As Governors Cry Again Over Minimum Wage | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Our View, Views

As Governors Cry Again Over Minimum Wage

Posted: Nov 23, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


Governors of the 36 states of the federation last week rose from their meeting, declaring that it had become for the states a huge burden to continue to pay the N18,000 minimum wage to civil servants in their respective states. Reading a communique of the governors after the meeting, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Governor of Taraba State, Abdulaziz Yari attributed the inability of the states to pay the minimum wage to a sharp crash in the monies coming to the individual states from the federal purse as a result of the fall in the global oil revenue. Still sulking over the national minimum wage bill, the governors contended that it was imposed on the states by the Federal Government and had not been easy carrying the burden since the take off in 2011.


What do the governors see as panacea for the supposed burdensome national minimum wage? As stated in their communique, they intend to carry their concerns to President Muhammadu Buhari. They will discuss with him on the need to diversify the country’s resource base by investing more on Agriculture and Mining. But that’s a long-term remedy.

The governors also have a short-term interventionist remedy. Although not expressly stated, the governors may be asking Buhari for another bunch of bail out funds to tender to the monthly wage bill for their workers. How they intend to work that out with Buhari and the time it would run are unknown.

Unexpectedly, the governors’ alarm on the minimum wage has attracted immediate reaction. The leadership of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has rejected any attempt by the governors to tamper with the workers salaries as currently profiled under the national minimum wage. The Labour contend that the N18,000 as currently being paid cannot even be termed as realistic living wage for any Nigerian workers, given the downturn in the country’s economy and the skyrocketing cost of living. The Labour threatened to put the country under lock down should the governors do anything to suggest a downward review of the minimum wage. Curiously, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State has also dumped his colleagues, saying the issue of the minimum wage is a statutory one that provides no governor any escape route.

Oshiomhole disagrees with his colleagues that the minimum wage was imposed by the Federal Government but that it was negotiated between the Labour, Federal Government and the State Governors before former President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the National Minimum Wage Act on March 15, 2011. The Edo governor says the states must pay the minimum wage and challenges the NLC leadership to resist any attempt by the governors to violate the law.

The concerns of the governors over the minimum wage must be put in perspectives, both within the relevant statutes and the current realities of the nation’s economic challenges. First, the governors claim that the minimum wage was imposed on the states by the Federal Government is preposterous since the promulgation of the National Minimum Wage Act of 2011. It is futile thinking of an escape from the wage bill as the governors know it will require an amendment to the Act for any review of the N18,000 to be effected. It then stands to reason that the governors have merely put forward the issue of the minimum wage to arm-twist the Federal Government into giving the states more free money in the cloak of the bogey bailout funds it released recently for clearing of unpaid workers salaries.

It must be quickly stated that it will be wrong for the Federal Government to go the route of doling out another bunch of money to the states as bailout on the basis of meeting the demands of the minimum wage, just as it is wrong and will continue to hit the wrong ends for as long as the template for uniform salaries for workers in the Federal, State and Local Governments are maintained in the country.

The alarm raised by the governors has shown the misnomer of the manner that the Federal Government gave the first bunch of bailout funds to the states as well as uniform salaries for government workers. That the first bailouts to the states were given without well spelt out conditionality has encouraged the governors to believe wrongly that they could arm twist Buhari for any petty cause to dip his hands in the national till and hand them some bogus amount of money that they would deploy according to their whims and caprice. Buhari must say “NO” to the governors this time, as their concerns over the national minimum wage have no place before the Nigerian laws. The first bailout exercise was a product of administrative exigencies but it cannot continue to be encouraged as the norm.

As a way out of avoiding widespread national crisis over the welfare of government workers, states must under the law be empowered to fix salaries of their workers according to their individual capacity to pay. This will, however, be contingent upon the revenue base of the states.

We will advocate the need for a rejig of our constitution to invest the states with powers to explore and exploit the resources in their various domains as was in the 1963 Constitution, that allowed the old regional governments to thrive and prosper without being a burden on the government at the centre.

Even as the revenue structures are currently operated, the Federal Government must create an incentive platform to reward the states according to the amount of Value Added Tax (VAT) they individually generate to the national treasury. That way, states with high yielding VAT profile will continue to deepen their collection efforts while the lower ones too will be challenged to work harder on their sources of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)

The cries of the governors are a cry that the era of uniform salaries for government workers under the guise of national minimum wage must end. Truly, the issue calls for review, but the states revenue base must be strengthened as they would be left to cater for their workers within their individual capacities. To continue to agitate that a worker in sophisticated cities as Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja is paid N18,000 as a worker in the low end areas of Osun, Zamfara or Yobe is inequitable and a disservice to those workers in the cosmopolitan areas. Both Government and Labour must reconsider the social and economic disparities among the federating states so as not to be unfair to anyone in their obligations to the workers.