With Nigeria’s inflation rate rising on a daily basis, depreciation of the nation’s currency, coupled with the poor infrastructure and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses, Nigerian workers have never had it so bad.
General secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Education and Associated Institutions (NASU), vice-president of the Public Service International (PSI), Peters Adeyemi, declared that it has been double tragedy for Nigerian workers, as their purchasing power have been grossly depreciated and devalued due to the poor exchange rate of the naira.
Adeyemi also condemned the Federal Government’s stance on taxation, which gives tax relief or tax holidays to a few Nigerians, but taxes the poor.
On the anti-corruption fight, the labour leader opined that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has failed. He also addressed the poor state of infrastructure, which he said is negatively impacting workers’ cost of living.
Adeyemi equally bared him mind on what labour could do to win back the trust of Nigerians, the nation’s rising debt profile and other issues of national interest.
The fact is that the tertiary institutions have suffered tremendously from the COVID-19 pandemic and majority of the youths have over-stayed at home and clearly there’s frustration, not only with the youths, but with the general populace. I think the government is in a hurry to remedy the economic crisis they are also facing in terms of the fact that the oil market has not been favourable, so there’s been a lot of problems. This is because government is no longer making as much money from the sale of crude oil. It has then resulted to taking some questionable measures to generate funds at the expense and welfare of the masses and some of these policies also impact negatively on the youths who are already home and frustrated. Everyone knows that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. Everyone also know that successive governments have not had a credible employment policy, all what we’ve had is government making political statements about creating jobs and some of these jobs are not sustainable; when you tell graduates to come and do a job of N20,000 per month. The youths have been somehow frustrated. It has been a built-up anger. So what we saw was a cumulative pent-up anger, which has been built over a period of time and it’s unfortunate that the anger was ventilated that way and government as well did not manage the processes properly because when you know that people are angry, government should have used the carrots-and-stick approach to persuade them, pacify them to get to show some understanding with the government. That did not happen and also the fact that quite a lot of youths who have also finished school don’t have employment and they daily depend on their parents, friends, guardians for means of survival. So, I think that it’s a major problem and if you look at it, the quantum of unemployed is increasing by the day and will aid criminality in the society. When you talk of insecurity, it also has to do with the fact that there are too many idle hands who have nothing to do and if they have to make ends to meet they would have to resort to so many things, including the ones that will be a threat to security. I feel that this government has some blame in that regard, but it cannot be put entirely on this government, it has been there over a period of time and I think this action of the youths, even though it’s tagged #EndSARS, is not only about ending SARS even they themselves said it that it’s not only about EndSARS, it’s also about good governance.
Good governance in itself will involve generation of employment and government will have to wake up to do the needful. There should be decent work, where people can be engaged, when people graduate from school, so that they can have decent jobs and have decent pay, so that they can live a decent life. For as long as that is not there and we continue to produce graduates and we have armies of unemployed, it’s like we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder that can explode anytime. Something has to be done and done urgently to address the situation.
Recession and workers
I think that all of this is as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic has ravaged the entire globe and has also negatively impacted the economy of even the most advanced countries of the world, not to talk of country like Nigerians, that is almost 99.9 dependent on the sale of crude oil and COVID-19 itself has affected the sale of crude oil. So, clearly, and also side by side with that, the fact that when we’ve not been able to save, the foreign exchange that is available to us is limited, there are so many forces chasing the limited hard currency and you have seen clearly that the fact that we have limited hard currency in circulation has also negatively impacted on the exchange rate of our naira, which has been grossly devaluated, and that in itself is affecting whatever will be the take-home pay of an average worker. Again, you find out that the cost of living has gone up even beyond 100 per cent. So, the average purchasing power of an average worker has been also grossly devaluated because we find out that the naira is no longer what it is supposed to be. So when the exchange rate has become what it is now, at this ridiculous level, it has also massively depreciated the purchasing power of an average Nigerian worker. It is double tragedy for an average Nigerian worker. For instance, let’s say, last year, you were earning N300, the value now has been reduced to almost about just half or N100, because this exchange has collapsed so badly, Even when you talk about N30,000 minimum wage, for those implemented, what is the value of the money now not to talk of those who have refused to implement, and side by side with this insensitive and inhuman policy of government that tends to subject the sale of the PMS to market forces? In less than three months, we have made a jump from N145 to about N170 and we have not seen the end and the implication of that is that for as long as government continues to adjust the pump price of PMS, so long will the price of other commodities also be affected, because clearly, marketwomen, transporters, all of them will want to make their own money and what they do is to increase their fares, increase the prices of foodstuffs they are selling and who suffers from there at the end of the day, it is Nigeria’s workers. So, the options that are available to Nigerian workers are not too many. Its either we fight and get government to reverse those policies or we insist that the value of the currency must be enhanced so that whatever people are earning will have some credible value or you get the two labour centres to insist that in the short term all those increases should be reversed and the basic things the government needed to do in the short term before embarking on deregulation are done. First of all making sure that we can locally produce some quantity of PMS, locally produced, either through a modular refinery or rehabilitation of the existing refineries. We have to consciously do that. We may not be able to locally produce everything that we are going to consume because that is also going up every day. The number of cars on our roads is also increasing every day. In fact, you will be shocked, with all these problems that we are talking about, if there is a small hold up anywhere, in 10 minutes, the whole place is already jam-packed. So, two, is that, government must consciously work both at the state, local government and the federal level for an efficient and effective mass transit so that workers and their contemporaries can leave their vehicles at home and can travel to anywhere within the city and outside the city using mass transit. That in itself will relieve the pressure on our roads and that in itself will ensure that workers can be able to save some money from what they used in buying PMS everyday to power their vehicles and then government will also make concerted effort in ensuring that there are some level of stability in the power supply. It’s ridiculous that despite all the money that we put into the rehabilitation of the power sector, we are still talking of the national grid collapsing to the point that there would be no light in major cities of our country, the implication of that is that workers ends spending more of their limited resources in buying petrol, buying diesel to power their generators. Clearly, there are number of things that ought to have been put in place before government can say they are embarking on deregulation. If not it is clearly an act of insensitivity. Because you make the poor to be poorer, the infrastructures have collapsed. The roads are not motorable. We have never had this decay in infrastructures as much as this in the history of this country. Because we know that there was a time that there used to be FERMA, that normally rehabilitate, patched roads and roads are motorable. No matter what you say, you find this FERMA patching roads here and there and they do it consciously, in fact at this period of the year, some years back, you will find the FERMA all over the country, putting the roads in order because of the yuletide. We’ve not seen anything like that, the roads are completely dead and the ones that they are reconstructing, they are not even making haste in finishing them. If you want to travel from here to Ibadan now, you will end up spending seven hours because you will just get trapped at the middle tollgate of Ijebu Remo and you will be there with trailers everywhere. I had a bitter experience that I told somebody if we continue like this, then Nigerians will not be able to live long because there are so much pressures. There is also the problem of insecurity, you are not even sure of moving from one place to the other in peace. You can’t also travel by air, because the cost of air transport has gone up so drastically. So this is double tragedy! I would have expected that the federal government along with the state governments would have consciously put in place committees that can recommend appropriate measures to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerian workers. That’s part of what I think labour should be insisting on. That there must be clear efforts on the part of government right now to begin to redress this issues of suffering of Nigerian workers by either providing some incentives or deliberately allocating some funds for certain welfare packages to be made available to Nigerian workers alongside the reversal of those increases that have been slapped on Nigerians through the increases of the price of the PMS.
Labour redeeming image of providing leadership in the country
It’s very simple. We must wake up to the reality of the fact that we have, going by our activism, be in the vanguard of fighting injustice in the country. We have led struggles that have made Nigerians to see us as a credible alternative to government, as a credible opposition to government. In fact, one former head of state confessed in a national broadcast that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is behaving like an alternate government. That is because we have become so visible and so efficient and effective in championing the cause of the people. So to suddenly abdicate that responsibility is to incur the wrath of the people and that’s exactly what is happening. For instance, any anti-people policy that is rolled out by the government, NLC is always in the forefront of challenging those policies and it is only in Nigeria that you have a Labour centre like the NLC go on strike, attract the support and the sympathy of the market women. If we go on strike, the market will close, the transporters will not work, everywhere will be deserted. In other spheres, in other countries of the world, when workers go on strike, you don’t have that situation. But in Nigeria when we go on strike, on people oriented issues, it has gone beyond core workers demands. Our demands in NLC in the past, our struggle has never been only on bread and butter. It has to do with the survival of Nigerians. Suddenly to take the back seat or suddenly to abdicate that responsibility is to incur the wrath of the people and that’s what we have seen, why Nigerians are now venting their anger and their frustration. In fact, you find a situation that when NLC is not coming out on time to voice its opposition to the increase in PMS, the civil society people went to picket the NLC. That shows that the labour has become too relevant to begin to misbehave.
I think that, what the NLC needs to do is restrategize because if you use one strategy for a period of time and it’s not working, or one strategy that works with one government and it’s not working with another, those strategy used with Jonathan may not work with Buhari government.
One need to restrategize and put on one’s thinking cap and devise appropriate strategies that will meet with the style of this government. This government is a government that is not ready to respond to labour issues on a platter of gold. This government will only respond to Labour issues after it has been pushed to the walls and the NLC must study the attitude of the government and design appropriate steps and strategy to confront them and be able to get result. We need to regain that confidence of the people. We have to! It’s a must, we must do it because if we don’t, we have seen clearly, that without the NLC and the TUC doing what they supposed to do, they give room for a situation of lawlessness because you find a situation where ordinary Nigerians will jump into the street and that will create a problem because it will not be coordinated, there won’t be leadership and everything will be approaching anarchy. That’s the truth. I think that the fact that the people has that so much confident in the labour movement, we must go back to what we used to do. We must strive to lead in the front. We lead from the front, the people will follow and when we say enough is enough, the people will stop, we won’t have a situation where hoodlums will hijack. We’ve done so many action in Nigeria, hoodlums had never hijacked our actions. Because when we say we want to go, we go and when we want to stop we stopped. In fact, NLC and TUC, going back to the drawing board, and coming back to take their rightful position in the scheme of things when it comes to protestation, when it comes to criticizing government policies, when it comes to rejecting anti people policy, we do Nigerians even better, We even serve the government better because this organization has leadership that you can hold to account. But when you allow for a situation of anarchy, people will just come under one guise, or the order. They don’t even have leadership and then contending and dealing with such situations will be extremely problematic and NLC itself will be part of those who will suffer from the situation that is unfolding. Look at what has happened, in Cross River State, the NLC office was virtually burnt down. In so many other states, you saw massive looting, massive criminal action, that in itself is also a problem. Of course, if we have taken the driver’s seat in this matter, maybe we would have been able to avoid some of these. This is not about criticizing the NLC, it’s about the fact that we need to restrategize, we need to come back to take our rightful position, because Nigerians have tremendous confidence in the NLC and the TUC.
Rising Debt profile
First and foremost like I’ve said severally, there’s nothing wrong in borrowing, but you must tie this borrowing to visible things because those who have the money also want to lend the money out. So if you are a stakeholder and you need resources, you can borrow, but what I think is problematic about Nigeria situation is that most of the money we borrow are not tied to anything and they disappear, which is a problem. Because if you say you borrow money to develop infrastructure where is the infrastructure, it has collapsed. You borrow money to fix the power sector, where is the power? We are not seeing light, so it’s really problematic. First and foremost as a matter of honesty, we must agree that this government is faced with the problem of lack of adequate resources. So they have to fund their budget and if you draw a budget and already you have drawn this budget as so many trillions and you already know even as you are drawing this budget that you don’t have the resources to fully fund the budget. It’s so clear then that you already know that you will have to borrow to fund the budget. The question then is, how did we get to where we are now? What is it that we’ve not gotten right or what is it that we have done wrongly that pushed us to this level. That’s the simple fact, that we depend wholly and entirely on the sales of crude oil. So we will be at the mercy of our creditors if we cannot generate enough money. You know those days, resources to fund budget was not a problem when we were selling a barrel of the crude oil for over a hundred dollars because we have money but today, it is selling 40 something. Then again we also have the problem of the fact that you cannot just produce as many barrels of crude oil you have to work within the limit of what is allocated to you by OPEC. These are problem and again you also find out that one of the problems have to do with the fact that corruption is also at the depths of what we are talking about here. Corruption! If you look at it, this government has talked about fighting corruption, they talked about recoveries, what we have not seen, is where is this money? Where’s this money recovered because suddenly the next thing you see is this government going after the chairman of EFCC and making all sorts of allegations because again that in itself is corruption because if you get corrupt people to return money and the money is also stolen by those who are recovering the thing, then it becomes a problem. So because so much money has been recovered and it has not been used for anything. So it’s that you recover from one thief for another thief to carry. It’s also a massive problem because so much has been recovered that it would have bridged the gap of theses borrowing that we are doing and honestly I also think that this government has also been very unlucky. One, they are not lucky with the sales, the price of the crude in the international market from day one. Two, they have also not been lucky with some of these natural disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic, which in itself has grounded business and turn everything upside down. I think for this government to begin the process of recovery from whatever recession they are going through, one, they must reengineer their work on corruption. What they are doing on corruption has failed completely. Because if you recover money and you are not able to use the money. Then so much money is being generated from taxation. Then it is also double tragedy, if you tax the poor so much and then you now give tax relief or tax holidays to a few Nigerians. What you are doing is that, you are making the poor to be poorer and you are making the few rich to be richer. So clearly, it doesn’t make any sense to us. For instance if somebody is building refinery, is he building it free of charge? Is he not going to make money? So clearly these are tragedy that government has to look into. Why do you have to give so much incentives to tax holidays, tax incentives and then at the end of the day that does not stop the man when he finishes the construction of his refinery to sell whatever he produced at a competitive price. So clearly why does the government has to give so much tax incentives to the rich, to those who already are multi nationals. Why do you need to recover money and allow people to stack that money away. These are critical issues, what are you doing to show clearly to Nigerians that you are determined to also diversify the economy and stop the over dependence on the sales of the crude. How much have you done in terms of diversifying to agriculture and some others so that at least you are sure. The Federal Inland Revenue Service has declared that they have made so much money for this government, where is the money? The customs have also declared that they have made so much money, the question is where is the money? So there’s much questions for this government to answer. For me I think until we are able to unravel some of these crises, we are not likely to be able to move forward. We have equally been faced with problem of insecurity, which is also massive, which is also even threatening the corporate existence of our country and day in day out government is pumping so much money into the fight of this insurgency. That in itself is also encroaching into our resources. For how long will this fight of Boko Haram go on, for how long will it last because as long as it last so much of our limited resources goes into that fight and so much of that funds being pumped there also risked being stolen by those who are doing the fight. Clearly, there’s problem and government will have to do something very quickly so that we don’t end on a state of desolation.