Lagos, Nigeria – When Yusuf Mogaji joined the Federal Civil Service of Nigeria as a non-teaching staff at the University of Ilorin in 2015, he dreamed of building his own house. His monthly salary of 46,000 naira (then worth $236) was enough to support himself and his family and even buy half a plot of land (300 square meters) later that year.
Eight years and four civil service appointments later, the land remains untouched and Mogaji’s aspirations are no longer a priority as he struggles to feed his family of three and himself.
The value of the naira has fallen so much that even though his take-home salary increased to N57,000, the dollar equivalent in 2023 is $68.06, which is $167.94 less than what he earned in 2015. Nearly half of the new revenue is now spent on transporting it to and from my job.
“Is it the money that isn’t even enough to feed me that I’m going to use to invest? There was a time when government work was great, but today there is nothing like that,” Mogaji said.
Since 2015, Nigeria has experienced two recessions and its economy has been ravaged by the vagaries of global oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. In June, the country’s Debt Management Office said the government was servicing debt of at least 73.5 percent of its revenue, leaving it struggling to meet its debt obligations. fundamental responsibilities.
Inflation is currently at an 18-year high – at 26 percent – in Nigeria as the naira continues to fall against the dollar. Economic realities became grimmer when Bola Tinubu, elected president in February, devalued the naira and removed a decades-old fuel subsidy that had helped lower the cost of living. Mogaji has reduced the amount of food and household items he buys, including rice, semolina and even diapers, as their prices have tripled.
The Nigeria Labor Congress, a major labor coalition in the country, has repeatedly threatened to paralyze the economy to protest the government’s refusal to increase workers’ wages despite the huge rise in the cost of living. The minimum wage in Nigeria currently stands at 33,000 naira ($39.40).
During the independence speech, the government compromised by opting for an additional salary increase of 35,000 naira ($41.79) for six months. Al Jazeera spoke to Mogaji and three other workers who said it was barely enough.
“Even the salary is just for food and the rest is for traveling to work, there is nothing left. And they (the government) said that the palliative was six months. After six months, will things go back to the way they were before? We will be back to square one,” he said.
“A hammer and a hard place”
As Nigeria’s economy deteriorates, an increase in the minimum wage is the main demand of various workers’ unions. Wage increases cannot happen because Africa’s largest economy is bankrupt and can barely finance its spending, experts say. Temporary remedies, they add, will do little to help beneficiaries.
“There is no other answer than to bring inflation down and keep it low. The honest truth is that for anyone who earns naira, a 26 percent inflation rate guarantees that you will go nowhere, no matter who you are; your monthly salary doesn’t matter more or less,” said Joachim MacEbong, senior analyst at Lagos-based economic research firm Stears.
“The money just isn’t there.” Nigeria’s total income is five trillion naira or less; you can’t do anything with that amount of money for a country of 200 million people,” he said.
Workers say they are not responsible for the country’s situation, amid decades of corruption and wasteful public spending during an economic boom.
“Unfortunately, this type of governance comes at a cost, because it does not seek to avoid long-term suffering. There’s nothing we can do,” Amara Nwankpa, director of public policy initiatives at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “We can postpone it for another year or two, but at the end of the day, the chickens will always come home to roost and that is the reality: Nigerian workers are between a rock and a hard place. »
“A decent salary”
Since Tinubu announced his series of economic reforms, many workers, even at the state level, have been calling for comprehensive policies to cushion the associated shocks.
Food inflation in Nigeria reached 30.64 percent in September, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. According to SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical consultancy, inflation has made even basic foods like Jollof rice, a popular food, out of reach. Similarly, electricity rates have increased by 40 percent and fuel now costs 700 naira ($0.84) per liter (0.26 gallon). Transportation and other amenities are also increasingly out of reach for workers.
Tunde Taiwo* (name changed for fear of reprisals), 31, is a sergeant in the Lagos Neighborhood Safety Corps, a security agency established by the state government to combat urban crime. His work often puts him in danger. Last year he was overpowered and brutalized by thugs.
When his October salary of 50,000 naira ($59.70) before taxes arrived, three loan companies shared it.
“It’s not like I want loans, but when your family suffers, what will you do? What is the point of doing government work when you can’t even feed your family? Taiwo, who has been working for the government for five years, said. And that is why it is not disturbed by temporary increases.
“They should give us a living wage that we can count on, not a minimum wage, the way we live is not up to any standard of living,” he said.
Experts say the government may have missed the opportunity to introduce safety nets because it wasted boom years. “The government must go after the low-hanging fruit, which can target the vulnerable and most affected people in the country, such as food and other energy sources, which can have an immediate impact,” said Nwankpa.