By Tonnie Iredia
The current position of the Nigerian Governors Forum on the nation’s minimum wage controversy appears to suggest that if care is not taken, the Nigerian labour Congress (NLC) may lose out again after several efforts to peacefully negotiate the subject.
Considering that no wage increase has ever peacefully evolved in Nigeria, not many appreciate why the NLC has been so patient.
With whom did government negotiate the salaries and allowances of political office holders in the country; were the figures not simply fixed? Was it not through such process that government placed fresh graduates on grade level (GL) 08, while those with masters and doctorates were simply placed on GLs 09 and 10 respectively?
Who added up and rationalized the figures before such decisions were agreed? Based on these posers, would it be wrong for the NLC to at this point, jettison the circuitous negotiations and call off the bluff of the governors? It seems to be the only available option now. We also know that the word, ‘strike’ is what government easily understands in Nigeria.
One obvious point that has emerged in the last few months of the controversy is the fact all the parties concerned have become aware that the disputed N30, 000 minimum wage is grossly insufficient. Indeed, government itself had revealed that it costs N14, 000 to feed one prisoner per day.
According to our Minister of Interior, General Abdurrahman Dambazau government spends N10billion annually feeding 57,000 prisoners at N14, 000 per prisoner per day. At the height of the Shiites demonstrations for the release of their leader El Zakzaky, our Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed told the nation that government was spending N3.5million monthly to feed the man.
Why would the same government waste so much energy negotiating a claim of just N1, 000 per day to feed a worker? These two examples clearly show that it is unfair to subject the N30, 000 minimum wage to further negotiations and strikes.
If I were the NLC President, I would at this juncture, adopt different strategies. The first would be to isolate the sadistic governors from those who are willing to pay the sum. Although it is generally believed that Lagos state is best positioned to meet the workers’ demand, there are other states that are able and willing to pay. Last week, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike promised to pay the new minimum wage if approved by the federal government.
On its part, the Bayelsa state government had in anticipation of the new minimum wage, set up a committee to work out the modalities for its implementation. Delta state could also be counted upon judging by its general disposition. Just for the choice of Asaba as the training ground for the Super Eagles, Governor Okowa immediately pledged $25,000 to the Eagles for every goal they score in their encounter against South Africa in the preliminaries of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
There are other states that are not necessarily buoyant but who see workers as priority. Benue is one of them, with Governor Ortom saying he will never wait for workers to protest before paying the new figure. NLC must leverage on all the well meaning states to achieve their goal
But then, the controversy over the revenue formula which states say has to be reviewed to enable them have the financial base to increase the minimum wage should not be ignored. Perhaps the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum had this in mind when it advised the organised labour unions to key into the struggle to restructure Nigeria in order to achieve a living wage.
In the opinion of the forum “all that is needed is to prune the 68 items on the exclusive list of the 1999 Constitution and devolve more powers to the states including the right to mine the resources under their soil and turn every corner of Nigeria to productivity centres as there is no state North and South that is not blessed with one resource or the other.”
With the 2019 general election getting quite close, this is perhaps a good time for the NLC to look beyond the tokenism of piecemeal increases in salaries to canvassing the benefit of a well structured federal system that can take a holistic view of the nation’s challenges. In earnest, our present structure has allowed too many floating funds to be stashed away in several quarters making government unable to meet several goals including enhanced minimum wage.
Yet to be resolved are humongous salaries of political office holders, incredible allowances of legislators, inexplicable security vote amidst insecurity, bogus pension and gratuity of ex-governors etc. Allegations of diversion of funds from the federation account to which all funds are constitutionally domiciled is also an issue. Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Gas raised an alarm over alleged withdrawal of $1.15 billion from the dividends accounts of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.
If such dividends from the gas firm which are meant to be shared by the federal, state and local governments of Nigeria are diverted, some tiers of government would no doubt be short-changed. The same is true of several funds whose sources are controversial. Only last week, the Judiciary in Lagos had to order the forfeiture of $157billion that had no known owner.
The EFCC had said it seized the funds which it reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities. The number of workers whose salaries can be covered by this discovery and many others is best imagined. This is why workers should not be nonchalant about the nation’s economy
On the political front, stories that huge sums were paid as bribe by aspirants during the recent party primaries to secure nomination are quite disheartening. It is more painful that some of the affected aspirants are reportedly state governors who always claim lack of resources to pay meagre wages to workers. It is no doubt shocking that the allegations point at some leaders of the ruling All Progressive Congress APC, that many citizens had hoped would help clean up Nigeria’s dirty political arena.
Why would people not instantly believe the allegations that reportedly arose from internal activities among members of the same party? Considering that the figures that are being mentioned can pay more than twice the proposed minimum wage, why can’t labour engage the ruling party that is now led by a former labour leader who in his days organized strikes on every subject? Truly, the present NLC leadership needs to reorganize Labour’s political manifesto and disposition.