June 8, 2024

NLC, Govt and minimum Wage And Msmes, by Francis Ewherido

Francis ewherido

I have been following the chess game between the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the federal government over the new minimum wage. In truth, with the high cost of living, N500,000 as minimum wage across board (public sector, organised private sector and MSMEs) is not too much in Nigeria, If only wishes were horses… Sadly, that is not possible. I know small businesses that have not implemented the N30,000 minimum wage. It is not as if the small business owners are cruel. They simply cannot afford to pay that sum, lest they go out of business. Yet N30,000 a month is wretched and miserable, but that what circumstances have thrust on millions of Nigerians.

I am watching the chess game as a bystander because I belong to none of the parties. The beneficiaries are a very small percentage of Nigerian working force. My constituency is MSME which NLC does not really represent. NLC at various times asked for N615,000, 497,000. Government has made an offer of N47,000, N57,000 and N60,000. Negotiations were still going on at the time of writing with labour suspending the nationwide strike for a week. Whatever minimum wage they arrive at will still be for the minority of Nigeria’s workforce.

MSMEs do not have the luxury of such negotiations. It is more like take it or leave. Some are still paying some workers N30,000 monthly, as I said earlier, because that is what the companies claim that they can afford. They are struggling to keep their noses above waters. I don’t know how people who earn N30,000 monthly survive. I have thought about it severally and have decided to treat it as a mystery. Necessity is the mother of invention and I guess some of them have developed survival instincts.

A despatch man came to do delivery one day. When he was done, he saw some weeds in my flower bed. He asked for permission to pluck some. I told him he could take as much as he wanted because I wanted to remove them anyway. Out of curiosity, I asked him what the weed was used for. He told me it helps to crash sugar level. I use lifestyle changes to control my blood sugar, so I lost interest. But that means that he does not have to spend a fortune on blood sugar and diabetes drugs.

Then he said that the weed does more, but he didn’t know if I would be offended if he told me. I told him to go ahead. Then he said something like, “madam go hear am tonight after I take the medicine (I guess we can call it herb at this stage). If his assertion is correct, it also means he does not need to spend money on Viagra or other sex enhancement drugs to perform at optimum level. May be these are some of the ways low income earners get by. Notwithstanding, nothing can justify the low income majority of Nigerians are earning.

With a population of over 200m people, at least half of this number are probably involved in one economic activity or the other (self-employed, employee or employer, etc). The living conditions of majority of Nigerians is miserable. So, I am more interested in policies that lift a lot more people out of poverty or at least give them something better than we currently have, than and the current minimum wage debate. Even if governments across all three tiers employ 2m to 3m people, that is about two per cent of the work force and less than one per cent of our population.

NLC can continue with its negotiation with the government to come up with a minimum wage that will put more money in their pockets. Hopefully the states will follow suit. Even at that, that is still a small percentage of the Nigerian workforce. That is why I was not really interested in the NLC strike. For me, it is parochial. Protagonists can argue forever, but that is my opinion. I would not even have bothered talking about it, but shutting down the national grid rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, government should have been more proactive to avert the strike, but who suffered most? The ordinary people. That is why I disagree with those who justify shutting down the grid.

During the week the federal government allegedly issued an “Inflation Reduction and Price Stability (Fiscal Measures, Etc.) Order. The government has come out to disown the order, but it rubs me the right way because it will be of benefit to more Nigerians. Among others, the disowned order suspends tariff and import duty on staple food items, raw materials and other inputs used for manufacturing, inputs for agricultural production, including fertilisers, seedlings, chemicals, pharmaceutical products, poultry feeds, flour and grains.

The disowned order also authorises millers to import paddy rice at zero import duty and VAT for six months. VAT was also suspended for other specified items. I was cautiously optimistic about the order. I said cautiously optimistic because the benefits will be massive to majority of Nigerians is it was real. We have seen well-intentioned policies in the past that were sabotaged or poorly implemented. For instance, the suspension of tariff and duty on flour would have meant drop in price of bread, a major staple food, and pastries. Another item I expected a drop in price is rice. You can imagine the price of rice going down by 20 per cent. The impact will be huge. The same applies to other items listed in the disowned order. The government need to focus more on policies that will bring positive changes to the lives of more Nigerians. The hardship is grinding. The solution is multifaceted, but government should play its role.

All the measures listed in the April fool order are interim. I do not expect much difference when government comes out with the authentic order. Nigerians need breathing space while government works out more enduring policies to reduce inflation and boost purchasing power of more Nigerians. The economists also say we need to produce and export more to bring in more foreign exchange and reduce outflow. That also makes sense to me with my secondary school economic knowledge.

Another area that has adversely affected food production is insecurity. Insecurity has hindered food production and government needs to be very decisive. Now we are reading stories that lawmakers, village heads and traditional rulers collect money from kidnappers and allow them to kidnap their subjects. We have always suspected such local collaboration, but now that it is out. Government at all levels must collaborate to put an end to it.

Another sensitive issue which we must deal with is open grazing. When our population was 54m there was a lot of land for grazing without conflict, but not anymore. Clashes between farmers and herdsmen have led to unnecessary loss of lives and avoidable conflicts. It has also disrupted food production. We can’t continue to rub Peter to pay Paul. Cattle rearing and farming can go on simultaneously without conflict. Open grazing is no longer workable in today’s Nigeria. Let us face reality and set primordial sentiments aside.