AMONG virtually all Christians the world over, the clichéd salutation at Yuletide is ‘Merry Christmas.’ This is because the day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ whom they believe came to the world to reconcile mankind unto God, the supreme being, after the sin of Adam, the first man, in the garden of Eden. Even in England and especially among the royal family where the preferred greeting is ‘Happy Christmas’, allegedly because the word ‘merry’ tends to carry the impression of boisterous gaiety and extravagant demonstrations associated with the lower classes, the fact is that the special season is a period to be joyous, cheerful and glad.
Unfortunately, this universal feeling of gladness associated with the Christmas season is sometimes not the experience of many people because of diverse challenges that do not permit them to be in high spirits. This typifies the situation of Nigerian workers to whom this year’s Christmas celebration may not mean much given the frustration arising from the official reluctance to sign off on the minimum wage negotiated with the government on their behalf by labour leaders. The Federal Government and the organised labour have gone back and forth over what should pass for a minimum wage. And when it was thought that the issue had been finally laid to rest, the heads of sub-national governments started their protestations about their inability to pay the sum of N30,000 agreed with labour as minimum wage by the committee set up by the Federal Government. Many of the workers, especially those who are familiar with the inner workings of the finances in the states, were disappointed because they believed that the minimum wage could be paid if the governors were prepared to reduce waste.
The workers were still ruing the opposition by many of the state governors to the minimum wage figure when President Muhammadu Buhari further dampened their hope by announcing the Federal Government’s plan to set up another technical committee to look into the issue. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has rejected the plan and issued an ultimatum to the government to approve and begin the implementation of the N30, 000 minimum wage on or before December 31, failing which the workers will commence another round of strike on January 2, 2019. And as if the events and occurrences that have made the times really challenging are limitless, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC) announced the swelling of the ranks of unemployed persons in the country, revealing that some 3.3 million persons ceased to be productive and active economic actors in the last nine months. This has reportedly raised the unemployment figure in the country to 20.9 million.
The foregoing captures the frustrating situation in which Nigerian workers and indeed many Nigerians are ‘celebrating’ Christmas. Across the land, workers and families are in pain, with incontrovertible evidence of misery and deprivation boldly written on their faces. Life is fast becoming unbearable for the strong and the agile while the poor, weak and vulnerable are losing hope, the only thing they have going for them. This is indeed a gloomy Christmas for Nigerians. And even though they can barely scratch the surface of the pervasive poverty in the land, it is nonetheless hoped that the intervention programmes of the Federal Government will be extended to as many needy persons as possible.
Sadly, many Nigerians require a hand to meet basic needs such as fixing two or even one decent meal per day, which may never come their way. It is as bad as that. When the heightened level of insecurity in the country is factored in, then life itself becomes more or less meaningless. This is the precarious situation that many Nigerians have to contend with and the survival rate promises to be appalling unless governance at all levels deliberately rises to the occasion with genuine commitment to reversing the ugly trend.
Yes, Christmas is here but the usual feelings of gaiety are not in the air in many communities. This should not be surprising because in reality, it is those who have good reason to be cheerful and joyous that truly celebrate; the disillusioned or despondent hardly do. We wish Nigerians merry Christmas nonetheless.