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‘Our framework to cushion hardship on Nigerians is being frustrated by govt’

By Collins Olayinka (Abuja)  and Gloria Nwafor (Lagos)
03 September 2023   |   3:55 am
The alleged unwillingness of the Federal Government to advance discussions and negotiations with organized labour on modalities to adopt in reducing the hardship occasioned by oil subsidy removal has been described as insensitive and callous.

NLC in fresh face-off with President Tinubu over oil subsidy removal. Pix: Newswire Law and Event

• Warning strike to show preparedness for total shutdown of economy later this month —NLC
• ‘To cushion hardship, give wage awards, address housing, transport costs’
• N5b to states irrational, could be used to provide CNG-powered buses — Garuba
• Low wages worsening working poor’s situation, says Emmanuel

The alleged unwillingness of the Federal Government to advance discussions and negotiations with organized labour on modalities to adopt in reducing the hardship occasioned by oil subsidy removal has been described as insensitive and callous.

Twelve weeks after the removal and government’s pledge to meet with the labour union on the way forward, it not only failed on its pledge, it also sidelined the organized labour in its decision and disbursement of N185 billion to the state governments and FCT as palliatives, among other commodities.

The development may now spur another round of labour unrest, perhaps indefinitely, across board, and may further bring the nation to its knees.
At the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) restated its disappointment at the slow pace of discussion with the government. It berated the Federal Government for not engaging the union on recent policies that are eroding the purchasing power of the working population.

In a communique signed by the Congress President, Joe Ajaero and the General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboajah, NLC said: “The Federal Government has refused to engage and reach an agreement with organised labour on the critical issues of the consequences of the unfortunate hike in the price of petrol, which has unleashed massive suffering on Nigerian workers and masses. ”

The union then threatened that it would “embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days… until steps are taken by the government to address the excruciating mass suffering and impoverishment being experienced around the country.”

Stakeholders and members of organised labour stressed the need for the Federal Government to always ensure the concerns of the masses are put first before embarking on policies and actions that could further impoverish the citizens.

Aside from failing to inaugurate the Presidential Steering Committee and sub-committees created to design frameworks on such areas of intervention as Cash Transfers, Social Investment Programme (SIP), Cost of Governance, Energy, Mass Transit and Housing, Labour is also displeased with the N5b each, totalling N185 billion given to the state governments, partly as loan and grant.

Describing how the labour group sees the disbursement, Ajaero said: “That you allocate five billion naira to the states to buy rice and distribute is disturbing. If you share five billion worth of rice with a local council, they won’t get one cup each.

“If we had accepted the position of the Bureau of Statistics, that we have 133 million Nigerians that are multidimensionally poor before the subsidy removal, after the subsidy removal, the number must have increased or doubled.

“N185 billion among all the states and the FCT, and dividing it by 133 million people is around N1,500 per person. Is that palliative? To make the matter worse, the money is handed over to the governors. We know that any money given to the governors is not meant for the people. Money given by former Presidents to governors to pay salaries was never used to pay workers’ salaries. This lamentation has continued and on and on.”

The NLC chief bemoaned the delay in negotiating the details of the palliatives that will cushion the effects of the rising energy costs, especially that of petrol.
He also hinted that the organised labour movement will resist any fresh attempt to further increase the pump price of petrol from the present N617 per litre.

“We met with the government and they promised to do something within eight weeks. Today is almost 12 weeks, nothing has happened. There is an attempt by marketers to move the pump price above N700 per litre. We have warned the so-called market forces that if the price is moved upward, we are not going to accept that,” Ajaero said.

He restated that the labour movement was ready to chart a new direction to make sure it serves its people. “For Nigerians who have passed through slavery, passed through colonialism, passed through all manner of subsidy removal and passed through SAP, you removed the subsidy on petrol for more than 12 weeks now without anything on the ground. The poverty is much. The level of unemployment in Nigeria is unimaginable,” he stated.

An independent researcher and development consultant, Dauda Garuba, described the five billion naira each given to the state government as the most irrational step from government he has seen in a long time.
“The distribution of N5 billion to each state for palliative is, to me, the most irrational thinking of our government. It will only enrich our governors, judging from our experience of COVID-19 palliatives and releases of outstanding 13 per cent derivation funds to Niger Delta state governments. Any thinking government should not be targeting consumption at this moment for such a huge amount of money. Put together that N5 billion into 36 (states), it will be N180 billion. That will go a long way in financing mass transit in our cities. It will be able to finance the repair of our moribund refineries. It will be able to deliver at least a new refinery, no matter the size. Let us think.”

On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of Dairy Hills Limited, Kelvin Emmanuel, said the government must realise that missing and unreliable data is at the heart of corruption in Nigeria.
He said: “I hope that this government realises that at the heart of the corruption in delivering palliatives to the weakest link, is our lack of integration of the National Identification System and the BVN as a tool to directly distribute conditional cash transfer.”

He added that the NLC threatening industrial action is a signal that an impending hike in PMS prices might be imminent, drawn from the poor management of Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves and rising crude oil prices.
He submitted that with food inflation rising and companies in the real sector grappling with supply chain constraints from foreign exchange and energy prices, the situation completely negates the claim by the National Bureau of Statistics that Nigeria’s labour markets can be aligned with the ILO standards.

In Nigeria, Emmanuel noted, about 62 per cent of the population earn less than $100 per month, saying, “Wages are not calculated per hour, neither are they indexed to inflation, there are no proper labour laws to guide against abuse like casualisation from Human Resource outsourcing.

“Claiming that Nigeria’s unemployment rate is 4.1 per cent sets a dangerous precedent, especially when you consider that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria relies on the data given to make decisions,” he added.
A top official of the CBN, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said government should have attempted to kill the corruption in fuel subsidy programme and not Nigerians with untold hardship.

He said with the hardship Nigerians have been facing since the removal of fuel subsidy, more than 20 million Nigerians would have been added to the 133million poverty bracket, projecting it to a figure of about 150 million poor Nigerians.

“We want to help the government to put the people at the centre of their policies and actions and also succeed in governing. It is our responsibility to take action and government must listen to us and not the policies of the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he said.
To cushion the hardship, he said government should put in place wage awards for workers, tackle issues of cost of housing, governance, access to health and moratorium for those in the informal sector with the active support of state governments as well as provide an alternative to petrol so that Nigerians will have access to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

All these, he said, would have a positive impact on household incomes for workers and Nigerians.
“We have worked out all the modalities but government is not forthcoming. Our warning strike is to tell government that we are prepared for the ultimate shutdown of the economy later in the month until government sees that what we are saying is the truth,” he added.

Similarly, former President of the Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), an organisation of registered/licenced recruiters in Nigeria, Aderemi Adegboyega, urged government to legislate into existence a new national minimum wage, considering the challenges now.
He said even as the wage is due for next year, rather than government sharing monies in the form of conditional cash transfers and other palliatives that do not get to the masses, a law could be reviewed on minimum wage, based on prevailing circumstances.

“You don’t have to wait till next year. It is a law and not an agreement. The solution is to review the minimum wage floor and let everybody take a cue from there. Giving people money through conditional cash transfers is not workable and most time, is shrouded in secrecy,” he said.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale Oyerinde, who could not comment on the strike notice by the NLC, said it was a different ball game for the private sector.
He said the body would continue on its strategy of engagement, even as employers have continued to proffer different solutions to mitigate hardship on their workers.

“We will continue our strategy of engagement with government. On our part, we have increased our mode of working from home to reduce pressure on the cost of transportation, increased allowances, adjusted salaries and come up with schemes to help workers buy products in bulk at manufacturers’ price. We have made proactive efforts to mitigate pressure on our staff,” he said.