Former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, reserves the opinion that Nigeria’s economy is in a free fall and needs an urgent attention from the government. He also insists that minimum wage is non-negotiable. Excerpt:
What is your assessment of the state of the nation?
I think there are lots of challenges in the country right now. We are facing what I call avoidable problems. We have Boko Haram, the Shiite and the rest of security challenges. The economy is on a free fall and purchasing power has dropped. Also, 2016 is going to be very challenging and we need to deploy the best of our creative resources and channel the money to what we need and not what we want.
By saying that the country is facing avoidable challenges, are you saying government could have averted some of these problems?
You need to know that Boko Haram insur¬gency wasn’t caused by the present govern¬ment. The Shiite is another issue. I used the word “avoidable” because from day one, this should have been checked. That wasn’t the first time the fundamentalists would block the road and they had been getting away with it.
For that to have happened to a very high pro¬file person in the military, you should know the extent it has got to. There is so much lawless¬ness in the country and that is why everybody takes the law into his hands. However, that doesn’t mean that the military too was right to have applied force. If anybody violates the law and an appropriate sanction is meted, the per-son or group won’t do it again.
What is the implication of the fresh Shiite upheaval on the fragile security situation of the country?
One of the things we need to do is to man our entry and exit points. We need data and statistics to know who goes out and comes into Nigeria. That is when we can start talking about growth and development. In Europe, you are identified by your postcode. Your postcode tells us where you are and you cannot carry out any transaction anywhere in America without a postcode. You cannot talk about security when you don’t have all that. That is the unseen side of policing and that is key. That is why I sup¬port the CBN’s cashless policy. When I heard the Iranian press release, I was embarrassed. Whether or not they are Shiites, these guys are first of all Nigerians and President Buhari is the one elected to protect the interest of Nigerians. The primary aspect of security is knowing who is who. Let’s capture everybody’s fingerprint.
What is your general assessment of the present government?
The government is still trying to find its feet. The government is still in its honeymoon. In another six months, that will be completely gone. Right now, people are yet to place their hands on where the economic direction of this country is. Everybody seems to be in a quag-mire and that is making the country to be on a free fall economy. Government needs to make some tough decisions and communicate well with the people. In the last six months, the stock exchange has lost over two trillion naira.
Are you saying the government has not done well enough to meet the ex¬pectations of the people?
You can’t say that a person that has spent just seven months out of a tenure of four years has failed. I think Nigerians still believe in Buhari. Nigerians see him as a person that is not a thief and that their money with him is in a safe hand.
What is your take on the anti-corrup¬tion war of the government?
People say he the government is selective in the way the war is being fought, but what I ask is this: the people that have been docked, do they really have a case to answer? If they do, then let them answer the case.
If you talk about corruption in Nigeria, I think you will have over 95 percent of Nige¬rians in jail. It depends on the way you define corruption. If you go and write an exam for your child, what is that? You go and get sub¬sidy for the government and you still go sell for N120, what is that? So, how many people are we going to arrest? What we should be asking is that those that have been arrested, do they have a case to answer? If the present party goes and another comes in, you also do your own. Gradually, we will have the system sanitized.
The Minister of Information and Culture recently said the fuel scarcity we currently experienced should be blamed on the past administration. Do you share in that opinion?
I think the last administration have their own problems and that is why Nigerian voted them out and voted in APC because they want them to proffer solutions. I think APC should only tell us how they intend finding a solution to these problems. Just define where you want to take us to and let that be the mantra. I said that it was an error when price was moved from N87 to N97. I knew the price of oil was still going to fall. By reducing to N87, you added N400 million per day as subsidy.
Are you in support of the removal of fuel subsidy?
No, naturally, that would have been removed if it had remained N97. Government would have had N400 million more added to their cof¬fers on a daily basis. The key is how you com-municate effectively to make people believe in what you are doing. President Buhari came in with a whole lot of trust and he has to make sure he leverages on that.
What is wrong with our currency as it continues to be devalued, time after time?
We run a mono-economy. 80 percent of our income is from the price of crude. Price has fallen now and our foreign reserve is dropping. With the weak price in crude, the only way out is for government to block all the importation holes.
As former president of TUC, what is your reaction to the inability of some states to pay the minimum wage, even when joint labour is already propos¬ing a review of the present minimum wage?
I think that is grandstanding and I get so dis¬appointed when I hear some governors say that. This was there before these governors were elected and they would have told the people they cannot afford to pay, not that after being elected, they now start to lament. You don’t just enjoy the goodies of the office, you also take up the challenges that the office confer on you. One of these responsibilities is that you have to make the lives of the people better. On the average, the security votes of each governor is about N300 million annually. They just must check their excesses and cut down expenses, like the number of champagnes they drink daily.
On each trip to Abuja, the minimum amount spent by each governor s N10-15 million.
Some of them are virtually overseas every month. If a family of six live on N18, 000 very month, it is N600 per day and each member of that family would live on N100 per day.
That means a breakfast is N33.33k. We have not even talked about cost of housing, educa¬tion, transportation, and the rest. In Sweden, you are taxed 50 percent of all your earnings but you don’t talk of education, healthcare, transportation, and the rest.
All is free. What is expected of the governors is creativeness and resourcefulness. The mini-mum wage is a law; you don’t discuss a law. Next year, joint labour would come up with an-other minimum wage because the law says that must be reviewed every five years. It is never an issue to discuss the minimum wage. That would be lawlessness in the system and that can only bring about anarchy in the system.
What do you make out of the Da¬sukigate melodrama?
I think it is not just about Dasuki because it is happening everywhere in the system. Many have turn our commonwealth into their personal bank account. Dasuki is just the one to show us. The law would take care of what Dasuki has done. Now, we must begin to look at areas to prevent a recurrence and the president has a lot to do here.
Do you share in the opinion that the former President Jonathan be quizzed too for his alleged involvement in the case?
If that would happen, the security agencies would carry that out. EFCC and DSS won’t tell you. Let’s give our agencies the chance to do their job.
In your opinion, should Jonathan and Okonjo Iweala be probed?
It is in this part of the world we abuse the word “probe”. It is not criminal to probe; it simply means to have someone come clear the air over a matter, just like an audit. When you do that, the society gets on an upward trajec¬tory.
What is your assessment of the per¬formance of the state governors in this hard economic situation?
I always categorise the governors into three. First are those who are there through their god-fathers. wSecond are the ones that only want to enjoy the razzmatazz of the office. I call them lamentation governors. The last set is the ones who are in office to really work and they are just few.