The mass of Nigerian workers Wednesday stormed the National Assembly in their hundreds to reject the planned removal of minimum wage from Exclusive list of the 1999 Constitution.
The protesters, chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards with various inscriptions, arrived the forecourt of the National Assembly at 11am.
They had earlier converged at the Unity Fountain Maitama from where they marched with their banners, placards with accompanying loud popular music to the National Assembly.
The procession disrupted vehicular traffic as most lawmakers, staff and visitors alike were forced to reroute their movement into the National Assembly complex through the Villa and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) gates.
The protesters who converged at the Unity Fountain at about 7:45am chanted solidarity songs, and marched through the Federal Secretariat to the National Assembly.
They were seen with placards carrying different inscription such as ‘removing national minimum wage from the Exclusive to the Concurrent list is a declaration of war on Nigeria workers.”
Others are, ‘national minimum wage is our right, don’t decentralise workers wages”, ‘President Buhari, no room for fifth columnists, stand with Nigeria workers, keep minimum wage on exclusive list,” among others.
The protest was jointly organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) over a bill titled: “A Bill to amend the Constitution to remove minimum wage from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List and to allow states determine their minimum wage.”
The protest was led by Comrades Ayuba Waba and Qadri Olaleye of the NLC and TUC respectively.
The Bill was sponsored by Honourable Garba Datti Muhammad representing Sabon Garin Federal Constituency of Kaduna state.
The protesters were officially received at the forecourt of the National Assembly by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, represented by Senator Sabi Abdullahi and Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila represented by the Leader of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa.
In his remarks, NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who led the protest, described the Bill as a dirty bill and vowed that the Organised Labour would resist it to the last.
He said both the NLC and TUC had the mandate of the affiliate unions to declare a nationwide strike if the issue is not addressed.
“We have a written document signed by the President of the NLC and the President of the TUC to be submitted to the House and the Senate.
“We are here today on behalf of Nigerian workers, on behalf of Nigerian pensioners, to make it clear and unambiguous that the Bill that seeks to remove the minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list is not accepted,” Wabba said.
The union leader further said: “The bill that seeks to remove the National Minimum Wage from the Exclusive list to the Concurrent list is not acceptable.
“Let me say that the issue of National Minimum Wage is a standard set by the International Labour Organisation. ILO is the first agency of the United Nations born in 1919 after the First World War. So we have the Powers of the United Nations.
“Their argument is that because they want federalism, they want the issue of the National Minimum Wage to be removed to the concurrent list. That is false.
“In the countries of the world, we have 26 federal nations that have minimum wage in their Exclusive List including the USA. As I speak to you currently, the minimum wage of America is $10 per hour.
“President Joe Biden came in and the first statement he made is that he is going to review the national minimum wage.
“Let me also say that the argument that it is about federalism is false. Also the argument about the ability to pay is false. By the time Shehu Shagari signed the first minimum wage in 1981, N125 which was equivalent to $125 and put it in our Constitution and insulated it so that it would not be abused, it was negotiated.
“The last minimum wage of N30, 000 was negotiated in the same line. Six governors represented the governors, one per geo-political zone.
“How can we degenerate to remove the issue that workers have earned through hard labour for forty years overnight? The problem of Nigeria, we have said in essence, is the issue of good governance,” Wabba said.
The NLC boss further said workers had empowered the Organised Labour to declare a total strike if the legislature pressed on with the Bill.
“We know that the State Governors collect the same salary across the country. States and National of Assemblies collect the same salaries across the country, so as the counsellors.
So, why is the case of workers different, if it is the issue of ability to pay?
“Governors also collect humongous amount as security votes that has not been used to address security challenges in Nigeria. If we address this, we will have enough to pay the minimum wage. It’s a national benchmark.
”If the private sectors can pay, the government has more responsibility to the citizens than the highest private sector,” he said.
Also in a similar remark, TUC President Olaleye called on the National Assembly to lead by example, describing leadership by example as the best.
“If the National Assembly must take that decision, all the executives should go back to their local government to collect their salary according to their local government revenue generation,” he said.
In their separate remarks, Senator Abdullahi and Hon. Doguwa assured the labour leaders and the protesters that that the National Assembly would ensure the Bill does not see the light of the day.
Abdullahi assured the workers that the Bill would be killed the way a similar one was dumped during the 8th National Assembly.
“Like somebody has said earlier, we are progressive lawmakers and I want to tell you there are quite a large number of them in the National Assembly.
“Remember in the 8th Assembly, I was the spokesman of the Senate and I recall vividly that this issue of minimum wage was brought and we killed it.
“Has the condition that led to the 8th Assembly decision changed? I therefore want to say very clearly that in the past we have stood toe to toe with the Nigerian workers.
“There is nothing that suggests we are changing from that direction rather we will stand by you to ensure that the fundamental right of every worker is not only enforced but is ensured and guaranteed,” he said.
Also addressing the protesters, Hon. Doguwa said it was clear that Nigerian workers were against the minimum wage Bill and therefore the House would listen to the wishes and aspirations of the Organised Labour in the country.
He said the only justice that can be done to the Bill is to kill it.
Doguwa said: “You are in the right place and the right institution which is a representation of the general membership of Organised Labour in Nigeria.
“May I say on behalf of my Speaker and the entire members of the House of Representatives that we are also by extension members of the Organised Labour. We are your employees.
“By this implication, we have no reason whatsoever to shy away from the interests and yearnings of Nigerian workers. When you are happy we are happy.
“I therefore say on behalf of the Speaker and the House that we have accepted the letter written and signed by the President of the Organized Labour and we are going to give it the right treatment.”
Receiving the letter from the labour leaders, Doguwa said: “I want to say that we have accepted the letter presented to us by the organised labour and I want to assure you that we will give it the right treatment. We will also provide the window for the people to come and present their grievance through the public hearing.
“That presentation of that bill is only a proposal and with what I am seeing now, it appears to me that the leadership of Organised Labour is against that bill. If you are against that that bill, you are right and you have every reason to be against that bill.
”I want to assure that the House of Representatives will see and give listening ear to your grievances. We will still invite you to come and engage with relevant committees to make your position.”
Also, leaders of the Lagos chapters of TUC and NLC said they were ready to lockdown the country if the National Assembly failed to step down on the proposal.
“As organised labour, we are ready to resist that bill, shut down the National assembly and if need be, shut down the entire nation for this course. This is what we are saying in clear terms, unequivocally and we are not mincing words,” Gbenga Ekundayo, state Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC) said.
He warned that workers were ready to go on a “mega strike” and intense protests if representatives of the National Assembly refused to the needful.
Speaking in similar vein, his NLC counterpart, Funmi Sessi, said: “The organised sectors have been talking about jaw jaw and not war war, but with that bill, if the National Assembly members do not do the needful and just step it down, this will be the beginning of the war.
“We are sitting on the keg of gunpowder in Nigeria. People are hungry, people are tired, people are angry. They are taking all the rights and privileges from us, flaunt wealth in our faces, throw our money around and corruptly enriching themselves and their children. We are ready for war.”
She said the #EndSARS protests would be a child’s play if the workers commenced the threatened strike.
PGF slams Labour
Meanwhile, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Director General Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) Salihu Moh Lukman has described the workers’ protest as needless.
He said no government would negotiate with the union by dancing on the streets.
The PGF boss advised the NLC and other unions should prioritise the issue of productivity, saying nobody was opposed to the national minimum wage but the Labour leaders should sharpen their negotiation capacities instead of protest and strike all the time.
Addressing journalists Wednesday in Abuja, Lukman said: “The protest will be fruitless and cannot stop the ongoing process in the National Assembly. We can’t negotiate the future of this country on the streets.”
Lukman, who said he was speaking in his personal capacity and not on behalf of the APC governors, said: “We are not saying they should not protest but this protest is needless. I can guarantee that it is not going to stop the process in the National Assembly. It is not also going to take away the issue. We need to work with them to develop this democracy and we can only do that if every constituent unit and citizens in those units can negotiate with the constituent governments and get results.
“As it is, we are all frustrated and that is what we should be addressing. This ‘we against them’ that labour is creating does not exist. We should be applying ourselves to resolving the problems of this democracy. There are fundamental problems bigger than we can imagine.”
The PGF boss said a structure that imposes the same minimum wage on a state as buoyant as Lagos and a state that is less buoyant like Zamfara or Yobe, would impact negatively on productivity as workers in Lagos would feel short-changed and therefore not give their total commitment to their job.
“I want to be able to engage labour even though some of them continue to accuse me of being sponsored by a governor. But it is not just a governor; I have 20 governors sponsoring me. I am happy to have the knowledge that would attract all the consideration of being sponsored.
“I believe the future of this country is about negotiating these issues. I have respect for the NLC and TUC leadership but my advice to them is that they have better capacity in getting things done. In fact, this country is where it is because they are not really applying themselves in the right direction.
“The total number of membership of NLC, and I am being generous, is not more than 20, 000 for the whole country. I left NLC in 2006 and at that time, the total membership was about 4,000, but I am giving it to them because they have organised new sectors. There are new areas and so it is possible they have risen to 20,000. That is a very critical mass but they need to be guided and led properly.
“Assuming every government pays N30,000, will that solve the problem of workers? So, nobody should deceive anybody. We all have a lot to do in this country. It is not about dancing on the streets, but they should develop their capacity. I am saying they have lied by saying that people proposing that minimum wage and labour issues should be moved to the Concurrent List, that they do not want the National Minimum Wage. I heard the NLC President, which is a disappointment, arguing that when it is not negotiated at the national level, it means it is not a ‘National’ Minimum Wage. I am saying you can still negotiate it at the national level but the methodology is important because you are looking for a benchmark which everybody should be able to pay. It is not about coming to the federal government.
“I am worried at the situation where anything that appears contrary to what labour wants, the next thing is to go on strike. My belief is that the main business of labour is negotiation and negotiation is about applying knowledge and information that you have,” Lukman further stated.
And from Zamfara came a report that the NLC was still negotiating the N30, 000 minimum wage with the state government.
The state Chairman of union, Comrade Sani Haliru Kurya, stated this in an interview with journalists in Gusau, the state capital, shortly after the nationwide peaceful protest Wednesday.
He said the recent abduction of 279 schoolgirls in Jangebe slowed down the negotiation process with the state government.
“If not because of the recent kidnapped of Jangebe school girls that touched every heart in the state, the negotiating team with the state government would have reached a reasonable stage on minimum wage,” he said.