Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba, in this interview with Daily Trust, speaks on the high crime rate in the country, poverty and what is needed to change the narrative.
There is talk about increasing emoluments of political office holders. Is Labour aware of this and what’s its position on it?
We know that our political elite are among the highest earners in the world, despite the situation that all of us are in, so any such selective increment will be unfair and an injustice. And if the increase in VAT and other hikes is just to make it possible to pay the political elite, who are less than 0.5 per cent and also among the highest earners in the world, then I think there is a contradiction.
Therefore, that increase is not acceptable. What we have just addressed in terms of workers’ welfare, particularly the employees of the federal and state governments is only the issue of minimum wage; the issue of wage review, the general wage review in the core civil service is still a pending issue. We know that every five years the joint council will also negotiate, just as it happens in the organised private sector.
It is sheer injustice and inhumanity for a few individuals to be living in comfort zone while 70 per cent of Nigerians are living far outside that. That is why the nation’s wealth is not circulating; that is why crime is on the increase. Many people are unable to feed their family; they cannot have a decent living. So, this will continue except we change the narrative. In other countries, you find that wealth is being circulated.
So, that is the contradiction. Nigeria is not a poor country, if you look at the report of the Auditor General of the Federation, our problem is not about money, it is about management. The wastages in the system; certainly, it is about how we manage our resources not essentially about lack of resources. We should put our priorities right. I think contemplating that increase is coming at a very wrong time and is not acceptable to us.
Actually, the increase in the minimum wage is not something to write home about; it is just manageable and just to allow states and the private sectors to be able to have a good environment to still continue to invest because we know for sure that the private sector or organised private sector are going through very difficult times, because of the fact that the cost of doing business in Nigeria is very high.
Many businesses run on generator, either because the tariff is too high and they cannot pay, or it is not even competitive to run on the national grid.
So it is something that is not acceptable. Many Nigerians are living below the poverty line. In many other countries, politics is about service, it is not about what you get. You must be an established professional having a means of livelihood before you come into politics. Politics is not about business, but in Nigeria, politics is business. People borrow money, sell their houses in order to get elected, and by the time they win, the first thing is how to recoup the money they have invested. It ought not to be so as that is making our politics to be very expensive. It has been made so lucrative; once you win you will be able to loot and earn humongous salary that is not commensurate to the productivity we are talking about. The ILO standard is about “equal pay for work of equal value” and therefore there must be a basis.
Today in our universities, lecturers, PhD holders, some of them; researchers with many years of teaching our students still earn below N450,000. That is the highest qualification of the land, yet we are talking of the politician who ought to be on part-time, earning many times over what those with the highest qualification in the land earn.
So; how do you think that can be handled?
Politics should not be full time so that when you are there you can be able to work for the people. Once you are out of that place you return to your former business.
Recently, the National Economic Council gave the nod to the federal government to borrow N2 trillion from the pension fund, presently put at N10 trillion, to finance national infrastructure development. What is Labour’s take on that?
The government needs to be reminded that the contributory pension scheme which came into being in 2004 is fully funded by workers and employers and it is privately managed by the Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs). The funds are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA) of beneficiaries.
The main objective of the scheme is to ensure that after retirement every worker in the public or private sector who had contributed to the scheme receives his/her retirement benefits as at when due.
It is important to stress that the N10 trillion pension fund is not warehoused in the pension commission which is the regulator, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Pension Fund Administrator or the pension fund custodian. The fund is warehoused in the private individual Retirement Savings Accounts of contributors, who are workers and beneficiaries.
The Pension Reform Act 2014 provides for investment not borrowing. The Pension Fund Administrators are to invest based on their risk and reward appetite; but usually in minimal risk entities. They are not to be coerced or cajoled to invest because it is criminal to do so.
It is curious that labour, as a critical stakeholder as provided in the act, is not consulted. It is equally a violation of the Pension Act five years down the line, that the board of PENCOM, statutorily saddled with taking or approving decisions as weighty as that, has not been constituted. PENCOM is a very critical labour market institution.
Our concern is further deepened by the fact that at the moment, governments indebtedness to pensions in accrued rights, pension differentials, minimum pension guaranty, pension increase, etc., are in excess of N400 billion. Government has to be inclined to pay up this debt.
The claim that direct borrowing is consistent with practices in Chile is patently false. In Chile, government accesses pensions funds through the money market and all such investments are guaranteed by the government to cover for the principal and return on investment.
We strongly advise the federal government to shelve its plan and not to do anything that will undermine the integrity of the pension scheme. We will continue to watch over the safety of the funds to protect the interest of workers and pensioners.