How can workers win a decent minimum wage in a country like Nigeria?

Narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor will naturally solve a lot of inherent problems in our society. If the majority of the Nigerian population can be gainfully employed and there is equality in the society, kidnapping, arm-robbery, terrorism are some of the crimes that would be at the barest minimal.

Taking a look at the national minimum wage, the foot soldiers that fought for it actualization and the cadre of people that have the lion share at the end of the day, we know that our system is not been fair to some extent. Well there are other opinions that am willing to share here.

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As a decent minimum wage can be described as a wage that can provide workers basic necessity of life such as decent food, decent shelter, quality education, quality health, and shelter, etc. adsbygoogle || []).push({}); , workers will continue to crave for descent income. Though, getting new minimum wage has always been a struggle, this is not a new phenomenon in the whole world as a piece and in Nigeria especially. Struggle for minimum wage can be traced as far back as the start of the labour market itself.

Before the coming of Hassan Sunmonu as first president of the Nigeria Labour Congress in 1978, there was no history of a structured minimum wage for workers in Nigeria. It must be said that the Udoji pay package of 1975 was not regarded as a structured minimum wage, because it was not negotiated by workers’ representatives.

The then president of the NLC was encouraged to begin agitation for a minimum wage following a pay rise for political leaders at the time. He called for a N300 per month minimum wage in 1981. This led to a major strike, which culminated in President Shehu Shagari and the Hassan Sunmonu-led executive agreeing to a N125 per month pay package.

Those that led the negotiation on behalf of the Federal Government included the then Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the then Senate President Dr. Joseph Wayas, and Speaker Edwin Ume-Ezeoke.

When the late Pascal Bafyau was NLC President. Adams Oshiomhole led another negotiation in 1989/90 talks as Bafyau’s deputy. The discussions resulted in workers receiving N250 per month.

During the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar an opportunity for another round of negotiation presented itself in 1989/90,. The minimum wage was reviewed to N3,000. The team was not an organised labour body but a committee of industrial unions, led by Sylvester Ejiofor.

Another negotiation took place while Oshiomhole was NLC President between 2000 and 2001. Demands for N5,500 for state workers and N7,500 for their federal counterparts and oil-producing states were agreed to. There were unique features to this deal; provisions were made that the following year (2002) there would be a 15 per cent increase across board, and a 25 per cent increase in 2003. These, however, were not fulfilled. The current N18,000 minimum wage, due for a review since 2015, was negotiated under NLC President Abdulwahed Omar.

Recently, N30,000 minimum wage has been approved after several face-off between the organised labour union and the federal government, what’s the value in real time? Is this minimum wage enough to sustain a descent family?

In 1983 for instance, the minimum wage was N125. That was a time that N1 is almost equal to $2. By this, it means that in 1983, Nigeria’s minimum wage was about $220. Between that period and now, several devaluation of our currency had occurred. When the N18000 minimum wage was signed into law years back, during when a dollar was roughly N165 which summed up to a little over $100. Far below the minimum wage got in 1983, which was over $200.

Today, N30,000 minimum wage is below $100. The real question is, if the value of our minimum wage in 1983 is almost tripling that of today, can we say that we are doing great or not? We must then ask ourselves, what a decent minimum wage is.

During the just concluded presidential campaign, People’s Trust Presidential candidate, Gbenga Olawepo Hashim promised to pay a minimum wage of N50,000. He made it clear at the time that even N50,000 is not enough as a minimum wage, but it’s still better than what is currently obtainable;

Similarly, Africa Action Congress Presidential Candidate, Omoyele Sowore also promised to pay a N100,000 minimum wage. In his views, if we want to get the best from our workers, we must pay them a decent minimum wage and to him, N100,000 is that decent wage.

So, how can workers get this decent minimum wage? The answer is not clear, especially when most states didn’t pay when the N18000 minimum wage was signed to law. What is however clear is that, we must change the working culture of government establishments so that workers can be as productive as those in the private sectors.  Productive workers can certainly negotiate for better pay. Even the employer will do almost everything it takes to make them happy. But in a situation where government see paying workers as favour, partly due to lack of productivity, it becomes difficult to negotiate for improvement or decent pay

This is especially because the value of work is not inherent in worker, but depends on where worker work and his/her level of performance. As workers will be more productive in some occupations, industries, and firms than in others, and most workers also have considerable control over the productivity of their work hours. All economic systems interested in maximising output thus face the problem of devising mechanisms for allocating workers to the sectors where their potential productivity is highest and for eliciting high levels of performance within organisations.

The demand for labour ultimately depends on the value of the output produced by labour, evaluated at the market prices that consumers are willing to pay. At prevailing wages, employers hire more workers only if doing so adds to profits – if the value of additional output produced exceeds the additional costs. At any given moment, higher wage costs reduce profits and hence employment, and conversely. (The tension between wages as the price (cost) of labour and wages as worker income is seen most directly here – higher wages imply higher income for some workers but less employment because of higher (wage) costs.) Labour supply depends on the alternatives available to workers in each labour market compared with the value they put on leisure time. Workers choose the job that maximises net compensation (including both monetary and non-monetary benefits and costs). Once a job choice is made, a voluntary job change will occur only if higher net compensation is offered at another job.

The conflicting interests of employers (demand) and workers (supply) rather than administrative announcements produce a market wage. Deviations from the market wage rapidly become apparent. Employers offering wages below the market rate experience high quit rates (voluntary departures) and recruiting difficulties, while those offering above-market wages have relatively high labour costs and many job applicants.

These forces move wages toward the market equilibrium wage that balances the amounts of labour demanded and supplied.

Shifts in either labour demand or labour supply can produce changes in wages. If demand for an industry’s product increases, i.e. consumers are willing to pay more for the industry’s output, each firm in the industry can increase profits by hiring more workers, even though a higher (relative) wage offer may be necessary to attract workers to the industry from other jobs. Conversely, there will be downward pressure on pay as it becomes less profitable to employ workers in declining sectors, a process that encourages workers to move to growing sectors, thereby facilitating the reallocation of labour resources in response to structural changes.

It becomes two thing to respond to this question perfectly, first, workers must be up and doing in order to be seen as an asset and not liability. Secondly, labour leaders must stand for workers and not for themselves to achieve a decent Minimum Wage in Nigeria. 

The Publisher, Times Nigeria Magazine, Abdulrahman Aliagan said that “Nigeria workers can actually win a decent Minimum Wage only if they are ready to contribute to the nation’s economy greatly. Nigerian workers are yet to convince government that they are celebrants and not tolerants. From the look of thing Governments at various level are not celebrating their workers they are tolerating them.

“Government is ready to do away with so many workers and no worker is ready to do away with government. From the recruitment level to deliverables it is a square peg in a round hole. Government is nothing but a business and in any business there must be a corresponding value, if business is not bringing value then it does not worth doing.

“To be realistic, can any private business owner runs his or her business the way civil servants run government businesses? If answer is no, then workers cannot win a decent Minimum Wage in Nigeria because they are not giving decent services.

“Take a visit to any Federal Ministry in Nigeria on Monday and see what going on there, some even is brought their products and markets to sell, while some engage in talks from morning till the closing time. So as an employer how do you happy paying somebody who contributes nothing a robust wage? Government are forced to pay workers not that they are happy to pay.

“Let us look at what is happening at the Local government levels, throughout Nigeria no local government is functioning optimally with the exemption of Lagos, may be Port Harcourt, go to my state in Kwara some are not even going to office and yet they will be clamouring for wage rise and this is happening almost in all part of the country. Nigeria’s workers population supposed to be an asset but it turns around to be liability.

“To answer this question very frankly, Nigeria workers cannot win decent minimum wage unless they contribute decently. When they are begin to be seen as a factor, when they are seen as an asset and not when they are being seen as liability. Until then, government will continue to take workers for a ride.

“If this can be achieved, then it behoves on the labour leaders to jettison personal gains and stand for the interest of Nigerian workers, history have shown that labour leaders at various organisation are not speaking the minds of workers rather they speak for themselves, labour leaders compromised and collaborate with government to create loopholes for government to take on workers.”

Well, I think a tour of the Scandinavian societies may provide an insight to this problem of national minimum wages.

Author Profile

Abdulrahman Obaje
Abdulrahman Obaje
Prince Abdulrahman Obaje is a Media and ICT Consultant, Journalist, online marketer, social media strategist, Mathematician and Computer Scientist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the Founder and the Publisher of The Informavores!. You can reach me on +234 805 939 5252 or send i-witness report directly to me on

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