“The current N30,000 minimum wage is worth less than N18,000 the least paid Nigerian workers received between 2011 and 2018.” – This was the verdict that reverberated across board in all the 36 states of the federation as Nigerian workers sum up their plight under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last eight years.
Though the sprawling federal secretariat in Abuja houses most of the ministries of the Federal Government, but for many of the workers, the edifice is not only viewed as the ‘engine room of bureaucracy’, the twin complex has been a centre of anguish for them.
The public employees say their condition of living was better between 2011 and 2018 when the minimum wage regime was N18,000 than when it was raised by 67 per cent to N30,000.
That is not far from the truth. The inflation rate was between eight and 18 per cent from 2011 to 2018. For much of the period – 2013 to the end of 2015 – the inflation rate remained at a single-digit rate. With the consumer price index consolidating above 20 per cent in the past 18 months, single-digit inflation appears like a mirage.
When President Buhari assumed office, headline inflation stood at 8.7 per cent, with a bag of rice (the most common staple food) selling for about N7,000. Eight years later, inflation has jumped to 22.04 per cent, while a bag of rice has hit an all-time high of over N45,000 – over six fold increase.
At the close of 2018 when the minimum wage was raised, the monthly composite CPI level was 274.6 points. Last month, it climbed by 90 per cent to 552.4 points, suggesting that many Nigerians spent almost twice for general consumption. For food, which accounts for over 50 weighted average of the CPI basket, the price level has shot up by 110 per cent, from 296.4 points in December 2018 to 626.7 points.
As bad as this sounds, the official CPI is believed to have been doctored, hence only providing a ‘peek’ understanding of the cost of living crisis. Independent analysts suggest the country’s year-on-year changes in prices are over 50 per cent. Some of the essential items, The Guardian survey revealed, have doubled in the past year.
Galloping inflation, devaluation of the naira, low wages, widespread insecurity, the rising cost of living, a near-comatose education sector, a failing healthcare sector, a high unemployment rate and the ‘Japa’ syndrome have affected a lot of Nigerians since 2015.
Buhari is expected to address workers for the last time as president today and possibly reel out the positive impacts the administration has had on their lives in the past eight years. But to many workers, it will just be rhetoric as the living condition has worsened under his watch.
Today, also, the incoming president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will also felicitate with workers and give hints on how he intends to reduce their burden starting from May 29 when he takes over.
Concurrently, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, and his Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) counterpart, Festus Osifo, are expected to hand in workers’ demands at the Eagle Square in Abuja to mark the 2023 edition of May Day.
Ahead of the commemoration, Osifo, who said workers have not fared well in the present administration, bemoaned the government’s many un-kept promises.
He said the rising inflation has eroded workers’ purchasing power and worsened their standard of living.
“What is the value of the minimum wage today? The exchange rate for CBN is N450 to a dollar, while in the parallel market it is N750. If you do the exchange, you will discover that N30,000 against N750 is less than $50 per month.
“When you compare it to where we were in 2015 when this administration came on board, you will see that literally, the value of the naira has eroded. When you now juxtaposed that with the rate of inflation, it shows glaringly that statistics will always trump government’s rhetoric,” he said.
He hinged the issues of unresolved labour issues on having an ineffective labour Minister that has achieved practically nothing during his tenure.
A mother of four and level nine civil servant, Joy Eluma, lamented the erosion of her monthly take-home pay.
“Before the end of the first or second week of the month, the salary received is already spent on food items. Then, one will end up borrowing before the next salary is paid,” she lamented.
Describing the experience of workers in the last eight years, Moses Adeleye said: “Life has been tough. I must say that I was happier in 2011 receiving N18,000 than now that the minimum wage is N30,000. What can N30,000 buy now? In 2011, I was able to buy a bag of rice and save some money towards paying school fees and house rent. But now, the N30,000 does not buy one bag of rice, not to talk about other things such as transport fare or buy petrol by some staff that are lucky to have cars. My appeal to the next government is to take us back to the 2011 era if they can’t improve the quality of our lives.”
Okeke Margaret, who is also a civil servant, lamented that the last eight years have been like hell on earth.
“I remember in 2015 when Buhari was elected. Everyone was happy in my office. We had hoped that if Buhari cannot do any other thing, he will be able to curb official corruption and reduce insecurity. But alas! Eight years later, the man failed beyond failure. Buhari has given failure another definition. Where can we say he has done better than the previous government of Goodluck Jonathan? I can’t say.
“The fight against corruption is zero. Ministers are openly corrupt without remorse because they know there won’t be consequences for bad behaviour. Insecurity has been expanded beyond the Borno and Yobe axis to every other part of the country. The economy has collapsed beyond belief. In 2011, the N18,000 we were collecting made more meaning than this worthless N30,000,” she lamented.
The immediate past General Secretary of NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, also towed the same line.
His words: “Like most Nigerians, I think we have had a horrible experience and retrogressed eight years. The country has been set back terribly since 2015. With specific reference to wages and related issues, I think we had very poor management of wages and workers’ issues during this period. We had a Minister of Labour who did everything to suppress the legitimate demands for wage review, for workers’ contract renegotiations among others. In terms of what inflation and other cost structures have done to the N30,000 minimum wage, the real value is less than the minimum wage that came before it. So, it has been a terrible period for workers.”
Ozo-Eson also bemoaned the lack of transparency in the management of the subsidy regime, saying: “Again, the government failed woefully in the management of the downstream sub-sector of the oil and gas sector. This government was elected based on the promise it made to tackle the challenges in that sector. It promised to build more refineries and rehabilitate the existing ones. Eight years down the line, no refinery has been built and none of the existing four refineries have been rehabilitated. What we have witnessed is a huge sum of money that is not accounted for. Oil theft has gone to a level never seen in the history of this country without a single person brought to book.”
Ozo-Eson insisted that the country must learn from Buhari’s eight years reign and decide to prevent lightning from striking the same spot more than twice.
Considering the challenges bedevilling the country, especially the eight years of this present administration, he said: “These past eight years have been disastrous. Negotiating the minimum wage, it was an experience that we have never had before. At the end of the day, what was given to us was a pittance of what we asked. To us, it is eight years of pain, deprivation, impoverishment, blood and injuries. A lot of workers died as a result of the insurgency while at work, on farms and in classrooms. We went through pain.
“We are celebrating because we want to celebrate our resilience and survival even in the face of all difficulties and travails that confront us as workers and people. When we celebrate ourselves, we are celebrating the world of work.”
Similarly, President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr. Tommy Okon, said that within the eight years of this administration, it has been a serious socioeconomic challenge for the workers.
On borrowing and policy summersault, especially the cashless policy, said it was a wrong policy, saying the government did not look at the culture of spending in the informal economy before embarking on the policy.
For the NLC Chairman, Lagos State Council, Funmi Sessi, the rights of workers have been trampled upon.
She said workers need a good environment and tools to perform optimally in their sectors.
“These days, you go through excessive stress driving in traffic. By the time you get to your place of work, you are already worn out.
“On socio-economic justice, some states are still not paying the minimum wage. Workers are struggling daily. The current situation has eroded our take home. We demand higher pay,” she said.
“Nigerians must say never will the country degenerate to the level of misgovernance that has happened in the last eight years,” he said.
While lauding the Buhari government for improving the infrastructural development, he was quick to add that the pervading insecurity has masqueraded the achievement.
When reminded that the railway infrastructure and others plunged Nigeria into a debt trap that may further under-develop Nigeria, Ozo-Eson said: “I always hold the position that government can borrow to finance the building of critical infrastructure, if when they come on stream, are capable of generating enough revenue to service the debt that was taken to build them and then turn it into profitability in the medium term.
“Unfortunately, the railways that were built are going to waste because of the increasing state of insecurity in the land. The excessive borrowing to build infrastructure that cannot generate resources to pay back is what has put Nigeria into this debt quagmire.”
He said the Buhari government will go down in history as a government, more than any in Nigeria’s history, that has plunged the nation into excessive debt and has left a debt crisis facing the nation.
On his part, a former Director General of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Segun Oshinowo, lamented the collapse of Nigeria’s industrial relation system, calling for a total rebuilding.
“The Nigerian industrial relations system has collapsed and there is the imperative for a reform which should be championed by technocrats and the social partners to reinstate a work environment that promotes decent work, productivity, employment rights and sustainable enterprise,” he explained.
Speaking on this year’s May Day theme, ‘Workers Rights and Socioeconomic Justice’, NLC Assistant General Secretary, Chris Onyeka, said this year’s celebration speaks about inclusivity and sustainable society.
He said the theme, which guarantees socioeconomic justice is when the rights of the workers are protected, it extends to the protection of the rights of members and the society.
Additionally, TUC Secretary, Lagos State Council, Abiodun Aladetan, said that the failed economic policies of this administration have impacted negatively on the disposable income of the working people.
He said under this administration, Nigerians have had an increase in electricity tariffs severally, which he said is subject to the volatility of the exchange rate.
According to him, “We have seen the prices of petrol in an upward trend since this administration came on board. We have seen unemployment hit double-digit and inflation on a steady rise. In this type of situation, those who are fixed-income earners are the worst hit.
“We need to build a country that works for all. Government must as a matter of necessity make deliberate policies to help create equal opportunities for all so that Nigerians can have productive lives.
“Government must have the political will to address all these concerns and workers too must unite in the face of growing poverty, inequality and wage disparity to challenge and transform their present predicament if they are to share in the wealth of the country because workers create the wealth that is solely consumed by the political class.”