It is not every time you would find me talking on issues like this. Well, it is worth talking about and I think it is time we all put our mouths and acts into it. Now, this is not one of those essays that take from lots of figures that don’t really make sense or one that carries lots of citations from ‘authorities’ or for that matter, a piece that uses big or technical terms to show overt knowledge. The aim is to simply pass a message across in as simple a manner as possible.
For a long time, we have heard the Nigerian Labour Congress and allies complain and hustle for various things; from prices of petroleum products to be low (their main cry) or the increment of salaries at various levels, the case of the minimum wage being the main topic of the moment. One can say that they have done their best and helped to alleviate pains while being the voice for workers giving them a better deal. But we should ask ourselves, how much of a better deal have they given particularly in a case like the one that we have at the moment? Let’s look at it critically. The cry has been
N18,000 minimum wage with the government saying that increased pay would add leisure which would retard efficiency. Labour goes on saying that it doesn’t matter much and that the package of the average or minimum worker as shown in this case should be enough to take them home – in other words, should be able to allow them settle some bills and have enough transport to go home! Come to think of it, an analysis of the proposed minimum bill being shared among thirty days would equal six hundred naira, when you remove the daily eating and transportation what remains?
Well, I seem to be moving in different circles without making much sense so let us get straight to the point of this discourse. First, why doesn’t Labour protest and call for better governance and more, get government to regulate policies that would truly be in the interest of the hard earned monies that the workers are being given? A look at history would show that our currency, our Naira is increasingly losing its value. Let us not go too far, let’s use a little over a decade; 1999. A hundred naira of 1999 is far different from a hundred naira of 2009 and then again, today. A loaf of bread that used to go for a hundred naira goes for about two hundred naira again, and is still on the verge of increment. Check sugar, ten naira worth used to leave my teeth shaking back then and today, it is rare to find shops that even sell for that amount. What? Two factors here, our failing Naira value and that big disease, inflation. Experience shows that as soon as wage increments are mentioned, prices of goods go up. Sadly, in Nigeria, when the prices go up, they never come down. What does all this mean? It means that the amount of money that you add to the salaries does not really matter. How do we come to this conclusion? Someone who collected ten thousand in 1999 had far more purchasing power than someone who would collect eighteen thousand naira today.
What then do we do? We need to have policies to check inflation and work on our currency. This is where I believe that Labour should show their strength. They should fight to ensure that government is made to ensure this. Why don’t we do strikes to compel government to intervene in this? Again, why don’t we decide to have strikes against most of these producers who take us for granted? Why do we have to be punished for our sweat? We should also check suppliers and producers like MTN who seem to think that they are the Almighty and would keep dealing with us by increasing prices of products and making us lose all the increments…
More than this, we have to consider the plight of the person who is not even working or is working below the ranks of the government and the fat pay of most private corporations. This is the person, Street Citizen Naija (note the ruggedity of the name), who does not have any increment in any pay but would have to buy the same items whose prices have shot up due to the ‘wage increment.’ This citizen might be the rural farmer who farms and gets just enough to feed family and send them to school, or maybe not. This same citizen might be any of the low income workers who do any little thing to get a kobo or even the driver whose Oga would not do wage increment. Maybe again, this citizen might be one of those countless jobless applicants and even uneducated people who ply the streets hustling to make a living out of the nothing that life offers them.
So, while we do all our agitations and call for whatever increments and all, we should take a look at the big picture and know how it would all play out for everyone. If it turns out that the arrangement does not favour a majority as would be the case, then what is the use? Really, what is the point in increasing the minimum wage to a hundred thousand naira when the prices of goods in the country all jump to a near equal amount as that salary? It is about time we became far wiser and made our reforms not just for the sake of ‘achievements’ alone but having something that would be beneficial to one and all, particularly those we are fighting for.
And to think that it has come to pass already? Hmm…