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An Open Letter to the Nigeria Labour Congress

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I read in the news that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) planned to embark on a three-day warning strike from November 10, 2010. At the heart of this strike, I learnt, was the refusal or hesitance of the Nigerian government to implement forthwith the  tripartite agreement for a minimum monthly salary of N18, 000 for the Nigerian worker. Compatriots, I believe the issue that has brought out this reaction from you is too small considering weightier issues that you have ignored for so long. This lethargy of yours made me to include you in the group of moribund social power zones—the Nigerian labour, the Nigerian student union, and the Nigerian press.

  We have written and published in the newspapers (even advertorials) how less than 18,000 Nigerian public officials, elected or appointed, including court judges, earn more than 1.2 trillion naira annually in salaries and allowances. The reaction of the Nigerian labour has been deafening silence. We have published how national legislators in Nigeria, for instance, earn more than ten million naira monthly (N10 million). Those legislators have also perfected the art of voting for themselves, without the permission of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), fat allowances under a nebulous heading of 'Constituency projects allowances,' whose accounting is doubtful. Last year, for instance, sixty billion naira (ten billion for each geo-political zone) was voted for such by the Nigerian senate against just two percent of the federal budget for education (The lowest in history as a percentage of the budget, to the best of my knowledge)! We wrote about this, but as your custom has been, you kept quiet.

  Few days ago, the Nigerian legislature passed a bill approving life allowances for Nigerian ex-rulers—past heads of state (including ex-military dictators) and their deputies; past senate presidents and their deputies; past speakers of the House of Representatives and their deputies; and past chief justices. The bill states that such allowances shall be paid to them until their last spouse dies. I suspect that soon state houses of assembly shall follow this un-protested example. I am yet to feel your fury against this aberration of governance that the Nigerian government typifies. All you are going on strike for is for a minimum wage of N 18,000. Considering that an average Nigerian politician has many wives, this new bill, if passed into law after presidential assent (I seriously request President Jonathan to withhold his assent even as I expect labour to lead the struggle against this), shall encourage politicians that are beneficiaries to marry many more wives so that long after they have died such allowances shall continue to be paid. What a bleeding on our economy this shall be!

  Permit me to inform you of what you are ignoring.

1.     With the huge salaries and allowances that less than 500 national legislators earn in Nigeria today, the Nigerian worker cannot be guaranteed the type of salary and working environment, and training on the job that he deserves. For example, out of last year's federal budget of 3.1 trillion naira, which allocated about sixty billion naira only to education, if you take out what was paid to the 469 federal legislators in salaries, allowances, and the so-called constituency project allowances, how much do you have left? Do your mathematics. Excluding what the national assembly votes for overhead expenses for their committees and leadership, more than 110 billion naira is spent on those lawmakers annually. Of what remains of federal budgets, some pittance is spent on salaries of Nigerian federal civil servants, some on capital expenses, and the rest on the federal executive, which, like the legislature, is a high self-spending organ. Where does the NLC expect government to get the money from in order to pay the Nigerian worker living wages as required by the Nigerian constitution in section 16 (2) (d)? Do you see how you are not seeing things clearly? Last year, the RMAFC made attempts to slash the allowances of public officials (According to the constitution, the salaries of serving public officials cannot be reviewed to their disadvantage [See section 84 (3), 124(3)], but not so the allowances. So the RMAFC chose to slash the allowances rather than the salaries.) The senate protested against this last year; senate spokesman Ayogu Eze said at that time that the senate could only concede ten percent. I wrote copiously and informed the senate, using the constitution as the basis, that no public official had the right to determine how much they should be paid. According to the constitution, only the RMAFC determines such salaries. The matter is dead now. Neither the Nigerian press nor the Nigerian labour pushed the issue. Frankly, the leadership of the NLC inspires no confidence in Nigerians today.

2.     The new approval for life allowances for ex-rulers of Nigeria shall inflict further damage on the fiscal health of the nation. This is a burden that I expect the leadership of the Nigerian labour movement to fight. The NLC leadership should understand that until it fights (shuts down the country if that is the only thing that will make the government to listen and the legislature to back-track on the life allowances and the   horrendous salaries they get) the hope of the Nigerian worker is doomed. The NLC should not be going on strike for a mere N 18,000 minimum wage. If your strike is worth anything at all, it should be to force the RMAFC to reduce significantly the salaries of Nigerian public officials (to a point where no senator, for example, earns more than ten times whatever minimum wage government is prepared to give the Nigerian worker). The NLC should go on strike to stop the executive passage and implementation of the life allowances to ex-rulers of Nigeria. Do our legislators have a conscience at all? Are they not looking for trouble by stretching the chords of their presumption too far? How I wish the Nigerian student union (NANS) was what is should be. The NANS is such a hopeless body today, so infiltrated by government that we university dons are in dismay. But what about the union of university teachers (ASUU)? What can I say? The leadership of the NLC must re-invent its usefulness and galvanize all progressives to redeem our nation.

  In concluding, I call on the NLC to expand the scope of its grievances and make them a national struggle for the liberation of Nigeria, considering the issues I have raised above. NLC, I will never support your proposed strike action because the issue is too trivial. Even if government starts paying the minimum wage you ask for, it would not be long before workers start going on strike at least at the state and local government levels because 'there is no money.' How can there be money when the Nigerian labour holds its peace as a few Nigerians cart away our commonwealth for themselves in the midst of so much poverty? The recent bill for life allowances for ex-rulers of Nigeria is an act of rascality and irresponsibility that must not be allowed to stand. But do we have any strong labour leadership that will not be compromised? It remains to be seen.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement ( ).

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