Since time immemorial, the Nigeria Labour Congress has mastered and tactfully deployed strike to get government, at various levels, and other categories of employers to do its biddings, particularly with regard to remuneration issues. Salaries and wages have, consequently, been on periodic increase to paste, on the faces of workers, a smile that soon turns sorrow. No thanks to a peculiar placenta that inevitably gets birthed with a precious baby, the twin partner of salary increase which is shaped in price skyrocketing that afflicts not just its joyful harbingers but the entirety of present and unborn citizens with an ever diminishing value and quality of life.
Of course, Nigerian workers need no one to lecture them on the non-negotiable status of general price increase as the twin brother of salary increase. In fact, they are better informed than the rest of the populace with respect to the incontestable fact that a slight upward movement of workers’ income typically forces prices of goods and services to speedily hit the roof top.
That the NLC is very aware of this is not the news that saddens the discerning. Rather, it is the advertised helplessness of the Nigerian labourers in the face of obviously worsening economic situation that has, for long, crippled their general current income level into some leprous earnings incapable of taking them home let alone feeding and offsetting their high heaps of bills.
Kindly indulge my seeming irrationality, as I hereby assert that it is only the pedestrian perception and assessment of the plight of Nigerian workers that would earn them sympathy over the current crusade for an increased minimum wage. While it is true that the subsisting N18,000 minimum wage is as useless as a piece of tissue paper, judging by the untold effects of the 2016 economic recession on the workers, it is not valid that what Labour presently craves for is the solution to their current plight. If anything, what workers always agitate for is nothing but selfish interest which negates their self-interest, the latter being made of policy direction that would generate economic happiness for the present and future sets of Nigerians.
To put it bluntly, Nigeria has indeed been brought to this sorry state largely by the refusal of the NLC to strike for the right reasons. Democracy, we all claim, is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, for the past two decades of uninterrupted civilian rule, we still wail and bemoan our generally diminished socio-economic fortune in comparison to our relatively more prosperous fate in the military era of yore. What an irony!
Forcing the government to increase salaries has never helped us as a nation, and it would never help but aggravate our already bad situation. It is not even justified by the annoying outrageous income level and advertised exuberance of our government officials. Rather, caution should be our watchword, as two wrongs don’t make a right, while a single right step is capable of correcting thousands of wrongs.
The labour strike that will ultimately change the narratives of Nigeria from negativity to positivity is that aimed at achieving exactly opposite what Labour currently desires – a nationwide strike for salary crashing both in the public and private sectors.
There is no gainsaying that the problem of skyrocketing prices of goods responsible for pushing the Nigerian workforce to the wall will automatically abate, if the NLC deploys its might to ensure that the highest paid civil or public servant does not earn beyond N300,000 monthly, including the President of the Federal Republic.
This may sound unrealistic, but it is indeed feasible. We only need to learn from the Ghana experience, and actually visit this neighbouring country to realise that the Nigerian N5000 will fetch a traveller a paltry sum of 60 Ghanaian Cedi, in a Country which, only yesterday, had its citizens flooding Nigeria for economic survival.
What Ghana did to return to prosperity was not to adopt a solution of the moment. The country and its people opted for price-crashing solutions that actually heralded some limited momentary pains but ultimately facilitated listless eternal gains. This, exactly, was what Professor Chukwuma Soludo, in his erstwhile position as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, attempted to do through his proposal of naira redenomination to which our elitist rulers reacted mercilessly – discarding the baby with the bath water.
Still, if the NLC cannot immediately deploy its reputed strength, as the largest vanguard of the Nigerian masses whose membership cuts across every known divide of our complex nation, to press for a maximum wage, there is yet an Option B that would surely help alleviate our immediate and future socio-economic woes.
This second option is still about helping Nigeria through the right strikes. What I choose to tag as ‘strategic sector strike’ is, in my own estimation, not optional at this moment of our beleaguered history. It is neither about increasing nor decreasing salaries and wages but about strategic boosting of the purchasing power of what the average worker presently earns.
It is a sector-focused strike that will ground the entire country for the sake of a particular sector that needs masses-friendly reforms.
To understand my drift, the possible effect of a generally reduced cost of formal education on the purchasing power of Nigerians in general should, for instance, be assumed. I stand to be corrected in my conviction that the excessive commercialisation of education has been one major cause of our individual and collective hardship, which we are all aware of but over which we maintain deafening and tragic silence. What burdens the income of an average Nigerian employee most are nothing but exorbitant school fees he has to contend with in his non-negotiable desire to give his children the best of education.
In a country where public schools have degenerated into near inexistence, where an average civil servant who earns about N600,000 total annual income has to cough up over N300,000 for purpose of primary school fees of three children per session, education is, surely, no longer what it used to be. To be candid, if it were like this in the days of yore, perhaps most of the contemporaries of this writer, including my humble self, would have ended up as street boys and girls.
All that the NLC needs to do to help its members and the nation, in general, is to change its aims and objectives of industrial actions. Due to the importance of education and its present heavy but avoidable tolls on the purchasing power of our highly scarce resources, I suggest that Labour reinvent its power of influence by declaring an indefinite strike to demand immediate revival of public schools.
To achieve this, a great deal of patriotism, objectivity and sacrifice is needed to realise that the gigantic weight that school fees presently constitute on our lean incomes is not just too heavy to be borne, it constitutes an ironic root and branch of corruption .
Once these ideals are prioritised, it would then be possible and more helpful for the NLC to order an all-inclusive strike that entails not just workers strike but also all-student sit-at-home starting from workers’ children until the government does something capable of returning over 70% of our children to public schools. This is no instant magic that minimum wage struggles plainly but furtively seeks to achieve. It is but a systemic solution that requires right thinking for the right strikes to return Nigeria to the right path immediately.