Lest We Forget

a commentary on socio-political developments and institutional policies

The N56,000 Minimum Wage Comedy

Not a few workers will be delighted at the proposal of =N=56,000 (Fifty-six thousand Naira) national minimum wage hy the Nigerian Labour Congress. Nothing excites a worker like more income. More income means more purchasing power. A man’s purchasing power is a determinant, and also a function, of his social status. That is why workers itch for promotions, politicians angle for juicy appointments, senior executives eye foreign courses and assignments,  all in a bid to rake in more and more Naira. That the extra income may end up being expended on the mundane and other inanities is immaterial. Who will blame them for the craze for more income?

In a country that one has to practically create a micro-government for his home or family nothing is sweeter than more money. You will need to build your own house,  if you want to evade the unspoken societal verdict of being a failure. Even if it is a “face cap”  uncompleted bungalow,  build something. Either you or your spouse must be the Minister for Housing and Infrastructural Development. You will need to sink your own borehole or a well as the Minister for Water Resources. In a country that gives you more darkness than light you will need to appoint self or spouse as the Minister for Energy and Petroleum Resources, struggle to buy an electric-power generator, and search for unavailable petrol that you must be happy to get at a cut-throat price. Since the Nigeria Police is your friend, it will be inconsiderate and uncharitable of you to burden your “friend” with the duty of securing your life and property at night while you are sleeping. To solve the problem you will need to relate with other micro-governments around you to get some night watchmen. In all honesty, you need all the money you can get or grab by new promotions,  better employments, and the like to execute these onerous tasks.

But a new collective national wage increase is a different ball game. It is a zero sum game, a catch 7 7. It is a game that you win everything and lose everything. You will win, no doubt. And surely you will lose. Check the past records from Udoji Awards of 1973 to Gbemu Aremu (that’s the sobriquet for Olusegun Obasanjo’s salary review) of 2003. In the long run are the workers the better? No. Because no sooner had such financial windfall come than inflation, like pacman game, would purse, overtake and swallow the fat salary.  That is why, today, there is a new wave of agitation for a salary review. Your landlord will take his pound of flesh, the prices of household commodities will skyrocket,  because the market men and women must partake of the cake, transport fares will go up,  other ripple effects will lynch the new salary.

The private sector workers will agitate for a return to the “status quo ante”. The belief is that the private sector workers must earn better pay than their public sector counterparts. Individually, their unions would force them to “jack up”. The companies will jack up the pay packet of their workers and also increase the cost of their products in the market, waiting to collect from you a part of what they pay their staff. Not only that, the companies would lay off some workers who one way or the other becomes a liability to you. As a rule every citizen must be financed every day, whether they are employed or not. In other countries their governments finance the existence of the unemployed through several welfare packages. In Nigeria, however, it is the workers, that’s probably including you, who finance the existence of the unemployed. Invariably, you are left with nothing but a fresh desire for a new salary review.

The way out is the strengthening of the Naira. Increasing the purchasing power of the currency is a more reasonable demand than a populist, ill-wind, comedic jumbo minimum wage request. Let there be reflationary packages that will bring down the cost of living. Let the =N=10 (ten naira) be able to buy more than a sachet of pure water. The highest Chinese currency is 100 yuan, ours is 1000 naira. Introduction of higher denomination is a subtle devaluation of tge currency. Let the lower currency denominations be re-introduced. Comrade Ayuba Waba will do well to agitate for a deal that will benefit the workers in the long run.

Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commision (RMAFC) in conjunction with  National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) should drastically hack  the overbloated income and emoluments of political office holders, especially the federal legislators.  In fact, the highest paid political office holder in Nigeria should not earn more than thrice  the salary of the permanent secratary, the most senior civil servant.

Lest we forget,  how many states are currently able to discharge their wage burden under the current =N=18,000 (Eighteen thousand Naira) minimum wage, paltry as it is? To add the yoke of =N=56,000 will be the last straw that will break the proverbial camel’s back. Let the NLC and the TUC be more serious and realistic.  We do not need a troublesome comedy.

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