By Oji Odu
In what can best be described as a surprised twist, the Federal Government has rejected the N22,500 minimum wage which Nigerian governors’ said they could pay their workers. To many, this absence of a united front by both federal and state governments confirms the alleged untrustworthiness of government by organised labour in the quest for a new minimum wage regime.
The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, said that Federal Government has rejected the N22,500 minimum wage proposal by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). “The governors have not even done enough. I told them that this N22,500 is even rejected by the Federal Government,” he said.
The Labour and Productivity Minister’s comments that the amount is below the N24,000 agreement by the Federal Government comes about 24 hours after NGF unanimously agreed to pay Nigerian workers N22,500 as the new minimum wage as against the current N18,000.
Chairman of NGF and Zamfara State Governor, Abdul’Aziz Yari, had explained that the decision of the governors was based on the current realities on the ground.
Ngige, however, assured that all parties on the ground would resume back on negotiations to resolve the issue and ensure that the welfare of the workers is met, although Chairman of the Tripartite Committee, Amal Pepple has been outside the country since two weeks on health grounds.
Further, the Minister stated: “The national minimum wage is a national legislation being driven by the Federal Government of Nigeria in pursuance to item 34 of the Exclusive Legislative list. But you don’t go and make a law which people will disobey at the initial.
“If you make a law and hoax a figure that is not agreeable, which people don’t have the capacity or ability to pay because the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says in those negotiations, the principle is the ability to pay.”
He added that any industrial action being embarked on the aggrieved workers to press for the N30,000 minimum wage would not resolve the issues at stake.
But labour is standing on its N30,000 demand, saying that the governors’ offerof N22,500 which is N7,500 short of its demand for N30,000, was a futile exercise, warning that the strike scheduled for Tuesday next week would proceed as planned.
“The N30,000 figure is not adjustable,” Denja Yakubu, Assistant Secretary (Information), Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Headquarters, Abuja said, and none of the tripartite stakeholders, including government, organised labour and organised private sector, could vary the figure he said had been agreed upon.
“We agreed to the N30,000 figure as the minimum wage at our last meeting. Sixteen of the governors were at the meeting, where the agreement was reached. Whatever they are saying now is a joke and self-deceit,” he added.
In a chat with Okafor Madumere, a labour expert, he said: “ It is rather unfortunate that strike seems to be the only language Nigerian governments understand before they do the needful. Unfortunately, it is only during election periods that government is forced to do the right things or the country can be shut down by labour.
“ Nobody should blame labour’s actions because after the election, it would be difficult for them to get anything from government. This, history has shown.”
Madumere regretted that a lot of private sector businessmen seem uninterested on the issue. “ What can labour do? After all, they are working to enrich their pockets,” he quoted a trader who is bitterly complaining of poor sales at Idumota.
“ But how will they continually buy his goods if their minimum wage is nothing to write home about? How can they buy when the prices of goods and services continue to rise on daily basis?,” he asked.
It is six days to November 6 doomsday. Labour is not backing down to shut down the nation in the nationwide strike. Do Nigerians have the capacity to cushion the increased suffering that stares them in the face?
As Labour and Productivity Minister, Chris Ngige labours to avert the strike which will definitely do the country more harm, many pray that his labour will not be in vain.