Why Tinubu Must Dialogue, Implement Agreements With Labour Unions – Former Labour Minister 

Nigeria’s former  Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr Emeka Wogu, in this interview talked about how the incoming government of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu can achieve industrial peace in labour sector, why the labour Ministry is important and those he should appoint in his cabinet. CHRISTIAN APPOLOS, presents excepts.

As a former Minister of Labour, what should the incoming government do to avoid industrial crisis in the labour sector? 

The incoming president should take labour issues very seriously. I have served in many salaries and wages committees recommending salaries in the public sector and the judiciary while I was serving in Revenue Commission,the point is not the quantum of money, the point is how much can the money purchased. 

So,  we need to build a strong economy. A civil servant will prefer to have N10,000 as salary that can help him through a month than to have N100,000 salary that has no value. To fix Nigeria economic should be uppermost in the mind of the coming president and in the mind of his appointees. If you reform the public sector in terms of education and health, you can’t have a Police man behaving anyhow because the salary will be enough to send his children to public schools, will be enough to give him access to hospitals. 

But because those areas of the economy have failed totally, you find out that everyone has his or her child in private schools. How much are they paying in private schools?, After that, if you want to access healthcare you go to a private hospital. In all, a man who is a director cannot afford all those luxuries, except if he is going to steal. A permanent secretary or a minister cannot afford those things, except the man is a thief, because the least private school in Abuja will not be less than N250,000 per term. 

So, how can a public servant afford it? In a public schools, you might afford it with N5,000, or N10,000. We all went to public schools. A boy has appendix operation, a private hospital charged him N700,000. But I remember in 1977 when I was  in secondary school, I don’t think my appendix operation cost my parent more than N5,000 in a Public hospital. The house we lived in the GRA, my father paid only N20, had access to brand new car and everything; and had no reason to take bribe.

People say that the leadership of NLC will be aggressive, what best approach the incoming government use in dealings with labour union to avoid industrial crisis?

Dialogue. The new administration should reach out to them because there is this doctrine of tripatism in labour. They are partner in the project of a better Nigeria. The employers, the employees and the government. 

So it is better to jaw jaw than to war war. At times, there are labour agitations that are unnecessary. You don’t engage people and you go to switch off the national grid, you don’t engage government and you go to shutdown the oil wells and all that. During my tenure, I made sure that NUPENG and PENGASSAN didn’t have reason to shut the oil well because it takes a lot of money and time to restart a short down oil well. And those things are the main sources of revenue for this country. 

When you look at it, it is like Nigerian Police going on strike, it is unheard of or the national grid. There was a time the national grid was shut down when the current NLC president was the general secretary. It was during my time, and it took me almost 26 hours to resolve it. On switching back, the losses was quite huge. So, power is critical, the oil sector is critical. 

In fact, health and education are even more critical. These are places we should not allow strike to happen. If the previous reports, set up by previous administration, particularly during the Jonathan administration in the heath sector and education are being implemented there won’t be problem of strikes in those sectors. 

I believe that in as much as people dread Comrade Joe Ajaero, it might be a misplaced dread or fear. I have worked with him. If you engage him, he is quite reasonable. He is a man who come with a lot of facts, he comes in strongly on position of principle. So  need to engage. There should be honesty on the part of government and on the part of trade unions.

How important is implementation of agreement in the relationship between the trade unions and the government?

When there is agreement, I believe in the sanctity of agreement. It needs to be implemented. Let me give you and example. The agreement entered into in 2009 between government and ASUU still remain a biding agreement. We now had to re engage the labour unions and ASUU and we got another modified agreement, which if it had been implemented from 2013, by now everything would have been sorted out in the University sector. But unfortunately this current administration didn’t do much  towards that. So, if they had continued from where the last administration stopped in terms of re-bargain  2009 agreement would have been done with that sector. 

Fuel subsidy removal, Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and Incoming President appointments in cabinet, what is your take? 

Once as a political will, there is nothing you cannot achieve. If a minister have the support of his President, the issues of fuel subsidy and implementation of the plan can be done. There is no big deal. I was able to achieve a lot as the Minister of labour productivity because my president had confidence in me and I had access to him. Not to be boastful if I am made Minister of Petroleum today, I will clean up that sector. With my background in oil and gas at the  revenue mobilisation and allocation of physical commission. We can get it. Do you know how much we spend in oil subsidy payments. Those can give us a huge refineries or modular ones or even to re-fix the existing refineries. The issues is that the system is messed up.

On appointment style of the out going Government, you can’t have a minister serve 8 years. I have never seen it done. Right from Obasanjo, Yar’dua and Jonathan. You get fatigue. It’s best to rejig. But we have Ministers who have been in one position for 8 years.  So some form of rejigging is what we’ve missed in this last administration. 

And then I would advise President Bola Tinubu not to populate his federal executive council with former governors. It is a big issue. A governor who has been a chief executive of a State and bring them back, they’ll see him as from a governor. President is a former governor, my former colleague, and the Vice President is former governor.  He should go out and look for a mixture of experience people, technocrats. And very young people and give them a timeline. Because if you watch this outgoing Federal Executive Council, there are about 8 former governors in the cabinet. It was too heavy, so I don’t think the incoming President should make that mistake. 

Which areas of Nigeria’s economy should  the incoming government should focus its attention?

Over the past decades as a sovereign nation, we have being a mono-product economy but there appears to be an active process of diversification of the mono-product economy. We are now earning more money from non-oil sector. Before it used to be oil, but now every month oil contributes almost zero into the federation account. The reasons for that are various. One, we have had very corrupt subsidy regime in the oil sector, our refineries are down, and our domestic crude is sold in dollar denominated price and brought back to us as finished product. 

Why would a country that is a major oil producer recognized by OPEC be importing fuel after almost 100 years of crude oil exploration. It is shameful. So, that is an area where I would advised Mr. president-elect to look at and make sure that both government owned refineries or new ones are built and that private owned refineries should be encouraged. 

The data coming out from the oil sector are quite disheartening. From my hindsight of experience as a Federal Commissioner in the Revenue Mobilization  and Fiscal Commission, I’m sad that we almost lost that sector. However, I will tell you that we have a better prospect outside oil. The new frontier is gas, and Nigeria has a lot of gas. Then other minerals like gold, and so many others are found in almost all the 36 states of the federation including FCT. 

So, what I will advise the incoming government to do is to diversify our sources of revenue. It doesn’t really need to be on tax or royalties and loans because it’s not good to over tax citizens. So, it is an harculean task for the incoming administration because we have gone down with a N77trillion debt. It’s quite huge. When you compare the GDP against our borrowing, you find out that it is humongous. 

We have come to a situation whereby we borrow before we can pay salaries, it is a thing of concern. In addition, he must have a robust economic team, he must hire the best hands for the Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning, Governor of Central Bank and of course, the Ministry of Labour and Productivity. It is quite central and strategic to the national economy because a strike that is prolong can bring down the economy. 

Like in the other country, it is a key minister. After the Ministry of Budget and Planning, the next is Labour, because Labour is central to the economy of every nation. The workers are the people who get this revenue for the government. That should be his focus and total reform of the oil subsidy regime. It might be painful to both the Nigerian workers and all that; but if we are going to remove subsidy on petrol, we should return the subsidy on diesel and kerosene and have a robust bus transportation system like the El-Rufai regime in FCT did. 

Those big bosses run on diesel, that means civil servants can have easy access to transportation. The train from Abuja to Kaduna also run on diesel. The one that will impact on the common masses of Nigeria, and the civil servants is diesel and kerosene, not petrol. How can you be subsidizing big men who have about ten cars in the house. 

2003 Election, what is your take especially on the Presidential Election?

The 2023 elections have come and gone. After the Presidential election and that of National Assembly, we had gubernatorial elections, and elections into the various state houses of assembly. All those who were declared winners of those elections have collected their certificate of return. So, in my own estimation the process of electing new leaders at all levels is completed. That is kudos to INEC. I see it as an assignment that has been completed irrespective of some people coming up with an idea that it was not a free and fair election, that it was not a perfect election and all that. I don’t think there is perfection in election, as far as it is being handled by human beings. I have never seen any democratic setting where election is 100 per cent perfect. We have seen elections in the United States of America, where allegations of electoral fraud in swing state of Florida during President Bush and Jeb Bush, the Governor of Florida, was alleged.

You said there is no perfection in elections, how will you rate the 2023 election?

This election of 2023 is different from 2019 and it is quite different from 2015. From 1999, there have been metamorphosis in the process of election. For the just concluded 2023 elections, INEC has done its constitutional duty and the process culminated into the announcement of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the President-Elect and Senator Kashim Shettima as the Vice President-Elect. There are so many people who participated in the election, and what you cannot deny any participant in any electoral contest is his or her right to contest results in any established court of law. That is the next stage.

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