LEST EBONYI BE THE LAST TO PAY MINIMUM WAGE
Indications are hovering that Ebonyi State may be the last to implement the minimum wage due to its low revenue capacities from the federal government as well as its internally generated funds. The minimum wage bill was signed into law in March 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan as one of the greatest electioneering pledges to the Nigerian civil servants.
On Tuesday August 2, 2011 the Women Development Centre, Abakaliki was full to the brim by civil servants who were summoned by the governor for briefing on developments in the state especially as it relates to the minimum wage which had created confrontations between the federal government and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) on one hand and between the NLC and the state governors.
It is recalled that majority of the state governors had refused to pay the paltry salaries on the grounds that their federal allocations were inadequate to cater for the programme. While very few state governors agreed to pay from the onset, some others foot-dragged until NLC decided to down tool. This stand by the Labour Congress pushed the federal and state governments to yield to start the new pay from August 2011, almost five months after the minimum wage bill was signed into law.
However, Governor Elechi was anxiously awaited by his labourers. Quite behind the schedule, the governor appeared and before the patient servants could say thanks sir for coming late, the governor pricked their veins and arteries.
He admitted that he was late. But that was not because he chose to do so. He was late because he had been cracking his brain on how to get money to pay Ebonyi workers the so-much admired minimum wage. There was uneasy laughter, indeed!
The reactions that followed depicted that the labourers of the state are uncertain of their fate in the new minimum wage regime. While some were blunt to tell how they felt about the matter, others especially those who are licking from the state and federal oil spoke from the two sides of their mouths. Others were just full of praises for a government which is yet to give the people palpable dividends of democracy.
The state leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) gave a resounding opening prayer that could push the state forward if actions were to be matched with words by the state leadership. The governor pointedly apologized for coming late and entered the mantra-laden session. It was the same at the closing prayer when one Alhaji Bako sought for blessings for the state and its people and Nigeria at large.
First, the government was in dilemma on how to generate money to pay the minimum wage. Because Ebonyi was the least recipient of the monthly national cake and lest the state becomes the last to obey the constitution on the new salary scheme, the best option was to explore the window to borrowing. From where the loan(s) would come, it was quite not clear.
Payment of the minimum wage, the governor posited, was not the problem. It was just as easy as collecting the federal allocation and distributing it accordingly to the civil servants. But that was not the only responsibility of the government. Thus, paying the new salaries would mean that governance in the state would be grounded. There would be no money left to build and maintain roads, hospitals, schools as well as take care of other socio-political requirements of the state.
There are a lot of projects, according to the governor, that will be affected. By extension, areas which will be badly hit are free (political) gifts, free education from primary to secondary level, and sponsorship of both Christians and Muslims on pilgrimage, amongst others.
Some key projects the government was still battling to complete, he averred, included 32 out of 34 unity bridges connecting many Ebonyi rural areas which were embarked upon during the first tenure. He assured that all other projects carried over to his second tenure would be completed on schedule by the end of 2012, hence the need not to thwart the development schemes with full dependence on the federal allocation to finance the new minimum wage.
Let us get it clear that the minimum salary that has been contentious is N18,000.00, only an equivalent to US$118 approximately (N153 to US$1). And with the rate of inflation already in our markets before the practical implementation of the new law, it is doubtful if the aim of the upward review of the salaries has been achieved.
After the governor’s presentation, opportunities were granted to the audience to react. The session was specifically for participants to make contributions and suggestions in relation to the performance of the state government. It was also time to criticize the government for those who could summon the courage. Added to this great chance to tell the governor where his administration was getting it right or wrong, the people were told that suggestion boxes were positioned in some corners of the government house for the purpose of collecting reactions from the public.
In reaction to the governor’s statement that free education may have to be stopped in order to pay the minimum wage, a royal father in the state frowned at a situation where poor parents would be left to cater for the education of their children and wards in a lowly and economically wrought society.
The traditional ruler insisted that it cannot be a laudable option if the state government wished its people to grow educationally. Considering the poverty level in the state, he maintained, a free, compulsory, effective and efficient education should be encouraged while the whole educational system should be overhauled. Even as some respondents to this stand postulated that parents should be made to pay for their children’s education so as to value it, strong voices ruled that education was a social service which falls under the purvey of governance.
A legal practitioner criticized the condition of roads and gutters within the state capital. A serving senator naturally lauded the efforts of the government. A well-accepted suggestion was made that women should be involved in the internal security programmes especially the vigilante groups within the state. The groups should work hand in hand with the police to reduce the rate of crime in the state. This suggestion was also backed by the wife of the state governor, Mrs. Josephine Elechi.
An important point raised by the President of Ebonyi Youth Assembly, Chinedu Ogah was government’s investment in poultry farming. Ogah observed that a concrete investment in farming will create opportunities for the youths to be gainfully engaged, apart from the fact that it will boost the internally generated revenue for the state.
This kind of gatherings, which is quite commendable, is being replicated by some state governors. Recently, Rivers state governor, Chibuike Amaechi, gathered professionals in Rivers state to discuss the way forward for their respective professions. By briefing citizens and personally interacting with them from time to time, the vast communication gap between the government and the governed can be bridged. Also, the level of suspicion by citizens over the activities of their governors can be reduced. And finally, governance will be more meaningful as the plebiscites can contribute to the governance of their respective states if the governors can summon the political will to work with suggestions from them.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]