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NLC Tackles Buhari, NASS On Earnings

Labour Hints On Impending Demand For New National Minimum Wage While Rejecting Removal Of Petrol Subsidy And Blaming Political Office-Holders For Over-Bloated Earnings

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday accused President Muhammadu Buhari and other political office-holders in the country of being the big drain on Nigeria’s revenue.

Speaking during a courtesy visit to the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, by the leadership of the NLC, its President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, hinted that the Congress would submit a new minimum wage demand to the National Assembly.

Wabba, who spoke on the high cost of governance, observed that the combined earning of each member of the Senate and House of Representatives was 100 times more than what a graduate on Grade Level 8 Step 15 earns annually.

He also took the National Assembly to task on the agitations of Nigerians on the monumental earnings of the legislators in the midst of abject poverty. Wabba further pointed out that both Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, had not done any spectacular thing by reducing their salaries by 50 percent, as they did not depend on their salaries and allowances for their upkeep.

“Information available to us indicate that as far back as 2009, the RMAFC (Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission) put the salaries and allowances of ‘certain political, public and judicial office holders’ numbering 17,474 at N1.126 trillion annually.

This indicates that the earnings of political office holders were such a big drain on the revenue of the country and were clearly unsustainable. The level of financial expenditure was such that a Senator and a Representative earn more than 100 times what a graduate on grade level 8, step 15 earns annually.

The ratio, when compared to what a level 17, step 9 officer in the federal civil service earns annually, was more than 20 times. “Your Excellency, you need not to be told that we are again back to poor revenue from our main source of foreign exchange – crude oil.

This, combined with the excesses of our political elite in the mismanagement of our national resources, has once again called to question the issue of the high cost of governance in the country. “In response to this, some state governors have reduced their salaries by 50 percent, and the President and Vice President recently joined by ordering that their salaries should also be reduced by 50 percent.

The National Assembly has also acted by reducing its annual budget from N150 billion to N115 billion as symbolic gesture that our legislators are in tune with our austere times. “Your Excellency, Nigerians generally do not believe that these gestures from the two arms of government are far reaching enough to address the question of high cost of governance in the land.

For the President, the Vice President and the governors, the point had been rightly made that they do not depend on their salaries and allowances for their upkeep anyway, as the state provides for them 100 percent: therefore, even if they part with 95 percent of their entitlements, it will not affect them in any material way.

“Secondly, as the Governor of Ebonyi State recently argued, the salaries of key government officers are not necessarily the only source of the wastage and high cost of governance in the country.

“For the legislature, Your Excellency, Nigerians are concerned and wants explanations on how the National Assembly budget, which in 2003 was N23.347 billion, rose to N66.488 billion in 2007, and then climbed to N104.825 billion in 2008. In 2010, Your Excellency, under the watch of your predecessor, the budget of the National Assembly reached an all time record jump to N154.2 billion,” Wabba said.

He observed that the crisis of unemployment in the country was a reflection of the scale of the economic decay, and urged the leadership of the 8th Assembly to play a role in ensuring that the required legislations were put in place to provide the enabling environment for job creation in both the public and private sectors of our economy.

“As we had stated during this year’s May Day, there is hardly any household in this country, where there isn’t at least one long time unemployed graduate. Some estimates put youth unemployment at over 50 million,” he said.

On the issue of the National Minimum Wage, Wabba, who argued that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian wage earner is grossly devalued as a result of the devaluation of the Naira, reminded Saraki that the Act is due for review. “The last Minimum Wage Act was promulgated by the National Assembly in 2011.

As we also indicated in this year’s May Day address, the five-year circle, during which the National Minimum Wage is due for review, is here. “In addition, the devaluation of the Naira from N150 to $1, to about N242 to $1, today underscores the grim situation for salary earners in the country against the fact that our economy is import-driven.

The devaluation, in simple economic terms, means that the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian wage earner is grossly devalued. “As a result of this grim economic reality, Your Excellency, Congress will soon submit a New Minimum Wage demand, which we hope will be negotiated by the traditional tripartite negotiating team of government, employers and organised labour.

Our hope is that when the end product of the negotiation is brought before the National Assembly for legislation, it would be treated with dispatch,” he added.

Wabba, who rejected the call for subsidy removal, observed that there had been a renewed, orchestrated and welloiled campaign for the removal of fuel subsidy, which was otherwise dressed in the toga of deregulation of the downstream of the petroleum sector since the emergence of Buhari as the President.

“We have resisted joining the debate in this rehashed campaign because we believe that the new President knows far more than many of those advising him to remove fuel subsidy, having served as the Petroleum Minister himself, and was involved in the establishment of two of our four refineries.

His comments on the issue also show that he is not likely to be easily hoodwinked into taking any rash and undigested decision on this,” he said. In his response, Saraki challenged the Nigerian workers to play their part in the war against corruption to which the present administration in the country has committed itself.

Saraki assured that the 8th Senate was ready to work for Nigerians, despite the erroneous impression being currently propagated by some persons outside the Senate. He observed that it was time for workers to help the government succeed in decisively and successfully tackling the corruption menace once and for all.

He noted that while the Senate has interacted with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), it also intend to engage the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to look at the areas where the National Assembly could assist to ensure that the fight against corruption was efficiently prosecuted with positive results that would be glaring for people to see.

Saraki said past excuses would no longer be tolerated since the country now has the right leadership with avowed political will to fight corruption. “We in the 8th Senate have said there will be zero tolerance for the issue of corruption.

Corruption is one issue slowing down development and some of the problems we are embarking on – whether you talk about our refineries not working, you talk of the issue of fuel subsidy, you talk about the high cost of governance, everything you talked about comes back to this issue of corruption and I think it is time for all of us, those of us in the National Assembly, the executive and the workers to show serious commitment.

“This should not be a headline-grabbing approach because at the end of the day, you are workers, when you talk about oil theft, we have Nigerian workers at the terminals who surely must know when this thing is going on.

Every where that there is corruption, some workers are there either participating or observing. We now have a great opportunity to win the war against corruption because we have a leadership led by President Muhammadu Buhari that we believe has the political will to do the right thing,” he said.

He added that people used to give excuses that when they blew the whistle on corrupt practices nothing was done because the system was corrupt right from the top but that such excuse was no longer tenable. “We are assuring you that at the executive side, we have elected the President that will do it well. I am making the commitment on behalf of the National Assembly and myself that we are committed to fighting corruption.

If you remember, I was the one that single-handedly in 2011 opened the lid on the fuel subsidy scam that everybody is talking about now. “But at the end of the day, who are those people working in these places.

They are Nigerian workers. They are not workers from anywhere else. So, I think I will also throw the challenge, now that we are getting the message that the political leadership is ready to take on this thing called corruption. I think we need the cooperation of our workers who know it all.

They see it happen and when you look at the anticorruption agencies, with all due respect, you will find out that 80 percent of some of the cases are cases at the state level.

“You hardly see where people who are the real engine room, which is the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation or where most of these corruption cases on oil are being put on trial,” he said.

Saraki said that the internal challenges confronting the 8th Senate were being addressed and would be resolved soon and that the Senate, under his leadership, would not abandon its constitutional mandate on the altar of personal ambitions.

 -Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja

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