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Nigeria: Minimum Wage: NLC’s Threat Over Strike
Nigerian Compass

February 2, 2011
View the Original Article


Following the promise by the Federal Government to pay workers the minimum wage of N18, 000 per month, and the seeming lethargy of living up to the promise, the Nigeria Labour Congress has threatened a nationwide strike to press home the demands of the workers. At first, there was a flurry of activities on the part of the government that signaled sufficient intention to pay. That had led to the suspension of earlier threat by the NLC to declare trade dispute. But recently, a January 31 ultimatum was issued urging government to act or face the wrath of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).

Between now and April, Nigeria will be preparing for general elections. For a presidency that emerged from the chrysalis of Constitution-induced succession post-mortem a predecessor, and which, against ultra-conservative odds, is taking another shot, the polity is already over-heated.

To the ordinary worker, there is no other better time to strike the hammer than now that the iron is hot. The workers think this is the right time to hold government accountable to the people in a nation where families are over-burdened with poverty and basic infrastructure have broken down almost irretrievably.

We agree that workers must be paid living wages for them to dutifully discharge their civic duties. No family would continue to tolerate stories and complaints of a bread-winner who repeatedly complains of income that is meagre and not forthcoming, while the pages of newspapers are awash with legislators who smile to the banks with jumbo pay for doing virtually nothing.

Since President Goodluck Jonathan had earlier promised to pay, it can only be reasoned that it had been factored into the 2011 budget. We expect fulfillment of promises to follow, especially when the budget had earmarked a whopping sum of N1.5million per day as food allowance amongst others, for the presidency. What happens to the ordinary citizens? The question honestly begs for an answer even as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the South-East is in a prolonged industrial action that has lasted for almost one academic year. Faced with irregular payment of salaries and the charges of corruption, the judiciary, widely regarded as the last bastion of hope for the common man, has the uphill task of walking around with its head high up.

Again, all these raise the questions of whether there is paucity of funds or that the political elite have cornered same for their usual selfish interests.

We commend the ingenuity of the managers of the economy at the macro level, especially where the real sector is not doing well. We must be realistic as we raise posers of whether the state governments would be able to pay a uniform minimum wage as the Federal Government has proposed. Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State, for instance, has reportedly demurred, stating that his government lacks the carrying capacity. The ripple effect of stipulated minimum wage is spiral of agitation for wage increase at different tiers of government and the private sector.

Given Nigeria’s peculiar political history, especially as it is unfolding in contemporary times when all hands are supposed to be on deck to nurture the renaissance of democracy, it is the sacred responsibility of all citizens as compatriots, to ensure that the nation does not derail. The NLC as a critical determinant of political stability must ensure that it does not lend itself to fifth columnists as a veritable weapon of socio-political immobility at this crucial time in the life of the country.

With spate of bomb blasts at venues of political rallies and where Nigeria marked its 50th independence anniversary, trade disputes and industrial actions could be hijacked by miscreants to further unsettle the fragile polity. The larger society would be the worst for it.

Exercising some restraint is necessary at this time. Allowing a new administration to square up to the challenges of addressing revenue problems might be a better option at this time.

Nonetheless, Nigerians must brace up to the fact that issues of lopsided distribution of wealth can no longer be swept under the carpet. A geography of wealth that widens the yawning gulf between the haves and the have-nots must, as a matter of urgency, be looked into. The jumbo pay in the legislature that smacks up recklessness compared with what obtains elsewhere in the world is a sore point that needs urgent attention.

Members of the political class must desist from pulling wools over the faces of the people with nauseating emphasis on ethnic or zoning politics rather than embrace their bare-faced greed that masquerades as enlightened self-interest.

The Federal Government and the NLC must work together amicably to ensure stability in the polity without side-stepping the demands of the workers. finally, the National Assembly must heed urgently, to the recent request from Mr President urging them to amend the Minimum Wage Act to ensure payment of the new minimum wage of N18,000 becomes a reality to avert another labour crisis in the country.