By Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Gboyega Akinsanmi and Saka Ibrahim
Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola has said he cannot be stampeded into paying a national minimum wage he did not participate in negotiating and for which the fund to pay is not provided.
Also, the Kebbi State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the state government to expedite action to give effect to the payment of the N18,000 national minimum wage which it said workers in the state have not been receiving.
Fashola, who made the declaration at the Lagos State Stadium, Onikan venue of this year’s celebration of Workers’ Day yesterday, referred to item 34 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution that gives the Federal Government the power to legislate on minimum wage, saying the central government’s power ends with fixing of the wage.
He argued that states should be left to decide what they could afford to pay over the minimum wage to any cadre of workers.
“We have complied with the minimum wage since January 2011 long before it was signed into law. We should be left to decide what more we can afford to pay over the minimum to any cadre of worker,” he said.
Quoting copiously from the speech he delivered at May Day 2011, Fashola said it was unfortunate that not much had changed to review his stance that, “without sound economic policies and aggressive response to some of the problems, the salary increase that followed the implementation of the Belgore Commission may soon amount to no more than a victory at a battle and loss at war for organised labour”.
Giving a hint on a new revenue formula being canvassed by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Fashola said: “We must be bold and audacious to demand a reform of our current federal structure with even greater vigour than was used to secure the wage increase.”
According to him, “the reality is that not all the states will be able to pay the new wage structure unless there is an urgent amendment of the country’s revenue allocation formula that gives more money to the states and local governments.
“I have been privileged to serve as the chairman of a committee of the NGF set up to propose an amendment of the revenue allocation formula with the governors of Adamawa, Enugu, Niger, Rivers and Sokoto States as members. We have concluded our deliberations and produced a report proposing an amendment of the revenue allocation formula such that the Federal Government of Nigeria now gets 35 per cent; states, 42 per cent; and local governments, 23 per cent.”
The governor also expressed pessimism over the Federal Government’s recent decision to allow states distribute power, saying the resolve, as it stands, might not yield meaningful outcome, citing constitutional bottlenecks and dearth of manpower as constraints.
He specifically cited article 14 (b) of the concurrent legislative list in the 1999 Constitution as a major constraint, which he said, might undermine the Federal Government’s intent to allow states distribute power.
The article states thus: “A House of Assembly may make laws for the State with respect to the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to areas not covered by a national grid system within that state.”
He sought clarification on whether the public was aware of the areas not covered by the national grid in a gazette or such other reliable public document and whether those types of areas would be financially viable to attract private investments for the states to partner?
He therefore observed that the euphoria generated by the Federal Government’s decision “will soon evaporate unless immediate and positive action is taken to give expression to that intent”.
Fashola gave other reasons, which according to him, might incapacitate state governments to distribute power as the Federal Government recently revealed as parts of its power reform plan.
He mentioned the capacity of state governments, which he observed, apparently “lacks the institutional strength, human resource or the financial capacity to set up and operate distributions companies”.
He added that power distribution “is an area where the private sector has demonstrated undoubted capacity and experience both locally and internationally. So, the success of any power distribution company will depend on the ability of states to partner the private sector”.
The May Day celebration in the state, which was jointly organised by the state chapters of the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) had the theme, “Right to Work, Food and Education: Panacea to Insecurity,” was attended by affiliates of both organisations and featured a march past by the various unions.
Lagos State Chairman of the NLC, Mr. Idowu Adelakun, said every society faces the fundamental challenge of creating a political, economic and social system that promotes peace, human welfare and the sustainability of the environment on which life depends.
The ceremony was witnessed by Senator Remi Tinubu, Mr. Femi Falana, Head of Service, and Lagos State, Mr. Adesegun Ogunlewe, among other dignitaries.
Meanwhile, the Kebbi State NLC Chairman, Comrade Sadiq Sambo Kaoje, in his May Day speech said: “As you are all aware, the issue of minimum wage in the state has not been concluded due to the situation we find ourselves on the issue.
“Permit me at this juncture to express the congress’ dismay on the way and manner the state government is handling the issue with particular reference to the recent withdrawal of the earlier approval given on the implementation of the minimum wage.”
He said the other demands of the NLC included payment of annul increment for three years to the affected category of workers; update of records of National Housing Fund (NHF) deduction by the Ministry of Finance to enable workers have access to their individual accounts and continuation of car loan disbursement in the state and extension of same gesture to workers in the local government services and primary school teachers; and provision of befitting secretary for the congress, among others.
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