President Bola Tinubu was in Lagos recently. For most Nigerians, the point for discussion was not the projects he came to commission but the large convoy of exotic vehicles that moved around with him. People shared the video of the convoy and wondered why the President chose to display opulence in the face of utter misery and squalor that have imprisoned the vast majority of his citizens for long.


The other day, there was a report that President Tinubu, Vice-President Kashim Shettima and First Lady, Mrs. Remi Tinubu, spent N8.64 billion on travel expenses between June 2023 and March 2024. According to a report in The Punch, this expenditure did not include estacodes of the President’s entourage. The President was also said to have got N650 million as honorarium. Within the same period, the government reportedly spent N12.59 billion on maintenance of the presidential fleet. Again, many Nigerians wondered why we should waste such humongous amount of money on travel expenses while many important sectors of the economy are crying for attention.

What appeared to be the worst wastage was the N90 billion subsidy for 2024 Hajj. This was to support Muslims going to Mecca for pilgrimage. It was supposed to be a personal religious obligation. But only the Tinubu administration can explain why it took such a decision. Some have guessed that it was to woo Muslim voters as 2027 election approaches. Perhaps. Recall that this same government paying pilgrimage subsidy announced the removal of fuel subsidy with glee in May 2023. Misplaced priority!

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have been having a battle of wits with the government over minimum wage. For some years now, the minimum wage has been N30,000 a month. But the organized labour has persistently pushed for a higher wage. At first, they asked for N615,000 a month. This did not fly. They brought it down to N494,000 a month. Still, government dilly-dallied. They went on an indefinite strike last week but later suspended it for five days to make room for further discussions with the government.

So far, there is no respite yet. Last Friday, the Federal Government reportedly proposed N62,000. The state governors said they could not afford it; that they would not have any money remaining for developmental projects if they should pay N60,000 or more. They proposed N57,000. The organized labour reportedly reduced their demand from N494,000 to N250,000. As of press time, it is not certain how the matter will end.

Interestingly, the Edo State Government has moved from N40,000 to N70,000 minimum wage from the month of May, 2024. If Edo could do it, why can’t other states? Some of these states even have more money than Edo. One wonders how water actually entered the coconut of mismanagement of our resources?

Selfish interest of politicians is the major problem. It is not that the federal or state governments cannot pay even N100,000 as minimum wage. They can. But they will prefer to waste billions of naira on some white elephant for pecuniary advantage. They will prefer to buy choice properties in choice cities for their children and generations yet unborn. They will prefer to stockpile money to prosecute the rigging of the next election, knowing that people are disenchanted and may vote them out if elections are free and fair.        

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Having snatched and grabbed power in the last election, all they are after now is to retain that power by all means and probably continue the subjugation of the people. If they have their way, they will arrest all labour leaders and jail them for life. They have already condemned them for shutting down the national grid during their short-lived strike last week. Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), George Akume, described it as treasonable felony and economic sabotage. Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, fumed that labour members overstepped their bounds and should be thankful to God that Nigeria was not in a military regime. The NLC has asked Akume to retract his statement, describing it as deeply troubling.

In any case, let it be known to treason-kite flyers that it is more treasonable to loot public treasury. That is what many of those in power have done over the years. It is also more treasonable to truncate the wishes of the people in an election, which happens to be the cornerstone of democracy.

On Wednesday, June 12, 2024, some of these so-called leaders will beat their chest in celebration of 25 years of Nigeria’s unbroken democracy. We actually attained that milestone on May 29, 2024. But we have to celebrate it on June 12 because former President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2019, signed the law changing our democracy day from May 29 to June 12 every year. This is to recognize the efforts of Chief Moshood Abiola who presumably won the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The then military President, Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the election on flimsy reasons, thus denying Abiola the opportunity to be President. He later died in detention in July 1998.

Were Abiola to be alive, he would not be happy about what is happening to Nigeria’s democracy today. We have only managed to transit from one civilian administration to the other with contentious elections. We have built roads and bridges at highly inflated costs. Some state governments have built airports, not that such projects are viable or necessary, but they need to create an avenue to siphon public funds. The Federal Government is now building Lagos to Calabar coastal highway when there are many other abandoned projects begging for attention and completion. It will cost the nation over N15 trillion to construct this coastal highway. It will be a big surprise if it is not abandoned half way.

As the government continues to waste money, the majority of the citizens continue to groan under the weight of the hardship in the country. Even if N60,000 is paid as minimum wage, it will still not buy a bag of rice in Nigeria today. There is practically no essential commodity whose price has not quadrupled in the last one year. Many families can’t buy food items in bags anymore. Even buying in the one we call ‘painter’ is no longer feasible for many breadwinners. A ‘painter’ of garri is about N4,000. In December 2023, it was about N1,500. A ‘painter’ of beans is about N9,000. A few months ago, it was about N3,000. A ‘painter’ of rice is about N8,000. This is more than the price of a bag of 50kg of this commodity in 2015. Do we talk of tomatoes, pepper, and many other food items?

The country is in a mess currently, but the powers that be appear not perturbed. The National Assembly which should checkmate the executive is not interested in doing that. How can they checkmate the executive when they have been settled with exotic vehicles, ‘prayer money’ and other perks?       

The judiciary also has its problems. Many judges are ready to serve the interests of those who pay the piper. Recently, the Senate passed a bill for a 300 per cent increase in the salaries of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and other judicial officers. The proposed legislation is in consideration of the present economic realities and high inflation in the country. I am happy for them. But why can’t other workers get similar 300 per cent increase in their wage? Will this increase make judicial officers to uphold justice and impartiality as envisaged? The day of reckoning will come when they shall render accounts of how they adjudicated on our electoral petitions and some other cases brought before them.

As for the struggle for an equitable Nigeria, there is no doubt that it will take a long time to achieve. You cannot remove feeding bottle from a hungry baby without her crying out aloud. Those milking the poor masses in Nigeria will not relent. Some of those they are milking appear not bothered because either they are partakers in the looting of public funds or the people in power are their kinsmen, friends or benefactors. The NLC has tried to fight for the people. But some of the same people it is fighting for have accused the body of partisanship and all that. Good luck to workers if they succeed in getting the over N60,000 that has been proposed as minimum wage. They have been browbeaten into suspending their strike. Nevertheless, they have taken a bold step in the right direction.

The next stage of agitation should be to push this government to allocate more resources to the education and health sectors. If we succeed in doing that, we would have engendered a silent revolution without knowing it. If we also succeed in pushing them to restructure the country, it will be in the best interest of the majority of us. For now, let the profligacy stop. Prudence should be the watchword. Once this is observed, there will be more than enough money to pay workers a living wage.

Happy democracy day in advance!   

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