Organised labour and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) yesterday continued their altercation over the proposed N30,000 minimum wage with the governors accusing the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) of holding President Muhammadu Buhari to ransom on the matter.
In a swift response, NLC said that the governors’ hide and seek game on the new wage would certainly come to an end on January 8, 2019 when its members across the country would down tools to force the states to pay the new national wage.
While responding to an interview granted by NLC secretary-general, Peter Eson, where he claimed that governors had rejected the N30,000 wage as demanded by NLC, the governors said that NLC’s allegation “is not only mischievous, but misleading and in bad faith.”
NGF spokesman, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, who in a statement yesterday reacted to the report titled: “Minimum Wage: NLC wants governors who diverted bailouts probed,” declared that it was a needless attempt by the leadership of labour to steer the public away from the promise by President Buhari to constitute another committee to review the minimum wage gridlock.
Bello-Barkindo said that the governors had collectively made it clear that they would have been happy to pay workers the N30,000 but because of the financial constraints and other limitations, there were facing.
According to him, the NGF had offered workers a token increment to the sum of N22,500 from the current N18,000 after the submission of the report of the Tripartite Committee set up by the President and headed by a retired Head of Service, Ms. Amma Pepple, on October 6, 2018.
He explained that the N22,500 was arrived at, after extensive deliberations among the 36 governors in the federation, outlining their financial capacities and liquidity, considering the economic situation of the country and the states’ obligations to Nigerians in their various domains.
Bello-Barkindo said: “Governors also emphasised that N22.500 is a ‘baseline threshold’, meaning that any governor who can pay more than N22,500 is to do so.
“Let it be known that governors have met the president twice on this matter and presented their books to buttress their point. First, a batch of state governors, led by the NGF chairman, governor Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar of Zamfara State, in company of governors Ambode of Lagos, Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Bagudu of Kebbi, attended a closed door meeting with the president where the financial standing of six states, one from each of the geo-political regions in the country, were shown to the president, on Mr. President’s request.
“All the states forwarded their books, their revenues, both internally-generated and their earnings from the Federation Account along with their other sources of revenue, for examination. The president appears satisfied with the governors’ position, thus the decision to set up a new committee.
“It is important to add that, there has never been a time in this country, when states have embarked on a more aggressive revenue drive than they are doing today. And this is without exception or prejudice to any state.
“To put the records straight, governors are not under any obligation, by law, to show their books to the NLC. But they have, in their pursuit of the understanding of the union, done so, not once, but several times over, with a view to letting NLC know that what they are asking for is neither realistic nor sustainable. Yet, NLC remains adamant that its will must be done, or the heavens will fall.
“The president at his last meeting with governors (December 15, 2018) had admonished them (governors) to expect harsher economic tides from New Year’s, thus validating governors’ fears that even those states that had hitherto looked comfortable financially, may in the course of the new year, falter.
Moreover, he pointed out that since that last meeting, of the middle of December, between the Governors and Mr. President, the economists of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Secretariat have been working closely with the relevant departments in all the states of the federation, and looking into other ways of collating financial standing of states that will help the President in ameliorating the situation.
Already, he said revenue to states have dropped drastically while demands by competing needs keep rising astronomically. Last year alone, revenue to states dropped from N800bn when the Tripartite Committee was appointed (November 2017) to between N500bn and N600bn by the time Ms. Amma Pepple committee submitted its report in October 2018.
“Moreover, state governors are making concerted efforts to improve education, health and infrastructure and for this, would not therefore dedicate their states’ entire resources to workers’ salaries alone, knowing that workers constitute less than 5% of the nation’s population. In that regard, governors emphatically announced, collectively, that no state would devote more than 50% of its revenue to salaries.
“To therefore insist that states must oblige the NLC its demands, regardless of the economic gloom that stares the nation in the face is most unpatriotic and a deliberate attempt to hold the nation, especially the president, to ransom, this being an election year,” he said.
Labour Insists On January 8 strike
But as the December 31, 2018 deadline issued to the federal government on the passage of a new minimum wage bill expired yesterday, labour has insisted its threatened strike.
NLC said yesterday that it had begun the process of mobilising its members for the nationwide strike on the said date.
LEADERSHIP recalls that organised labour comprising the NLC, Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) had urged Buhari to prepare and send an executive bill on the new wage to the National Assembly on or before December 31, 2018 for legislative action.
At the expiration of the deadline yesterday, the president was yet to do so, which prompted labour to begin the process of embarking on the strike.
Ozo-Eson said yesterday that the position of NLC, TUC and ULC at the Lagos emergency meeting, which issued the ultimatum, was clear and condemned Buhari’s plan to set up a high powered technical committee after a tripartite panel had completed its assignment with its recommendations presented to the president.
He said that with the expiration of the ultimatum yesterday, labour would immediately begin the mobilisation for a nationwide protest to shut down the economy from January 8, 2018.
LEADERSHIP however gathered from sources within the Ministry of Labour and Employment that the government would call a meeting with labour before the January 8 to pressure it to shelve the strike.
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