Curbing Labour Unrest by Reviewing Politicians’ Humongous Salaries

Ejiofor Alike argues that for the persistent labour crisis to abate, politicians occupying public offices should also sacrifice their comforts to reflect the current economic realities

Last Monday, the organised labour shut down the country after it ordered a nationwide industrial action to protest against the current economic hardship occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy, recent hike in electricity tariffs and the failure to reach a resolution on the contentious issue of national minimum wage with the federal government.

The two major labour unions, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade union Congress (TUC), plunged the entire nation into total blackout after it shut down the troubled national grid.

The last minute efforts to avert the industrial action through the intervention of the National Assembly had failed. But after an exhaustive deliberation that ended late Monday night at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the federal government and organised labour reached a common ground.

In their agreement, the two parties said President Bola Tinubu had indicated commitment to a National Minimum Wage higher than N60,000.

The resolution was signed on behalf of the unions by the President of NLC, Joe Ajaero and his counterpart in TUC, Festus Osifo, while the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammad Idris, signed for the federal government.

Though the resolution was reached on Monday night, the workers did not immediately call off the strike until the following day, when it had crippled activities on the second day, against government’s refusal to approve the proposed N494,000 as minimum wage.

It was on Tuesday that the NLC  and the TUC directed their state branches to ask workers to resume work immediately after they had resolved to relax the nationwide strike for the next one week.

Last week was not the first time the unions had embarked on such action.

Following President Tinubu’s declaration on May 29, 2023 that “fuel subsidy is gone” and the resultant increase in the prices of goods and services, which was worsened by the depreciation of the naira, the labour unions had planned to commence industrial action on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

However, the judgment of the National Industrial Court (NIC) had restrained the unions from embarking on any form of strike over fuel subsidy removal.

Four months later, the unions issued a notice to commence industrial action on Tuesday, October 3, 2023.

However, after a meeting called by the federal government reached certain agreements, the unions suspended the planned indefinite strike for 30 days.

In a development unrelated to wage demand, the two unions later ordered their affiliates to withdraw their services nationwide from midnight on Tuesday, November 14, 2023, to protest the battering of the NLC President, Ajaero, and some other executives of the congress in Owerri, Imo State, on November 1, as well as the pending labour issues in the state.

Ajaero was arrested by the police ahead of a state-wide protest in Imo State.

However, the NIC, sitting in Abuja, again, restrained the NLC, and the TUC from going ahead with their plan to embark on a nationwide strike action.

But the unions went ahead with the strike, which paralysed activities in the country for two days before the workers suspended it on the night of November 25, following the intervention of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

After many months of protracted negotiations over the new minimum wage, the unions gave an ultimatum of May 31, 2024.

The unions had initially demanded a ₦615,000 minimum wage.

However, they reduced it twice and now insisted on ₦494,000, while the government and the organised private sector had initially proposed ₦48,000 and ₦54,000, which were also rejected by the unions.

The federal government argued that the N494,000 was unsustainable as the wage bill cumulatively amounted to the sum of N9.5 trillion, which was capable of destabilising the economy and jeopardising the welfare of over 200 million Nigerians.

However, labour leaders have ignored government’s pleas, citing the jumbo salaries and emoluments of the members of the National Assembly and other elected and appointed political office holders.

Indeed, many other Nigerians believe that it is immoral for the government to continue to urge the citizens to make sacrifices and tighten their proverbial belts to reflect the dire economic situation of the country, while elected and appointed officials continue to live extravagant lifestyles at the expense of the public treasury.

“Why are we scared when we say ‘pay a worker N1 million’ when those in the National Assembly are collecting N16 million, N17 million …N30 million? Why are we so discriminatory if we hear N1 million for a worker, when somebody can collect N16 million, N17 million for a job that is not even commensurate to the job a worker is doing? Why can’t a worker get N1 million in a situation where a bag full of naira can only buy a handful of goods?” NLC President, Ajaero had reportedly queried.

A former Senator from Kaduna State, Shehu Sani, who chaired the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, had in March 2018 revealed the jumbo pay of the federal lawmakers regarded as “hallowed secret”.

Sani reportedly said he and his colleagues received N13.5 million monthly as running cost and N750,000 as basic salary.

The figures are believed to have since risen to about N29,479,749.00 monthly, as the previous federal lawmakers were in the habit of fixing their allowances arbitrarily.

This practice had prompted a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani to ask a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to decide if the National Assembly had the right to arbitrarily fix its allowances.

And in what was described as a landmark judgment, Justice Chuka Obiozor ruled in June 2021 that it is illegal for the National Assembly to fix its own allowances.

Apart from earning jumbo salaries, elected officials also live luxurious lifestyles, riding on exotic SUVs and maintaining large convoys, which do not reflect the current economic realities.

A new report supported by BudgIT penultimate week  had indicated that no fewer than 30 state governments of the federation spent N986.64billion on recurrent expenditures, including refreshments, sitting allowances, travelling, utilities, among others in the first three months of 2024, in a struggling economy where the citizens were asked to tighten their belts.

With the extravagant lifestyles of political office holders, it is difficult for the labour unions to back down on their persistent demands for what many Nigerians view as unstainable minimum wage.

For the Nigerian workers to make sacrifices, politicians holding public offices should demonstrate genuine commitment to lead by examples.

Related Articles