The 36 state governors have said they can no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage owing to the poor state of the economy.
The governors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), said this after a crucial meeting that ended at the early hours of Thursday, at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
They said dwindling prices of oil had drastically affected their states’ income, adding that the wage burden was much lighter when oil sold at $126 as against the current $41 per barrel.
They, therefore, sought audience with President Muhammadu Buhari on the economy, resolving that the only way out of the quagmire was to diversify the economy towards agriculture and mining.
Reading the communique issued at the end of the meeting, Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari said: “We resolved that we must look at ways to enhance revenue generation and at the same time look at ways to cut our overhead costs, especially the political office holders’ salaries and other overhead expenses.
“The situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18,000 minimum wage, when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and we continued paying N18,000 minimum wage when the oil price is $41, while the source of government expenditure is from oil, and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future.
“We will diversify our economy in the area of agriculture and mining. But at the same time, we should understand our situation where some of us (states) today are taking N100 million as monthly allocation and then have salaries of over N2 billion to pay.
“We, therefore, agreed here to take this suggestion to NEC in our meeting today (yesterday) so that we can find ways to tackle this problem.
“We are also looking at coming together to have discussions with Mr. President and his team, technocrats and experts in the economy to see how we can tackle this problem. We are working harder to deal with it.
But organised labour, reacting swiftly, kicked against the governors’ stance.
In their reaction, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, warned that if the governors wanted workers to shut down the nation because of the issue, workers would gladly do so, saying “the governors should not think the Nigerian workers do not have the capacity to retrench them.”
Factional President of NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, while insisting that Nigerian workers totally reject the governors’ position, warned that if the governors wanted organised labour to close down the country, labour was ready to do so. He confirmed that the NLC would be meeting today on the platform of the Central Working Committee, CWC, and the issue would feature prominently after which a statement would be released.
Wabba said: “We reject it totally. Nigerian workers will never accept it. We all know that it is a reality that N18,000 can no longer take the workers home and cannot sustain any family. Many countries are reviewing their minimum wage upwards to meet the current realities. In Nigeria, there is even greater need to increase the minimum wage because our currency had been devalued; inflation keeps rising among others.
“What is the relation of the Nigerian currency to the Dollar or what is value of the N18,000 to the Dollar? We are going to reject the move with all our might. We are not the cause of the problem. They should think out of the box to find solution to the problem. When there was excess crude money, the workers did not benefit and so, we cannot bear the brunt. If the governors want us to close down the country, we will do that.
“What about their outrageous salaries, bloated overhead cost, inflated contracts and others? NLC is meeting tomorrow (today) on the organ of the Central Working Committee, CWC. This issue is going to feature prominently and we are going to come with a strong statement on it. Obviously we cannot bear the brunt. They governors should think how to generate revenue instead of depending on oil money and allocation from Abuja.
“The governors should know that the N18,000 minimum wage was not just negotiated, it was a product of a tripartite process involving the governors, employers and organised labour. It passed through the National Assembly before former President Jonathan signed it into law. If any party wants to breach or renege on such agreement, they should be prepared for the consequences.
“We know there are challenges, but the governors should face reality. The problem is the cost of governance and too many frivolities. Today, with crazy bills from electricity providers, increase in fuel price, school fees, hospital bills, and other utilities, N18,000 cannot take any worker to the bus stop. We want to know their salaries as approved by the Revenue and Fiscal Mobilisation Commission, that of their commissioners, advisers and others, their security votes and others”.