The national minimum wage revisited
It has often been said by leaders of thought that a nation will be judged by the way it treats its weakest citizens. At the expense of sounding trite, I would like to add my voice to the chorus of those who have postulated the principle. In this connection, the plight of the countless millions employed in minimum wage jobs bears mention and earnest consideration. The current paltry minimum wage of N18,000 per month is untenable and unconscionable for reasons which are cogent and palpably obvious. The status quo would be laughable if it were not so tragic and hellish for those affected. Most of who remain “invisible” whilst in plain sight or else are habitually treated as “flotsam and jetsam” by those further up the pecking order.
A society denigrating and denying the humanity of the majority of its citizens, in effect depriving them of the minimum modicum of humaneness and civility, thereby consigning them to the category of “useful idiots “ or more cruelly “chattel,” is a society toying with barbarity and looming implosion. A refusal to effectively address the legitimate expectations of minimum wage earners will guarantee a sure descent into societal chaos and widespread indiscriminate predatory behaviour. The perpetuation of the current ignoble state of affairs will leave us bereft of the most basic and prized national resource, which is an enthusiastic and efficient labour force and will catapult us collectively into an unredeemable quagmire, where the law of the jungle prevails and dictates proceedings.
I have recently returned from a trip to South Africa where I happened to visit a wild life sanctuary. Before leaving the safety and security of the peopled grounds and edifices and embarking on the trip into the wild savannah in a fenced tour vehicle, the expert guide issued me and my fellow adventure seekers a severe warning, stating that if anyone of us were to put ourself in harm way, he would not be able to help or rescue the unfortunate individual. Our first wild life encounter was with several ostriches that seemed at the same time benign and clumsy, the latter impression being buoyed up by the fact that they are flightless birds. Our minds were soon disabused of the former notion as we were informed that ostriches are very aggressive and possess tremendous kicking power, which if directed towards a human target can rip open the individual’s chest and stomach with one blow.
Our next encounter was with a pack of wild dogs apparently having nothing in common with their domesticated cousins, members of which sub-species are otherwise known as “man’s best friend.’’ The undisputed high point of the foray into the wilderness was the visit to lion territory, where I witnessed firsthand the awesome and unvarnished spectacle of a pride of lions ripping and devouring the bloodied, quivering raw flesh of their unlucky prey. To my astonishment, our expert guide opined that he would much rather fall prey to lions than to a pack of wild dogs. The fact of the matter being that lions will kill their prey before consuming its flesh, whereas, wild dogs will incessantly rip the flesh off their living prey. The inference being that death was agonizingly slow and painful. The summation of the foregoing account is that the law of the jungle is characterized by mercilessness, ferocity and carnage. In the animal kingdom these phenomena create equilibrium, however if transposed to human society would result in utter, unmitigated catastrophe.
Due to the devaluation of the naira, Nigeria’s annual minimum wage is the equivalent of $540 (parallel market rate). In contradistinction minimum wages of other countries are as follows: South Africa- $1860 -$1140 (domestics/farm workers), Angola – $1625, Chad – $1217, Mali $578 (supplemented by mandatory social security and health care, Libya $3919 and Philippines- $2663. Investing in our human capacity will produce a humane and less unjust society where those at the bottom rung of the economy are not pilloried for their circumstances or increasingly polarized by the existing vast socio-economic gap, but instead are viewed as valuable assets and integral stakeholders in the development and future of Nigeria. The first step would be to increase the minimum wage commensurately to the rising cost of living and the purchasing power of the naira. The move will inevitably produce the desired of effect of being a much needed morale booster and transfuse a weary, disinterested, disenchanted and extremely frustrated work force.
This in turn will improve overall work ethics, a key factor which drives local entrepreneurship and foreign investment. The question is not whether the national minimum wage needs to be increased or not, which is a moot point. The issue is how soon can it be done and whether any proposed or purported increase will be able to support the barest hopes, dreams and aspirations of the long suffering, teeming and silently enraged masses.
Fowler is an international lawyer.