I will never betray labour movement, Adams Oshiomhole

The Chairman of the governing All Progressive Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole says labour movement is the source of everything he has become in life and that no position will ever intoxicate him to the level of contemplating betray the movement. He spoke at a reception organised for the President of International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Ayuba Wabba.


I will never betray labour movement, Adams Oshiomhole

Everything I am in life and everything I shall be is as a result of the industry and our collective struggle. Otherwise, people like us would not have here today.


I congratulate Comrade Wabba because when I was President of the NLC and before then as the General Secretary of the Textiles Workers Union, I was a bit involved in international trade union politics and I know that when it comes elections, even within West Africa, the French speaking people have a way of ganging up against us. Within the English speaking countries, there is this element of envy. They will call you big brother in the afternoon because you have to pay for the launch, but when it is election time, it is like, ‘these people cannot continue to dominate us’. So, you find that they have more positions in the ILO and other regional original organizations. So, when I learnt of Wabba’s election as President of ITUC, I was excited. The last ITUC President I met was a very powerful lady from Australia and speaks with so much authority. I know that becoming even the African regional President of ITUC is no small achievement and also a huge responsibility. The ITUC must have found in you someone with the capacity, the patient and the intellect to process all the complex issues that arise from the world of work in different countries and different governments. So, nobody will elect you as a President if they have doubt about your capacity. For us, it is a thing of pride. If I want to be political, I would say that they had to wait for a Comrade President Muhammadu Buhari to be President of Nigeria before a Nigerian and indeed an African and if my history is correct, the first African or first black person to be elected to that position.

Buhari committed to workers’ welfare

Sometimes, when I meet people and they ask me, now that you are on the other side and I tell them that I am, and will always be in one side and that is the side of the working people. I feel proud to say that I am the chairman of the governing party because the President is as committed to the welfare of the ordinary worker like any trade union leader. He is the only president to my recollection since 1999 that can publicly lament, question, interrogate the heart of people in government, and ask them how do they are able to sleep when they have not paid their workers for six months. He goes beyond lamentation and say, take this bailout and make sure they are paid, take this money that was over deducted by my predecessor and pay those who are dying as a result of non-payment of wages and pensions. I can’t be Chairman of the other party if they were to be in government. I am privileged to be Chairman of a party that cares for the welfare of the ordinary Nigerian whether in the organised private sector or the forgotten majority in our rural settings.

It is nice to celebrate, but you also have new challenges that you are going to confront around the world. I don’t know what is going on now, but I know that we still have countries where union leaders are murdered for daring to belong to trade unions and question the practices of private sector employers. We still have countries where the right to organised is still being threatened. They will bring those issues to ITUC and expect you to travel to meet their government to impress on them that they have the right to organize. So, you do have huge challenges, particularly at this time.

Out of millions of Nigerian workers, you decided to elect Comrade Wabba as the President of the NLC and as you can see, what you picked among yourselves has been recognized around the world as a material that is capable of presiding over the affairs of the workers of the world. So, I also congratulate you for achieving this. But this must force us to do serious reflections. If we are going to preside over the workers of the world, what do we do to deal with the distractions at home when we still have some of our brothers and comrades who still think that at this time, we can make sense out of a divided labour movement.

Labour movement must not be divided. Those that are outside must be brought back . . .   

The slogan that united we stand, divided we fall will always be valid. I hope that the spirit of your election will touch the heart of those who seems confused. There can be no question that united we stand, divided we fall. There is only one organised labour and I am happy that President Muhammadu Buhari, speaking through the lips of the Vice President has reassured Nigeria labour movement that his government will not provide a platform for anyone to factionalise the organised labour movement. You are not under the kind of threat that we faced when I was President of NLC when a former President sent a law to the National Assembly! Not only to de register the NLC, but also to make it possible for any three or four unions to form a Labour Centre. The President believes that we need more national institutions and that organised Labour is a potent bridge of unity that must be sustained. So, you have that comfort. People can try anything, but under this government, there will be no registration of another Labour Centre. We need to be fired by the spirit of our people to work together and deal with all the issues that are bedevilling our country.

I am sure you must have read some of my comments on the minimum wage. I have told people that even I was to become the Secretary General of the United Nations, I am a creation of Labour and I will never, publicly or privately do anything that will undermine or do anything that is designed to possibly affect the welfare of Nigerian workers negatively. I am a believer that Nigeria needs to have a National minimum wage. I do not belong to those who say, because we are in a Federation, we should have different wages. I join in amplifying that we cannot apply the principles of federalism separately. If we have the National Salaries and Wages Commission that makes it possible for me as governor of Edo State presiding over about 4.3 million population to earn the same salary as the governor of Kano and Lagos state who are presiding over 15 million people, that argument cannot change when it comes to fixing a National minimum wage. The primary purpose of government is the welfare of the people. The most portent asset of the people is the state that protects them from every forms of oppression.

I believe that we have to work together not only to get wages fixed, but to ensure also that they are paid. When the President makes public statements like the ones he has made, he has challenged you to take advantage and make sure that when he provide those resources as he has done almost four times, you ensure that they are used for the purpose for which he provided the money. If you don’t, I don’t think you have someone else to blame.

To change this country, it cannot be done with placards. Placards can generate the heat, win temporary concession, but it will not fundamentally alter the direction of state. You have to be in it and did it from within.

Wabba must confront governments that do not tolerate unionism 

Unlike the rest of society, in organised labour, you earn your position on merit and when workers of the world unify in full freedom, and find you worthy to preside over their affairs; that is obviously a huge honour. For us who are part of the Nigerian Labour Movement, we want to naturally share from the honour. I am proud to say this is one my worthy successor and I am glad that what Nigerians discovered in him, the world has accepted. But it is also a huge challenge for him at this point in time because the world economy is undergoing all forms of challenges with modern ICT, capitalism is becoming more aggressive and some of the social benefits of workers are being rolled back around the world. We are still having dictators around the world where the basic right to organize is still been taking for granted. There are struggle for living wages around the world in both developing and developed countries. In different continents of the world, we are having governments with little appetite for contestations. So, when you have responsibility to preside at that level, these are huge challenges.

Minimum wage transcends party affiliation

Minimum wage is not about party, but about Nigeria. To be honest, don’t ask partisan question, but one that has to do with governance in Nigeria because this is an issue that all governors, regardless of party platform are united. So, it is incorrect to put it as an issue that affects particular sets of governors. I was a member of the governors’ forum, I did publicly advice my colleagues then that when it comes to the issue of minimum wage, I am not with them. Not only secretly, but publicly too, I am going to dissociate myself. I believe that we need a National, minimum wage. I believe that Nigeria is capable of paying a National minimum wage. I believe that the primary purpose of government is the welfare of the people and that payment of wages is not a process of prosperity. If Nigeria was to wake up tomorrow to find not even one barrel of oil, and you must employ a worker, you are obliged to pay. Wages is a consequence of work. He who must employ, must pay and even the Bible says a labourer is entitled to his wages. I believe this view and I have continued to canvass it repeatedly. For example, if anyone is hiring Julius Berger to construct a road, no one will ask the firm to charge according to the available income. What it costs you to buy a bag of cement in Zamfara is the same price in Benin. So, if contractors are not charging you according to your level of income, and the are providing service while we run a market economy, the price of labour cannot be static if other prices are changing. Otherwise, worker faces double squeeze of rising prices and stagnant wages. This creates a vicious circle. When you lack purchasing power in an economy, how do you stimulate the economy to bring goods and services and create jobs? So, you create a vicious circle of people that are too poor to buy anything and so, those who produce cannot sell and because they can’t sell, they are closing shops and more people are being thrown out of work. We should be more bold and courageous.

Those who are more inward looking in their consumption pattern are the working people because they are the ones that buy garri, yam, tomatoes an eat local food. They are not going to import any food or buy Toyota jeeps. They are the ones who go to the local park to patronize local taxis driven by Nigerians. So, their pattern of spending is such that their money circulates. So, when you deny him wages, you trigger a vicious circle of poverty. So, I am clear about it. Whether I am the Chair of the ruling party or not, my views are not corrupted by the seeming privilege position that I occupy. What is constant in my life is my background, which is labour. I don’t deny it. I don’t hide it and I have always been clear that NLC, working with TUC, have a right to demand a reasonable living wage and when I was governor, I made the point and increased the minimum wage to N25, 000 three years ago. I paid it till I left office and my successor is paying it.

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