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May 20, 2024

Our employers are comedians, their wages are a joke, by Owei Lakemfa

Our employers are comedians, their wages are a joke, by Owei Lakemfa

GOVERNMENT felt so sorry for the Nigerian worker that it decided to lighten his burden. After all, the welfare of the citizenry is a major reason why we have government. Even the heart of former President Muhammad Buhari – said to be stone-hearted – melted on seeing the pitiful condition of the worker. So much that he made an award of N12,000 for federal public workers.

But the living conditions of the worker simply worsened. The N30,000 National Minimum Wage which under the Jonathan administration was in value terms $186, has shrunk to a paltry $20. The conversion of wages into dollar is logical because Nigeria is an import-dependent country.

In the Jonathan administration, the Minimum Wage of N30,000 could buy three bags of rice, now it can’t buy half a bag.

Compared to most countries, Nigeria’s $20 Minimum Wage, is abysmally low. War-torn Afghanistan pays $67, Kenya $52 and fellow African country, Morocco $349! Our neigbours also pay far higher: Niger, $60; Cameroun, $62; Benin, $70; and Chad, between $250 and $330.

The Tinubu administration which came into office on May 29, 2023, was so concerned about the beggarly state of the Nigerian worker, that it made a new N35,000 award for public sector workers pending the signing of a new National Minimum Wage. Arithmetically, given the existing N30,000 Minimum Wage and the awards by Presidents Buhari and Tinubu, the minimum take home of a public servant should be N77,000. The hope of the worker was that the new wage would not be lower than his current income. Government also gave that impression.

However, when government unfolded its new minimum wage proposal, it was N48,000! In other words, government is proposing a salary cut! Also, the Organised Private Sector which claims to pay a minimum N78,000 in its zone, proposed a new wage of N54,000! This also amounted to a salary cut.

Thus, the Tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee was transformed into a comedy show with plenty of clowns exhibiting their talents.

The joint labour team of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which could not stomach the joke, walked out. They complained that there is “apparent un-seriousness of the government to engage in reasonable negotiation with Nigerian workers.”

The actions of the government and the employers was a written script acted to the letter. In my experience in negotiations, when employers do not want negotiations or solutions because they fear the outcome would be unfavourable, they stall it. In such a scenario, the employers are led by seemingly friendly persons who attend with officials whose brief is to provoke the workers. The employer’s agent provocateur would intentionally insult the workers or claim that the workers are rude. In the resulting uproar, the negotiations are truncated.

In this particular case, where the workers are expecting high wages corresponding with an inflation running at 30 per cent, the government and employers provoked the labour leaders by proposing what are essentially wage cuts. They succeeded in stalling the negotiations.

Labour lamented that: “Despite earnest efforts to reach an equitable agreement, the less than reasonable action of government and the Organised Private Sector, OPS, has led to a breakdown in negotiations.” This precisely is the intention; a breakdown in the negotiations!

To get the derailed negotiations back on track and stop the comedy, labour would need to embark on massive mobilization of not just workers, but also the mass of the people and shutdown the country.

Talking about comedy, I have not stopped laughing since Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, told Nigerians either to accept steep increases in electricity tariff or “the entire country will be in darkness”. How do you threaten to dis-virgin a grandmother?

Another hilarious comedy was enacted, this time on international television, by the Chief Whip of the Senate, Ali Ndume. He argued that stealing by politicians should not be classified as theft. To him, politicians who do not steal more than N1 billion should have immunity from prosecution.

Senator Ndume, a father of 10, with two wives, including Justice Aisha Ndume, while justifying theft of public funds by politicians, told the world: “If you compare us, politicians, to all the corruption, it is very small. Our corruption is people-driven. If you steal it, you will go and share it with the people. If you don’t, you are not coming back for four years.”

Ndume, an Old Boy of Comprehensive Secondary School, Mubi, Adamawa State; Kaduna Polytechnic; and the University of Toledo, Ohio, United States and who has been a member of the National Assembly, NASS, since 2003, said:

“I have been to the National Assembly, I can’t say because we are on TV now and not tell the truth. If the death penalty is supposed to be included in corruption, I will support it but you don’t go and kill someone that stole one million or one billion, no. But someone who steals one trillion of government money should be killed.”

The Distinguished Senator did not explain the period allowable for a politician to steal N1 billion from the national purse. Assuming it is a monthly theft-limit, the 469 members in the National Assembly will be eligible to steal N469 billion from the national coffers monthly or N5,628,000,000,000 annually. If this is added to the annual budget padding by the NASS, perks from over sight functions and the unscrutinised Constituency Projects, the latitude of a NASS member with the Ndume-mind set to privately appropriate national resources, is quite wide.

But this will be understandable given Ndume’s explanation that politicians constitute a wealth-distribution-system through which the funds of the country trickle down to the electorate. It is akin to the poor masses drinking Champaign through the throats of their leaders.

Ndume, from Gwoza, Borno State, is a political survivalist who has moved round the major political parties since 1998: the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Given the open confessions of Distinguished Senator Ndume, will the Senate suspend and investigate its Chief Whip for theft and corruption? Will the ruling progressives’ party identify with its eminent member or distance itself from him? Will the Old Boys of his school hail him as a good ambassador, or distance themselves from him for not reflecting the ethics of their school?

As for his Borno South constituency, I am not sure a process for his recall will be initiated. Rather, I see him being returned to the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.

May I humbly move a motion that we add to our national honours, the Grand Corrupter of the Federal Republic, GCFR? I so move!