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A living wage, corruption and crime rate

By Les Leba
The membership of an association such as a Nation State implies an inherent social contract between the individual and a geopolitical organ of Administration.

In return for the improved welfare, peace and security which the Nation State will provide, the individual agrees to forfeit certain rights of freedom to the sovereign nation to which he or she belongs.

The premise of a reasonable access to food, shelter and security and the opportunity for the satisfaction of the sublime need of self actualization make membership of a nation state a more attractive option than a state of proliferation of sovereign individuals.

However, when the reasonable expectations of the people in a nation state are unreachable, then the behaviour of members of that nation state will become aberrant; in other words, there would be a lack of motivation and a reluctance to abide with the protocol and rules that should encourage progress and enhance the security of the peoples of the Sovereign Geopolitical entity.

This downward slide into anarchy will be further propelled when the system of work and reward becomes skewed in favour of the idle and parasitic elements in the Society.  Regrettably, our beloved country, Nigeria now finds itself in these dangerous straits.

The nation, now finds itself with a growing population of unemployed and consequently disenfranchised citizens.  The practice of agriculture, our traditional erstwhile source of sustainable existence has  given way to a process of rural to urban migration that has not only succeeded in poisoning the security and stability of the urban areas but has also depleted the availability of the food and grains harvested from the Rural Economy.

In which event, we have heavy unemployment in the urban areas and increasing unemployed arable land without the complement of adequate labour to produce food for an increasing population!

The dangerous signals posed by the above scenario are made more alarming by the discontent amongst the currently ‘gainfully’ employed labour force.  Indeed, with the exception of workers in the Banking, Oil and Gas industries, it is fair to say that the current salary packages of workers in all other sectors of the economy are insufficient and inadequate to sustain their loyalty to the Social Contract with the Nigerian nation.

In the absence of official statistics on wages and National employment, it would be a fair guestimate to expect that over 50% of the employed labour force in Nigeria would earn below N 30,000 per month while about 70% of the same labour force would earn less that N 50,000 per month!

For example, you would have to be a graduate with over 10 years experience in the civil service to earn a salary of about N 50,000/month (N 600,000 a year).  Meanwhile, such an accomplished loyal employee would expectedly want a good educational foundation for his children.

In view of the decaying quality of education in government sponsored educational institutions, our dedicated middle level Civil Servant would inevitably enroll his wards into private primary and secondary schools, where fees per child could easily approach N 100,000 a year.

The penchant of the African for between 2-6 children in each nuclear family would spell disaster for the ability of our middle level Civil Servant to meet his financial obligations.

In fact, if a prudent couple chooses to have just two kids, the school books and daily transport for these two kids alone would eat up over N 300,000 from an annual salary package of N 600,000 per year!  Meanwhile, the family would still have to feed, and also pay for petrol or daily transportation to and from work, pay for house rent, and be expected to have something left over for health and clothing.  There can be no place for one naira of savings in this budget profile!

We can imagine the daily stress and agony of such a middle level Civil Servant.  In more focussed societies, a degree holder with over 10 years service in the Civil Service would be a home owner and would enjoy social welfare support from his home government.

The burden of children’s school fees for the purpose of a sound educational foundation is tolerable and may not exceed 10% of annual income.  Mass transportation is facilitated and relatively cheap and personal security and the opportunity for self actualization are enhanced.

In the above example, we have looked at a middle level Civil Servant; we can imagine what torture drivers, clerical staff, artisans, technicians, journalists etc, who earn less than N 30,000 per month and constitute possibly over 40% of our labour force have to endure if they have to ‘live’ within  the limits of their real and official income.

We must include in this analysis the remuneration package of members of our Security Forces, i.e. Police, Customs, Immigration, etc; these men who are trained and given the responsibility to protect our security and ensure compliance of the citizen with the laws of the land also stew in the same pot of inadequate remuneration.

It is clear from the above that we have a pool of employed men and women who readily give their services but discover that they cannot make the proverbial ends to meet. At this juncture, as should be expected, the human impulse for self preservation would rear its head; from then on, it would only require little encouragement (usually from the home front) before an otherwise honest, hardworking and loyal employee grabs the first opportunity that comes along to supplement his meagre income so that his family could maintain some modicum of dignity!

Unfortunately, however, a taste of the fruit of compromise soon becomes an addictive pursuit.  Once the floodgate of corrupt enrichment is opened, the deluge that follows takes on the magnitude of  the devastating instinct of primordial accumulation!

The psyche of the perpetrator is gradually modified and what would have earlier been considered as wrong and anti-social behaviour now becomes welcomed as divine blessings!  Indeed, religious and traditional thanksgiving services would even be celebrated to thank God for blessing the family of the perpetrators!

This is the beginning of the collapse of the work ethic, and the celebration of self over country!

This framework is further bolstered by a National revenue sharing policy that also enthrones population and not social or economic contribution as the hallmark for National revenue sharing!  The effect of this absurd framework is evident in the disappearance of the erstwhile income generating and the lucrative agrarian economy that was the bedrock of National development in the colonial and immediate post colonial era!

The groundnut pyramids have become historical pictures; operating palm oil mills can now be counted on the fingers of both hands, cocoa and rubber plantations have become wild forests once again; meanwhile, the soil and climate that made these agricultural successes possible, remain the same, while our agricultural workforce has migrated in increasing numbers to create problems of urban management and social welfare and security in the urban areas!

Meanwhile local political administrators meet on schedule every month to divide the booty of allocations from federal revenue!  The net effect of all the above is that the work ethic is destroyed.  Why work when you can rely on booty from the centre, and even if you are one of the fortunate ones to be in ‘gainful employment’ then you are lucky to have secured a desk to supplement your income with graft at the expense of the Company or people you are employed to serve.

The same despicable structure now exists, whether in the civil service, the private sector, the police force, the customs service, the Armed Forces and Immigration!  How can we be so trusting as to put our safety and the security of our lives and properties in the hands of workers who are underpaid and oftentimes owed a backlog of several months salaries and who are ultimately confronted with the bleak prospect of life after retirement!  It is like retraining a cat to stop it from mousing; some would say it is unnatural!

Thus, with the integrity of our Security forces compromised by virtue of self preservation, law and order will ultimately break down, justice will become the property of the highest bidder!  In this event, the polity from top to bottom can only become more corrupt!

The disenfranchised army of unemployed who do not yet have an official platform to feather their nests would have to survive one way or the other in view of the absence of any Social Security net; the harvest of this ill wind is the spate of armed robberies, cultism and the proliferation of criminal thugs, euphemistically referred to as Area Boys in all corners of the country!

These Area boys have become so brazen and have graduated to a higher level of cooperation with the law enforcement agencies for mutual survival.

The picture painted above should be a wake up call for the government to immediately reassess the Work and Reward ethic system in the Country.  There is an urgent need to ensure that a salary structure that would enable the gainfully employed to meet their basic needs without a recourse to supplementary income from graft, egunje, kola, kickback or kickfront or from the ‘dividends of democracy’ should be implemented to avoid the destabilisation of the centre and halt things from falling apart.

“The above article was first published in July 2005.  Now that both Labour and the government have agreed to a national minimum wage of N 18,000, many questions still remain unanswered.  It is patently evident that though the new wage level is a far cry from a ‘realistic’ living wage, Organised Labour will celebrate their success in obtaining the increase, even if the plague of inflation eventually diminishes the real purchasing power.

Indeed, Labour may have been better advised to advocate for a stronger naira value than quantum leaps in the wage level.  A much stronger naira will mean cheaper fuel prices, lower production costs, lower inflation and inevitably increasing employment, all of which will resound in an echo of a sweeter melody among the ranks of Labour!

“The threat by Labour to thwart the 2011 elections unless the N 18,000 minimum wage is enacted appears rather misplaced; it would have been more appropriate to stand up for improved purchasing value for the naira by insisting that dollar certificates be adopted for the payment of dollar revenue in monthly allocations and for prompt enactment of the freedom of information bill, or indeed, significant reductions in the emoluments of legislators at all levels.”

SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIA!


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