Before the new Wage Increase

Olatunde Abatan
Olatunde Abatan
The issue of wage increase in Nigeria is as old as Nigeria itself just as the issue of salary increase for workers predates the nations independence in 1960.
In the wake of clamour for salary increase in the late 70s, late elder statement, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was noted as always been ahead of other regions in the country with respect to wage increase often had a word of caution.
Chief Awolowo once said he doesn’t belief in wage increase but rather what money income can buy. In other words, he is of the conviction that it is not the amount of wage that matters but the value of the money in the pocket.
What this means is that, workers may not need high amount of naira in their pocket but value of the naira note they are holding.
As the former Premier of Western Region, Chief Awolowo whose government introduced Free Education for children of school age in 1955 ,knew he had by that policy, added value to the income of the workers whose children are in public schools..(how many private schools are there in 1955? They could be counted. on your finger ).
Besides, the introduction of Free Education, Free health services and other perks in form of social services were in place then to ensure more funds are in the pocket of wage earners.
With the gradual collapse of Free Education and other social welfare policies, most civil servants and workers had to send their children to private schools which by extension reduced the disposable money left for parents to spend after paying wards fee.
I could remember vividly in the run -off to the Governorship election in 2007,I had a discussion with Jimi Agbaje then Governorship candidate  of the Democratic Alliance party, during which I drew his attention to the fact that free Education is still desirable in the country as a means of  improving the welfare of the masses indirectly since amount spend on school fees has a significant percentage in salary and income earned by workers both in the informal and organized public and private sectors.
This, position  I contended accounted for why parents of middle age then could afford to build own houses by the time they approach late 40s.
The contrary is  what obtains today as parents spend a big chunk of their earnings sending their children to private schools with the gradual collapse of public primary and secondary schools in the country especially in the South West that pride itself as having attained much in education.
Another issue worthy of note especially by the organized labour is that salary or wage increase for now could not be uniform in all parts of the country.
Perhaps it is against this background that Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC in various zones have come up with different wage proposals for zonal public hearings on wage increase set up by the federal government.
While the South West NLC is asking for N794,000 as take home pay, the South East is asking for N540,000 as monthly wage.
While the NLC by this proposals must have come to terms with fact of different financial position of each zone in the country, it is an acceptance of the need to apply principles of federalism in wage increase being the reality of Nigeria’s federal set up especially it’s different economic potentials .
 It is also a fact that clamouring for same wage in all zones of the country amounts to imbibing military culture of Unitarism which is at variance with different economic propensity and reality of each regions or zones.
It was the principle practiced in the First Republic such that regions pay different wage for its workers without then Labour embarking on strike for wage uniformity.
With this approach of demanding different wage increases for workers in the zones, the NLC may be helping government to deepen practises of true federalism in fiscal policies since Nigeria is a federal state but has unitary system imposed on it by the military. It is quite strange that the  the civilian regime which took over power twenty five years ago has not deemed it fit to undo what the military did.
For any serious democratic setting, twenty five years is enough for politicians, ethnic and religious hegemonists who prefer the sustainable of the status quo to have a rethink especially in the light of our latent experience.
Besides, campaigning for a return to Parliamentary form of government, the 60-man Abdulsamaad Dasuki committee should also go a step further by including fiscal federalism in their clamour if the Parliamentary system is to be sustained after adoption.
Before the agreement of a consensus by the different zonal committees, the organized labour led by the NLC and Trade Union Congress, TUC should tell Nigerians how many of the nations 36 states has faithfully implemented the current minimum wage of N30,000.
This is necessary to avoid epidemy of strikes when a new Wage Increase is adopted and workers in the states as usual embark on endless strikes to get the policy implemented.
Since NLC is the umbrella body for both public service and private sector workers, it is desirable for it to accept the fact that since Small, Medium  Scale enterprises account for majority of paid employees, their capacity to pay must be measured.
In an economy largely driven by self employed farmers, artisans, traders and SMES, it is incumbent that sustenance of any minimum wage agreed by stakeholders. This  is crucial for industrial harmony in an economy almost lying prostrate due to hyper inflation caused by distortions in our economic structure.
There is no doubt that disclosure by Finance Minister, Wale Edun, that printing of money  through Ways and Means by the Muhammadu Buharis regime without corresponding productivity to back it up with dire consequences we face today is a lesson in our move towards enacting a new and realistic minimum wage to avoid a repeat performance.
Nigeria as it is today, is at a critical junction in her social- political existence.
Furthermore, the state and National Assembly too must live within the economic dictate of the moment. It is obvious to all and sundry  that the extravagance  life style of the NASS  is at variance with the state of the nations economy and those who elected them into office.
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