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Minimum wage: Again, Tinubu’s unhelpful ambush Tactics

It does not require the attribute of clairvoyance to appreciate that dust over the minimum wage challenge facing the country, may not settle in a…

It does not require the attribute of clairvoyance to appreciate that dust over the minimum wage challenge facing the country, may not settle in a hurry. This is especially so with respect to the anticlimactic, poor deal of a new minimum wage which President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, offered Nigerian workers on May 1st 2024, in the course of marking the year’s Workers’ Day. Against the expectations of a wide spectrum of informed Nigerians, the President announced an increase of 35% of the existing minimum wage of N30,000.00 per month, which fell far short of the consolidated demand of N615,000.00 by labour.

As is easily recalled, the consolidated labour front comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had jointly adopted N615,000.00 as the minimum monthly wage to be paid the Nigerian worker, while a group of legislators in the National Assembly had also advocated N100,000.00 as the new national minimum wage. In the light of the fore going, the recent adoption of 35% increase on the existing N30,000.00 by the Federal Government which even President Bola Tinubu saw as inadequate and increased same to N65,000.00 by adding N35,000.00, was seen by not a few Nigerians as off the mark. Just as well, a lobby close to the executive was reported as muting a figure between N100,000.00 and N150,000.00. Hence the 35% increase announced by the government remains an anticlimax, which will further push the country towards an avoidable round of further turbulence.

However, while the value of the new minimum wage may be seen as questionable having fallen far short of expectations, the more disturbing aspect remains the element of surprise in its delivery. Once more the President has deployed the element of surprise and ambush tactics, to impose a most sensitive statutory initiative on the nation. It needs to be recalled that it was in the same style of surprise and ambush tactics that the President announced the removal of fuel subsidy on May 29 2023, and launched the entire country deeper into the vortex of economic crises.

Relating the circumstances of the new minimum wage as driven by the Bola Tinubu, to those of the surprise withdrawal of the fuel subsidy on May 29, 2023 during his inauguration as President, betrays a dimension of his presidency which Nigerians need to brace up for. And such is the growing aversion for engaging the public in sustained and constructive dialogue, as well as resort to shock therapy for Nigeria’s myriad challenges, when deliberations do not go his way. Courtesy of the lessons from these two situations, Nigeria’s march into full dictatorship under President Bola Tinubu, may be very much on course.

Among the numerous pointers to this aspect of the Tinubu Presidency, stand these two dispensation as   the most profound policy initiatives. From all indications Nigerians may be having a president who is rigged to allow the citizens have their say while he eventually has his way. As is easily recalled, at the time the fuel subsidy was removed, the nation was engaged in spirited debates on the merits and demerits of the matter. Hence when the newly inaugurated President announced that fuel subsidy “was gone”, Nigerians reacted vigorously towards the development, but still mellowed their angst with the expectations that the government had adequate contingency plans to wade off the typical consequences. The latter resultant reactions by labour and the general public were due to the realisation by Nigerians that the government had no adequate contingency plans for the country, and still acted unfeelingly by withdrawing the fuel subsidy. The eventual debilitating outcomes from that fuel subsidy removal are crystal clear for everyone to see.

In the circumstances, the point needs to be noted that it was in the aftermath of the withdrawal of fuel subsidy that labour’s new demands for a living wage gained traction, and eventually N615,000.00  was adopted following a nationwide appraisal of survival challenges of the Nigerian worker.

With reference to the new national minimum wage, a repeat performance is playing out courtesy of the President’s proclivities. Just as President Bola Tinubu had resolved to remove the fuel subsidy, with the element of surprise, so he had also prepared himself to launch a new minimum wage increase of 35%, and damn the consequences. This is what labour sees as a disappointment of monumental proportion and has already put the government on notice that an industrial action will ensue unless there is a roll back of the package. Placed in context, not a few Nigerians are wondering why the President’s increase was not widely canvassed in the course of the four-month long deliberations of the 37-member minimum wage  tripartite committee?

Meanwhile, in a reaction to the new minimum wage as announced by the Vice President Kashim Shettima, the President of the NLC Joe Ajaero described the government’s adoption of 35% as ‘mischievous’ and unacceptable to labour.  According to Ajaero the figure of N615,000 demanded by labour was not arrived through a flight of fancy, but through painstaking grass roots survey of the impact of the rapidly degenerating economy, as it lies prostrate to sundry pressures from factors that include the fuel subsidy removal and adjustments in the forex market.

The way forward for the country is for the government to relate with labour on the basis of continuous negotiations with no position as sacrosanct. Historically, the Nigerian labour movement has never demonstrated obdurate tendencies. Conflict situations between labour and government in the country have always been due to untoward high handedness and ambush disposition of government officials.

Now in the saddle as President, Bola Tinubu needs to learn from history and toe a different path of constructive dialogue with labour on this matter of new minimum wage for the Nigerian worker. Nigerian workers are always open to fruitful negotiations if the correct picture is presented to them.

 

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