These days that reality has dawned on labour leaders, they now resort to their original call to service to humanity, demanding for N65,000 minimum wage.
The nation is about to witness labour unrest over the demand for improved wages. There have been divided opinions on the desirability of the labour demand. One thing that no one cannot deny is the fact that the current workers’ pay is far from meeting the economic reality in Nigeria. The Federal Government for political reasons could not openly refuse or reject the labour demands. More so as election is just a few months away. To bluff off the labour groups will amount to committing political harakiri. It is obvious that government is weary and lacking in financial capacity to meet the N35,000 per month minimum wage.
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Before the advent of Comrade Hassan Summonu, the then President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in 1978, there was no structured minimum wage for workers.
The popular Udoji pay package of 1975 was not regarded as a structured minimum wage because it was not negotiated by workers representatives. Good as the Udoji award was, it was the beginning of the exodus of farmers from the rural areas to the urban cities; when those that were stark illiterates went for messenger jobs and security guards.
This same salary award also marked the death of the artisans as majority of them migrated to the urban areas to become motorcycle riders for banks and other corporations. By the time economic downturn came, they became the city-frustrated-okada riders. Even some of them turn to armed banditry when they could not make ends meet.
When in 1981 the political leaders raised their pay, the NLC called for N300 per month minimum wage. When the Shagari administration refused, the NLC went on strike, which was led by Comrade Hassan Summonu before the parties settled for N125 per month.
Another negotiation came in 1989/90 when Comrade Pascal Bafyau was the labour leader. It is interesting to note that Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole was delegated to conclude the negotiations at the end of the day they agreed on N250. Sylvester Ejiofor fought for N3000 minimum wage later. When Comrade Oshiomhole became the NLC president another round of agitation came and eventually minimum wage was increased to N5,000 and N7,500 civil servants and oil workers respectively. By the turn of NLC president Abdulwaheed Oma in 2008 the minimum wage was increased to N 18,000.
The Governor of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola in his submission held that there is a difference between wage and salary. According to him wage is what is earned per hour and salary is what is eared per annum which is usually paid in arrears monthly or weekly. Governor Aregbesola then stated that minimum wage should not apply across board. Minimum wage essentially should be applicable to the most vulnerable section of workers whose income is so low as to sustain them.
He further averred that “a good way to determine minimum wage should be to index it to the average income derivable from the predominant economic activity in an area, and that “in an agrarian environment where the staple crop for instance is maize, we can compute minimum wage with the annual yield of a single farmer if he works alone.”
In 1999, the workers ought to have enjoyed free and compulsory education, free health services for all citizens, better transport services and infrastructure development. But nothing of such came to them. Instead politicians were busy increasing their salaries and allowances at the expense of the people that fought for democracy. The workers union themselves fell into the hands of political leaders through divide and rule tactics. The NLC became factionalised. This eventually gave birth to Trade Union Congress (TUC). The days of Summonu and Oshiomhole, where governments were fought to a standstill, even the stubbornness of Kokori that made General Sani Abacha to suffer sleepless night could not be replicated.
It was alleged that labour leaders now enjoy the privileges of the corridors of power where they were settled with “Ghana-must-go bags” at the detriment of the workers they represent. These days that reality has dawned on all the labour leaders, and hunger is even affecting some of them, they now resort to their original call to service to humanity, demanding for N65,000 minimum wage. Do we need a prophet to tell us that the government of the day cannot afford such amount? The almost comatose economy is not healthy enough to meet the workers demand.
Last Wednesday marked International Day for Eradication of Poverty. China lifted over 500 million people out of poverty in 30 years. The feat is not limited to China alone with its 1.3 billion population but India has liberated 271 millions of her nationals from poverty in 10 years. Rwanda after its post civil war experience has done similar feat, taking a high percentage of the citizens out of poverty. Botswana achieved same feat, despite the fact that they cannot be considered with Nigeria in terms of economic power and mineral resources. But in Nigeria poverty is on the rise on daily basis. The number of the poor in Nigeria has increased by 1000 percent from 9 (nine )million in 1960 to 87 million in 2018. According to the Brooklyn Institutions, six Nigerians slide to poverty every minute.
We must focus on wealth creation if we are to change the narratives. If on the other hand, we play to the gallery by the distribution of social allowances and stipends to farmers and traders as loans, we are likely to sink deeper into poverty and penury in a very short distance time.
With general election few months away there are ominous signs of dangers. First, there is report of withdrawal of N435.41 billion from the Stock Exchange between January and July. This no doubt revealed that our economy is yet to recover fully from recession.
The report reaching us was that there is foreign capital flight. Yemi Kale of National Bureau of Statistics said the economy is still struggling to survive. Hunger is looming and possibly ravaging some communities in Nigeria, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) The organisation has since issued warning to Nigeria ahead of the food shortage.
The United Nations, The African Development Bank and the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, have described Nigeria as the global poverty capital. AFDB, average that 80 percent of our population are living in extreme poverty. 2.3 million people in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe are facing acute food shortages due to insurgency. Nigeria is one of the 37 countries in the world that is in need of external foods assistance. But despite these pieces information at the disposal of the power that be, can one ask what concrete measures are in the pipeline before the disaster strikes?
Aliko Dangote has been careful in words and indeed not to dabble into politics, yet he warned that investors “were being scared from Nigeria because of its insecurity, particularly kidnapping. Most of the people that own large farms on the Kaduna-Abuja Road have abandoned their farms due to the menace of kidnapping” he said. So was US Report in 2017 Crime & Safety – Abuja as serious risk crime centre that their nationals should be careful of.
Obaditan writes from Lagos