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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I will not implement N18,000 minimum wage – Governor Suswam

After an examination of what he referred to as the reality on ground, Benue State Governor, Chief Gabriel Torwua Suswam said even if civil servants in the state embark on strike for one year, he would not be able to implement the controversial N18,000 minimum wage.
Suswam, who described the national minimum wage issue as a time bomb said the reality on ground dictated that about 90 percent of the states in the federation would not be able to pay the wage .

He spoke with Nigeria Newspapers in Abuja at a reception organized by Senator Barnabas Gemade in honour of two serving ministers from Benue State, Chief Abba Maro, minister for Interior and Dr. Samuel Ortom, minister of State, Trade and Investment.

Only last week, his Niger State counterpart, Governor Babangida Aliyu called for an upward review of the revenue allocation formula for states, saying only such increase would sustain the payment of the minimum wage to civil servants.
Aliyu was reported to have stated that it would be difficult for state governors to pay the wage with the current revenue allocation formula to states, unless their allocation was increased.
According to Aliyu: “As we’re today, we won’t be able to do anything with either revenue formula or with fund that we expect will come from deregulation.”

But Governor Suswam stated: “The change in the revenue formula could be one of the solutions but I’m not sure that if they change that formula, may be what I will be getting in a month will be N5 billion and if I get N5 billion, it won’t solve my problem because out of it, I will spend N4.8 billion. In my own case, even if I shelve it, plus my hair, I won’t be able to pay that minimum wage, that is the fact, it is not sustainable.”
“The fact of the matter is that the reality on ground dictates that about 90 percent of the state would not be able to pay this wage. Apart from six states that would be able to pay, about 30 states in the federation would not be able to pay the minimum wage and that is the reality of it.

“We are all stakeholders in the affairs of this country, what I have advocated for is for us to be realistic on this issue. Let us sit down, the Federal Government, National Assembly and governors so that realistically, we can address this issue, otherwise, it is a time bomb. Let us use my state as an example, my state, Benue has a wage bill of N1.4 billion, what I take from the federation account averagely is N2 billion. So if you spread N1.4 billion, you are left with N600 million to run other things.

“So for me to implement the minimum wage, I need about N4.8 billion, so how do I pay that? The reality on ground is that even if they go on strike for one year, there is no way I can pay.  There are only two options and they are not palatable to anybody. The first option is to rationalize the service and nobody wants that because it creates social problems. And so the reality of the situation is that the Federal Government needs to do what it has to do for the states to be able to attend to these problems.

“I was discussing with the Governor of Kebbi State and he said he needed N3.6billion to pay the minimum wage, where will he get that money? In every developed society, you cannot borrow to service recurrent expenditure, you borrow to service capital expenditure because you expect that there will be returns on that. Once you begin to borrow to service recurrent expenditure, that society will collapse eventually.
“I’m not somebody who would want to play politics with the welfare of people. People are trying to play politics with us, but it will not help us. If there is confusion, the confusion would not know whether this is Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ACN or CPC, confusion will consume everybody, so let us sit down and put politics aside and address issues of welfare and not politics.”

“And so, I just want us to be realistic and stop playing politics. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors, I read in the newspapers have agreed to pay, but I don’t believe anyway. You can’t play politics on this issue, it is not a political matter.
“It is an issue that we should sit down together and address. I was surprised that ACN governors said they will pay. Apart from Lagos, no other state can sustain the payment of the minimum wage. So I don’t think it is right for any group of persons to play politics with it. It is better for us to sit together, so that we can address it realistically.

“You know in the council of states, where this minimum wage was tabled and eventually forwarded to the National Assembly, all the governors were there. Yes, we argued against it, the President felt that the National Assembly should also look into it. The National Assembly eventually approved what was sent to them. The recommendations came from the civil servants, without consultation with the state chief executives because in the meeting, majority of the governors said they were not aware of it. And so it has been approved, they say it is national minimum wage that is the law.

“So if it is national, it is not Federal Government alone, it encompasses all the components parts of the federation. If it is minimum wage for the federal, it is national minimum wage. It has already been signed by the President for the country and so whether you like it or not, you must respect it.
“But the efficacy of every legislation is very important. Now, whether this piece of legislation is efficacious, is another point entirely. But the fact of the matter is that the reality on ground dictates that about 90 percent of the states would not be able to pay this wage.”

“Before this minimum wage was passed into law, one would have expected that in a country where statistics are important, let us know the cost implication of passing a minimum wage of N18, 000 and if you take statistics across the states, Benue for instance, how much do you need to pay if we pass the minimum wage, that would have guided us. That was not done and nobody has the statistics, most state governors don’t even know what they need to pay.”

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