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Labour’ll fight governors who refuse to pay minimum wage – Akpatason

Peter Akpatason is the member representing Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency, Edo State at the lower chamber of the National Assembly. The former president, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, spoke with our correspondent, Onazena Abbey on the proposed minimum wage, President Muhammadu Buhari’s chances in the 2019 general election, amongst others.

Organised labour is currently threatening fire and brimstone over the non implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage. What’s your take on this?

First of all, we must distinguish between what is appropriate and what is doable. For me, an average Nigerian worker should not take home less than N50,000 monthly, talking about what is appropriate. But, however, I want to be realistic, I don’t think that just now this is achievable. Some of the states are very poor not because they are designed to be poor. The wage bill of many states in the country is so high that any little adjustment can throw them off balance.

However, a critical look at that wage bill will reveal lots of infractions. The government, beginning from President (Goodluck) Jonathan’s time with the efforts of (Ngozi) Okonjo-Iweala, lots of ghost workers were discovered but I believed we still have a lot of them in ministries and parastatals of government. If you take that numbers out, the wage bill will definitely go down and states would have more money and capacity to pay workers and pensioners but I m not sure much has been done to that effect, particularly at states level.

The reason is that the actors, who are responsible for checking those excesses, are people who are actually committing the fraud. When the thief is made the gate keeper you should expect all sorts of unethical things to happen. He is the thief; he is the one that watches over the premises.

So, it is going to be free for all, This is exactly what is happening in the ministries and parastatals because these ghost workers indeed exist, but there is somebody who own these ghost workers and such persons are government officials who are custodian of government facilities where these criminal activities are taken place. The money goes into the pockets of these individuals. If you talk about biometrics for instance, they will do everything to frustrate you.

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More so because they are smart thieves, they can do anything to get somebody for them to come and do biometrics. That person will get some percentage of what is coming, but that money will go into somebody else’s account. So, this is how smart they are and the government has not been able to dig deep into these criminal activities

Some state governors have already expressed their inability to pay the new minimum wage?

Leave the governors with labour. We will join forces with labour to deal with the governors that refuse to pay. When I say deal with, I don’t mean we are going to fight but labour and organised civil society will take them to task because they do all sorts of things that make it difficult for them to pay and we have to begin to look at all these. There must be frugality in the management of the resources of the state; there must be transparency.

But if you don’t show that level of transparency, nobody is going to listen to you. I know that the next stage of the whole thing is that there is going to be battle at the state level. I am happy my state is not going to be one of such states. I would like to recommend Edo State approach to other states.

Edo is obviously not one of the rich states in the federation but Edo’s minimum wage is the highest in the country. We are doing N25,000 per cent, while other states in the federation are doing 18. Now if it is moved to N30,000, I believe my governor will do the needful. So, others must begin to work out modalities to achieve that, otherwise they will face crisis.

Your victory at the APC primary triggered protests and tension in Akoko Edo. What are you doing to reach out to aggrieved persons?

Akoko Edo is quite peaceful; the people are happy with the situation as it is just now. A lot of people have come to terms with the reality and have decided to move on. As a result of that, working in concert with the leadership of the party in the state, reconciliation committees have been put in place as well as campaign committee and efforts are on towards getting reconciliation across board so that people would not be seeing themselves as belonging to one group or the other.

We believe that harmony and internal cohesion are necessary not only to be able to win election at the legislative level, but to be able to win maximum votes and deliver block votes to President Mohammadu Buhari in the 2019 general election come February. We are aware that Edo State for now is the only APC state in the south south and just as it has happened in some other parts of the country; we desire to make sure that more states are delivered to the party.

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So, we are doing everything in our power to be able to deliver on that. This move is one of the efforts we are making to get the people to be able to appreciate the need to work together to get the best that is possible so that others will emulate.

What do the people of your constituency stand to benefit from your third term ambition?

To start with, in the parliament ranking, one is respected. A ranked member of the House is respected by the leadership. He is respected by the authority; he has access to lots of opportunities. Beyond the traditional zonal intervention envelopes for constituency projects, a ranked member, a third time member or more, because we have people who are in their fifth term as we speak, these people are able to influence bigger and more meaningful projects to their constituencies. In most cases, these highly ranked people are either leaders or chairmen of committees that provide certain opportunities for empowering the constituencies. So, in my own case, I believe my third term is going to be maximum blessings to my constituency as a whole and also to individual constituents.

We will be able to empower more people, we will be able to attract more and better projects and we will be able to get more agencies of government to pay attention to our constituencies. As a third timer, I want to believe that it will be easier for me to pursue the implementation of the School of Mines and Geological Sciences that is to be established in Akoko Edo, Edo State, which bill has been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and has been sent to the president for assent. I thank God for that. I equally thank everybody who has been helpful to that effect and also Mr. Governor who has also graciously promised to get the bill assented to by the president and also to ensure implementation.

You know the governor is somebody that likes education, especially the technical and vocational aspects of education. He is supporting me and I believe with that, the project will be a success. So, these are many of the things I’m looking up to in terms of employment opportunities.

As a leader, as a committee chairman, as a ranked person, you stand a better chance of ensuring better opportunities for your people. That is one area l personally feel that the 8th Assembly has not been able to address probably because of the hostility between the legislators and the executive, which actually is not supposed to be.

I believe in the 9th Assembly, the situation is going to change because I believe that government has begun to appreciate the need to collaborate rather than to begin to antagonise ourselves. So, I’m very hopeful we will be able to create more jobs and give jobs opportunity to the people

Considering the economic and security challenges facing the country, do you think President Buhari has a chance of winning the February 2019 Presidential election?

Well, there are challenges for everybody, even at the local level. Anybody who is facing election should know it is not a tea party. Winning election is a function of your strategy and approach to the issues. We have always had excellent approach to issues of campaign and all that.

So, nothing has changed. We are going to deploy same approach and strategy to ensure that the people are properly sensitised. I know there is lot of misinformation in town. Some persons have been misinformed to believe that Mr. President is either a religious bigot, you know, there are a lot of stories all over the place. The social media has been agog with all sorts of fake news about Mr. President and all that. But what I have seen from my own analysis is that this is only trending amongst the elite.

The people out there who are the actual voters most of them don’t even have access to these social media. A lot of people have seen the works that are ongoing. A lot of people have seen how Mr. President has been able to distribute projects across the country, even some parts of the country who did not vote for him. The economy went into recession and he was able to get it out of recession. That is a feat people must appreciate and today the economy has begun to appreciate.

So, we have a lot to campaign with and I believe with that seriousness and grassroots campaign, we will be able to persuade our supporters.