Guest Columnist By Issa Aremu
My constructive engagement with my brother, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, on governance issues of our dear state, certainly predated my emergence as the Governorship candidate in February election under the Labour Party (LP).
The Senate President was recently reported that he “would start off setting (sic!) salary arrears owed certain category of workers in Kwara state from next week”. Saraki reportedly announced the news during the PDP monthly stakeholders’ meeting at the “Charity House” in Ilorin, Kwara state.
I expected to no avail, Senator Saraki to refute this singular unacceptable indignity news about workers credited to him.
I agree with the received wisdom that the“greatest truth is honesty, and the greatest falsehood is dishonesty.” The civil servants of the great pioneer state of Kwara created in 1967 are not Senator Saraki’s domestic staff. Even for his domestic staff he is not at liberty to pay salaries long due at his pleasure “from next week”!
Paradoxically too, he is neither the defaulting governor nor local government chairman. Salary payment is not an act of political and petty partisan charity to workers by any individual.
On the contrary Kwara state government headed by Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and the local government chairmen as defaulting employers must immediately pay all workers’ entitlements failing which they should resign as elected officials of the state.
We dare not hail charitable wage-defaulters no less than we must offer solidarity for the unpaid workers. The 1999 constitution envisages salaries and pensions as legitimate earnings for services rendered by workers for the state.
Relevant labour laws legitimise these constitutional provisions with sanctions for non-compliance. The 1999 constitution recognises the State and not an individual or “a leader” (ascribed or earned).
Before “next week.” Is he aware that some unpaid workers were long dead? At the same very partisan forum, the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed reportedly blamed the inability of his government to clear the backlog of salary arrears on the drop in the federal allocation to the state and the refusal of the federal government to release the state’s last tranche of the Paris Club refund.
But does the drop in federal allocation affect his own salaries, emoluments, huge security votes and expensive travel budgets through chattered flights? Does the non- release of Paris Club refund affect the payments of emoluments of his commissioners and advisers and waste of resources on projects of dubious developmental value?
The down side of the good two- term governance of Gov Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state was the crisis of salary payment. But it was gratifying to read that throughout his tenure, he did not collect salaries! Governor Ahmed must for once just consider the plight of that worker whose salary was not paid for one to seven months or criminally paid at whimsical reduced rates.
For the worker who is a sole breadwinner, the family support has collapsed. Food is difficult to find to feed the children with all the implications for malnutrition. Some kids are withdrawn from school on account of non-payment of school fees while the next Sallah or Christmas cloth will necessarily elude the children.
We pray that members of the family of the workers not paid do not fall sick either. Many workers have passed on due to lack of out- of-pockets money to treat preventable diseases like malaria, pneumonia or auto accidents. Since the breadwinner cannot meet expectation, depression has logically replaced love within many working households. The options before a worker not paid in a state without social security and comprehensive medicare like Kwara state are better imagined.
Non-payment of salaries makes work ever precarious. President Muhammadu Buhari commendably asked the wage defaulting governors and their patrons; “How do you get sleep at night when your workers are not paid as at when due”?
The point cannot be overstated. Wages are amount of remuneration that a state or local government or any employer is required to pay workers for the work performed during a given period not “ later next week”.
Nigeria currently faces a crisis of governance with respect to payment of legitimate salaries and wages of workers. It is unacceptable that in 2018, some state governance shamelessly argue against N30, 000 minimum wage; The N1000 per day for an average of working family a man, his wife and four children, $80 dollars per month, compared to monthly minimum wage of $200 Nigerian workers earned in 1981. Nigerian workers are no “working” beggars.
South Africa just announced its first monthly minimum wage of $206. I salute state governors who agreed with organised labour, organised, private sectors and the federal government on the new minimum pay of N30, 000! Conversely the governors who are opposed to minimum pay must resign. They are unfit to be in the office based on the 1999 constitution which accepts the principles of negotiated minimum and living wages. I commend the Central Bank of Nigeria under governor, Godwin Emefiele. He rightly pointed out that increased minimum pay is a necessary condition for Nigerian economic recovery. At its recently concluded Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja the CBN communiqué reads that “…. given the negative output gap, the proposed increase in the national minimum wage would stimulate output growth due to prolonged weak aggregate demand arising from salary arrears and contractor debt,”.
Both Lagos and Kano states are leading on the ranking of GDP and ease of doing business. It’s not surprising because the two states relatively good pay salaries and promptly too!
Good wage is smart economics.
President Muhammadu Buhari commendably set up the new minimum wage committee and gave it free hands to operate. The President should urgently push for a speedy legislation on a new negotiated minimum wage of N30, 000 for Nigerian workers by the National Assembly.
Non-payment of good pay amounts to what I calleconomicide, (systemic destruction of lives on account of lack of means of live hood).
It’s time Nigeria treated wage-related crimes, non-payment, low payment, wage-diversions (so-called ghost payments) and politicisation of wage payments as economic crimes!
All faiths underline the importance of prompt remuneration for working men and women. According to Prophet Muhammed (pbh), the Almighty Allah said, “I will be the opponent of three on the Day of Judgment: and one who hires a workman and having taken full work from him, does not pay him his wages, on the Day of Judgment.” Allah the Exalted will be the opponent of those types of people. Hence, the employers who hire workers then delay their wages for a month or two or three must fear Allah. The Prophet, also added: “Pay the labourer his wages before his sweat dries.” “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it becomes sin in you.”
According to Pope John Paul II: “A just wage for the worker is the ultimate test of whether any economic system is performing justly.”
*Comrade Aremu is a Member of the National Institute and the Labour Party Governorship candidate in Kwara State)