Bimbola Oyesola, 08033246177
The late passage of the nation’s budget has now become a common recurrence, despite promises by government every year to improve on this.
This trend, as far as Mr. Segun Oshinowo, the director-general of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), is concerned, shows that Nigeria as a country is really not serious.
He noted that, while Nigeria might be said to be out of recession in economic terms, as long as the country’s economy is still tied to the apron strings of irrational global oil prices and is unable to shore up the foreign reserves significantly, it is going to take a while to really come out of recession.
The NECA DG, in this chat, also speaks on issues relating to Nigeria’s participation in the International Labour Conference, green economy and other sundry issues of national interest.
Child labour ratification
Nigeria has done the needful by ratifying the ILO Convention that has to do with child labour and the worst form of child labour and, to that extent, we must commend the country. But, beyond that, we need to domesticate this convention that we have ratified and then declare in our mind what the implementation strategy should be, and I think that is where the problem is. Over the years, with the support of the ILO, quite a number of initiatives have been commenced in Nigeria to reduce child labour. As an employers’ group, we served on the tripartite committee, which the Ministry of Labour has set up to be on top of this matter.
Though we cannot acknowledge various challenges we have in trying to reduce the incidence of child labour; but, quite unlike the developed world, where the formal economy is larger than the informal economy, in our own case, the informal economy is much larger than the formal and you have the incidence of child labour being more persevative in the informal sector of the economy. Unfortunately, the workers’ organisations are shunning the insignificant figure in extending its tentacles to the informal sector, neither has the ministry of labour been able to actually spread its inspectorate machinery to really be on top of the situation.
Those are the challenges. But the ILO as an institution is aware of these challenges, which are not really limited to Nigeria, but are quite peculiar to developing economies, and that must have informed the decision of the ILO to put it on the agenda for discussion, the recurrent follow-up discussion on the declaration of fundamental basic duty and rights at work and the objective of that discussion is for the constituents to actually bring to the attention of the ILO those basic challenges and then proffer advise on what ILO should do to support the competence that they are able to go back to them, refocus on the issue of reduction of child labour in those countries.
Impact on Nigeria’s participation at ILO
I must say that we’ve been moving round in circles in terms of facts strategy for proper involvement and engagement at the conference. We’ve not been able to build on some of the commendable initiatives, which some past technocrats in the Ministry of Labour initiated. One example is the need for the Nigerian delegation to have their own mini conference for a common idea, where we can discuss the issue on the agenda of the ILO and probably agree on a Nigerian position. We’ve lost that, because, at the end of the day, we are still going back home to give effect to participation. But if we give ourselves the head start by looking at the conference agenda and then having a common position in our various constituent groups, the employers’ group, workers’ group and government group, we can push it sufficiently. It is not unlikely that if we’ve had that kind of mini conference there would not have been some differences but at the same time we would not come here to more or else highlight those differences. In the course of identifying those differences, we could have found a middle ground, which the three constituents will push in their various groups.
Ministry of Labour is the custodian of the tripartite machinery. In fact, the person that represented NECA, which is not here in Geneva, because even though the NLC did well by trying to give itself to it, we didn’t really give it the attention it deserved, it would have been a different thing if the session had been initiated by the Ministry of Labour.
Those are two different things. And, as I have said, we commend labour. Because labour knew as much as I do that kind of pre-conference process. But the appropriate party to handle it failed in its responsibility and that is the Ministry of Labour.
Recurrent budget deficit
With due respect to the Honourable Minister of Labour, I don’t think that message is for this house, that message is simply not for this house. Maybe, if we are to address the conference of IMF or World Bank that would have been more appropriate. Even at that, I still feel that it’s not a matter for multilateral institutions to come and help us on how to manage our budget. And I can individualise it.
I am a worker, I earn a million naira a month, for example, and, time and time again, my expense level has been at the level of N2 million, that is deficit for me. I am now looking in the direction of my neighbour to come and help me. I have always been in debt managing my income. How would my next neighbour be able to do it?
I think the discipline should start from me. What are the things I am doing with my accounting, with my finances, that threw my budget in crisis? Why would I, every point in tiime, want to run to the bank to borrow money to finance recurrent expenditure? It is not a matter for the global community, it is not a matter for the multinational institutions, it is an issue for Nigeria to sit down and look at the financial template.
Do I need to broaden my income base? Do I have to reduce my expenses? It is a question that we must answer and it is a domestic issue, not international. It would be a different matter, if you have a deficit budget, and there is noting wrong in having a deficit budget, the real issue is how to finance it. If I have to finance a deficit budget, what am I financing? Am I financing recurrent expenditure or capital expenditure? If I am financing capital expenditure, I could as well take solace in the fact that the productivity, which that real industrial development would bring to the economy, would enable me to pay my debt. It is a matter for domestic debate. It is a not a matter for the ILO or the multinational institutions.
I think Nigeria is not yet there at all. When you are talking of green initiative, you are talking of green jobs. But I think the stage where we are now, really, going by the statistics that the NBS released recently, that about 12.2 million Nigerians are unemployed, and I can tell you that is quite conservative, very very conservative, and I won’t believe it. Because, if 75 per cent of our population are youths, if you apply the unemployment rate in Nigeria to that youthful band in our demographic profile, the figure would be far more than 12.2 million. And now, if we want to promote a green economy, a green job initiative, the issue is that we look at the environment in Nigeria, what kind of job is the Nigerian economy capable of producing now? We must be honest with ourselves, very honest with ourselves. There is nothing near in the economy to green jobs.
I think our priority actually should be to make our economy to grow to a level where it can keep up jobs for millions of our youths, and youths are not looking for just any job, they are looking for decent jobs. While I commend this green job initiative, because we need to protect workers, I think, in the context of Nigeria, even in the scheme of unemployment, what we are interested in really are good job values, the next level of that engagement should be whether those jobs are green or not. But let’s engage them productively first.
Implication of late budget
It simply says that, as a country, we are not really serious. It did not start in 2015/16, it actually dates back to a much earlier time. It is what I call a harmful recurrent happening in our national life. I was reading some of the addresses of our past presidents, way back in 2004, 2005, and one of our past presidents actually higlighted this issue in his address. The issue is, what will it take for us to get our act together so that our budget is passed even before the fiscal year starts? That should be the ideal and appropriate.
Why can’t we get budget right, and half of the year is gone and the budget is yet to be signed, what kind of a country is that and what kind of a budget is that? How would you expect a big deal of that budget in six monts of the year? Yes, there is a constitutional provision that allows the government to spend probably 25 per cent of the budgeted amount. But what effect would that actually have in proffering growth in a depressed economy?
Honestly, I can tell you that we need to put this behind us and let it be the last time it would happen. We sincerely hope so.
Out of recession
Well things are beginning to look up, we are beginning to see some green shoots. But I called those green shoots, very delicate green shoots. So, its not yet time for us to celebrate. Not yet time for us to celebrate at all. Yes, green shoots are coming out, but they are very very tender green shoots that can easily be blown off, and what we expect government to do is to consolidate on various reforms they have started, the policies they have initiated to make sure that the green shoots grow up to the level that they become stronger and eventually grow up to a tree that will usher in a state of another prosperity for Nigeria. But again because of the closure of any hope of exiting from recession, the fact about it is that it is part of government’s hard-earned effort and I can understand why, you want to diversify your economy over a short period and you have not been able to diversify the economy and the revenue from oil continues to be the lifeline. As long as that continues and we are unable to shore up the foreign reserves significantly, it is going to take a while to really come out of recession.