People gather in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, for a campaign rally of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, January 21 2019. Picture: AFP/AUDU MARTE
People gather in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, for a campaign rally of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, January 21 2019. Picture: AFP/AUDU MARTE

Abuja — Nigeria’s government is recommending a 50% rise in the minimum wage, weeks before a presidential election where the cost of living has become a major issue.

Labour minister Chris Ngige says the government will send a bill to parliament proposing an increase in the minimum monthly salary to 27,000 naira ($88) from the current level of 18,000 naira.

Africa’s top oil producer and most populous nation relies on crude sales for about two-thirds of government revenue, but lower prices pushed it into recession in 2016.

Though it emerged from the downturn in early 2017, growth remains weak and inflation hit a seven-month high of 11.44% in December.

Unions went on strike in 2018 year over the minimum wage, initially demanding a rise to 50,000 naira a month.

President Muhammadu Buhari, whose bid for re-election on February 16 faces a strong challenge from main opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, said in January he would increase the minimum wage but had not specified by how much.

“The National Council of State has approved a minimum wage of 27,000 monthly. A bill to this effect is to be forwarded to the National Assembly,” Ngige told reporters in Abuja.

Some government workers could receive a higher salary of 30,000 naira a month, the labour minister added.

He did not say when the bill would be sent to legislators.

Ngige announced the bill shortly before the central bank’s monetary policy committee decided to hold its benchmark interest rate at 14%. 

“The MPC [monetary policy committee] already made clear in its November statement that members do not consider a minimum wage increase, on its own, to be inflationary, given the current underperformance of the economy, and subdued demand,” said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered.

“The big question then is whether the minimum wage increase might prove to be the precursor to other post-election reforms,” she added.

The government has previously argued that many of Nigeria’s 36 states struggle to meet existing salaries but unions said a review is needed because the last one was seven years ago.

Reuters