The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu has declared that ordinary Nigerians, who are direct beneficiaries of the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan, want the president to continue in office beyond 2015.
The minister, in this interview culled from VANGUARD, also articulates the challenges he has faced and sheds more light on the ongoing strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities.
What is the relationship between the working class and the leadership of the country?
Cordial. Despite what has happened in the education sector with respect to ASUU where discussions are ongoing, but because of the labour friendly president we have and what we have been able to do with the support of the president in the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, we have been able to achieve cordiality between the tripartite partners, which include labour, employers and government.
So, the relationship between these three partners in the tripartite arrangement is cordial and effective. A lot of changes which we have brought into the ministry, moving the paradigm shift from adversarial approach in labour administration to a more developmental approach is yielding results.
That is why you have less strikes, less of shut outs and all that and we have been very proactive in matters concerning labour unions and employers and government.
But why has the ASUU strike lingered on?
ASUU is one of the unions in the education sector. Apart from ASUU, you have the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union; you have the National Association of Staff Unions; the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, among others. ASUU prior to the inception of this administration has had strikes that in some cases lasted six months and it has been an intractable problem in the education sector.
But when Mr. President came in, he came in with the purpose of revamping the education sector and putting an end to the incessant strikes in that sector and it is on record that what led to the present strike was an agreement entered into in 2009 and the current position now is that government has been discussing with ASUU and has commenced the implementation of that agreement after a committee was put in place for implementation. Again to show good faith, a committee of the Federal Government headed by the governor of Benue State was put in place to implement the needs assessment report of the earlier committee set up by the minister of education.
Then, there was the government side led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, I am a member of that committee including the Suswam Committee. These committees were all put in place with the sole purpose of implementing that 2009 agreement despite some noticeable difficulties with the agreement. So, first of all, government agreed to implement it and to invoke a particular paragraph of that agreement that has given powers to both parties to sit down and renegotiate.
So, if ASUU calls off the strike based on the level of implementation…implementation is not foreclosed, it is a continuous thing and it is the same Federal Government that set up the Needs Assessment Committee that went round the universities in the country and found out that there is a big rot. And part of cleaning up the Augean Stable was to set up an implementation committee and the initial N100 billion has been pumped in and distributed among the universities according to their needs.
So, need is one important fact in this whole issue. Then another one that has become contentious is Earned Allowances. By the nomenclature, the allowances must be earned. So, it is the function of the university councils to determine who has earned what and for what period.
So, government has made an initial disbursement of N30 billion according to universities and what we were expecting to get is a feedback. Assuming University XYZ got so, so amount of money, the issue is was it enough to offset what had been earned by the university teachers in that university? If it is yes, then are there outstandings? If the answer is no, then you know that they have fully discharged.
If there are balances coming out as a result of payment then you know that what was disbursed to them was actually more than what they need. So, I think that is the next thing we should be talking about in addition to getting lecturers to go back to school. However, one thing is that the striking university lecturers, students, the Nigerian public and government, everybody is agreed on the fact that there is need for this strike to stop.
So, despite the divergent opinion about the level of implementation of the agreement, there is convergence of opinion among everybody involved in the signing of the agreement and even those outside on the need to call off the strike.
Some have insinuated a political colouration to the strike. What is your perspective on this?
In all aspects of life, whether it is domestic, whether it is in the church or community or union administration, there are bound to be politics in everything we do. But because of the secularity of Nigeria and democracy you cant stop anybody from…My own take is that sensitive unions, and in fact some unions that are intellectually inclined like ASUU should be insulated from politics. Their members should insulate themselves from politics because when we had a bipolar arrangement in the world when you were either a Marxist or a capitalist, most of them tended to be Marxists, but we have gone beyond that and I think the best thing is for ASUU members to insulate their members from politics.
Given the situation in the country, do you think workers would want a continuation of the administration?
Let me begin by saying that all our policies are pro-workers, pro Nigeria. What people don’t understand is that the majority of patriotic Nigerians are found among the working class. What you see is that people who have access to media and the people you call the elites are the people who are in the struggle for power. But the common man on the street, the commuter who commutes by train from Kano to Lagos is so happy with this administration and they are rooting and yearning for Mr. President to continue beyond 2015 as their president.
The people who ply the roads are so happy with Mr. President. The man who had not received fertiliser for a long time is so happy with Mr. President’s transformation agenda with respect to agriculture. Ditto power. When you go to areas that were well known for Okada business you will find out that they have all abandoned it and gone back to lucrative businesses because they now have energy. Go from Aba through Uyo, Onitsha, Asaba you will find out that people have gone back to what they used to do. Since you came in here, the light has not blinked and if you go to places like Umuahia, Aba, there is an improvement in energy supply and there is a push to get it even better.And when these things are happening and as Minister of Labour and Productivity, the impact on the Nigerian economy is that more jobs are being created. So, Nigerians are happy and even the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme which has about eight components are all labour intensive. They have created jobs.
The Community Service and Women and Youth Empowerment which is domiciled in my ministry has created 3,000 jobs in each of the 36 states and the FCT. We are at the verge of recruiting an additional 2,000 each when we sort out the budgetary difficulties we are currently facing. The maternal component of SURE-P is another one that is creating jobs. So, because government has put in the best policies that have stimulated growth in the private sector, a lot of jobs are being created. It is because of the policies that have been put in place that you have the private sector players like the Dangotes setting up industries that will employ thousands of jobs, you also have Inoson Motors in Nnewi and also, you see the textile companies are returning because of the current injection of funds by Mr. President. You also have this ongoing campaign buy Nigeria, create jobs. So, for me, all the furniture in my house were all made in Lagos by a Nigerian company and so, I am proud I am patronising Nigerian made goods.