For decades, organized labour has served as a bulwark for the common person. Labour unions via friendly negotiations and unfriendly negotiations forced by strike threats and actual strikes have changed government position one time too many. However, that an entity is called a labour union does not mean that every decision would ultimately benefit the masses. Here is a situation where I think Nigeria’s organized labour is making a mistake.
Last week’s removal of the long existing petrol subsidy is no longer news. Anyone (in Nigeria) who isn’t aware of the newly-entered perilous times falls into one of these categories: does not buy petrol, does not use public transport, or does not buy anything in the market. The aftermath of the subsidy removal has seen the nation’s main labour groups, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, issue an ultimatum to the government to rescind its decision by Wednesday May 18, or face nationwide strike. Consequent to this ultimatum, the labour unions (minus NUPENG and PENGASSAN) have advised longsuffering Nigerians to stock up on food items in readiness for an economic siege.
To be fair to the labour unions, a good chunk of Nigerians would support their move. Impoverished Nigerians, recipients of dummy campaign promises, would salivate at the possibility of petrol subsidy being restored, even though the 2016 budget has no allowance for subsidy. Before we stock up on food, please give me a chance to convince you against any strike action.
I’ll start with hypocrisy. The present labour leaders are hypocrites—full time hypocrites. Considering that they were present during the meeting where subsidy removal was purportedly decided, I boldly call them hypocrites. Even in judicial cases involving multiple judges, there is something called a dissenting opinion. If the labour leaders were opposed to the government’s decision, while Dr. Kachikwu was giving the government’s press statement, labour could have held a parallel press briefing. If that wasn’t possible, a press statement within hours of the announcement would have passed the message that the labour leaders were not in support of the new policy.
From my viewpoint (maybe myopic), I see the labour leaders as demagogues using the public’s fear as leverage to flip-flop. Why do they want to start a “meaningless” protest after apparently agreeing at the meeting? They likely received an enormous dose of criticism after the announcement, which for them was enough to switch. Although leadership requires getting feedback from followers, good leaders stand by their decisions in the midst of dissent provided they are certain that their decisions are not self-serving but for the good of their followers. Since these labour leaders (in my view) have been pressured into starting a protest, what is to prevent them from backing out if the pressure is reversed?
My second point against the proposed strike hovers around the present state of Nigeria’s economy. Strikes, by design, are intended to ground economic activity, thereby forcing the government to capitulate. Presently, sans strike action, the Nigerian economy is a few steps from the land of the comatose. Why does labour want to kick a person already struggling blindly on a floor littered with broken glasses? I don’t think I need to elaborate this point any further. The Nigerian economy is sluggish; growth has stagnated. Please don’t worsen our predicament.
On another front, the subsidy removal is good for Nigeria. If you consider this a fallacy, you’re likely a believer in the goodness of subsidy to Nigerians. You likely believe that the subsidy is the only tangible benefit Nigerians receive; that Nigerians should not be punished for the ineptitude of the government. You likely believe that the government should first make sacrifices before forcing bitter sacrificial pills on Nigerians. In many ways, you are right—very right! However, this is one of such times when the “right” thing is not practical. The fact is that right now the economy cannot handle subsidy payments. Government revenues have nosedived since oil prices started drilling downwards. Even when the oil price was above $80 per barrel, subsidy claims were unsustainably bleeding the economy. The monies spent on maintaining subsidy are better spent on developmental projects that can spur the economy back to life. If the removal of subsidy is good for the economy, it therefore follows that a strike action against the removal is counterintuitive.
Finally, any strike action is a double punishment for Nigerians. The labour unions have asked for Nigerians to stock up on food and other essentials. With which money? Is it the person who has not been paid since February or the one whose bread comes daily that would stock on food? Are the labour leaders not in Nigeria to know that “money is hard”? Under better conditions, this call to arms may have made sense. However, in the present “dollar rise-naira fall-no money” situation, a strike action would be a worse burden for Nigerians to bear. NLC, biko reconsider.
Obviously, my opposition to the planned strike stems from my belief that the subsidy removal, though painful, is good for a sustainable future. I may have issues with the Buhari administration, but on this one, I am of the opinion that he has done something that was long overdue. We cannot continue to eat tomorrow’s yams if we plan to live beyond tomorrow.
Image Credit: driverandgeneralunion.com