Some relief would appear to have come to Nigerians, perhaps more so to the Federal Government, as Organised Labour soft pedaled on its threat to call a nationwide strike, as the set ultimatum expired Midnight Thursday, September 22.
Had the strike commenced, it would have manifest by way of a lockdown, undermining the earning and catering capacity, social balance and image of the Nigerian individual and corporate state.
Organised Labour has been fencing on a tightrope with government, seeking reliefs for the larger populace from the economic distress brought on by the Federal Government’s removal of the infamous fuel subsidy regime and the free floating of the local currency, the naira.
Economy experts across the board tend to agree that both measures are good and proper and will bring some measure of healing to the Nigerian economy in the medium and long term. The immediate effects however have proved a hard pill to swallow, but swallow, Nigerians must.
In the twinkle of an eye, spiralling inflation arising from these Federal Government policies, has seen the prices of food and other essential goods and services floating out of the grasp of many Nigerians to a place high above their heads.
Just as economists agree that the policies are necessary to bring some healing to the economy, there is likewise a consensus of opinion that the Federal Government should have put buffers in place, well in advance, to cushion some of the discomfort that was sure to attend the decision.
Since the decision, the price of basic motor fuel, petrol, has shot up three-fold, to the range of N600 per litre.
Quite naturally, other costs have gone up. These include the cost of transportation to work, to prospect for work, to school, for the haulage of food from farm to market, for other goods and services, etc. Yet earning capacity remains the same and in some cases, has been stunted. This is the essence of Organised Labour’s engagement with the Federal Government.
There have been a handful of stalemated meetings, between the Federal Government and Organised Labour, culminating in a two-day warning strike earlier in the month.
Labour had said it wants clear evidence of measures to serve reliefs to Nigerians in the face of the said economic hardships. Organised Labour’s demands include wage increases for workers, tax exemptions and allowances to public sector workers, reduction of cost of governance, provision of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses, which would bring down transport cost, release of modalities for N70 billion for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the release of officials of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) by the police, among others.
That has been the build-up to the 21-day ultimatum to the strike which Labour put out.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has been holding fast to its demands and has expressed dissatisfaction with government’s foot-dragging, but has been less strident in the last few days and had eventually not called the strike as at the midnight deadline, Thursday.
This appears an act of goodwill and civic responsibility on the part of Labour and it behoves the Federal Government to reciprocate by the way of clear actions, more explicit statements and stipulated timelines.
There are reports of continuing engagements between Labour and the Federal Government on the matter, particularly with Vice President Kashim Shettima. This is a good and laudable sign.
Some of the arguments that government is said to be presenting to Organised Labour, include the assurance given days ago by the Dangote Petrochemical Refinery, that it will commence operations in October, bringing reliefs in terms of availability of petrol. Some industry watchers also anticipate some cost gains to the public which might arise from the fact that fuel refined at home will have a shorter route and lower cost to market.
The counter argument however is that government may not be able to supply the refinery with adequate quantities of crude because of pre-existing obligations arising from external debt commitments.
Considering that national sustenance is a priority, however, perhaps the Federal Government could find a way around this challenge.
Other arguments being put forward, it is said, include that government is already realising significant savings from the removal of petrol subsidy and had chalked up N1 trillion in savings as at July 31, just two months into the policy.
To this, Labour says it wants to see a translation of these savings into economic reliefs to Nigerians.
Government further says it is fast working to deliver 3,000 buses of 25-seat capacity, which run on more cost efficient CNG fuel from abroad, to reduce transport cost to Nigerians and that it is in negotiations with an indigenous motor manufacturer to mark up further deliveries.
Labour’s position on this is said to be that the process is taking too long.
Government is also attesting that it is well disposed to putting a wage review into effect, while Labour is said to be pressing for documentation and a clear statement of percentages and timelines.
Government is further said to aver that it has been making inroads into blocking oil revenue leakages and as such, would have more resource to meet its obligations going forward.
All of this is well and good and Nigerians do appreciate that the task ahead is not a walk in the park.
Perhaps what remains is for the Federal Government to carry the people along in its plans going forward and the build-ups, with more explicit statements, as well as clearly stated timelines.