The National Labour movement represented by NLC and TUC is threatening to shut down the Nigerian economy soon if their demand for a minimum wage of thirty thousand Naira is not accepted by the Governments of Nigeria in the next few days. The Nigerian economy is still struggling despite the efforts of government and it will be disastrous to allow the labour to proceed on the planned indefinite strike. I must say that it is within the ambit of the labour movement to demand a review of the national minimum wage. I also  must state that I absolutely agree with labour that there is absolute need to review the minimum wage
As at 2011 when the present minimum wage of eighteen thousand Naira came to effect,the exchange rate of the Naira against the US dollar was 156 Naira. Today it is about 363 Naira to the US dollar, and this represents 132 % depreciation. Since the last raise, inflation had climbed from 10.8 % to nearly 18% though it is now about 11.8% Therefore from every objective analysis, the demand is justified. As we have always stated, agreements on National wage reviews is a tripartite affair between Labour, employers and government. It must be negotiated, not imposed by any party. Ideally it is essentially between workers and their employers. Government is essentially a regulatory agent. However in Nigeria, government is also a significant employer and this dual role seems to complicate the issues. In this particular negotiation, the government’s conduct has been inelegant. Several months ago, the federal government assured Nigerians that the new minimum wage would be operative by quarter 3 of this year. We are now in the middle of Q4 and no agreement has been reached. So every often, the government has failed to convene the meeting of the negotiating team and the last time, the labour had to go on a warning strike before the government reconvened the meeting. I am always surprised at the way government treats negotiations regarding workers welfare. Whether it is NLC, ASUU or NASU, Government seems to adopt the same strategy: dillydally , evade the issues, make promises, break the promises, flex muscles, try to divide the unions and eventually precipitate a strike. Then the economy goes through rough patches, with everybody suffering. After damaging the economy for a while and causing pain for all - employees, employers and the citizen, they get back to the negotiating table, almost always accepting the demands of the labour and often paying arrears. I have always wandered why this strategy will not change.
Maybe because the governments have no real understanding of what harm is done to the economy when work is disrupted. They seem to have no idea of what losses businesses incur any hour work is stopped. Yet governments in Nigeria allow strikes to go on for many days and in some cases many months before they accept workers’ demands. Then they pay workers for the months they were on strike. This apparent lack of understanding of how work disruptions affect our economic growth is demonstrated each time, governments of Nigeria declare public holidays for no good reason. I am still at a loss to understand why events that fall on holidays should attract declaring normal working days as holidays. In Nigeria Saturday and Sunday are work free days thankfully. Therefore what is the purpose of declaring Monday and Tuesday as public holidays for events that happened on Saturday and Sunday. Yes, developed economies may have the luxury of doing that (but many do not), but for a poor country like Nigeria to seek every opportunity to keep people out of work is preposterous in my view.  Therefore it is imperative that the government gets serious, and avoids this hide & seek stance and delaying tactics. The issue of reviewing the minimum wage has merit and should be quickly concluded to avoid unnecessary disruption of the economy.
But I must also advise labour to show understanding on this matter. First, they must realize that the ability to pay is a critical factor in negotiating wages. And it is clear to the blind and deaf that many states in Nigeria are patently unable to pay even at the current minimum wage level. So does it make much sense to force state governments to accept the 30k minimum wage when many are in arrears of several months at the current rate, despite the several bailout efforts by the Federal government?. What will be the point of forcing states to accept rates they can not pay? Yes, if they managed their finances better, they could pay more. But is the state resources only for paying workers emoluments ?. Nigeria currently spends up to 70% of the National Budget on recurrent expenditure and for some States it goes up to 90%.  We therefore need the governments to be more efficient in resource disposition. But should we spend such savings on worker emoluments instead of on capital expenditure? My point is that Labour should be reasonable in their demands. Alternatively we may have two minimum wages: Federal and States. I believe the federal can pay the 30K but States may pay 22K or 25k. That to me is pragmatic and should receive proper consideration by labour. To insist on national minimum of 30k may be stretching the argument too far.
Finally, let me also add that we should not be trying to reward indolence and low productivity. It is well known that many in the civil or public service are over paid. Many do not produce enough to merit their current pay, including the high and mighty in all the tiers and arms of government. So if we are making a case for increased minimum wage we must also make a case for increased minimum work. Otherwise, we may just be robbing Peter (ordinary Nigerian taxpayers) to pay Paul (fat-cat public servants in the executive, legislature & Judiciary).That will not help to improve our economy, it may actually drag us further down as we may end up paying 100% of our National income to less than 2 million public servants. That will be patently unfair to the people of Nigeria.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR


Popular posts from this blog


RACISM, ETHNICITY AND TRIBALISM .... What's the difference?

THE GROWING MISERY INDEX OF NIGERIANS AND THE SEARCH FOR GOVERNMENT Nigerians readily point out what Governments ought to do which they are not doing. Indeed, virtually every problem in Nigeria is blamed on the government. And for many Nigerians, the government to be blamed often is the Federal government. Many are oblivious of the other tiers of government, especially the local governments. It is as if the local governments have no responsibilities or may be the people have come to expect little from them. The many years of over centralization fostered on the Nation by the military now makes most Nigerians think and act as if the Federal government is the only government in Nigeria. The 1999 Constitution sustains this misnomer by granting the Federal government a long exclusive list and the freedom to dabble into every other matter, some of which should better be left with the traditional councils in the states. This has led many Nigerians to allow the local and State governments get away with With 'blue murder' while holding only the federal government to account,even if feebly. While it is justifiable to blame government for poor infrastructure, poor education, poor healthcare, high unemployment, high insecurity, and even for hunger, corruption and traffic hold ups, it is beginning to look to me that this is an orchestrated ploy by some Nigerians to take a permanent flight from being held responsible for our individual and group conducts. In the first place, the governments we blame so frequently for failing us are run by Nigerians. Indeed the irony is that some of those who blame government for everything are in government themselves! Sometimes, it looks like that there is a mystery man called 'government'. But no, government is no mystery man, but a collection of persons who are first citizens and who run the government on behalf of and for the good of all the citizens. For convenience, they are grouped into the EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATURE AND JUDICIARY. And that includes politicians, civil servants, public servants, professionals and non professionals of all cadres and categories; from cleaners,security men and permanent secretaries to ministers; from legislative aids to the House Speaker and Senate President; from the court bailiff to the Policeman, to the Registrar and to the Supreme Court Judge; from the gatemen to the Director Generals of Parastatals and Agencies, they are all constituent parts of the government, agents of the State. And that's why they are paid from the tax payers money.Every action, each one of them takes or omits to take reflects on the effectiveness or in effectiveness of the government they are part of. But it looks to me that this realization does not exist sufficiently. Some how, you get the impression that the President or the State Governor alone is the government and everybody else is either the governed, observer, bystander, supporter,complainant or critic. Perhaps this may explain why there is a woeful failure of the"government " to satisfy the expectations of Nigerians. It is practically impossible for only the President to satisfy the 170 million Nigerians or the Governor to satisfy all the over 12 million people in Lagos for example. Everywhere you go,you meet people who work in the government institutions who act as if they care very little about the success or citizen perception of the government they serve in. When you complain about the poor service you are getting,the same people who are part or agents of the government turn around to blame the 'government', absolving themselves of any blame and often the complaining citizen seems to either agree or empathize with the government employee that the problem is with the mystery ' Mr Government ' Early this year, I wanted to make a trip to the United Kingdom and applied for the UK Visa. Few days after submitting my visa application, I received a call from the British Embassy that there was no space left in my passport to affix the visa. I quickly collected my passport and ran to the passport office in Ikoyi Lagos to get a new one. It took me six visits to the passport office over a period of six weeks to collect a new passport.Reasons ranged from missing file to long queues, mismatch of finger prints, the absence of the engineer and late approval from Abuja. It was an ordeal. Mean while I missed the trip to the Uk and was almost missing a trip to the USA because my subsisting US visa was in my old passport which had been 'quarantined' in the passport office. At the end of this rigmarole I was still expected to show 'gratitude' In August last year, I went to renew my driving license and I was told to fill out forms and make payments. Thereafter I was asked to come back one year after in July this year at the FRSC camp in Ojodu, Lagos for what they called 'capture'. I wondered why it would take a year to come for the 'capture'. I was told that many people were on the queue and their 'capture' equipments were few. I was told that a photocopy of my form on which the July date had been written would serve as my temporary driving license until that date. I shook my head and left. On the assigned date and at the stipulated time of 7am, I arrived. First, it took a lot of pleading to let me drive in through the gate. With one year scheduling, I had expected few people but was shocked by the large crowd milling around the place. I moved from place to place and after several hours when I arrived in front of the 'capture' machine, I was told that my name had not dropped. 'From where ?' I asked. I made three other visits over a period of five weeks, because either, my name was still traveling from wherever to the 'capture' machine, or because there was no 'network' to capture me. I finally got another temporary driving license. And so I will have to return to Ojodu in 60 days when it expires or wait to be called to come and collect the permanent driving license when it is ready and who knows how many more trips that will take, because I saw People who had been called to come and collect, and they came, only to be told that the license was not yet ready. I do not know of any other country in the World where citizens are subjected to this kind of torture just to obtain a driving license. When my son-in-law heard my story, he sympathized with me because he went through an 'agent' and got his with ease! I suffered the same fate in trying to renew my plate numbers as demanded by FRSC. I have completed my registration for the National Identity card at a special unit set up by the National Identity Commission at an interaction in Lagos. I was given a temporary National Identity card. I do not know when I will get the permanent one. Now I have been asked by the Central bank to go to my bank and obtain another Universal identity card. I do not know how many trips I will have to make to obtain a temporary card before I struggle to get the permanent one. I will still go for my voters card and do biometrics and for my Pension, another set of biometrics and identity card. How many Identity cards is a normal law-abiding Nigerian expected to carry?.Why the National identity card can not suffice for all these is what I am asking. I am searching for Mr Government to ask him, because that is what I am asked to do. Can't these government agencies and officers who are asking for these many identity cards share information ? Or is it the fault of Mr government ? Why do we relish in making life difficult for fellow Nigerian citizens and then blame government. Any where Nigerians are to receive service from a government agency, the story of misery and denigration of human dignity is repeated. Who is government? What can be the problem? Is it a matter of lack of a compelling vision, or lack of motivation, or lack of empowerment or plain lack of commitment. What ever it is, I believe that something must be done urgently and in a holistic manner to remedy this anomaly which is creating a lot of problem for the citizens in Nigeria. The unnecessary suffering to which Nigerians are subjected to at every point can not continue this way. What is worse is that the pains intensify when people are doing their best to obey the laws and be responsible citizens. This backlash may seem to promote deviant behavior or corner cutting. Some are 'compelled' to 'settle' police on the highway than go through the torture of trying to get a driving license. All those who are part of government at all levels will need to undergo a fresh orientation to make them understand that point, that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. That Government is not about a single person but a chain of persons who deliver service to the Citizens and that the best President or best Governor will achieve little if all other parties are not playing their roles with the same efficiency and consistency. The leaders of our Governments must therefore take appropriate initiatives on building this consciousness in all persons in government. For empowerment and motivation, the leaders must ensure proper skilling up and motivation of all those involved in the governance process. The right persons must be put in the right positions to ensure the integrity of the chain.For commitment,the leaders must demand evidence of performance down the line. This must be measured and rewarded so that the unskilled for the assignment, the unprepared and the indolent are weeded from the system, so that the impact of good governance can be felt by citizens leading to improved quality of life and the reduction of the misery index. It seems this is perhaps the most critical responsibility of the leaders of the different tiers and arms of government and may actually be the differentiating characteristic of the effective government leaders. Sitting at the capital and hoping that all the 'beautiful' policies, projects and programmes are yielding the desired result will not do. If those who are part of government are blaming the government,one can then understand why some other Nigerians make a past time of blaming government for every problem. If the gutter overflows, it is the government that must be blamed and nothing to do with the citizens who throw pure water satchets and sundry rubbish into the gutter. When the road is blocked, it is the government and nothing to do with the indiscipline of citizen drivers who refuse to give way to each other. In those Countries that we admire and aspire to be like, most Citizens regulate themselves and accept responsibilities for the good order of the society, thus allowing the regulatory enforcement agencies to effectively contain the few deviants. If everybody is a deviant, no government can effectively manage public order. That is my point and it does not in any way absolve the government in power from its statutory responsibilities. There is a role for the government and there is a role for the citizen. Any dereliction on either side will create problems for the society, just as we are having,Period. Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR