“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable”
–Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish economist and philosopher
Why don’t we subject the emoluments of our political office holders and top civil servants to the same ruthless debate as we are to do with those of the underclass? Why don’t we open the books of the pay and allowances of our rulers for town talk the way we do over the minimum wage issue? Why are the labour and trade unions not looking into the incomes of the President, governors and legislators, seeing it is their constituency, labour, that is responsible for the huge bags of cash they take home every month?
We deserve to expose for scrutiny the pay of our leaders as part of the effort to review the wage regime of the worker. When we know what they earn, we should then begin to work out corresponding adjustments downwards to the lowest levels of workers. If, as an example, a federal legislator takes home N13.5m monthly as revealed by one of them, by the time we begin to move down the ladder armed with the lawmaker’s benchmark, the compatriot at the lowest rung should earn far more than the final N30,000 on the table at present.
Let us also know what our President and the governors (and their deputies) earn, both what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is giving them and the bottomless security votes it is not recommending but which they’re taking. When again we travel down the steps, we can’t but arrive at living wages for the labourer laying the golden eggs. I don’t see anything sacrosanct about the pay of those we elect to serve us.
If the budget of the entire Nigeria is an open book, including our massive outlay on defence, an area is needing a shroud, why should the infinitely smaller financial statistics of a few personalities be spared some modern-day touch of glasnost and perestroika? We need openness in addressing the wage structure in the land. One-off strikes would only rouse a slumbering government to take equally short-term actions.
Labour isn’t wrong to expect a fair deal for the labourer, the source of all wealth. There is always a production process by which a nation or society gets its affluence or money. It’s a complex chain, with the worker the biggest and priceless asset in the transaction. You ruin the order when you contemn the worker with inhuman wages, the way we go about it in Nigeria. What is going on at the moment is not surprising most observers. You don’t expect an unruffled turf where there’s a wide gap between a top-heavy political-bureaucratic class and a lowly working class.
There will be rancorous and bloody interrogations in the form of strikes, picketing, sabotage, work-to-rule actions and other levers of industrial disputes to call attention to labour’s real and perceived moral or legal injustice. Naturally, there’s always a resistance from the authorities, who feel threatened that should the labour leaders have their way of bridging the gap through massive wage increases for workers, the system would suffer severe buffeting at the hands of inflation, chief among lesser economic evils.
But what is more to be feared? What is a greater evil? What poses more danger to a community? A disgruntled worker denied their humanity through good wages and decent existence as a citizen or a mere creation of the vagaries of governance? The erosion of the dignity of your citizen expressed in slave wages is an open invitation to more trouble for all classes of society. Man is at the centre of all productive relations; his welfare must be the goal of every endeavour, political, religious, economic, cultural etc.
The current industrial upheavals – workers’ push for higher wages and Academic Staff Union of Universities demands for improved conditions – should not stop at agitating for funds. Man shall not live by bread alone, according to God. The struggle should help build a new worker who would be proud of the work of his hands. The struggle should free him from being a slave to production, creating but not enjoying what he’s creating. It’s others who decide the pittance he takes home. This is the hallmark of capitalism that has brought nothing but misery on mankind. It only celebrates property and not its creators.
Some have tried to disparage organised labour by arguing that its members are only about 5% of our population and should not be allowed to hold such a bigger number to hostage with their strikes. That’s deceptive statistics. Apart from the unions boasting a higher membership, you must factor in their families who benefit from their income.
At the end of the day, we’re all workers! And poor wages for the majority of us have turned in the verdict that there are more poor persons in our country than elsewhere on Planet Earth. This should worry our leaders to move them to side with labour and aim to restructure the wage policy.