By Omano Edigheji | –
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has lost its relevance. For almost twenty years now, it has been more reactive than proactive. It has not been able to develop a comprehensive development agenda that represents the interests of workers and the poor that could form a basis to engage with government. Such a broad development agenda should have clearly set out the short term sacrifices workers will make for their long term benefits and overall development of the country. Alas, it has not been able to do that. Thus like the predatory class, the Nigerian Labour Congress and TUC have engaged in rent seeking behaviour. No nation can develop when one segment of society refuse to make sacrifices.
Most Nigerians will be sceptical to support the strike being called by both the NLC and TUC over the increase in the prices of petrol. These trade union federations need to develop a broad development framework that should form the basis of negotiations with government. The reactive strike being called over the increases in petrol prices do not have the potential to lead to structural transformation of the Nigerian economy, which will ultimately be beneficial to workers and the average Nigerian.
When in 1988, as student leaders, we led the first protest against the removal of fuel subsidy by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime (which we began at the University of Jos), it was part of the general struggle against military rule.
Certainly, the increase of petrol prices is evidence of the piecemeal approach to the CHANGE agenda by the President Buhari administration, with likely negative consequences for workers and the poor. This piecemail approach to development reforms, won’t work in the absence of a comprehensive national development plan that connects the various components of the CHANGE agenda of the government. How will the increases in fuel prices contribute to diversification of the Nigerian economy? What is the government policy to promote the manufacturing sector, whose contribution to GDP is now lower than it was in the 1970s? What will be effects of the fuel price increases on employment creation and reduction of poverty and inequality? What impact will it have on investors’ confidence?
The price increases of petroleum products by the government have created uncertainty about the currency exchange rate policy of the government. At one level, the federal government continued to maintain that the official exchange rate of N199 to $1. At the same time, in announcing the petrol prices increases, it indicated that importers of petroleum products will use an exchange rate of about N298 to the dollar. At the same time the parallel exchange rate, which has increased to about N360 to the dollar will continued to exist. Does this mean that the President Buhari administration will maintain three exchange rate regimes? Nigerians need clarity on this.
In the absence of a comprehensive national development plan, citizens do not have a sense of direction the government is taking the country. The government will build trust among citizens if it set out a comprehensive development plan, which also becomes the social contract between government and the people. In turn, it should become a basis for citizens to hold the government accountable for its actions. The importance of a national development plan to national development cannot be overemphasized. It would constitute the medium term development agenda of the government for the country, to be followed by sectoral plans. The national budgets are to be expression of the national development plan, which are normally five years in duration. This means that the budget cannot be the main planning tool for the government. Nigerians expect the President Buhari administration to come up with a broad based national development plan. It also has to explain to the Nigerian people the reasons behind the fuel price increases by more than 60%. Prices of goods and services are going to increase. The President Buhari administration needs to come up with measures to cushion the effects of such increases especially on workers and the poor.
The strike being called by the NLC and TUC is not different from the piecemeal approach to CHANGE by the federal government.
As I write this, I am pained to recall that I lost a dear friend and brother, Chima Ubani, over ten years ago over a mass mobilisation by NLC and CSOs against petrol subsidy removal, which the NLC pursued half heartedly. We also recall how the NLC betrayed the Nigerian people in 2012 during the protest against removal of fuel subsidy by the President Jonathan administration. What evidence is there that this time that the leadership of the NLC and TUC will not betray the Nigerian workers and people again?
I also want to raise another point. It is not only politicians and senior civil servants that are involved in corruption. Workers who are members of NLC and TUC are also involved daily in corrupt practices. What have these two union federations done to ensure that their members are not involved in corrupt practices both in the public and private sectors?
What these analysis points to is that the trade union federations in Nigeria themselves need to be transformed and revitalised if Nigeria is to progress and prosper.
Rent seeking behaviour by both the elite and workers can only doomed the country. Both government and unions have a role to play to ensure Nigeria’s progress and prosperity. To do that, both need to adopt a comprehensive, not piecemeal, approach to national development in order to revitalise the Nigerian economy and improve the standard of living of our people.
Dr. Omano Edigheji is a political economist and has served as a development consultant for a number of development agencies in and outside the African continent. You can follow me on twitter @omanoE