Saturday, 03 September 2011 06:36

Minimum wage and the rest of us

Written by  Muhammad Ajah

Should the civil servants working for the federal or state governments whether in the capital cities of Nigeria or in their villages rejoice that N18,000 is going to be the minimum salary for them every month? Should the children join the ceremonies that their parents will begin to smile home with such fat pay that equals US$118 approximately (N153 to US$1)? Should the government itself be proud that it has made a wonderful move to alleviate the sufferings of its poor servants who really run the activities of the state?

This issue of minimum wage has piqued a lot of Nigerians who are either curious or uncertain of its realization at all levels as well as the imminent consequences of the expected pay scheme. Patriots have become more wary with the revelations that many states may not join the programme on frivolous grounds that the federal allocations to them should be reviewed upwards.

The big question that confronts us is what has the federal government, especially the executive arms, put in place before pressing the legislative to pass such bill into law. Things go anyway that some few influential people (it may be unworthy to call such humans patriots) want them. It is time for change of government or continuity for so-called stability – the car-go syndrome. Promises for even things that can never be possible in Nigeria in the next two decades are carelessly being made to the gullible public. And the agents, right deep in their hearts – if they do have conscience – know well that they are fooling the masses. Not one percent of all that they promise will come true if it is the same cabal.

Methinks the National Assembly is there to check and to some extent correct the activities of the executive and make laws that should really touch the lives of the people they represent. But events have shown that hardly have life-touching laws been made for the people. Passing the bill of minimum wage into law is not as hard as implementing it. The masses are always at the receiving end.

When the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) insisted that the minimum wage should not be less than N50,000, all the beneficiaries of jumbo (undeserved) salaries and entitlements raised against it overtly or covertly, not because the country cannot afford to pay even more than that or that the civil peasants do not deserve it, but merely because it will make the servants more comfortable to begin to understand their surroundings and thus begin to question and challenge these so-called leaders one day.

So, the slogan for our civil servants is “keep them just alive”. And those supposed to be representing them at all levels of government feed fat on the nation’s wealth – on the sweat and fortunes of these masses. This is why the clarion call for a true change in government has become pressing than ever before. For how long shall we continue like this?

Some states are already crying that they cannot pay up to N18,000 except the federal allocations to them are increased. One asks what they have been doing with the huge allocations they have been collecting. No States receives less than 900 million naira every month and payments to civil servants cannot consume 30% of each allocation. Some states, mostly those of the Nigeria Delta, receive over ten billion naira monthly. So, is the money used for human capacity building of their people including the poor and needy civil servants? Is it used for infrastructural development of their states including schools, hospitals and social amenities? What are these billions of naira really used for every month despite the fact that payment of the workers – which is primarily the pivotal demand of governance – cannot take one third of the allocations?

What effect can governance at the state and local levels claim to have made on the people. There are no roads, electricity, portable water source, healthcare delivery system, learning equipment and other social requirements in many of our communities. There is hunger in our villages, thus the rush into cities by the rural dwellers. Therefore, how are these monies spent every month that states will be incapacitated if they pay a paltry N18,000 to the civil servants. Trust is lost. Brotherhood and humanity have been buried away from the hearts of these governments who are but human beings born, nursed and maybe trained to grab the unique opportunity to preside over the affairs of human beings like themselves – even if they may think otherwise.

The argument should not be whether N18,000 can be paid by state governments. The federal government should, through its agencies, calculate the money each state receives, compel them to open separate accounts for payment to civil servants, and lay out punishment for any contravention by any state. Can the federal government really force states to pay when its leaderships are not also entangled in and confronted by financial mismanagement? Can there be transparency and accountability in Nigeria? Yes, it will come one day. But we are still far from that today.

Again, the argument should be how to give value to the paltry N18,000. In one of my articles on the rising prices of commodities, I made references to how prices of food stuffs are going up in prices. There is no government mechanism to control prices. Traders increase their prices at will and no one dare questions them. The “ogas’, and “hajiyas”, do not care whatever effect the increase, however little, have on the masses. A shop can sell a stuff for N50.00, while the one adjacent to it will sells the same quantity and quality for N100.00 or even above.

It is unfortunate that the common Nigerians are left to the whims and caprices of these greedy traders who have already strategized to spell doom for the citizenry now that the income of the civil servants will be increased. This is a case for government to control. It is a case for the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and all trade unions which have the interest of the common Nigerians in their hearts.

Prices of bread have increased by over 30%. I recalled in an article a drastic demonstration by the people of Egypt against their government because of the increase of five piastres on the prices of their local bread called “aish” in the 1980s. Despite explanations given by the Egyptian government, the masses fully supported by the middle class and a good number of the well-off grounded the civil activities. This forced the government to recant its policy and reinforced its citizen-consumer minimarts which sell commodities to the citizens at steadily subsidized prices. The establishment of such outfits which were always fully equipped and ready to serve the people overpowered the greed of independent traders to exploit the citizens. These public minimarts directly controlled prices and traders had no option than to make insignificant increase in prices in the areas where the government markets are not immediately situated or sell even less in order to attract patronage. Can this happen in Nigeria?

All in all, there is urgent need for government to secure the primary needs of the citizens: food, clothing and shelter. Why should there be increase in the prices of commodities without any just cause? For nearly four years, the prices of petroleum products especially fuel have been comparatively steady; kudos to the government of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adau of blessed memories and incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. The increase in the price of fuel used to spell doom for Nigerians, both the business and non-business class.

Prices must be controlled by governments at the state and federal levels now that the minimum wage is coming our way. If not, there will be no difference for a man who receives N10,000.00 per month and spends it all before each month draws its curtains and the same man receiving N20,000.00 for instance in the new pay-scheme regime but the traders and all other service providers collect it from him, leaving him to live from hand to mouth.

Value and worth must be accorded our meager salaries so that we can save at the end of the month for other pressing needs. By this, corruption will reduce at the civil service where some letters or tenders cannot be processed without a kolanut. It is only when the prices of commodities are strictly controlled that this will be possible. And when that is attained, the people will be happy, productivity and dedication in the civil service will be enhanced and, in no small way, international recognition to our great country will come by.

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