Organised labour across the country have been up in arms against the Federal and State Governments across the country to press home their demands for a new national minimum wage and better welfare conditions for workers. This, no doubt was expected, given the protracted discussions across the country that have been taking place around the issue.
There have been some meetings where labour alleged that an agreement was reached for the payment of thirty-thousand Naira (N30,000) minimum wage by all parties to the negotiations, an allegation that the labour and Productivity Minister, Dr. Chris Ngige has denied.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum through their representatives had said that they were offering twenty-two thousand, five hundred Naira (N22,500) minimum wage to workers, an offer that organized labour has since rejected, insisting rather on N30,000 an amount the Governors have expressed worries that more states may not be able to pay if they stood their grounds.
It will be recalled that during the pressure by labour for the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage, the governors committed to diversifying the economies of their states, improve revenue generation and tax regimes to be able to pay workers’ salaries. The Governors also committed to diversifying the nation’s economic base, a cardinal objective of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. In the words of the Governors’ Forum chair at that time, Abubakar Yari of Zamfara State, “We will diversify our economy in the area of agriculture and mining. But at the same time, we should understand our situation where some of us (states) today are taking N100million take home (monthly allocation) and then have salaries in particular of over N2billion to pay.”
These commentary from the governors threw up many issues which many Nigerians have been raising for several decades and have gone unheeded or immaturely politicized. Some even viewed such positive agitations with sedentary ethnic prism. What the comments from the governor’s forum meant is that most of the governors, particularly the second termers (who should know better) do not have any agenda for development of their states. It also meant that the governors have based their campaign promises and development agenda solely on oil revenues from the Niger Delta, an expectation that is unsustainable.
Now, the President Buhari’s administration on assumption of office announced a bail out to governors who were owing their workers several months of unpaid salaries. Most of them who applied received the facility vide the CBN and it is said to be a long term concessionary facility to the benefiting states. Twenty seven (27) states went for the bail out.
Take away oil revenue, apart from Lagos and Edo which are serious about the collection of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), all others may close shops or be declared bankrupt if oil price goes down again
But workers in Edo have every reason to be grateful to God for giving the state the person of Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki as Governor for the very right reasons. They don’t have all these issues to contend with before they can enjoy an acceptable minimum wage.
Edo workers, like their counterparts in other states had planned for a sensitization programme ahead of the planned national strike to press home demands for new wages. But when the train of protesters led by Edo NLC Chairma, Comrade Emmanuel Ademokun arrived at Government House in Benin City, they met a worker-friendly governor who is committed body, spirit and soul to the good of all workers in the state. Governor Obaseki assured the protesters that his administration will be the first to implement the resolution reached at the emergency meeting between the Federal Government and state governors over the new minimum wage for workers in the country.
Interestingly, Edo State Government is currently paying N25,000 minimum wage, some N2,500 above what the Federal Government negotiation team is offering workers. This is good for Edo people and the state government’s image.
The governor obviously is leading a labour-friendly government which should be sustained. This perhaps explains the convivial and harmonious relationship between government and organized labour in the state and why there had not been a single strike since the governor assumed office.
Also, Chairman of Edo State Chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Comrade Jenkins Osunde, said only last week that the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration has cleared 50 per cent of inherited salary arrears owed local government workers in the state. This is a commendable feat that workers should continue to reciprocate.
Most welcomed is the assurance that came from the governor to the workers that whatever the negotiation team agrees to in Abuja, he would implement in Edo. That is, if the team settles for N30,000 minimum wage, Obaseki is willing and ready to implement it for Edo workers. His exact words: “I want to assure you that whatever we agree in Abuja Edo State Government will be the first to implement it,” this is quite reassuring.
Since Obaseki came on board, we have been having monthly declaration of what came to the state being jointly shared with the Local Government and monthly. There is a public disclosure of what comes in and how it is shared. In the light of this development, the Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC) meeting held last week and presided over by the governor at the Government House, Benin City saw the Chairman of Oredo Local Government Osunde announce that N2,826,548,288.8 was the gross allocation received from the Federation Account for the month of October 2018. Chairman of Oredo Local Government Area gave a breakdown of how the amount was shared. This is the hallmark of transparency and accountability.
The way to go is for other state governments across the country is to emulate Lagos, and and Edo examples that have continued to improve on their internal revenue generation base to be able to meet the salary obligations of workers of their states.
Also, agitations for restructuring should be given ear of government and the centre. President Muhammadu Buhari should consider restructuring Nigeria so that economically unviable states can be merged and let us return to the era of true fiscal federalism, so that federal states or regions should be contributing 50 per cent of their incomes to the federal government. Above all, the issue of minimum wage should be taken into the concurrent list, so that states can be allowed to negotiate with their workers what constitutes minimum wage. A situation where minimum wage exist only in the exclusive list, is dangerous for the nation and organized labour.
Mr. Dan Owegie is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Edo State.