The Nigerian labour movement with full collaboration of hundreds of other progressive organizations in the country including the Coalition for Revolution (CORE), the Joint Action Front (JAF), Alliance for Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) as well as the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), have resolved to embark on a general strike action and mass protests against recent increase in the price of petroleum products and electricity tariffs.
For organized labour, the action is viewed as a terrible attack on declining earnings occasioned by a general inflation as the naira value against foreign currencies declined sharply in recent weeks as well as massive job losses and cuts in wages of many workers in the wake of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
For workers in the informal sector, it is multiple jeopardy as many literally starved to death during the harsh lockdowns which recorded thousands of people suffering needless harassment while many were killed by security agencies in the name of enforcing Covid-19 lockdown. Meanwhile, Food ‘palliatives’ meant to assist the poor locked down from their livelihoods, were captured by local political elites. Yet, the 2.3 trillion naira announced as palliatives under the Economic Sustainability Plan in the Office of the Vice-President completely left out the informal sector as conditionalities were imposed including having registered companies! How does a trader, farmer, mechanic or street/market vendor who has exhausted her little business funds during clamp downs begin to register a business to access an emergency palliative and then begin a process of online registration for the money? People who have no clue about the internet are being asked to process loans online! No wonder our people cannot access these loans. Needless to say, questions are being asked about hundreds of billions of naira already disbursed in the name of ‘palliatives’ to God knows who! Is the regime of ‘palliatives’ and ‘stimulus packages’ disbursement becoming another conduit for grand looting of public resources by politicians and top civil service collaborators?
For the general populace, it is unimaginable that the government has not exhibited any seriousness in addressing the shambolic, degraded and run - down condition of healthcare and education infrastructures even while schools are being reopened without meaningful expansion of basic facilities including more class rooms, more teachers, potable water and even toilets, raising fears of possible escalation of the Covid-19 virus among children resuming school. While public schools, colleges and universities have been abandoned, it is on record that the few rich elites spend over US$2 billion yearly on foreign education for their children while just about 500 of them spend at least US$12 billion on medical tourism annually! Even as most working people work and live in terrible housing and working conditions, with millions living in shanties or face-me-I-face-you rooms in informal settlements, due to lack of tangible investment in social housing which has resulted in an estimated housing deficit of more than 17 million, yet the Lagos State government engages in sporadic evictions of poor people from their modest homes to make way for the super - rich without any attempt at resettlement or rehabilitation of the victims. 24 communities offshore the Atlantic Coast at the Snake Island end, were demolished in January this year alone, rendering estimated 54, 000 people homeless.
Interestingly, the Buhari government despite its anti-corruption grandstanding, all this while, has not demonstrated any commitment to addressing an iniquitous system that allows politicians and top civil servants to draw humongous remuneration second to none in the world as public office holders award themselves the highest levels of salaries and allowances imaginable with federal lawmakers collecting an annual salary of US$118,000, equivalent to 144 times the national minimum wage while grand corruption is institutionalized in the running of government as reflected in excessive support staff for politicians, arbitrary increase in the number of government agencies and committees, hidden allowances and oversized retirement packages. For instance, a whopping N241.8 billion ($670 million) is being spent annually by the federal government as ‘security votes’ in a manner that lacks transparency and accountability, according to Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) apart from a bloated defense budget. A newspaper analyst recently laments …‘instead of financial moderation through cutting the cost of governance, most state governments still retain the following wasteful practices; too many aides, hiring of jets, first class flight tickets, use of exotic vehicles, long convoys, hosting of unnecessary events, sponsorship of pilgrimages, security votes, frequent travels, funding of First Ladies, donation to political parties, funding of unnecessary projects…among others. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/01/revealed-state-governments-waste-money/
When the history of the Buhari era will be written in the future, perhaps its greatest failing will be in reneging on its electoral promise to fix the Nigerian four refineries and build new ones. This would have saved Nigeria so much money to address urgent infrastructural deficits, create massive jobs as at least 44 much needed industrial raw materials will be produced to input local industires that have closed down. According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nigeria exported crude oil valued at $US206. 07 billion while a whopping $US264.57 billion worth of petroleum products was imported into the country over a five year period 2015-2019 meaning the Nigerian oil cartel, one of whom bought several Ferrari cars for her daughters recently, made such a killing at the expense of 200 million Nigerians as Nigeria lost $US58.5 billion dollars, apart from the unquantifiable value added! (See https://punchng.com/nigerias-petroleum-imports-exceeded-exports-by-58-5bn-opec/). Meanwhile according to the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC), the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) spent a whopping $396.33 million between 2013 and 2017 to carry out repair works under the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) scheme. (See https://guardian.ng/opinion/spending-n120b-annually-on-idle-refineries/). The Buhari government has failed to end the shame of Nigeria being the only OPEC country importing petroleum products 5 years after election promises made in 2015 to do so.
With this horrific governance profile, is it any wonder that Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world spurning relentless low intensity wars usually engendered by politicians arming unemployed, starving youths to decimate political opponents and rig elections, only for the armed youths to turn the arms against defenseless people, after elections?
Perhaps the strike action declared by the labour movement and its allies will lead to a reversal of the prices of petroleum products and electricity tariffs to their former levels and indeed, this will be a great victory for working people but how does it even begin to scratch the surface of the fundamental issues around the general well - being of most Nigerians that have been put in jeopardy by over 60 years of prebendal, clientelist, patronage driven political system feeding on a disaster capitalist system? Nigerians especially the youth who constitute over 70% of the Nigerian populace must wake up to the October 1, 2020 Mass Action for Change and wean back their mortgaged destinies! #RevolutionNow!
Co-Convener, Coalition for Revolution (CORE)