NLC treating governors with kid gloves

BY Ayodele AKINKUOTU

TO the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) President Bola Ahmed Tinubu thundered on Thursday, February 29, “you are not the voice of Nigerians”. He was reacting to the two-day industrial action embarked on by the NLC and a few of its affiliates on February 27 and 28.

If one recalls his days as a frontline member of the National Democratic Coalition in the brutish days of the military era, when many opponents of the Abacha junta were literally vaporised, Tinubu can not be averse to legitimate workers’ protests in demanding their rights.

His grouse is that in the nine months of his administration, there have been four labour strikes. He, therefore, threw a challenge to Joe Ajaero, NLC president, to stop playing politics and wait till 2027 if he is desirous of competing for the presidency.


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Talking about whether the NLC is the voice of Nigerians, the President’s claim that they are not may not be the whole truth.

Two weeks before NLC carried out its latest protests, there have been pockets of demonstrations in several towns in the country. And they were organised by some civil society organisations. The agitators were protesting the hunger in the land and the crippling inflation in all sectors. And the demands of Labour at the National Assembly on Tuesday centred on the full implementation of welfare provisions promised by the Federal Government in cushioning the effects of the soaring poverty in the land. Ajaero equally demanded employment generation, subsidy to farmers to boost agricultural production, and fixing of the four oil refineries.

As great as these demands are, they are very pedestrian because these issues are already getting the attention of the Federal government. While there is hunger in the land, many people are angry because the political leaders are behaving as if they live on another planet. They seem unperturbed by the debilitating poverty millions are subjected to.

An industrial action by the NLC should be an opportunity to call out our political leaders to curb their excesses. For instance, in a nation where millions of graduates are unemployed, it is unconscionable for lawmakers to be riding vehicles costing N160 million per unit. The price of each car is the combined monthly salary of about 5400 workers at N30,000, which is our minimum wage. And there are 489 lawmakers in the National Assembly. And this was another opportunity for Labour to query even the excesses in Aso Rock.

In this year’s budget, many have wondered at the billions of Naira that would be spent in renovating the official quarters of the Vice President and the office of the First Lady. While the average Nigerian is being asked to tighten his belt, the apostles of the mantra have thrown away their own belts. Yet, President Tinubu declared in Akure recently, that “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”.

Still on Ajaero, in Abuja, he quipped that Nigeria has become another Zimbabwe. He is referring to the run-away inflation in that country some years ago when in the bid to purchase a loaf of bread, a buyer needed a wheelbarrow to carry the thousands of Zimbabwean dollars to the vendor. May our case never reach that miserable and ridiculous pass.

In Akure, President Tinubu had a riposte for that Ajaero jibe. “We are meeting our obligations to the international community. To lenders, we have not defaulted, and we are not going to default”. That looks like a firm assurance from someone who knows what he is doing.

And to veteran labour leader Ajaero who has been in the frontline of workers’ struggle for decades, it may be difficult to teach him new tricks. However, he may need to change his tactics and strategies. His unilateral declaration of the recent industrial action took a lot of steam out of the event. For failing to consult the leadership of the Trade Unions Congress, the latter ignored the strike action. Even the National Union of Nigerian Students who are always eager to participate in workers’ protests turned a deaf ear to Ajaero’s battle cry. His failure in this regard was the signal President Tinubu needed to confirm that the NLC president was merely playing politics with the industrial action.

While the Labour leadership is busy tackling the President, methinks they are losing sight of a key part of their struggle. The 36 State governors are being treated with kid gloves. Yet, in the last nine months, since the removal of fuel subsidy, the States have been awash with billions of Naira. The revenues accruing to them from the Federation Account since last June has in majority of cases more than doubled. In fact, some states are earning thrice what they got in 2022.






     

     

    It is true that the Federal government is the one that removed fuel subsidy and floated the Naira, the twin policy that is believed to be responsible for the soaring prices of goods in the country. The question is what are the governors doing with the billions accruing to their treasuries every month, a fallout from subsidy removal? And why are the leadership of the unions in the States not demanding accountability from these governors?

    In mid-February, at a meeting in Lagos with 19 governors, Tinubu urged them, “to spend the money, don’t spend the people”. He charged them further that they should clear all salary arrears to workers and gratuities to retirees and pensioners, since States are now getting more money from the Federation Account. This meeting held about two weeks before the NLC held its latest industrial action. Yet, none of the leaders of the Union in the States referred to this charge. All of them were either too fixated on Tinubu or intellectually lazy to come to grips with the import of that message from the President.

    But the essence of that message was not lost on the Afenifere, the socio- political organisation of the Yoruba. In a welcome address to Tinubu when he visited Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the Afenifere leader recently in Akure, the octogenarian asked the President to appeal to the governors to do the needful. His words, “ since the removal of fuel subsidy which was costing Nigeria $10 billion yearly, the state governments have been receiving hefty allocations from the Federation Account.

    Mr. President should persuade the governors to allow the change of fortune to reflect at the grassroots so that life can be better for the people. They should create employment, improve education and build new infrastructure. Today, life is truly challenging for most people and the State governments have an important role to play to transform society”. The only thing we can add is to repeat the President’s charge to the governors, “spend the money, don’t spend the people”.

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