The battle for an equitable minimum wage in Nigeria has been one full of drama, agitation, and disagreement between the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Federal government. Thus far, the Labour congress in Nigeria has barely had its demands met, even when they have, it has always been done partly or with a lot of compromises.
On Tuesday the 23rd of February 2021, Datti Garba, a member of the house of representatives from Kaduna State, sponsored a bill that would cede the right to determining minimum wage to the states. Each state would have to determine the minimum wage they can pay. This bill came two years after the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, increased the minimum wage from 18,500 to 30,000 naira and signed it to law. Irrespective of the fact that the new wage bill had been signed, not all the states in the federation have adhered completely. Sadly, about 18 states out of the 36 are yet to comply.
The Current Government Debate
Hon. Datti Garba’s bill in February was met with mixed feelings. The bill intended to move minimum wage out of the legislative list exclusive to the federal government and send it to the legislative list of the states. In his words, “We all know that states are not equal, some states can pay while some cannot afford it”. He also referred to the constitution drafted in 1963 that decentralized minimum wage and allowed states and labor congress to negotiate what this amount should be, hence pointing out that some states are still yet to implement the 30,000 Naira minimum wage signed into law two years ago.
Another lawmaker from Abia State, Hon. Uzoma Abonta supported the bill and even termed it as one of the “finest” bills in the lower chamber. To further buttress his point, he said the bill will give more power to the state and decentralize the country. He termed having a general minimum wage as “hazardous”.
Worthy of note, however, is the fact that Abia state which the agreeing lawmaker hails from-a has been finding it difficult to pay salaries even before the President signed the current minimum wage into law.
Another house of Reps member, Fred Agbedi from Bayelsa also supported the bill. He opined it would enable states to pay salaries from the resources that they have.
The bill was not without opposition as Idris Wase, deputy Speaker and chairperson of the constitution amendment committee was loud and clear on his stand to oppose the bill. He termed the bill ‘anti-people’s and even asked his fellow lawmakers to refuse it. The deputy speaker raised a salient point. He said states that cannot pay the current minimum wage to mismanage funds, not necessarily because they do not have the capacity. He further went on to say that state governments were going to abuse the bill and lead civil servants to poverty by hoarding resources even when they are available.
Another member of the house Aminu Sulaiman stood with the deputy speaker and he vowed to fight the bill as much as he could, even to the committee level.
Days later, after they deliberated on the bill, many representatives of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) and the NLC (Nigerian Labor Congress); umbrella bodies protecting the rights and privileges of workers in Nigeria marched around the FCT in protest.
Quadri Olaleye who is the President of Trade Union congress, in simple terms, said that the house of Rep. members should kill the bill, else there would be a strike. His counterpart, The President of Nigerian labor congress, Ayuba Wabba argued that if the federal government removes the general wage, the state governments would treat workers as though they are slaves.
Who Does the Minimum Wage Affect?
Civil servants, corps members and other citizens of the country in the government’s employ are the people most likely to be affected in the reduction or increase of minimum wage.
Because of the high inflation rates in the country, and the constant devaluation of the naira, a reduction of minimum wage would plunge civil servants into more poverty and thus leaving the minimum wage to be determined by states might be problematic.
Why Is Implementation of The Minimum Wage Difficult?
In a scholarly article published by Elekwa and Eme titled A new revenue allocation formula as a panacea for improved inter- governmental relations in Nigeria’s fourth republic and also from the statement made by a former governor of Ondo state, Olusegun Mimiko, it is hard for states to pay minimum wage because the “monthly allocation from the federal government is inadequate to meet the states’ needs”. The governor further stated that the sharing formula for revenues favour the federal government more and it handicaps the state. The FG takes 52 percent while the state and local government take 26 and 22, respectively. Again, every state does not have equal natural resources to finance payments.
Although these might seem like valid reasons why state governments are finding it difficult to pay salaries, it really is not. Why do I think so? In another scholarly article published by Bello, M.A titled Critical assessment of federal government’s bailout in South-western Nigeria he stated that between 2015 and 2016, the federal government released 1.75 trillion naira as bailout funds to states specifically to pay workers’ salaries and arrears. But some state governments have neither cleared arrears nor have they even paid current salaries, and they have not stated the reason. Perhaps this points to the fact that the actual reason why it is hard to pay minimum wages is the mismanagement of funds rather than lack of means.
Recommendations on How to Solve the Problem
The first way for the state government to solve the problem is through financial prudence. The fact is that the three levels of government in Nigeria are inordinately extravagant. A reduction in governing cost will free up money for implementing minimum wage.
Another option is the exploration of other sources of revenue like solid mineral exploration and agriculture instead of focusing on only oil revenue. This can also help in generating more funds for the economy to thrive.
The bill lawmakers should pass is one that allows states that can afford it to pay a higher minimum wage than the one bench-marked by the Federal government. In as much as the states should be allowed to determine what it’s minimum wage should be, there should be a benchmark that each state can’t go lower, allowing states with more allocated funds to pay more.
Even if every law or bill to facilitate an equitable minimum wage in Nigeria is passed, will corruption allow them be implemented and carried out judiciously? This is the biggest problem that needs to be sorted out first before any recommendation can actually bear any fruits.
The battle for an equitable minimum wage in Nigeria is a very rigid one and will Nigeria a while to get to where it’s meant to be. But I must be honest, there’s still a long way to go.