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Adeyemi: Government paying lip service to diversification




Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and President, Public Service International Africa, Peters Adeyemi, has added his voice to the opposition against sale of national assets to fund the budget in this interview with COLLINS OLAYINKA

What is your view on calls by some prominent Nigerians on government to raise cash by selling some national assets, to get Nigeria out of the present economic recession?
Our position on the sale of national assets and adoption of privatisation of public assets has been very consistent. Labour movement both in Nigeria and outside have said it is against privatisation of public institutions. Our position is informed by the fact that we have found that most of the institutions that have been privatised, were done in a manner that was not transparent. Most times, it is discovered that public properties were sold to cronies of the ruling elites. We even found that even the resources used in buying the properties belong to the public. Some are also grossly undervalued in a manner that question whether those steps were taken in the best interest of the larger population.

Additionally, those critical institutions that have been privatised, particularly in Nigeria, have not worked efficiently. The fact that some of them have not worked clearly puts a doubt in the popular saying that government has no business in business. For example, the selling of the power sector assets have shown that the procedures and processes that led to the deals, were nothing but fraudulent. How can one describe the buyers of these assets who later come back to government to demand money for the repair of the assets? Because of the fraudulent behaviour of government, it decided to put public money into the hands of the so-called investors. This is contradictory to me. For us in the labour movement, the majority of the privatisation policies that have been executed by our governments are fraudulent. Most of the people that bought the assets are incompetent and non-professionals.

What is wrong in selling government assets in order to get Nigeria out of the current recession?
It is only commonsensical that if government sells now and in future another challenge comes, what does the country do? I think that in an environment where transparency cannot be guaranteed, environment that is filled with corruption and greed, selling government equities in corporation or selling public institutions outright cannot be a panacea to solving economic challenges. Such a step is itself another way of corruption. We think that that is not the way to go. How can a country be without national assets and nothing to fall back on tomorrow? If governments that came before this one decided to sell off those properties, what will this government fall back on today, to even generate money to run its activities, even though the money is not enough? The major problem with our leaders is that they are always very wasteful.

When we had all the opportunities in the world to save, we did not. Now that recession has hit us that require deployment of economic skills and sagacity, we are exploring how to adopt quick fix approach, to put the economy back to shape. There can’t be quick fix to getting out of the problem. Indeed part of the quick fix steps of the government, was to rush to increase pump price of petrol. We can see that that has not also worked. Government said it was liberalizing the sector and that marketers should go and look for foreign currency at any cost, then government turned around to regulate the price. That does not make any sense. Government had thought that when they increase the price of fuel, there would be easy money to run the economy. It is clear that has not worked, rather the economy is plunging further into recession. Who told the apostles of ‘sell public institutions’ that the present situation would change after the sale of the institutions. I doubt if things would change. What would be evident would be that government would have succeeded in putting more money in a few people’s hands. We would have lost those shares forever and ordinary Nigerians would pay the price.

While labour has continually resisted the sack of workers, government has insisted that it needs to reduce the number of workforce in order to raise money to fund its activities. Is such an argument acceptable to labour, especially at this time of economic recession?
One of the cardinal responsibilities of government is to provide employment for the citizens. I completely disagree with those that are saying the workers are too many. The first thing to analyse is how much is paid to real workers apart from the political appointees and political ‘almajiris’? I do not think that the problem is about the number of workers. It cannot be about that because in some government parastatals and agencies, recruitment of workers has been embargoed for a long time. There are positions that have become vacant as a result of deaths and retirements that have not been filled. I think it is about bulk passing and locating the faults in the Nigerian workers. Nigerian workers are victims of the mismanagement by the political elites. Now, the worrying trend is where more than 60 percent of Nigerian workers have not been paid salaries for more than seven months. Government must also know that reducing the workforce has its own negative effects on the economy.

How can government move Nigeria out of the current economic woes?
The problem with our case in Nigeria is that we have paid lip service to diversification of the economy for so long. Nigeria has relied so much on the revenue from oil to fund economic activities. I must add that even that is not entirely wrong if we had save for the raining days like Saudi Arabia did. Apart from over reliance on oil, is the fact that our leaders have been extravagant. I think now is the time to put action into diversifying our economy. Also, this government needs to bring on board Nigerians who know what to do about this economy, whether they are within the ruling party, outside it, amongst the professionals or trade union movement. I want to see a situation where we have an amalgamation of eggheads across the divides that can begin to articulate and bring solution to the table. As far as I am concerned, I cannot see a clearly defined agenda and programme by this government, as to how we will get out of this crisis. There have been so many economic theories that have been propounded that have created more crises for us than solution.

For instance, why did the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) prevent people from depositing into their domiciliary accounts immediately this government came to power? That for me was a foolish economic decision. And in redressing the problem caused by the action, the CBN then proceeded to put so much foreign currency into the hands of Bureau de Change operators and created emergency millionaires in that process. This government, by its policy somersaults, has also created emergency millionaires. At a time the CBN lifted the ban on deposit, it was too late as people suspected that such a step could be a booby trap for implicating people. Right now, I have not seen any concerted efforts on the part of this government because their promises of pumping money into the economy to arrest the recession has not yielded any fruits, as the level of poverty is increasing on daily basis.

What is your response to the call for the restructuring of the federation to create competition amongst states and that the current configuration does not encourage development.

I think the problem of Nigeria is not about the structure, but about our leaders’ unwillingness to do what is right and just. Even if we change the entire structure and still have the same type of elements and same mannerisms, same type of attitude and character, we are not likely to move a step forward. I think we need fresh orientation. Our leaders should be less greedy.

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