At about 6:15 pm, the bar was filled up but the looks worn by most of the people around weren’t really comely. I felt today’s beer parlour gist would just be about explaining the looks of these people and confidently giving it an interpretation from my own perspective. Interpretations like ‘it’s the end of the month already and most of these people have not received their salaries or better still, the economy of the country is giving them ‘heart-attack’. I have started jotting some ideas to infuse into my beer parlour write-up knowing that there must always be something to write about. This day was quite different for me as well; my friend just received his pay at work and told me that we needed to up our demands today. He requested for goat meat and I Nkwobi’ I have a special likeness for ‘nkwobi’ though, probably based on how ‘street’ it sounds or how delicious it is.
While enjoying my Coca-cola and Nkwobi, one of my colleagues in the ‘beer parlour school’ gave me something to write about. He said ‘I wonder what those in government are thinking when they insisted that they can’t afford to pay N30,000 as minimum wage, that is just N1,000 per day and with the current $360 exchange rate, a civil servant earning N18,000 would have an income of $50 per month and would have to live around $1.5 per day, they should just help the poor and give us a decent life to live’. I knew I already have a topic for discussion immediately he said that, my nose for news was as active as ever. The only challenge I felt I could have was that unlike typical beer parlour gist, today’s discussion would be one-sided. I felt since we were all sitting in a beer parlour under a tent and not Quilox, we all want the minimum wage to be increased.
The first man to contribute to the topic proved me wrong, however, he said ‘the minimum wage proposed by the labour unions is not feasible, Nigeria’s economy is sick. It is not a viable economy, if the minimum wage is increased, most states and even the federal government might not be able to pay it. Even the 18,000 minimum wage have not been paid consistently in most states. It will be difficult to pay the wage if we still have clueless governments at all levels; money is continually withdrawn and not generated back into the system. Some states are even paying 25% of the N18, 000 monthly. How do you expect such states to pay N30, 000?’
What interests me about this particular beer parlour is that there are intelligent minds here and the more the drinks consumed, the more the intelligent submissions you have from people. Not everyone was in support of the first man’s opinion that the minimum wage could not be paid and the next person to give his submission proved that to be correct. He said ‘why can’t it be paid? Let me tutor you on the history of this minimum wage struggle, in 1973, the Udoji’s Salaries and Wages Commission recommended that the annual wage be increased from N312 to N612 and eventually to N720. It was later reviewed in 1981 to N125 per month, and was revised in 1991 to N250 per month. It was revised again in 2000 to N5, 500 per month for states, while that of the Federal Government was N7, 500. The current minimum wage of N18, 000 per month was implemented in 2011. All those periods when the minimum wages were increased, Nigeria’s economy was not the best and doubting Thomases like you still felt it won’t be possible but my friend, it can’.
Expectedly, almost everyone feels that the minimum wage should be increased. The next person did not feel otherwise, ‘Let us assume there is no money to pay the workers like my friend said, let us believe that the economy is not well, let us believe almost everything you said, the only thing I won’t believe is that it is not feasible. Nigeria has the money to pay the minimum wage. I don’t understand the real economy and I’m not good at calculating our income as a country, but I can calculate the annual salaries and allowances of those in government. Buhari earns N14.4million and expenses like vehicles, Special Assistants, Personal Assistants, entertainment, security, utility bills, newspapers, medical bills and clothing will be footed by the federal government, Osinbajo earns N12.1million, his duty tour allowance PER NIGHT is N35,000, Saraki receives N8.69million and eastcode of $1,000 per night for foreign trips, as well as, a N37,000 per night duty tour allowance. Even some of the bonuses they earn per-night is almost twice the minimum wage. Let them talk about reduction in their salaries and wages too. If there is money to pay their salaries, there should be money to pay our salaries too’, he said.
I was quite elated when a female voice joined the conversation. She was at home with the Trophy drink on her table and after she finished the first bottle of three others, she said, ‘We have the financial strength to pay over N30, 000 as minimum wage but for wasteful spending, we wouldn’t be able to. In Malawi, when Joyce Banda became the president, she sold the country’s £8.4million Presidential jet and fleet of 60 Mercedes government cars. Since we are poor, we shouldn’t waste money on those things when there are other options. Let the man in power take after that Malawian woman and that is why I still believe that it is only a female president that can save this country’.
The last sentence of her contribution was meant to spark other debates I assume. The idea of who could govern better is one I really do not like to engage in. Just like it is said ‘Men lie; Women lie’. However, one fascinating thing about those who contributed to today’s beer parlour gist is that they all seem prepared. My earlier guess that most have not been paid the month’s salary might be correct after all. Everyone seem to believe that there is a need for the minimum wage to be increased and almost everyone also believed that the federal and state governments have what it takes to pay the minimum wage, if increased.
The next episode of the beer parlour gist might change direction a bit. I heard that there is a particular ‘joint’ called the ‘think tank joint’. Some calls it ‘Convergence’ and Palm wine seem to be what unites people there. Journalists, Lawyers, Teachers and loads of other professionals are said to end the day’s work there but the elderly ones, who did not really get the kind of education these professionals have, drive the discussion. I now hope for two things- that my voyage to ‘convergence’ would worth it and importantly, the palm-wine is original!