Minimum wage: Between politics and development by Ibraheem Abdullateef   

Minimum wage: Between politics and development by Ibraheem Abdullateef  

 

The most unfortunate thing about the minimum wage debate in Kwara State is the shameless dimension the discourse has taken, becoming more of political. It appears the agenda is clear: it is time to mine the minimum wage controversy to even political scores, and quite understandably throw more blame around. But I say without any sense of contradiction that the pattern of these lousy characters — politicising issues and policies — brought Kwara down this catastrophic path.

Civil servant during a protest
Civil servant during a protest

So, as far as this issue is concerned, they should please man their mouths while Kwarans of good conscience weigh in on the debate or mediate between the labour and the government. It matters beyond arrogating righteousness to a failed regime like Kwara is a contest ground for failure!

It is a scandal of criminal nature for a state desirous of progress to be paying some 75 percent of its statutory allocation to just public sector workers. It is not that workers do not deserve good pay. No. The argument is that such a system is simply not sustainable. If we are outraged to have any state dedicate over 50 percent of its budget to recurrent expenditure, we must rail at the idea of the state committing over 50 percent of what comes to it from the federal government to just paying salary.

It is a patronage system that offers no good. This is why I am very uncomfortable with the idea of the government offering to commit even more ration of the allocation, reportedly 85 percent, to paying workers. Oh we appear set to eat our future, dear Kwarans!

So, why did I ask noisemakers to shut their mouths? They have been everywhere insisting the Governor must pay the minimum wage. That is fine and good! But their argument was that the Governor’s party was pre-election saying that Kwara has money and should pay. The question is: what kind of workforce did he inherit? Was there the Minimum wage act? Does it appear a political issue, too? Very good. It is foolhardy arguing the future of a state with an outdated economic scope.

They should sit with these figures as the Governor of the state and tell us how they wouId go about it. That is the hallmark of opposition politics, and citizenry political participation, and not the exuberance to compare notes of mistakes. Anyone attuned to governance, and not politics, will know this is a knotty call. But this is the tough conversation we are not known for.

I found it very scandalous to note that Kwara State, with just 3.5m population, has over 16000 civil servants, while Kaduna, with 11million population, has just 13000 civil servants. When a friend mentioned that Tuesday morning, I said it cannot and must never be true.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I was wrong. My friend was right! Kaduna, with a population nearly three times that of Kwara, has fewer public sector workers yet get bigger allocation. This scenario is an indictment on the past administration who clearly messed up the system. What the current mess simply means is that the only industry created and sustained by them was the civil service which they populated majorly with their lackeys whose appointment letters were given to their parents who were loyalists of the cancerous regime. Thus with it as some compensation scheme, the greatest dream of many young people was to be sheltered in the civil service.

This bloated and largely unproductive civil service could not offer any meaningful wage because a big part of it had no business in service. What tasks are there in a state of 3.5million people that 16,000 workers are doing? So what was bequeathed to Kwara was a system designed to be perpetually struggling but not growing. There was basically no value addition structure. People go to work to do nothing and expect to get automatic promotion after three years.

It was a system without any key performance indicators. It was a system that employed 10 people for what one person should do. They made the civil service a dumping ground and a social system to reward their sidekicks. So, this is the state of the state without bias.

With the government having to pay the minimum wage with some 85% of the monthly allocation, the chances for rapid development has never looked bleaker. We might have to look to Heaven for the means to finance all those lofty dreams. Well, it is not that bad but undeniably difficult to explain that we could be choosing to build schools, roads and health facilities in our bellies.

The worst is we misinterpreted the whole scope of minimum wage. It was not to underdevelop ourselves but raised the standard of living. What the NLC proposes now may come to hunt us dearly. Verily we are not ready to admit Kwara does not have the financial buoyancy to pay and still dream of massive infra-development. More so, without improved revenue generation. Yes, taxing or something else! Of course, except, there is a plan of rightsizing. We have to take a call.

The debate in Kwara now is that the new administration must summon the courage to right this wrong. One hopes that the populace will also rally round the government to fix the rots. But let’s make no mistake about this: this is a problem that will take years and tact to fix.

The Governor must grow the ball to bite if he must. Nobody is calling for a mass sack. But there is no point keeping a wo(man) in the classroom if they can’t string five words together without committing grave grammatical errors. What are they doing there? Teachers don’t teach me nonsense. We need to build a system where everybody justifies their pay. That is not wickedness. That is common sense.

To recap my point: supporters of past administration have no moral justification to raise a whimper on this matter. They brought Kwara on its knees. Yes, we know that the new guys have the mandate to fix the rot. But Yoruba did say that b’oju onile ba nlewo, enu alejo ko ni ati ngbo. They would do better than grandstanding on old stories–including their newfound love for joggling allocation figures to taunt the new administration– to analysing the practicality of minimum wage in reality with the workforce left.

The NLC should be patriotic and clear- sighted with their demands. Anything short, I am afraid, is a call to something grievous more than some 3-days fasting in the nearest future. This is a choice between politics and development. Kwarans should choose wisely!l

Ibraheemabdullateef09@gmail.com

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