Issues concerning the harmonised minimum wage approved by the National Assembly as a national wage benchmark for both public and private workers have again resonated, this time for bad reasons. There are indications that the Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State-led Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, are up in arms to tinker with the wage of state workers, their reason being the dwindling revenue to state governments. They have also been fingered over attempts to sack workers en mass in order to stay afloat. But organised labour has warned of the consequence of such actions.
There is no doubt that states across the country have been in financial mess for some time now and have been living on a lifeline provided by the Federal Government, through several interventions and bailouts that appear not to solve the financial mess. The governors are also heavily indebted to local and overseas financial institutions. However, most of the executive governors are still hell bent on taking more loans, a development that has further mortgaged the future of their states with several of such facilities, a good number of which were frittered away through profligacy and corrupt habits.
Not too long ago, Governor of Zamfara State, and chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Alhaji Yari, reportedly said that governors could no longer pay the N18, 000 minimum wage that was signed into law in March 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. He gave the poor state of the economy as the reason.
Rising from a recent crucial meeting the NGF said that the dwindling prices of oil had drastically affected their states’ income. He said, “The situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18,000 minimum wage, when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and we have continued paying N18,000 minimum wage now that the oil price is $41 per barrel. The source of government expenditure is from oil and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future.
According to him, “We will diversify our economy in the area of agriculture and mining. But at the same time, we should understand our situation where some of us (states) today are taking N100 million as monthly allocation and then have salaries of over N2 billion to pay,” he further lamented.
But the Organised labour immediately kicked against the governors’ stance, saying workers are ready to shutdown the country, if the governors push them too far. “The governors should not think the Nigerian workers do not have the capacity to retrench them” President of NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, said, noting that Nigerian workers totally reject the governors’ position, and warned that if the governors wanted organised labour to close down the country, labour was ready to do so.
Wabba argued that it was a reality that N18, 000 could no longer take the workers home and cannot sustain any family, while he disclosed that many countries are reviewing their minimum wage upwards to meet the current realities. As it is now there is even greater need to increase the minimum wage because the currency had been devalued, while inflation keeps rising among others.
Interestingly, two governors, Adams Oshiomhole an APC governor from Edo State and his Ekiti counterpart, Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have backed out of the governors’ plot. Oshiomhole warned his colleagues of the outcome, insisting that democracy cannot be run at the governors’ comfort. He recalled that the minimum wage was agreed between the Federal Government and the organised labour by the previous administration.
According to him, the payment of minimum wage to workers in the country was not imposed on the government; rather it was a product of agreement between government and labour. His words, “I am a labour man, I have been clear with my colleagues in seeking to find solution to the problem we face. We have to be holistic, we cannot at one hand question the wisdom behind the national minimum wage,” he said.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State is on the same page as Oshiomhole and labour, dissociating himself from the plot to cut salaries of public servants or have them retrenched massively. Rather he urged his colleagues to cut travels, tours and not minimum wages.
According to a statement he issued in Ado-Ekiti and signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Idowu Adelusi, the governor said during the Treasury Board meeting held as part of preparation of the state’s 2016 budget, that “Today most newspapers carried the story about call by some state governors that the minimum wage of N18, 000 be reduced or that there should be massive retrenchment of workers in the public service. They are on their own and I take exception to that. The minimum wage is even not enough.” He emphasised that reduction of wages or retrenchment of workers won’t happen in Ekiti State. “Instead of those anti-labour and anti-people policies, the governors should cut down on their travels and tours and cut down minimum wives and children and their affluence. Let the governors cut their coats according to their sizes,” he said.
It is good talk coming from the two governors as well as organised labour. The stakeholders have spoken and it is only rational that the governors listen and reverse their demonic schemes. They should be wise enough to gauge the mood of the nation and that of workers so that they to tow this path of honour and wise counsel, if they do not want to bring the country on its knees. After all whatever befalls the states today, economically, they governors are the worst culprits and not the bewildered and spent- workers whose minimum wage is not even a living take-home pay.
We join in solidarity with organised labour, Govs Oshiomhole and Fayose to warn the governor’s forum against the intending wicked plot. No matter, whose agenda, whether APC or external influences, we say “No”, to salary cuts and mass sack, rather we ask the governors to shun corruption, profligacy and recklessness. They should diversify their economies and think outside the box by engaging in productive ventures that will grow their IGRs. Rather than cut wages and throw millions back into the unemployment market, we seek an immediate upward review of the N18, 000 minimum wages, after all when there was excess crude money, the workers did not benefit, and so, they should not bear the brunt now.
Today, with huge bills from electricity providers, increase in fuel price, school fees, hospital bills, and other utilities, N18, 000 cannot take any worker to the bus stop, not to speak of taking them home. Yes, we know there are challenges, but the governors should face reality. The problem is the cost of governance and too many frivolities, which they must shirk. We unequivocally demand to know the governors’ salaries, that of their commissioners, advisers, as well as others as approved by the Revenue and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission, RFMC, in addition to their controversial security votes.