Exceptional arguments against the minimum wage

Exceptional arguments against the minimum wage
Eze Onyekpere

The tripartite negotiations on the national minimum wage involving the government, private sector employers and the labour unions have thrown up fundamental issues of governance. The disputations question the basis of the continued existence of government in Nigeria. Many posers are raised: Why should the average person continue to pledge loyalty to a government that fails to recognise their right to exist, even if on the fringes and margins of society? It is a fundamental aphorism that the state exists to protect the security and welfare of the people. Laws and policies are to be made for the common good, especially the good of the majority rather than simply catering to the interests of the minority.
First, let us recall that what is being negotiated is not the maximum wage payable to employees in Nigeria, it is the minimum wage, the morality of the depths and not the morality of the heights. It is the minimum standard below which no state or employee is allowed to derogate from. So, listening to governors and commentators who are raising the issue of federalism as the reason why the Federal Government should not be legislating on the minimum wage, you either see ignorance or deliberate mischief. The legislation on minimum wage does not state that every employee should pay the minimum; they can go higher. Yes, wages should be deregulated according to the ability of states, local governments and generally, employers to pay. But the same, rather silly argument in the circumstances, is not used when the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is given the constitutional power to fix and has indeed fixed a uniform salary scale for all governors, legislators, judicial officers and political office holders across the states, no matter their federation account allocation and or internally generated revenue. They have all been collecting this uniform pay structure and yet, they raise this argument when it is the turn of workers to ask for a living wage!
Virtually every Nigerian governor collects security votes exceeding N200m every month and simply pockets the money and accounts to no one but his dead conscience. The security votes of the 29 states (no data exist for seven states) from 2015-2017 gave an annual average of $579,823,187 (N208.8bn). The governor hires a retinue of aides who do no work that adds value to the state but pays them jumbo salaries. They are never owed and they receive the remuneration at fixed dates in the month. The governors go on long convoys of not less than 15 vehicles and generally live very affluent lives which ideally should only be lived by multi-billionaires who sweat for money. The N13.5m running cost of senators can pay 750 Nigerians the minimum wage of N18,000 each. And this is remuneration unknown to Nigerian laws and policies. While we focus attention on the jumbo pay of legislators, the ministers and appointed aides at the federal level make a kill out of the treasury. If you ask them, they will point to the approved RAMFAC salary but they live lifestyles that cannot be paid for by the official remuneration. Can society make progress with such impunity founded on hypocrisy?
The workers are simply asking for about $80 at the rate of N365 to 1USD. The news that employers of labour, especially the state governors claim that they are not able to pay the new minimum wage is simply the product of warped and wicked minds suffering from exceptional depravity. Burkina Faso pays a minimum wage of $138; Chad- $239, Tanzania-$149; Ghana-$128; Kenya-$331; Senegal – $148; Algeria – $531 and South Africa – $517. Yet, we claim to be the giant of Africa. There is therefore no reason for workers to accept this madness, especially state level employers who are bent of dehumanising Nigerian workers.
Organised labour should utilise this opportunity to launch and mount a blistering campaign, organise rallies while politicians are organising theirs, against any state governor who claims he cannot pay the new minimum wage and ask the electorate to reject such warped minds. Such a campaign should also extend to any governor who is owing arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities. It would be suicidal for labour to allow such persons to come back as governors. How in all honesty can someone insist on leading a state when he lacks leadership qualities? Leading a people without a moral compass? Holding the led in disdain and displaying the exceptional depravity of stealing what they do not need. The time for this bunch of insensitive people is up and all men and women of goodwill should join hands to chase these crazy men out of leadership positions. Can any of these governors swear in all honesty that refusing to pay workers’ salaries is a product of lack of resources? How come there is self-evident inflation of contracts, mismanagement and stealing of available resources?
Let the governors be faithful over the little they have at their disposal and show utmost transparency and accountability. Men are caught on video stealing public resources and all they do is to use shadow groups and run to court to stop legislative investigations sanctioned by the constitution. A bishop comes to court with an affidavit showing the quantum of resources stolen by a former governor who is now a party chairman and the ex-governor says, no shaking. A former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, is in jail for stealing and many more will go to jail while those currently sitting as governors cannot account for the resources given to them to manage
Enter the pseudo-intellectuals who will argue that an increase in the minimum wage will lead to inflation. But inflation is not induced when someone steals billions, to every one’s knowledge. Inflation is only a product of when people’s suffering is about to be alienated. Even if prices of goods will go up, it is a product of the noise and reluctance of government and employers to do the right thing. They give traders and the common man on the street the impression that so much money is about to be made available to employees when the salary movement is from N18,000 to N30,000 – a mere increase of N12,000. Tell, me, what can N12,000 buy in the economy of today?
Dear organised labour, the ball is in your court, no one will give Nigerian workers their rights if you fail to utilise this historic opportunity of the minimum wage agitation to guarantee their rights to a livable wage. In the process, you will raise a structured discourse of Nigeria’s public expenditure management, plug the leaks and run a country on the basis of evidence and reason, rather than the current authority stealing going on in the name of governance. Our current leaders are suffering from exceptional depravity; they must not be allowed to continue. Nigerian workers have a right to determine their destiny!

Credit: The Punch

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