The president, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, has opened up on his recent fight with the Labour Party(LP)National Chairman, Comrade Julius Abure. He also gives reasons why Nigeria should adopt the Parliamentary system of government at this point of her history. The labour leader made the remarks when he fielded questions from a team of Editors during his courtesy call at the Ikeja corporate office of the Sun Publishing limited.


What is the current position with the minimum wage?

The position of Organized Labour under the NLC and TUC as stated at the Eagle Square during May Day Celebrations is that if by end of May, negotiations are not concluded, we may not be able to guarantee industrial peace in the country. The old minimum wage expired on April 18; that was before May Day.

Ordinarily, a new regime of minimum wage ought to have started immediately after that. As we speak today, there is no minimum wage law in existence in the country. And we ought to have finished the negotiation. The last minimum wage lasted for five years. And for you to wait until after five years before you can do anything serious is a problem. In January, they inaugurated the minimum wage committee. Though, that came late. Ordinarily, it should have been around October last year. While there was delay, we didn’t understand.

We started putting pressure. And you don’t need to put pressure for things that statutorily should be done. So, after much pressure, they inaugurated the committee. And Mr. President gave them the mandate to provide a living wage for Nigeria. We met a couple of times, had public hearings across the whole six geopolitical zones, and came back to the meeting after collating all the data. And then the committee asked Labour to send their own report and demands, which we collated from all 36 states.

The NLC and TUC met and harmonized the demand of minimum wage to be N615,000; and forwarded to them. Between that time until today, nothing was done. We couldn’t bear it any longer because in our last meeting, we agreed on how to ensure that we conclude even before May Day. So that Mr. President would take our demand to the National Assembly for a law to be enacted to seal the new minimum wage.

That was the situation at that time. However, just yesterday, we received a letter about a meeting next week on Wednesday. That is where we are now on the issue of National Minimum wage.

Aside the N615,000 minimum wage, what else is Labour demanding from government?

…….. Is the government really in a position to pay N615,000?

Many may not understand the economic situation we are talking about. When the subsidy was removed, the government told us to go and negotiate a wage.

Negotiating a wage is not something that is done immediately. We have now watched the impact of the removal of subsidy, and it has dawned on every one of us.

And it wasn’t only the removal of the subsidy, they also went into price fixing, the price of fuel went up to over N700 per litre. With that, we can tell you clearly how much it costs a worker to go to work. We know how much a bag of rice is being sold? So, the cost of all this has dawned on us and we have prepared what it takes for a worker to go to work and survive with a family of four.

We also came up with this analysis and based it on some of the global experiences. The UN position is that nobody can survive on less than $2 per day. And if you take it from that angle for a family of six, giving them them two dollars per meal, in a day, you will have $12 and about $360 in a month. I will leave the calculation for us to do.

Let us come to the issue of the cost-of-living index which we normally use. We gave the government a breakdown; for feeding, we gave everybody in that family N500 per meal. If you give everybody in a family of six N500 naira per meal, one person will get N1,500 per meal in a day. And for the six people, they are going to have about N270,000 for feeding in a month.

We looked at about N40,000 for accommodation, for education for 4 children, we put N50,000 assuming that your children should not go to private schools because you can’t do that with that amount of money.

For Medicare, assuming there is no surgery or serious medical issue, we put N50,000. For electricity, we put N20,000. That was even before this electricity tariff increase. And you discover that if today, you buy a token of N20,000, it no longer lasts as much as before.

For Gas/kerosene, considering that people refill every two weeks, at the cost of about N15,000 – N17,000 for 12.5kg cylinder, we estimated about N30,000 a month.

All this is how we arrived at the sum of N615,000. Note that we did not add expenses like communication, tights/offerings in church or any other social obligation. Now we brought it out for negotiation. However, in doing this, we said that if the government can check all these other issues like the inflationary rate and the value of our currency, then we can adjust our demands. The labour movement would not have asked for more than N200,000 before the removal of subsidy.

Apart from transportation and house rent, you know the cost of living. A bag of rice now costs over N70,000, bread and other food items are very expensive too. They told us that they are going to make more money with removal of subsidy and since they made more money, inflation seemed to be going up unchecked for almost a year.

We can shift from where we are if those things could be taken care of. We did not even factor in the numerous taxes in our demand. And we are coming from a country where there is no social safety net. No transportation or Medicare. Even capitalist countries of the world make provision for all of these things. But here in Nigeria, you generate your own power with generating sets, provide your own water and almost everything.

Therefore, it saddens us when we are told on a daily basis that the N615,000 demand is not realistic or that it will cause inflation. Everything in Nigeria seems to have gone up except the wage which remains constant.

We told the government that if we were to present that demand afresh, it will be higher and if things continue this way in few months’ time, N1 million may not be enough.

The government should check inflation and other economic challenges that is causing the rise in the cost of living. For instance, what was done about tariff increase? Before increasing the tariff in the power sector, they looked at two major factors; inflation and the value of the currency before announcing the tariff adjustment in NERC.

Now, each time they do these things, it equally creates inflation which prompts them to go for another tariff increase. The worker continues to bear the brunt.

The issue of no work, no pay, strike actions etc, why should workers be paid for the period they are not working. Would pay-per hour be more sustainable?

If you denominate our wages per hour, it will result in a case of “1 hour – No pay”. This is because with the wage currently being paid, it would not even equate to N20 per hour. How I wish the minimum wage was reviewed per hour based on international standards.

On the other hand, the issue of “No work- No pay” did not talk about “No pay – No work”. Before now, the law in existence was master-server relationship where we had the master as the superior without workers right.

However, we have gone past that era, and it is one of the things that we celebrate on Mayday; the independence and freedom for workers that gave them just 8 hours work. They are no longer slaves. Any other time beyond 8 hours is considered overtime and can equally be negotiated.

Most other countries around the world with the No work – No pay policy have a social safety net, unemployment benefits and even old people’s benefits. But here in Nigeria, the case is different. Most of the crises we have in Nigeria is based on government’s refusal to pay or to pay appropriately.

Take for instance, they have refused to pay the new minimum age. Even the wage award we agreed upon until the new minimum wage is announced, the last time they paid was in February. And all these were signed agreements. But sadly, agreements in Nigeria are never obeyed. Check the cause of strikes and industrial actions whether from Labour or any other institution, it is a result of the government not fulfilling the agreements it had signed in the past.

Nevertheless, in industrial relations, there is what we call power relations which is critical in the sense that if a worker knows that if he does not come to work today, his employer will not pay him, he will come to work. And if an employer knows that if he does something wrong, his workers may not come to work, he will think twice before doing that thing. That is where the Union acquires power to respond and even management has their own powers to respond. When you balance this power relation well, there is usually harmony in that industrial climate.

FG claims that life is getting better and that its reforms are yielding positive results. What is your take on this?

We all know that these claims are not true. The dollar was around N700 as of May 2023, when the present administration came on board, but currently, it is about N1400, is that getting better.  We were buying fuel at around N185 when this present administration came on board, but currently, fuel is being sold for above N900 in areas where it is available. I do not know whether that is the calculation of things getting better.

A bag of Rice was around N30,000 in May last year, today it is about N75,000. There is no commodity that has not risen more than 100 percent within one year. I would not be the person to say that things are getting better, it is left for Nigerians to judge.

When we hit the streets to demonstrate how dire the situation is, we were called names. The main essence of governance is for public good, when you deviate and call people names, it becomes a different thing. The response from President Bola Tinubu then was that we should wait for them at the polls in 2027.

As a Student Union leader back then, we faced the Babangida government, after so many days of action, he responded positively and said that he was going to create one million jobs. That was when he created new agencies, including Road Safety, to meet up with his promise of creating one million jobs to ease the suffering of the masses.

But the response in the case of President Tinubu was for us to wait for him at the polls in 2027. We didn’t want to join issues with that. Many Nigerians do not have what to eat for their next meal and die as a result of that. As Organized Labour, we have to convey the message that people are suffering.

I do not agree with you as a Nigerian that anything has got better; employment is not there, companies are folding in the private sector, they cannot meet up with even the cost of energy, coupled with insecurity and all that.

However, in all of this, what is being paid to those in the National Assembly has improved. People from that class are the ones claiming that life is getting better.

Cyber security Levy..why didn’t labour oppose it before it was passed? And what will be the reaction of labour if the Federal Government insist on the implementation?

NLC has made its position clear on this. The NLC is not consulted on most of the bills passed in the National Assembly. If they had informed us on the issue of cyber-security, we would have voted against it on the floor there. However, it does not stop them from imposing it. And since we are independent, even when they impose it, we would still come out to say that this levy is biting, and we cannot afford it.

We were not part of it and there is no way we would have approved further taxation. Some people are even canvassing for an increase in VAT. The only effective tax in Nigeria is income tax. The corporate Nigerians are not paying the real tax expected of them. Some of them who bring in goods into Nigeria have tax exemptions. The ones that are building refineries are given free land, what we call EPZ. They bring in goods/products without the adequate import duty. But it is the little that the average worker earns that is being taxed heavily. This should not continue.

Is the NLC engaging state governors on the minimum wage?

Yes, we engage the state and Federal together. The state governors fall under sub-nationals. 6 governors represent the geopolitical zones at the negotiating meeting. However, what the Federal Government did was to select the governors that were either not paying or not paying enough to be on that committee. The progressive governors in terms of payment of minimum wage are not in the committee and we have been asking why to select these ones that are not paying the existing minimum wage religiously to be at the negotiation.

However, they represent other governors and report to them from time to time. Some of them have equally shown interest in paying. I was in Edo when the governor there said that he is starting payment of N70,000 until negotiations are concluded. He also said that he will pay whatever is agreed at the national level. We did not see this as politics because when the minimum wage was N30,000, he was paying N40,000. Such a person has the willingness to pay even higher than the agreed minimum wage. These are the kind of governors that understand the value of the productivity of workers.

Lagos/Calabar Coastal Road…Is the NLC in agreement with the Federal Government considering th level of hardship and the perilous state of th internal roads.

Every government has to look for a way of diversifying its economy, and if we are talking about the Blue economy in the classical sense of it, we can even run the country based on what is obtained from the sea and the coastal states. Most countries are feeding by it. If that is the angle that the Federal Government is exploring to reduce the over-dependency on oil and gas, then it is okay.

However, apart from the transportation aspect of the blue economy alone, there are other areas. Even in Energy, people are going green and there is emphasis on leaving oil and gas because of the climatic effect to explore generating power through hydro and other sources.

If all these are the intention of the Federal Government, so be it. But if there are other motives, because some are challenging the cost of the contract and the contractor assigned for it. However, a country like Nigeria would be stronger if it effectively explores its blue economy. However, for the Highway project, we need to follow it up and understand and assess the level of damage that it will cause on the people living in the coastal lines to mitigate the damage.

I am among the people that support the diversification of the economy; it should not be oil alone, because it may soon dry. But the people must be carried along in the process to know that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

Is the NLC reactive rather than being proactive? Why didn’t labour protest the subsidy removal?

We protested when they removed the subsidy. There were series of actions against their so-called injunction in court before we got some agreements. The first agreement we got was to deemphasize on PMS. That was when we got the agreement on CNG energy. And when we came out with the proposal on CNG, and they asked us what the meaning of CNG was, nobody at the present time understood the meaning of CNG.

Of course, of late, they are trying to mount it as part of their achievement. We explained to them that it is Compressed Natural Gas and that the gas deposit we have in the country today is enough to keep the country moving for the next 500 years.

And all you need is just a conversion kit, and the cost of CNG is far cheaper. When people are filling their tank now with N10,000, you don’t need up to 3,000 to fill your tank on CNG gas.

You can still run your PMS and CNG depending on the one that is available. And this doesn’t take up to three months for you to bring in conversion kits and then bring in some buses that are CNG driven, to engage them in mass public transportation system.

We came up with all those proposals. It wasn’t from them. But one year after, they have not done it? We went further to get some people who can bring in this conversion kit. In fact, they told us that if we get, that they have gotten grant to give to workers, you know, at the cost of about N320,000 which will be paid over three years for the conversion kits.

We took this to the government, but they brought us their own proposal, which was about N800,000 for the conversion. That was when we saw that they have made the whole essence of the CNG to be for profit motive from the drivers of the state.

That was why we now said, OK, you drive it, but between that time and now, there’s no CNG boss running the streets of Lagos or Abuja or whatever; apart from Edo where over 5,000 vehicles that are running on CNG in Benin.

So, it’s not only the issue of protesting, but we also make proposals on all the subject matters, we make proposals to them. Whether they now take it or not is unwritten. We also met with INNOSON, and he started producing vehicles running on CNG, but the government is not engaging him. And he said he’s not going to give them any in advance and wait for them to pay him because he has learned from experience.

We met some other companies because the NLC would not be a company or a contractor, but we tried to prove to them that even in Nigeria here, there are people who can work on this.

Is labour guilty of selective engagement? The Imo State episode for instance comes to mind?

I am from Imo. Ordinarily I would have said charity begins from home, but that wasn’t the issue in Imo. The Imo State governor, when he came on board, wrongly claimed that there are ghost workers, when these were workers that were coming to work every day. He also claimed ghost pensioners. And these people are running into 5000- 10,000 and they stopped their salary for three years.

Then I was deputy president of NLC and Ayuba who was the NLC wanted to send people to Imo, I said no, it’s my state. He now sent the other deputy, who is the current governor of Kebbi, Nasiru and he went and signed an agreement with the governor for a committee to look into the issue again and find out why these people were being called ghost workers. But he told one of his commissioners, that their wage bill was almost N2 billion that they are going to pay for this and the people that receive it should take it.

We had taken several decisions at our NEC meeting on how to go to Imo, Rivers and Kaduna.

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We went to Rivers; that same day we landed, we had a meeting with the then governor, Nyesom Wike and resolved the issue of Rivers.

We went to Kaduna, we engaged the then governor, El-Rufai and resolved. However, the issue of Imo and Abia couldn’t happen until I became NLC president. And we did a couple of letters, but that wasn’t even what ignited the issue that took place in Imo.

We were conducting an election of the Imo State Council, nationwide. And in Imo State, the commissioner of information, Emelumba, called me and said; we don’t want candidate A. We want candidate B. I said, no, we don’t do it that way, but if you are supporting anybody, you can support him, you can give him more money, but the NLC will not say they will not support candidate A or B. Let them go to the polls.

On that day, they went there and attacked the workers to stop the election. We asked the workers to continue. They now sent the DPO of State Assembly Police Station to go and tell them that it’s order from above. They disperse them. When they disperse them, normally, we set up a caretaker committee because there won’t be a vacuum there. We set up a caretaker committee in Imo, Abia, and Osun. Those are the states we couldn’t do elections because the governors were interfering. Umahi, the then governor of Abia called me and said that I should shift the election, I refused.

He said, because there are security issues. I told him that the election of the House of Assembly is coming up, that’s the one that requires security not the one that they are doing in a hall. You can send police to protect them.

We argued and it ended. The same happened in some other states including Edo and Ekiti because the state government wanted to take control of the leadership there. So, we put up a caretaker committee but Imo State Government said they don’t recognize the caretaker committee, and the one they appointed started issuing statements as if we now had a parallel government.

That was what you saw until May Day, last year. The caretaker committee wrote for space at Heroes Square, all those areas. They didn’t give them space. They went to our office there. And the secretariat there was built by Rochas. That was where they were when they went there and beat people. When I say beat people, people were hospitalized. And based on that, we responded. After that, we started writing letters, and the governor claimed that he had paid everybody.

We said, okay. The leadership will come. We fixed our CWC meeting in Owerri where we would ask all the workers. Because already, the workers have sent names of those who had not been paid for three years. Teachers were up to 3,000 in that order. We said, okay, we’re going to ask all these workers, do a rally and show them all the people they claimed to have been ghost workers. In fact, I gave them one example; the primary school I attended, the headmistress there will be retiring by November, and they are calling her ghost worker. Supervisors, invigilators all come there to meet her. They even wrote her a letter for a promotional interview which she attended.

We needed to make it clear to the governor, assuming the commissioners are not telling you the truth, these are the real issues. When we arrived Imo State, the first we addressed the workers, the second day, we were to do the rally, on arrival that was when I was attacked at the NLC office.

That is to say that the NLC is not selective. There was no state that classified workers as ghost workers. You may see states that are not paying very well or owing a couple of months, but they never classified workers as ghosts.

Assuming you have excess workforce and you want to declare redundancy, you send for the unions to discuss how it will be done. Somebody cannot work for 30 years and you send him out of service as ghost worker without termination of appointment, no retirement, no pension. That was what happened in the whole Imo State episode, it wasn’t the case of selective responses.

NLC issue with Labour Party—there are allegations that it was a personal battle….

If they have agreed that the NLC registered the Labour Party, then we can move from there, but the allegation is that we never registered it in the first place.

What you all witnessed in Labour Party was a clique of people that have converted our party to a money-making machine and as a mechanism for contestation only. They are not building a party.

Labour party all over the world is owned by the trade unions, whether Labour party of Britain or anywhere. That is not something we are now going to be debating. The first Labour Party that was established was started by Wallace Johnson, a Sierra Leonean journalist. This was before Michael Imodu and others continued around 1963. And around 1987, Pascal Bafyau came with another Labour Party. I think in 1987, that came forth during the Babangida party registration.

In 2000, Adams Oshiomole started this move. Let me say that it was registered during his term, but at the NEC meeting, he wasn’t supporting an autonomous party. He was talking of belonging to the existing ones. But we overruled at the NEC meeting and agreed for us to have a party of our own.

Then the argument was that the government, through INEC, would not agree to register a Labour Party because they’d see them as a viable opposition. Therefore, we agreed to name it Party for Social Democracy (PSD) and registered it with that name, and had the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Union, Sylvester EJiofor as the first acting national chairman.

At the first convention, we changed the party’s name to Labour Party. And nobody, including the last one, Julius Abure had been the chairman of that party, without having a trade unionist.

Dan Iwuanyanwu, the first national chairman, was the president of the Bank Union in Nigeria. The second one, Abdusalami was the General Secretary of the local government workers Union in Nigeria while Abure, was State Secretary of the Post and Telecom Union in Edo State. It is an institutional party, owned by the trade unionists. On our own, we decided that we can’t duplicate it.

The NLC president or its general secretary cannot be running the party. That was why we were drawing from the army of retired or former Labour leaders to run it. For me as the President of the NLC, I am automatic NEC member. If you check the last executive that we were talking about, there’s nobody there. The other person that is forming a faction, Lamidi Apapa was the NLC State Chairman in Oyo State. He was a tanker driver, belonging to NUPENG.

Now, we are not saying that the party was formed by NLC and TUC. It was formed by NLC, but since it is Labour, we run it together. And we didn’t say because it is Labour party, it should be administered. None of us has gone there to drink pure water. We have not even asked them, how are you spending your money? Find out.

The first time I was there as a person was when the issue of Apapa taking over the place came up. Remember that when the court restrained Abure, there was supposed to be a NEC meeting to decide who would be acting, but Apapa went there and broke the windows and entered.

I fought against the party being taken over by one man. I said, wait for a meeting where the decision will be taken for who will act in the place of Chairman. So, we don’t interfere in that order.

However, they were in court and for peace to reign, Abure begged Ayuba because there was a consent judgment in court during their tenure. These are things I met on ground before even becoming the President of the NLC.

There was a consent judgment that we had to do an all-inclusive convention; ward, local government, state, and national. He then pleaded that he wants to be there up to June 27th, 2023. At least, till after the presidential election. And they said, okay, sign an MOU of which he did with us.

Well, that June, I was NLC president. I wrote a letter to him. I said, it’s June 27th, your tenure has expired. He rushed to my office pleading that they needed more time.

Well, suddenly, this time around, there was no ward congress, no local government congress, no state congress, we then heard one day that he has fixed a convention for Abia State of which was later moved to Anambra State. I don’t know the village they went to conduct it.

At the time he said they held the convention, nobody saw the list of delegates or nomination letters indicating delegates vying for position within the party. That was how he reelected himself in the so-called national convention and that about 15 offices are vacant, we should fill it.

Is that how a party is organized? No media presence, no journalists. You can go and verify this information.

However, as it affects my person, I expected all these things even before I became the NLC president. One of them said that I have been telling him that I want to run for president in 2027. Between me and you and God, I have not seen this person in my entire life, but he said I have been confiding in him that I want to be president of Nigeria in 2027.

The other person said that I want to be a Labour Party chairman; is that a demotion or a promotion? And the other set of people said that I told them I wanted to become governor of Imo State. Tell me what I have not been accused of.

But we will not lose focus. How can you ask people to pay N30 million or N10 million for nomination in Labour Party? Is that the basis for the creation of the party?

We said that these conventional parties are not doing well and that we wanted a party where the son of nobody can pick form and contest elections, yet you want to charge them N10 million, N20 million.

The idea behind the creation of this party has started manifesting by ‘Okada’ riders being in the National Assembly coming out victorious in the last election. It can only happen in the Labour Party.

If eventually the N615,000 minimum wage is approved, how many companies can afford to pay that given the current economic condition of the country? Is the minimum wage premised on the dollar? What happens if it goes up or down?

In other countries, inflation is down to a single digit, the value of their currencies keeps growing stronger; all things being equal, whatever is being paid would be sufficient. But here in Nigeria, the story is different. Inflation seems to be going in only one direction. That was where we made the provision that from this new minimum wage, henceforth, the review period would not be more than two years. Before now, it was five years, however, if you leave the economy the way it is today and let’s say you are paying even N615,000 without controlling these other variables, you can’t survive in the next five years. That is why we are looking for a short review period.

With this, the minimum wage may go up or down in the next review period if inflation comes down. Apart from signing the N615,000, we want to equally factor and sign that salaries should be increased based on the percentage of inflation, then we may not even need to come to the negotiating table. We can look at it and say, inflation rose by 10 per cent and adjust the wage based on that.

Looking at it from a different angle, it is only when workers are earning sufficient wages that production goes high because that is when they can buy things such as household items, else those companies producing them may close down. If the people do not have the purchasing power, those industries will close down.

Power is the major issue in Nigeria, what have your members working in the industry told you is the reason for not being able to generate efficient power?

The electricity sector would remain comatose. And this is me speaking from a knowledgeable standpoint as someone that majored in energy law. You cannot command power; let there be power in Nigeria, and it will happen. There is no conscious master plan for Nigeria to generate let’s say 500 megawatts this year

Every country of the world let’s say, twice a year has a plan where they generate a certain level of new energy. If you are not building any power plant today, there’s none you would commission in the next 3 years which is about the gestation period for such project.

That is why we keep lamenting that power is bad, but no improvement. But if we can build one power station each year, some of them will give us 1000 megawatts, 500 megawatts and so on, because demand is going higher on a daily basis. Even from our respective homes, the gadgets we use are increasing.

But here we are, relying on the existing 4000 megawatts which Obasanjo produced in 2002. Babangida did feasibility studies on Mambila Power Station, clean hydro energy that could have given us 3600 megawatts which they are not generating even per day even now. Between Babangida’s time till now, nothing has happened.

If you go to Borno and Yola State, the heat there is enough for us to go into solar. Nobody is doing it. From Kastina and other areas, you can put wind turbines. Because that’s where the world is going now. You know, real green energy, but Nigeria is not working towards it.

We are relying on the 4000 megawatts that we have. The previous ministers went into what I call political power stations. Why would Agagu build Papalanto, Omotosho, in Ogun State? When you need a gas pipeline from Bayelsa to Ogun State. Whereas if you have them in the place where the source is, the person in Ogun, the person in Sokoto, they will get power at the same time. So, these are issues with our energy policy in this country.

Even the ministers you are seeing now are only interested in tariffs that should be left for the regulatory commission and the companies. Because if you have privatized, why would a minister be talking about tariff? Why are you arguing about it and other people’s business?

When they privatized, we told them, ‘You are privatizing what is not available. You took what belongs to the government and gave it to people who don’t have money, who took money from the banks. And we ask you, which experience do they have? There’s no foreign direct investment (FDI), no technical competence, no managerial ability. And they then took more loans from Nigerian banks to buy Nigerian electricity which created a liquidity problem. Eventually, they couldn’t pay their loans. Today, 80 per cent of the discos have been taken over by banks.

Are banks trained to run the electricity sector? What exactly is the policy on ground. Those are some of the challenges you have in the energy sector/power sector.

Even if you do not want to follow the rest of the world in exploring green energy, the coal deposit in Enugu, Kogi and Benue is enough to generate sufficient power for Nigeria.

Nigeria is not diversifying, and it is affecting us, particularly in this era of climate change.

Is democracy paying off in Nigeria?

Nigeria has bought into democracy and none of us would want anything that would affect this democratic dispensation. I was a journalist during the Abacha era and I was among the few that were detained because of how strongly we challenged the then government. So, I know what it means for us to have our freedom. Given our history, no one would want us to go back to the era of dictatorship. If we have a dictatorship, the first victims are the trade unions and the media.

But the extent to which the operators of this democracy have imbibed the tenets of democracy is questionable. They all seem to only be interested in money. I can tell you when Thabo Mbeki came here to meet some of us with activist background and insisted that we participate. Journalists fought the dictatorship seriously then.

But when it comes to democracy, the story changes and people go behind. I was more popular than Jonathan in this country before democracy came, but he has been president of Nigeria. Some of the governors were living in the US and UK when we were suffering here. They came back and have assumed several positions.

We do not have a succession plan, we do not do mentorship, so anyone can come and take any position in government without vetting their background.

Furthermore, Democracy in Nigeria is very expensive. I think we should consider going back to the parliamentary system of government and even make it part-time. A person from any profession can be in parliament.

If parliament is to have a serious engagement one week in a month, that professional can get someone to replace him while he focuses on serious affairs in parliament. Even if it is just allowances, after this period, he takes it and go back. However, what we are seeing with the type of democracy practised in Nigeria is government officials with very fat salaries and unnecessary allowances and then there are people who argue that N615,000 Minimum wage is too much.

Also, we have to do job analysis and job evaluation before anything. In Nigeria, people stay in government for years without saying a word or doing anything significant, yet they receive huge salaries. Ordinarily, democracy is good, but in Nigeria, elections are rigged, and the choice of the people are not the actual people in power is another matter entirely.

What is your take on Chinese treatment of Nigerian workers amid poor welfare and minimal/inadequate pay package to them?

This is a big concern to every Nigerian not just Labour because if a Nigerian is humiliated, all of us would feel it. But Labour has been fighting whenever and wherever we get such information.

However, there is serious collaboration with Nigerians, particularly among those up there in government. Our quota system, in terms of bringing in workers that can work in Nigeria have been violated. In companies, we see even janitors being brought in from other countries to work in Nigeria. That is totally against Nigerian Employment Laws. Only expatriate roles specifically in those areas where we do not have Nigerians who can fill-in are allowed. These days we see roles as little as security men and janitors being imported from China. Who are the people doing this; those in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, immigration and some other government institutions.

Some trade unions are not left out in the blame. There are trade Unions that know where those Chinese are operating, and they do not insist that we unionize them. It is only when they are unionized that we will have improved conditions of service. That is why the issue of wages comes up. Some Unions collect what we call protection fees. If you collect that, and do not allow Unionization in that place, these are some of the things that you will see. You will hear things like, we just started business, give us 10 years or Moratorium before we start unionizing. That is a lie. Somebody’s check off dues is not Moratorium. It is based on what they earn. You don’t equally collect even the check off dues without unionizing them.

By mere identifying and giving us information about the operations of a Chinese company, whether they are doing well or not, the NLC wades in, get some of its executives to know what they are doing there and how workers are faring.

Also, the Labour Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Labour seems to have collapsed. They no longer monitor standards, both safety and operational standards. In those days, before you start a factory, Labour inspectors come around to check it and they come periodically to ensure standards are followed.

But the Chinese are equally giving Nigeria a lot of loans. When you keep on collecting their loans, it makes you open your borders so wide and there are things you cannot say no to. If you check the amount that Nigeria is owing China, it is unimaginable. You cannot stop such a country from doing business in Nigeria. And it has been on for long even in previous administrations including when they wanted to take over our railway stations, concessioning and all that. Again, these loans are being renegotiated and the interest on them is getting even higher.