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

Mr. ‘Fix-It’ Tony Anenih was no patriot

Mr. ‘Fix-It’ Tony Anenih was no patriot

Chief Tony Anenih

Sonala Olumhense

Chief Anthony Anenih, one of the most influential chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party from 1999 to 2016 who was widely-known as “Mr. Fix-It,” died last week, aged 85.

A veteran of various political parties since the early 1980s, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him Minister for Works in his first term. He subsequently served twice as the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, and of the Board of the Nigeria Ports Authority.

His passing was followed by a heavy avalanche of tributes as frontline politicians praised the Edo State-born politician. Among others, President Muhammadu Buhari, former Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, and PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar called him a “patriot.”

He was a political colossus and a PDP hero and legend. But he was not a patriot by any stretch of the imagination.

But Buhari extolled him as a “frontline figure” in Nigeria’s political history.

Obasanjo called him “…a national icon and authentic role model…a patriot and a nationalist of no mean order…” Jonathan said Anenih’s name “would continue to appear in gold whenever the history of this country is being rewritten.”

As a culture, we do not speak ill of the dead. Well, we ought never to speak blatant falsehood before God either or betray the living through flagrant hypocrisy. Anenih was clearly and particularly a PDP figure. He was a cold-blooded PDP-partisan who saw Nigeria through the eyes of his party; he never saw PDP through the eyes of Nigeria.

A patriot loves, asserts and defends his or her country passionately; Anenih’s passion was the PDP, right or wrong. To pronounce him a patriot insults both the term and Nigeria.

Did Anenih advocate an overriding public vision of Nigeria; if so, when, and what was it? What was his passion concerning uplifting Nigeria? What moved him to tears and what did he do about it?

Whom did he offend publicly in affirming right over wrong, ours over mine, day over night? Did he champion the cause of clean drinking water for every Nigerian…free and fair elections, free education or healthcare? Did he advocate libraries in towns and villages or opportunities for the gifted?

Was his combat in connection with maternal and child deaths nationwide?

Through 16 years and three presidencies during which Anenih was one of the top figures, the PDP brand was of political brigandage, ethical arson and administrative incompetence. Murder, looting and injustice ran the day.

Where was Anenih? He is not on record anywhere as speaking up for Nigeria publicly, as patriots do; or as working courageously for the national cause, as patriots do.

In fact, in the one matter in which he was directly involved, he admitted receiving N126 billion—not N300 billion—in four years as Minister of Works, as though N126bn were akara change. He never identified one good road nationwide for which he was responsible.

That was at the federal level. Through the 16 PDP locust years, Anenih was also the Chris Uba—or the Jagaban, if you like—of Edo State politics.

That was why, after former Labour leader Adams Oshiomhole slipped past him through the judiciary into the Edo governorship in November 2007, he made it Job One to yank out the fangs of the Edo State godfather. And that is why Oshiomhole called the 2015 presidential election in the state “a referendum between the godfathers and the great people” of Edo, and celebrated mightily when PDP was worsted.

Oshiomhole recalled that when he assumed the governorship, “every councillor in Edo State, local government chairmen, House of Assembly members, the governor and of course you have the Presidency, (were) all PDP members. Now to imagine that from Ground Zero we came in to challenge this order and of course we must not forget that when they talk about god-fatherism in Nigeria politics, it is a small, powerful, unaccountable, un-elected group.”

“Mr. Fix-It” achieved that blanket control not by subscribing to any democratic principles, but by intimidation and blackmail. If he liked you or was doing you a favour, the job or elective office you desired was yours.

For elective offices, he didn’t campaign: he simply conveyed to the other candidate that the position was unavailable and that he ran at his peril.

That is the same language he employed when he declared in an open PDP meeting in July 2004 that there was no vacancy in Aso Rock and that President Obasanjo would determine his successor. Obasanjo did.Anenih enjoyed being “Mr. Fix It.” But ‘fixing’ and ‘fixers’ are crime—usually mafia—references to operatives who use extralegal means to control or even eliminate opponents of an opposing family or a boss, or who “clean up” after terrible crimes.

Of top Nigerians claiming Anenih was a patriot who “fixed” problems, the suggestion is that he untangled problems in the national interest, but none of them could name one such national issue or resolution, or how it made Nigeria better.

In other words, if indeed Anenih had any such gifts, it was to enhance the rampage of the PDP, which means he was a key contributor to the mess of 1999-2015.

Speaking of 2015, it also turned out that Anenih was a beneficiary of the infamous ONSA, with one of the counts against Col. Sambo Dasuki being that he transferred N260 million “…to the bank account of Tony Anenih with First Bank of Nigeria Plc…”

Speaking at a Benin City rally of the APC in December 2015, Oshiomhole scoffed: “Even at old age, (Anenih) collected N260 million.”

Anenih may have inspired the PDP as a criminal enterprise that broke all the rules of democracy, he didn’t illuminate or advance Nigeria. In Anenih’s PDP, Nigeria became the epicenter of human greed and official impunity and duplicity. In it, success was measured in what you could corner for yourself, no matter how many children were left starving to death.

That is why the country is littered with policy hoaxes and uncompleted projects and programmes, including a $16bn electricity scam. Think about it: last week, the Global Fund announced in Abuja a new grant of $660m to tackle HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria epidemic in Nigeria in the next three years.

The Global Fund had previously invested $2.6 billion dollars in the same projects, most of which disappeared into the quicksands of ramshackle governance in Abuja championed by the PDP; the new $660m is guaranteed to go the same way.

Somehow the All Propaganda Conglomerate took over and has compounded that template. But patriotism is not manufactured in graveside tributes, but by toil and tears expended in life.

As a human being, I condole the Anenih family. As a Nigerian, however, I regret I am unable to accept the fiction of his “patriotism.”

In the end, patriotism is sacrifice for a beloved nation. Perhaps, then, we should be grateful Anenih chose to die in Nigeria; our slave-masters normally prefer to die anywhere else.

(Reactions of 500 words or less, particularly from anyone who has specifics of Anenih’s “patriotism,” are welcome).

Credit: The Punch