Bestman Michael

It would be an understatement to say that the economic crises of these past months have tragically worsened, with a government that barely cares about the living condition of the masses. The recent attempt by the governors and their proxies in the National Assembly to ‘restructure’ the minimum wage, in such a way that Nigeria’s anti-workers governors determine minimum wages of their states, go a long way to demonstrate the unity of capitalist politicians against workers’ interests during Nigeria’s worst economic crisis in decades. This is the meaning of the legal jargon that has now been thrown around as the movement of the minimum wage to the concurrent legislative list from the exclusive legislative list.

This attempt by the capitalist class is against the background that the poor working class has been plunged into more degenerating economic crises before the pandemic’s outbreak. Within a short period, the cost of living has become miserably high, with prices of food items increasing by 50% as well as other items like cement and building materials. Meanwhile, the increase in fuel price and electricity tariff has further burdened working-class families, eating into their tiny wages. Yet, the minimum wage of 30,000 has not been paid in 18 states, with the government of Kaduna state even going as far as reversing the state’s minimum wage to N18, 000, which is quite unlawful.

However, the complaint of the governors is roundly hypocritical and untenable, if one considers that they still draw outrageous allowances and security votes from the government’s purse without complaining about limited resources. Take for example, during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, the national assembly took delivery of 400 units of the latest model of Toyota Camry cars that cost between N19 million and 25 million at the time. The same national assembly members are now colluding with governors to bastardise the minimum wage. Nigerian workers should not give an ear to the arguments of the minimum wage robbers, and instead, demand that political officeholders should make some sacrifices by cutting their obscene allowances.

From here, it is important to state categorically that the fight for the implementation of a new minimum wage, nationally, is of utmost importance. Revelations that emerged during the recent nationwide protest declared by the NLC further showed that having the minimum wage under state control will defeat the essence of the term ‘minimum wage’.

Over the years, with the N18,000 minimum wage, some states openly declared that they were incapable of paying, despite the falsity of those claims. Some of these governors owe a backlog of arrears under the N18, 000 minimum wage regime. There is therefore no evidence to suggest that the governors will pay any minimum wage even if their present proposal is accepted. Nigerian governors are anti-poor and exploitative; they depend on unpaid workers’ wages to maintain their hangers-on and patronage system.

It is also possible that the governors are banking on the corrupt nature of some traditional labour organisations in their states, which they believe could be easily compromised to accept their fallacious excuses for cheating workers of their deserved wages. Also, if the governors’ proposal scales through to becoming law, the united solidarity of Nigeria’s labour movement will be broken as state labour centres become central to minimum wage struggles or negotiation. It will have a terrible impact on the strength of the labour movement that is in its sheer number. Workers must reject such an attempt and continue to maintain a united minimum wage, and consequently, a united struggle to defend workers’ interests across Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Captial Territory.

Equally, the labour movement must reject the new antics of the ruling elite to revert the current N30, 000 minimum wage to the old N18, 000 minimum wage. A case in point is Kano State where the Kano State Government declared that it will not be able to pay the N30,000 minimum wage for the  month of March, citing dwindling monthly FAAC Allocation. It is interesting to note that after the expiration of the three day warning general strike by the Kano State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress, the national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress suspended the strike accepted the reduction of minimum wage for the month of March, 2021 on the strength of government’s pledge that the March, 2021 deductions from workers’ salaries at state and local government councils should be refunded to workers along with April or May, 2021 salaries depending on increase of FAAC allocation for the period.

In our view, we of the MSA posit that this is a dangerous precedent for the entire labour movement. The labour movement must realize that the ruling elite would put their interests before that of the working class and it is only ferocious resistance that can secure victory. We hold that subjecting the salaries of workers to the convenience of the ruling elite would only elongate the days of misery  for the working class.

There is every basis to reject the double standard that fraughts the proposal to restructure the minimum wage. For example, the governors of the 36 states are paid equal wages with no regard to the size of their states or monthly ‘allocation’. So, when they put forward that mathematics of the difference in federal allocations, the workers must reject it as the fallacy that it is.

Nigerians must also take note of the fraud in the frenetic demand of some governors for “Restructuring”, which amounts to giving governors more powers over the affairs of their states. The proposal to bastardise the minimum wage law demonstrates that the governors’ restructuring ploy is merely a guise to gain more power to exploit the working people and save more money for looting. Capitalist politicians can only restructure the structure of the exploitation of the working people, not for the happiness of the people.

This has shown also that Nigerian workers can no longer depend on the politicians of the capitalist parties to defend their interests. Workers also need their party to be elected into parliament and hold executive positions in the state to defend the interests of the working class, young people and peasant farmers, including those in the informal sector.

Such a mass-based workers’ party must differentiate itself in the way it manages the economy, even to the point of ensuring political officeholders are paid just like any other section of the skilled workers. For this purpose, political office holders must be placed on the average wage of skilled workers to free resources for much needed infrastructural development in Nigeria. Such a workers’ party must be ready to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy and put the destiny of the country in the hands of the working masses rather than in the hands of multinationals or profiteers. This would mean a departure from capitalism and the construction of a democratic socialist republic.