By Morenike Taire
When a man has got the gift of the garb to the extent that APC Party Leader, Adams Oshiomole does, he can literally get away with murder.
As a Labour leader, he enjoyed phenomenal popularity on account of massive doses of charisma with which he has been blessed. So moving is his unparalleled gift of oratory that listeners get persuaded of his position before even realizing it.
Still, coming out to lend his support to the labour-proposed minimum wage is a little far fetched, even for him. Being a hybrid of a politician and a labour leader is not a feat just anybody can pull off, particularly if that politician is Nigerian.
Mentored by the late Gani Fawehinmi who was offended when he threw his hat in the political ring in joining his state’s gubernatorial race rather than the presidential, Oshiomole is not only a thoroughbred protester but one whose pedigree is respected by his peers and seniors.
It is hard to tell if he made his recent minimum wage pronouncement which had him throwing his weight behind the principle as a labour leader, or as a politician. This is even more so because he has good reason to be playing both roles at once. This ongoing matter of the National Minimum Wage is a structural matter, one which affects the economy more than we give it credit for. In any serious environment, it ought to take centre stage in virtually every debate in the lead up to the 2019 elections.
Oshiomole understands this, hence the need to make his political party look good in front of his number one constituency. What he is telling them at the reception in honour of the newly elected World President of the International Trade Union Congress, and President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Ayuba Wabba in other words, is that though he is now a full fledged politician, his first love is still the union.
But the political elements of the Minimum Wage issue are not as significant as the economic. Continually unaddressed is the fact that the inability of states- even the most viable ones- to comfortably pay anything more than the current 18000 naira as minimum wage is the symptom of a defective federal structure and a chronic mispricing of labour.
As a result, the Nigerian social system has no interest in middle grounds. While the middle classes run the show in more matured economies, this does not happen around here, since they no longer possess the ability to consume with ‘reckless abandon’.
While technology has aided the consumption of entertainment in general, the arts generally suffer, and food lovers are stuck in the fast food culture which is more consistent with the blue collar in other climes.
In our unique environment, holding our interests would take the announcements of who just acquired the latest Range Rover sports or Bentley; or a mansion in the Lagos suburb of Banana Island. This would oscillate between interjections by the more gory news of how the less fortunate in our society are faring with regards to their healthcare, local education and basic infrastructure
This is perhaps why the striking ASUU has not recorded much success in attracting to itself more than a cursory glance from the Nigerian public- no one cares about middle class problems, because it is already as good as extinct- a highly endangered species.
From one administration to the next, none has been able to crack the code of the appropriate pricing of labour, both by the public and the private sector. None has even seemed to deem it necessary, at best reducing it to a political matter; a figure which can be increased a little to keep the grumbling quiet for a while- until the next crash in the value of the naira.
A million and one reasons have been given for the continual folding up of factories across Nigeria, from the lack of electricity to endemic corruption, to our excessive religiosity.
The real reason is that the consumer class has been shrunk into nonexistence because workers are not remunerated appropriately for their labour.
Measuring the appropriateness of minimum wage is not rocket science, as the value of money is directly proportional to the value it can purchase.
And while we might not use indices to measure this as might be used in advanced economies, we can use those peculiar to our climes- the cost of transportation, exacerbated by the States’ indifference to the pricing of it; the quality and cost of housing; the availability and cost of crucial consumables such as electricity and portable water; the cost of food.
When all these are taken into consideration, labour in Nigeria as currently priced is a license to steal, particularly in the public sector where funds are perceived to be the commonwealth.
Oshiomole should move beyond political correctness to actually canvassing his dear party to find ways to make substantial improvements to the national Minimum Wage and its disbursement to the hapless worker . No Nigerian is better positioned than he is to do this at this time.