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January 12, 2012

FuelSubsidy: Jonathan Vs. NLC who will blink first?

Nigeria Labour Congress

This author calls for NLC to use this opportunity to create an apolitical alliance with Government and become a watchdog on behalf of the Nigerian people � @southelevation

 

The #FuelSubsidy protest has turned into a dangerous staring game between the unions and the President. The case for either side is getting more complicated. Even as the crowds are growing many protesters are rapidly shifting opinions. Others are yielding to the current hardships caused the subsidy removal. Quiet unexpectedly President Jonathan has not shown any sign of buckling to the demands of the unions. A senior staff affiliate of the Labour Union, PENGASSEN is threatening to shut down the oil exports. There are reports of billions of losses in revenue by the government as a result of the strike. Yet government says there is just no money to sustain the subsidy anymore. So who is going to give? Who is going to blink first?

Nigeria Labour

National labour unions can be very powerful and equally very stupid. Almost all productive sectors of the economy are controlled by one union or the other. They are funded and sustained by a shared concern to protect their source of livelihood. So a labour strike translates into a mass action very quickly and becomes very difficult to deal with. The government is the biggest employer in Nigeria. Many of the workers are government staff. If they decide to suspend the strike in any condition they will likely never agree to the �no-work-no-pay� principle. This will make it even harder for government to buckle with rising costs. The Labour congress may equally refer to the large salaries of elected officials. The protests are fast becoming a protest against government wastes and fat official salaries and benefits. A problem both the executive and the lawmakers in both houses of parliament has failed to address in the past despite repeated calls from the public. It is also doubtful in the face of these complications that the Nigeria Labour Congress would be able to call back the protesters. Various social groups have also played a part in organising the protests.

Government

President Jonathan�s administration says there are no funds to sustain the fuel subsidy. Though the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi, has said that fuel subsidy could be sustained for about two to three years but no further. It is doubtful if President Jonathan would want to have that drag on a possible re-election campaign in the next three years. If government yields to the demands of the unions it will be interesting to see were the money is going to come from. The appropriations bill will have to be re-worked as no provisions were made in it for financing fuel subsidy. The recent palliatives to subsidy removal may have to be recovered. The President again will lose some grace before the masses.

Negotiated settlement

What can make a negotiated settlement acceptable to all parties? Frankly many protesters know that there is a cabal involved in sabotaging the oil and gas sector. A report by KPMG dealing with fraud in this sector has yet to result in any prosecutions. But the problem is how to deal with these issues without causing hardship to millions of ordinary people.

  • President Jonathan may have to cut back further into the salaries, entitlements and benefits of public office holders.
  • If locally refined petrol is cheaper and the fuel subsidy is used to finance imports how long will it be before we can get our refining capacity at per with local consumption?

It is unlikely that the labour will accept promises. Government promises in the power sector and in any of other high net worth sectors including the Railways, Power generation etc. has never been fully realised. The Labour leaders are not incorruptible as well. And over the years there has been quiet a bit of disputes over fuel subsidy and petrol pump price.

The bottom line is; there are many things wrong with our country. Fuel Subsidy is one of them. But it is the only one that seems to benefit a wider, broader reaches of the country�s people and even the neighbouring countries. How do you fix appendicitis without cutting open the skin? But how can the union stop a doctor from stitching up a patient after an operation? This is what is happening now. The subsidy is gone, we should be heckling the government to cut other corrupt strands and to apply copious anaesthetic and to quickly finish the job to enable the country to heal properly.

More than ever before; this country belongs to its people. From the days of Abacha we the people took charge of our destiny. At times we have tended to lessen that grip but no administration is capable of executing by force his will on the people. It was done once but not anymore. There is strong need for labour to suspend the strike and to negotiate an alliance with the government on behalf of the people of Nigeria. We need an apolitical union to watch government closely, to hold them accountable to the people for the promises that will make and have made in the past and to promote transparency in public office. This is the time for the union to serve the real workers. Is the Nigerian Labour Congress listening?

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