8 November 2018

Nigeria: Trouble Ahead As Govt Says Buhari Yet to Decide On Minimum Wage

Photo: The Guardian

Abuja — Relief felt by Nigerians following the agreement among organised labour, organised private sector and the federal government over the new minimum wage dispute, which averted last Tuesday's scheduled nationwide strike might turn to despair as the federal government said yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to accept the recommendation of the National Minimum Wage Committee, which recommended N30,000 as the nation's least pay cheque.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated the government's position while speaking to State House correspondents in Abuja, explaining that the committee's report submitted to the president on Tuesday was a recommendation that would still have to be considered by the president for final decision.

"I think it (N30,000) was a recommendation. Mr. President will consider it and will make his views known in due course," he said.

Mohammed's comment immediately put the nation on edge as organised labour, which said the agreement was immutable, threatened a resumption of hostility even as the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, urged Buhari to fulfill his promise of granting a fresh minimum wage to workers.

The committee had following the meeting held on Monday adopted and recommended N30,000 as the new minimum wage to the president.

Buhari while receiving the report said he was committed to giving the workers a new minimum wage.

He also promised to send a bill to the National Assembly on the new minimum wage.

But indications that the federal government might have been under pressure not to endorse the recommendation emerged wednesday when an anonymous statement credited to the presidency first appeared in a national daily, saying Buhari did not endorse N30,000 as widely reported.

This was given a fillip by Mohammed while answering questions from journalists in the Presidential Villa after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in the State House.

Mohammed had said that Buhari had received the recommendation, adding that he would consequently consider and take a decision on it.

He said, "I think it (N30,000) was a recommendation. Mr. President will consider it and will make his views known in due course," he said.

Asked further to make his comment clearer, Mohammed said, "I said a recommendation was submitted. Mr. President will get back to the committee after he has studied the recommendation."

The minister was also asked on whether the revenue sharing formula would be reviewed to enhance the states' ability to pay.

Responding, he said, "Once again, like I said, a recommendation has been made and in responding to the recommendation, all these views will be taken into consideration."

Responding to the government, the organised labour warned it not to precipitate crisis as workers would not accept any attempt to alter the N30,000 proposed new minimum wage.

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) General Secretary, Mr. Peter Essom, who spoke to THISDAY on telephone last night, said organised labour would insist on the sanctity of the agreement at the tripartite negotiations, which settled for N30,000.

He said, "The committee has recommended N30,000 and we as labour stand by that recommendation. The mandate we have from our people is that the N30,000 is even a very serious compromise that we had to make, taking all things into consideration and that we will not accept anything below that N30,000.

"So the recommendation of the committee is N30,000 and we expect the president to do the needful and transmit that to the National Assembly for legislation. If any attempt is made to start tinkering with that figure, which is already a major compromise we will not be receptive to it and that will, not likely to be conducive to industrial peace."

States Seek Power to Legislate on Pay Cheque

Meanwhile, state governments have started to explore more revenue sources to deal with the impending pay increase, THISDAY has learnt.

THISDAY gathered that with the proposed new minimum wage for Nigerian workers, the governors have intensified efforts at seeking ways of shoring up internally generated revenues through taxes and other income earning ventures.

The governors, it was learnt, are also demanding for reforms to give states more powers to legislate on minimum wage.

Speaking wednesday at the National Internally Generated Revenue (IGRR) Peer Learning event in Abuja, the Governor of the Kwara State, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, said the current situation in the country calls for sub-nationals to increase the revenue generating capacities, stressing that it is clear that the new minimum wage is coming with an added responsibility and that the current revenue profile was not likely to carry it on as such.

"I think that in as much as we are looking at the minimum wage issue, which of course we feel is imperative at this time, it should also be looked at alongside the capacities to generate revenue," he said.

He said the peer review platform is an opportunity to explore how best practices can be benchmarked across all states with a view to increasing their capacity to generate revenue.

On the internally generated revenue of his state, the governor disclosed that his state had achieved growth in its average monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) from N600 million in 2015 to N2.2 billion at the first quarter of 2018.

Ahmed said that the state was in 2014 confronted by difficult economic challenges on account of significant drop in generated revenue and development in the global economy which impacted its revenue negatively.

He said that in that year, the defunct Kwara State Board of Internal Revenue (BIR) was averaging about N600 million, which was incapable of augmenting allocations to pay salaries or fund the state infrastructure.

Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, said he did not agree that national minimum wage should be under the federation, adding that most of the laws bequeathed to the country by the military had no bearing with the present realities and needed to be changed.

He also said the Act governing the Personal Income Tax should be reordered to give states powers to legislate on it.

"Just like for instance, I do not agree that national minimum wage should be under the federation; I think minimum wage should be done by each state according to the level of income. If you look at the 1963 Constitution, minimum wage was not in the exclusive list; it was added during the military rule," he said.

The governor said that some laws that were enacted during the military rule needed to be reviewed.

On internally generated revenues, El-Rufai said the state had grown its monthly generated revenue from N11.8 billion in 2015 to N26.5billion in 2017.

He said the state had so far collected N24.5 billion as at the end of October, 2018.

El-Rufai listed some of the steps taken to increase the state's IGR were to establish a tax code, update and consolidate the state tax laws from 1914 to date, as well as engaging consultants' service to reform the state tax agency.

The Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who made a presentation on 'Mobilising Domestic Financing for Development,' said his state had increased its monthly IGR from N600million to N2.4 billion currently earned.

Obaseki said what the state did was to engage revenue agents, consolidate collection into a single account and to use technology to drive both assessment and collections.

He said that plan of the state was to grow its IGR by 50 per cent by the year.

"Hopefully within the next three months we will have doubled our IGR from its current N2 billion per month to about N44.5 billion per month."

Atiku Tasks President to Keep Promise to Workers

In a related development, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku, called Buhari to keep the promise he made to the organised labour to pay a new minimum wage.

Atiku said the call became necessary following a statement from the presidency denying Buhari's earlier pledge to pay the new minimum wage of ₦30,000 agreed with the organised labour.

The candidate, also a former vice president, in a statement wednesday by his campaign organisation said that the approbation and reprobation was characteristic of the Buhari administration and was evidence of the lack of leadership at the very top that was putting the economy in peril.

Atiku stressed that both Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, despite living and feeding at the public expense, collect a hardship allowance of 50 per cent of their annual salary. But that the long suffering Nigerian workers, who were the main sufferers of the hardship caused by the incompetence of the administration, did not have any hardship allowance and were expected to live on the unlivable minimum wage of the Buhari government.

Atiku added that a government was only as reliable as its word and if its word was not reliable then nothing else about the government would be stable, saying that was why Nigeria suffered from a recession under this administration and was right now at risk of another recession.

He noted, "At the risk of repeating ourselves, we urge the Buhari administration to note that Nigerian workers are the goose that lays the golden eggs that top members of this government are enjoying to the detriment of those laying the eggs.

"It is a testament to how badly we have treated our workforce over the last three years that Nigeria was officially declared the world headquarters for extreme poverty by the World Poverty Clock and the World Economic Forum.

"We can only change this by paying our workers a living wage as opposed to the starvation wages now paid to them by the Buhari administration."

Atiku therefore called on Buhari to keep faith with the agreement his government freely reached with labour and affirm the new minimum wage.

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