Minimum Wage, Maximum Deceit and Moral Cowardice

Minimum Wage, Maximum Deceit and Moral Cowardice

By Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

After three months of bootless committee meetings in the comfort of air-conditioned offices at the cost of one billion naira (President Bola Tinubu approved 500 million naira to “start with… first”) and about a month after the expiration of the last minimum wage approved in 2019, the Tinubu government has not been able to approve a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers even when it wastes no time to approve policies that inflict maximum suffering on poor people.

On May 1, I woke up here in Atlanta to the news of an increase in the minimum wage of workers, which would be backdated to January 1st. Although it’s the legal thing to do, I was impressed nonetheless, not only because I’ve significantly scaled back my expectations about what the government can do but also because I know most Nigerian workers could use the relief that the increase and the arrears would bring.

So, I started looking for the exact amount of the new minimum. I scouted social media platforms and news websites. I had no luck.

It turned out that I was mistaken. The national minimum wage has not been increased even though the current one expired on April 17, which is frankly untenably criminal.

All that had happened, I later learned, was that the federal government had approved an increase of between 25 per cent and 35 per cent in the salaries of certain civil servants, according to the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC).

“They include Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure (CONPSS), Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAISS) and Consolidated Police Salary Structure (CONPOSS),” NSIWC’s spokesman by the name of Emmanuel Njoku said in a statement on April 30. “Others are: Consolidated Para-military Salary Structure (CONPASS), Consolidated Intelligence Community Salary Structure (CONICCS) and Consolidated Armed Forces Salary Structure (CONAFSS). The increases will take effect from January 1.”

That’s some impenetrable mumbo jumbo for those of us who are not civil servants or who are not tutored in the tortured, tortuous ways of the civil service. It’s obvious, though, that this is not the new minimum wage.

A 25 percent increase on the existing minimum wage, that is, 30,000 naira, would amount to a mere additional 7,500 naira, and a 35 percent increase is a mere additional 10,500 naira. That’s lower than Edo State’s new minimum wage of 70,000 naira.

This is both exasperating and unconscionable, especially given that this government, since its inception, has understood its role as consisting of merely conceiving, initiating, and implementing policies that squeeze the hope and life out of poor and middle-class folks.

The originative signal of the intensity of the hardheartedness of this government came from the precipitate, ill-conceived, thoroughly unjustified announcement of the removal of petrol subsidies on President Tinubu’s inaugural day.

He followed this up with the disastrous “floating” of the naira, which wiped out trillions from the economy, hemorrhaged existing foreign investments, and made nonsense of the pittance workers collected as salaries.

Not done, the government chose to hike tariffs on electricity (that’s barely there to start with) to amounts that regular people can’t afford. Fairly regular electricity will now become the exclusive privilege of people and companies that can pay extortionate amounts for it.  This will, of course, exacerbate the existing cost-push inflation in the economy that was ignited by the removal of petrol subsidies.

Now life has become an unwinnable daily war for most people as a result of these policies. But President Tinubu brags that these life-sucking policies represent “courage.” By that, it is obvious he meant that these policies are so soulless, so callous, so predatory that normal people would violently revolt against them but that he damned that prospect and did what he did anyway.

He should be lucky that his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, laid the foundation for the current mystifying docility of Nigerians, for the emergent national culture of toleration of injustice without a fight, and for the absolute death of critically collective democratic citizenship.

As I pointed out in a previous column, preying on vulnerable members of society who have lost the will to resist injustice is no courage. It’s moral cowardice. And there’s no better example of the deceit and cowardice of the government than its inability or unwillingness to implement a basic minimum wage for workers after realizing trillions of naira from the removal of petrol subsidies (which has devalued the worth of the existing minimum wage by several folds).

The government has never ever needed a committee to implement policies that hurt the poor and the middle class. All it usually needs is Tinubu’s cowardly and preposterous presidential “courage.”

 It only needs committees—which sit for extended periods because every sitting is a money-making venture—when any issues concern giving just a little welfare to beleaguered workers. Although the government is obligated by law to conduct nationwide public hearings as a precursor to increasing electricity tariffs, according to Femi Falana, the government chose not to be distracted by such pesky legalities in its haste to do what it seems to love to do best: make poor citizens squirm in torment and cry.

Accountable and socially responsible governments all over the world preoccupy their minds with finding ways to assuage the existential injuries that life episodically throws at citizens. But like the Buhari regime that preceded the current government, there appears to be a single-minded obsession by people in government with making life more miserable than it already is for everyday folks every day.

It seems to me that this government’s reason for being is to inflict pain and misery on Nigerians. It is what gives it its highs and delectations.

I get the sense that the strategists and tacticians of the government spend their time brainstorming on the next sadistic agony to visit on Nigerians. When they are out of ideas, they might choose to remove subsidies on the air Nigerians breathe, the land Nigerians walk on, and even the saliva Nigerians gulp.

By the end of this month, the Tinubu government will be one year old. Can it honestly point to a single thing it has done that has brought even a smidgeon of relief to our people, that has given ordinary people a reason to smile?

In less than one year, the Tinubu government has built a public image as a government that invests all its energy and resources into devising ways to hurt the people and to being a passive, unresisting servant of the IMF and the World.

We know that historically the IMF has always been opposed to increases in minimum wages. Last year, for instance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the planned minimum wage increases in many countries in Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe (CEE) should be stopped because the “increases will result in more persistent inflation or lower employment, especially given relatively weak productivity growth in the region.”

 The IMF always encourages, even compels, governments in Third World countries to totally remove all subsidies that benefit the poor but warns them against increasing minimum wages.

Could the reluctance by the Tinubu government to increase the minimum wage of workers be inspired by its fear of the IMF, its lord and savior? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring.

Well, as I pointed out in a previous column, Nigeria’s elite have a personal incentive to obey the IMF. The increased financial burden that IMF’s policies impose on poor Nigerians helps to keep them in check and renders them more docile and controllable. The poorer people are the less strength they tend to have to resist oppression and the more likely they are to be esurient for crumps from their oppressors.

So, governance by sadism is rooted in the desire to keep the vast majority of the people dirt poor, miserable, ignorant, and therefore more manipulatable.

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