By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has said the most effective way to combat poverty and corruption in Nigeria is by ensuring that workers are well remunerated.
Dogara, who made the assertion Tuesday during the public hearing on the New National Minimum Wage Bill, also noted the bill must be given expeditious passage.
Noting that, “There are obvious reasons why the House has to give accelerated hearing to this bill,” Dogara said one of such is because “it is a bill that is long over due.”
Also highlighting the delicate period in which Nigeria is, vis-à-vis the upcoming election and the fact that lawmakers are about to embark on recess for electoral campaign purposes, he urged that participants at the hearing to ensure that the outcome of their deliberations were presented to the House Tuesday for further legislative considerations.
“The consideration and passage of this Bill is equally exigent because our country is at the brink of a national industrial crisis that we can least afford at this time. Passions are extremely high within the entire Organised Labour on this issue. Even before the consideration of the Bill by Parliament, the Labour leaders have rejected the N27,000 recommended to us by the Executive Arm as National Minimum Wage. At the slightest opportunity, the entire workforce in the country could be called out by labour leaders to resume the strike action that was recently put on hold without any further notice. The effect that such scenario can have on the ongoing electioneering process is better imagined than experienced. There is no doubt, therefore, that the entire nation is awaiting and looking up to the National Assembly to do the needful with the promptitude it deserves.
“In view of the foregoing, the House is approaching this exercise with a very high sense of duty, responsibility and loyalty to our nation.”
Bemoaning the condition of Nigerian workers, Dogara stated that, “I have said before that poverty is the greatest threat to our democracy. Those who doubted me have seen that threat manifest itself in vote buying and in the use of money to compromise electoral and security officials during elections. On account of the sense of despondency and powerlessness that poverty breeds amongst the poor, the poor have and will always remain ever ready tools in the hands of tyrants and demagogues, who in the course of history, have always found it easy to mobilise for the purposes of subverting democratic Institutions. Since underemployment and unemployment are bedmates of poverty, eliminating them must be the focal point of government’s policies.
“The next evil is corruption. It is not in doubt that corruption fundamentally undermines democratic institutions and values. Corruption affects the poor most because they depend more on government for support. How then do we fight corruption from the roots rather than dealing with its symptoms as is currently the case? The answer is for us to begin to pay workers living wage not minimum wage.
When we do not pay living wage, we cannot tame corruption. When workers take home is not enough to take them home, the temptation for them to cut corners in order to get home will always be there.
“Workers keep and process our national wealth and the only way to insulate them from the temptation to want to help themselves to it, is to ensure they are well remunerated. It is not in contention that it is a mean job to muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain. Leaving workers to their temptations is dangerous unless we can show that they are greater than Oscar Wilde, who in his vintage wicked wit, proclaimed, “I can resist everything except temptation”.
“That we cannot pay living wage in a nation that represents a major promise for economic prosperity in the world speaks to the bane of our leadership. In order to reverse this tragic narratives, we must invest in proactive and innovative leadership not the reactive leadership model that we practiced all this while. Reality is, I am not a believer in minimum wage although it is a constitutional issue and the practice in many nations. I believe in living wage and wish the framers of our Constitution had provided for a living wage instead. No wonder the UN Covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights speaks to rights to a living wage in Article 7(A)2 as incorporated in International labour organisation document. Therefore, I cannot wait for that Nigeria to emerge wherein workers are paid wages that would not only take them home but have a portion to spare in savings in order to pursue happiness and give their children the training that they could ever dream of. That should be our national goal going forward if we hope to ever make it to the club of elite nations.
“If we do not ever make it to the point where we can have a conversation about economic justice, it would not be because it’s impossible to achieve but because we lack the right leadership. We have talked about ending so many things in Nigeria, now is the time to talk about creating wealth and ending poverty; and those who bear the burden of the nation must be the first beneficiaries.”