Nigeria fulfilled it last week. We thought we had scored for the indigent with a new minimum wage. But it is still the same maximum weight on the dispossessed. It is the wages of upper class sin with organised labour in cahoots.
Labour thrashed about like an enraged elephant. The government begged. 0ver N60k was the first bargaining chip. They chipped it down to about half, and the labour leaders hailed themselves as the kings of the little guy. Of course, they are kings of the little guy, not for the little guy.
They are all riding the poor, both labour and government. They also put into the mix the legal opprobrium that says every five years we shall review the wages. We are just a nation that brings on the people after the horse has torn away. The people cannot even ride a horse or a cart. They have to walk to death as the contraption barrels into a dust bowl in the far distance.
We increase wages in tandem with two things. One, inflation and cost of essentials. Two, the economy’s productivity. Tragically, we have one, that is inflation. The other, which is productivity, should trigger the wage rise. The economy is anything but productive.
Yet, the poor man is poorer. His health limps. His rents soar. His transport costs strain long treks in place of a seat in a prostrate bus. He cannot pay school fees. The impact spirals all over the economy. So does he deserve a wage increase? Yes. But that is the wrong question.
The question should be, does the economy provide for wage increase? The clear answer should be no. But the poor man who nearly suffocates at night from power outage looks at Abuja and the well-feathered men at the top. They live the life of flamboyance and opulence, and turn the poor into prayer warriors and citizens of heaven. The Jerusalem here on earth is gone. It is like Apostle John’s proclamation in the Revelations, Babylon the Great has fallen! Our leaders are whoring like the prostitute. So the poor would rather go to heaven and leave the powerful to the abundance and glamour of earth.
What labour and government have agreed is to give them the illusion of the whore. They are the rich man giving Lazarus the crumb. Lazarus is so happy. Better to be crumb rich than stomach empty. It is the Hobson’s choice of the Nigerian masses.
It is the perfect illusion. The economy is in such bad shape that even the state governments that cannot pay less than N20k have now agreed to add more than half. It is an easy win. An easy political victory for labour, and easy triumph for the governments.
Labour goes and tells the workers, “we have been faithful servants. We have warred and won against the whores of power.”
The government will tell the masses, “we have agreed to what your representatives bargained.” The people, in their grand lie, will say, “thank you for listening to us.”
But who is deceiving whom? Pundits say it is better to increase wages and the government should get the money, whether by scavenging, borrowing, etc.
We all know it’s all a lie. The federal government may be able to pay, but most state governments cannot. Most private concerns cannot. The minimum wage does not apply out of government anyway. There are many workers in private firms around the country who earn less than N10K a month, and they are happy just to leave the home each morning. How they survive and move from day to day is a subject for research. They are the trapped.
Tomorrow will come, and the crisis will rock. The governors will say they cannot pay. No one will provide the money, and labour will yell in bad faith.
But the faith is without works. More clearly, without work. There are some things we ought to do to guarantee a five-year wage review, and also to make it workable. First, we must tackle waste. Corruption and waste go hand in hand in this society. That explains why a few are so rich that they afford for one meal what many spend in a month.
The present anti-corruption war is the best we have had, even if it is not fundamental. It has not addressed lifestyle. And the judiciary, for all its self-scrutiny, is still very loose. The second point arises from the first, and that is a merit-based system. Reward those who serve and work, not those who doodle as loyal courtiers, flatterers and sycophants.
But all of those cannot work without a federal system where the units account for their own income by tapping their own natural and human resources. For instance, every local government has a mineral resource. Is that not enough to keep the nation working rather than allow brigands to dig up our gold and kaolin and bauxite and fatten their purses at our collective expense.
That is what I mean by productivity. An economy that has not put itself in a position to be fertile should not be craning for lush fruits on tree branches. The N30k deal was faith without works. Or shall I say, faith with cunning, or cunning in the name of faith.
We merely put off the evil day. The poor will return to their poor wages. We started this with the Adebo Award, and we had Udoji Award and a few more such cynical bribes over the decades. But the poor did not improve in welfare. They had a month or two of swagger before inflation subdued them.
The poor will again lament, and scripture was right when it said, the destruction of the poor is their poverty. In her book, Nickle and Dimed, American writer Barbara Ehrenreich investigated America’s poor by living with them for a year. He detailed with chilling details how most of them have no pathway out of their misery. It is the bane of capitalism.
Capitalism brought wealth and ruin. Because of its potential for human misery, the welfare state was born to counter the depredation of communism. At the end of the Second World War, many European countries flirted with soviet-style communism, and that compelled the Marshal Plan. It saved capitalism, and it was about that time that the idea of the minimum wage came into being. Capitalism has had a great and brutal triumph for decades until the crash a few years ago.
The problem now is inequality, and it has grown worse and difficult to reverse. One of the best books in the past half-decade, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty, has stressed the urgency of treating inequality. If it is so serious there, can we wonder why someone is struggling to pay N30k when someone else buys a piece of cake with tea at that amount. It tells us how poor we have made ourselves because we have oil and too many drones growing fat.
While we are yet to settle the dust over the Osun dancer, the nation ought to pay attention to the certificate saga in Adamawa State. The Governor, Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow, is being sued for perjury and forgery by an NGO, Global Integrity Crusade Network for not stating the facts about his secondary school certificate results. They sue him with lying and that he presented different certificates when he ran for senate and subsequently for governor.
This is an interesting development. We may recall that like some other APC primaries, the Adamawa story was intriguing. It was first an indirect primary until they opted for an open one. The result gave victory to Bindow, while Mahmood Halilu came second and Nuhu Ribadu third. The losing duo publicly disputed the polls and called it fraudulent.
This is not Ogun State or Imo State when the jury has flushed out the governors’ choices. This is different, potentially an earthquake for a sitting governor. It’s brewing in the court. Watch out.