Minimum wage and crushing poverty

According to the World Poverty Clock, over 88 million (88,011,759) Nigerians are currently living in extreme poverty

Robert Obioha

its politics and pervading general insecurity, one issue that is probably causing sleepless nights to the All Progressives Congress (APC) central government is the national minimum wage dispute and rising number of Nigerians now living in extreme poverty. The nation’s current national minimum wage is N18,000.

READ ALSO: Salis condemns states that can’t pay N30,000 minimum wage

In fact, this amount can hardly take care of any Nigerian worker for one month, whether he lives in the rural or urban centre. And if the worker is married with children, the minimum wage has consigned him and his family to the cycle of perpetual poverty. With N18,000 a month, no worker can take good care of his health.

The worker cannot rent a decent house and cannot feed well. His children will never attend the good schools around. The wife will always be grumbling and we should not ask her why. I can go on and on to illustrate that the current minimum wage is unrealistic in an economy that $1 US dollar is equivalent to N357 in the parallel market, where many Nigerians buy the foreign currency.

It is paradoxical that while many Nigerians do not earn a living wage, the political office holders are earning fat wages and living in opulence. This is one big existential contradiction that no Nigerian government has mustered the political will to address. The ‘we’ and ‘them’ dichotomy in terms of wages will lead to social unrest if not promptly handled. It is not about politics. It is a matter of life and death.

The life of the worker should matter. No party should play the ostrich in the unfolding drama between labour and government because all of us are involved. Since a labourer deserves his wage, all Nigerian workers must be paid a living wage at the end of every month. The issue of enhanced minimum wage for Nigerian workers has dominated national discourse for some months.

While the organized labour and the organized private sector asked for a new minimum wage of about N60,000 per month, the government later settled for N30,000. Available reports from NLC reveal that 16 governors were present where the N30,000 per month agreement was ratified. But the 36 state governors, some of whom are struggling to pay the extant N18,000 minimum wage to their workers, later agreed to pay N22,500 as the lowest pay cheque for workers.

The governors’ offer is N7,500 short of the N30,000 which labour and the Federal Government had agreed. The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, explained that “the governors’ decision was based on the principle that any acceptable minimum wage must be done in such a way that the total personnel cost does not exceed 50 percent of the revenue available to each state.”

As a result of this sour development, the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, dismissed the claim by some state governors that they will not pay the N30,000 minimum wage as erroneous. The workers are not happy that they are creating wealth and still live in abject poverty. They are also not happy that while the salaries of political office holders were increased by 900 percent, workers got pittance.

In a bid for workers to fight for their right, labour has therefore resolved to proceed on indefinite strike as from November 6. They have even threatened to use their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) to achieve their aim. Somebody should read their lips. While Nigerians are waiting for what will happen between now and November 6 between labour and government, another troubling issue that the government should face is the increasing number of Nigerians now reported to be living in extreme poverty.

There is an inseparable link between low minimum wage and poverty. We shall come to that later in the article. According to the World Poverty Clock, over 88 million (88,011,759) Nigerians are currently living in extreme poverty. What this means is that 88 million Nigerians live below $1.90 a day. Not quite long ago, Brookings Institution named Nigeria as the new poverty capital of the world with 86.9 million extremely poor people.

Now, another 1.1 million people have joined the poverty club. And there is no doubt that many more will join the ignoble club between now and 2019. More worrisome is the prediction by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN) and many global development institutions that “Nigeria will not hit the 2030 target for ending global poverty.”

Let the government think of workable strategies to address the grinding poverty facing many Nigerians. Our being the poverty capital of the world is never a measure of achievement. Rather, it shows that we are gradually retrogressing. It shows we have arrested development. It is sad that Nigeria, the giant of Africa and the hope of the Black world, has found itself in this mess.

Upon our oil wealth and human resources, we cannot go beyond our prebendal politics and think national and even global. The governors must find ways to meet the labour’s demand. The N30,000 minimum wage is not too much to pay as some governors want all of us to believe. Realistically, the N30,000 wage is even small. It may not even take care of some workers, especially those in urban areas such as Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja.

But it is a good starting point. Let the governors meet labour on this fair demand for it is just and right. If the governors curb wastages, they can pay the N30,000 minimum wage effortlessly. Addressing the issue of low minimum wage is one practical way to address the problem of rising poverty.

Paying workers living wage will extricate them from poverty. The rising poverty in the country is institutional, structural and man-made. It can be reversed with good government policies. Another revolutionary way to reduce poverty in the country is to create labour-intensive jobs which can absorb so many people. The government must think of agriculture and develop it in such a way that it can employ millions of jobless Nigerians.

While politicians are thinking of 2019 and the ‘Shaku Shaku’ dance steps they are rehearsing to win votes, it will serve them better to think of how to reduce the number of extremely poor Nigerians. Good enough, government’s number one duty is to ensure the security and welfare of the people. Nigerians need good roads, potable water, adequate security, jobs, workable healthcare system, good education, shelter, good transport system, electricity, etc.

Job creation is, indeed, one issue that will feature prominently in the campaigns for the 2019 polls. Our population ought to be an asset and create wealth if well utilized. Nigerians are not lazy. They are hard working. They need jobs. The government can show the way by providing enabling environment for massive job creation.

READ ALSO: NACCIMA seeks improved approach to job creation, power supply

The post Minimum wage and crushing poverty appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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