By Eze Jude O
Nigerians had endured series of untold economic hardships since the inception of this regime, but none has been as excruciating as the policy a month ago, that reviewed petroleum prices and power tarrif upwards.
The grumble was huge among the masses. It took us back to 2012 when Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the son of a fisherman from the minority Ijaw nation, was the President. He announced the removal of fuel subsidy, which skyrocketed fuel price to ₦140 when naira was ₦180 to the dollar. The whole nation went riotous.
The Occupy Nigeria Movement majorly led by the opposition party members (including Gen. Buhari) and anti-President Jonathan's protesters littered the streets, threatening fire and brimstone against the administration.
Despite the fact that the government provided series of palliative measures, and subsidy reinvestment programmes, to cushion the effect of the policy on the masses, these protesters continued unabated.
The Nigeria Labour Congress submitted itself to the same unrest in the name of fighting for the welfare of Nigerians.
President Jonathan apparently lacked the political will to resist them, and he rescinded the policy.
Fast forward to 2020, (just eight years after), the topmost political office in Nigeria is occupied by President Muhammadu Buhari, a full-blooded Fulani, from the Daura Emirate of Katsina state.
Buhari removed the fuel subsidy even amidst the unabating Covid-19 havoc, when naira is still N350 to the dollar at the forex exchange market. But unfortunately, all the 2012 organizers of anti-subsidy removal protests are still alive and healthy, but maintained what seemed like a cemetery silence.
The only hope for the common man in this situation therefore, is the organised labour, particularly the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). But unfortunately, these aluta organizations that were formed to agitate for the welfare of the Nigerian masses, especially its low cadre workers, who are at the lowest ebb of the nation's food chain, is currently exhibiting the worst form of conspiratory tranquility.
It's almost a month since the President dared the Nigerian masses and withdrew the fuel subsidy and hiked the electricity tariffs, and the only thing you hear in the media is unending plans by the NLC to unleash a nationwide strike action that never took place!
There has been much expectations from the leadership of the NLC, led by Ayuba Wabba, the Askira/Uba-born healthcare worker from Borno state, in this most trying time in Nigeria's history.
Comrade Ayuba was elected President of the NLC, the biggest Labour Centre in Africa in March 2015. Since then, he has shown himself a weakling in the art of anti-bad policy activism. His body language when it comes to workers' emancipation in a regime whose economic policy appears unfriendly to the ordinary citizens, shows a rubber stamp labour leader, who is not irked by the current administration's policy outings.
But his antecedents correlates with the present reality in his current office. He was the President of Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU).
His spell as the leader of that struggle ended in shambles. Government seemingly finds it easy to deal with the disposition of any union he leads.
A nationwide strike for all workers were scheduled yesterday, Monday, the 28th day of September 2020, to coerce the Government to reverse the hike in Electricity tarrif and quantum increase in fuel price. The people hissed a sigh of relief. At least, the Unionists will speak on behalf of the downtrodden.
Everyone woke up on Monday, expecting the national shutdown, only to be greeted with the news that the proposed strike has been suspended.
The unwelcome headline read: "Organized labour, in the early hours of today suspended the proposed strike over increase in prices of petrol and electricity tariff."
The faint hope of ordinary Nigerians were dashed! Their only legitimate medium of organized agitation against the unfavourable policy of the Buhari Administration in democracy is warped, bent and incapacitated.
The question was: "why did they choose such convenient option to abdicate their conventional method of registering dissatisfaction with unpopular government policy?"
The answers we found on news tabloids were: "The suspension was contained in a communique jointly signed by labour leaders and the Federal Government representatives, and read by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, at the end of the meeting that lasted about seven hours.
According to the communique, “The parties agreed to set up a Technical Committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NLC and TUC, which will work for two weeks, effective from today (Monday, September 28, 2020).
“The committee will examine the justifications for the new policy, metering deployment, challenges and timeline for massive roll out."
Such seemingly incongruous position taken by the Labour Unions led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba raised the question as to why he is handling NLC and the folk of ordinary Nigerians like he did JOHESU?
We are used to such bad situations by which government will be using the Labour Congress to buy more time while the masses suffer.
Is Ayuba aware of the efforts of his predecessors, in the '90s who faced the brutality of military juntas and remained vehement in their demands to the extent of getting bruised by the boys in khaki?
During its history, conflicts with the military regime twice led to the dissolution of the NLC's national organs, the first in 1988 under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and the second in 1994, under the regime of General Sani Abacha. Under Nigeria's military governments, labour leaders were frequently arrested and union meetings disrupted. Following democratic reforms in the country, some of the anti-union regulations were abolished in January 1999.
Ayuba could not compare with those who led the Union with the hearts of stone in those days. They were manhandled yet they remained resolute in their struggles for a better living conditions for the ordinary Nigerian worker. He is lilly-livered. He looks every inch a spineless activist.
It can only be in an Ayuba tenure that a government under the cover name of "democratic dispensation" can be inflating the domestic rates, taxes and charges in the country without meeting the stiff resistance of labour congresses.
According to Prof. Farook Kperogi, a renown anti-Buhari government's public affairs commentator, the "Buhari regime’s entire policy thrust almost from inception, has been centered around tactics and strategies for tormenting Nigerians. In 2016, the regime precipitously hiked petrol prices and instigated a devastating recessionary spiral that catapulted Nigeria to the position of the world’s poverty capital. It again increased petrol prices this year at a time of global slump in the prices of petrol."
In a weekly column with Daily Tribune, Kperogi aptly wrote: "The Buhari regime is also one of only a few governments I know of in the world that charges its citizens “stamp duties” for every bank deposit they make—in addition to the exploitative charges that banks impose on their customers. (A relative of mine who lives in Ireland said the Irish government also charges a negligible “stamp duty” on bank deposits and ATM transactions, but the standard of living in Ireland is lightyears above Nigeria’s, not to mention that Ireland has one of the world’s best social welfare systems).
In other words, Nigeria is one of only a few countries where people lose money by keeping it in the bank."
All these are possible because we have a Labour Congress that approach such seemingly inhumane government policies in a dictatorship regime with kids glove.
It is either Comrade Ayuba is an accomplice to perceived harsh economic policies of the Buhari regime or he is a victim of official tyrannical suppression. The former looks more credible.
May God save Nigeria!
- Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the writer and not that of Nigerian Newsleader Newspapers.