• Monday, July 22, 2024
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What is the living wage for a decent life?

“…. I shall have the honour and privilege to lead Starting May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage to have a decent life to provide for your families.” Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 2023.


Immediately after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu delivered his homily, which is reflected in the quote above, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) respectively remembered the National Minimum Wage Act of April 2019, which was to be reviewed every 5 years. The first five years have passed, and the Minimum Wage Act is due for review this year.

You will recall that the NLC and TUC members went on strike a few days ago. The request for minimum wage is only a justification for the strike. The Labour Union believes that the Federal Government (FG) has taken Nigeria for granted for far too long.

Read also: Governors, national assembly members should earn N62,000 minimum wage Mbaka

Main issues

The fuel subsidy was removed on May 29, 2023. The price of fuel jumped from 170 Naira to about 700 Naira, and unfortunately, there is no corresponding benefit to the average Nigerian.

The people endured it. Then the FG went ahead and devalued the naira from 460 naira to 1,460 naira, which affected goods and services, leading to staggering inflation. The people still endured it. The next thing that happened was a unilateral increase in the tariff for electricity from 66 naira per kWh to 225 naira per kWh. The people endured it.

As if that wasn’t enough, the FG proceeded to enhance the salaries of political office holders as well as their paraphernalia for office, and they are asking the masses to endure the hardship. The procurement of SUVs at N160 million per vehicle for all honourable members of the National Assembly (NASS) doesn’t show that the nation is not economically buoyant.

In fact, the FG has moved to enhance the salary of the judiciary, even though it is long overdue, but with clearly a sinister motive for perfect state capture. The Tinubu administration embarked on white elephant projects such as the coastal highway of 700 km at a minimum cost of over 15 trillion naira in an economy he alleged is struggling. What sort of government is that? Yet, we are asked to tighten our belts when governments at all levels are on “operation squandermania” as Nigerians’ struggle with the high cost of living.

The cost of living has gone beyond imagination, and it appears to many Nigerians that our politicians are still joking. Are they in office to lead by example, or are they there to satisfy their greed? an economic expert asked.

 “Yet, we are asked to tighten our belts when governments at all levels are on “operation squandermania” as Nigerians’ struggle with the high cost of living.”

The economist continued: “You want people to cut their cost of living, but you will not start at your house. What sort of government is this? Even if banter is allowed in politics, should it be at the expense of Nigerians?”

Attempting to pay N60,000 to Nigerian workers as a monthly salary is gross insensitivity when those in political positions are living in luxury with their families. But the Nigerian Governors Forum has declared that each of the states will not pay N60,000 per month.

“The state governors can’t pay 60k minimum wage. But they kept pushing for the removal of subsidies for PMS, electricity tariffs, and market-based forex rates. Now the reality of the subsidy removal policies they pushed for has pushed prices to an insane level, which negatively impacted disposable income.”

“Now that labour is kicking, those with constitutional authority are here singing a strange song. I guess it’s now FG’s problem as it has proposed a minimum wage of N62,000. But will this minimum wage provide a decent life to a worker and his or her family?”

Living wage and “decent life” defined:

What is a living wage? The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a living wage as “a wage that is high enough for someone to buy the things they need in order to live.” With an inflation rate of 33.69 percent in April 2024, will the sum of N60,000 or N62,000 buy the things a worker with two children and a wife need in order to live a “decent life” in Nigeria? So what is the living wage for a “decent life”? Put differently, what is the minimum standard for a worker to live with dignity?

The minimum standard for the worker is to have access to running water (hot and cold), food, housing, electricity, and physical infrastructure such as roads, telephones, railways, health care facilities, education, etc. With these essential requirements, one can see the dilemma of a worker with a minimum wage in Nigeria. Yet, state governments cannot pay N60,000 per month. Can the private sector pay this minimum wage? Your guess is as good as mine.

A public intellectual once said: “What Labour is doing is quite strategic. It is a form of negotiation where you target what you want to bring out by anticipating the defence of the person with whom you are negotiating.”

Read also: Navigating the stalemate in new minimum wage negotiations

“The real conversation is not minimum wage. The real target is to force the government to effect a drastic cost in its overhead and the salaries of its public officers.”

An erudite professor of economics once posited that “the high cost of living crisis is not an exclusive Nigerian problem; it is a global problem, and to be honest, I won’t pretend to be some intellectual who has a genius idea on how the government can solve it, but I can say this: a wage increase to 494,000 is not the solution.”

What are the strategic imperatives?

As the debate for an increase in the minimum wage goes on, we should start interrogating average productivity per employee at national and sub-national levels.

As we focus on the absolute naira amount of wages, we should equally seek to enhance the relative value of the naira through local production and exports of oil and non-oil products.


In concluding this article, please permit me to draw inspiration from the book of a 1950 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Bertrand Russell, titled “The Science to Save Us from Science”: “It is better to be alive than dead; better to be adequately fed than starved; better to be free than a slave… Humanity has become so much one family that we cannot ensure our own prosperity except by ensuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others happy.” Thank you.


MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd)

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