By Dele Sobowale
It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are — O. Henry, 1862-1910
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Minimum Wage Bill passed by an equally cynical National Assembly, NASS, whose leaders are still smarting from the shellacking they individually and collectively received from voters in February. It is still a bad dream for one or two of them who had assumed they had their states in the palm of their hands to do as they wished with them.
Suddenly, they discovered too late that going home occasionally to give crumbs from their tables to the masses of hungry fellow Nigerians in exchange for robbing them of billions of naira in corrupt practices was no longer a winning strategy. They have sought to start rebuilding their ruined political structure by joining with the President to enact a so-called Minimum Wage bill for the “masses.” It was a swindle of which the President and NASS should be ashamed of themselves for several reasons.
We start with Buhari whose scavenging Buhari Support Group declared the signing as “a promise fulfilled”. If it was, it was one promise which should not have been made; let alone being fulfilled. But, just before those who expect to be compensated for hailing what was an ill-advised piece of legislation dismiss my objections as bad belle politics, permit me to draw their attention to the views of one of the earliest supporters of President Buhari.
“My prediction is that the N30,000 Minimum Wage will cause chaos because many state governments that were paying N7500 before N18000 was introduced could not pay them. A lot of them are currently finding it difficult to pay now. They are already saying they can’t pay, and this would lead to strikes. When that happens, the nation will be in trouble— Prince Tony Momoh, former Chairman of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.
Tony Momoh was with Buhari since the ANPP days and is still a loyal supporter of the President. But, Senior Momoh is also a patriotic Nigerian and if it becomes a choice between party loyalty and being faithful to our country, there is no doubt that he will stand by Nigeria. He has demonstrated it with that publicised warning to Buhari. The obvious question is: why would Buhari sign a bill which has all the potentials of creating chaos in the country he is now getting ready to govern for four more years given the heightened insecurity in the land? The answer remains the same today as it was last year and will be the same next year – unless a miracle of transformation occurs.
A man cannot gradually enlarge his mind as he does his house —Alexis de Tocqueville, 1805-1859
Even Aisha Buhari must admit that her husband does not understand a word of economics or finance. He cannot comprehend the economic consequences of decisions made now. He acts on instincts; but they are the instincts of a highly placed economic illiterate. His closest advisers, if they are any better (and most are not), are too afraid to tell him the truth for fear of losing their jobs. So they adopt two postures – “sidon look” (apologies to late Chef Bola Ige) or they pretend that the President is right. For them none of their unpatriotic positions will jeopardise their advantages within the corridors of power. In Aso Rock, real or pretended ignorance is bliss.
Buhari has signed the bill purely with a short-term political advantage in mind. He will, before December, unleash serious upheavals in many of the states which will find it impossible to pay. In fact, for Osun State, implementation of the new law will mean that whoever is governor will go to Abuja monthly to collect the allocation, hand the funds to the state’s workers and go home. There will be nothing left for any other function of government. In fact, what he receives from Abuja might not cover the new wage bill. He will be called upon to go and borrow to pay public servants. What happens to the 98 per cent of Osun residents who are not public servants is apparently no concern of President Buhari. Osun State might be an extreme case; but at least thirty states will not be able to pay the new wage and meet any other obligations of government to all residents – young and old. That is invitation to chaos written boldly by Buhari and the irresponsible NASS.
The President, in his infinite misunderstanding of the constitution he swore to uphold even gratuitously ordered that implementation should start immediately. Like all old satraps always fighting the last war, he has conveniently forgotten that every governor must present the Bill to the State House of Assembly for their assent before it can be implemented. No governor, unless an incorrigible law breaker, can start implementation before the Bill had been domesticated.
Deliberately or inadvertently, Buhari has set the governors and workers on several collision courses nationwide by that announcement. Ignorant or mischievous labour leaders, might call the workers out on strike based on Buhari’s unconstitutional directives. The disturbances might be great or small, but they will increase tension in a country which needs to have it reduced seriously – otherwise, the already over-stretched security forces will have to add restoration of peace at states’ secretariats to their list of concerns. Is this leadership?
Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed—I.F. Stone, 1907-1989
Nothing has re-confirmed Stone’s broad condemnation of government officials more than the new Minimum Wage Bill. The Laour leaders who expressed appreciation for the President’s gesture are living in a paradise inhabited solely by fools. They, like Buhari said the bill was in the interest of the masses. That is a bold-faced lie. Explicitly, the Bill excludes workers employed by Small and Medium Scale Enterprises employing less than twenty-five people. That is the vast majority of workers are discriminated against by this so called “masses bill”.
The millions of Nigerians, female and male working in thousands of filling stations, hotels and guest houses, supermarkets, private nursery schools and clinics, POS stations, pharmacists, etc., are discriminated against by this heartless bill. It is heartless because when the inflationary impact of this bill is felt the favoured few as well as those neglected, who provided Buhari’s winning votes, will suffer the impact. They all shop in the same markets, pay rent to the same landlords, buy medicine from the same chemists, board the same buses. All workers will be charged the same – the beneficiaries of Buhari’s largesse and those left behind.
“Unworthy to be called a Father.” Title of my article when Obasanjo enacted his own Minimum Wage Bill with groups of workers excluded.
What sort of a “Father of the Nation” is that who feeds two children well and leaves 98 to fend for themselves? Buhari is always very quick to want to paint himself as a different President from his PDP predecessors. Yes, in some ways he is different. He took over from a Ph.D holder; who also succeeded somebody with Masters Degree. We are still not sure if he has School Certificate and in what grade. But, the difference on education is clear. Not even Adesina and Garba Shehu can bluff on that one.
By global standards we have a grossly under-educated President. He needs our help to overcome his deficiencies for everybody’s sake. This is one occasion those who really love Buhari should advise him to step down on promoting that bogus bill.
A word is enough…