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SANs debate issue of national minimum wage

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By Usman Oladimeji

Senior lawyers have differing opinions on the minimum wage issue.

The ongoing dispute over a new National Minimum Wage between the organized labor and the federal government has attracted the attention of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). Various SANs have differing opinions on whether the potential agreement should apply to state governments. During an interview, the senior lawyers unanimously acknowledged that the matter of living wage falls within the Exclusive List on Item 34 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution. This section grants the National Assembly the authority to establish a national minimum wage for the entire Federation or specific regions.

In their opinion, Mallam Ahmed Raji (SAN), Dayo Akinlaja (SAN), Reverend John Baiyesea (SAN), Prof. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Ebun Adegboruwa (SAN) and Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) emphasized the importance of recognizing Nigeria as a federation, advocating for separate negotiations between federating units according to their financial capabilities. On the other hand, Moses Ebute (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Human Rights lawyer and a past Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Abuja Branch and Abiodun Olatunji (SAN) stressed that according to Section 4 of the Constitution, only the National Assembly has the authority to make laws regarding the National Minimum Wage in Nigeria.

Matter of minimum wage cannot be decided by individual states.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have criticized the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) for claiming that most states cannot afford to pay ₦60,000, calling it dishonest. However, Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde has maintained that state governments should have the opportunity to resolve the matter with organized labor. Adegboruwa emphasized that the Constitution specifically grants the National Assembly exclusive authority to legislate on matters concerning the national minimum wage for the entire federation.

Ebute pointed out that Nigeria, despite being a federation, lacks the typical characteristics of other federations. Unlike countries where independent states unite to create a federation, Nigeria’s constituent states were established through laws. Therefore, the matter of living wage cannot be decided by individual states. Olatunji, a respected senior lawyer, pointed out that governors play a role in negotiations to safeguard their interests. He emphasized that once the national minimum wage becomes law, all states must comply. Nevertheless, states with stronger financial positions have the freedom to offer Salaries higher than the living wage.

Disparities in wealth should be taken into consideration.

Adegboruwa said the National Assembly would face a challenge in creating Legislation to establish a minimum wage for Lagos State, Kano State, or Rivers State. He also maintained that the federal government lacks the authority to represent the states in negotiations regarding living wage for employees. Speaking, Nwobike emphasized that state governments, as legal entities, maintain independence and have the right to engage in discussions with their specific labor unions in order to establish enforceable agreements.

Reverend John Baiyesea (SAN) noted that disparities in wealth should be taken into consideration when determining workers salaries. Rather than expecting rich states like Lagos, Kano, and Rivers to pay the same wages as poorer states like Kwara, Ekiti, Niger, and Zamfara, negotiations should be conducted on a state-by-state basis, taking into account each state’s individual capacities and capabilities. He mentioned that approximately 10 states are still struggling to meet the ₦30,000 wage requirement set by the National Minimum Wage Act of 2019, which was passed by the National Assembly.

Related Article: FG adjusts national minimum wage to ₦62,000

Likewise, Dayo Akinlaja and Mallam Ahmed Raji both emphasized the importance of considering the disparities in resources among states when determining living wage. Akinlaja argued that it is unreasonable for all states to be required to pay the same minimum wage, while Raji proposed that each state should have the autonomy to negotiate their minimum wage based on their financial capabilities. Falana, a human rights lawyer, argued that under Section 4 of the Constitution, only the National Assembly has the authority to create laws regarding the National Minimum Wage in Nigeria.


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