Of National Minimum Wage And The National Question, By Tunde Abatan

Tunde Abatan

Of National Minimum Wage And The National Question, By Tunde Abatan


In the past three weeks, two issues have remained in the front burner of the country.

These issues are the new National Minimum Wage which is due for review having been reviewed last ten years ago and the imperative of getting a new governance model for Nigeria.

The two issues are central to the harmonious economic relationship between the government and organized private sector on one hand and the Nigeria Labour Congress cum the Trade Union Congress.

While the first issue-the new national minimum wage has its historical and economic connection with the pre- independence days when it was started by the then Western region government of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the second issue, the need for a new constitutional arrangement date back to entrance of the military into national politics in 1966 and the collapse of the practice of Federalism as a model of governance.

But the two vexatious issues had a meeting point in the foundation of Nigeria and its corporate existence.

While the first had to do with relationship between workers in the government and organized private sector, the second had a meeting point on how the later can ensure a less expensive, peaceful and united country where the well -being of its citizens across the board are guaranteed.

It will be recalled that before independence, the Western region under the leadership of the late Premier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1955 introduced a minimum wage of 5 shillings and six pence as minimum wage to workers, workers in the North earned only two shillings and eight pence.

Indeed in 1959, Chief Awolowo as President of Action Group and Premier of Western region in June 1959 complained about,

” The refusal of the Federal government to introduce a policy of 5 pounds Minimum wage.

As for him, this has led to anomalies which must be depressing and shattering to those concerned.

Federal workers in the Western region then, for instance in the Post and Telegraphs and the Moor Plantation, who work side by side, live in the same sort of houses and buy from the same markets with Western region workers, get less in wages than the latter at independence.

Indeed, he made the fixing of National Minimum Wage a campaign issue at a press conference in Ibadan on Thursday June 4,1959.

Reasons for this historical recall is to underscore the need for applying the principle of Federalism in arriving at a consensus between the aggrieved Nigeria Labour Congress/Trade Union Congress, the Organised Private Sector and the Federal government.

Since the labour groups suspended it’s strike last week Tuesday June 4, there has been going back and forth between the trio on what should be the accepted minimum wage to all parties.

While the federal government is insisting on N62,000.00 as what is affordable and realistic, the Labour is insisting on N250,000 as its bench mark.

Labours new figure is 25%of its initial demand of N1million which it later reduced to N445,000 before the last strike which shut down the National grid with consequent loss of billions of Naira while the strike action lasted.

On its own, state Governors are saying they can’t even afford to pay 62,000 suggested by Federal government which the Labour groups has also rejected.

Now this stalemate between the government and Organised Labour.

Where do we go from here?

I think at this material time when issues of economic posterity of workers and the rebuilding of the country’s foundation is being seriously contested and challenged, this remains the best time when the political economy of Nigeria has a role to play in resolving the two issues now confronting the country.

If workers must earn a living wage and the national Assembly must continue to play its role, we have to look at what is reasonable and realistic wage for the workers and the size of Nigeria democracy vis a vis structure and form of government.

Same rule must apply to remuneration of the two chambers of the National Assembly.

There is no doubt that the Presidential system of government in operation has to be aligned with our economic realities as a country at this crucial period.

Hence, it is logical that size of government must match the resources at the country’s disposal and also the labour force used to service democracy.

This is also the time for President Tinubu to seize the initiative of clamour for Restructuring to bring out a labour wage system which must be in the true spirit of Federalism.

As it happened in the pre independence days and first Republic, Regions and or states now in the country must imbibe true spirit of Fiscal federalism which will ensure that states pay wages they could afford based on their economic strength while the Federal government does same for its workers as per the reality on the ground in each of the states where there are Federal workers.

In other words, a Federal worker in Ibadan and Niger state may not earn same salary with its counterpart in Lagos, Rivers and Kano state.

As Tinubu told Yoruba Leaders of Thought, when the later paid him a courtesy call, Fiscal federalism is the reality and only suitable now for our diverse country.

He must seize the opportunity of this wage increase and walk his talk.

State workers insisting on same salary with their federal counterparts presupposes Unitary government which present a false report of our diversity as a nation and against our economic realities.

Secondly, a merger of convergence of both Presidential and Parliamentary system remains only credible and sustainable system to lift todays Nigeria out of poverty not helped amount of money spent to maintain the extensive bureaucracy and political structure now in operation.

The time for Tinubu is now to brave the odds as he did with fuel subsidy and Naira floating if those measures when it succeeds will not be abused again by a large and expensive system which would’ve taken money for development to service the system.

Using the politics of second term to delay pruning the size of our democratic institution is akin to asking Nigeria to continue to bleed.

Labour force must be made to realize that a sustainable structural geographical and political system is a guarantee for realistic wage system.

A Nexus must be found between the composition, remuneration of the legislature and political appointees and the Civil service system which must earn reasonable living wage to build the emerging structure of the country.

Fixing a new minimum wage without Restructuring the country is akin to postponing the evil day as cost of running the Presidential will continue to impact negatively on paying living wage for both civil service and Organized private Sector, PS.

The time to restructure the country is now and National Assembly members must admit and face the reality of berthing a new NIGERIA.

This is only attainable if they set aside their personal goals for national interest.