INTERVIEW: Why should there be a national minimum wage – Agbakoba
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate and former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in this media chat with journalists bore his mind on various national issues affecting the nation. SHOLA ADEFUWA, was there. Excerpt;
Nigeria Governors recently said they can no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage, is this part of the elites’ conspiracy?
No, I think that is a different thing, the problem is that the governors can’t pay and it also strikes me as absurd that there is one national minimum wage because I can tell you, in some parts of the North food is very cheap.
You can’t say you will pay everybody N18,000 as minimum wage and I found it absurd in the national conference, I sat next to the Deputy President of labor and I thought he would support the devolution of labor as a national issue, it is for various governors discussing with their labor to decide what they can pay, why should it be a national issue? Why should there be a national minimum wage? You pay what is relevant to local situations.
The National Human Rights day has come and gone but since the advent of democracy in 1999, human rights crusade is no longer what it used to be. What would you say has gone wrong?
What’s gone wrong is that things have changed, in 1991, I was a big opposition in the country because all the ambassadors were very happy to ask me what I thought about this, about that, we led the opposition movement across Africa to various regional, European, commonwealth, in fact, the last one we went was in Oakland. So there was that relevance of human rights because there wasn’t anything else, there was a military government versus the people therefore, we had that role because the human rights was actually more limited than what we have in Nigeria but, we expanded it because of the role we had to carry at the time now, by 1998 politicians came and the real challenge was whether we would want to cross over into politics, we made a mistake not to have crossed, in not crossing, nobody elected me anyway but, the man who is elected from the constituency is the person who represents you and should do all those things that I felt called upon to do when there was nobody.
So, you are taking far too much on the shoulders of the human rights actors, I think as today they would be as relevant as they were when there was a need for them to do it that is the general issue but don’t forget that we also have specialised kinds of issues and struggles, I mean Oby Ezekwesili has led the bring back our girls, there is the budget issue, there is the issue of enough is enough so, the debate has continued but not under the same name, the current name now for activism is governance and we have a lot of them talking about governance, making sure that things are well monitored so it continues but in a different way.
What prompted you to write President Buhari again?
This is end of the year to reflect on how far our new government has settled down. We all know that there has been state of anomy, nothing is really working in the minds of the people, the President has finally set up a cabinet of basically technical people in my opinion who have a strong mind to deliver on infrastructures, the economy and the soft institutions, what we now need to see as they settle down into office is the product of agenda of government in the first quarter of 2016.
There is already a supplementary budget and 2016 budget is the highest budget ever, it is between N6 to N8 trillion. The government said it would focus on primarily social democratic issues that promotes issue and policy and it has already got a huge chunk of issues to deal with benefits, giving money to disadvantaged members of the society, people who are unemployed even though it is difficult to say how that will be achieved and who are likely to be the beneficiaries among the 25 million Nigerians, quite how that will be arranged remains to be seen. My view is that apart from the late Chief Awolowo, this is the first time I am seeing a government based on ideology.
Nigeria essentially runs a corporatist state policy where the government favors the rich, the departure here is that the government has identified itselt as a left of the center, this is the first time we are having such and anyone who is familiar with the left of center parties will know that the left of center delivers benefits at the bottom and I have heard vice president Yemi Osinbajo repeatedly say we will legalise chapter two of the constitution that deals with social welfare but are not enforceable in the court. I think those are very fantastic and lofty ideas that need to be supported.
How would you assess this administration’s fight against corruption. There are suggestions that the President is using the anti-graft agency to fight political opponents. What is your view?
The war on corruption even though not well clarified in my view, is the most serious attempt to deal with people who have stolen public funds in this country even though it can still be better institutionalised. I think it represent the most far reaching concrete attempt to tackle it and it should be applauded.
In order to then shift programme of government from right of center to the left of center, we have people who opposed it and it is not the common man that opposed it, it is often the elites so, I have classified those people as the conspirators, those who want business to continue as usual and I might say that I am an elite and that I suffer greatly from the impact of the tight foreign exchange restriction, our law firm cannot remit funds, you can’t believe it, we are owing things like five hundred pounds to pay for subscription but that is the sacrifice that I am ready to undertake because people have abused the system and what they want is business as usual.
I think it would summarise what this government is going to do, mark you, it hasn’t done it, I make no judgment as to whether the government has succeeded, I am certainly making comment that if you review where we are and compare it to the government of the past, what are we likely to say without any equivocation as a left of center man anyway, all through my public life I have been a left of center person and I make no apology about that, whilst I am happy to have money, I am not happy to have it to the exclusion of about 180 million Nigerians who are hungry, why should I be a rich man when everybody around me is so poor, it makes no sense.
So if there are crosses of equalising our natural resources which is what the government intend to do then I would have to support it but, this conspirators you will find in both APC and PDP and I can assure you that if there is the possibility of PDP returning to power and there is a very strong likelihood that it would succeed, 70 per cent of politicians in APC will cross over to PDP. That is how non-ideological our political parties have been so when you have parties that are not driven by ideology but by their pockets, when they then see that what this government intends to do is to shut them out from the usual largesse and patronage, they are not going to be happy so, they are the ones that are making the president look bad that is not to say that the president couldn’t have done things better for instance, the delay in appointing his cabinet ought to have been faster, lack of clarification of what he’s doing, I don’t see why he has Femi Adesina and Garba Sheu as press secretaries which is not done anywhere else. Either Femi or Garba should be president secretary reporting the president diary and the other one is reporting the government activity. The government said it has recovered a lot of loot running into about ten trillion naira why must we, those of us that are informed, have access to information that ought to be in public domain? The government has not communicated enough and that failure to communicate that gives the impression that people are not clear where the president is going.
What do you mean by communication lethargy?
In my view, the government has all of the attributes I have described which is a people driven government so, if you ask Nigerians what do you think about President Buhari? Some would say the man is not doing anything, some would say that he has integrity, some would say he is too slow. We shouldn’t have that communication gap if someone is saying what the government is trying to do. I understand that because I have taken the pains to find out, by the way, I wasn’t a Buhari fan at all, so I am the last person to get behind him but, neither was I a Jonathan’s fan because I was close to Jonathan and I regret he missed opportunities because at the time I used to say to him, “You are behind”, he didn’t understand it, I remember one Saturday I came from Ivory Coast and I told him, I can say it because that is the truth, one thing I am happy about is that not a single Nigerian politician has given me a dime neither have I benefitted any penny from any government activity for example, presidential flood committee, national conference so, you know what I am now? I am a free man, I can talk, I can face anybody and say how much have you given me? So I can say it, Jonathan made a strategic error, he had a chance to continue and that is it, he had a number of lofty ideas, this TSA is his idea but, they sat on their fannings, they sat on their asses doing nothing and blew their chances. So, now come Buhari a more austere person. Jonathan’s government was flamboyant, immediately the conspirators would be affected.
Hilton hotel is no longer free, Hilton hotel is now running at 50 per cent empty that is the problem. So, all the jollification is gone, you think they would like Buhari? That is the problem. Do people know what you are doing? Because if they know they would be in love with it, they would say keep the money there, let it be in TSA, don’t allow it to be stolen, oh, so what you want is for it to be stolen? Now that it is in the TSA, we can then ask, since you speak for the president can’t you advise him to also spend the money. That is the communication I am referring to, the man is packing the money so, do you prefer the old one where there was nothing at all?
President Olusegun Obasanjo demolished toll gates across the country and now this administration is trying to build same toll gates across our roads. Is there no way we can make government accountable to the people?
This is the conspiracy of the elites, whether they are traditional rulers you jumped there, you go and cover them, you make them look important, they come to churches and occupy the pews, these are people who should actually be afraid to come out but they are not afraid because they are adored and sanctified. The only man in religion who speaks the truth is Rev. Fr. Mbaka, all others were laying hands, how come the country is so poor, I don’t know what the statistics are but I think it is about 70 million people poor, all I hear are how pastors, chiefs, lay hands on people and part with our money and you are the ones who promote it.
Those are parts of the conspiracy, they will take the money and they will dine and wine with political elites, the business elites, the men of cloths, the traditional rulers and you will report them in packaged newspaper handouts and we glorify them when we should be asking them to leave the seat. Obasanjo is so adored and glorified by the media yet he has absolutely no values, his time is gone, he should go to commonwealth heads of government, AU meetings and create a foundation like Jimmy Carter who is 90 years old or Bill Clinton who has the Global Initiative.
That is the area, not for him to be contesting for political space, he has been president once and twice, what again? Have you seen what has come out with the scandalous money meant to fight boko haram? And it has not even started, we have not gone into how oil money was looted. That is why these people cannot leave, they are prepared to kill their friends and mothers to be there that is the challenge, it is so deep that I am shocked you are all ignorant, you don’t understand that these people are the ones holding the country, they would not allow it to shift, you think they want national conference? They don’t want a national conference, they want everything to be in confusion so that they can continue. Why shouldn’t the governor of Anambra state be able to run his affairs without interference from Abuja but, it won’t happen.
What is your take on the constitutional crisis that the recently conducted gubernatorial elections threw up. Who do you think should be the governor of Kogi state?
I got phone calls while I was on my way outside the country to Malta and journalists were asking me this question and I said to myself that our media has become insensitive to the fact that somebody died. How can someone die and the question you are asking me is, who will succeed him? You are not interested in the fact that the man died, you are interested in who will succeed him, shame on you people in the media, a man had died, I thought you will be calling to ask me what I think of the death of Audu no, you are interested in who will succeed him. His son joined the race, is it a hereditry position? You know why we can kill our mothers for power here?
Rotimi Amaechi got N1billion a month for eight years and that is N12 billion a year multiply it by eight years totalling N96billion allocated to him during his tenure in office that he is not accountable for. Then he uses it to prop up the APC during elections, those are the conspirators, I can assure you that if circumstances made it possible for Jonathan to come back, all these men in APC will decamp that is what the media should focus on.
In the UK, we have the conservatives and we know what they stand for, we have the Labor party, we know what they stand for, David Cameroon will never drop any of the major plan of the Conservative party, he can never sacrifice it and in fairness to him, he is showing results neither will the Labor party drop any of the cardinal programme but in Nigeria because there is no ideology anyway, you will find that happen. It is a shame.