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Nigeria:Petrol Price Increases AndThe Poverty Of TheProposed Strikes By TradeUnions

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.

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