Eric Teniola

The last minimum wage bill in Nigeria was signed on September 3, 1981, by President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari. It was N125.00 per month, which is the equivalent of N45,000.00 now. At that time, the dollar was equal to N1, so I can’t understand why the government is refusing to pay a minimum wage of N30,000.00 per month now. The bill was passed by the House of Representative on August 8, 1981, while the Senate passed the bill on August 31, 1981. Earlier, the House of Representatives approved N100.00 per month as the national minimum wage, while the Senate approved N125.00 per month. But the joint committee of both Houses, after deliberations, agreed on N125.00 per month. The chairman of the House Committee on Labour then was Chief Edet Bassey Etienam from Mbokpa-Eyokun in Oron local government area of present-day Akwa Ibom State. Other members of the labour committee of the House of Representatives were Mr. Aliyu Shehu, Mr. Rilwanu Garba, Mr. A.D.O. Abubakar Abutu, Mr. Muh Ali Keita, Alhaji Suleiman Aliyu, Mr. J.O. Odebunmi, Mr. Kemte Giadom, Alhaji Yakubu Hussaini, Mr. David Adelu, Mr. O. Olaniyan, Mr. B.J. Abegunde, Mr. S.A. Oduntan, Mr. A. Ogunseye, Mr. Yusuf Mohammed, Mr. P.C. Okeke, Mr. J.C. Ngwu, Mr. M.A. Agbamuche, Mr. I. Obasi, Mr. Uba Iliya Garki, Alhaji Abamada Nafada, Alhaji Datti Malumfashi, Mr.Yerima Adamu and Mr. James Nzalak.

The chairman of Senate Committee on Labour at that time was Senator Joseph Asuquo Ansa, GNPP, from Ikot-Ansa, Qua Town, Calabar Municipality in Akanpa Local Government Srea of Cross River State. His deputy was Senator Ayoola Raji Adeleke from Ede in the present Osun State. Senator Adeleke was the father of former Governor of Osun State, the late Senator Isiaka Adeleke, also father to the incumbent Senator Ademola Adeleke and father to Chief Deji Adeleke, a businessman, who is also father to Davido, a hip-hop star. Other members of the Senate Committee on Labour were Senators Onyeabo Obi, F.J. Ellah, Kunle Oyero, Olubode Oni, G.M. Dada, Andrew Abogede, Garba Gada, Ibrahim Dimis and Sabo Bakin Zuwo.

The Minister of Labour then was Chief Samuel Adebisi Ogedengbe (February 16, 1938 – April 28, 1998) from Oka-Akoko in the present Ondo State. Before being appointed minister, he was the principal of African Comprehensive College in Oka-Akoko. The Nigerian Labour Congress then was led by Alhaji Hassan Adebayo Sunmonu, from Osogbo in Osun State, but born in the village of Akim Eshiem, in Ghana. Throughout the negotiations, Sunmonu was living in a three-bedroom rented apartment in Akoka, Lagos. I must, however, commend past and present leaders of the NLC who, in spite of pressure, have not betrayed Nigerian workers.

I have in mind Chief Michael Imoudu, Wahab Goodluck, Shehu Kangiwa, Lasisi Osunde, Ali Ciroma, Adams Oshiomhole, Pascal Bafyau, Omar Abdulwaheed and the incumbent, Ayuba Wabba. Sunmonu later became the secretary-general of Organisation of African Trade Union (OATUU).

In 1980, Sunmonu coordinated effectively the demand for national minimum wage during Shagari’s tenure. Two times he led a nationwide strike on the issue.

In June 1980, President Shagari formed a bipartisan committee to address the issue on minimum wage. Members of the committee included the late Governor Sam Onanuka Mbakwe(1929 – 2004), NPP, from Avutu-Etiti then governor of Imo State, Alhaji Muhammed Goni from Karafo, Mobba Local Government, GNPP, then governor of Borno State, Alhaji Abubakar Tatari Ali(1929 – 1993), NPN, from Katagum, then governor of Bauchi State, Professor Ambrose Folorunso Alli (1929 – 1989) born in Ido-Ani in the present Ondo State but from Ekpoma (UPN), then governor of Bendel State, Chief Victor Olabisi Onabanjo (1927 – 1990) from Ijebu-Ode (UPN), then governor of Ogun State, Chief Melford Obiene Okilo (1933
– 2018) from Emakalakala in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State (NPN), then governor of Rivers State, Alhaji Abuba- kar Rimi (1940 – 2010), PRP, then governor of Kano State, and Chief Solomon Daushep Lar (1933 – 2010), from Langtang, NPP, then governor of Plateau State. At that time there was no governors’ forum but President Shagari carried all the governors along. The bill was finally passed after much strike on September 3, 1981. It was certified by the then clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Gidado Idris, GCON, (1935 – 2017). Present at the event was the then Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme (1932 – 2017) from Oko, Orumba North Local Govern- ment of Anambra State, the chairman of the National Assembly, Dr. Joseph Wayas, from Basang, Obudu Local Government of Cross River State, who was the Senate President, and Chief Edwin Ume Ezeoke (1935 – 2011), from Nnewi in the present Anambra State, who was then Speaker of the House of Representatives. Also present was the special adviser to the President on National Assem- bly affairs, Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915 – 1990), from Arondizuogu, Orlu Division of Imo State, and his deputy, Alhaji Salihu Abubakar Tanka Yakasai, from Kano. Between 1952 and 1966, Yakasai was public- ity secretary of Northern Elements Progres- sive Union (NEPU) of Alhaji Aminu Kano.

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The bill was passed under Sub-section 1 of Section 54 of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In presenting the bill for President Shagari’s assent, Mbadiwe said, “It is our hope that the lowest paid workers who will directly benefit from this exercise will in turn increase their productivity to justify their increase in their income.”

After assenting to the bill, President Shagari declared, “Let me now only add that this administration will not fold its arms while inflation pre-empts the advantages, which this improved national wage is designed to confer. We will intensify steps to improve on the supply and distribution of basic commodities throughout the country. We will strive to frustrate the evil machinations of such unpatriotic Nigerians as may wish to cash in on this increased National Minimum Wage to the detriment of workers and to the disadvantage of our country. Nothing comes out of unreasonable and incessant demands, or from threats of industrial strife. Economic sabotage and all other actions detrimental to the welfare of our country must be avoided. Our labour unions, by the sheer force of responsible opinion, must make it impossible for their leaders to assume confrontational postures, or set on a course of unredeeming state of social and political unrest, to the advantage of none.”

The bill No. 6 of 1981 reads thus: “1(1) As from the commencement of this Act, it shall be the duty of every employer (except as provided for under this Act) to pay a wage not less than a national minimum wage of N125 per month to every worker under his establishment. (2) Any agreement for the payment of wages less than the national minimum wage as prescribed in sub-section (1) above, shall be void and of no effect whatsoever. 2. (1) The provisions of sub-section (1) of section 1 above shall not apply to:
(a) an establishment in which less than 50 workers are employed (b) an establishment in which workers are employed on part-time basis; (c) an establishment at which workers are paid on commission or on piece rate basis; (d) workers in seasonal employment such as agriculture; (e) any person employed in a vessel or aircraft to which the laws regulating merchant shipping or civil aviation apply. 2) The Minister may by order published in the Gazette grant other exemptions as he deems necessary in the interest of the national economy taking into consideration reports from Wages Boards or such other body might make representation for exemption on this behalf. 3. (1) An employer shall pay to the worker a wage not less than the national minimum wage, clear of all deductions (except any deductions required by law or deductions in respect of contributions to provident or pension funds or schemes agreed to by the workers and approved by the Minister) and, if the employer fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to a fine not exceeding N100 and in the case of continuing offence to a fine not exceeding N10 for each day during which the offence continues.”


• Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos