President Tinubu, please listen to labour demands-Ibrahim Siraj
By Dr. Ibrahim Siraj
I don’t know whether to pity President Bola Tinubu or not. The man has asked not to be pitied because he asked for the job and got it. But looking at the enormity of the challenges and how he became almost overwhelmed few months into his four-year term, I feel like going against his “don’t pity me” admonition. The President really deserves pity whether he likes it or not.
On the day of his inauguration, barely an hour after taking oath, Mr. President announced his decision to end the fuel subsidy regime to the delight and applause of anti-subsidy elements in the West and their Nigerian cohort. From that point, he started moving around with some chest-beating gusto claiming credit for this massive decision. He did everything to prove wrong many anti-Buhari elements who wanted to wrongly “credit” the former President with the bold move. He owned up to it firmly in words and actions.
He told an audience in France that though his speech writers did not include the announcement of subsidy removal in his inaugural speech, that didn’t stop him from making that emphatic yet infamous proclamation: “Fuel subsidy is gone!” He was possessed by courage, he boasted.
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In July, The Economist penned a beautiful piece hailing the impressive first moves of “Baba Go Fast” which include bringing to an end the age-old fuel subsidy and floating the Naira, among other things, something all past presidents, his predecessors, have failed to do over the years.
According to the magazine, the subsidy has “for decades drained the treasury of revenues from the country’s most valuable natural resource”, a line of argument most often regurgitated by all pro-subsidy removal propagandists.
What these subsidy removal protagonists have refused to acknowledge, however, was how it helped to keep prices of essential commodities and services relatively low and affordable to the poorly remunerated Nigerians whose purchasing capacity had been seriously weakened following years of unchecked inflation.
Now, the subsidy is gone or so they say. One would expect the President to be as swift in rolling out relief measures aimed at mitigating its negative effect as he was in removing it. The Labour has since been engaging the Federal Government on this critical issue considering how the new fuel price has worsened an already bad situation.
Nigerian workers and the masses are suffering greatly. In Abuja as well as in many other states, workers could only go to office two or three times a week. There are reports of workers who sleep in their offices or inside their cars in order to save fuel costs. The resultant high transport fares have pushed food prices to the roof thereby rendering many families hungry due to the inability to buy food.
The world is witness to how the government has been footdragging and merely making promises. It keeps asking for time to make a pronouncement on the new minimum wage and other issues. Neither the series of meetings held nor the warning strike has been able to yield any positive outcome. It’s safe to assume that the government is taking Nigerians for granted and the Labour for a ride by constantly paying lip service to their demands and playing them around.
The situation is getting worse by the day and NLC and TUC (the two major Labour organizations in the country) are demanding action which seems not to be forthcoming. The Labour leaders deserve commendation for their doggedness and attachment to a peaceful resolution of the problem. Their kind gesture as well as positive disposition towards negotiation have not been graciously reciprocated by the Federal Government team resulting in several deadlocked meetings.
Things have reached a tipping point and the situation is no longer sustainable. If the Federal Government is carefully analysing current trends and could rightly predict their consequences, it should be able to know that the struggle is not only in Labour’s interest but in the government’s interest too.
Nigerians have been pushed to the wall and the time to pull the brakes to stop their further descent into the penury is now. Let them not allow Nigerians push back because no one knows what will happen.
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President Tinubu must expedite action on his plans for the citizens’ post-fuel subsidy removal. As a mark of goodwill, he should be able to match words with actions, especially regarding short-term programmes and policies. Let him make known the new minimum wage and its effective date.
Let him convince the Labour unions and, by extension Nigerians, about how he’s going to meet their demands and tackle a cost of living crisis that appears to be the worst in Nigeria’s recent history. He must do everything to avert the upcoming shutdown so as not to further hurt the economy or worsen the hardship.
Strike or no strike, the time to act is now!
Siraj is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano