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What About Maximum Wage For Political Leaders?

“It is a serious national evil that any class of his Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions” — Winston Churchill

The disgusting argument between the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) on the payability of the new benchmark on minimum wage calls to mind the question Mr. Peter Obi asked Anambrians on delving the murky waters of Nigerian politics:  Are we cursed or are we the cause?

Is it not embarrassing that Nigerians’ rank and file are still digesting the new benchmark with salt when NGF that participated actively in the negotiating table suddenly recognized that it has been wallowing in somnambulism to backed out from the agreement?

With this ” we cannot pay N30,000 – Don’t  pay or lose election” altercation, those that were initially blaming NLC for condescending too low by accepting N30,000 in lieu of its  proposed N56,000 benchmark can now understand what White men mean when they say that “ignorance is a bless.”

But these happenings perfectly described the true nature of our political leaders. Do they really know the purchasing power of thirty thousand naira? Do they really understand that there is hunger in the land?

President Buhari once told Nigerians that his tenancy of Aso Villa does not barricade him from the sufferings of ordinary Nigerians. ” I feel your pains,” he once declared.

Our governors also have catchphrases that point to show their humanity, charisma and grassroots base — but can these posturing be reconciled with their current stances on minimum wage?

Make no mistake about it, there is great hunger in the land and Naira has depreciated to the level that thirty thousand naira cannot see to the monthly upkeep of a single young man let alone married one.

For a better understanding of why the stances of NGF are unacceptable we need to know the class of people that received the so-called minimum wage.

These are people that occupy the lowest strata in the civil service hierarchical ladder. Many of these auxiliary staff has little or no formal education and most of them are bread winners of their families.

In the many cases their spouses are either subsistent farmers or petty- businessmen/women. So how can such a worker that earns a paltry sum of N30, 000 monthly cater for his/her family?

The holy Bible tells us that a worker deserves his wages but when service is great and wage is not enough to see to the worker’s welfare, it becomes exploitation. Sir Winston Churchill captured that perfectly well in the introductory quotation above.

And this explains why the British people in 1563 enacted the Statute of Artificer which mandated Justice of Peace to fix wages according “to the plenty or scarcity of the time.”

South African leaders seem to understand this very well that they recently raise their minimum wage to 20 rand per hour.

Analysis from Sahara Reporters shows that South African Rand exchanges for N26.35. This means South African workers would be earning N527 per hour: N4, 216 per day and N126, 480 per month.

But our leaders are still holding talks on N30, 000. They don’t want to hear about what is payable in South Africa. This is Nigeria and you don’t need to listen Falz to understand that.

A scholarly defense of the NGF has been made by one of the country’s greatest legal luminaries.

Writing under the title, “National Minimum Wage and Peculiarities of the Localities” in his Vanguard Column, Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) started by offering a comparative analysis of minimum wage with US and China on one hand and Nigeria at the other.

But he ended up siding with the NGF logic that some states won’t be able to pay the formerly agreed N30, 000.

He proposed the obliteration of the powers to prescribe and review minimum wage from the exclusive list. For according to him “what may be adequate as minimum wage for a worker in Kwara State may be totally inadequate for a worker in Lagos State or the Federal Capital Territory.”

While this is correct, it fails to explain the needlessness of having a national minimum wage. And the fact that there is no state in Nigeria today where the current N18, 000 is said to be an adequate minimum wage justifies the need for a national benchmark on living wage.

More so, the NLC backed N30, 000 is not a static wage but the price floor below which workers may not sell their labour. If things go by the way the learned gentleman had suggested, many States’ civil servants will be shortchanged.

But it all boils down to leadership and Nigerians have been so unfortunate in getting it right. Do elect governors to share the oil money? What happened to internally generated revenue?  The truth is that our governors are worried because the economic viability of their states depends on the federal allocation.

Also, Cardinal Onaiyekan raised another salient issue on the topic under discussion.

The prelate of catholic archdiocese of Abuja observed in an interview with journalists in Abuja during the First National Catechetical Summit organized by the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria with the theme ‘Revamping the Catechetical Apostolate in Nigeria,’ that the so-called minimum wage tends to favour the rich than the poor.

“If the government, for instance, agree on a minimum wage of N30,000, I’m told that when that happens, many people on grade levels 12, 13, 14 and 15 could get an increase of N200,000. Is it true? If it is true, then, there is something wrong.”

However, studies show that a raise in minimum wage without a corresponding raise in the medium wage may cause a huge dip in morale. Just imagine a situation in which the FG and NGF had accepted the N56, 000 initially proposed by NLC, does it means that minimum wage employees will earn more than level 7 civil servants who are earning about N43, 163.75 in many states?

To boost the morale of other workers, a raise in the minimum wage is expected to ensure a raise in the medium wage.

That’s what economists call a ripple effect, meaning an increase in the minimum wage spills over to higher wage brackets.

Having said that, what about maximum wage for political leaders? Nigerians have talk so much about minimum wage that they seem to have forgotten that political leaders are paid as well. And statistics shows that Nigerian political leaders are the highest paid public servants in world.

Senator Shehu Sani blew the lid off when he revealed that the salary of Senators is 750,000 naira per month plus allowances of 13.5 million naira per month, for a total package of 14.25 million naira per month.

As expected the revelation generated a memic spread in the social media, but

Mr. Peter Obi seized the moment to tell Nigerians that what senators earns monthly is just the tip of the iceberg of what governors take home every month. This is how he put it:

“None of you knows what a governor earns; quote me anywhere if you know you won’t be here.  It is something you can’t imagine. You just know the salary of senators, and you are shouting, but what if you know that of the governors?”

To solve this problem, Nigerians should start considering a wage ceiling for their political leaders. It seems that they are receiving so much a wage that they find it difficult to pay minimum wage. So let the debate starts now!

Asikason Jonathan writes from University of Nigeria, Nsukka

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