WORKERS DESERVE MORE ATTENTION -COMRADE PETER ADEYEMI, NLC DEPUTY PRESIDENT
Comrade Peter Adeniyi Adeyemi is a seasoned unionist who has never been afraid to call a spade a spade. As the congress goes into the polls tomorrow, the General Secretary of Non-Academic Staff Union of University (NASU) and incumbent Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) spoke at length about the congress success and failure in the past four years and what can be the agenda for future.
The last four years have been extremely very eventful. We set out to achieve a number of things for workers and beyond Nigerian workers, the teaming Nigerians resulting from the fact that the activism of NLC has gone actually beyond just fighting for the workers. Because we don't really have a visible opposition in terms of those who can credibly challenge the policies of government. NLC appeared to have in the last couple of years been the opposition of government.
There have been massive level of expectations on the path by Nigerians in terms of the activities of the NLC. When we came on board, I am the deputy president. In this regime, we actually focused on a number of issues. The issue of electoral reform, where the vote of an average Nigerian will count; the issue of deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry; the issue of minimum wage and corruption in our society. It is important to note that we mapped our focus creditably well. I am one person who have always said that if one wants to do an analytical assessment of this administration with the immediate past under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, one is likely not able to rate this administration very highly.
That is not because this administration has failed, it is as a result of a very different dynamism. In terms of those who governed. To a large extent the way the employer, the government, manages the economy, issues that affect workers, determine to a large extent how volatile or how vocal or how dynamic, the labour movement can be. If you have a government that is always fomenting trouble, naturally labour must continue to react. Incidentally, when Oshiomhole was NLC president, we had the Federal Government under the leadership former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who trouble shoot every time in terms of the issue of fuel prices. That is something that generate interest.
The increase is what Nigerians abhor and ready to oppose and ready to oppose at any point in time because Nigeria feels that naturally, we are gifted with oil. Even if we are not benefiting directly from the money that is accruing from the sales of the crude oil at international market which is massive, then we should have been benefiting in terms of standard infrastructural development in our country and in terms of better living conditions of Nigerian workers. But it has not been so. We think we should benefit from the fact that you have to keep the price of the pump price of petroleum products at a very low level so that we don't go through unnecessary pain.
Like today in Venezuela, the price of a litre of petrol is so low because the country is producing oil as well as refining. Hence, there is the belief and it is a concrete belief that for Nigeria to be so endowed in this product, we are not supposed to suffer for the product that the Almighty has given to us. But the way it was then was like a curse and that was why labour determinedly fought that government.
Of course, each time we go onto the streets for the battle, Nigerians hail us. But then came into power, the government of the late Yar'Adua that did not believe either deliberately that the face-off should continue.
Hence, naturally, Yar'Adua's government wasn't causing trouble, to a large extent too, we have to also give that credit to this present government, which is a continuation of Yar'Adua government.
They have refused to dwell on the issue of increasing the prices of petrol and other petroleum products. Presently, we don't see it as an issue, but Nigerians are not looking at it that way.
Whereas, during the Obasanjo's era, we had increases in the prices of petroleum products, 11 times, and what that means is that for 11 times we hit the streets to battle with the government. But for no single time has this government and the previous one increased the pump price. Rather, we have had a decrease.
Naturally, if this present NLC administration had hit the streets 11 times on struggle, of course, people will be clapping for us. But then the dynamism in the labour movement is that if there is no trouble, you can't be causing one. But then, in the issue of electoral reform, we took up the campaign and canvass throughout the six geo-political zones in the country.
We were in Lagos and Abuja. We did a perfect job. I want to give credit to NLC for the fact that we were able to chase Iwu out. It's very important. People did not see it as something significant. But I see it as something very significant. We insisted that Iwu must go and Iwu has gone.
Today, we have Professor Attahiru Jega in place and there is hope.
The issue of the minimum wage, we kick-started the process, the draft bill before the National Assembly has finally been passed as reported though we did not move at the pace we ought to move in the campaign. But again deliberately, government slowed us down. Hence, if we have to take a blame for the fact that we have not fought sufficiently to get the government to do this; perhaps we can accept the blame. But as far as we are concerned, we have tried. One should not forget that during the demand for the new wage, the government went through some crisis, change in government and the fact that the then president went away for quite sometime and thee was crisis.
At that point in time, there is hardly anything we could have done, else we want to pull the country down.
So, we have quite a lot of problem that could be laid directly on the table of the NLC. But I thought we could have done better. I accept if we have been said not to have really done what we are supposed to do. The issue of deregulation had been quite turbulent. At a time government wants to go ahead with the deregulation. We did what we need to do. Not minding that there was speculation that labour collected money.
But the fact that government has not deregulated up till this moment is as a result of our resistance. If not, we would have had it. But the fact that the NLC exists and we insisted that deregulation cannot be done until some things have been put in place, has been the handicap to government. We have not succeeded as far as the issue of corruption, that is a major one and it is going to be a massive war to stop corruption in Nigeria. I think averagely in terms of style, we may not be as aggressive. But again style also varies, from one person to another.
We may not have been as aggressive, I am not unconscious of the fact that I have been confronted by Nigerians, who tried to do a comparative analysis of this NLC of ours and the previous one, and people appear to say. No! we are not doing well. We have not done very well. This is not the type of NLC, we used to see when Comrade Oshiomhole was the head. Of course, people are entitled to their opinions.
I will not tell you that this NLC under Omar has failed. If it has failed, am part of the failure because am a deputy president, but I believe very honestly that there is room for improvement. NLC can do better than we have done in the past.
NLC in the next four years
I think that should be the vision for the next four years. We should be able to do a critical study of what are those things that we have not done properly. I think the media will also be a very veritable point, not only partnering with us, but also highlighting areas that we have identified that we have not done very well.
That would form the basis, apart from what our members, the workers will put on the table for us as what should be agenda for the next years.
I have a vision, if I m a part of the NLC in the next four years, we will have to find a way of doing more on issues that affect workers. I have a vision that we should do more in terms of what should be the take home pay of an average Nigerian workers. Like my other colleagues in the NLC, even the N18,000 minimum wage which we are fighting for is grossly inadequate. I think that we should be able to get the government and the employers of labour to look at the need for them to give an average Nigerian workers, a befitting salary that cannot only sustain him.
Because a critical look at the cost of transport, and housing one will discover that the eighteen thousand is grossly inadequate. Some may argue that the N18,000 supposed to be the base, but of course even the end will be determined by the base. If the base is too low, then the quantum of what you give to the top officers will be determined by the base. That will form a veritable agenda, while we get the government to pay the N18,000. No doubt, we have a big task, because it is grossly inadequate.
I have heard governors saying that the N18,000 is grossly inadequate. That shows that they are also clear about the fact that even the N18,000 is inadequate. I think that is a major challenge. One of the major challenge also is about the manner with which employers of labour deal with union. They entered into agreement without honouring it. The issue of casualisation of workers is about exploitation not paying the workers in commensuration of the job done.
The issue of casualisation is a major crisis that we really need to focus on. Likewise, the issue of workers education, and security. There are a whole lot of national issues that we need to take up as NLC. Security situation in Nigeria is very alarming, as of this period, we are talking of bomb explosion in Bayelsa. There is bomb explosion everywhere. Nobody is even sure who is going to be the next victim.
The unemployment issue is another enormous task. Even the trade union cannot survive if we don't get government to put in place deliberate employment policy. We have seen some state governors, including Comrade Governor in Edo state, providing employment in the state.
The issue of corruption needs to be addressed, lots of money is going down the drain. Resources that could have been used to improve the welfare and well being of the Nigerian workers is being carted away by individuals. There is infrastructural decay, the energy crisis, all these are major problem that need our partnering with the government. I do not believe that NLC will continue to confine itself to issues that affect just the workers. We need to go beyond that, today NLC is loved by all Nigerians, who believed in us.
This is also the time to partner with Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as all unions that are negotiating for improved pay, special salary structure for workers in those areas. One of our major failures is that we have not sufficiently partnered our industrial unions on issue that affect workers. When they are negotiating, NLC supposed, to be leading in those struggle, we need to improve on that.
NLC is the umbrella of all industrial union, hence problem of any industrial union should be that of the congress. Our slogan is an injury to one is an injury to all. Our strength is derived from industrial unions. I want to be quoted anywhere. I think we have done less about partnering with our industrial unions in resolving problems that affects them, I think that should form one of our major goals, major assignment in the next four years.
What we did in ASSBIFI/Union Bank case is commendable, but we have a whole lot of other unions contending with crisis and we need to partner with them because without these affiliates, there is no NLC anywhere. When we talk of NLC, we are talking of affiliates in all the sector. Where we have dominant of casuals, where we have a situation of management refusing to negotiate improve package for the workers, where we have mass retrenchment, where we have arbitrariness of employer sacking union leaders, casualisation and a whole lots. I think that should be our first major focus.
We need to strengthen our industrial union because if we don't, we are likely to have trouble. We also need to revisit our relationship with the government. I think the government is beginning not to accord NLC its rightful place.