Agitations over minimum wage and role of parliament 

In Nigeria, particularly since the advent of the current democratic dispensation, agitations for new minimum wage by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other affiliated bodies inform of salaries increase(s) for workers, have been a recurrent decimal, the latest of which is the N30, 000 being agitated for. Taiye Odewale examines the periodic agitations in the context of federalism which the country is practising and the realities on ground.

Federalism and national minimum wage

First and foremost, Nigeria, being a federal republic supposedly practising federal system of government as obtainable in the other 24 countries of the world believed to be practicing federalism like the United States of America (USA), Federal Republic of Canada, India, South Africa etc, is expected to have constitutionally two layers of government: the centre and the coordinate or federating units.

Centre, in the Nigerian context, is the federal government, while the federating units are the 36 states of the federation that are expected to share power, resources and responsibilities of governance with the centre in a way that will make them to be autonomous but not stronger than the centre in the areas of security, territorial integrity and foreign affairs as experimented and practised from 1954 to January 1966, when the military truncated the first republic.

Yes, as a federation, despite the distortions the various military regimes inflicted on the Nigeria, the federal system between January 1966 and May 1999, Nigeria in line with the principle of federalism, has three components of constitutional responsibilities known as exclusive list for the federal government, concurrent list for both the federal and states governments and the residual list strictly for the state and local government. But the minimum wage as an item of legislation is classified in the exclusive list by the 1999 constitution as amended.

A provision that has to a large extent, makes Nigeria federation to be Unitary in nature, since it is only the National Assembly that can legislate on Minimum wage as listed in the exclusive list as item 34 and invariably creating problems for implementation of whatever amount approved by the centre as minimum wage for the 36 states to implement as it was with the N18,000 minimum wage Act signed in 2011 by the federal government.

Little wonder that one of the 36 states governors now, Governor Nasir El-rufai of Kaduna State in his reaction to the newly recommended N30,000 minimum wage by tripartite committee set up by the federal government, said the relevant provision of the constitution needed to be amended to avoid industrial disharmony across the states.

El-Rufai’s concurrent list charge

According to him, “Since Nigeria is a federation and not a unitary state, minimum wage as a legislative item in the constitution supposed to be on the concurrent list and not exclusive list so that each state of the federation will have the required legal power of determining its implementable minimum wage and not the one that would be forced down on them by the government at the centre with attendant problems of non implementation “.

Similarly, the Governor of Ebonyi State Dave Umahi in his reaction to the yet to be approved N30, 000,00 minimum wage, said: “If approved , it will create serious dislocation in the economies and governments of the various states, the very reason the States proposed N22,500 minimum wage.

“We need to avoid creating problems states went through between 2010 and 2014 over implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage. What is the essence of setting up Triparte committee that met several times and deliberated on issues if the suggestions made by the committee are not considered? The N30,000 arrived at is for the private sector and not for any of the arms of governments because federal government suggested N24,000 while states stand by N22,500.”

Divided voices

Even the presidency after receiving the report has been singing different tunes over the workability or otherwise of the recommended N30,000 minimum wage.

While President Muhammadu Buhari a week ago after receiving the report from chairman of the committee, Amma Pepple , expressed commitment to its implementation, officials from the presidency hours after, countered his commitment by saying President Buhari never approved the recommended N30,000 minimum wage in his speech that day.

The latest of such clarifications were the ones separately made by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday and the one made by the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Femi Adesina, last week Thursday.

While Lai Mohammed’s own reads thus:  “I think it was a recommendation. So, Mr President will consider it and would make his views known in due course.

“So, like I said recommendations have been made and Mr. President would get back to the committee after he has studied the recommendations.’’

In sharp contrast the statement by Femi Adeshina reads: “Throughout the report-submission ceremony, the President never mentioned any figure. What he committed himself to was a new minimum wage, and only after the report of the committee has been reviewed by the executive and legislative processes of government and an appropriate bill presented to him for assent.

“Until the proposed minimum wage has gone through the whole gamut of law-making, President Buhari, who is a stickler for due process, will not be caught in this unnecessary web of controversy, which amounts to putting the cart before the horse and hair-splitting.”

Adesina added that elections are not won by trying to demean the president, saying “As for those who have latched onto the concocted controversy to play cheap politics, we appeal to them to remember that elections are not won through loquaciousness, and trying to demean the President at every drop of a hat.

“But then, it is not surprising, as they have nothing else to sell to Nigerians, if they don’t ride on the name of the President. Stiff judgment awaits them at the polls”.

NASS as final arbiter

Though the National Assembly has not taken any position on the proposed minimum wage since it has not been forwarded to it for consideration as a bill but going by remarks of some of the federal lawmakers during the struggle over it by both the labour and the tripartite committee members, when eventually it is sent to them it may scaled through.

Specifically Senator Shehu Sani (PRP Kaduna Central) in a telephone conversation said ” the N30,000 minimum wage is payable by both the federal and state governments if the need to curb corruption and eradicate waste within the systems are done.

“Elimination of ghost workers and strict scrutiny of overhead votes in their budgetary circles, would go a long way in making them get the required monies to pay the recommended N30,000 minimum wage “.

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