Politics of wages or wages of politics?
WHEN the Nigerian voters came out in their millions, despite the insalubrious rain or sun, to elect their leaders in the early part of this year, they did that with the hope that their lot would be considerably improved. Six months after the new leaders took the reins of government, there has not been any positive change.
Yet, the people are not inexorably agitated. They still trust that their leaders would spring those miracles that would erase the searing memory of failed electoral promises of the past. And thus when the leaders ask the people for more patience, they are ready to oblige them. Nigerians are known to possess the virtue of patience in an infinite measure.
But now, the leaders have begun to take this patience for granted. Instead of the improved well-being promised by the leaders, they are considering policies to deliberately immiserate the people. Of course, this is not surprising. The Nigerian citizens are used to the trust they repose in their leaders being inequitably requited. This is why instead of the leaders narrowing the rich-poor gap, they widen it through their obnoxious policies of pulverisation or outright official thievery. But the difference between the previous political eras and now is that the people have become conscious of the fact that they have a role in the enthronement of good governance.
Thus when state governors declared at the end of their meeting last weekend under the auspices of their self-serving Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) that the N18,000 minimum wage was a suffocating burden to them, the people’s reaction was spontaneous and appropriate. Articulating the position of the millions of poor Nigerians, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) warned the governors against any move to reduce the minimum wage. Despite the now familiar jeremiad of state revenues being depleted by the crash in the prices of crude oil, the position of the NLC remains unassailable. For the sake of the road sweepers and other poor Nigerians, the NLC must not negotiate away this position.
The nation’s political history is replete with the evidence that those who pretend to serve the people have often been driven into public offices by their quest for the appropriation of the plethora of privileges of their positions. When they consider running for a public office, they think of the untrammelled access to the public treasury, the glittering convoys that would massage their egos and the other warped privileges of their offices. They do not consider the sole purpose of governance which is to raise the people’s level of well-being beyond the one they met. They do not think of how to solve the people’s problems.
Denuded of the capability to think beyond the perks of their offices, all they are fixated on is how the challenges of the economy would not make them fulfil their electoral promises. Yet, the governors must take cognisance of the fact that they cannot think of wage reduction. In fact, this is the time to talk of increasing the remunerations of workers since inflation has rendered intolerably insignificant what has been existing as the minimum wage. If the governors are insensitive to the plight of the poor in the country, they must be reminded that the cost of living has not by any means reduced. For instance, public universities that were known for charging only token fees have started demanding huge fees from their students like private universities. These are the schools the children of the poor attend. Or are the governors saying that they would reduce the minimum wage because the cost of transportation has reduced despite the fuel scarcity? Or that the cost of health care has reduced? Would they reduce the N18,000 wage that a father uses to cater for his wife and five children?
The governors must come to terms with the fact that their engagement in politics should not only lead them to the saccharine privileges of public offices, it should also make them to accept the sacrifices involved. Despite their claims that they are aware of the need to be prudent in the light of the nation’s straitened economy, we are yet to read about our leaders whether at the federal or state levels declaring that they would not take their security votes. Even if they say they would not take the security votes and their salaries, that does not justify the reduction of the minimum wage. After all, because of the corruption of the Nigerian leaders, even if they offer not to be paid, they have ways of making money off the country. Think of inflated contracts, the proxy contactors and direct bribes and the point becomes clear.
Thus the governors must think of how to generate more revenues for their states. They must not depend on the allocations from Abuja to pay the minimum wage and render other services that would redound to good governance. Before oil became the sole source of revenues for the country, leaders were meeting their financial obligations to their people. It is incumbent upon the governors to plan as though the revenues from oil were no longer available. They must diversify the sources of their revenues. They must align their lifestyles with the current economic realities. How do they expect the poor Nigerians to accept that their already paltry minimum wage should be reduced when they are obsessed with private jets? Do they really expect the people to accept that their governors should live in luxury why they are afflicted with misery?
In so far as the citizens do not trust the leaders as genuinely serving them, they cannot accept the idea of wage cut. One way the governors can demonstrate their desire to be trusted by the citizens is for them to really strip themselves of the privileges that underline the fact that the nation is not facing hard times. They must repeal all the obnoxious laws that guarantee them huge pensions and perpetual comfort in retirement. They and their families must use the same public facilities like hospitals and schools to which the poor Nigerians who are paid the N18, 000 minimum wage only have access. Such sacrifices are the other side of the wages of politics our governors must come to terms with if they are to convince Nigerians that they want to genuinely serve them. They must avoid wasting their time on the politics of wage reduction that would provoke the people’s animus against them.