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Workers, Governors At Daggers Drawn Over Minimum Wage Reduction

Cross section of Nigerian Workers agitating for the increase in minimum wage in Abuja in 2010

Cross section of Nigerian Workers agitating for the increase in minimum wage in Abuja in 2010

NOT many Nigerians will be surprised with the recent declaration by the 36 state governors that they can no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage that was signed into law in March 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Their reason is due to the poor state of the economy.

Rising from a crucial meeting at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja under the umbrella of Nigerian Governors Forum, (NGF) the governors said dwindling prices of oil had drastically affected their states’ income. Specifically, they said the burden of the wage was lighter when oil sold at $126 as against the current $41 per barrel.

“The situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18,000 minimum wage when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and we continued paying N18,000 minimum wage when the oil price is $41, while the source of government expenditure is from oil, and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future,” they said.

Not many Nigerians have forgotten in a hurry how some state governors opposed the payment of the minimum wage of N18,000 following its passage into law. The governors have argued then that for the fact that the states do not receive uniform monthly federation allocation, they should not be compelled to pay the same minimum wage. But the governors at the same time refused to tell Nigerians the size of their states’ workforce. While it is true that a state like Ekiti doesn’t receive the same monthly allocation or generate the same internal revenue with a state like Lagos, the reality is that the size of the Lagos State’ workforce and infrastructural demands are higher than that of Ekiti State.

The Guardian investigation reveals that since the passage of the N18,000 minimum wage in 2011, some state governors even during the rainy day refused to pay it to workers at all levels. While some state governors pay only junior workers, others over-tax the workers thereby making it more of giving with the right hand, and collecting with the left hand. Even at that, the workers are being owed salary arrears, while money for the payment is domiciled in fixed deposits. In the last 16 years, most of the state governments have not employed workers, when many have retired. In some states, there are no many junior workers and the governments have not deemed it necessary to employ workers.

When crude oil was selling and huge fund coming as monthly federation allocation to states, most state governments neither saved the money nor invested heavily in human empowerment and infrastructural development. As witnessed, they were busy engaging in white elephant projects and jamborees. Some were even borrowing with impunity despite the huge monthly allocation they were getting.

Even as the state governors gave the dwindling income due to the falling price of crude as the reason for planned reduction of the N18000 minimum wage, the situation has not discouraged some of them from appointing a retinue of aides who are paid bogus salaries and other emoluments.

Speaking to The Guardian on the development, former president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and member of the team that negotiated for the N18,000 minimum wage in 2011, Comrade Peter Esele said he was disappointed with the comment of the Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari that the wage was imposed on the state government.

Esele said: “I was a member of the negotiating team along Abdulwahab Omar of the Nigerian Labour Congress, representatives of the informal sector, representatives of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and representatives from the National Salaries and Wages Commission. Former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Alpha Belgore was the chairman of the National Minimum Wage Committee set up the federal government. The labour unions initially demanded N52,500, but the informal sector representatives said they cannot pay.

“We met with the state governors under the umbrella of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) at the Rivers State governor’s lodge in Abuja under the leadership of Mr. Chibuike Amaechi now minister of Transport. At the meeting, the governor of Plateau State now senator of the Federal Republic, Mr. Jonah Jang was the only governor that stormed out of the meeting.

“After all the data and statistics were made available and all options explored, the labour team were prevailed upon to shift from N52,500 initial demand to N18,000. That was how all of us agreed and signed a document. As at the time the N18,000 was agreed, the exchange rate was N150 per dollar. N18,000 was equivalent to 120 dollars then which came to about four dollars per a day. As of today, the money is less than 90 dollars having lost more than 20 per cent purchasing value. That was how a bill on N18,000 minimum wage was presented to National Assembly members which they passed into law and it was signed by the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. It beats my imagination hearing the state governors speaking from both sides of their mouths on the N18,000 minimum wage. It is quite unfortunate and disappointing considering that government is a continuum”.

The former labour leader said the governors have no constitutional power to reduce the workers’ salaries without recourse to the National Assembly. “Are the governors saying that if the monthly allocation increases, they will increase workers’ salaries? They will be the last people to do so. Our leaders should learn how to respect laws and agreements. If they continue to flout the country’s laws as leaders, what do they expect from ordinary citizens?”

On the argument by the state governors that it is illegal to ask states to pay uniform minimum wage without recourse to the disparity in their monthly revenue, Esele said the states don’t have the same staff strength and the cost of living also varies.

“It is becoming obvious to Nigerians that there are some people who just want to be governors for the sake of the position. There are those who have so much money that they do not know what to do with it other than to use it to buy their way to Government Houses as governors without any agenda. There are others who genuinely want to be governors and worked hard to become one to serve the people. If you visit their states, you will see the difference. If a governor is not creative and resourceful enough to pay N18,000 naira to workers, he is not worthy of that office,” Esele said.

Meanwhile, since the governors made the declaration, they have been roundly condemned by not only Nigerian workers but by some prominent Nigerians. Not even the former labour leader and governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is on the same page with his colleagues on the planned reduction. Speaking on the issue, Oshiomhole said democracy cannot be run at governors, and others’ comfort, stressing that nobody should question the wisdom behind the payment of minimum wage to workers in the country as it was not imposed on the government. Rather, it was a product of the agreement between government and labour unions.

“I believe that the issue in the economy has nothing to do with minimum wage. I have always also reminded my colleagues that the minimum wage was not imposed, it was negotiated and state governments agreed to it, the president signed it not under duress, there was no strike to compel the then president to sign it, he signed it voluntarily.

“I believe when you look at the minimum wage, as it is today at N18,000, it is less than 100 dollars. I think it is now about 80 dollars. Now, divide 80 dollars by 31 days, you will be getting about two point something dollars” he said.

In his own remarks, former vice chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU) Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi described the governors’ declaration as irresponsible, intemperate and callous.



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