Why governors won’t pay N30,000 wages- Barkindo
The Head of Media and Public Affairs of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, Mr. Abdulrazaque Bello Barkindo, in this interview with Godfrey AKON, speaks on the resolutions of the tripartite committee submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari on November 6 and the lack of fiscal viability for states to pay the N30,000 minimum wage demanded by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. Excerpts:
Sir, what is your take on the capacity of the present crop of governors to address serious national issues?
I think capacity-wise, governance has shifted from the level at which it was in 1999, when everybody saw it as something that will not endure, to 2018 when some of the most competent people are holding political office at the subnational level.
For example, we have two speakers of the former House of Representatives in Katsina and Sokoto. We have consummate businessmen in Kebbi, Jigawa and Imo. We have accomplished politicians in Ebonyi, Adamawa, Benue and Nasarawa; we have accomplished bankers in Akwa Ibom, Kawara and Borno; we have a former President of NBA in Ondo and lawyers in Plateau and Bauchi. We have management consultants in Kaduna and Edo.
So which NLC member or member of the society will tell me that his state does not have a governor that is competent enough to run the affairs of that state? We have people who are very passionate about governance and who have solutions to the problems that we have?
Recently, the 36 state governors proposed to pay N22,500 as minimum wage, and a tripartite committee was setup to ensure that there is some form of harmonisation between the N30,000 demanded by the NLC and the amount proposed by the governors; why has the committee not reached any agreement?
Yes, there is no agreement yet. The tripartite committee submitted its report to the President on the 6th of November. Before it did so, there was no single governor who appended his signature to the resolutions of the committee. So the committee’s report, as far as the governors are concerned, was inconclusive.
Our chairman, the executive governor of Zamfara State, said as much that he was shocked that our proposal of N22,500 to that committee was presumed to be late. And governors are a very key forte to the tripartite committee because they are going to implement whatever minimum wage that they arrive at, at the subnational level.
Now, the point is this, if governors are saying that this is what they can pay, it is only a threshold, a baseline. There are states that can pay more. There are states that are insolvent and it’s not likely that they would survive if they pay N30,000. Governors are saying that even the states that offered to pay more would ultimately fall into economic problems if they go along with N30,000.
Lagos state for example, said, right now its wage bill is about N7 billion. The wage bill from the pensioners is about N2 billion. If they implement the N30,000 minimum wage, the wage bill will skyrocket to between N13 and N15 billion. And Lagos is saying, with the amount of demand for services in the state and the amount of IGR, there is no way it can sustain paying N30,000.
Governors are compassionate people. They are saying they are ready to pay N22,500; but they are only going to pay up to 50 per cent of their revenues as salaries. The remaining 50 per cent will go into education, health and infrastructure.
Due to the refusal of governors to accede to the demand of labour to pay N30,000 minimum wage, there is suspicion amongst Nigerians that governors do not take the welfare of workers seriously; how would you react to this perception?
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Is the governor of Zamfara state from Zamfara state? Is the governor of Bayelsa state from Bayelsa state? Is the governor of Akwa Ibom State from Akwa Ibom state? Look, these are people who were elected by the people of those states. And they came into office to solve the problems of those states. Solving the problems of those states is not just paying salaries.
This rhetoric is from the NLC. The NLC does not care about Macro and micro economic implications of the clamour for N30,000. I have gone through all the manifestos of NLC presidents over time. I have never seen one that says I am going to secure you a job, make sure that the civil service is functional and make sure that things work properly in ministries. All they say is we are going to demand for more money. Agreed, when they demanded for more money in 2011, they got N18,000 and got a pact that this would be increased every five years. But that pact missed a clause that says if the economy improves.
Given the bad economy in the country, is NLC not justified to agitate for increased wages to ensure that workers’ wages measure up with rising market prices?
I think, as much as the governors do, that there is an urgency for workers to earn better. Governors are very compassionate people and they are saying they sympathise with Nigerian workers. That is why they also said remember that the federal government is borrowing through bonds to pay the N18,000 minimum wage.
There are up to 17 or 18 states that are rationalising, doing a pro rata arrangement to pay the N18,000. In spite of that, they said we’ll move forward to pay the N22,500 as a threshold and above. Anybody who can pay more can pay. It’s based on capacity. So nobody should sit down in his little room and say governors are not compassionate.
We understand that the governors gave options for implementing the N30,000 minimum wage either for the federal government to increase allocations to the states or they downsize workers. What are the governors doing about increasing their IGR to ensure that they meet the demands and other developmental needs of their states?
To be very frank with you, last week we had a conference on IGR and three governors from different geopolitical zones in this country; one from Edo, one from Kwara, one from Kaduna came to Abuja to explain how hard they have been working. All of the governors raised their IGR in their states by more than 2000 per cent. Most of them made hundreds of millions as IGR per month or per annum.
Today, they are all talking about 20 or N30 billion per annum. So governors are working very hard and I can give you facts. The governors a working very hard to raise IGR. The conference last week was a peer learning event where these governors are saying this is how far we have gone and they are saying other governors can take from our strategy and also improve their IGR.
And remember, all the things you hear about IGR being raised nationwide are happening in states and we have young vibrant economies here in Nigeria governors forum who go from state to state inducting tax officers, IGR officers and ministries of economic planning on how best to go into generating ideas in states. In fact, we have even now began to implement certain programmes that have linked the informal sector with provision of healthcare towards raising IGR so that it is health for services.
What other option do you think labour should take at this time?
I think the option for labour is to listen to take the offer from the governors, join the president at looking at the books since governors presented the wage bill and the economic activities of 12 states to the president last Monday. And they are saying the books are open look at the activities, look at the finances, see the precarious nature of what you are asking us to do.
I believe labour would do a great deal of service to its workers to look at the books and sincerely come back and say yes let’s wait until the economy improves then we can ask for that money.