The presidential election is barely 30 days away, but President Mohammadu Buhari is not going to have it easy as in 2015 as some current issues militating against his administration suggest
By Olu Ojewale
It is an election year. As the February date is drawing near to commence the polls, the Nigerian politicians are already spread out in the country canvassing for votes. Indeed, President Mohammadu Buhari has never left anyone in doubt about his intention to retain his plum job for another four years, if Nigerians can oblige him with another term. Perhaps, for the Nigerian electorate to give Buhari another mandate, there are some issues facing his administration that they would want him to sort out.
Indeed, one of the major headaches facing the Buhari administration right now is the issue of minimum wage. After several months of negotiation, strikes and unfulfilled promises, the federal government has agreed to table its N30,000 minimum wage recommendation to the National Assembly on or before Wednesday, January 23.
Prior to that, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, had embarked on a nationwide protest on Tuesday, January 8, ahead of the commencement of an indefinite strike. The protest by the organised labour caused heavy traffic on Lagos roads, while many commuters were stranded at the various bus stops. The leadership of the labour movement said the protest rally was to create awareness on the new minimum wage for workers and to press home its demand for an executive draft bill on the N30,000 minimum wage to be transmitted by the Presidency to the National Assembly.
To avert further crisis, the president quickly inaugurated a technical advisory committee at the Council Chamber, State House, Abuja, before the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, on Wednesday, January 9. It is headed by Bismarck Rewane, the chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives, Lagos. Members of the committee have been drawn from the public and the private sector. It has a month to complete its work and submit its report and recommendations.
Pointing out that the last time Nigeria’s national minimum wage was reviewed was in 2011, Buhari said that it was evident that a review was, indeed, necessary despite the prevailing fiscal challenges.
He said: “This is why I constituted the Tripartite Committee of government (federal and states), the Organised Private Sector, OPS and Labour to consider the national minimum wage and make recommendations to the government for its upward review.
“That committee has since submitted its report with some recommendations. We are currently working on the final steps that will lead to the submission of a National Minimum Wage Amendment Bill to the National Assembly. I want to make it clear that there is no question about whether the National Minimum Wage will be reviewed upwards. I am committed to a review of the minimum wage.”
Despite the assurance, there is an anxiety in polity that the Buhari administration is merely buying time. “There is nothing being said about when the minimum wage will take effect,” a radio commentator said. Besides, the president said that the increment on the salary of those earning above the N30,000 minimum wage would have to be negotiated after the minimum wage bill must have passed into a law. “It is important to prepare the minds of those to be affected that a windfall is not on the way, so as not to be caught unawares,” Buhari was quoted as saying.
The development came barely 24 hours after the government and Labour agreed that a New National Minimum Wage Bill will be sent to the National Assembly on or before January 23.
The unions are demanding N30, 000 for the least paid worker. But governors are willing to pay N22, 500 and the federal government was offering N24, 000.
The NLC has, however, told the 36 governors to be prepared to implement the N30,000 minimum wage or face its wrath. Waheed Olojede, the NLC chairman in Oyo State, gave the warning in Ibadan, during a peaceful rally to canvass the transmission of the Minimum Wage Bill to the National Assembly.
In any case, the Buhari Presidency does not have only the organised labour to deal with on issues of wage and strike. Members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, have been on strike for eight weeks and there seems to be no concrete headway out of the cul de sac yet. On Tuesday, January 8, Biodun Ogunyemi, the national president of the ASUU, said the strike embarked upon by the union will continue until an agreement is reached by the members on government proposals concerning their demands.
Ogunyemi said this after the end of a three-hour meeting between the leadership of the union and government representatives led by Chris Ngige, the minister of Labour and Employment.
The minister said after the meeting that N20billion out of N105billion earned allowance would be released soon by the federal government to offset outstanding arrears of 2009/2012 audit verified earnings in the university system.
He also said more than N15.3billion had been confirmed by the ministry of finance and the Office of Accountant General to have been released to accommodate payment of service shortfall in the system. He further said that the federal government will expect feedback from the ASUU by Thursday, January 10, so that schools could be reopened by weekend.
That notwithstanding, Ogunyemi said that the strike will not be called off until ASUU members agreed to the government proposal.
He said, “We have had an extensive session looking at all the issues and just like the minister said, there are issues that will require further consultations at the level of our union before we can make any pronouncement on our stand….
“We are still going for consultation. What we discussed is not about us but our people. I am not sure that there is an end in sight.”
That, indeed, would not be pleasant news for Buhari’s ears. Sounding frustrated, the president had on Thursday, January 3, in Abuja, appealed to organised labour to allow his administration concentrate on its efforts to fix infrastructure in the country and avoid distracting it with strikes and demonstrations.