What About the Workers? By Issa Aremu
The first Ramadan for decades without the two most important women in my life, my mother Hadjia Afusatu Amoke Aremu and wife Hadjia Hamdalat raises the nostalgia of love and warmth lost for ever. The robust presentation by Professor Abdulrasheed Abiodun Adeoye, Head, Department of the Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin on the “Perspective on Labour Wages and the Nigerian Situation” was commendable and timely.
Both my late mother and wife once worked and lived happily on their modest salaries paid as at when due. They would not phantom how it is now a fashion for some states Governors to own workers salaries for months unend. The difference between a slave and a worker is payment of salaries. Slaves like workers historically had jobs but had no salaries unlike workers. It is a sad commentary that most states’ civil servants in particular and Nigerian workers in general have been turned into glorified slaves as they work without pay for months. In fact, most workers have unfortunately been turned into working beggars and emergency weekend farmers as in Benue. For many workers however, it was”fasting” before the Ramadan, on account of unacceptable lack of means of livelihood.
For God’s sake, let’s just pause a bit and consider, the plight of that worker who has not been paid for months. If he or she is the breadwinner, it is clear then that during this Ramadan of spending and giving, the family support collapses. Food must have been difficult to find to feed the children with all the implications for malnutrition. Some kids must have been withdrawn from school on account of non-payment of school fees while Sallah cloth will necessarily elude them. Pray the family is not sick either.
Since the breadwinner cannot meet expectation, depression logically replaces love within the household. The options before unpaid workers in a society without social security like Nigeria are therefore better imagined. Non-payment of salaries amounts to what I called economicide, which means systemic destruction of lives on account of lack of means of live hood. It is an economic equivalent of genecide. Its time Nigeria treated wage-related crimes, non-payment, low payment, wage-diversions (so-called ghost payments) as economic crimes! Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet , said: “Allah Said, ‘I will be the opponent of three people on the Day of Judgment: one is who hires a workman and having taken full work from him, does not pay him his wages.” ‘Abdullaah ibn ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet , said: “Pay the laborer his wages before his sweat dries.”
The holy Prophet says the precondition for productivity and loyalty of the workforce is prompt return on efforts. When workers are well paid, then employers can demand for increased productivity and discipline. Biblical injunctions also underscore prompt pay for working men and women. According to Pope John Paul II; ‘A just wage for the worker is the ultimate test of whether any economic system is performing justly’. Anti-corruption campaign cannot be sustained when workers do not receive adequate salaries on time. A hungry worker is not only angry but vulnerable to graft. There is also a link between economic growth and wage payment. A well paid motivated worker will definitely be productive worker.
President Obama as part of the efforts to revive American economy, raised minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour in 2015 and is being proposed to be raised to $20 per hour in 2020. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) had raised the alarm about low demand for locally produced goods, leading to high inventories and low capacity utilization. Nigeria can only diversify its economy if workers as consumers are well paid to patronise locally produced goods and services. Given the importance of wage payment for national development, all arms of governments, namely the executive, judiciary and the National Assembly should declare a state of emergency on the current unacceptable crisis of compensation in some states of the federation.
Only President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly called a spade a spade, damnning states who had refused to pay salaries. Addressing State House staff, last Wednesday President Muhammadu Buhari again spoke the mind of labour that it “was a national disgrace” that most states of the federation couldn’t pay salaries of their workers.
One of the Governors is Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who barefaced recently declared that “Ondo state is broke, I can’t pay workers”. Governor Mimiko and his like debtor-Colleagues should rather announce their resignations and offer apologies for running aground their states and bankrupt such that they cannot pay salaries of their poor workers. If he were a Managing Director of a company, shareholders would demand for his sack for glorifying backruptcy. Regrettably the Ondo Governor reportedly dared to shout down the protesting workers and even threatened them with mass sack if they persisted in their legitimate struggle and did not return to work. Some governors operate as if they are in Afghannistan where might and terror not Justice reign supreme. They must re-read Nigerian 1999 constitution they swore to uphold. Chapter II says that the duty and responsibility as well as the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. State shall direct its policy towards ensuring among others that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national (minimum) living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
One frequently advertised claim of the debtor-Governors about non-payment is the falling oil revenue and declining federal allocations. Again as President Buhari asked; when the oil revenue was in surplus what did these states do with the surplus? Not few Surpluses went into corruption not saving and fiversification. Even now at 49dollars per barrel, and huge funds looted, Nigeria is still a rich country, albeit with poor people. There is no justification whatsoever for non-payment of salaries of workers. Despite the histeria about crude oil price fall no Governor has said his salary is denied, none rides KEKE Napep to work, but fleet of jeeps with ever secured “security votes”!. National Assembly leadership even dreams of life pensions!. So much for collapse of oil revenue. A debtor governor’s personal account is even reportedly in surplus of billion in a bankrupt state!
It is commendable that some Governors like Comrade Governor of Edo state keep to their oaths of office, respect the spirit of the constitution about welfare and security of the citizens and pay salaries as at when due. He pays salaries promptly but commendably raised minimum pay to N25000. Definitely if there is the will, there would be the way for the governors willing to respect the constitution. The founding fathers of Nigeria rightly envisioned the link between motivated workforce through promopt payment of wages and productivity. Even British colonialism paid workers as at when even if not in line with prevailing cost of living leading to legitimate protests and strikes. Almost sixty years after independence, it is acceptable that Nigerian workers would look back colonial exploitative order with nostalgia.
• Aremu is member of National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru Jos