We Are Open to Dialogue and Reconciliation- Wabba

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The President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade (Dr) Ayuba Wabba has spent two decades in the movement having successfully steered the affairs of the union as President of an NLC vibrant affiliate – the Medical & Health Workers’ Union. In this exclusive interview with SOLA OLORUNFEMI,Wabba spoke about his leadership readiness to return the movement back to glorious days. Excerpts:

Your administration would be engaging the incoming new APC Government to be led by President elect General Muhammad Buhari, what are your expectations in terms of Government-Labour relationship?     

Well as part of the larger society and as a labour movement in particular, workers have high expectations and these expectations stem from the fact that this would be the first time in history that the opposition is taking over power and they have promised to do more than the outgoing government.

Also looking at the APC manifesto I found out that there are areas where we can relate and partner to bring about desired change. The first issue is that we expect they should be able to improve on issues of good governance where the issue of governance will be transparent and corruption should be eliminated or removed from our system because it is a major challenge that is the starting point that they need to demonstrate it because we need a new order of governance.

Essentially what I am saying is transparency in governance must be in place to conform to the global practice, when you are applying for contract or job for instance, you don’t need to know anybody that is the basis of good governance.

Two, the issue of critical infrastructure must be addressed, in Nigeria today productivity has been reduced below 50 per cent whereas that is what is needed to move development now – power is lacking. I was reliably informed that over the last ten years Nigeria has invested over $40 billion on power, when you look at the commensurate output in terms of having steady power supply there is nothing to show for it in terms of megawatts being generated.

The challenge that the new government should take as an agenda is power which can stimulate development, in fact it is a trigger that would generate more employment for young people and motivate self-employed.

Lastly, my expectation is that the new government must be able to address the issue of lacking capacity to refine locally for domestic consumption, it is very important because you are very much aware of the subsidy scam which played out, in 2013 till today still inconclusive. Hence, the government may not be able to address corruption. Year in year out they are still budget on subsidy for petroleum products despite the fact that they told us subsidy has been removed, they are still paying subsidy for kerosene and petroleum products.

So the major area that they need to intervene where the changes will be very visible is to agree to start building our modular refineries within two years and even the bigger refineries can be built within four years. Bring in the investors, let us agree that within this four years we will not import any petroleum products.

We as workers broadly believes policy and economics are issues they can take on board which can bring drastic change we need in our polity and stabilise development. Also, issue of welfare of Nigeria workers is important, I was reading the APC manifesto on provisions of 3 million jobs annually through public works.

They have tried to capture the concern and aspirations of workers, because instead of using consultants they will use public works. When I was growing up once a road has a problem it is the practise then that public works will fix it immediately.

I think we are going to support that initiative, we hope that they will be able to carry us along we are already working on some policies that will fit in on those proposals, there is no way you can drive development without taking along the welfare of the workers that create the wealth because labour create wealth.

So as they are sharing the booties, it is also important to have the purchasing power, keep the family alive and increase the salaries of the workers these are things they should bring on board. Presently, I hope you know that the minimum wage can no longer pay our transport for thirty days, you can’t talk of wiping out corruption without side by side putting in place what will make the Nigerian workers comfortable, committed and conform to the reality of the new regime that will not tolerate corruption.

Can you explain how you intend to return the labour movement to its glorious traditions given your campaign promise of “returning to the founding principles of the movement”?

I think we have actually tried to capture the challenges, there is no gain saying the fact that in terms of prestige, there is drastic change in the way workers perceive NLC over the past few years.

This is basically because of the fact that we have not been able to engage a lot of policy issues that have direct bearing with the well-being and welfare of workers and even the citizenry.  This substantially has affected our prestige before our members and I think as a member of a very reputable union this is not issue we can just gloss over, it is a challenge.

When you look at the issue of the economy, I think over the past decades we have been on top of it, there is no economic issue government will contemplate that NLC have not had its own position whether for or against such policy.

We are going back to this basic, that is, our founding principle which is to represent only the interest of the workers. And I think for me this is very key for us to earn the confidence of the workers because once you earn their confidence, you are also able to earn the confidence of the employers.

So we are saying that once you make a pronouncement you must be able to back it up with action and see to the conclusion of the issues. We are returning to the basic where the interest and only the interest of the workers will dominate our engagement with the government and even form the cords and basis of interactions with other social partners.

The area I intend to galvanise and bring back is the biting and confrontational aspect of the labourmovement which is lacking now, when you make pronouncement, you must back it up with necessary action. We have responsibilities to bring back the labour culture of representing the Nigerian workers.

Can you kindly inform the public of concise steps being taken to reconcile the splinter group; address the Krista-Lally housing project saga and fight for the payment of backlog of salaries owed workers by federal ministries and state governments?

Of course it is unfortunate that after the conference our colleagues behaved that way because all through history labour election has been adjudged to be the best, fair and credible. Some of you were around as labour journalists at the ICC on February 12th and witnessed the electoral process which our colleagues, the said splinter group were disputing and disrupted the process of the election by the time we are casting our votes.

Well, we thank God that the election was however, reconvened at the eagle square and all necessary things were put in place for a conducive election so it is a settled conference. It is no longer news that even at that they tried to disrupt the process after they realised that the ballot paper for the office of the President were sorted out.

Not only that all the processes were recorded by the major media houses, I think it is rather unfortunate for anyone to say otherwise because all the processes from accreditation to the last stage of announcing the results and winners were recorded and anyone can access those tapes.

At our first National Administrative Council (NAC) and at the level of the Central Working Committee we met and decided that as democrats and as people who are legitimately elected, we should reach out to our colleagues and inform them of our desire to reconcile the issue. Actually, Committee were set up on the advice of the Veterans who also serve in the committee trying to reach out which means we are open to dialogue, negotiation and reconciliation.

Secondly, the critical challenge facing Nigerian workers is unpaid backlog of salaries in both public and private sectors, hence, we constituted a committee across the six geopolitical zones to mobilise our members to wake up to their responsibilities because some of NLC state councils have also become docile, the capacity is no longer there. If my union members have not been paid for two or three months, I cannot found myself comfortable.

Some of them when you ask them about it, they will tell you workers have been paid whereas they have not, so, we look at it as a very serious challenge. We took the twin issues of non-payment of salaries and casualization, the committee has been constituted across the geographical zones and they are going round to engage the management so that those salaries are paid, because, if you allow it to go unchallenged it will be a problem to the new administration.

The third issue is Krista-Lally housing project which we are looking into holistically, also, we constituted a committee, although there are two aspects into it, one is the criminal aspect for which already investigation is on-going by the relevant security agency, and they have made a lot of efforts.

We are aware that Krista-Lally guy was earlier declared wanted but he has been found and arrested and he is making useful statement. They have frozen all his company accounts including his personal account and a lot of efforts have been made, we are also interfacing with subscribers to give assurance that every one of them get their money back.

Whatever it will take us as leadership, we will not allow the project to continue as it has suffered credibility problem, every workers and other subscribers should collect their money back, especially the 2.6 Billion that is paid into the Krista-Lally/NLC joint account at Access Bank which is intact according to investigative panel. We want the process of investigation to conclude, then all subscribers will be refunded via e-payment into their accounts, we have gotten all the data.

This is the point we are and we took a decision that this should teach us a lesson that we are not traders but unionists whose primary focus and interest should be to protect the wellbeing of the workers and therefore we should be critical when taking decisions in future on such project.

I was reliably informed by the agency investigating the matter that the cheque to the account have been collected for forensic auditing. The bulk of the money, N2.6 billion was safe, the N110 million withdrawn was the one in dispute which the former NLC President denied he was not aware about while Krista Lally claimed it was signed together, this is something that can be traced and confirmed.

The other one is the account singularly opened and operated by Krista Lally himself which some workers have confirmed to have paid which he is fully liable is being investigated too.

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