President Buhari of Nigeria is grossly mistaken when he says that Nigeria cannot afford to pay its workers the minimum wage of 18,000Naira (equivalent to USD 50) a month. During his interview with Arise news (recorded for them by ThisDay Newspapers), the Nigerian president compared the demands of the Nigerian labor union for an increase in the minimum wage to the behavior of a mad woman. In response to the issue he said that he had to “relapse into his culture.” The Hausa culture, he said, has a story about a mad woman who went to make firewood; she gathered and tied it up. When she couldn’t take the firewood because it was too heavy for her: “she increased instead of reducing it.” He then said that when the states in Nigeria can’t pay the basic salary of 18,000Naira, the labor union is requesting for the minimum wage to go to 30,000Naira. He asked, “Where do we get the money from? Do we print more money?”
And this he said after he had previously agreed to their demand only to renege on his promise. In the same interview with Arise news he admitted that some states in the federation currently owe their workers six months of salary. For a worker to be owed six months of salary boggles the mind. The president, himself, admitted to this non-payment of salary that plagues the country. Now when you talk to fellow Nigerians you will find that some are actually owed up to even a year of unpaid salary! How are people expected to live, to survive? People work to make a living and take care of their families. They need a place to live, school resources for their children, food and healthcare for their families and transportation to get to work. How are the masses to survive?
In this same Nigeria, much as the President says that there is no money to pay the minimum wage, some politicians are receiving double salaries without so much as a skip of one month. Nigerian senators, who were former governors or deputy governors while receiving their salaries as senators now, are also receiving pension payment to the tune of the full salary for that former position they held. The same holds for former state governors now serving as ministers. And yet, the president says that there is no money to pay the minimum wage to desperate Nigerians. There is no money to pay those who receive the barest minimum, but those who are paid grossly exaggerated incomes do not skip a month in their salaries. And some of them are receiving double: salary and inflated pensions!
Nigerian politicians are paid higher than their counterparts in most of the developed countries. The publication of their budget through the advocacy of #OpenNASS confirmed what has been common knowledge. Our legislators are paid US$170,000 annually (wardrobe allowance included) before all other additional benefits are fully counted. Meanwhile, the minimum wage in Nigeria is under US$650 per annum, meaning our legislators earn almost three hundred times the minimum wage. Compare that to the U.S. where the average legislator is paid US$174,080 annually and the minimum wage is US$15,080 and so a legislator in the U.S. earns less than twelve times the minimum wage. Three hundred times to only twelve times! Add to that the fact that many Nigerian workers have not been paid their salary in months while the legislators do not skip a month of their own pay.
So, the response from the government, from President Buhari, to the strike and demonstrations of the Nigerian Labor Congress for a just cause is regrettable. That some states have not complied with the current minimum wage of 18,000Naira without consequence is an abysmal failure of leadership. The insensitivity of the ruling class to the plight of the masses of Nigeria is disturbing. The abject poverty in which the masses live is a distressful sight to behold. Is it not a lack of basic human decency for Nigerian politicians to keep themselves in opulence while denying those under them their basic earned sustenance?