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Describing Nigeria As Poverty Capital Of The Word Not Propaganda – Ndubuaku

Prof. Theophilus Ndubuaku is a member of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) team on the National Minimum Wage Committee. In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the ongoing negotiation between labour and the Federal Government on the new minimum wage and why organised labour will not accept what government is offering, ANAYO EZUGWU reports

There are reports in the media that organised labour is looking at N100,000 as minimum wage. Has labour done its calculation since it relaxed the strike?

You used the right word relax because initially people were saying suspended but on the issue of N100,000 I don’t know where they got that from.

I need to let you know that the global standard for minimum wage is $2 and we on the labour side computed the minimum wage based on a family of two parents and four dependants. If the global standard is $2 that means for a family of six, they require $12 per day and that amounts to $360 per month. When you multiply $360 by N1500, you get N540,000.

That means if you are earning below N540,000, you are living below minimum wage. So, if somebody is talking about N100,000, yes, they talked about affordability and availability but we also need to see the seriousness on the side of government. We have not seen any seriousness in terms of the government agreeing that we have a crisis of poverty at hand when the world is saying that we are the poverty capital.

The issue of poverty capital is no more something I would say the Western world is giving us a bad name. It is a reality because our National Bureau of Statistics is involved in computing this. When you hear 133 million Nigerians are within the multidimensional poverty, something needs to be done. We need to see seriousness in governance.

We need to see people doing things not the way it was done in the past and we cannot continue to do something the same way and expect different results. So, what we are expecting is that there should be some form of emergency measures because we are in a crisis.

And I think that government should be a little more serious because we need an inclusive government that brings in people with ideas. We need to have emergencies in the area of agriculture because people are hungry, in the area of security and then we move forward.

Even in the agreement with organised labour, we agreed that we should be involved in issues like the packaging Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) but the government has not involved us even after we agreed that there should be a committee set up for different things. As at now, we don’t even know what is going on. Is that what you call inclusive governance? So, I think that something has to be done in the area of agriculture because this is a country that has enormous natural resources.

We need to do something fast because if you are saying N100,000 compare that to N540,000 that an average family needs to live above the poverty line. I don’t know where the N100,000 figure is coming from but let them just bring what they have on the table and then we will move forward. And when they bring it, they will also tell us why they cannot pay and what they are doing to make sure they pull Nigerians out of multidimensional poverty.

What will make labour go back to the industrial strike in five days and what will make you call it off indefinitely?

We can’t jump the gun now because the point is that we are negotiating and in negotiations, you don’t fix your mind on something in particular.

Let them come to us with what they can afford and we will take it from there. Let me give you an example, the organised private sector is complaining that they cannot pay but that same organised private sector once told us that the minimum wage as of now was N77,000. You also know that many drivers will take N60,000 or N70,000 as salary and even company drivers.

The truth is that the government needs to listen to what the organised private sector is saying and what are they saying, they said interest rates are too high, inflation is too high, the cost of power, and taxes and they have listed many things they said are the reasons why they are going down.

Now government should tell us what they can do and assure them that they will get some relief, and then the organised private sector will not become the stumbling block to the payment of a living wage. So, these are issues that will come up during the negotiation.

These things you mentioned cannot be sorted in five days. What are the signals that you are looking forward to from the government to show that they are serious about making things better?

Since the subsidy is gone, how much is the government making from the subsidy? You saw what they did to the naira from N400 to N1,500, how much is government making in the business.

There are a lot of things shielded in secrecy in this country but we need an inclusive government, not a secret society or organisation. Open up to us and tell us how much because if you say you are not going to pay, they will tell us how much they want to pay

We have not seen any seriousness in terms of the government agreeing that we have a crisis of poverty at hand when the world is saying that we are the poverty capital

And we will ask them why you can’t pay this because if you are saying you cannot pay a particular amount, we will bring you down to the point of your priorities as government.

We will tell you how much you are budgeting for things that should not be a national priority at this time. Don’t forget that this minimum wage we are talking about is supposed to put some life into the system because when you pay minimum wage, people will be able to buy things and spend money and the money will trickle down.

Now, you also go to the sub-nationals, go and check what the federal allocation was distributing before the subsidy was removed and what they are collecting now.

They will also tell us why they cannot pay and we will tell them if you cannot pay and you are collecting this amount, what are your priorities because we have some funny things going on in this country where every state wants to build an airport.

We are going to build a Coastal Highway costing trillions of naira and the roads that we have are not maintained. It will be difficult for me to say we are going to take a certain amount of money, let them put what they have on the table and we will move forward.

You are part of those who did a research on the minimum wage; what did your research reveal?

If the government says they don’t have money and you are borrowing trillions and you don’t have your priorities right, then it is your problem.

The truth about it is that all the statistics are what we expect the government to present to us and then we will confront them because if what you have is not an inclusive government and Nigerians are not involved in what you are doing, then that is your problem.

The research you did; what did it say about the case of the family and the private sector’s ability to pay minimum wage?

The research we did was to find out the level of implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage because the committee was on the implementation of the old minimum wage. But some of the things you are talking about; the government has research institutions that should have information on all these you are asking and then we want them to put it on the table.

Just recently, they said they will buy 200 SUVs for the Customs and yet we have companies in Nigeria that say we can produce many CNG vehicles. The government agreed with organised labour that they would put CNG vehicles on the road, but they are yet to do that one year after.

What was the outcome of the research as you once said that it was because of it that labour came up with N615,000 as minimum wage, and what is the variability of households in Nigeria and the variability of the private sector to pay the new minimum wage?

What I’m trying to tell you is that we had a survey on the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage of 2018. We went to the state governments to ask them if they are implementing it and that was how we found out that some states are not implementing it.

We went to the households to ask them how much could use to feed the family for a month and the minimum and that was how we came up with the information you have.

Labour has to break down what is required for a family of six to live minimally and that was how we came up with the N615,000. I have also broken down to you the fact that based on the global poverty line you need a minimum of N540,000 for a family of six to say they are not living below the poverty line.

This is the information you are talking about and that is what we did. And I’m saying that the government has all the facts because what you are asking for is beyond the scope of the one-week survey we did nationwide and that was done by a committee in the tripartite committee.

When labour talks about housing, cost of transportation and family of six, what are we talking about, is it minimum wage or social security because nobody is talking about productivity? Secondly, President Bola Tinubu’s media aide, Mr. Bayo Onanuga said that labour is playing politics and that this is like a protest over the outcome of the 2023 general election.What do you think in that regard?

Let me take the issue of productivity; the truth about it is that if you cannot even pay for your transport to your workplace, how would you not come to work late? We are talking about productivity when we talk about minimum wage and living wage.

Even the organised private sector will tell you that, and we insist that it is not the salary they pay to workers that is making them unproductive. What is making them unproductive is high tariffs, high taxes and high interest rates.

These are things the government should look into. The private sector needs the government to help them provide the necessary environment for them to operate maximally.

On the issue of what Onanuga was saying, it is unfortunate because what we are talking about is in the public space. Onanuga does not have a different market from you and I.

Maybe Onanuga will be earning more than N500,000 per month but ask him how many of his relations and dependants that have family of four are earning that much.

Let him get facts about what the global standard of the multidimensional poverty line is. It is not just a question of propaganda, these are facts and that is why I’m saying that I appreciate the media for making sure that this issue has raised awareness of the multidimensional poverty in this country, 133 million below the poverty line.

How many are we? So, let Onanuga tell the world that we are playing politics with poverty among the 133 million Nigerian population.

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