By ‘Dotun Akintomide
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has said the current grandstanding by the government in increasing the minimum wage to N30,000 as demanded by organized labour is not about inflation, but a conspiracy targeted at the Nigerian poor by members of the ruling class.
Speaking with The New Diplomat at the tweet conference/roundtable to mark the International Day to end Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI) 2018, Falana said whereas politicians and their appendages live in opulence, the argument about how wage increase will affect inflation has always turned out to be government’s counter-narrative over the years.
“It was only when it involves addressing the terrible living conditions of the poor, that the government talks about inflation.
“You must also understand that this is a class matter. The members of the ruling class, regardless of political parties, are one and the same when it comes to addressing the problems of the poor.
“So the legislators who earn N15million believe that if you increase minimum wage from N18,000 to N30,000, there will be inflation.
“But there’s no inflation when it comes to earning beyond what is recognized and fixed by the revenue mobilization allocation and fiscal commission (by the legislators). The legislators have on their own breached the constitution by fixing their salaries and allowances. That doesn’t cause inflation.” He said.
Falana continued: “350 people according to AMCON are owing N54 trillion, loans collected from the bank. That doesn’t cause inflation. Duty waivers running to hundreds of billions per annum granted to the rich and captains of industry doesn’t cause inflation. It’s when you’re asked to adjust the terrible living of the poor that we talk of inflation. So, the government can pay if it wants to pay.”
Contrary to arguments that individual states should be allowed to fix the payable minimum wage amount, the legal icon stated that it will be illegal for states to determine what they can pay as minimum wage.
According to him, the minimum wage was deliberately placed in the exclusive legislative list, to ensure uniformity in application.
“I have heard arguments that every state should be allowed to determine what they can pay. The argument is not correct with the current situation. But all the governors earn the same salary apart from allowances and security vote.
“All legislators earn the same no matter where they come from. Every Senator earns about N15million per month. So on the ground of equality, that argument cannot be sustained.
“Secondly, labour and industrial matters are in the exclusive legislative list, deliberately so. Otherwise, you’ll have starvation wages and state government that will not pay salaries at all,” he said.
“America is the bastion of capitalism and the home of freedom; home of federalism. The United States’ congress fixes minimum wage and the last minimum wage fixed in 2009 was $7.25 per hour. Not less 25 states had on their own added allowances beyond the minimum wage. So what we’re talking about in Nigeria is irreducible minimum wage fixed by the federal government. State governments are now at liberty to add allowance to the minimum wage.”
Falana who expressed that labour demand has nothing to do with the 2019 election, however, said “this is the best time to get the commitment of the government as well as those contesting in the elections.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress has insisted that the National Industrial Court’s ruling in Abuja which has ordered that mass action be suspended will not stop the nationwide strike scheduled to start on Tuesday to press home its demands for government to yield to N30,000 as wage for the least Nigerian paid worker.