President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, is worried by the worsening insecurity challenges in the country. In this interview, he speaks on ways out, hunger, inequality gap, and population growth among others.
The security situation in the country is overwhelming and we must, even as citizens play our role effectively. The issue of Boko Haram, which is from my region – the North East, there is a major role being played by non-state actors in the security architecture. If we are to address the issue of insecurity, such groups or communities must play an important role. Where I come from we have the civilian JTF, and we have the vigilantes. I can tell you the successes recorded particularly in Maiduguri, the state capital, the civilian JTF takes a substantial part of the credit. I saw where a youth carrying a stick pursued a Boko Haram insurgent that was carrying AK 47.
In the community where I come from, last December, which I have commended our Governor Babagana Zulum, he visited all communities in Southern Borno and other areas where there are still Boko Haram attacks, donated items and also strengthened the vigilantes. He told them that vigilantes should be able to protect their communities and that they should assist the security agents because they know the terrain, and the people and should expose the bad eggs. That is the way to go. It is also about community policing.
The Police we are talking about cannot do the magic, the military cannot do magic. They need the support of the community. The communities can support security agents through such organised outfits. What is needed is for the government to regulate and ensure that they do not become a menace. We need to have such outfits so that they can complement the efforts of the police and the armed forces. We are not telling ourselves the realities. We should align ourselves with the constitutional provision to have community policing, and align with community priorities. We have vigilantes now in every community assisting in the issue of security.
We believe we should have in every community the vigilante or the civilians supporting the security agencies. This will go a long way in addressing the issue of insecurity. I speak based on information available to me because I have visited several states. NLC today is the most widely spread organisation in the country. In every hamlet, we have a teacher, a health worker and a transport worker, etc. So, we are talking from the point of information. We are far from overcoming the security challenges in our country. I can say that they are assuming alarming proportions. The issue in the past was just armed robbery.
The issue of kidnapping is now a new phenomenon. Even in my village, last December, we recorded some cases of kidnapping. We thank God they have been apprehended, but it is a new phenomenon. This has been escalated to cities, towns, hamlet and even on the highways. The issue of cattle rustling, armed banditry and theft are assuming alarming dimension. We can’t say we do not have security challenges. The truth is that criminals are devising new techniques every day to beat our security agencies. So, community policing or being conscious about security is everybody’s business. Let us face the fact, there is no way we can employ enough manpower to police the whole country. That is very difficult and the resources are not there. But through these non-state outfits, our able-bodied youths can assist the security agencies.
Position of AGF
If we want to address our security challenge, there is no way we can write off non-state actors or communities. And states also are coming up with solutions that can assist the security agencies. I think the missing point is, how do we align this interest? The issue of having non-state actors or outfits assisting our security agencies is in the right direction. I do not understand the apprehension of the AGF. But I know if we can align all these interests it will help us solve the security challenges.
Community policing is about the community people taking a larger responsibility to secure their community because they know everybody, every child, those that are good and those that are bad. Somebody that is not from the community cannot realize and analyse these facts. I think the AGF should engage them and see how to align every interest. In the community where I come from, I know that security is a real challenge. Attacks will happen and nothing will happen. Our youths will go there with their bare hands, consciousness and zeal, and confront the insurgents. I have seen that work, and that is why we supporting our communities to defend themselves because that is the way to go.
All the statistics being churned out means that more than 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below the poverty line. That is the reality and even besides that, we have been described as the poverty capital of the world. We need to address that issue because it is a reality. I have interacted with people from the lower cadre of the echelon and I know the situation. As a country we can be said to be very prosperous, but what is the per capita income? The per capita income is certainly below what is expected. Here we are as a rich country but the majority of the people are very poor. The rich have continued to be rich and the poor have continued to be poor.
We no longer have the middle class in the context of our country. We only have those above the echelon and those below the ladder. The middle class has been eroded. In the past, I remember because my father served for 35 years in the army before he retired. I remember those we referred to as the middle class in those days had their houses. Once you finished school, you have a car and therefore, you are a middle class. You can live a comfortable life. You do not depend on fairly used or Tokunbo cars.
I remember that within that bracket, they can afford new vehicles depending on your level. They can afford new Peugeot which was about N6000 and if it were with Air conditioner, it was just above N6000. Some buy Beetle, that is Volkswagen. But now, how many Nigerians can afford a new motorcycle? So, the reality is that there is a lot of inequality in our country. This inequality gap is affecting mostly the youths. Year in, year out, you churn thousands of youths out of different institutions. In the end, most of them cannot find something, job to do. Not because they are not able, not because they are not trained, but because job opportunities are very limited. Many industries are not working optimally because of constraints including power.
In most situations, the only few jobs available possibly in few government agencies or retail outfits or service areas. We are not into real production to produce what we eat in this country. A lot of factors are responsible and usually, those are the factors responsible for where we are today. For us to change the narrative, we need to look at the issues, if not, the situation will continue. Our population growth far outweighs our economic growth. Our population growth is about 2.5 per cent and our economic growth is less than three per cent. In the next few years, we are going to be the third most populous country in the world. This means that we are sitting on a time bomb. The issue of inequality is real because many cannot have three meals a day.
Even with the current minimum wage, those on the minimum, certainly by the time you remove school fees, rent, utilities which are on the increase every day, there is no way they can have a decent living. Therefore, we will continue to have mostly the working poor. We have many Nigerians that are working poor and they are living below the poverty line. They earn less than two dollars a day. Even with the new minimum wage, we are earning less than two dollars a day. This is something of serious concern. That is NLC has prioritized it because it is a time bomb. It is being said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. We must find a way of positively engaging those youths, and we must find a way of bridging the inequality gap between the rich and the poor.
Some have too much money that they do not know what to do with it and they pay less tax, while the poor pay the highest taxes especially the workers through the pay as you earn. Daily, we receive reports that the high and the mighty still receive waivers. They import goods, they are given waivers, what kind of country is this? In our new year message, we pointed out to this fact that this is a challenge and as a country, we need to address it. We call on our political elites and political leaders to prioritize effort at addressing inequality. Various reports out there have pointed out the fact that the poverty gap is widening within Africa and also within Nigeria because of our population.
A worker is worthy of his wages. It is evil for any worker to have worked, at the end of the month, he is not paid or for a pensioner to have worked and retired, and not have earned his benefit. It is a contradiction in this country where political office holders are allocating to themselves very bogus pension and severance packages running into millions. Yet, the worker that earns a peanut in form of salary or monthly pension is not paid. That is why we have made that also our priority. Every employment outfit that we have such a situation brought to our notice, we have engaged it. You can recall that from state to state, we have engaged them. I thank God that in some cases, it has worked and the governors were also sacked because of our prayers and actions.
They could not come back. Certainly, it is still one of the priorities. A lot of resources are given to the states and we need to work assiduously with those states, with strong leadership to protect the interest of workers and pensioners. Same with the private sector, and that is why the issue of unionisation is topmost on our agenda, to allow workers to freely associate and to allow workers to freely join or form a union, so that the union in turn, can work with NLC to defend and protect their interests. As you are aware, NLC is a labour centre, it does have direct members. Members belong to affiliates. We can only work through affiliates and we have been doing just that. The first right of a worker is for him to be paid after 30 days. Where he is not paid, we are ready to take any action including litigation to make sure that the bank accounts of such states and organisations are frozen to pay those workers.
Our labour laws are very rich but it is because in most cases, those workers are weak, and even those unions in most cases, do not bring the issues to our attention. Where it is brought to our attention, we take action seriously to ensure that no worker is treated as a slave. A worker should be able to earn his wages, he should be able to take care of his family and also have a decent living. That is expected everywhere around the world. That is why we have a lot of insecurity because where workers cannot take care of their families including sending their children to schools, then the entire family system will be in disarray. By extension, the children of those categories of people will go into the unemployment market and cause a lot of instability. It is in our enlightened interest to also continue to pay workers that have worked and pensioners because we have to keep reiterating that a worker is entitled to his wages.
Labour yesterday, today
Things have not changed; it is the people that have changed. Just like the larger Nigerian society, Labour is not operating in isolation. Labour people are part of the larger society. Whatever happens in the larger society, you also find it happening in Labour. The influence is there, particularly the negative influence from the larger society have filtrated even the churches and other religious organisations, you find out that it has permeated into those very sacred organisations. Same with Labour, you find the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, it is part of the reflection of the larger society. Today, we are discussing the issue of corruption. Corruption is a systemic issue in Nigeria. It is not limited to the private or public sector, it has also extended to private homes. That is the reality.