- Say minimum wage cannot guarantee workers welfare
- Utomi calls for transitional government
Prof. Pat Utomi, Convener of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Mr. Jimi Agbaje, 2019 PDP’s Lagos State governorship candidate, have lamented the worsening plight of Nigerian workers under the President Muhammadu Buhari – led administration. Across the world, the Labour movement is commemorating May Day, otherwise called Workers’ Day. But in Nigeria, there appears to be nothing to celebrate. Workers and labour leaders across sectors of the economy bemoan their fortunes and express fears for a gloomy future for the Nigerian workers.
In separate interviews with The Catholic Herald on the current state of the Nigerian workers in commemoration of the International Workers’ Day, both statesmen decried the frightening economic decimation of the living standard of Nigerians, besides workers. Utomi noted that Nigerians generally have never had it so bad. He said, ‘I think the state of Nigeria generally worsened under Buhari’s watch. It wasn’t because there was no leadership. Nobody was in charge. The place was just generally drifting around because of that the consequences for the human condition just deteriorated across the board. “Of course, who pays the bigger price in this kind of thing, but the worker? So, there was a specific isolation of the worker. But to tell the truth, the quality of life in Nigeria deteriorated massively during these past years. “But some progress did take place, not because of the government, by the way.
The things that Nigerians were doing for themselves in the tech space, the things that Nigerians were doing in entertainment industry are creating more jobs than government is creating. And all these developments happened, not because of government.” Agbaje said, “What we have is a situation where the question would be, ‘is the Nigerian worker better off today than he was seven years ago?’ The reality is out there for everybody to see. And again, I would go back to these specific issues, “Is it easier for me to send my child to school today? Is my salary big enough for my child’s education? God forbid that I fall ill today, ‘Do I have health care to provide for my children or myself? So, if these basic amenities are not there, then, I will say that I am worse off than I was before.
“Education today; the public education is nothing to write home about. And this is not just at the federal level; it extends to the state level. So, it’s not just a federal issue. Health is not there. And the health side shows the rot in our health system; in fact, the non existence of health system. So, health is not there. “Now universities are on strike for wages. Those who are on strike for wages are also Nigerian workers. So, it’s not there. That’s the reality which we have to face and that’s why am saying that the Workers’ Day should be not so much to celebrate, but to commemorate and to recommit and to re-strategise in the way that the Nigerian worker will look at how we can get the best deal in this country. Speaking on how these issues can be resolved, Utomi called for a transitional government of national unity likening the country’s situation to a state of war. He said, “We must get ready to focus on our problems. I have already called for a transition government of national unity.
First of all, I think this government has lost legitimacy and even the will to govern. It is losing legitimacy from the people because they’ve lost the will to work. “We are in a moral equivalence of a war in Nigeria. When you are in a state of war, you have a war cabinet. A classic example of war cabinet is Gowon’s cabinet. You bring in everybody whether they are now Action Group people and NCNC people and NPC people. You put them all together in government. You make frugality the essence of governing to be able to focus on your resources to the whole problems. “Right now, we still have the government of opulence in a time of desperate difficulties. So, there are so many mismatches from the political axis, completely disconnected from the reality of what people are going through.
It’s because they have created for themselves ways of making so much at the expense of the people. So, one good way is to put in place a government of national unity. Dissolve this political arrangement. Begin to write a new constitution in Nigeria, and then begin to restore better ways of representation.” The former presidential aspirant further expressed displeasure with the high rate of unemployment, poor leadership and the growing rate of inflation and its effects on minimum wage that has pushed many workers into poverty. Utomi stated, “The first problem of the worker is that there is no work. Unemployment is probably at the highest level that I can remember. The first problem of the Nigerian worker is finding work. “The living conditions are horrific in Nigeria today, while governments are saying minimum wage for example that they cannot afford it, the truth is that even the minimum wage cannot take anybody anywhere. Look at the way inflation is running out of control. It means that whatever the worker is getting is gone before he actually gets it.
“Then of course, the state of public transportation that could help is deteriorating. A basic flight ticket is now literally N100, 000. So, if you buy economy ticket two or three weeks in advance, you may pay N50, 000, but any typical business class ticket now you are talking about almost N100,000. How many people get paid a N100, 000 in Nigeria, not to talk of these days when it’s too unsafe to go by road? Everybody tries to go by air. I mean, it just gets compounded more and more. “Workers can’t produce in many parts of the country because insecurity is such that they don’t go to work.
A local government worker in Katsina was saying the other day in my presence that they can’t go to work because they are scared that they may not come back alive. So, it is difficult times for workers.” With high inflation and an economy in distress, many average Nigerians are having a downturn in their living standards, barely able to meet their basic needs. Worst off, are many unresolved factors, such as the refusal of some state governors to pay workers the N30,000 minimum wage, several lingering strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and a host of others coupled with unresolved industrial disputes which have further plunged workers into harrowing conditions.
Agbaje believes that the conversation has gone beyond minimum wage to providing basic amenities that would help workers survive the harsh economic effects which have taken toll on their meagre salaries, as well as their socio-economic and psychological wellbeing. He said, “I am one of those that believe that it’s not so much the minimum wage as to what the Nigerian worker is entitled to. For example, I would rather that government commit itself to better public education, good health services, functional mass public transport systems for the Nigerian worker because you find that the world we live in today is difficult for wages to meet up with inflation. “But where those basic facilities are there, that inflation is no longer being borne by the Nigerian worker directly, it is borne by the state. And what you find in other countries, if education is provided by the state, then, the Nigerian worker is shielded from having to go and pay substantial part of his income in raising his children to go to school.
Now, for our youths that are going abroad for studies, their parents have education for their children abroad that does not come out of their pocket directly. “In the same way, you say you have health facilities; you put health facilities in place. So, I would advise that the Nigerian worker rather than chasing a minimum wage that would be obsolete in another year or every year should insist on some of these services being provided by the state in a way that things work better. “If there is power for example; electricity, then the Nigerian worker does not have to consider buying petrol or buying diesel. If there is massive mass transit system, the fact that diesel price has gone up will not necessarily affect the price of transportation for the Nigerian worker as it is today. Though I support the clamour for the national minimum wage to be reviewed, but I am not sure that it’s a target that you can ever meet in terms of meeting the needs of the Nigerian worker.
“I think the Nigerian worker should indeed insist that those services for the majority of people, those basic rights of the Nigerian worker are provided properly, qualitatively by the state. And that is where the pressure should be on, rather than the Naira figure because the Naira figure is a moving tangent.” The May Day celebration made its debut in Nigeria on May 1, 1980 when the now late radical socialist Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, introduced it. The following year, specifically, May 1, 1981, the Federal Government under the then leadership of President Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria, NPN, transformed it into an annual national public holiday.
This year’s edition came at a time when, not just the workforce but Nigeria as a country, is faced with great national economic and security uncertainties. There is hardly any state in the country that is not faced with serious insecurity concerns such as terrorism, banditry, herdsmen-farmer conflicts, insurgency and lately, sudden upsurge in the targeted killing of military, police and security personnel, as well as the destruction of their stations in the South East and South-South of Nigeria. Can the traditional march pasts in a carnival-like atmosphere that characterise Workers’ Day celebrations take place in some states across the federation? Of course, there is no new song for the Nigerian workers.