Peaceful protests across the states took a new turn on Wednesday with leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) threatening to embark on a nationwide strike over plans to move minimum wage from the exclusive to the concurrent list.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, stated this while addressing hundreds of workers who stormed the National Assembly complex in Abuja to protest against the piece of legislation.
Wabba described the removal of the national minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List as a declaration of war on Nigerian workers which, he said, would be vehemently resisted.
He said: “We are here today to make it clear and unambiguous that the bill that seeks to remove the national minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List is not accepted.
“If the right thing is not done, the leadership of the NLC will have to declare a national strike.”
If the bill scales through, states would have the power to determine what to pay their workers without recourse to the national minimum wage.
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, however, faulted the ongoing protest, saying the bill was in line with its clamour for restructuring.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), on its part, canvassed for dialogue between the contending parties.
The protesters, who marched from the Federal Secretariat to the National Assembly, chanted solidarity songs against the bill, which, according to the sponsor, Garba Mohammed (APC, Kaduna), would allow both the federal and state governments to freely negotiate minimum wage in line with Nigeria’s federalism.
Wabba said the national minimum wage was not a Nigerian standard, but an international standard, noting that 26 countries of the world have minimum wage as part of their exclusive legislative list, including the United States.
House of Representatives Majority Leader Ado Doguwa and Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi had addressed the protesters and assured them that the National Assembly would not pass any legislation against the interest of Nigerian workers.
Abdullahi said the NLC had made its point by staging the protest, adding that the Senate would continue to stand by workers to protect their rights and privileges.
‘Kill anti-labour bill’
On his part, Rep. Doguwa advised leaders and members of organised labour to engage and lobby their representatives in the National Assembly to kill the new bill.
“You are in the right hand and in the right place and the right institution which is a representation of the general membership of organised labour in Nigeria,” he told the protesters.
“From what I am seeing now, it is clear that organised labour is against the bill.
“I want to assure you that the House of Reps will give a listening ear to your message.
“We will still invite you to come and engage with the relevant committee of which I am a member. You will come and present your position fully.
“Your position will be heard at the committee level and when we come to plenary to consider the bill, members that are representing your respective communities, engage with them to do justice to that bill and I can understand that the only justice would be to kill the bill.
“I want to advise, please lobby members that you elected that you do not want the bill and members will make sure the bill is killed,” he said.
Responding, NLC President Wabba said the issue of the minimum wage was not about lobbying the House of Representatives members.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, he said, “The issue is not about lobbying. Doguwa said many things which were not reported”.
Protests in states
Daily Trust reports that there were protests in many states across the country with some civil servants seeking the support of the state houses of assembly and others outrightly accusing governors of sponsoring the bill.
Hundreds of civil servants in Bauchi led by their chairman, Comrade Danjuma Saleh, marched through the streets in protest.
The NLC chairman said the move to transfer the national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list was an affront to the rights of workers and called on the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Abubakar Y. Suleiman, to use his position as national chairman of state assembly speakers to reject the “anti-workers bill.”
Protesters were on the streets by 10 am in Niger State which saw the workers, led by their chairman, Comrade Yakubu Garba, walking to the Niger State House of Assembly where he urged the legislators not to support any governor or politician “that is anti-people and anti-workers.”
He said the bill was a malicious plot to enslave the workforce in the country.
On his part, Speaker Abdullahi Bawa Wuse said the bill was against those who gave the legislators the mandate to be in power, adding that Niger Assembly would not support it.
In Kaduna, workers chanting solidarity songs described their political representatives as anti-people.
Presenting labour’s request to the Speaker of Kaduna State House of Assembly, Yusuf Ibrahim Zailani, the state Chairman of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Magaji Suleiman, said the national minimum wage remained a right and should not be decentralized.
In Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, NLC Chairman Comrade Sunny James, in the company of leaders of Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other affiliate unions, staged a road walk from Idongesit Nkanga Secretariat to the House of Assembly complex where they presented a petition against the new wage bill.
On its part, organised labour in Kogi State has given the state government a 12-day ultimatum to implement the N30,000 minimum wage to avert indefinite strike action.
Labour unions in Kwara also expressed their displeasure over the attempt to transfer the minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the concurrent list by the National Assembly. Members of the unions, including NLC and TUC, marched from the NLC secretariat displaying different placards condemning the move by the National Assembly.
Comrade Issa Ore, who is the NLC chairman in the state, said, “They want the state government to determine how much we are earning. In Kwara for instance, the new wage has been passed since April 2019, but up till now, nothing is being done to implement it.”
The NLC Chairman in Bayelsa State, Comrade John Ndiomu, who presented a position paper to the state House of Assembly, said the bill was counter to the moves by the Nigerian workers who have been struggling in the last 40 years to free themselves “from the cruel manacles of slave wages, savagery working conditions and slave drivers.”
The NLC chairman in Anambra State, Comrade Jerry Nubia, said the implementation of the national minimum wage in the state had been haphazard and wondered how workers would fare when powers returned to the governors.
“If many states are yet to start paying the N30,000 minimum wage, it means very soon some governors would ask workers to resign if they don’t want to collect peanuts,” he said.
Reacting, the Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Uche Okafor, assured that they would do their best to protect workers in the state.
The labour in Ekiti State also grounded activities at the state House of Assembly during a peaceful protest on Wednesday.
In their presentations, labour leaders Sola Adigun (TUC) and Kolapo Olatunde (NLC) accused governors of allegedly sponsoring the bill.
Also, civil servants in Kano State had during the peaceful protest described the new wage bill as a threat to worker’s security.
NLC Chairman Comrade Kabiru Ado Minjibir described the bill as “a license for state governors to drag the country back to the era of ridiculous slave wages, which in the past led to multifarious industrial crises in different parts of the country.”
Responding to their demand to reject the bill, the Speaker of Kano State House of Assembly, Hamisu Ibrahim Chidari, assured the labour unions that he and his colleagues would stand by them.
Speaking in Benin during the protest, NLC Chairman Sunny Osayande said if passed into law, the wage bill would give license to governors to manhandle workers.
Part of restructuring
Chief Supo Shonibare, who is a chieftain of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, in a chat with Daily Trust, noted that there can’t be a general wages structure in all states.
He said, “Federalism entails adopting different policy particulars for different federating units; which are at the moment states. So it is necessary that there cannot be a general wages structure in all the states.
“However, it is also not unusual in any nation for the national legislative and executive bodies to set a minimum wage sum to avoid exploitation of workers.
“A minimum wage is necessary for that imperative. It should be a living wage for basic subsistence, without fringe benefits. It should be the prerogative of each state to determine such additional sums.”
ACF advocates dialogue
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has called for more dialogue between labour and government to ensure they reach a consensus on the issue of the minimum wage.
“There have to be more intense negotiations, government knowing that workers have their own anxieties which are genuine but workers also knowing that government has anxieties which are genuine,” ACF chairman, Audu Ogbe, said.
Ogbe, who spoke to our correspondent on phone, said: “The question of wages is something quite sensitive. In the first place, N30,000 is definitely quiet low for a family to live on especially since the naira has been suffering terrible devaluation for 40 years. The workers have their issues but the reality is that not all states are equally strong.
“So, if it comes to getting the minimum wage according to states and their capacities, it means states have to do more engineering within their economic environment. It may mean states reducing their workforces which suggests that some people may be thrown out of work.
“We should be able to reach a certain level of agreement on the principle of wage increase but also the reality of financial capacity. I think that is the way out of it. So, we can’t condemn workers but we must also understand the difficulties facing the government because the income levels are getting lower and lower especially with the fall in oil price.”
The controversial bill
Sponsored by Rep Garba Datti Muhammad (APC, Kaduna), the bill, which seeks to transfer the subject matter of minimum wage from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, scaled through second reading at the House of Representatives on February 22, this year.
While leading the debate on the bill at the plenary session of Tuesday, February 22, 2021, the lawmaker was quoted as saying that it was aimed at amending the Exclusive Legislative List by deleting the words “prescribing a national minimum wage for the federation or any part thereof under item 34 of part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and inserting a new paragraph 21 and 22 into the Concurrent Legislative List such that the legislative power over the prescription of a minimum wage becomes a concurrent power shared between the National Assembly and the state houses of assembly.
He noted that every attempt to provide a minimum wage had been riddled with opposition and controversies by several states citing the unavailability of funds to pay the prescribed amount.
He stated that the bill would provide for the decentralisation of minimum wage based on the socio-economic variables across different states and allow for negotiations of a minimum wage that was reasonable to the specific circumstance of the state.
This includes local peculiarities such as differences in the cost of food, housing, education, health, transportation etc.
Muhammad stated that if passed, the bill would bring Nigeria closer to achieving true federalism by devolving powers to the states.
The bill, Daily Trust reports, has been referred to the Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Idris Wase, for further legislative action.