Shelve the idea of salary increase

If it was President Bola Tinubu who asked Senate President Godswill Akpabio to test the waters by telling the Ekiti State Governor, Abiodun Oyebanji, and the Ekiti State caucus of the National Assembly that the Federal Government would be carrying out an upward review of salaries, that suggests he may have misdiagnosed Nigeria’s economic problem.

After correctly observing that, “Nigeria as a country would not have survived the next few years if the fuel subsidy had not been removed,” Akpabio added that “salaries and wages of workers would be reviewed in order to ensure that Nigerians have a living wage.”

Could  Akpabio have made the (coy or indirect) appeal because he thinks the President has no new tricks in his bag of magic to take Nigerians to the place that he promised with his ‘Renewed Hope’ mantra.

The President Buhari administration had admitted that it was spending more than 96 per cent of government revenue for debt servicing only. Before that, in 2016,  a former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, had told Nigerians that the Buhari government was borrowing N165bn to pay staff salaries every month.

In the face of the reality of government spending nearly all its revenue to service debts, where does Akpabio want to get the money to pay a new salary structure when most governments and business corporations in Nigeria are unable to pay the current N30,000 minimum monthly wage?

Notice how the governors who attended the recent National Economic Council meeting, chaired by Vice President Kashim Shettima, discussed the issue of an upward review of minimum salaries in a bland non-committal manner.

The Yoruba would say, “Enia o kii fere, ko ni oun wuwo.” In other words, no one who is slight or slender in stature should be pretending to be a heavyweight. It will amount to a lie and the height of self-deceit.

The Senate President needs to be reminded that the principle of a “living wage,” that he probably thinks is a novel idea, was set up as far back as 1919 in the Treaty of Versailles document signed at the end of the First World War. He hasn’t said anything new or earth-shattering. As the Americans might have put it, the idea he has muted is “no big deal.”

In any case, Nigeria’s Labour law has provided for regular review of salaries because of creeping inflation and the need to adjust to rising cost of living, which no one can really stop. The rising cost of living goes with the territory of the capitalist economic model of the world.

Indeed, there is something that economists, human resource professionals and labour unions recommend for adjusting the rising cost of living. It is called, not surprisingly, Cost of Living Adjustment, maybe to confirm that the fruit does not fall too far from the tree.

Past Nigerian governments saw the need for regular wages and salaries review and have even set up the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission to see about that. So, Akpabio’s information is not really new.

The Act establishing the NSIWC was set up to do the following, among other things: Keep prices under surveillance, interpret price movements, and inform the Federal Government of trends in wages and propose guidelines.

Others are to advise the Federal Government on national incomes policy, recommend proportions of income which should be utilised for general wage increase, recommend salary scales in the public service, and recommend general wages framework.

So, Akpabio’s (probably unsolicited) fidgety and knee-jerk response (on behalf of the government of President Tinubu) to the adverse effects of the removal of fuel subsidy and rejection of the N8,000 freebie palliatives intended to be paid to 12 million vulnerable Nigerian households, is not necessary.

Nigerians understand the economic challenges facing the nation. They already know that it may get worse before it gets better. This is not to say that Nigerians are suffering from Stockholm syndrome where victims align with their oppressors.

But they are earnestly waiting for the necessary economic policies to be put in place. What they demand are appropriate policies that will get Nigerians out of poverty and put them in the prosperity promised by President Tinubu.

Not verbal defences, made by sycophantic politicians eager to be politically correct under the looming shadow of the imperial, patronage-dispensing, bogeyman, monster that anyone who gets elected as Nigeria’s President, more than likely becomes.

Senator Akpabio’s recommendations for salary increase to combat the fallouts of  the removal of fuel subsidy and unification of the exchange rate will lead to another fallout, namely, inflation, that will “eat up” its intended purpose of making life easier for the people.

But, in any case, how many Nigerians are working as public servants in all the ministries, departments and agencies of the three tiers of government? At best, they will be three million.

That will be roughly one per cent of the Nigerian population if you adopt the now disputed 200 million population of the country, which the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Nigeria Bureau of Statistics admit is probably lower than the projected figure.

What the Senate President can do is to commission studies to reveal new areas of investments that will create more jobs for those educated youths that are idle because the political elite has no idea of how to engage their talents and skills.

But it’s a good thing that President Tinubu has somewhat ignored the lip service choir (led by Akpabio) by establishing the novel Infrastructure Support Fund that was recently announced by his Special Adviser for Special Duties, Communication and Strategy, Dele Alake.

The ISF is expected to provide funds from the Federation Account to encourage and enable state governments to invest in transportation, agriculture, healthcare service, education, power, and water resources.

Also, the process of listing the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited on the stock exchange should be sped up, and the government should encourage and engage willing and ready private sector players to invest in local refineries to produce strategic petroleum products.

The President should concentrate on this kind of policy initiative, and avoid or de-emphasise the impractical, patronising and paternalistic N8,000 dole policy that now seems to have been deftly assigned to the state governments to execute.

Such policies will encourage private sector players, including foreign investors and local entrepreneurs, to bring their investments into Nigeria, create corporations that will raise the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, generate more wealth, pay more taxes and employ more workers.

But these policies shouldn’t have to be forced out by crisis situations, but be part of pre-planned policy rollouts, with identifiable agencies and personnel. One wonders, for instance, which agency of the Federal Government will be responsible for the implementation of these laudable policies announced by Alake.

When these policies are executed and stabilised, no one will need to compel public and private sector employers to increase wages and salaries. Both will even volunteer to pay global level wages. After all, there is a strong argument that the world is “flat” and Nigerians deserve to earn wages as high as the rest of the world.

Tinubu should just try to run the economy well.

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