The most trending issue during the week was the new minimum wage demanded by organised labour and the strike threatened by workers in the country if their demand of N30,000 was not met. The federal government had made an offer of N24,000, while the states said they could not go beyond N22,500. The protesting workers stood their ground, insisting that they would embark on the industrial action they tagged mother of all strikes.
As at last weekend, different labour unions issued circulars indicating their plan to commence strike on Tuesday. They also advised Nigerians to stockpile food stuffs in their homes because the strike would shut down government and business activities in the country.
Not ready to face the embarrassment the strike action could cause it in an election year, the federal government on Monday swung into action. It entered into a marathon meeting with the labour leaders. After the meeting that lasted over 12 hours, Labour shelved the strike much to the delight of most Nigerians. On Tuesday, members of the tripartite committee alongside labour leaders came to the presidential villa to present the report to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Speaking after receiving the report, Buhari recalled that on November 27, 2017, he inaugurated the National Minimum Wage Committee with a mandate to recommend a new minimum wage for workers in the country. According to him, this exercise became necessary for many reasons, including the fact that the last review took place in 2011. He also disclosed that the executive would transmit the Executive Bill to the National Assembly for passage within the shortest possible time.
On the side of labour, he said the points raised focused on the need for any increase to be meaningful, noting that in a way, both arguments are valid. He assured the labour unions that the government would immediately put in place the necessary machinery that would close out these open areas. President Buhari however implored workers and their leaders not to allow themselves to be used as political weapons.
After the meeting in Aso Rock, news started trending immediately that President Buhari had endorsed and approved N30,000 as the new minimum wage. The report generated so much controversy that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, called on the president not to renege on the N30,000 promise.
Some analysts jumped to a conclusion that for the president to have accepted the report means he had endorsed the report. The thinking is that the president cannot tinker with the figure proposed by the tripartite committee. Proponents of this line of thought described the controversy generated over whether or not the president has approved N30,000 as a storm in a tea cup. But in a swift reaction, the presidency expressed concerns over the recurring reports alleging that President Buhari had reneged on his earlier acceptance of the N30,000 recommended as the new national minimum wage by the national minimum wage tripartite committee.
In a statement by special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, the presidency said the said reports were contrary to what transpired on Tuesday when the committee presented its report to the president. He clarified that President Buhari, while acknowledging the concerns raised by government on affordability and labour’s focus on meaningful increase, never mentioned any figure.
He said, “What he committed himself to was a new minimum wage, and only after the report of the committee has been reviewed by the executive and legislative processes of government and an appropriate bill presented to him for assent.
“Until the proposed minimum wage has gone through the whole gamut of law-making, President Buhari, who is a stickler for due process, will not be caught in this unnecessary web of controversy, which amounts to putting the cart before the horse and hair-splitting.
“As for those who have latched onto the concocted controversy to play cheap politics, we appeal to them to remember that elections are not won through loquaciousness, and trying to demean the President at every drop of a hat. But then, it is not surprising, as they have nothing else to sell to Nigerians, if they don’t ride on the name of the President. Stiff judgment awaits them at the polls.”
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