By Ibrahim H. Suleiman
The Federal Government recently came to an agreement with representatives of the Nigerian labour on the mode of implementation of the New National Minimum Wage after seemingly unending twists and turns on the modalities of the payment.
The national minimum wage as we know it today began from 1978 following the structural reorganisation of labour headed by Comrade Hassan Sunmonu, the first President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. Since then the implementation of a new national minimum wage in the country was always preceded by strikes or threats of strikes that threatened industrial peace and harmony in the country. In 2001/02 after the military successfully handed over power to a democratically elected government headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 there was a fierce struggle for a new minimum wage before an agreement between the NLC and government was reached for a minimum wage of N5,500.00 per month. Apart from the constitutional provision for an increase to the minimum wage of workers after every five years, there were provisions at that agreement for a 15% increase across board the next year 2002 and 25% increase in 2003. However, none of the agreements were implemented.
Furthermore, in 2010/11 during the then President Goodluck Jonathan administration the organised labour came to an agreement with the FG for the implementation of a new national minimum wage of N18,000.00 which became due for a review since 2015. Hence, the organised labour continued to push for a new national minimum wage. Already, the inflation in the country had reached double figures. Besides, the APC-led administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was confronted on assumption with a nationwide recession, which has not only cut down drastically on the Gross Domestic Product, GDP but has also resulted in a steep rise of unemployment. The country became a leading contender among countries with the highest number of people worldwide living in abject poverty.
Therefore, with a tottering economy and a new administration struggling to get its foothold on issues, the organised labour had to tread with caution for the new minimum wage. Nevertheless, just over four years into the life of the APC-led federal government a brand new minimum wage of N30,000.00 has eventually become law, awaiting full implementation.
At any rate, the battle for the implementation of the new minimum wage might not be over particularly in the various states of the federation. In fact, there are many states still owing workers arrears of salaries and pension – amounting to several billions of naira. In some of these states, including Nasarawa, workers have endured zero welfare provision for nearly a decade mainly as a result of the implementation of the N18,000.00 minimum wage. Promotions, incremental advice, leave grants and other allowances have since been swept off the table. Retired civil servants have particularly been made the scape goats. Not only denied their gratuities, their pensions have either not been paid at all or paid in percentages. In the case of Nasarawa State, until the coming to power of the current administration of Governor Abdullahi Sule, retired civil servants were paid in percentages for over two and half years.
Of course, it has often been argued that civil (and public) servants constitute a negligible percentage of the population, hence government must not use all its revenues on sustaining them alone. This argument has become fashionable among certain categories of politicians even as the civil servants remain the engine room of government. The fallacy in this logic does not end there, especially when one looks at the astronomical rise in the cost of governance (and in maintaining public servants or officials).
It is certainly inhumane for government to neglect the millions of its citizenry languishing in poverty and deprivation. Such individuals could be among the youths, who have no jobs to cater for themselves or the more vulnerable members of the society, including women, children and the aged. That is where the social welfare scheme – a prominent feature of the developed world – is now gradually being adopted in the developing world to cushion the effects of hardships and penury on the affected population.
Findings by experts have revealed that social welfare projects can also be a solution to a myriad of social malaise, including armed robbery and kidnapping which have lately spread like wild fire across the nooks and crannies of the country. Moreover, financial empowerment of youths and women could also go a long way in stimulating growth and development. Unfortunately, although government cannot be expected to handle social welfare alone, it is its responsibility to provide the enabling environment, through effective policies and laws guaranteeing the implementation and sustainability of such people friendly programmes.
It is therefore instructive to note that the effort of the federal government under President Buhari to introduce a new social welfare programme could not have come at a better time. If the programme is sustained over the years it would go a long way in reducing poverty and flushing out criminal youths and other miscreants from our streets. To this end the executive and legislature at the federal and state levels should ensure that the programme is backed by the laws of the land, just as the FG should endeavour to take the programme down to the states and local governments.
There is a litany of welfare projects which could uplift the standard of living of the poor and the less privileged. They include the recently introduced microcredit initiative for women. It is considered as the first of its kind in the country and perhaps in the continent as a whole. Others include, the youth training schemes, food distribution in primary schools, etc which the APC-led administration of President Buhari has succeeded in bringing on board.
According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, an estimated 110 million out of the total population of 180million Nigerians are extremely poor, struggling to put food on the table, pay for healthcare and education, etc. However, by sustaining these projects and making them binding on government at all levels, it would go a long way in setting the standard for all (religious, cultural, social and traditional private organisations) to follow suit. Furthermore, as noted here earlier, properly implemented social welfare projects could spur growth and development wherein millions of people would have been empowered who were hitherto powerless.
Thus, with the N30,000.00 minimum wage now in place, it would go a long way in mitigating the plight of workers. But the vast majority of the less privileged, the aged, women and children as well as able-bodied but jobless youth might continue to wallow in penury if concrete efforts are not made to make them an integral part of a viable developmental programme, backed by concrete social welfare initiatives which have the blessings of our statutes. From all indications, the FG has begun on a right footing, but there is also the need to consider deepening and expanding the social welfare projects for a better result.
By Ibrahim H. Suleiman