It is with utter disgust that I watched the deliberations over the minimum wage on one of the TV stations where the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, was stating that the Federal Government was ready to offer N24,000 minimum wage while Labour that was asking for N60,000 to my surprise is now suddenly asking for N30,000. To me, it should be N50,000 minimum wage or nothing. Is it not from the same economy that a legislator who could be a school certificate holder goes home monthly with N13.5m while a director in the public sector who could be a PhD holder earns N350,000 monthly? Is this not ridiculous? In fact, but for the bravery, integrity and conscience of Senator Shehu Sani, we would not have known that the senators earn that much in a month, yet they are our representatives.
It is quite disheartening to observe that over seven years after the last minimum wage was reviewed, and almost four years in the life of the present administration, we are still at the stage of negotiation while workers wallow in grinding poverty as what is being paid is obviously for them to exist and not to live. But the politicians in the same socio-economic milieu are living ostentatious life due to their bumper income (excluding their constituency and oversight “paje”)as revealed by Sani.
For God’s sake, must we be politicians before we earn a living wage that could earn us minimum comfort in this country? With the Labour asking for N30,000 minimum wage, are they actually representing us workers? Are they presenting the true pains, adversities and yearnings of workers in clear and strong enough language to secure N50,000 minimum wage from the Federal Government? Is Labour reminding the politicians that we all own this country together, and that they, the politicians, are to serve us and not the reverse? Is it not a paradox that Nigerian politicians are about , if not the highest paid in the whole world while the workers are the least paid with exception of Malawi?
Should the Federal Government come up with the excuse that the economy is not strong enough to accommodate N50,000 minimum wage, Labour should moot the ideas of 1) dropping the present bi-cameral legislature and adopting the more economical unicameral legislature to be in tune with the emerging economic realities. 2) Their monthly N13,5m, if it is true, be slashed to N3.5m monthly which is tenfold of what a director earns monthly in the federal civil service. The present gap between the earnings of politicians and workers is laughable and dangerous.
The main purpose of this piece is however not to expose the horrendous gap between the political class and other Nigerians who are actually creating the national wealth, but to discuss the option of a more reasonable and acceptable minimum wage.
The idea of a single uniform minimum wage across all strata i.e.( federal, state, local governments and even the private sector is to me not only puerile and preposterous but also disconnected. What is the wisdom in using the same minimum wage for Ekiti and Rivers states, the same minimum wage for Zamfara and Lagos? How can you use the same minimum wage for Kebbi and the Federal Government workers? No wonder most governors are not always disposed to pay.
During the period of regionalism in Nigeria, the then Western Region, when the late Obafemi Awolowo was the premier, paid higher than the Federal Government and workers not only fared better and there was also better industrial harmony.
What is bad in having differentiated minimum wage in accordance with capacity to pay i.e. resources at the disposal of each stratum i.e. stratifying states to three classes ( 1st, 2nd and 3rd). Minimum wage of each should be determined based on allocation received from the Federal Government/ revenue generating capacity. States like Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Delta and Kano should be in the first class. In that order, we have second and third class states with their respective negotiated and agreed minimum wage.
The same premise could be adopted for the Federal Government workers and the private sector workers. For the private sector, the medium, small, and large scale enterprises should be used to determine the minimum wage. The excuse that only a singular minimum wage is constitutionally recognised is not tenable. Spirited efforts should be made towards sensitising or lobbying the lawmakers to amend the provision of the constitution to meet the current and emerging realities.