Much ado about minimum wage

The battle between the federal government and the organised labour  has been raging for decades. The Nigerian labour or the workforce want higher wages to cope with the current economic realities, but the government  feels reluctant to agree to their demand.

Labour feels that they are short-changed  when they compare their take-home pay with those of the lawmakers in the National Assembly. 

Unfortunately, we are aware of the jumbo pay for the nation’s lawmakers, but methinks there is no basis for the comparison given the onerous task at the table of the legislators and the responsibility for those who hang on their purse in their  constituencies. Also, the number lawmakers in the National Assembly and the state houses of assembly together, may not have been up to two per cent of the population.

We must note that in implementing government’s policies, there must be some tradeoff of macroeconomic variables. Thus, to increase the wages of Nigerian workers is an illusive drive for their welfare. Increased salary means higher inflationary trend that will finally crash the Nigerian economy, if care is not taken. 

Higher wages bring about the reduction in the workforce by employers in the private sector, especially by those who cannot cope with the trend,

thereby institutionalising unemployment or disguised unemployment in the society.

If the national inflation at the end of the day takes the much-touted  minimum wage, why should we then kill in order to get wads of notes that will be useless in the market?

Now, the state governors say they cannot pay a minimum wage beyond N60,000, because there will be nothing left for infrastructural  development and social services such as good hospitals, roads, power, education, and the like.

I expect the leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade  Union Congress (TUC) to prevail on government to reduce the pump price of petroleum motor spirit (PMS) and to provide enabling environment for artisans and small-scale businesses to thrive; reach agreement with the federal government to encourage domestic production in order to solve the problem of unfavourable balance of trade.  

Again, the unionists should fight for Nigerian farmers to get from government fertilisers and improved seedlings and high breed animal species for crop and livestock farmers, respectively, for increased domestic production.

We fail to remember that after independence, our currency was almost 60 dollars per one naira, particularly in 1972. The reason is that our farmers produced the foods we needed. Our industries produced the goods and even vehicles we used.

Then we had Peugeot Assembly plant in Kaduna, we had Steyr Trucks, we had Dunlop Tyres, we had Bata Shoes, and many more. All these companies have folded up due to enervating business climate, After that we developed a penchant for foreign goods and services on a journey of no return.

The demand for wage raise by the organised labour leaders is tantamount  to ignorance of the macroeconomic variables like unemployment, inflation, savings and investment as well as balance of trade. Can we not see that Nigeria’s woes started from the payment of Udoji salary awards to Nigerian workers? After the Udoji awards in the 1970s, too much money began to pursue too few goods and services leading to hyperinflation. Nigerians, after tasting the luxury money can buy, became lazy and unproductive.

 If, for instance, every Nigerian gets a million naira transfer payment or what some people proudly call palliative, by the morning tomorrow, every individual will feel too big to run their former businesses and would like to buy their needs from their neighbours who equally feel too big to rise to their trades.

It is unfortunate that Nigerians are wont to heap blames on their leaders. We fail to understand that the economic climate that made former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan good leaders are no longer  present in the current domestic economy. 

Obasanjo, Yar’Adua or Jonathan are Bola Tinubu and Tinubu is them. I don’t think as most compatriots think about the insensitivity of President Tinubu; I still doubt a true president of a country will enjoy the luxury of sleep while citizens wallow in penury. Unless he is a sadist, which I think Tinubu is not.

A rising cost of living is a global phenomenon. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. Also, there is no basis for comparing dollars and naira. With N1000, an average Nigerian can eat in a roadside restaurant to his fill. Can an average American fill their stomach with the dollar equivalent of N1000?

Labour will have greater support base if they prevail on government to reduce costs of governance, task federal legislators to make laws to discourage corruption in public offices. Labour should prevail on the National Assembly to enact laws that will solve the lingering herders/farmers clashes and instill patriotism in youths by creating employment opportunities for them.

If this is done, the chunk of taxpayers’ money that is being wasted yearly on insurgency, banditry and other forms of violent crimes will naturally die. This will free the huge security budgets to other pressing needs of all Nigerians.

Uji, a commentator on national issues, writes from Abuja.