NLC President Ayuba Waba and Governor Nasir El-Rufai. Picture credit: bbc.com/Google

Over two-thirds of the States in the country have stopped paying regular salaries. Others are paying part salaries, with the promise to refund the difference at a later date that would clearly not be soon, if ever. Many States have gone back on the promise to pay the new minimum wage and there are allegations that even the NLC is not paying this.

The labour crisis in Kaduna over “mass sacking” (the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, language) or “rightsizing” (the government language) has become very ugly. Hired thugs were brought in to attack protesting workers, challenging their right to peaceful assembly and protest. The Kaduna State governor, who never runs away from a fight, declared the NLC president, Ayuba Waba, wanted for sabotage and economic crimes. Waba declared his readiness to be arrested and turned around to declare Nasir El Rufai, the Kaduna State governor, wanted for crimes against the people. Meanwhile, electricity in the State has been cut, people are suffering and it has become a nasty and dirty ego war between the protagonists, and the real issues are not on the table for discussion.

For me, the real issue is that Nigeria is facing one of the most severe cash crunches in its history. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) wrote a letter to the Accountant-General of the Federation, dated April 26, indicating that it would not make any remittance for April and May to the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) after paying fuel subsidy from its revenue. Payments for fuel subsidy have become the last straw that is emptying the treasury. In its response, the Nigeria Labour Congress said it will not accept the withdrawal of subsidy. For much of my adult life, I must confess that I have also fought against the withdrawal of petroleum subsidy. Actually, the Federal Government withdrew subsidy in March 2020, when the price of petrol had gone down due to the COVID-19 pandemic but was harassed into restoring it when the price went up again.

The Buhari Presidency has been essentially begging for loans to run the government. This week, President Muhammadu Buhari is asking the National Assembly to approve a $6.18 billion additional foreign loan. Currently, Nigeria’s total external debt is $33.348 billion, while the total public debt stock, as of December 30, 2020, which was released by the Debt Management Office (DMO) in March 2021, stood at N32.915 trillion. The reality is that we are completely broke and cannot maintain current levels of public expenditure. We must all THINK about what our options are in this context.

The fiscal problems we have are not going to go away until we take drastic policy measures to address our crisis. Currently, the National Assembly is creating new agencies and institutions every quarter, knowing fully well there is no money to fund them.

For a politician, Nasir El-Rufai has one weakness, he says what he believes, and his response to the financial crunch is to cut the workforce of Kaduna State – an act that trade unions by nature have to oppose. What is the alternative? In Kogi State, the governor announced an audit of the payroll and without announcing any cuts in the public service, quietly stopped paying a significant part of the civil servants, claiming he could not find evidence they are government workers. He used ruse. He is not alone. Over two-thirds of the States in the country have stopped paying regular salaries. Others are paying part salaries, with the promise to refund the difference at a later date that would clearly not be soon, if ever. Many States have gone back on the promise to pay the new minimum wage and there are allegations that even the NLC is not paying this. The most distressing aspect is that our elders, the pensioners, are for the most part not receiving their pensions at a time when so many of them are vulnerable and sick.

For many people, the problem in Kaduna State has been reduced to Governor Nasir El-Rufai. He definitely has his problems and at times like these, his fight to finish attitude is not the best. For others, the problem is President Waba of the NLC, who is said to be wicked for cutting electricity supply and closing hospitals. A friend called me from Kaduna to complain that El-Rufai has generators but the poor women who can’t get their beans ground to prepare and sell akara for subsistence or prepare maize flour to feed their families are the real victims. The NLC is not the villain because Nigerian governments never perform without a show of force from labour, so what do we expect them to do?

To move forward, labour and governments have to re-learn the process and practice of negotiations based on policy options. Secondly, we the ordinary citizens have to be more conscious of what the policy options are, so that we can lend our voices in a sensible manner. El Rufai and Waba, stop the street fight, talk policy.

The fiscal problems we have are not going to go away until we take drastic policy measures to address our crisis. Currently, the National Assembly is creating new agencies and institutions every quarter, knowing fully well there is no money to fund them. The report of the Oronsanye Committee on the rationalisation of federal agencies has been on the shelves for eight years without implementation. We have been arguing about petroleum subsidy and have demonstrated over thirty times on the matter in three decades. Our political leadership a engaged in the mega looting of public resources, as if there is no tomorrow. As a recent research shows, for most of them, there is not future in Nigeria and they have bought houses in Dubai they will move to when Nigeria collapses.

To move forward, labour and governments have to re-learn the process and practice of negotiations based on policy options. Secondly, we the ordinary citizens have to be more conscious of what the policy options are, so that we can lend our voices in a sensible manner. El Rufai and Waba, stop the street fight, talk policy.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

 

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