It came as a relief to many workers last week when the news emerged of the constitution of a 30-man committee by President Muhammadu Buhari to work out the terms and conditions for an upward review of the minimum wage of workers in the country. It came as no surprise to me considering that President Buhari has consistently shown his love for workers by not retrenching workers during the peak of the economic recession, by paying workers salaries and allowances as at when due even when there was paucity of funds in the federal purse due to extremely low oil prices at his assumption of office in 2015, by his employment of more workers into the civil service in 2016 and finally by his release of several bail out funds and Paris Club Refunds to enable states fulfill their legal obligations to workers. That most of the state governors have taken the generosity of the President for granted and hence proceeded to use such funds for other purposes other than that for which it was meant speaks volumes of the caliber of leaders that we have in Nigeria today.
While the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC) and other labour centres in Nigeria have proposed varying figures on what the new minimum wage should be, i am more concerned that the technical committee and President Buhari should rather focus more attention on what needs to be done to ensure that no matter the figures they arrive at, it will be a beneficial minimum wage for workers in Nigeria. Failure to do this will result in a Pyrrhic victory for workers as inflation would inevitably eat up whatever gains they might have intended for workers in the new minimum wage.
One, we need to begin to look at price controls in Nigeria. Once the market sellers, businessmen, landlords, transporters e.t.c hear of an increase in the minimum wage, they immediately jerk up the prices of their goods and services even when there is no corresponding increase in their cost of production. We have seen this scenario happen over and over again anytime there is an increase in the minimum wage in Nigeria. Government should bring back the Price Control Boards which incidentally was very popular and effective during the first incarnation of General Buhari in the 80’s with the National Assembly passing legislation to back it up. This will also ensure that the prices of foodstuffs and other essential items do not skyrocket beyond the reach of the ordinary man with the announcement of the new minimum wage.
Two, we need to strengthen our currency viz-a-viz the dollar. It is an open secret that we are run a largely import-dependent economy and most of our businessmen and industrialists spend scarce foreign exchange to purchase raw materials from overseas and then pass on the costs to the consumer. This is the reason why the hardship of Nigerians was severely compounded with the devaluation of our currency in the middle of the economic recession. I am not an economist so i cannot propose any formulas but the economic gurus in the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Finance know what to do if the government is truly desirous of strengthening our currency against the dollar.
Finally, the current drop in the prices of foodstuffs nationwide was came about because of the campaign by the federal and state governments in the last two years for citizens to embrace agriculture and with the attachment of several incentives to that promise. That campaign should not only be sustained but the government should begin to look at how we can begin to export our surplus agricultural produce in order to earn foreign exchange for the country and boost our foreign reserves. It will also lead to the much talked about diversification of the country’s economy and reduce unemployment in the country as agriculture and it’s allied industries are known to be large employers of labour.