Between a bag of rice and the national minimum wage

THE #EndSARS protests, the dust from which is yet to fully settle, rocked the entire country, reverberated across various world capitals, and forced the government to confront the grievances and cries of alienation by a cross section of Nigerian youth. Yet, in a dispiriting denouement, and contrary to the spirit of the various panels of inquiry which the Federal Government itself has set up, the Federal Government has embarked on an ill-advised crackdown on the ostensible leaders of the protests, hauling them in, confiscating their passports, and freezing their accounts. In short, the government has reverted to character, enacting the very rituals that brought millions of young people streaming to the streets in anger and frustration only a few weeks ago.

What the government has so far refused to do is take seriously the underlying issues that motivated the protests, key among which are the soaring cost of living, and insecurity of lives and property. Both, needless to say, are intertwined: when young people cannot fend for themselves, they are liable to succumb to the temptation to break the law, and when people break the law, the threat to public safety is heightened.

Perhaps there is no better exemplification of the soaring cost of living than the astonishing fact that, at above N35, 000 at some point, a bag of rice  cost more than the national minimum wage, which currently stands at N30, 000. What this means in terms of actual living conditions is better imagined. If the average Nigerian family cannot purchase a bag of rice with its total earnings for a month, how can that family live in dignity? The situation becomes more disheartening when you consider that it is normal for states to owe their workers salary arrears going back over several months. Only last weekend, the Central Working Committee of the Senior Staff Association of Statutory Corporations and Government-owned Companies (SSASCGOC), following a meeting of the association in Kano, lamented that workers in Osun and Ondo states have not been paid for three months and seven months respectively.

It is not impossible that some states default on payment to their workers willy-nilly because they lack the revenue base. This is a reminder that, at some point, Nigerians must have a frank debate about the wisdom of imposing a national minimum wage on states that cannot afford it. It makes no economic sense to have a common minimum wage for a country with such diverse living conditions and cost of living differentials, and there can be no justification for paying an individual who works in Lagos, where the cost of living is extremely high, the same thing as his counterpart who works in, say, Nasarawa. That the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) continues to insist on such senseless uniformity (something, incidentally, that the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, is also guilty of) is one of the most absurd consequences of trade unionism in Nigeria.

But that is a matter for another day. The point of this editorial is to underscore the depressing economic situation in the country, indexed by the rising cost of consumer goods, and to remind the Federal Government especially that this is what it should be focusing on, rather than trying to score a political point with every protester, real or imagined, who dared ask for a better Nigeria. The Muhammadu Buhari administration’s negligence of the economy as it affects the common (wo)man has been totally appalling, and Nigerians are sick and tired of being sent a mailed fist each time they dare ask why things are so bad under the current dispensation.




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