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That planned cut in workers’ salaries

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Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed. Photo: TWITTER/FEDERALMINISTRYOFFINANCE


The mere muting of the idea of cutting salaries of public sector workers is quite indicative of a government that appears to have run out of ideas on the way out of its self-imposed economic challenges. A statement credited to Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance and National Planning that the Federal Government was working to reduce the high cost of governance by cutting down on the salaries of Nigerian workers is indeed laughable as well as shocking. The response of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to this statement by the minister is considered very apt. According to the NLC, this is almost unthinkable that the government would be contemplating unilaterally slashing salaries of Nigerian workers at this time. The NLC was irked by the minister’s directive to National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to immediately review the salaries of civil servants as well as the number of federal agencies in the country. Labour appropriately said the call for salary slash by Zainab Ahmed “is tantamount to a mass suicide” wish for Nigerian workers, adding: “It is most uncharitable, most insensitive, most dehumanising and most barbaric.” Nigerians stand with the NLC on this matter.

Over the past six years since the Buhari administration came into power and were confronted with volatility in the global oil market, calls have come from very well meaning Nigerians on the need for government to cut the cost of governance as a short to medium term strategy to come out of the economic crisis. References were made of the humongous cost of governance. Government actually turned a deaf ear to all the prodding from these stakeholders to act swiftly in this direction. Instead, it increased the size of the national budget beyond the average annual figure of about N4.5 trillion under President Goodluck Jonathan, to about N7 trillion and now in the region of N10 trillion. It also resorted to more and more borrowing like the proverbial case of “riding the tiger.” Since then, the country has not disembarked from this suicidal ride and is steadily trotting on to economic perdition.

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Now that the government is confronted with a sluggish economy and almost all the indicators looking southwards, then it is talking of cutting down the cost of governance but in the wrong direction. It has failed to slash the humongous perquisites of political office holders. All the security votes that have not improved security and the gaping loopholes in the budgetary process have not been touched. It is shocking that what the government finds attractive and easy to contemplate doing is to tamper with the meagre earnings of workers. Have government policy makers forgotten that the country is currently experiencing hyperinflation? Is government aware that the worst hit segment of workers in an era of hyperinflation is those on fixed income? Has government forgotten that it has increased the tariff on electricity, or that when they came into office in 2015, the price of premium motor spirit (pms) was N87 per litre and that under the watch of the Buhari administration, it has moved to about N165 per litre with possibilities of further increases? One also wonders whether this government is not aware that it has increased stamp duties on deposits, on rents and that the exchange rate increased from N197 to one US dollar to about N480 in the parallel market.

All these increases have grossly diminished the purchasing power of every worker on fixed income in the country and since 2015. Nigerians have been getting poorer and poorer since Buhari came into power in 2015. What was the price of a bag of rice in 2015? What of other basic food items such as yam, garri, tomatoes, pepper, even the ordinary man’s “pure water” that was N5 per sachet in 2015 is now N20. The average citizen has been squeezed to intolerable limits since the Buhari administration came into power in 2015. Is it any wonder that the average young man wants to leave Nigeria in search of livelihood elsewhere? Government should immediately shelve the idea of slashing workers salaries and instead offer an apology to the citizens for dragging them to this pitiable economic situation. Indeed there is misery in the land.

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The little gesture of a minimum wage review by the administration, from N18,000 to N30,000 has largely been paltry. It is common knowledge that the N30k minimum wage is unrealistic for workers now vis-a-vis high inflation. In fact, how many state governments have implemented the extant national minimum wage? It is a clear indication that this government appears to be bereft of new ideas in the management of the economy. They are simply clueless! Is it any wonder that the NLC has risen up to oppose the move? On its part, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) has advised government to focus on reducing salaries of political office holders not workers, in its move to bring down the cost of governance.

The reduction in the perquisites of political office holders is the way to go. This also includes the President himself who has been flittering away public funds in unnecessary medical tourism. It’s a familiar terrain of government always seeking the easiest way out of economic problem, usually by pushing the buck to hapless workers. Government at all levels have been known to be reluctant to cut their costs and embrace some sacrifice. They have been running a system of bloated personnel, duplicity and needless white elephant expenses. These are areas that need urgent attention for slashing. It’s really unconscionable on the part of the finance minister to ask workers for further sacrifice at this time. This directive by the minister is a bad move and should be jettisoned immediately.

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