Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Wednesday warned of likely social unrest if the current lockdown imposed on some states to curb the spread of COVID-19 is further extended.
It faulted the palliatives being provided by the federal government to the poor, urging for an expansion of the social register to cover most Nigerians affected by the pandemic.
In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation , Mr. Boss Mustapha, NLC said that the stimulus package should be in consultation with other social partners.
The letter, dated April 14, 2020 and signed by NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, also warned that the extension of the lockdown beyond one month may trigger social unrest.
Wabba urged the federal government to consider how Nigerians are coping with the lockdown before taking any decision on the issue.
“While we understand the public health imperatives for extending the lockdown in some parts of the country, it is also very important to underscore the fact that the states currently under total lockdown are the economic and administrative nerve centres of Nigeria.
“This is very dicey. As much as it is important to keep many Nigerians from dying in the hands of coronavirus, loss of income and the accompanying destitution can also be a pathfinder for numerous other sicknesses and deaths. This is the time to play the balancing game.
“The truth is that our economy might relapse into prolonged coma if the current lockdown in the nation’s nerve centres goes beyond the current extension,” he said.
Wabba added that prolonged lockdowns are best effective in the short-term, while with the medium to long-term, the human instinct to survive would kick in and restraint might lead to the collapse of law and order.
He said within the first two weeks of the lockdown in some parts of the country, “there were widespread acts of civil disobedience, inducement of law enforcement agents to gain passes and even various forms of violent crimes.
“No one is sure how long this dam would hold. We fear that the situation will get out of hand if the lockdown exceeds one month.
“While we commend government for being proactive, we opine that the stimulus package would be best served through consultation with social partners.
“Labour and private sector employers have a good understanding of industries where jobs and production are in most danger,” it said.
On palliatives, the NLC called for an improvement in the distribution system through increased stakeholders’ participation.
“Mass-based organisations such as labour has the grassroots presence, especially at wards and units, and can ensure that palliatives get to those who really need them – the poorest of the poor who cannot afford a meal per day. We posit that using the old platform will not deliver the desired result.
“The most critical need of the poorest of the poor among us is to beat hunger. Government palliatives should be tailored in a way that guarantees poor Nigerians, especially daily income earners at least two daily meals. Thus, we call for an expansion of the national social register to capture individual Nigerian workers who do not live with their families,” it said.
NLC also explained that resources provided for the national school feeding programme should be re-channelled to feeding the poor, the aged and the destitute.
The union also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to include other social partners on the inter-ministerial economic response of the pandemic.
“Beyond the threat of COVID-19 to health and life, there are also very real threats to livelihood. Jobs are under threat. Many employees are finding it difficult to source money to keep workers at work and sustain the production lines. It has been projected that the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 would ripple on, at least, for the next two years.
“Many countries around the world are mobilising resources to deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many governments have set up COVID-19 response teams devoted to economic and income recovery. Governments are also engaging with organised labour to find a human faced approach to dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 pandemic,” the NLC stated.