we should also expect development.
The very critical issue is the issue of good governance because where we have good governance in place all the tension that characterise our election will then be played down because once there is good governance all those challenges of unemployment, challenges of decay in our infrastructure will be taken care of and therefore the votes will then count and whoever gets into an elective position he knows also that his fate will one day be determined by the people.
That is the beauty of it and that is the whole tenets of democracy and for me that is the take home for this particular election and it has set a standard, because Nigerians in the future will not accept anything lower than the standard that has been set now.
It is something all of us as Nigerians need to appreciate and key into. Anybody that is working on the old order, I think by now should have a rethink am happy also that the person that tried to disrupt the process eventually apologised to Nigerians and that’s the beauty of it, where people know that, yes, they have done wrong and realise they did wrong and apologise. All of us are human beings and we are bound to err, but for the fact that he has apologised that is the beauty and therefore we should embrace him.
Causalisation of workers by multinationals is a serious concern to Nigerian workers. Now what will your leadership do to ensure right of Nigerian workers are protected?
If you look at my master plan, the issue of casualisation is a key issue we intend to address. Because the issue of casual labour, by ILO standards and conventions, is something that should not be condoned. At the last Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting, we set up a committee to look at the issue of unpaid salaries and also to look at areas where we have this issue of casualisation. So, we can map out strategies of engaging them. Already we have started the process. This committee is to go round the six geo-political zones. Our expectation is that they will be able to give us a data of how we are going to engage this companies. We are going to list these companies and we are going to engage them physically. Because you can’t have two standards, one standard in your country, and you come here and introduce new standards. We must all imbibe the globally accepted standard of decent work agenda. So, decent work agenda is part of what we are driving as a new leadership.