THE Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday warned that attempts by the governors through the Governors’ Forum to go back on the N18,000 national minimum wage signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2011, was an open declaration of war against the Nigerian workers.
NLC also tells President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare to receive the proposal for the upward review of the minimum wage as contained in that agreement. The labour union said that the proposal was delayed because the NLC wanted to give the government time to settle down before coming up with the demand.
The workers insist that the ability to pay even above the wage was not the problem of the economy. NLC traced the history of the current minimum wage and explained that the 2011 wage came into existence after almost two years of agitation and eventual negotiation by the tripartite of government (represented by the federal and state governments), the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA, representing other employers (in the private sector) and organized Labour.
The statement read in part: “The Nigeria Labour Congress is shocked by the statement credited to the chairman of the Governors Forum, Governor Abdulaziz Yari, that the N18,000 national minimum wage promulgated into law in 2011 was no longer sustainable because of the fall in the price of crude oil
The Governors also claimed that the national minimum wage was ‘imposed’.
What is the problem for states and other tiers of government is the amount many political office holders and their unproductive aides take away as wages. For the private sector, the greed to accumulate more and more profit is also always a motivating factor to keep wages down.
“Similarly, we have been in the forefront of campaigning that the cost of governance at all levels needs to be drastically cut down, to free enough resources for development. The hundreds of billions of Naira our public office holders continue to filter away in the name of governance is what is not sustainable.
“For instance, the annual cost to the public purse of governors ‘security votes’ which is an unaccountable drain on the public resources, is worth several thousands of minimum wages per state. Secondly, Nigerians who have the means to travel by air would recall that in the last 6-10 years, majority of, if not all our governors, no longer use commercial airline regular flights as a means of transportation from one place to another. They now have ‘official’ aircrafts and helicopters, which they maintain at huge costs to the state treasury.
“Their less ‘fortunate’ counterparts charter aircrafts and helicopters at the cost of millions of Naira to tax payers to attend any manner of functions from marriages to child naming ceremonies.
“States are in the poor financial state they are in largely on the developmental choices they have made; largely on the basis of priorities they have chosen which has nothing to do with the public good. Workers’ salaries cannot be sacrificed on the altar of challenges of the economy which is not the making of workers. It has never happened in the history of our country, and it will not be said that it is during our leadership of the Nigerian labour movement that this calamity was allowed to happen to Nigerian workers.
“With the recent devaluation of the Naira, and the attendant increase in inflation and cost of living, even without the last minimum wage Act reaching the mandatory five years when it is due for review, we would have been justified to request for review.
“Now the five years is here – we are at the end of 2015, and with the cost of living being so high, we will soon table our new minimum wage demand to the federal government. If the recent statement by the Governors Forum is intended to manoeuvre them away from addressing this imperative, then it is bound to fail as we are ready to do battle to raise the living standard of the Nigerian working people.”
So why is it that the governors claim they cannot pay this amount when they have received a bail out from the Federal Government?
A Revenue Generation Specialist, Bayo Adefeegbe, has emphasised that governors that fail to plan ahead will continue to ask the Federal Government for bailout.
The government at the centre had months ago approved a release of funds to the state Governors as bailout.
Low Economic Competence
But Mr Adefeegbe said that the earlier bailout given to the governors would have cushioned their financial challenges if there was a good plan on ground for the funds received.
“There were no short, medium or long term plans that would have sustained the states,” Mr Adefeegbe stated.
“Believe me there will be a request for more and more again.
“Nigeria being a political economic environment, we find most times that people who are wonderful politicians are not as sound and competent as they should be when it comes to economics,” he said.
He suggested that the competencies of the advisers of the governors must also be looked into to ensure that they would give the governors good advice.
The Revenue Generation Specialist further said that the governors must take a critical look at the states revenue and expenditure and cut costs as much as possible.
He further suggested that the governors must look at other means of generating revenue for the state.
Also giving his opinion on the issue, a lawyer and a public affairs analyst, Dr. Chima Nnaji, said that the bailout request would stop at one point.
“Nothing is ever constant.
“The bailout is coming from a particular source and when the source itself begins to run real dry and the heat is on those who make available the so called bailout, the two will begin to bail themselves out of the situation.
“We are paying the price of negligence. In any situation you have a sequence, there must be a consequence,” Dr Nnaji said.
He expressed worries that the states were not creative and that the process of selecting the people who manage Nigeria’s affairs was based on sentiments.
“Unfortunately, the collateral damage is for both the rich, the poor and the poorer,” he said, stressing that a collective welfare of the people would bring better result.