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Opponents of restructuring are enemies of Nigeria – Hassan Sunmonu

The recent demand for a new minimum wage for workers by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, has been described as just and lawful.

Making this declaration in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, the pioneer NLC president, Alhaji Hassan Sunmonu, said a new minimum wage was long overdue, adding that seven years ago was the last time a review was done whereas the labour law stipulates that the minimum wage should be reviewed every five years.

Sunmonu who was also a former Secretary-General of Africa’s apex central labour body, Organisation of African Trade Union Treaty, OATTU, for over two decades, also spoke on other national issues.

What is your assessment of Nigeria at 57?

At 57, Nigeria is yet to get there. This is not Nigeria envisioned by the nation’s founding fathers. At independence in1960, the nation’s founding fathers had the dream of turning Nigeria into a great nation that will rank among the best in the world within a short period. In order to achieve that goal, the nation’s founding fathers started very well. They laid a good foundation that would have made their dream to become a reality, but unfortunately somewhere along the line, the lofty ideals and goals of the founding fathers were truncated, and here we are today still struggling to translate into reality the lofty dreams of the nation’s founding fathers. In the dreams of the founding fathers, Nigeria should have been far ahead by now.

However, we still have every cause to thank God that we still remain one nation. We should be grateful to God that we still have a country. That we are still one till today is a cause to rejoice. When you look at some countries that started as one entity but have scattered and broken up over the years, we will appreciate God’s mercy over Nigeria. Where is the defunct Soviet Union today? Soviet Union was once one nation, but today has broken up and scattered to about 15 different countries; same thing with the defunct Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. Even in Africa, you have example of Sudan – these are examples of some nations that started as one, but which, over the years, later broke up.

One thing about Nigeria which has hindered its growth and accelerated development has been military coups, corruption and lack of visionary leadership.

There is no nation or country that doesn’t have one problem or the other, it is the way those problems are solved that matters. Today, I believe we should be talking about factors that will unite us rather than those ones that will keep us asunder.

My own view is that Nigeria should be, no matter what the problems are. In other countries of the world, population is used to maximum advantage; we should turn our population and ethnic diversity into an advantage and use both to engineer rapid socio-economic growth for the nation.

How can Nigeria attain desired greatness?

Nigeria needs visionary leaders in the mould of the nation’s founding fathers. Over the years, the nation had at one time or the other been saddled with leaders that didn’t show enough commitment and dedication to transform Nigeria into a great nation.

Nigeria needs a leader with vision, a leader that is focused and committed. We need a leader that is imbued with patriotic zeal. We need patriots as leaders.

Thank God that we have somebody like President Muhammadu Buhari as the nation’s leader today. Nigeria has been in a mess, and the rot has permeated every facet of our socio-economic lives. Buhari has shown that he is incorruptible, we should give him the necessary support in his efforts to sanitise the polity. Although no human being is completely perfect, I believe that Buhari possesses qualities of a leader Nigeria requires to clear the mess and rot accumulated over the years as a result of bad leadership.

Unlike during the period of the founding fathers, material acquisition by leaders have become the order of the day. Corruption has become a serious problem. During their own time when they were in leadership, how many houses did Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo or late Sardauna, Ahmadu Bello have in Nigeria talk less of abroad? But today, you have ministers, governors, and some past national leaders having property scattered in different countries abroad. It has even become a sort of competition among them. They are not ashamed to flaunt their loot and ill-gotten wealth. These leaders are not patriots but looters.

But the irony of it all is that it is unfortunate, maybe because of the level of literacy in the country, Nigerians don’t demand accountability from their leaders. Nigerians don’t ask questions. An elected public official who had nothing and was nobody was suddenly elected into office, and within two years, he has become wealthy, with a fleet of cars, millions of naira in his account, and chain of property all over the place, and rather than asking questions about how he came into sudden wealth, some Nigerians will still be celebrating such fellows, even struggling to take crumbs from his table. What a country?

In other climes, questions are not only asked but accountability is also demanded from leaders. We still have a long way to go in Nigeria.

During the time of the founding fathers, there was healthy competition to develop the various regions by these leaders, but most of the latter day leaders that took over were only interested in amassing wealth. They were not concerned, and didn’t show commitment in developing Nigeria, but only in enriching themselves.

Like I said earlier, we should thank God that Buhari came into office in 2015 because as at that time, corruption and general rot all over the place had become a source of concern. But I will also advise President Buhari to be very careful, because some neo-liberalists still surround him. These are people who will like to cajole or pressurize Buhari into taking some foreign loans which will lead to nothing but massive indebtedness for Nigeria, and will affect the future of coming generations.

If the Federal Government wants to take any loan at all, it should be loans that will be committed to the execution of projects that will transform the lives of Nigerians. Such loans, if taken, should be the one that will be committed to massive investment in the socio-economic development in areas like education, power, health sector, housing and others. The loan will also provide job opportunities for Nigerians.

How has Nigerian workers fared over the years in your view?

There is nothing to write home about concerning workers welfare. Things are getting worse for Nigerian workers and this is very sad and unfortunate.

It’s never been heard of that workers and pensioners are owed for months. But this has become the order of the day. Our leaders are shameless. What is the minimum wage? N18,000, and yet these governors can’t pay salaries of workers for months. How much are pensioners being paid monthly, just a stipend, yet they are still being owed! We are a nation without shame.

How can we be subjecting pensioners to inhuman and degrading treatment? Some of them slump, others die while waiting on queues to collect their pension. Some pensioners are even being owed arrears of several months, and yet our senators and House of Representatives members collect outrageous jumbo salaries. A senator’s monthly take home can pay 3,000 workers – this is very sad and inhuman.

The present presidential system we run is too expensive. I believe we should revert to the parliamentary system of government, which we were running in the First Republic. Parliamentary system is cheaper and more transparent. Presidential system we are currently running has become a big burden on Nigeria.

Are you saying that salaries of our lawmakers should be reviewed?

What these National Assembly members are collecting as salaries is outrageous. They are just milking Nigeria dry. These lawmakers, senators and reps are parasites. They are parasites of Nigeria and Nigeria’s economy. It is very sad that about 90 percent of revenue being generated by the nation is being spent on paying salaries of these lawmakers and other political office holders. In such a circumstance, how can meaningful development take place? There are a lot of things that are wrong with us as a nation, and we need to remedy some of these ills very fast.

As part of saving cost, some people have suggested the scrapping or abolition of security votes being collected by state governors, what’s your take on that?

The scrapping of security votes is long overdue. What are the governors securing? Why do we have the Army, Navy, Air Force, DSS, and other security and paramilitary outfits? Are these agencies not in charge of security? Are they not being funded? Why should the governors be collecting billions of naira again under the guise of security votes?

Security vote is another form of corruption. Security vote is political slush fund. It should be scrapped. Security votes even in a way promote do-or-die politics. Why? It does because when people are aware that such huge sum of money like that is at their disposal to be used and unaccounted for, everybody will struggle to have access to it. Again, security vote is not transparent. Nobody accounts for it. Nobody is aware of the exact amount, but just know that it is huge and runs into billions of naira.

What’s your view on the unfolding developments in NNPC as a result of the face-off between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, and NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr Maikanti Baru, over allegations of illegal $25 billion contract awards by Baru?

I believe President Buhari should have taken action much earlier before the letter written by the minister got leaked. I believe if action had been taken earlier, the issue would have been resolved.

The face-off, allegations and counter-allegations between Kachikwu and Baru doesn’t do any good for Nigeria. It has international implication for Nigeria.

I believe President Buhari should let go the Petroleum Ministry. He should relinquish the office of Minister of Petroleum. I have not seen any country where the president combines his position with that of the Petroleum Ministry.

It is good that Buhari has already intervened, but he should have acted earlier. All the issues raised and that are the source of the face-off between Kachikwu and Baru should be thoroughly investigated. Issues raised should not be swept under the carpet. In whatever we do or is to be done, due process should be followed.

What is your assessment of Buhari’s war against corruption so far?

Buhari is on track and I believe Buhari should be supported by all Nigerians in the fight against corruption. If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill all Nigerians. Buhari should be supported. Buhari has started very well, he should not look back. I support his fight against corruption. Fighting corruption should not be Buhari’s battle alone; every Nigerian should fight corruption. Corruption is evil. It is one of the major factors that has retarded Nigeria’s growth and development. We should all fight it.

The issue of whether Nigeria should restructure or not has become a subject of national debate and discourse, where do you stand on this?

It is very unfortunate that restructuring is being given different interpretations by different groups and people. But one thing is this, Nigeria needs restructuring. It is the only way to move us forward. Restructuring will lead to Nigeria’s greatness.

Although we refer to Nigeria today as Federal Republic of Nigeria, what we practise is a mockery of true federalism. There is nothing truly federal about what we call Federal Republic of Nigeria today.

What we have in practice today is a unitary system of government. This was not like what we have in the First Republic between 1960 and 1966 until the military took over government.

Military take over, coups and counter-coups over the years bastardised Nigeria’s Federalism. When the military took over power, they introduced military system of government, and this is what has been handed over to us, and this is why we are having all these agitations all over the place. When we were practising true federalism in the First Republic, there was healthy competition among the regions. Not only that, each region had control over its resources, and they were just paying tax to the central government. Regions were using their resources to develop.

That was the era of groundnut pyramid in Kano, cocoa in the Southwest, palm oil and rubber in the East.  It was a glorious era for Nigeria. It was the military coup of 1966 and subsequent ones that truncated true practice of federalism in Nigeria. For us to have peace and for us to progress and develop, we have to go back to true federalism.

Contrary to fears being expressed by some people, there is no region or state in Nigeria that doesn’t have one or two natural resources. It is laziness and overdependence on crude oil monthly allocation that has made some people to become lazy.

When there was no oil in the First Republic, were we not progressing? Were the regions not developing? All the transformations and development that took place in the defunct Western Region under late Chief Obafemi Awolowo were done with revenue earned from cocoa farming and export. Awolowo built the First Television Station in Africa, Liberty Stadium, Cocoa House, Industrial Estates, and other numerous investments with revenue got from cocoa farming. The then Western Region excelled with cocoa revenue, and those legacies by Awolowo still endured till today.

There are several great nations in the world that don’t have oil like Nigeria, yet they attain excellence. Why must Nigeria depend on oil? With the then oil boom, the military continued to create states, and today we have 36 states, but today as we speak, less than 10 states are viable. Many states in Nigeria today are more or less glorified local governments.

The present 36 state structure is no longer viable, and that’s why many state governments are unable to pay salaries for months.

Contrary to wrong insinuations by some people, restructuring will make Nigeria great and not break it. There is no state in Nigeria that doesn’t have one or two mineral resources that can be exploited and commercialized to generate revenue.

The reality we must face today is that there is no alternative to restructuring if Nigeria is to attain greatness. One of the evils of the military rule is this unitary system that we are operating today, that is giving us problem. Until we return to true practice of federalism, all these agitations here and there will continue, and not only continue, but may fester. It will do Nigeria a lot of good if we restructure.

Those who are afraid of restructuring are beneficiaries of the present flawed structure we are running. Restructuring will lead to rapid socio-economic development of the country. It will enable Nigeria to have accelerated growth and development which will enable it to be ranked among fast developing economies and nations like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

There have been renewed agitations for a new minimum wage, but some people are saying that this may be unrealistic in view of the fact that, as at now, several states are finding it difficult to pay the current minimum wage of N18,000 and are owing several months in salary arrears; what’s your take on that?

The demand for a new minimum wage is justified. It is even long overdue. According to labour law, minimum wage is supposed to be reviewed every five years. The last time such review was carried out was over seven years ago. When you look at purchasing power today, it is very low compared to what was obtainable seven years ago. Prices of commodity have gone up, some even beyond purchasing power of workers.

Imagine the outrageous salaries our senators and reps are collecting as take home pay which, to them is normal, but incomparable to the peanuts which workers are collecting as monthly pay! To make matters worse and also very insulting, when workers now demand minimum wage, our senators, reps and leaders will say they are being irrational. What a country! Where are justice, fairness, and equity in that? Who are our supposed leaders deceiving? Do they think Nigerians are fools? It is very inhuman and callous for our leaders to say that Nigerian workers are not patriotic when they are demanding for a new minimum wage?

What’s your view on the recent “Buhari for 2019” campaign by some eminent Nigerians?

I think it is too early in the day for those people to start such campaign. Although, I don’t mind if Buhari seeks a second term in 2019, if health permits. But such campaign shouldn’t be by now, it amounts to distracting Buhari. Those campaigners should allow Buhari to continue with his work. I even believe that if you ask ordinary people across Nigeria, they also want Buhari to continue, but then as the saying goes, there is a time for everything. They should not distract Buhari. They should allow him to continue his work.

Buhari is incorruptible, and so far, he has been doing well. Constitutionally, he is allowed to run for a second term, and for me, if his health permits him to continue, he should continue. Buhari should be allowed to consolidate.

Buhari has the attributes of that type of leadership required to tackle corruption, to sanitise the polity and to restore the lost glory of Nigeria. Like I said earlier, Buhari is not a saint, there is no human being that is 100 percent perfect, but at least, Buhari possesses those attributes required to make a difference.

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