• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Governors’ comment on N60,000 minimum wage offensive, insensitive – Nigerians

Rwanda retreat: Nigerian govs to exchange insights on complex challenges

The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has been criticised over its comment on the proposed N60,000 minimum wage, which has been a contentious issue between the Federal Government and the Organised Labour.

Some Nigerians, who spoke with BusinessDay following the collective response of the governors to the minimum wage, said that the state chief executive officers were both oppressive and self-serving in their posturing.

They also accused George Akume, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), of hypocrisy over his stand on the controversial minimum wage.

Benson Upah, head of Information at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), said: “We are very worried that history is about to repeat itself. Nigerians are very angry and we have tried very hard to hold them back. But we advise the President to be weary of these governors.”

Read also:Minimum wage: FG targets N65,000 as governors settle for N57,000

According to him, “We are alarmed by the statement credited to the Nigeria Governors Forum that state governments cannot even afford to pay N60,000 as minimum wage as a few states will end up borrowing to pay workers every month.

“We do believe the governors have acted in bad faith. It is unheard of for such a statement to be issued to the world in the middle of an on-going negotiation. It is certainly in bad taste.”

Push further said: “As for the veracity of their claim, nothing can be farther from the truth as FAAC allocations have since grown from N700 billion to N1.2 trillion making the governments extremely rich at the expense of the people.

“All that the governors need to do to be able to pay a reasonable national minimum wage (not even the N60,000) is cut the high cost of governance, minimise corruption as well as prioritise the welfare of workers.”

Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), executive director, of the Civil Society and Legislative Advocacy Center, chided the governors. He drew copiously from reports of the Debt Management Office DMO which show that states had enjoyed more resources since the fuel subsidy removal by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

According to Musa, “A report in February this year, showed that the states received over 50 percent higher revenues since June 2023, after the fuel subsidy was removed.”

The civil rights activist wondered what the states are really doing with these funds, apart from living large cabinets, siphoning funds abroad and spending lavishly on their families.

“We know that about 13 states are said to have borrowed N226.8 billion from the domestic and external sources, for the period between June and December, 2023.

“This is despite the fact that they have also enjoyed an increase in the distributable revenue from N786.16 billion in May 2023 to N1.9 trillion in June 2023 and it doubled in July 2023.

Read also:Tripartite committee recommends N62,000, labour demands N250,000 as minimum wage

“These are states that also got N2billion each as fallout of the fuel subsidy removal approved for them by President Bola Tinubu in July, to help in meeting payments of salaries and pension arrears.”

According to him, “These states cannot claim that they do not have the money to pay their workers. They have never had it so good. For example, but for the investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigerians would never have known that Yahaya Bello, the former Kogi State governor paid $845,852 as school fees for his children, from the coffers of the state funds, from September 2021, until the bubble busted in 2024.

“Reports also show that 16 other state governors received loans totaling N509.3 billion with domestic and external debt of N243.95 billion and $298.5 million.

“The states, which include Benue, Cross Rivers, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Zamfara, and the Federal Capital Territory, got N115.57 billion from domestic creditors, while governors of Ebonyi, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states borrowed $125.1 million (N111.24bn) from external sources.”

An aggrieved young civil servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wondered “Why is there always a fight when it comes to the welfare of the masses, while nobody hears when the rich are given oil wells? Who knows how much the legislatures earn despite the figures being bandied.”

What seems to form a majority opinion is that if you consider the fact that prices have quadrupled in the last one year, due to the persisting inflation woes, yet most earnings are static, a concerned person will marvel at how the low-income earners have survived.”

Even with the government’s proposed N60,000 minimum wage or the N105,000 alleged to be presented to Mr. President by Wale Edun, minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the realities of the time are not captured by those making these proposals.

Yet, Nigerian governors are insisting that workers should not earn more because there is no money to pay such salary increments.

“We appeal that all parties involved, especially the labour unions, consider all the socioeconomic variables and settle for an agreement that is sustainable, durable, and fair to all other segments of the society who have a legitimate claim to public resources,” a statement issued by Nigerian Governors Forum read.

Expressing his anger over the governors’ stand on the minimum wage, Ademola Bakare, a corporate executive, decried the governors’ complaint that they would have to use all the monthly allocation from the Federal Government in paying salaries.

“With the price of a bag of rice above both the N30,000 old minimum wage, and the N60,000 insisted by our governors today, it will be callous and inconsiderate on the part of the government to allow workers to continue to earn peanuts as minimum wage.

“That amount is 100 times lower than the allowances our governors give their children. So, funds meant for development are wasted or diverted to private pockets. Let the governors use the federal allocation to pay good salaries, if that is the only thing workers will gain from being Nigerians,” he said.

In his argument against those in support of the governors and those citing imminent rise in inflation as major reason for the inability to pay the N60,000 proposed by the governors, Onyewuchi Akagbule, a senior lecturer with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, noted that the poor has always paid the cost of most of the economic policies of the different administrations in Nigeria and not this time.

“There is hunger in the land and you refuse to pay workers realistic wages, while still unable to explain why you cannot pay them. The action of the governor will pitch the workers and citizens against them and will result in sabotage of their efforts across the states.

“With N60,000 minimum wage proposed by the governors, Nigerian workers will still be hungry and angry,” Akagbule noted.

Bogus appointments

A survey by the News Agency of Nigeria in 2016 had revealed that 100 aides on average serve state governors with the highest paid receiving close to N500,000 monthly.

But the number of appointees has tripled in this administration with Umo Eno, governor of Akwa Ibom State, raising the bar with the appointment of 368 personal assistants.

The governor broke a record as the appointment was the first time in the history of the 36-year-old state that a state governor would pick such a number of aides at once.

Abba Yusuf, governor of Kano State, trailed behind Eno with the appointment of over 300 aides, including 94 social media influencers as media aides.

Defending the large number of appointees, Darius Ishaku, former governor of Taraba State, noted while in office that, “We need to create job opportunities through these appointments because we have a state that is purely a civil service state.”

Another governor from the South-South zone, explained that he enlarged the number of appointments in order to spread welfare to the citizenry.

But Akagbule argued that about 90 percent of the governors’ aides had neither portfolios nor schedules of duty, yet they earn more than average workers in the states.

Speaking on the presumed hypocrisy of the governors, which has manifested in the minimum wage saga, Chijioke Umelahi, an Abuja-based lawyer, decried that the governors keep giving out a large number of appointments to political supporters and spending billions monthly on their salaries and allowances, that would have gone into workers’ welfare and development projects.

“If the governors can pay their numerous aides above N200,000 monthly, they cannot insist on N60,000 minimum wage for workers. That is unreasonable. They can reduce the number of their aides or use the workers to do the jobs of the aides without paying them additional salaries. This will save billions being wasted on aides’ salaries and allowances every month,” Umelahi, who was also a former Abia lawmaker, said.

Okupe, others react

Speaking on the issue, a former campaign director general of the LP presidential candidate, Doyin Okupe said that state governors should decide the new minimum wage they can pay to workers.

Okupe faulted the National Minimum Wage Act which mandates governors to pay a uniform minimum wage to the workers in their various states.

Okupe said: “We should not make laws that are encompassing, that makes it compulsory for all governors in the federation to obey them. They are sub-nationalities on their own.

“I mean for instance, if you pay a minimum wage in Lagos, why should I pay that in Sokoto? Let every governor decide for his own state by his own people that this is what I can afford.”

Ladipo Johnson, Publicity Secretary of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), said that the governors must seek a solution that leads to some form of equitable equilibrium, bearing in mind the high cost of living.

“The governors must seek a solution that leads to some form of equitable equilibrium, bearing in mind the cost of living and the possible resultant increase in inflation.

“However, the medium to long term solution is in government doing it’s very best to drive down inflation and generally bringing a positive turn around in the economy.

“State governors must also make their states more investment friendly and create a conducive environment for local businesses to pickup and thrive, amongst other things.”

Tade Ademola, former Lagos State chairman of inter-party Advisor Council (IPAC), said several states could pay good reasonable amount as wage to workers, but that some of the governors were extravagant and living above their means.

“You can imagine a governor spending N5 billion on helicopter in few months, they travel on private jet and see their cars in their fleet. So what are they complaining about?

“The current minimum wage those not reflect the economic reality in the country, it is unsustainable for now. How much is a bag for rice?

“But Labour and the federal government must be careful on the increase to checkmate the repercussion of wage increase to the economy,” Ademola said.

He further blamed President Tinubu for initiating reforms without a concrete plans in place to check the effects on the economy and the citizens.

Omoyele Sowore, former Presidential candidate, lambasted Nigerian governors and others claiming that the state cannot afford to pay reasonable minimum wage above N60,000 to their workers.

He said that several of the governors spend billions on refreshments and others, but noted that claims that paying a good minimum wage would caused inflation and cripple the economy was not true.

Tope Musowo, public affairs analyst, said a lot of the states in the country can pay more than N100,000 to their workers if they harness the potentials in their domain and use it to generate revenue.

He pointed out that the problem with most states was that the revenue and allocations are looted and misused by officials.

“I am not surprised with what they are saying, what we see here is that poverty is used as weapon against the masses to oppress the people. If they pay good money people would not come to them begging during elections.

“They are not interested in fighting poverty, infact they are even happy you are poor. It is a calculated attempts, check how much they spend as salaries for their personal staff,” Musowo said.

The genesis

Recall that the NGF, working in tandem with some top government officials, on Friday scuttled efforts by the organised labour to get a better deal for the workers, on their quests for a living wage

BusinessDay Sunday gathered that based on President Tinubu’s directives to Wale Edun, minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, the federal government team was considering a minimum wage proposal of between N75,000 and N80,000

But just a few hours into the submission of the government figures on Friday, the NGF issued a statement that seemed to have thrown a spanner, saying that “the N60,000 new Minimum Wage, proposed by the federal government is unsustainable,” as it was too high.

The new proposals, expected to be submitted to President Tinubu this week, will go through the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

Halimah Ahmed, acting director, media and public affairs of the NGF, made the position of the governors known.

The NGF position, coming on the heels of a similar comment by George Akume, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, that he cannot afford N100,000 for each of his four drivers, may have provided clear indications for the reasons why the negotiations dragged endlessly.

At the end, a sharp disagreement forced the Organised Labour and federal government team to recommend different figures of N250,000 and N62,000, respectively.

Prior to the NGF statement, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, minister of State for Labour and Employment, had, while speaking with journalists in Abuja las Wednesday, hinted that the delays in arriving at an acceptable minimum wage, was not from the federal government, but the governors and the organised private sector.