After two days of exchanging brick-bats regarding the 2019 presidential poll, President Muhammadu Buhari met and shook hands with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, on a day the National Council of State approved N27,000 as minimum wage for states and the private sector and the Federal Government saying it would pay N30,000 to federal workers.
Meeting point was the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, where the two leaders joined others to hold the first council of state meeting for 2019.
The Council of State is comprises past presidents and heads of state, Chief Justices of Nigeria, CJN, leadership of the National Assembly, and state governors, among others.
Meanwhile, the Organised Labour has rejected the introduction of disparity in minimum wage for state and federal workers, insiting on N30,000 minimum wage across board.
Apart from minimum wage, the National Council of State also looked at preparations for the 2019 general polls after being briefed by the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Yakubu Mahmood.
Chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, the leaders approved all the arrangements put in place by INEC for the conduct of the forthcoming elections, saying they were satisfactory.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the meeting, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, disclosed that the council also approved the transmission of a new Minimum Wage Bill to the National Assembly.
The Minister, who has been the conciliator between the federal government and labour, stated that the minimum wage benchmark approved by all relevant organs, including the council of state was N27,000, and the federal government resolved to pay N30,000 to federal workers.
He said: "As you are aware, we have had a series of consultations on the new national minimum wage starting from the inauguration of the tripartite committee in September, 2017 by Mr. President.
"This committee was to handle all the issues surrounding the new minimum wage. It made use of laws, constitution, conventions on minimum wage fixing and specialist bodies like the National Bureau of Statistics, NISER and all other bodies that have to do with economic research.
"The Federal Executive Council received the report. After a tortuous debate, at that level, treated it. The National Economic Council comprising the governors and the vice-president chairing, looked at the report and finally today (Tuesday), the council of state.
"These three organs have permitted Mr. President now to transmit to the National Assembly the new National Minimum Wage Bill.
"Thus, in consonance with the fact that the issues of national minimum wage prescription is in the exclusive list, second schedule, item 34 and being on that list, it is not a job that can be done by the executive alone.
"The President has to transmit the bill to the National Assembly and the National Assembly will take legislative action and return the bill that has been so treated to the president for his assent.
"So, a bill will now be transmitted to the National Assembly that will amend the 1981 Act and 2011 Act. The highlight is what you want to know.
"The figure of N27,000 monthly has been approved for transmission to the National Assembly. The frequency of the review of the bill is five years, to get it in consonance with pension law of the federation as enshrined in the constitution.
"Exemptions to this bill will be establishments that are not employing people up to the number of 25. The various times prescribed have also been altered in the bill and will be sent to the National Assembly before the close of work tomorrow (today).
Ngige said that anyone who wanted to pay above the figure like the federal government was free to do so, promising that the bill would be sent to the National Assembly before the close of work today.
Speaking to journalists, Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, said that the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, briefed the council on the organisation's readiness for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Akeredolu said INEC assured council members that it has received adequate funding for the exercise to ensure free, fair and credible polls on February 16 and March 2, 2019.
His words: "The council was briefed by the INEC chairman and the briefing as accepted by everybody was lucid and clear. It was all encompassing. The INEC chairman took the council through all the processes that are going to be followed at the national and state elections.
"In his briefing, he informed the council of the preparedness of INEC and everybody in the council was convinced that INEC was ready for this election. And a lot of things have been put in place and I think we all concluded that it is important for the chairman to even speak to the nation on the preparedness of INEC for this election.
"That would convince all of us that this forthcoming election would be free and fair. And then, the way we see it, they have improved card readers, the details of what have been done to improve it was made known. It was disclosed that the process of continuous voting and accreditation was the best so that when you are accredited, you vote at the same time and leave.
"He also informed the council of the ballot boxes and everything to be used and changed in the ballot boxes. He also informed us that rather using collapsible ballot boxes, they are going to use framed ballot boxes, transparent ones because we have lost so many and a lot have been purchased.
"He also told the council that they are not lacking in terms of finance and that all the money appropriated has been given to them and they are ready for the election. And he went further to inform the council that all training and re-training of every category of staff that they will use have started and they are having consultations with every group of people, religious, artisans and trade unions and so on.
"He informed us that there is no way they are going to go out of the category of people they use for election when it comes to the issue of university vice chancellors, university students at times, and NYSC members. So, everybody was convinced. INEC as at today is ready for the elections. Questions were put, he was interrogated, he responded and gave adequate explanations to the satisfaction of every one of us."
On Obasanjo's allegation against INEC
On Obasanjo's allegation that INEC would not be allowed to conduct credible polls by the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC and the Presidency, Akeredolu said: "The chairman of INEC, without being specific, made a point. And that point is what I want all of us not only in this hall but the whole of Nigeria to note.
"The success of election is not by INEC alone. Election will only be successful with the participation of everybody and that whatever it may be, we must take politics out of the exercise. All of us owe a duty as leaders of our people at least, to be sure that we have confidence in the electoral body and assist the electoral body to succeed.
"I think the message was very clear to everybody. I think that all of us in the hall have heard that look, whatever it is, we have now listened t the chairman of INEC and we are convinced that they are prepared for the election. I am not sure any other person will come out to talk about INEC any longer.
"So, the point has been made, all of us now have our hands on deck to ensure the success because without our participation, and cooperation, INEC itself cannot be successful."
Recall that the New Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee, chaired by the former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Ms. Ama Pepple, had in its report, recommended N30,000 as the benchmark.
This figure was rejected by the Nigeria Governors Forum which proposed N22,500, arguing that paying N30,000 will make states go bankrupt.
But Organised Labour was adamant and insisted on N30,000, threatening that if the federal government failed to forward an executive bill to the National Assembly, they would shutdown the economy.
The Organised Labour initially demanded an upward review of the current N18,000 minimum wage to N65,500, before the Tripartite Committee constituted by President Buhari in 2017 recommended N30,000 after intense negotiations with stakeholders.
At the NCS meeting, Obasanjo and Buhari, who he had on Sunday accused of plotting to rig the 2019 elections, warmly exchanged greetings and shook hands with each other.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, were absent at the meeting.
The meeting, which began at 11am also had in attendance, former President Goodluck Jonathan, General Abdusalami Abubakar and former Head of Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Others in attendance were Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, National Security Adviser (NSA), General Babagana Monguno, retd;, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha; Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita; Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Mohammed Bello; and Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige.
Also present were governors of Osun, Kebbi, Zamfara Plateau, Ebonyi, Adamawa, Edo, Lagos, Niger, Borno, Ogun, Ekiti, Kogi and deputy governors of Bauchi, Kaduna, and Rivers State.
ULC rejects disparity, insist on N30, 000 minimum wage for all workers
However, the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, yesterday rejected the position of National Council of State, and insisted on N30,000 minimum wage for all workers.
In a statement at the end of its Central Working Committee, CWC, meeting in Lagos, its President, Mr. Joe Ajearo, the ULC claimed that the council of state had no powers to approve, confirm, affirm or accept any figure as the new National Minimum Wage.
The ULC said: "The emerging news of the unfortunate decision of the federal government through the National Council of State, NCS, to unilaterally propose N27,000 as the new National Minimum Wage is shocking and goes against the grain of all known traditions and practices of Industrial Relations especially as it concerns National Minimum Wage setting framework.
"ULC rejects in its entirety the proposed N27,000 which is contrary to the N30,000 agreed by the National Minimum Wage Tripartite Committee and which has since been submitted to the President.
"We state that the National Council of State in a National Minimum Wage setting mechanism is an aberration. It is also important that we make it clear that the National Council of State does not have powers to approve, confirm, affirm or accept any figure as the new National Minimum Wage.
"What they have pretended to have done is therefore without any force of Law, standards or other known practices of Industrial Relations the world over.
"It is a mockery of the essence and principle behind the setting of a National Minimum Wage to attempt to segregate it between Federal Workers and State Workers.
"We want to state that workers are workers everywhere whether at the Federal Level or at the State Level. They all have the same challenges; go to the same market, same schools and much more they suffer the same fate. You cannot therefore pay them differently.
"Government's attempt at this dichotomy is an effort at segregation and apartheid in nature. It is an attempt to put a sword within the trade union movement and to further the marginalization of Private sector workers in Nigeria and thus seek to weaken the trade union movement in the country.
"ULC saw this coming earlier in January and that was why we distanced ourselves. We will however in the next few days in consultation with other Labour Centres if they are still in the struggle for a just national minimum wage take steps to ensure that the interests of Nigerian workers as it concerns the National Minimum Wage are protected.
"We urge the President to disregard the pronouncement of the National Council of State as it ridicules the statutes and principles governing the nation. The only honourable path he should tread is to transmit the N30,000 figure as agreed by the Tripartite Committee and even the President on the day of submission of the Committee's report. We will not accept the use of any cover of state to jettison the collective will of Nigerian workers and the trade union movement.
"Once again, we remind the President that he promised Nigerian workers that he was going to transmit the N30,000 as agreed by the Tripartite Committee to the National Assembly for passage into Law. He should not allow himself to be seen as a President who does not keep to his words. We hold him to that agreement and there is no other thing that would be acceptable to Nigerian workers except the N30,000 arrived at through the Tripartite process."
TUC agrees with ULC
Similarly, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, in a statement by its President and Secretary General, Bobboi Kaigama and Musa Lawa-Ozigi, said: "TUC rejects out rightly the new National Minimum wage of N27, 000 as recommended by the National Council of State, the fact that the federal government agrees to pay N30, 000 notwithstanding.
"The Council of State decision, though advisory in nature, is weighty and may give semblance of authority to the decision. This decision must not be allowed to stand because it will set a wrong precedence for the future: i.e, after statutory bodies have done their jobs, Council of State will now sit to review it.
"Let it be known that N30,000 minimum wage is a product of negotiation, not legislation, not advise and not a decree. Minimum wage issue therefore, is moving to a new theatre, the National Assembly. We expect the representative of the people if really they are to do the needful during the public hearing."
Council of State position a mere recommendation-- NECA
On its part, Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association, NECA, said there was nothing out of the ordinary in what the National Council of State said, noting that it was simply a recommendation as part of the process towards arriving at a new minimum wage.
Director General of NECA, Mr. Timothy Olawale, told Vanguard that even the report the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage submitted to President Buhari was also a recommendation.
"There is nothing out of the ordinary in what the Council of State has come out with, it is part of the process towards arriving at the a new minimum wage.
"It is just a recommendation in their wisdom. Even the report of the Tripartite Committee which was submitted to the President was also a recommendation and part of the process.
"Whatever the President sends to the National Assembly to legislate on is still part of the process. The National Assembly has the right to stick to whatever the President sends to it or revert back to the recommendation of the Tripartite Committee.
"The National Assembly also, has power to review upward or downward the recommendation of the council of the state or the tripartite committee. Even what the National Assembly comes out with at the of its legislative process is still part of the process until the president signs it into law before the process comes to an end and becomes a law that will culminate into a new national minimum wage."
NLC meets on N27,000 wage Friday, says Ozo-Eson
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress has rejected the N27,000 new national minimum wage adopted by the National Council of States.
NLC General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, made this known to the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.
According to him, the council has no jurisdiction determining another amount after a Tripartite Committee had submitted its report.
"It is abysmal of government to be delaying the submission of an Executive Bill to the National Assembly and by wrongfully adopting N27,000 through the council of states," he said.
However, Ozo-Eson said the NLC has scheduled an emergency National Executive Council meeting for Friday to weigh on the deadline given to government within which to submit an executive bill to the National Assembly.
The NLC scribe added that the Federal Government was only projecting a shutdown of the economy with its latest action.
"This is because workers should not be held responsible for any development after its NEC meeting on Friday," he said.