The coming week will be decisive for both labour and governments at all levels in Nigeria. Both are at loggerheads at the moment over how much should be earned as minimum wage. But most affected are workers and governments in states.
My mentor, an elder statesman, is particularly sad at this turn of events and he told me of his frustration with government and its workers at all levels. His believe is that governments have not been sincere with themselves, while workers have been unrealistic with economic situations on ground.
“Why do you have to keep workers which you knew within yourself that you cannot cater for?” he said with sadness written all over his face, “it is like having dozens of children and relatives you knew you cannot cater for and you keep on habouring them in your household, managing. There’s bound to be an implosion. And that is what we are experiencing now. That really is my grouse with government.
“Most of us have our private companies; do you employ or retain in your employ people you know within yourself that your resources cannot cater for without affecting your company’s growth? I mean, why can’t we solve this problem of large, redundant workforce once and for all?”
I had to interject, and this is the first time I would be challenging his treatise, “sir, it is not as simple as you are putting it. It is very easy in a corporate environment or private establishment. In those instances you can be decisive, but in a political atmosphere, you cannot start retrenching, because government is about the people, taking care of them and their needs, whatever it may take”.
“You are absolutely right my son…” he concurred with me, took a sip from a plastic bottle that was placed on the centre table by his butler. I noticed that the content was very dark and I asked what that was. “This is a non-alcoholic bitter, my son. At my age, even though I don’t consume sugar in my beverages again, most of our foods are laced with sugar to make them friendly with our taste buds. So, one of the ways I eliminate sugar in my system is to take bitters on a daily basis”.
He corked the bottle and handed it to a young boy who has been busy fiddling with a television remote control, surely searching for a channel. The young lad took the bottle in to the dining room. “That is my grand-child…I love seeing him around me and I had to request my son and his wife to allow him live here.
“Why I concurred with you is that we are in a third world, developing country. Governments in our country cannot look away from the abject poverty of its citizens. But it stops there.
“And I’m not blaming the present crop of leaders because I’ve been there too. I know how it feels to watch your people languishing in very abject poverty. But what I’m saying is that, one, our past leaders have mismanaged us, but it is our duty to correct the mistakes.
“The oil boom of the early seventies was a golden opportunity lost, to diversify rather than increase wage through the Jerome Udoji Awards. We have laced our people’s taste bud for salaried jobs and wage increase right from that early period and now, it is difficult to ask them to swallow the bitter liquid of rationalization of workforce, even though that would truly have taken them and all of us out of the woods”.
What a funny coincidence, I thought. Was it a deliberate comical illustration for him to have sipped the bitter liquid in my presence, to eliminate the sweet (sugar) nonsense in his system or was it a coincidence? I marveled.
But really, the whole thing started to make sense to me, especially with this reality which the sweet-sugary nonsense and the bitter-healing liquid reality brought to the fore.
As if he was reading into my mind, he continued, “my son, just the same way I used the “bitters” drink to eliminate the killing effect of sugar in my system, even though the former is bitter while the latter is sweet, we need to also sensitize our people to the need of using the bitter pills of compact, quality workforce to take our country out of this sickening situation we presently find ourselves. There’s no other way. But it needs serious sensitization to realize because we are in a democracy, not in a dictatorship. And this also makes me to digress to tell you that as undesirable as dictatorship governments are, they most times take their countries out of the woods. Look at the development of Singapore as a great nation-state.
“Lee Kuan Yew was the prime minster of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, making him the longest-serving PM in history. During his long rule, Singapore became the most prosperous nation in Southeast Asia.
“Here, we have trusted leaders whom we can ask to continue because of their capacities in government but this American-styled democracy which we copy hook, line and sinker won’t allow. We import systems without looking at our peculiarity. I don’t want to be specific now but God has endowed us with leaders whom we should have asked to continue after their tenure if we had adapted this so-called democracy to our peculiar situation, and that’s why it’s going to take us pretty long time to get there.
“Wait, what stops us from making a referendum to ask these great leaders to continue? It could be our own peculiar style of democracy”, he concluded with a grain of sadness written on his face.
The journalistic instinct in me made me to ask him to name at least one of those present leaders whom he felt qualifies for this. He simply told me: “you too, you know, Ayo…don’t ask me”. We both laughed.
As I left his presence, I continued to think about this minimum wage thing. I told myself that truly, workers deserve pay-raise from time to time, but has anyone also thought of minimum productivity to make the desired funds for the increase available? Are our people tax-compliant enough to raise funds for government? What ratio of the entire populace is in government employment to justify the huge sum involved in constant pay raise? Why do we always talk of sharing of cake instead of baking it in this clime? Wage increase in itself without thinking of purchasing power of our currency is stupidity and is a rat race.
- To be continued