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Come on, NLC/TUC, let’s talk this over… – Part 2


 NLC members protest along Maryland, Lagos

NLC members protest along Maryland, Lagos

Continued from yesterday

Labour claimed that the removal of subsidy led, within 48 hours, to rapid depreciation in the value of the Naira and wondered if the national currency would not become entirely useless soon, against the American dollar. This ‘11th hour’ alarm raised by labour probably indicates that it has forgotten the wise saying of our forefathers that when a child stumbles, he looks in her front but when an elder stumbles, he looks backwards (to know the cause). Labour, which, ideally, should also function as an independent economic think-tank, ought to have known that the catastrophic manner in which Nigeria has been managed for much of the last 36 years could not but end up bankrupting the country.

What do you expect to see, as testimony to the mind-boggling squandering and looting that characterised much of this period? A first world, blossoming economy? And what has labour contributed to stop the  ‘heists,’ stop the hemorrhage, confront the  ‘devourers’ in Abuja, in Lagos, in the various state capitals? Why, for instance, has labour been unable to mount an effective ‘OccupyNationalAssembly’ to prevail on the legislators to cut down drastically, the hugely disproportionate amount of national resources they are appropriating to themselves in exchange for little or no job-value. Likewise, most of the executive arms of government across the nation indulge in sumptuous and excessive spending even when school children have no classrooms, hardworking teachers go hungry and public medical facilities exist only in name? In what tangible manner has labour helped the Nigerian people to confront the perpetrators of these manifestations of mal-governance?

Despite (the) demonstration of facts to the contrary, labour continues to persist in the wrong belief that (multiple) constructions of (government-owned) refineries would guarantee continued and uninterrupted availability of cheap fuel to Nigerians. If the first set of (four) government refineries fell apart and nearly became moribund, what guarantee is there that a new set of (costly) refineries would not know the same fate years down the line? If public ownership and monopoly of production facilities is the way to sustainable economic success and prosperity, labour should step forward and tell us how come the former Soviet Union fell apart and Cuba, after more than 56 years of communism, could not progress beyond its present level.

Even then, there is much to blame the government for, too. When government policy-actions call for belt-tightening on the part of the citizenry, as is the case now, government itself must show in words and deeds that it is tightening its own belt too. That sends powerful signals that the government is standing on a moral high ground before calling on the citizens to make sacrifices. So far, the administration has not shown that it is dead serious about cutting severely down the cost of governance. Just last week, an influential minister of in the government was reported to have approved plans to borrow (from one of his ministry’s parastatals) over N13 million to fund a trip to China for a yet-to-be-disclosed mission. In my own estimation, the planned trip could not be worth much more than a sight-seeing  ‘sky-walk’  to China.

And just a few months earlier, it was the Vice President’s (office) that was reported to have secured a budget for books in an amount sufficient to stock a few university libraries in the country. There, again, a wrong signal was being sent. Now, think of how many lives you can change forever in many a Nigerian rural community by injecting a sum of N13 million in small-enterprise projects in such a community! President Buhari himself also voluntarily committed to pruning down the presidential fleet of jets inherited from the “Jonathanian era” but that has yet to be done. Yes, the President has done well in abolishing security votes for a wide array of public-sector executives; he must do more, by leading the crusade for the abolition of security votes, nationwide. If state governors in America, from which we copied our presidential system of government and with which we share the federal structure of political architecture, do not have security votes, what do our own governors do with such votes? In any case, where is the security?

Over the next 48 hours, the leadership of the labour unions should find a way to reopen a mutually-respectful dialogue with the government and talk this over; the threatened strike is not a fatality.

However, my suggestions to the government would be these:

Do not attempt to suppress the action ; get the labour leaders committed to a peaceful, non-violent action ; provide adequate police coverage for all their gatherings to prevent acts of hooliganism

Let the Nigerian people themselves voice out their choice, between cheap, subsidised fuel they cannot find to use in pursuing their legitimate occupations and costlier but readily available fuel that they can find and consume in the minimal, most rational way of their choosing
Convince Nigerians beyond doubt that the resources freed from fuel subsidy and saved from fuel scammers shall not end up with another set of ‘devourers’ but would benefit Nigerians across the length and breadth of the nation, in tangible, direct impact programmes and long-lasting soft and hard infrastructure.

Do not reverse this policy position, no matter how long the strike lasts ; doing so would impair the legitimacy and imperil the credibility of the government ; indeed, President Buhari would do well to remember that former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Hilda Thatcher once faced a vicious, year-long strike (March 1984-March 1985) by the National Union of Mine workers opposed to Thatcher’s reform of the coal industry that called for reduction in subsidy to that (energy) industry. Mrs. Thatcher faced down the unionists, the striking miners eventually backed down and the Thatcher government was able to consolidate its reform programme.

• Concluded.
• Lafiaji, an economist, served as Executive Secretary of the African Petroleum Producers’ Association, Brazzaville, Congo.

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