‘I brought OBJ’s govt to its knees’
By Abdulaziz Abdulaziz
Edo state Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has said governors or any employer of labour have no excuse not to pay workers salaries, describing the non-payment of wages as a criminal offence that contravenes Labour laws.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja at a forum organised by The Kukah Centre, Governor Oshiomhole said he had had series of arguments with his colleagues at the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF)’s meetings on the issue of minimum wage.
He said: “I say it when I was on the other side and I still say it, there is no reason why someone will hire workers and says he cannot pay them.
The Labour laws say you can pay for labour hourly, you can pay daily; you can pay weekly or fortnightly. But it says you cannot exceed 30 days even by a day. So it is a criminal breach of contract for anyone not to pay workers beyond 30th of the month.”
Oshiomhole explained that in line with that principle, his administration in Edo state had “never failed to pay wages beyond the last day of every month” despite raising the minimum wage by 38 percent.
He also faulted arguments by some governors on the need to abolish national uniform minimum wage.
“Anytime anybody says that (uniform minimum wage) at the Governors Forum meeting, I tell them; if there is no discrimination of payment of the political leaders, why would you differentiate the wages of workers? Governors get the same pay everywhere, if the local government chairman and the councillor can be paid all uniformly, why do you say we decentralise that of workers?”Oshiomole also explained protests in the state by local government employees and pensioners, saying the cause of both actions were no fault of his administration.
According to him, the state government had allowed local governments to manage their revenues, and only exercises supervisory roles.
He said the dwindling fortunes in revenue caused the non-payment of the local government employees, hence the protests.
“We have allowed them to use their money and we said if nothing, you have to pay primary school teachers. We (state government) do all other things; we build classrooms and supply the consumables. But for them, we said, before you do anything else, pay your salaries.
“Now that they cannot pay, I cannot bear responsibility for the failure of that tier of government to meet its responsibility.”
As for pensions, the governor said he inherited a backlog of 10 years of unpaid pensions and gratuities, which he said, his administration was able to clear, adding that what was left was what piled up, while the government was clearing the backlog.
Oshimhole also recalled his days as President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), saying he brought down the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to its knees when Labour locked down the country in 2003.
He recalled that when the government jerked up the price of petroleum from N20 to N30, his leadership of the NLC took up the administration and fought to have the increment reversed.
“The activism of organised Labour is goal-oriented.
When we got what we wanted and offered the government the face-saving grace of N2, we had to call off the strike. But by that time, the government had come on its knees.”
Oshiomhole quoted the late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, as telling him that “you have already brought this government to a standstill and we are already counting one, two and before we say three you gave up.
“But our target was not to bring down Obasanjo. What is my gain as Labour if I chased Obasanjo out and Atiku took over? It is the same ruling class. It was not my business to bring down Obasanjo, but it was my business to defeat whatever policy we felt was against the
The governor also made case for people’s ownership of governance process through taxation, saying, Nigerians do not show rage over all cases of treasury looting because “it is not taxpayers’ money.
“We just say government money, NSA money, subsidy money. But in truth, government doesn’t have money; it is the people that have the resources.”
In his opening remarks, chairman of the occasion and former Cross River state governor, Donald Duke, said there was the need for politicians to play the role of activists by driving development.
He, however, regretted that instead of championing progress of the nation and their people, many politicians are only “jobbers and budget ‘padders’.”
Duke stated that some activists, like the Edo state governor, who find themselves in positions of power later, often find it difficult to confront the “contradictions between idealism and reality.”