As economic hardship bites harder, labour has put on its armour and it is heading to the trenches to battle government over high cost of goods and services, hike in electricity tariff and fuel scarcity, writes Paul Obi
Nearly eleven months after coming into power, the honeymoon currently being enjoyed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is about to end as the organised labour is heading to the trenches over the state of the economy and the hardship being experienced by the mas, ses and workers. Labour has threatened to embark on a warning strike. Though government is making a passionate appeal for understanding, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is insisting the ominous signs that Nigerians are in for tough times are glaring with the policy choices of government which have put untold harship on the people.
Since January this year, NLC’s anger has been building up and it climaxed at the just concluded Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting of the union held in Abuja. At the meeting, NLC accused government of poor handling of the economy, maintaining that the special interests that characterised the past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led administration still exist and has metamorphosed into a monster, with IMF and World Bank as the forerunners, holding the country hostage economically.
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who made the position of Labour on the state economy known at the meeting contended that Nigeria’s economic prospects have nose-dived. He argued that the current economic index remains unfavourable to the working class, thereby dashing the hopes of Nigerians who had hoped that Buhari’s change mantra would usher in some material benefits.
“The Naira continues to fall against the major currencies; inflation continues to rise, commodity prices mount, the productive sector continues to shrink with more loss of jobs. Very few employers are paying salaries as and when due. We need no telling that the situation is serious,” the NLC president maintained.
Surrounded by members of the CWC, Wabba had observed that Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) had not shown any indication that the economic fortunes of the country would improve soon, citing the electricity tariff increment and the endless fuel queues all over the country. “The tariff increase has remained, and under a worsening power supply situation. Not a few Nigerians are groaning under this burden. Not a few of them look to the Congress for a solution. Even with this increase there is no light and there are indications that the privatisation might not work. We demand that the entire process of privatisation be reviewed.” “Government said the increment is a bitter pill that we have to swallow; we say that the increase is a bitter pill we can vomit. The tariff is both illegal and it is outrageous, the increase is not bearable,” Wabba stated.
According the NLC president, the prevailing economic downturn and its severe consequences would no longer be accepted by the Nigerian worker.
“We must however make the point that spells of scarcity will not be acceptable to Labour and other Nigerians because the human and economic costs are unimaginable…
“Because of the place of petroleum products in the lives of the citizenry, its scarcity even for a day generates ripple and crippling effects. We dare say one of the fastest ways for government to lose its credibility before the ordinary citizenry is scarcity of petroleum products because the combined effects of scarcity of petroleum products and low power supply create misery for the people as well as have a damning impact on travel, jobs, productivity and the economy as a whole,” Wabba said.
The position of labour on the economy has continued to receive support from other stakeholders. Human Rights Activist, Femi Falana, SAN, who also attended the NLC CWC meeting, berated government for the hardship currently being experienced by the people.
“We didn’t vote change for agony, we didn’t vote change for tyranny, we fully endorse NLC resolutions for strike,” Falana said.
He took a swipe of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr Ibe Kachukwu, over his back and forth comments on the solution to the lingering fuel crisis.
“Today he says fuel scarcity will end in May, tomorrow, he said he’s not a magician. Somebody is supervising himself because there’s no NNPC board,” Falana said.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)last week also descended heavily on the Buhari government, accusing it of pursuing a change mantra without transformation. ASUU President, Dr Nasir Isa, while tackling the government on the state of the economy, said: “There is no doubt that Nigerians are suffering. There exists a socioeconomic crisis in Nigeria. We are all aware of the manifestations of the crisis which our country faces. There are many symptoms of the crisis: rising level of poverty; increasing rate of unemployment; heightened expectation leading to heightened frustration among Nigerians due to the failure to realise an improved living standard.”
Isa who was accompanied by former ASUU President, Dr Dipo Fasina, stated that economic indicators point to the danger Nigerians now faced, specifically, as it concerns their standard of living.
“Food prices are higher and access to health facilities has not improved; live and property remains insecure. In short, Nigerian people are still suffering,” he said, adding, “The disappointment of Nigerians stems from the fact that we have a government whose leadership promised change but which is not practising transformation (deep, fundamental change).”
He said, “Democracy is essentially popular participation in governance and popular sovereignty. Yet, there is in existence a long term national development plan agreed upon 2008 (Nigeria Vision 20: 2020). This has been abandoned in favour of IMF/World Bank imposed and enforced Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEFF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP)”.
But government is not leaving things to chances. It has been pleading for understanding on the state of the economy assuring that efforts are being made to end the hardship of the masses.
It is also urging Nigerians to await the intervention of the National Assembly in the tariff saga.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, told a gathering of Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies in Abuja that government will abide by the laws in resolving all economic crises.
“The dispute over the increment in electricity tariff is right before the National Assembly and it is only right that as law abiding social partners that all parties afford the National Assembly (opportunity) to arbitrate,” Ngige said.