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Minimum wage: Will Tinubu’s tripartite committee proffer a lasting solution?

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The year 2023 was a truly unpleasant moment as it was dominated by the removal of fuel subsidies, higher inflation that affected real disposable incomes and devaluation of the naira, hike in transportation among others.

To be specific, the removal of subsidies on petroleum products further worsened the challenges faced by working people. It unleashed severe pain and contributed to galloping inflation even as it increased inequality and poverty.

Besides, the sharp and continuous rise in food prices owing to a combination of factors like the weakening naira, climate change, recent economic reforms and escalating insecurity that has led to food production shortfall.

According to the most recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) report, the constant surge accelerated headline inflation to 28.2 percent in November 2023 and food inflation to 32.8 percent.

Similarly, the World Bank, in its latest Nigeria Development Update report, said sluggish growth and accelerating inflation in Africa’s biggest economy raised the poverty rate by 46 percent in 2023 from 40 per cent in 2018, with the number of poor Nigerians put at 104 million.

The global bank also said the country’s inflation eroded the N30,000 minimum wage by 55 percent, thus reducing household expenditure.

Just yesterday the federal government inaugurated a 37-man tripartite committee on national minimum wage with a mandate to recommend a new wage for the country.

The committee was inaugurated at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja sequel to the approval by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The committee, to be chaired by a former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Alhaji Bukar Goni Aji, has membership across federal and state governments, private sector employers and the organised labour.

Representatives of the federal government are the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Wale Edun, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning Atiku Bagudu, and Minister of State for Labour and Employment Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (representing the Minister of Labour and Employment).

Others include the Permanent Secretary (General Services Office) in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, while the chairman of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC), Mr Ekpo Nta, would serve as the secretary.

Representatives of state governments are Governor Mohammed Umar Bago of Niger state (North-Central), Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state (North-East), Governor Umar Dikko Radda of Katsina state (North-West), Governor Charles Soludo Anambra state (South-East), Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun state (South-West), and Governor Otu Bassey Edet of Cross River state (South-South).

Representatives of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) are the Director-General, Mr Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, Chuma Nwankwo and Mr Thompson Akpabio, while the Nigeria Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), will be represented by its national president, Asiwaju Michael Olawale-Cole, National Vice President, Mr Ahmed Rabiu, and National Life President Chief Humphrey Ngonadi.

The National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) is represented by the President and Chairman of the Council, Dr Abdulrashid Yerima, Hon Theophilius Nnorom Okwuchukwu (private sector representative), and Zonal Vice President (North/West) Dr Muhammed Nura Bello.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) is represented by its Director-General, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, the Human Resource Director of Nigerian Breweries, Mrs. Grace Omo-Lamai, and Managing Director Dozzy Oil and Gas Limited Lady Ada Chukwudozie.

Representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are its President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, Prince Adeyanju Adewale, Comrade Ambali Akeem Olatunji, Comrade Benjamin Anthony and Professor Theophilius Ndukuba.

The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) is represented by its President, Comrade Festus Osifo, Deputy President I, Comrade Tommy Etim Okon, Deputy President II, Comrade Kayode Surajudeen Alakija, Deputy President III, Comrade Jimoh Oyibo, Secretary-General, Comrade Nuhu A. Toro, and the chairperson of the Women Commission, Comrade Hafusatu Shuaib.

The declaration by the Federal Workers Forum (FWF) has declared that there will be no extension of its 14-day ultimatum to the federal government on payment of the wage award and the quest for a new national minimum wage.íFWF stated this in a communiqué issued Monday at the end of an online meeting of the forum signed by the Forum National Coordinator, Comrade Andrew Emelieze.

The forum said the federal government had not been sincere with the payment of the wage award and the quest for a new national minimum wage.

“We have reviewed the situation at hand as regards the payment of the wage award to federal government workers, the new minimum wage and the state of the nation. It was generally agreed that the federal government has not been sincere with the payment of the wage award and the quest for a new national minimum wage,” it said.

“Government has been speaking with different lips. At a time, the government claimed that she will clear all the outstanding arrears of the wage award owed and at another time, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) has come to give reasons why the government cannot pay the wage award,” the FWF said.

They said, “Most workers only got the September payment and most of the federal workers are now being owed four months wage award arrears. Most unfortunately, the purpose of putting in place the wage award has been defeated.

“The question has been that if the government is treating the issues of 35,000 naira wage award for federal workers this way, then there is no hope of the actualisation of a living wage for the Nigerian workers within this period.”

The communiqué further stressed that “workers have endured this hardship enough and we have decided that there shall be no extension of the 14 days ultimatum.

“We are left with no other option other than to call out all our members to exercise their constitutional rights to protest against the mass suffering faced by workers.

“If after seven days the government fails to respond, the protest will lead to a total shutdown of all federal government Secretariat nationwide from Monday, February 5th, 2024. We will not take any flimsy excuse for not paying the wage award as put by the AGF neither are we going to tolerate the staggered payment as done before nor accept part payment of the wage award again.”

They further stressed that “the protest is continuous until all outstanding wage awards are cleared. That workers nationwide gather in front of all the federal government Secretariat nationwide and occupy it.”

Ultimately, the federal government in collaboration with the state and local governments need to accord with priority the issue of increasing the salary of workers to tally with the skyrocketed inflation in the market circle. This is because once their standard of living is addressed, it will affect cash flow in the market.

It is pertinent that at this time of formation of this committee, it is our hope there will be consideration for workers at the state level too. Also the informal sector, where the largest number of the Nigeria population lies should also be considered by all tiers of government thereby reducing the poverty index.

Editorial

Increasing access to community healthcare

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Recently the World Health Organisation (WHO) decried the increasing threat to the right to health of millions of people across the world. The WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All has stated that 140 countries recognise health as a human right. Unfortunately, these countries are not passing and putting into practice laws to ensure that their citizens are entitled to access health services. According to the global health agency, about 4.5 billion people, over half of the world’s population, were not fully covered by essential health services in 2021.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, in her message underscored the fact that health is not only a fundamental human right, but also central to peace and security. According to her, addressing health inequities requires intentional efforts. Considerations of vulnerable groups must be addressed. Their needs ought to be purposefully integrated into health programmes at all levels to accelerate progress toward Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

‘My health, my right,’ the global agency used the occasion to call for action to uphold the right to health amidst inaction, injustice and crises. The year’s theme, according to the organisers, was chosen to champion the right of everyone, everywhere to have access to quality health services, education, and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions, and freedom from discrimination.

Moeti noted that many in the African region still need help with access to quality essential health services due largely to unfulfilled rights. She observed that this is further compounded by protracted and ongoing crises such as conflicts, climate change, food insecurity, disease outbreaks and epidemics.

Available figures show that the number of people aged 15 and over living with HIV is still high at an estimated 24.3 million in 2021 (3.4 percent of the total population) compared to 15.6 million in 2015. This underscores the continued transmission of HIV despite reductions in the incidence of people newly infected and the benefits of significantly expanded access to antiretrovirals. Moeti called on member states to uphold the progress towards fulfilling the right to health, agreed by all nations of the world in 1948 and enshrined in the WHO Constitution.

“The right to health is a universal right of all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or another status,” Moeti stated.

Nigeria, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, has reiterated the ministry’s commitment to ensure the health and wellbeing of all Nigerians. The minister is of the view that the right to health is not just the ideal, it is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For millions of Nigerians, accessing quality healthcare is a challenge. However, the federal government has mapped out some initiatives to address the challenge. These include Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) and the Nigeria Health Sector Renewal and Investment Initiative and strategic partnerships through which the health ministry is ensuring access to health of Nigerians in remote communities across the country.

Unfortunately, the right to health for all Nigerians has not been enshrined in our laws. Therefore, we call on the federal and state lawmakers to make laws that will ensure the right to health of all Nigerians. We need laws that will ensure Universal Health Coverage for all Nigerians.

Such laws will ensure that every Nigerian has access to quality health at all times. These include having access to potable water, clean air, quality nutrition and quality housing, decent working environment and freedom from discrimination.

While the laws that will enforce the right to health of all Nigerians are being awaited, the government must improve access to health by ensuring that quality healthcare services are provided at the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) across the 774 local government areas.

If the primary healthcare centres are functional, the nation’s disease burden would have been reduced by over 70 per cent. The government should provide free health services at the PHC level. For Nigeria to increase access to quality health for millions of Nigerians and ensure UHC, the health funding must be significantly increased.

Pathetically, it has become an eyesore that millions of Nigerians living at the grassroots don’t have access to quality healthcare services. This is a wakeup call to the various state Governors and their Chairpersons to reinvest in the health sector, especially the community people.

Most of the health institutions and healthcare facilities are in a dilapidated stage at the rural communities and there is no motivation for health personnel in terms of incentives, knowledge acquisition such as training and retaining of staff, the equipment in various hospitals and clinics are outdated. The federal government in partnership with international donors should reenergise in the health system for the betterment of the masses.

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Editorial

Urgent action needed to stem rising violence in Nigeria

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In a recent high-level meeting convened by Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, alarming statistics were revealed: in just eight weeks, Nigeria has witnessed a staggering 537 cases of murder.

This revelation, coupled with 141 incidents of terrorism/secessionist attacks, 26 cases of armed robbery, 214 instances of kidnapping, and 39 cases of unlawful possession of firearms, paints a dire picture of our nation’s security landscape.

The gravity of these figures cannot be overstated. Each number represents a life lost, a family shattered, and a community in mourning. It is a stark reminder of the pervasive threat to the safety and well-being of every Nigerian citizen.

As a nation, we must confront this crisis with unwavering resolve and urgency. The current measures in place to address this surge in violence are woefully inadequate. It is evident that mere rhetoric and half-hearted efforts will not suffice in stemming the tide of bloodshed that plagues our country.

Furthermore, cooperation and collaboration between the government, security forces, and communities are paramount in the fight against crime and insurgency. Only through a united front can we hope to achieve lasting peace and stability in our nation.

As a society, we cannot afford to be complacent in the face of such staggering violence. The lives of our fellow citizens are at.

Kayode Egbetokun, recently unveiled the stark reality of our nation’s security predicament – a harrowing tally of 537 murder cases, 141 acts of terrorism/secessionist violence, and a myriad of other criminal atrocities.

Yet, amidst the chaos, glimmers of hope emerge – 3,685 suspects apprehended, 401 kidnapped victims rescued. These are the valiant efforts of our law enforcement, battling against a rising tide of criminality that threatens to engulf our nation.

But behind these statistics lies a deeper malaise – the scourge of economic hardship driving desperate souls into the arms of crime. In the crucible of survival, patriotism wanes, and criminality becomes an industry unto itself.

As the specter of insecurity looms large, the response from our governments remains tragically predictable – hollow promises, ineffectual rhetoric. The blood of innocents flows freely, cries for help drowned out by the deafening silence of those tasked with our protection.

It is a damning indictment of our society’s fabric when the guardians of law and order are themselves shackled by inadequacy.

With a mere 300,000 officers to police a population of 200 million, our forces are stretched thin, unable to meet the demands of a nation in turmoil.

The expectations are clear – to enforce justice, safeguard lives, and stem the tide of criminality. Yet, the reality falls short. The wheels of justice grind slowly, convictions dwindle, and offenders roam free.

In this crucible of despair, the call for divine intervention rings loud. But it is not divine providence we seek, but rather a concerted effort from our leaders to confront the scourge of insecurity head-on.

For it is only through effective policing that the foundation of our nation can be secured. The safety of our citizens is non-negotiable, and it is incumbent upon our governments to rise to the challenge. The time for platitudes is over.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has highlighted a concerning trend of cases where offenders are not convicted due to gaps between the Ministry of Justice and the police. This failure to prosecute perpetrators undermines national security by allowing them to evade accountability for their actions.

The lack of consequences for criminal behavior fosters a culture of impunity and reinforces the belief that crime is a profitable endeavor. This is evident in the brazen acts of banditry, criminality among herdsmen, Boko Haram insurgency, and other criminal activities across Nigeria.

To address this issue, governments at all levels must prioritize the deployment of skilled and professional legal practitioners in the criminal justice system.

Additionally, we propose that governments at all levels should allow private legal practitioners who are inclined towards criminal prosecution to collaborate with the state in prosecuting criminal cases.

This collaboration could take the form of private consultancy, engagement on a private basis, or through pro bono services. We believe that this approach could potentially help alleviate the burden on the state by reducing the backlog of criminal cases pending in courts, particularly those related to awaiting trial and others.

The time for action is now. Law enforcement agencies must be empowered with the necessary resources and support to effectively combat crime and ensure the safety of all Nigerians. Additionally, there must be a concerted effort to address the root causes of violence, including poverty, unemployment, and social inequality.

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Editorial

Tackling Nigeria’s high food prices: Strategies for mitigating soaring inflation

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Amidst the vibrant composition of global commerce, Nigeria stands as a nation grappling with formidable challenges that threaten to stifle its economic aspirations.

The latest findings from Africa’s Pulse, a prestigious biannual survey conducted by a prominent global lending institution, cast a spotlight on Nigeria’s enduring struggle with exorbitant trade costs.

With trade expenses in Nigeria towering four to five times higher than those in the United States, the report paints a portrait of a nation hamstrung by systemic barriers to economic growth and development.

The primary culprits behind these exorbitant trade costs are identified as steep transportation expenses, inadequate road infrastructure, and pervasive insecurity. Addressing these entrenched issues demands urgent and concerted efforts from President Bola Tinubu, his economic team, and security authorities.

It’s worth noting that many of these challenges were inherited by Tinubu’s administration.

Insecurity, for instance, has long plagued the nation, with farmers abandoning their fields due to the threats posed by various forms of violence, including terrorism, banditry, and clashes with herdsmen.

The toll of this insecurity is staggering, with tens of thousands losing their lives and many more falling victim to kidnappings and displacement.

Coupled with Nigeria’s daunting infrastructure deficit, estimated at a staggering $100 billion annually over three decades, the consequences are dire, particularly reflected in soaring food prices.

Currently, food inflation stands at a staggering 37.2 percent, a sharp contrast to the modest 2.20 percent recorded in the United States during March.

Addressing these systemic challenges demands decisive action and innovative solutions to enhance Nigeria’s competitiveness on the global stage and unlock its full economic potential.

While grappling with longstanding trade challenges, President Bola Tinubu’s policies have inadvertently exacerbated the situation. Initiatives such as the removal of petrol subsidies and the floating of the naira, introduced shortly after his inauguration, have catapulted business costs, prices, and inflation to unprecedented heights.

The recent decision to eliminate subsidies for Band A electricity consumers further compounds the issue, with consumers facing a staggering increase from N68 to N225 per kilowatt hour, despite expectations of consistent power supply.

These policy shifts have cascading effects, significantly inflating the cost of production for both domestic and imported goods. Diesel prices, crucial for manufacturing due to unreliable electricity, have surged to an average of N1,600 per litre in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the impending rise in petrol prices, post-subsidy removal, threatens to push costs even higher, amplifying the financial strain on businesses and consumers alike.

Compounding these challenges is the absence of a robust railway system to alleviate transportation burdens. Hindered by political constraints centralized at the federal level, the railway network remains underdeveloped, leaving a critical gap in Nigeria’s infrastructure landscape.

As the nation grapples with these complex dynamics, finding sustainable solutions demands a holistic approach that addresses both policy missteps and systemic deficiencies. Only through decisive action and strategic investment can Nigeria hope to chart a course towards economic resilience and prosperity.

In the intricate dance of trade dynamics in Nigeria, imported essentials like food, medicines, raw materials, petroleum products, and machinery have taken center stage, their prices soaring to astronomical heights. This relentless surge has dealt a heavy blow to countless organizations and small-to-medium enterprises, pushing many to the brink of closure.

At the heart of this economic opera lies the exorbitant lending rate, standing at a staggering 24.75 percent—a sharp contrast to the more modest 3.76 percent average witnessed in the Euro Area during the same period. This glaring imbalance in interest rates further amplifies the financial strain on businesses, stifling growth and innovation.

Yet, the cacophony of challenges doesn’t end there. Multiple taxation, sluggish port operations, and the stranglehold of government oversight on state-owned enterprises contribute to the symphony of woes plaguing Nigeria’s trade landscape.

Seaports have become bottlenecked corridors, with imported goods languishing in limbo as demurrage fees accumulate—a burden ultimately borne by consumers. Meanwhile, the choreography of trade is disrupted by a chorus of non-state actors, who levy tolls and extort fees from hapless owners seeking to unload their cargo.

In this tangled web of fiscal complexities, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, Taiwo Oyedele, has counted a staggering 200 taxes, a bewildering array that stifles economic vibrancy.

While the government officially collects 62 taxes—divided among federal, state, and local government authorities—another 108 informal or ‘nuisance’ taxes are levied daily by non-state entities, further entangling businesses in a web of financial burdens.

Oyedele center stage, poised to orchestrate a transformational shift towards simplicity and efficiency. With determination coursing through its veins, the committee sets its sights on streamlining the labyrinth of taxes, aiming to reduce the cacophony to a melodious single-digit harmony.

Yet, the fiscal symphony is not without its dissonance. State governments, echoing the Federal Government’s VAT collection efforts, persist in extracting consumption taxes from the same businesses—a redundant cacophony that stifles economic vibrancy.

Meanwhile, the haunting refrain of poorly managed State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) casts a shadow over Nigeria’s economic landscape. Despite being Africa’s largest crude exporter, Nigeria finds itself importing petroleum and steel products—a paradox born of SOEs mired in a state of dormancy.

To strike a harmonious chord and alleviate the burdens weighing down Nigeria’s trade, President Tinubu must take decisive action. Accelerating efforts to streamline taxation, privatizing SOEs, and embarking on a fervent quest to rebuild infrastructure stand as imperative measures on the path to economic revitalization.

Furthermore, the melody of progress demands a deepening of electricity supply and a symphonic collaboration with sub-national governments to realize the vision of state police—a harmonious fusion of security and governance.

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