As workers eagerly await the conclusion of the new Minimum Wage, Governors who may toy with the idea of non payment of the new wage have been advised to resign.

Comrade Goke Babatunde Olatunji, President of National Union of Chemical, Footwear, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Product Employees (NUCFRLANMPE) expressed that workers and Nigerians have gone through lots of difficulties and practically turned to beggars just to meet their basic needs.

Lamenting the state of the economy, which he said was terribly bad and reason why Nigerians are relocating in droves, Olatunji charged the government to address the problem by creating  policies favourable to the masses.

He speaks also on how the chemical sector has fared in the economy, characterized by closure and mass job losses.

Olatunji equally reflects on how his union is surviving through the ingenuity of diversification and other issues critical to national development.

His words in part:

Everyone in the economy has been feeling the impact. The economy has not been friendly to our sector. Even our employers, which are the manufacturers, do not have direct access to forex. And without forex we cannot import any of the raw materials. 

This has made a lot of companies embarked on retrenchments. Some of them have closed down completely. While others have fled to neighbouring countries to do business. This has a heavy impact on our membership. Of which we know that our membership is our strength. 

Some companies used to have over 1000 workers. Today there are less than 200. That is for you to assess the impact. Also, we rely solely on funds from our members to keep the union running and the reduced membership numbers have affected us greatly.

The situation of things is critical. Nigerians are hungry. We seize this opportunity to appeal to the government to open the borders so that food can come in. When people are well fed, nobody really bothers about who rules.

They should create policies that are favourable to the masses, the common people in the society.

Between last year and today, not less than 20 companies within the sector have shut down. 

Most of the raw materials used by these companies are imported. The dollar has been exchanging above N1,000, that is the reason why the cost of things have gone really high. Whatever they buy is what they will sell after factoring in the relatively high cost of production. There are some of them that cannot even accommodate the increase in the price of the finished goods.

Since the beginning of this administration till now, price increase in finished goods have gone over 300 percent, in some cases, even more.

There are specific raw materials used by some companies that cannot be sourced locally, so they have to be imported. If such a company imports that material at the rate of N1600-N1700 at which the dollar is hovering, by the time they produce, prices will increase exponentially and people who want to buy cannot afford it.

To solve this, the CBN and the government should make the Forex available to commercial banks to make it accessible to manufacturing companies rather than sourcing it through third party which makes it more expensive.

Honestly, I do not see the government addressing the issues the way it should. Most of the policies they have formulated since assumption of office have not favoured the Nigerian populace. Nigerians are suffering.

The union itself has a constraint because most of its funds are sourced from the members directly. However, with dialogue and the help of our employers; I mean the companies, we are able to provide a certain degree of relief for our members.

The kudos go to the employers for their understanding. There are lots of them that give palliatives up to the rate of N25,000 to N35,000 to our members. 

Aside from protests and other industrial actions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has had several dialogue with the government where we suggested some steps that need to be taken. Part of the suggestion we proffered was the implementation of Oronsaye’s Report. We also suggested that the borders be opened so that food can come in. The NLC is not resting on its oars. We are keen on dialogues and resolving issues through the various industrial relation tools we have.

We signed an agreement with the government in October 2023, which they refused to implement. These are the problems the NLC is having with the government.

If the government refuses to fulfill their own part of the agreement, we will go on strike. If that does not work, then the organs of the Congress will decide the next line of action. By organs I mean; the National Executive Council (NEC) and the Central Working Committee (CWC). Whatever decision they take is bound on every one of us.

Minimum Wage

The dialogue is still on and all the tripartite members, government, employer and labour are involved. I would not want to preempt the outcome of the meeting. But whatever decision made at the end of the negotiation will be binding on all the parties.

Earlier, the Congress President, Ajaero, has listed some issues which inform labour demand for the new wage. Also, if you listen carefully to his analysis, you will see that the high cost of living which is exacerbated by the soaring prices of food, transportation, rent, medical bill and all that.

Whatever labour is proposing now, is subject to negotiation. The government on their part, particularly state Governors are not doing enough to pay workers even with the current minimum wage of N30,000. Nigerians have literally been turned to beggars just to meet their basic needs.

The way out is to face the truth. If the Governors cannot implement an agreement especially one as crucial as paying workers minimum wage, they should resign.

First of all, I believe that the reality of things is worst than the unemployment figures that is quoted by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). There are a lot of graduates out there without work. The higher institutions keep on producing thousands of graduate every year, yet no jobs and they claim it is only 5 percent of Nigerians that are unemployed?

The Nigerian economy is terribly bad that is why our people are running over to the other side. I once met a Nigerian in the UK who was a bank manager in Nigeria, but now he is doing menial jobs in the UK to earn a living. When I ask him, he said; “I took the risk because of the future of my children.” He confirmed that in the UK, access to food, healthcare and other basic necessities was not a problem unlike his home country, Nigeria.

This interview as well as other media campaigns is part of it. To make our views known and to advocate our position to government and the people of Nigeria.

I give glory to God. In my year in office, I did major renovations and changed the outlook of our secretariat. I replaced the wooden doors with iron doors. I built a 20 room Guest House for the union which we commissioned in October 2022, and a Commercial shopping complex with over 50 shops which is in its finishing stages. All these are part of my commitment to diversifying the union funds and creating avenues for additional income for the Union.

I have been in the system for a long time. Years of experience shaped my commitment to improving workers’ lives. Addressing economic hardships remains a driving force.

I was a deputy president for eleven years before I became the President. This helped me to learn a lot of things. I urge whoever takes the mantle from me to be steadfast and continue in this part of progress.

The economy is the major challenge. The increase in salary is not even the solution to our problem. Let the government finds ways to create an avenue for Nigerian workers to be able to afford three square meal a day and be able to meet their daily needs.

Campaigns are over, and now is the time for real governance.