By Emmanuel Elebeke
The Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki has declared that the country can no longer continue with the present N18, 000 minimum wage for workers.
He made the declaration Thursday, while addressing the Nigerian labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) members, who protested to the National Assembly for Good governance and support for the fight against corruption.
The Senate President said with the high exchange rate and inflation in the country, the government is left with no option than to adjust the current minimum wage to enable the workers cope with the present harsh economic realities.
‘The challenges are enormous. I commend your action. Part of the contributions you are making is the sacrifice you have made today. This is your second time here and it is because of the respect I have for you that made me to come out myself to see you since I am around.
‘As many times you have been coming, I have come out to receive you because I agree with you that we have problem in the land. Yes, we have problem and for that we have to make our country better.
‘The challenges are enormous and already, I believe that there is hunger in the land. Today, as you all have observed, the exchange rate is high, the inflation is high, the price of food have gone up. The only thing that has remained low is the salaries. We cannot continue like that.
‘What we need to do is to sit down and work out how we are going to make the necessary adjustments because we go to the same market and it is no fault of yours that things are the way they are,’ he said.
On good governance, Saraki said, ‘We have agreed in the Senate to ensure good governance is upheld by this administration. We fear nobody, there is challenge and, there is a sacrifice to it. But we are ready to shoulder the responsibility.
‘Before now, nobody talked about the NEITI report. The NEITI used to be swept under the floor but this National Assembly brought forward the latest NEITI report that revealed the $50 billion unremitted by the multi-nationals. We are asking that you leave the man that stole billions and pursuing the man that stole millions to come and answer?
‘I want to assure you that we are determined to tackle bad governance. We cannot continue the old way. It is now time for action. Those of you that know me, I am not a man that say, what I cannot do, I keep quiet. It is time for action. By the next time I will be addressing you like this, I will be talking about the action.’’
Earlier in their joint address, the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Waba and his TUC counterpart, Bobboi Kaigama told the leaders of National Assembly that the protest was aimed at expressing their reservation against bad governance and corruption in the system.
Ayuba said, ‘‘This is our second day of action of demand for good governance and also the support for the fight against corruption. But more importantly, we are canvassing for the issues of good governance, issues of accountability, issues of transparency and issues of rule of law because we believe that the foundation of democracy is hinged on these three principles.
‘We believe that when you look at our challenge as a country, over years, these three major issues have been major challenge. But to compound it is the issue of the fight against corruption, which has been a serious challenge to us as a nation.
‘The situation of Nigerian workers is no longer the same. Workers have been at the receiving end, despite the bail out. The exchange rate today is N500 to a dollar. Our minimum wage (N18,000) has remained the same, which is about $36 and this cannot take us home. The challenge is obvious.
‘The National Assembly plays a very important role on the issue of minimum wage and the fight against corruption, and good governance. As true representatives, we came to urge you to advance our laws to make sure that life is made better for ordinary citizens.
‘Some pensioners have not been paid for over 77 months. A governors instead of paying all the pension arrears, decided to pay a percentage and we say no to that.
‘We feel that we cannot succeed if the fight against corruption does not succeed because we are aware that we have almost $50 billion unremitted by the multi-nationals. When this is remitted, we will fix our roads, rail lines, schools and hospitals.
‘Part of the problems is that the funds meant for the Local Governments do not get to them. Governors misuse them. We will continue to appreciate National Assembly playing very active role in making sure that LGAs get autonomy.’’
On the 2017 budget, he urged the National Assembly to avoid padding and ensure that the budget reflects the true demands of the people.
‘We cannot succeed if the fight against corruption fails. In the ongoing constitution amendment, We are aware that in 2011, minimum wage was included in the exclusive list and demand that it remains in the exclusive list.’’
The protesters had earlier presented their demand to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who promised to address all the issues raised in the document.
Addressing the protesters, shortly after the meeting, the NLC President, said, ‘‘We went in and we saw the Acting President and some ministers along side with him and we presented the catalogue of our demands.
‘We reported the situation on ground and reminded him that despite all that is going on, the funds of LGAs are not transmitted to them, despite the bail out and Paris Club refunds. Also presented to him are the issues of salaries and gratuity.
‘After listening to us, he accepted the document and appreciated the manner in which we have come to present our demands.
‘He promised that every item in the demand is going to receive attention. He advised we should be able to make inputs in the economic policies of government.
‘And we reminded them that we will continue in this business until we are able to have favourable response.’’
Recall that last year, precisely, on the 10 September, the Labour union visited the Senate President, where they presented the challenges workers are facing.
Also in the company of the Senate President were the Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yusuf Suleiman Lasun, the Senate Committee Chairman on Labour and his House of Reps counterpart among other law makers.
The protesters had earlier matched through the streets of Abuja leading to the Aso Villa and National Assembly before presenting the catalogue of their demands.
Some of the placards read: Delay minimum wage, delay success of anti-corruption; make payment of salary a priority; Reward whistle blowers yes, victimise whistle blowers No.; Our salaries can’t take us home; Re-Open closed factories, create millions of jobs; fight against corruption must be wholistic; owing workers salaries is an act of corruption; electricity tariff hike in the face of darkness is an act of corruption and building infrastructure without salary infrastructure is hydra corruption.
The protest was organised by the NLC, TUC, students’ union and other allied unions in the country.
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