By Josef Omorortionmwan
Our hearts bleed for the Nigerian worker. He is at the receiving end of every failing policy. And to the extent that all government policies are failing, he keeps suffering.
It seems like yesterday when we had the era of scarce commodities. You could have some small money in your hands but you didn’t have what to buy with the money. Most production concerns had closed shop in Nigeria and moved to neighbouring countries. There was intense suffering in the land. The middle class had become totally obliterated. In the end, it began to appear that money had ceased from circulation. Everywhere was dry.
In one of those parties we had in Government House in Benin City, this young lecturer from the University of Benin came to us and requested that with our connection, we should kindly show him where he could carry drugs.
Surprised to my bones, I asked him if he knew the implication of what he was requesting for. He would go to prison if he was caught.
The man said, that was exactly what he wanted. Imprisonment would be an improvement on his present state. According to him, as a lecturer, his salary was peanut. There was War Against Indiscipline, which also included the War Against Handouts in the universities which was what they used to augment their paltry income.
He further stated that he was moonlighting by running a taxi with his jalopy after classes but the jalopy has now broken down. He was dying and wondered why he should not go to prison and have some peace. That was how bad it was during the first coming of General Muhammadu Buhari, as it then was.
We told him we did not know any drug running cartel. We counselled him and prayed for him. Maybe the prayers worked. The General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime soon came in and one of the first things it did was introduce an improvement on the welfare of university workers.
When we came across the man later, he was already a professor and was really bubbling with life. We asked if he would still like to be linked to a drug cartel. We laughed and laughed!
The crash of the naira is the moral equivalent of a death sentence to the Nigerian worker. Inflation is the worst form of taxation without representation. As we speak, the dollar is exchanging for more than ₦700 and still climbing! Some Economists see the dollar hitting ₦1000 by the end of the year.
Even granting that the minimum wage of ₦30,000 is to be devoted to transportation alone, – no food, no rent and nothing at all – his take-home pay cannot take him home! Hard times are here again.
How did we get here? The Nigerian economy has now become a subject for discussion in the marketplace. The first thing you are reminded of is that the present Administration promised during the last campaigns that the Naira would be brought at par with the dollar in the life of the administration.
The naira crash was doomsday foretold. About 18 months ago, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State raised the alarm that each time the country was broke, the Central Bank headed for the Mint and reeled out bank notes. He maintained that the Nigerian currency was being printed for the payment of salaries and that the practice would soon land the country in trouble.
The Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, did not quite deny Obaseki’s claim but he quickly retorted, “I am not a politician. The politicians must leave me to do my job”.
We quickly dismissed Obaseki’s claim as the ranting of a drowning man who was desperately seeking relevance.
We, however, warned of the grave consequences of a nation heading for the Mint each time it is broke, drawing heavily on the experience of post- World War II Germany.
Germany was totally broke from the War. It headed for the mint and reeled out the Deutsche Mark (DM) until the DM became worthless. It was no longer worth the paper on which it was printed. Go to the Museum of Natural History in Munich and the first thing they will show you is a letter that was posted within the country. The postage was one million Deutsche Mark. The big envelope had postage stamps pasted all over and they found space to write the balance in long hand.
And now, the bubble has burst! In Nigeria, you are no longer a millionaire if you can count your millions. We have bemoaned unemployment in Nigeria but we now wonder if it is not better to be unemployed than to be working when your take-home pay cannot take you home! For the Nigerian worker, this is a choice between the rock and the hard place.
The worker has always held the shorter end of the stick. In the past, there were deliberate designs intended to cushion the effect of the hard times. For instance, the idea of staff housing schemes in many states has been consigned to history. The purchasing power of his Naira has plummeted almost to zero but the worker works on, even when his take-home pay cannot take him home.
President Buhari suddenly realises that the worker needs an upward review of his salary in view of the prevailing circumstances. Labour is asking for an upward review of 50% of the worker’s salary. All these simply beg the question.
Where do we go from here?