Comrade Agnes Funmi Sessi is the Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Lagos State Council. In this interview with Sunday Ojeme, she speaks on the raging minimum wage controversy, corruption in the system and uncertain future for Nigerian youths
Almost three years after the technical committee on new minimum wage finished its assignment and government too accepted the report, implementation has become impossible. When do we expect an end to the logjam?
You know most of the time, the sincerity of government is always put to question. If government is sincere enough, we should not still be dragging back and forth over minimum wage by now. You know we initially proposed N60, 000 before it was slashed to N30, 000, an amount that is not enough as living wage for workers. Now, the workers are again being denied enjoying it as at when due. The thing is that the way they did it when they increased it to N18, 000, they still want to do it that way, when the senior workers were unable to benefit from it; when only N900 was added across board. It is the consequential difference that is the problem now; if you have added to the wage of the junior workers, what of the senior workers. Is it not the same market that we go to? As the level is, so also the responsibility is big. So why can’t the government add value to their own?
What are the fundamental issues responsible that defied understanding between the Federal Government and labour?
Federal Government says it is 66.6 per cent that have been added to the N18, 000 and that they cannot pay it to the senior workers, Ok NLC now proposed that from levels 7 to 14, add 30 per cent, and from 14 to 17, add 25 per cent. That is what is still dragging us back and forth. So why will government still be dillydallying? The truth is that government is not always sincere. Government is not always straightforward. Probably it is those representing government in the negotiation. What are we still negotiating? Government fraudulently went out to bring a table where levels 7 to 14 will have 9.5 per cent and then 14 to 17 will have only five per cent increase; this is against the wishes of our members. We will not take it. Even the politicians are no longer in either Concurrent or Exclusive List. Their own salary is unknown. They are the ones that fix their own salaries. They are not even supposed to be on pay off, they are not supposed to have pension but at the end of the day they still pay themselves pension. After being in office for four or eight years they will pay themselves pension, without delay. But look at how the workers and pensioners suffer. Those who have retired years back have not been paid but the politicians will hurriedly pay themselves. Immediately they are leaving office they will even pay themselves upfront before leaving the office.
Are you saying politicians generally are responsible for the problem or just the leadership in place?
They are our problem. People craved democracy but now they are asking why they even demanded for democracy. Is it worth it at the end of the day when it is not actually government of the people for the people and by the people? Is it not for a few who keep enslaving those who do not have the voice; those whom they believe cannot speak for themselves. Government tries to segregate us. They try to put the line to divide us. They try to ensure they erase the middle class. They continue to drag people into the poor class every day. What you hear is companies pushing more workers into the unemployment market. It is our so called leaders that have brought us to this level. They work like people in cult. They will still continue to enrich themselves because the position that is supposed to be given to the ordinary worker they have again pushed it out for outsourcing.
The question is who are the owners of these companies that are outsourcing the jobs to companies? They collect as much as N200, 000 on each of the workers and at the end of the day they will pay stipends. They still continue to make money on top of the blood of people they are using like slaves; it’s just modern day slavery, creating problems for ourselves. We pushed the white man out that we don’t want slavery but what are we doing to ourselves. We are the greatest enemies of ourselves. What is playing out is man’s inhumanity to man. I believe a day is coming people will start calling for revolution, when they will choose to fight for their freedom. The people will be so pushed to the wall and they will be tired of this evil these people are perpetrating in our country.
What are your views on the president’s cabinet composition as regards policy initiatives that will promote job creation?
It is still the same set of people that have recycled themselves in government and in the polity. So long as it’s the same set of people, we are not going to have a clear stance from the past. We cannot totally deviate from the past because it’s still the same kind of mindset; it’s still the same way of thinking, the same godfathers that are putting their godsons there, and they put them there to do their bidding. They put them there to ensure they protect their interests. It’s still a personal interest we are still running in the country. So definitely, this is not the wishes of the people. It is still the wishes of only the very few, who are privileged amongst us. They are using their positions to ensure they push people into depression. You see people jumping into the lagoon; so many people have taken their own lives. It is because of the frustration in the society.
We have not seen any improvement in the way the government is being run, in the way the country is being run. It is still the same set of policy and even to implement any good policy is a problem for these people. You don’t have any good policy that you will say will add value to the life of the people. The policies government is having that will add value to the life of the people, they don’t get to implement them, but the ones that will take pride of being Nigerian out of the people are the ones the government is implementing. So as for me, I have not seen anything good enough for the people that the government has done. Have they been able to implement policies to impact well on the people, No. Where has the housing scheme gone? Let’s give credit to Jakande [a former Lagos State governor]. Which of the past administrations have been able to match or rival this man’s achievement in providing houses for Nigerians? Look at all our roads, you can bear witness that all our roads have gone so bad, look at security of lives and property. Things have never been so bad like this to the extent to send your children on errands, even you as an adult will be afraid to go out because those who call themselves herdsmen will attack you, even those who are not herdsmen.
How would you rate the current administration’s fight against corruption?
How many people have this government jailed for corruption? They are paying lip service to it, and everybody knows it is mere window dressing. Even when there are so much evidence against some corrupt officials so long as you can pledge your allegiance to them you will be left off the hook. It is when you want to work against this government that they will label you as being corrupt. Who is not corrupt among them? Let them come out and declare their assets, they cannot. You see the way they live in affluence. You see when somebody is given an appointment, the next thing is taking aso ebi, celebrating and rejoicing because they know what they are going in for. They are also going to be part of the larger corruption. So until we make up our minds to desist totally from the way of the past that is when we can free this country. Nigeria has been held by the jugular by those who don’t want their country to thrive, those who do not want the ordinary man to have a voice, by those who want to continue to be in power, but I tell you, God will take away all these powers from them. Nigerian politicians when you give them power they double, their wives too would be given positions, their children and cronies will also be given positions. So it is no longer by merit but by patronage.
How do you see the future of Nigerian youths amidst these uncertainties?
They are not learning again. Who is to mentor the youths. Those who should mentor them have already gone haywire. They are the ones that are bad influence to the youths. So there is nothing to write home about the situation of the country. The leaders have failed to be good example to the youths. Things have degenerated. Now you cannot spread your underwear outside, someone will come and pack them and go and use them to make money. You are not free to move around, someone will kidnap you. We are no longer our brother’s keeper. There is ethnic division, religious division and economically we have been divided. That is what the leaders have created for us so that they will continue to cash on it and gain from the division. We have become enemies to ourselves.
The Yoruba want to have their nation, Hausa want to have their nation, Igbos want to go, and everybody wants to have their own nation. Everybody wants to withdraw into their shell. It’s now a marriage of inconveniences, we are no longer happy, we are no longer ready to be in this conjoined situation that we’ve found ourselves. So it is not the poor people that have created it, it is the rich that are pushing people into it. Imagine those who destroyed the country. People who were gainfully employed, earned salary, whom government gave grants, loan to be paid gradually.
They gained this opportunity and ended up removing the ladder. Then, when they were in the university they were given meals, heavily subsidized. While I was in school at UCH, we had laundry services that was free. Most of the things were free, scholarship was there, but what are we seeing today, corruption has eaten so deeply into the fabrics of our society. All our leaders have corrupt tendencies and they are actually exhibiting it, and it is what they have used to kill this country. The youths should be prepared not to be influenced by the bad leaders who have all taken their children abroad to school, expend ill-gotten wealth to train their children while they use other people’s children here to be perpetrating evil, using them as political thugs.
I can go on and on and I can never have it all about this country. It is so disheartening, where our leaders have pushed us to. But I always ask myself, is it not possible to have a convergence of all the leaders where they can look into the situation of the country and create a conducive environment for us to live in? Where they can say OK, we have made mistakes in the past, let us now correct all the mistakes. That is what Idiagbon tried to do when he was a leader in this country. But Babangida came in to push them out and Nigeria degenerated into this chaos. Then those who should correct the mistakes of the past started adding to it.
When they said let us sell all the public assets, they were actually selling to themselves, to their families, to their girlfriends. Electricity we don’t have it, roads, they are in chaotic situation, where are the houses government built over the years. Even if they use public money to build 1000 houses today, believe me, they will still share it among themselves. What they do is window dressing, they will sell 100 of those houses to the public and sell the other 900 to themselves; and they will not even pay. These rich people that we are talking about are the same people that killed the banks. They took all the available money from the banks and they failed to pay back. Not until we are ready for revolution, not until we speak out the truth, not until the youths will be ready for positive changes in our country since their future has been mortgaged.