The planned nationwide industrial action was abruptly aborted. The bipartite meeting between the Federal Government and the two Labour unions – Nigeria Labour Union (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) successfully achieved its primary aim of averting the scheduled strike. Were the hikes in electricity tariff and petrol pump price reversed? No. Neither did the organized labour entirely obtain their demands at this marathon meeting that lasted till the wee hours of Monday, September 28, 2020 at Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja.
The implementation of the increased electricity tariff was suspended for two weeks. The hike in petrol pump price would remain because deregulation has come to stay. Reciprocally, the Federal Government proffered palliatives for labour to cushion the effects of the deregulation of the downstream sector, tariffs adjustment in the power sector as well as the timeline for revamping of the refineries. According to the agreement between government and labour: “A specific amount to be unveiled by the FGN in two weeks’ time will be isolated from the Economic Sustainability Programme Intervention Fund and be accessed by Nigerian Workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture. The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting.
“Federal Government will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable. “Federal Government will make available to organized labour 133 CNG/LPG driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the country on a scale up basis thereafter to all States and Local Governments before December 2021. “Housing: 10% be allocated to Nigerian workers under the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance initiative through the NLC and TUC. “Federal Government will expedite action of rehabilitation of the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna,” amid a host of other measures. But the question is how practicable are these measures? We have been through some of these measures and they proved ineffective.
Many public commentators have adjudged these palliatives and measures as greek gifts that will hardly address the long and short terms impacts of the far-reaching increment in the electricity tariff and pump price. Subsequent governments have been addressing these issues of the refineries with no success. The refineries are in ruins. The Federal Government has not been able to successfully fix the refineries after about 20 years of trying to do that. Four months ago, the Group Managing Director, Mallam Mele Kyari said that the failure to fix the refineries over these years was a strategy problem. According to Kyari, “This reason is very simple, we couldn’t fix our refineries and that’s very difficult to explain. Why can’t we fix our refineries? We started this very many years ago.
For 20 years, all attempts to fix the refineries failed for the very simple reason, there is a strategy problem.” Going further, Kyari said that the government has changed its strategy to make sure that they have a new framework. He said the way to go is to first fix the refineries as they have set a target for that and have a clear strategy for achieving it. Prior to this development, precisely, October 2019, almost a year ago, Timpre Sylva announced the rehabilitation of Warri and Kaduna refineries in the first half of this year. A year after the Federal Government has listed same item as one of the resolutions reached at its meeting with labour leaders in a bid to stop a planned industrial action. Government has continued to make rehabilitation of the refineries look like a rocket science.
Meanwhile, Dangote Refinery which was started in 2016 with the excavation and infrastructure preparation would be commissioned by the first half of 2021. The resolutions reached and mutually adopted at the bipartite meeting especially as regards the palliatives are lop-sided. How would provision of fund to 240,000 workers alleviate the suffering of Nigerians occasioned by hikes in petrol pump price and electricity tariff? By the way, what is the entire population of workers in the formal sector in Nigeria? How would the 10 percent of the on-going Ministry of housing and finance initiative to be allocated to Nigerian worker via NLC and the TUC relieve the pain of the higher cost of living of the citizenry prompted by the recent dual increment? So many questions are begging for answers.
Unhealthy palliatives, many have claimed. Yet the Organised Labour had succumbed to promises by the Federal Government to play some of the cards in its pack, to the benefit of Nigerians who are being crushed under the full weight of deregulation. Worse still, the palliatives were specifically designed for workers in the formal segment. What about Nigerians in the informal sector who are self employed? The many informal workers who do their businesses in unprotected and unsecured places? Are they not Nigerians? Prof. Pat Utomi, a professor of political economy and management expertise has said that government has failed to proffer solution to the country’s challenges thereby bringing more hardship upon the citizens.
Utomi made this remark during an exclusive interview with The Catholic Herald on Thursday. He recalled that the country had implemented some of these resolutions in the past and they were fruitless. “Where fundamental issues that need grand national strategy, you use some carrots to dangle something before workers so NLC won’t give you trouble, whereas, we have a fundamental housing challenge that we could create a grand strategy to solve, which if we solve, improves the economy substantially and improves the lot of everybody rather than a few people who come under the guise of NLC. “We have been doing this for so long.
I still remember it goes back to the 80s when we were having these kinds of things, they decided that the solution was to give buses to NLC to run transport service. NLC is not a transport company. They don’t have the expertise to more efficiently run transport than Edegbe Bus Transport Company or God is Good Transport Company or Chisco. So, you create an opportunity for a little small empire for NLC, and people make some money, and they leave you alone, but we have not solved the country’s grand transport problem. Just as in this case, nothing we do here is going to solve the grand housing problem in the country, which we need serious commitme