Again, an ominous cloud is gathering, and no one seems to care .It is the character of the Nigerians to wait till the last day, for the most to happen before solution is sought to burning issues .For so many years, the Nigerian workers have groaned under the burden of minimum wage increase. Not until the workers were at the verge of embarking on a nation-wide strike in October 2010 that the President Goodluck Jonathan half-heartedly approved eighteen thousand naira as the minimum wage for Nigerian workers. This as would be recalled, is a far cry from the workers’ demands and expectations, and this, painfully though, both the Federal and State governments have not been manly enough to implement.
The approval of the miserable eighteen thousand naira minimum wage at the tail-end of last year was seen by many observers as elections gimmick, as many of the governors were then seeking re-elections. It is not suprising, now that elections have been put behind us, that the elected governors are coming out in their full colours and force, to renege from the approved minimum wage issue. Most annoying is the dragging in of the removal of fuel subsidy as the pre-requisite for granting workers the minimum wage. Removal of fuel subsidy had been the most sensitive and a sore point of workers ‘agitation all through ages. Governor Amechi of Rivers state’s pronouncement on the removal of oil subsidy, before the governors can implement minimum wage of eighteen thousand naira is intriguing. This shows that the governor who was made a governor, courtesy of court’s decision in his first term has so quickly forgotten the finger that has fed, and is still feeding him. In his weekly Television programme, “The giant stride”, which he show-cases to sing his own praises, the workers lay the golden eggs. Neither Amechi nor any other governor can lay claims to any achievement without riding on the backs of the impoverished workers.
The hunger-stricken Nigerian workers have been made so miserable by the Nigerian political class (including the governors) so much so, that for them, to die will become a better option, than living on wages which can barely keep their body and soul together. As the political class publicly flaunts their ill-gotten wealth on the workers’ faces, so also they oppress the workers with heavily tinted state-of-the- art jeep cars and superbly constructed mansions, which they call houses. This is why people do or die for elections in Nigeria. It is the only way in which some abjectly poor individuals from poverty-shriken homes can be shot into undeserved wealth overnight. It is unfortunate that when the political class including the Nigerian governors, get into such positions, they forget the workers who in all their years, consistently labour to keep the economy of the country above water. What do the workers receive in return? Mere pittance and threats of sack by political thugs who happen to find themselves in the positions of governance.
In my article “Governors’ Forum: To be or not To be” dated 10th of November 2010, and published by Triond online, I challenged the governors to publish their own salaries, allowances to wives, children, housing, cars, touring, sleeping, personal assistants and other monetized and non monetized benefits they fraudulently add to their portfolios. These are the people, who shamelessly claim that the miserable eighteen thousand naira minimum wage per worker in this country is too high for them to pay. If they cut down drastically, their various allowances, elephant projects and wild goose chase, and stop playing to the gallery about phony achievements, they will have enough to pay the minimum wage for the minimum Nigerian worker.
I must give kudos to Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo state who, though, a member of the discredited so-called “Governors’ Forum” said that each governor has enough money to be able to pay the minimum wage to workers. He has been a worker and he truly knows the pains of the Nigerian workers in a competitive market-place like ours. Let us face facts. All the governors go to Abuja every month to share the nation’s wealth. As at November 2010, when the usual sharing was done, Akwa Ibom state got the highest; taking home one hundred and four billion naira, while Ekiti and few other states took lowest shares amounting to sixteen billion naira each. At that, no state governor can pretend that he will not be able to pay a pittance of mere eighteen thousand naira to the workers who are really the labourers for the nation – the goose that lays the golden eggs which the governors swallow with reckless abandon. How many roads do governors build in a month with the minimum share of sixteen billion naira?. How much electrification, rural or urban, do they establish in a month with the minimum share of sixteen billion naira? How many villages, towns, and cities, do the governors give pipe-borne water with the minimum share of sixteen billion naira every month that they cannot pay the minimum wage to workers? How many schools, hospitals, social security services and other welfare developments do the governor give to the people monthly with the minimum share of sixteen billion naira each of them receive monthly? Who is fooling who? Stop deceiving the people and toying with workers’ future.
If Nigerian governors are not ready to pay the minimum wage of eighteen thousand naira they should be ready for maximum chaos from workers. Their “no work, no pay” intrigues cannot help matters. Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomole was in it, and he has rightly given his colleagues a warning early enough. You can pay the maximum wage, go ahead paying it.
The Nigerian workers have given the nation a two-week notice for nation-wide industrial action. Be pro-active and do not allow the action to commence, so that the poor suffering masses may not be put in an untold hardship. Think of when electricity will be shut down, when schools and hospitals close down, when banks down-tools, when markets are unreachable, when public transportation is cut, and the entire country is at a stand still. The governors will board the next available flight and take a holiday in the luxuries of the western world and Asia. Who suffers? “The people”. These are “the people” the governors claim to govern. The two- week notice given by the workers for a nation wide industrial action is more than enough for any well meaning leader with human-face to think wisely and retract his steps in order to avert anarchy and chaos in the entire nation. The masses are not happy about the situation in the country and it is my fervent prayer that our leaders can read the hand-writing on the wall all over the world, and avoid any situation that can trigger off crisis.
In his lack-luster and unimpressive speech, Governor Amechi of Rivers state speaking for “Governors’ Forum” after its meeting, advocated for the removal of fuel subsidy before he can pay the minimum wage of a mere eighteen thousand naira. This, I consider neither brilliant nor thoughtful. Governor Amechi is not a stranger in this country. He knows how much chaos, the question of fuel increase has caused this country, even during the time when Adams Oshiomole was NLC’s President. I wonder if Oshiomole was at that meeting . Do the governors realize that removing fuel subsidy will increase the prices of fuel and other allied products,that a litre of kerosene may jump to three hundred naira, a price too high for my mother in the village and the numerous other Nigerians to pay? Have they given the masses minimum wage? Instead they have, by their selfish action imposed maximum sufferings on Nigerian masses. One cannot really place the connection between minimum wage and the removal of fuel subsidy which is a very serious issue in Nigeria. All that our governors need to do is to lay pressure on the Federal Government and other stakeholders to seriously think of how our existing refineries can work, if possible build more, so that fuel and allied products can be made available all the year round and even export same. It is only a foolish and stupid farmer who will sell out all his yams, and then spend so much money in buying pounded yam from his neighbors to feed his family. That is the situation with Nigeria which export all her crude oil, only to turn around and import the finished product at very high costs. Should the workers suffer because of the unthoughtfulness and inefficiency of government? The truth about the matter is that there is a powerful cartel within the government circle both States and Federal which have vowed never to see the refineries and electricity work in Nigeria because of what they benefit from sabotaging them. This is true, and the people concern know it. Pump the whole nation’s budget of over four trillion naira into electricity and refineries alone they will never work, and we will be in the same position of ever complaining, and like Fela Anikulapo Kuti of blessed memory has said, “suffering and smiling”, we will be suffering and smiling. Governor Amechi and his likes should not touch the nation’s sore spot in order not to trigger off unquenchable fire and chaos in the country. The governors can pay the eighteen thousand naira minimum wage, and they should go ahead doing just that so that they can nip-in-the-bud the intending national industrial action. If with the billions of naira the governors share from the Federation account every month, and they still insist that they cannot pay the workers’ eighteen thousand naira minimum wage, then, they can all resign and pack out of government houses. Professor Atahiru Jega the Independent National Electoral Commission boss should be instructed to conduct by-elections for the vacant governorship positions. The Nigeria governors should not drag the poor masses into an untold suffering of having to face a national industrial action from the workers.
Pat Asakome, a broadcaster, an author and an analyst in public affairs, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.