Why National Assembly must lead on wage increase
Sir: It is a good development to hear Senator Bukola Saraki’s rhetoric on increasing the minimum wage in Nigeria. As an economist who has written about the pitiable state of the working poor in Nigeria and advocated for a wage increase to reflect current inflationary indices, I would like the senator to match his words with action.
The idea that the legislature is waiting on the executive in order to raise the minimum wage is alien to both the presidential and the parliamentary democracies that we have adopted. Whether we raise the minimum wage in Nigeria or not falls squarely on the shoulders of the legislature and instead of Nigerian legislators working for themselves, it’s high time they start working for the millions of Nigerians who are still earning N18,000 minimum wage that doesn’t even come regularly.
In an opinion piece almost two years ago, I made the ethical argument why the minimum wage in Nigeria should be increased to N52,000 and adjusted for inflation every five years.
The Nigerian Labour Congress agreed with my proposal and made a N56,000 demand of the Federal Government. Yet , even the best economists will still tell you “ceteris paribus”, all things being equal. Ceteris paribus is a Latin phrase that has been embraced by economists for decades and it is premised on the assumption that all other variables except the ones under immediate consideration are held constant. Can we honestly say that all other variables have held constant in Nigeria for the past two years when yours truly made the case for a N52, 000 wage increase? Or in the last one year since the NLC made a N56, 000 demand? The truth is that, compared to 2014, when Nigeria’s gross national income was at a peak of $2980. Nigeria’s 2016 GNI has fallen to $2450, therefore, policy makers in Nigeria and in particular federal legislators need to look at the underlying factors behind the decrease in GNI and work towards its remedy.
While I believe that the Nigerian worker deserves an increase in wages to bring his or her income to a living wage, there is a greater need in Nigeria today – and that is the need for the Nigerian government at all levels – to go back to paying workers their wages in a timely manner. This is where the National Assembly has been missing over the last two years. As Nigerian public intellectuals, many of us have railed against this clear injustice and yet the National Assembly sat on its butt and did nothing about the major moral crisis of our time.
Going back to economics, since all things have not held constant over the last few years in Nigerian economic indices, the first order of business is for the National Assembly to look into and put a stop to the practice of irresponsibly owing workers their wages in Nigeria. The National Assembly ought to be reminded that the reason for their existence is to make laws for the safety and wellbeing of Nigerians. This is a friendly reminder in case they have forgotten.
While the National Assembly embark on a fight to get justice for the Nigerian worker, it can also simultaneously begin to look into Nigerian economic indices critically, combined with the power of the purse, the Nigerian National Assembly can then partner with all relevant stakeholders (Academia, labour unions, all tier of government, the private sector, and the civil society) to come up with a new minimum wage legislation that is couched in the existing reality of the Nigerian state. This will be a better route towards getting justice for the Nigerian worker and will not come across as both an abdication of responsibility and an empty political platitude.
Dr. Abdulmumin Yinka Ajia is a managing partner and consultant based in the USA.