Expectedly, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and its sister- the Trade Union Congress (TUC), seized the opportunity offered by last Sunday’s May Day celebration to ask for an upward review of the N18,000 monthly national minimum wage, five years after it was fixed. Labour wants government to raise minimum wage by about 311 per cent, despite the current harsh economic realities arising primarily from the steep fall in the price of crude oil, the nation’s mainstay from $144 per barrel in 2007, first to $28, and now about $44. This is why the crude oil benchmark adopted by the Federal Government for its troubled 2016 budget was $38/b. Labour seems also quite insensitive to the fact that arising from the oil price slump, Nigeria’s foreign reserve has dropped between the end of 2014 and April 28, 2016 by $7.337 billion or 21.29 per cent to $27.123 billion, according to data available on the website of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Tuesday.
The workers’ unions are seemingly playing the ostrich, ignoring the fact that Nigeria is basically a consuming, rather than producing economy, following which Godwin Emefiele’s CBN, last year announced its decision to bar importers of 41 items ranging from the ridiculous like toothpicks and indian incence; Geisha/sardines and tomato paste; to mundane stuffs from its official forex window. Also, there is no doubt today that Nigeria cannot garner up to N9.03 trillion in 11 months in federal revenues like it did between January and November of 2013. Even at the time, that figure, according to the CBN’s monthly report for November 2013, was 19.1 per cent below the budget estimate for the period. In that particular month, Nigeria generated N744.02 billion, situation that was blamed on the drop in oil receipts arising from the activities of pipeline vandals and crude oil thieves. Now, compare that to the N345 billion shared among Nigeria’s Federal, 36 states and 774 local government councils in March 2016.
You get my argument?
But then, why should labour or anybody outside of government bother about such statistical details after all? Why should Nigerian workers be the first and only required to do belt tightening in times of austerity measures?
We all have been following the bazaar going on at the National Assembly since the eighth Senate and House of Representatives comprising known leftists, common-sense advocates and uncommon transformation theorists in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were inaugurated on June 9, 2015.
Barely a few days after being convoked, the federal lawmakers shared about N8.64 billion as wardrobe and et cetera allowance. This translated to a N17.5 million golden handshake for each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, while the 109 Senators smiled home with N21.5 million each. Soon after, they went on recess to plan how to spend their bonanza. Do not be surprised if you hear that the legislators only recovered what they spent booking a space in the hallowed chambers, including bank loans and properties they sold in the process.
For those who would change wardrobe, most of the largesse would go, not even to the best of Nigerian corporate tailors, but the so called London and Italian clothiers, spending the nation’s scarce resources for vanities and ephemerals. I may need to ask my friend, Sam Nkemakolam Harbour off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, a tailor per excellence, how much of the wardrobe allowance got to him via such executive patronage.
Call it their dividend of democracy. I am not an Economist. You may call me a StreetNomist (derived from Street and Economist). But with such quick returns on investment, why should I bother investing my funds on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE)? Ask those who invested, let’s say N20 million, in any stock how much returns they booked on such investment by June 30, 2015- by ways of capital appreciation (buy at N12 and sell at N20 each), or waiting for year-end dividend.
Even so, why should labour be sympathetic at this time, when the same 109 Senators purchased Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) worth N17.1 million each at N35 million just a fortnight ago. Although they have since denied buying the ‘big-boy’ toys at double the market price (there is no smoke without fire sha), even then, is it not a lie therefore that Nigeria is broke?
With which funds did Senator Bukola Saraki and his fellow travellers purchase the vehicles when we all know that the 2016 Appropriation Bill is currently competing with the likes of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) for notoriety? From where came the funds… last year’s unspent budget?
Abeg, tell me a more worthwhile tale!
Let’s leave the legislators for another day. What is the salary of a professor in a Nigerian federal university- say the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, or the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, our foremost ivory towers? How much does a Minister’s aide earn monthly?
Is this, like the Rotarians say, “fair to all concerned?”
Why should labour not ask for N56,000 monthly wage in a country where workers are owed 12 months’ salary (as in oil-rich Bayelsa State), yet public officers flaunt assets acquired with our commonwealth, while workers are unsure that their pension would not be stolen without repercussions after 35 years of service? Why should workers show understanding, with the myriad of high profile cases being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) worth several billions of Naira?
Of course, like Bob Dylan wrote in his 1962 protest song (a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war and freedom) and released in his album The Freewheelin in 1963, “the answer my friend is blowing in the wind…
The answer is blowing in the wind.”
It is only natural for government to spread the bazaar in a country where a local government chairman earns better than a senior lecturer in a Nigerian university or polytechnic.
Kingsley Ighomwenghian is a Streetnomist and newspaper editor in Lagos.