The Thursday’s declaration by the governors of the 36 states of the federation that they would no longer be able to pay the N18,000 national minimum wage due to dwindling oil revenue may face a major confrontation with Nigerian workers, which have vowed to resist the move of the governors.
The pronouncement has elicited harsh reactions from various workers’ unions in the country; with organised labour threatening to shut down the country should the governors insist on taking the decision.
The governors, who made the declaration at the end of the meeting of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, in Abuja said the massive drop in global oil prices in recent times had drastically affected their states’ income.
Crude oil prices, which stood at about $62.16 per barrels at the beginning of May 2015, dropped to about $38.52 on Thursday.
The monthly Financial and Operations Report by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, for September 2015 showed that oil revenue payments to the Federation Accounts had consistently dwindled, from N102.99 billion in May; N101.96 in June; N77.4 billion in July; N76.18 billion in August to N73.25 billion in September.
Leaders of the various labour groups, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, have however warned against the ugly consequences the governors’ decision.
The President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, spoke in strong terms against the governors’ declaration, saying “Nigerian workers would vehemently and totally reject it.”
Mr. Wabba said the NLC would come out with a formal position at the end of its Central Working Committee, CWC, meeting on Friday.
Another labour leader, Joe Ajaero, dismissed the governors’ resolution as “empty threat that should be ignored.”
“The governors should not start a battle they would not sustain or finish, because Nigerian workers have the capacity to retrench them,” Mr. Ajaero said.
The chairman of Rivers State chapter of TUC, Hyginus Onuegbu, said while they agreed Nigerian economy was in bad shape due to the fall in oil price from $115 per barrel in June 2014 to about $38 per barrel today, the current situation of the economy was as a result of poor governance and corruption by the political class.
The congress chairman said the political leaders at all levels did nothing to stop the unprecedented oil theft of some 400,000 barrels of oil per day, which, according to him, had resulted in the loss of huge revenues that should have accrued to the Federation Account.
The political leaders, Mr. Onuegbu said, also refused to diversify the country’s economic base away from oil and gas, while neglecting to push for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, as well as made no savings for the rainy day from the excess crude account, which has been depleted to about $2 billion today.
With the country’s external reserves is currently below $30 billion and total debt at over $63 billion, Mr. Onuegbu noted that the situation was gradually becoming clearer when juxtaposed with Saudi Arabia, with a smaller population, but external reserves in excess of $900 billion.
Urging the NGF to dialogue with NLC and TUC, he said this was the only way to create acceptable “win-win solutions” to the current economic crises, rather than saying what might deepen the economic crisis and overheat the polity.
“We want to state very categorically that this is not a time for any unilateral action by any level of government as such will be resisted by the workers and the unions that represent them.
“Nigerian workers will not accept any reduction in the meagre N18,000 minimum wage,” Mr. Onuegbu said.