Minimum Wage: Government’s Lack Of Seriousness On Negotiations – By Adekunle Adekoya

Organised Labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trades Unions Congress, TUC, and their affiliates made good their threat to go on strike by end of May if the Federal Government failed to conclude negotiations on a new minimum wage. The Minimum Wage Act, signed into law by former president, Muhammadu Buhari, expired in April....Read The Full Story Here ▶

By implication, the existing minimum wage of N30,000 had expired, and it is illegal for governments and other employers of labour to continue to abide by it, hence the call on government to negotiate a new one. The need for a new minimum wage became an imperative with the removal of subsidy on petrol and flotation of the naira, which had the tsunami effect of making life and living nearly unbearable.

I am of the opinion that government has not taken the issue with the seriousness I think it deserves. The unseriousness, in my book, began with the composition of the committee. And 37 Nigerians were drawn from various stakeholder groups. Note: 37! Then, a request was made for government to approve the sum of N1 billion for the operations of the committee and other related matters, perhaps including transportation, accommodation, and victuals during the period the committee was to sit.

The president, we were told, later slashed the request to N500 million. Still, that is such a princely sum for 37 people to jaw-jaw about a new minimum wage. The indication of profligate spending here is a pointer to unseriousness. One of the unspoken, but well-noticed issues about the committee’s work was the conspicuous absence of their lordships, the state governors, one from each geo-political zone of the country at the committee’s sittings. The governors are Mohammed Bago of Niger; Bala Mohammed of Bauchi, Umar Radda of Katsina, Charles Soludo of Anambra, Ademola Adeleke of Osun, and Bassey Otu of Cross River.

Till yesterday, none of them showed up at the committee’s sitting. The only governor that showed up there was Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, and he wasn’t even a member of the committee. I find the absence of the governors very disturbing, given the fact that, collectively, they have the largest number of workers that will get the minimum wage. From my book, that was utterly contemptuous of their imperial excellencies. I guess talking about how much to pay the lowliest servant in their employ was beneath their dignity? If I were a governor, and was nominated into that committee, I’d treat the assignment as a toilet call, which no human being can delegate. I’d be there, fully armed with all the data at my disposal to defend the position of the government I head. But no, their excellencies were too busy with other things better than that.

Another disappointing optic was the President ordering the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy to furnish him the cost implications of the minimum wage increase based on an unannounced offer. I rather think the Finance Minister should have been the driver of the negotiations by appearing at the talks with all the relevant data showcasing impact if N50,000 was paid, what it would be if it was N70,000, N100,000 or any other figure adopted. That would have helped fast-track the negotiations from a realistic angle and saved all concerned the rigmarole of walk-outs and the eventual strike which inflicted pains on a lot of Nigerians.

Anyways, a long time ahead of the strike, the Edo State Government had offered N70,000 as the figure it can afford to pay its workers as minimum wage. Since this is a national issue, what stopped the Federal Government from adopting the Edo template? Surely, a lot of considerations, especially ability to pay and sustainability of payment, must have attended the Edo offer before Governor Obaseki made it public. Why couldn’t the Federal Government have done something similar? Certainly the negotiating officials had a lot of time between January when the Tripartite Committee was inaugurated and now. What were they doing? Especially when it was clear that they were not personally going to do the grunt work? All each minister and governor and other mandarins in the committee needed do was give the appropriate instructions to their legions of special and personal assistants to generate the needed information.

My point on this: those who run our affairs are far too unserious with their duties. They treat matters of our welfare with disdain and levity. It explains why real development is eluding and may continue to elude our dear country. It explains why, 25 years after return to civil democratic rule, stable generation and distribution of electricity remains a mirage. Lack of seriousness is why it would take us more than 20 years to rehabilitate a 127-kilometre road, as is the case with Lagos-Ibadan Expressway!

Unseriousness, levity in high places and along the corridors of power is why the East-West Road will remain uncompleted and a Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road embarked on. It is unseriousness to hope to grow a trillion-dollar economy on less than 8,000 MW electricity capacity. How are you going to do it without building new power stations? The instances are too many. I really hope real, hard work can get done in government offices, instead of politicians flying agbadas all over the place! TGIF.

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