By Tonnie Iredia
The new minimum wage issue has not only become contentious but has already provided a pointer that something grave could happen because of it from tomorrow, August 1.
An indicator to this effect occurred four days back at the 2nd Triennial Delegates Conference of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, in Kaduna. While the state governor on the occasion re-echoed the fears of some of his colleagues as to the possibility of paying the new wage, Labour reiterated its readiness to bring any defaulting state to a standstill. Following the ease with which successive governments have always reneged on agreements with labour, we imagine that some governors may call the bluff of labour and plunge the polity into anarchy.
There is thus no better time than now for well-meaning patriots to intervene and save the day. For us, we think the new wage should be paid not only because it had been agreed to but also because the nation is capable of paying it. There is, however, no doubt that raising the required fund would be tedious but since a tedious subject is not the same thing as an impossible mission, we wish to use today’s article to articulate some suggestions on the subject.
First, government should take steps to mop up funds which are currently idle and or misapplied. One good example here is allocations to local governments. Forget about the propaganda that it is the tier of government which is nearest and, therefore, dearest to the people. To start with, there is no local government in Nigeria; we only have local government areas.
The councils which are supposed to run them are mere pipes for siphoning money by governors. This is a notorious fact based on the grumblings of persons who for want of a name are described as councillors. The councils are essentially an extension of the governor’s office which are dissolved now and again as a governor pleases. While a fraction of their resources is extorted at source, they are told what projects to handle and what fraction of their fund is to be returned to His Excellency.
Comrade Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State virtually confirmed this the other day while welcoming delegates to the International Conference of the World Mayors Summit in Osogbo, Osun State. The governor reportedly decried the situation where his colleagues deliberately impoverish local governments through diversion of council funds for other purposes.
He was, in fact, quoted to have said on the occasion that “some councils had been so impoverished by their governors that they had to borrow in order to pay salaries”. In other words, the diverted funds cannot be accounted for. Is it not better for the nation to use such funds to pay the new minimum wage and be assured of the use into which the fund was put?
Another fund which can justifiably be diverted to the payment of the new minimum wage is that which is popularly known as ‘security vote. Again, like the local government fund, it is not that we do not know its rationale. We do; it is just that we are persuaded to better appreciate the adage of our people that ‘instead of calling a man who would not answer you, it is better to call a man who is not at home and be consoled that you know why you were not answered’.
The relevance of the analogy is that, for longer than makes sense, we have in spite of huge votes, had zero security all around us. If so, why don’t we just accept our fate of insecurity and divert funds hitherto wasted on it to other ventures like the payment of wages to suffering fellow Nigerians? After all, one governor- Kwankwaso of Kano State revealed some weeks back that security vote was nothing more than a device for stealing.
There are other areas of wastages that we can curtail. One of them is the huge amount expended on trips between state capitals and Abuja. What are state governors always in Abuja for? After listening to a powerful lecture by my brother, Reuben Abati a few weeks back, I asked him to do a research on what the incessant trips of governors to Abuja was costing the nation.
Big pity, I may not get the result as my brother has deservedly been elevated to the Villa, but anyone can guess that the expenditure would be colossal as a whole battalion normally escorts every Excellency on each trip. The entourage is only small when the trips are by chartered flights. Indeed some of our leaders are about to purchase jets for the trips and yet we are to believe that it is hard to pay the minimum wage?
Huge funds can be saved if we reduce medical treatment abroad to only chronic cases, and stop government sponsorship of things like oversea training which are mainly to bequeath estacode allowances to the privileged. Indeed, personal matters like pilgrimages to places called holy lands (as if God is not everywhere) are frivolities which government should not patronize. So is the issue of numerous guest houses on which governments commit stupendous expenditures.
There are as a matter of fact too many people living illegally on government to the detriment of the masses. The other day a court asked the wife of a deputy governor to pay millions of naira to a citizen who was assaulted by security men attached to her. Who decided that attachment and from whose funds will the fine be paid?
Since the wage issue is a national matter, the Federal Government should take the lead in it. First, it should reduce the cost of governance at its level by doing away with duplications. For example, we can do with one legislature to make our laws.
So, let us scrap the Senate and make the House of Representatives a part time business and stop our sleepless nights over legislative profligacy in our nation. On this score, the call for the merger of our anti-corruption bodies makes sense not because we think it is bad to have them all and fight corruption from all ends but because we need to cut our coat not according to our size but according to our cloth. We should for now have 37 instead of 42 ministers and hereafter amend the constitution to half the figure.
Finally, the Federal Government should act as a good father by reviewing the nation’s allocation formula and give up a little of its own share which is rather unjustly too large.
Our premise is that if we follow some of the suggestions in this article, social justice will prevail in this matter of minimum wage and before we know it we shall suddenly find that our nation can pay twice the contentious N18,000 minimum take home pay of our compatriots. What if not? We can then do the worst, go to the banks like our Assembly members, borrow money, share it and provided only our leaders are arrested.