Minimum Hope in the season of Minimum Wage

It is official: the minimum wage is now N30,000! But the news downtown is that the announcement has not raised the hope quotient of Nigerian workers in any significant way. So unlike what happened in 1975 when Nigerian workers walked with a swag.

Following the recommendation of the Chief Jerome Udoji-led Public Service Review Commission set up by government in 1974, government raised the minimum wage from N312 per annum to N720 per annum, and rearranged the other levels accordingly. Interestingly, payment of the new wage was backdated to nine months earlier. It was real naira rain for workers. But why backdate it to nine months before? It was backdated to nine months before because that was when negotiations with the oil majors started. Here is what happened. Before the windfall, the oil majors paid 50cents/barrel of crude oil. They increased this amount to $1/barrel following negotiations but when the newly formed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, increased its pressure on the ‘famous Seven Sisters,’ they increased the payment to $12/barrel, and backdated the payment to when negotiation began.

A whopping N859million was paid to 700,000 civil servants of all categories in 1975! And a significant amount of purchasing power was placed in the hands of workers in those days. Most messengers who were once comfortable with their bicycle allowance simply migrated to ‘motor-cycle’ cadre. Television sets, which were a novelty in boys’ quarters, found their way into many homes.

The private sector was not left out of the naira rain. Players there were pressured by government to grant wage increase of 30% to their workers.

Whereas the raise in 1975 was given to workers so that they could afford the basic minimum elements that make for a decent life, the current minimum wage seems to have been given so that workers might be able to keep minimum hope alive. Seeing that hope can grow when it is planted rather than left to blow in the wind, discerning workers say they hurried to make their choice.

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