Each time I turn on my computer to blog or comment about issues in Nigeria, it’s always with a deep sense of frustration because you know the issues are to do with things that you would imagine will be easy to sort out. Unfortunately in Nigeria we tend to make things look more complex than they really are; we don’t do things the easy way, do we? The 18,000 Naira minimum wage controversy came to almost an anti-climax with the calling off or suspension of the strike action proposed by the Nigeria Labour Congress last week. Whilst some states Governments have agreed and signed up to implement the payment, some are still insisting they can’t afford it, something I struggle to believe and understand. First, let’s try to put the 18,000 Naira into some sort of perspective. If you break down 18,000 monthly minimum wage in weekly terms it works out as 4,000/week and daily wage of 900 Naira. If you go further to calculate the wage in hourly terms, that gives just under 130 Naira per hour. This gives an equivalent to 50pence or about 70cents. How politicians lay claim not to have the capacity to pay an average worker, a man presumably with a wife and two children 130 Naira/hour is simply astonishing and completely beyond me. Nigeria is rated as the second largest producer of oil by OPEC in its latest Annual Statistical bulletin (even though Iran currently disputes this) add to the soaring oil prices and excess oil revenue and yet we say we cannot pay a paltry amount of 18,000 Naira.
In contrast, we pay or our politicians pay themselves huge sums running into hundreds of millions of naira, not to mention those that are disguised as security votes, estacodes, constituency allowance and all manner of allowances. In my view, I wonder how anyone in Nigeria could survive on the pittance they call minimum wage especially in a country where people have to generate their own electricity; provide their own water supply; pay for their children to be privately educated because government schools have been left to decay and what is being served is nothing close to an education.
So why do our political leaders find it that difficult to pay and incentify our public servants? I think the politicians themselves would be the ones well placed to come up with a better and more credible argument other than the hard-to-sell position of their inability to pay. What this goes to show is the way we seem to prioritise what is more important for us in our society. Do we want to have a motivated public service that will be at the heart of driving government policies? Or do we want to continue to have an overbloated political structure with a retinue of political appointees and advisers of all manner of names who end up taking up a chunk of the government revenue in allowances/salaries.
Whilst I strongly believe the current 18,000 Naira minimum wage that is currently haggled over is nothing short of a disgrace, in fact I think it should be more than that figure if we take into account the astronomical cost of living in Nigeria. However, I think it’s high time we took a step back and also look at the professionalism of our public/civil servants. It is no secret that a trip to most government offices in Nigeria is not always a very pleasant one judging by poor customer service, lack of courtesy and the notion you have to ‘grease’ someone’s palm to get want you want. These sorts of behaviours and attitudes has no place in a modern workforce that is key in driving reforms and policies of government. Government at all levels need to invest in training of public sector workers especially in the areas of ethics, professionalism and policies. They also need to look at the code of conduct for their workers, if they have one, make it available and highlight the significance and importance of sticking to its provisions.
Time is overdue for us to start getting our priorities right; we’ve been left behind by the rest of the world and we run the danger of drifting further if we fail to take steps to pay a basic wage that is simply not beyond us to do. Afterall, we’re supposed to be a rich nation so therefore let us start putting our money where our mouth is.