Nigeria: Pity Nigerian Labour and ASUU On Minimum Wage

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21 October 2019

The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU have my sympathies - even as they amuse me. When the President signed the new Minimum Wage Bill passed by the 8th National Assembly, NASS, into law during the last days of the assembly, he also ordered "immediate implementation".

NLC and ASUU officials were ecstatic. Soon, the gatemen and messengers will be receiving minimum of N30,000 per month and all will be well. I laughed. But, more than that, I told them that there would be no "immediate implementation" of the bill. It would require a few months and a lot of negotiations before anybody will lay their hands on the wage increase promised."To be quite candid, if one was not aware that President Buhari did not take into account how the Nigerian Presidential system works, his orders would have been taken differently."After Buhari made his unscheduled departure from office in August 1985, he went into political and social hibernation.

Nobody can recollect his participation in any discussion, workshop, seminar or retreat on issues affecting the Nigerian State. To the best of my knowledge he contributed nothing to the changes which took place - especially the transformation from military to civilian rule. Despite his ambition to return to office as Head of State, it is doubtful if he ever assembled a group of experts to develop a blueprint for governance. All the major national and global phenomena - climate change, the gradual but steady decline of crude oil prices, global terrorism, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, immigration, unemployment, gender issues etc - which modern world leaders had to grapple with are now probably strange to him."He probably cannot deliver an address extempore on the impact of climate change in Nigeria; let alone offer his own ideas about how to solve them.

That explains why his campaign focused only on corruption and security - as if nations like USA, China and Japan, are automatically free of the other problems. To a great extent, Buhari, cannot be blamed for the fact that Nigeria in the new millennium has leaders who are intellectually unable to function in the world today and who will increasingly be a mortal danger to us in the future. Just Google the credentials of the other major leaders - including African leaders - and the differences will be clear."An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man."Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882."The Federal Government of Nigeria, FGN, is the elongated shadow of Buhari and will be for three years and seven months more.

For those with sinecure appointments in the FG or well-connected for contracts, that is a welcome development. For the vast majority of Nigerians, it is prospect which should scare us greatly. We have leaders, who unlike their counterparts worldwide do not understand the basic principles of Economics. All his decisions are based on sentiments and possibly good intentions. Unfortunately for the country, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions of leaders whose thinking is not quantitative."The mess which has been made of the Minimum Wage negotiations and attempts at implementation started with the obvious fact that Buhari signed into law a bill which entails essentially an investment decision. Nigerian workers had exercised their constitutional rights to request for a comprehensive, not just minimum, wage review. The first step was to determine how much increase will result from the negotiations, threats, posturing etc.

The second step, is to establish if the same percentage increase will be enjoyed by all the workers or will the percentage increases vary? Either way, the agreed raise for each staff will have to be computed in order to establish how much the government will be paying for wages alone."Even then the work is not completed. Certain allowances vary directly with the basic wage. Pension is one example. Those would have to be figured out separately before government can have an idea of how much the agreed new wage will cost. Finally, the big and most important question becomes: can government afford it? Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, who was once reported to have declared that Ekiti will pay, on October 14, 2019 was reported to have made a U-Turn when he said that "governments cannot pay money they don't have." Truth has never been told so bluntly."However, Fayemi must agree that Buhari created the problem.

Even now, the FG has no idea how much the new wages will cost and whether or not it will be affordable. That is a mistake no modern Head of Government will ever make. They complete their homework before making categorical statements. Buhari did not. The consequences are now starring us in the face."Still, Buhari alone does not deserve blame. Labour leaders, including ASUU, were partly responsible for the predicament in which Labour and workers find themselves. The threatened strike might fail to deliver the benefit they envisage because they had been negligent.

NLC and ASUU leaders sat around while Buhari, whose government could not settle ASUU and several outstanding entitlements owed to workers, nevertheless, sent four budgets asking for N500bn for 2016-2018 and N350bn for 2019 to run a give-away programme called Social Intervention Programme, SIP. That was more money than the FG would have needed to clear all outstanding arrears owed to ASUU as well as the staff of teaching hospitals. Certainly, an organisation which has no funds to pay its staff should have no funds to give away to idle Nigerians. But, that was exactly what Buhari's government did for four years without objection from NLC or ASUU."The threatened strike amounts to trying to lock the ranch gates after the cows have fled. It might not even yield the results expected. That leads to the logical question: what can the two parties do under the circumstances? The FG and several state governments have countered the Labour threat by issuing one of their own. Massive retrenchments will follow if Labour insists on implementation of the Minimum Wage bill.

That has a familiar ring to it. Downsizing has always come up whenever wage increases are demanded by workers. Labour has always vowed to resist job cuts. Oddly enough, despite Labour's promises to resist, job losses follow the implementation of the agreement. Invariably, some of those who fought for the new wages become the victims of it. Governments simply stop hiring and let staff reduction take place through natural attrition. All the staff going on retirement are not replaced and their work is simply assigned to others. Labour cannot win - especially when the President has secured his second term. He no longer needs their support."Even a prolonged strike might not make Buhari budge. Labour should consider that before calling the workers out on strike.

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