Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, former Edo State governor and former Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) spoke to journalists on the side-line of this year’s May Day celebration at the Eagle Square.

In the chat, Comrade Oshiomhole was also brutally frank on a number of issues, particularly on the noticeable lethargy, inactivity, and the seeming lack of constructive engagement or clear absence of alternative viewpoints by the NLC on a number of social and economic issues, most particularly on the non-implementation of the minimum wage by many states. While Comrade Oshiomhole did not once mention anybody by name, he leaves no one in doubt as to whom and what he meant. Below is the transcript of Comrade Oshiomhole’s views, in his own words!

I think people need to understand that the word celebration is not in terms of the conventional way you celebrate when life is abundant, when you are happy and stuff like that. The essence of May Day is simply to recognise that at the beginning of industrial revolution, the world order was such that the worker was not allowed to combine with another worker in order to protest his interest, and you cannot compare the power of an individual to the power of an employer or the power of a government.

So May Day is basically to celebrate all the sacrifices made by workers more than 150 years ago to just had the right to speak with one voice and to challenge government as an employer and even challenge it as operator of state as well as challenge private sector employers. That is what it is meant, that right exists. It is not to suggest that people are happy that life is in abundance.

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Every country created by God has enough to meet the basic needs of everyone, but no country on earth has enough to meet the greed of a few. It must be clear to NLC that sermon will not change it; we have to organise, we will not agonise, we have to fight, we will not wallow in self-pity, we have to target and close down on them. How can anybody tell; even the time we spent rationalising minimum wage.

You can’t be happy when, according to the statistics, so many people are unemployed and it just mean that there is tension on the few who are employed, in the absence of unemployment benefits, every day that somebody lost his job, it means that another worker has to take up that burden.

And I also believe that we cannot continue to lament the crises that we face, they can be fixed and they have to be fixed.

I cannot accept, for example, that we will continue to rely on imported textile fabrics. If Nigeria provides for the clothing requirement of 200 million people, you will have more than 10 million Nigerian workers employed directly. By the time you add the traders and the others, tailors at garment factories, it will even be more.

I do not accept that all the vehicles here, and all the vehicles on the roads in Nigeria, that we have come to accept that Michelin can relocate from Nigeria to another place and sell Michelin finished tyres to us for us to put in our vehicles. You know, I cannot accept that we have taken it as a given that Dunlop is gone but their products will be imported to Nigeria. We do need radical industrial policies; this is not the time for diplomacy! It is time for frank, bold action; think big and act even bigger.

I don’t believe that we can lament and wallow in self-pity and people will change what they do because they will have mercy.

I believe we will reorder the system when we make it impossible for all the iniquities to continue to flourish. You know, I have my own views as to; you know, a lot of things.

You know, if I hadn’t become the President of the NLC, my textile factory had closed, which means I would have been unemployed and I’m not sure what would have happened to my children and even now, my grandchildren. So, I have no difficulties in understanding the challenge that we face.

We also have to recognise that on the 30 million something or 33 per cent that people talk about, the real challenge that I see is the fact that many of these guys are simply not going to be employable because they were not educated. We cannot accept that Nigeria is the capital of out of school children. How can governors explain that? I was a governor. I ensured that every subsidy that the federal government provided for the universal basic education that Edo State government under my watch paid the corresponding match to ensure that not only that do we have good schools; but that children have access to be able to go to school; we even provided free transportation.

Now, when people say they don’t have money, talking about minimum wage for example, I have seen a lawyer who registered a company for 250 million naira in this country, when naira was about, that 250 million naira was more than 2 million dollars. A country that can afford to give one lawyer like that, that same lawyer is writing every day that minimum wage is not realistic.

You know, a governor that buys a Toyota Landcruiser for whatever is the price is in Sokoto, in Kaduna, in Edo, in Rivers, in Zamfara, in Lagos; when they are buying those vehicles, do they tell their marketers; please sell according to the ability of my state? They pay the market price; so why will you selectively apply this very dubious logic of ability? Nobody has ability for anything except what you believe in, and nobody has resources for anything except what you regard as a priority. You know, you cannot have a National Assembly that has taken so much. Every day, every week, every month, and on that floor of the National Assembly, somebody is questioning why a Nigerian worker should ask for 60 dollars for 30 days, which is about 2 dollars a day.

We have to re-engage and for me I am a believer that if you are at the top of a mango tree and you are feasting at the top of the mango tree and I am on the ground, and you are trampling on my head, I may have to grab your feet.

So, I believe Nigeria is fine but the only thing I worry about is the resurgence of ethnic champions, ethnic champions and even religious bigots who now partition the country in a way that the ruling class unite in comfort but they go back to their localities and play up primordial sentiments.

You know, I argued just two days ago that if there is going to be rotation or division or whatever or if there is going to be fight between anybody, it cannot be between northern, southern, eastern and western; it has to be between the poor and the rich, these are the two classes, you know it, you cover the nation, so when you oppress your own people and they ask you question, you point to the other tribe or you point to your religion. All these are not the issues.

I think that the beauty of the Nigeria Labour Congress and of organised national platform such as this is that they are organised across all the divides regardless of religion, regardless of any of those primordial sentiments, and we need more of those national institutions. It hurts me, for example, that anybody who has had opportunity like me; I was once President of Nigeria Congress speaking for all workers.

Any governor who failed to implement the law should not just be challenged by mouth, he should be engaged! That is what I believe in! I don’t believe it’s about words, because these governors could decide to wear ear mask, but you can shut them down, we have the power. That’s why we organised labour not to lament, not to regret; not to appeal to emotion, but to face anybody who faces us. Any governor who refused to pay N30,000 should not sleep, he should not. Not for one month, not for two months; and any employer in the private sector too!

Anybody who has had the opportunity to be a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has no right to begin to question the unity of our country. Anyone who has been a national player; and those talking today are precisely the people who are responsible for the structure as it is today.

Whatever we want to do, we must recognise that in every state, in every local government, in every community, we have the good people, we have the bad people and I want Nigerian workers to organise across all the primordial sentiments and become a force capable not only speaking or talking but also asserting and preventing bad governance. We can’t accept any Nigerian governor today refusing to implement the minimum wage; he should not go to bed.

President Buhari said, and I don’t think you could have more support than that, to governors, how do you sleep Mr Governors when you have not paid your workers salaries for one month, two months, three months, six months? If I had a Commander-in-Chief saying that, I don’t need any other license to shut down any of those states that refused to perform. If your state is not capable and competent to meet the most basic social protection, then why should you exist? Meanwhile we can see the governor with all social protection, with all the luxuries; how come that the worker cannot have it. I was a governor, so I am not talking out of envy.

When I was governor, I increased the minimum wage to 25 thousand naira when some governors said 18 thousand naira was not possible, so I know from my own experience.

Every country created by God has enough to meet the basic needs of everyone, but no country on earth has enough to meet the greed of a few. It must be clear to NLC that sermon will not change it; we have to organise, we will not agonise, we have to fight, we will not wallow in self-pity, we have to target and close down on them. How can anybody tell; even the time we spent rationalising minimum wage.

If a right wing NPN government created minimum wage and military dictators implemented it, how can APC government-dominated National Assembly even tolerate that motion, that for me was an insult and very embarrassing, that an APC-dominated House of Representatives presided over by APC progressive speaker! Do we know the meaning of progressive?

When Shagari introduced the minimum wage, Governor, of blessed memory, Governors Balarabe Musa [of Kaduna State] and Abubakar Rimi of Kano decided that PRP will pay better than NPN and they decided to pay N127. That N2 they said was to show that they were progressives, right?

The last time I had the opportunity to talk to progressive governors in Jos, I said to them, for Nigerians to know the difference between progressives and conservatives, it will be my joy to see that every progressive governor would be the first to pay. So it cannot be something that we’ll be discussing.

You see President Biden, Nigerians are always talking about American federalism, American federalism! Can they borrow from American president now who said that to overcome the devastating consequences of Covid-19, that they have to stimulate the purchasing power of ordinary workers not only by giving them cheques as they did but also now voting huge sums of money to deploy it to infrastructure so that more people can be engaged. Economics is not rocket science, it is substantial common-sense and it’s about will; it’s about values…

Any governor who failed to implement the law should not just be challenged by mouth, he should be engaged! That is what I believe in! I don’t believe it’s about words, because these governors could decide to wear ear mask, but you can shut them down, we have the power. That’s why we organised labour not to lament, not to regret; not to appeal to emotion, but to face anybody who faces us. Any governor who refused to pay N30,000 should not sleep, he should not. Not for one month, not for two months; and any employer in the private sector too!

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