Linda Eroke writes on the recent May Day celebration, where Nigerian workers used the occasion to reflect on the state of the nation’s economy, the issues in the Nigerian polity, including the scourge of corruption, epileptic power supply among others
This year's centenary Labour Day appropriately affords deeper reflection on the current state of the economy, on how the nation has fared in the last 100 years and more importantly how Nigeria can surmount the challenges hindering her drive towards national development.
Labour leaders, who spoke at the Eagle Square, Abuja, venue of the May Day rally, admitted that the failure of leadership to lead with integrity, courage and vision and the inability of the followers to unite and courageously demand for authentic leadership was responsible for the problems facing the nation.
They lamented that nation building projects have essentially been abandoned on the altars of corruption, ethnicity, cronyism and hedonism with consequences being witnessed in the level of deprivation, poverty, unemployment and insecurity currently ravaging the nation.
In his address, President of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Peter Esele, commended Nigerian workers for enduring what he described as the vagaries and vicissitudes of national development.
He observed that the nation’s economy has not come to grips with the common man, noting that for one hundred years of existence, the economy has transformed virtually nothing.
Esele lamented that the current economic indicators have not translated into better living standards for Nigerians but rather made more money available to the rich.
He said: “Since the beginning of this year, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has repeatedly told us and the rest of the world that Nigeria’s nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is to reach $300 billion within the year, with an annual GDP growth rate of 7.03 per cent mainly driven by the non-oil sector. This is very good news. But one cannot help but ask some pertinent questions. Which are the non-oil sectors that have purportedly contributed so much to our economy? We are now in the second quarter of the year.
“How far has the economic growth postulated by the CBN reflected in the life of the average Nigerian? How much extra naira has it put in our pockets? Has it provided more food on the table? How much impact has it had on housing, education, job creation, basic infrastructure, etc? Is it real or superficial? Is it the kind of growth that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer? Questions, questions and more questions! My fellow comrades, I leave them all for you to ponder on.
“Whatever the claims, the fact remains that we are still waiting to feel the impact. For instance, we are yet to see the return of the companies that have divested from the Nigerian economy in recent years. When shall we attract them back? Is the government doing anything or enough in this direction? Our economy has not come to grips with the common man. It has defied all logic. Does it mean that the hallowed developmental strategies that turned the Asians countries into economic tiger nations have no relevance in this country? For hundred years we have transformed virtually nothing.
“The economy is still mono-cultured. I am not given to superstition, but what is wrong with us as a nation? This question implies that if traditional economic theories have no place in Nigeria, then we must think out of the box. This country cannot continue like this, otherwise we are heading for the precipice and anything can happen,” Esele stated.
Speaking further, he said: “Over the years much of our infrastructure have collapsed. Many industries and business enterprises still struggle to break even due to the overly high overhead costs they incur on transportation, power generation, exorbitant demurrage at the ports, high exchange rate of the naira, multiple taxation, etc. The manufacturing sector is worst hit by these negative factors which have resulted in capacity utilisation remaining abysmally low. Owing to these, the domestic economy has witnessed an unprecedented closure of factories and production plants, and the unemployment profile has continued to rise.
“The relocation of several companies from Nigeria to Ghana and other countries is indicative that all is not well with our economy. The Bank of Ghana recently released a report that lists Nigeria as the 9th leading source of foreign direct investment in Ghana. The list of companies that relocated include, among others, Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Michelin, etc. And as they shut down their plants, they invariably laid off hundreds of their workers and put some on half pay.
“And how did this come about? The Ghanaian government provided very conducive environment, free land, 15-year tax holidays, and other attractive incentives for would-be investors. Sadly these are all measures that successive Nigerian governments have refused to implement in spite of persistent advice from well-meaning citizens over the years. Even today it appears the government has no concrete plan on how to develop infrastructure with a view to bringing more investments into the country. The business climate is simply so hostile”, Esele lamented.
He recommended that concrete steps should be taken to fix infrastructure, grant tax exemptions where necessary, give bail-out funds to more ailing industries and facilitate agricultural growth to generate raw materials for industries. He stressed the need for government to enter into more viable Public, Private Partnerships (PPPs) than ever before, and to significantly improve power supply.
Esele, who attributed the mirage of economic challenges to corruption and bad leadership, said the country is losing the battle against corruption. He added that the scourge has become so endemic that it has constituted the single most important factor in country’s failure to develop appreciably. According to him, “corruption has killed many of our industries, destroyed various aspects of our national life and is now threatening to kill our government.
Esele, who made his last appearance as President of the TUC, accused the nation's judiciary of aiding corruption by granting frivolous injunctions and controversial judgments.
“The anti-corruption agencies appear to be getting overwhelmed and some may even be backsliding from their avowed cause. So where do we go from here? Many nations are known for the native products of their countries. Is corruption native to us? I say a capital No.
“It is true that the government has a primary responsibility of arresting corruption and expelling it from our midst, but each and every one of us also has a role to play in achieving this desirable feat.
“We must hold our leaders at various levels accountable for their words and actions while in office. We must adhere to our good traditional values and moral standards. Thus we must discourage wastefulness, encourage honesty and dignity in labour, and fight corruption right from our homes. Parents and other elders must start living by good example for the younger ones to emulate rather than being crime culprits themselves. We must consciously uproot corruption in order to have the new, beautiful country of our dreams,” he added.
Speaking also, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Abdulwaheed Omar, said unemployment, corruption and insecurity were undermining Nigeria’s stability and continued existence as a nation, and demanded decisive and immediate action to address these challenges.
Omar, who called for decisive intervention to rein in the problem of unemployment, warned that if left unattended, the unemployment crisis could undermine the stability, security and peace of the nation.
“Official statistics put the national unemployment rate at approximately 24 per cent. As high as this rate is, it nevertheless camouflages the enormity of the unemployment crisis in the country. If unemployment and disguised unemployment were to be added to the figure, the monumental crisis will become more glaring.
“With an estimated 80 million youths in the total population, 30 to 40 million unemployed youths constitute a veritable army of the hungry, disillusioned and an anger that can undermine the stability, security and peace of any nation if left unattended. There is an urgent need for decisive intervention to rein in the unemployment problem. The signal of strife and insecurity today are warning banners we cannot afford to ignore.
“To overcome the problem of unemployment, Nigeria must promote strong industrial policies that recognise manufacturing as a key engine of growth and decent mass employment for the national economy. The federal government must urgently initiate a range of measures to revive and project labour-intensive industries like textiles, food and beverages, construction, iron and steel sectors, and others,” Omar stated.
He also decried the level of insecurity plaguing national development and asked the government to step up strategies to drastically reduce the appalling situation.
“Today, Nigeria faces severe, comprehensive and total security challenges that threaten its survival. In other word, we have on our hands a clear and present danger that needs an urgent and well thought-out solution if we must continue to remain as a nation. From the north to the south and from the east to the west, the nation is gripped in throes of unprecedented violence.
“The bonds that hold us together are being weakened. Our productive capacity is similarly diminishing. There is a feeling of loss of identity. We are scared and disfigured. As there nation lies prostrate, we are all shocked. But much more worrying than all of this, inexorable, loss of humanity, both murderers and their victims.
“As we have stated earlier, the effects of insecurity on us as a people and as a nation are multi-dimensional and grave. Slowly but surely the nation is been shut down, infrastructure destroyed and lives wasted. There is resurgence of ethnic and regional fervor, displacement, capital fight, increase in expenditure on security and at the expense of other more pressing needs, loss of jobs and income and many more,” Omar lamented.
He said labour was in support behind the amnesty proposed by the government for the members of the Boko Haram sect to stem the tide of insecurity in the country.
He urged the sect to lay down its arms and accept reconciliation talks as “Nigeria is also their country and its dismemberment or destruction offers no way forward for anyone.”
Omar urged the government to take the fight against corruption seriously while he described as ‘unfortunate’ the recent pardon granted former Bayelsa Governor.
Addressing workers at the Eagle Square, President Goodluck Jonathan, explained that his administration is strengthening the democratic institutions and confronting the challenges facing the nation’s economy with great determination and firmness.
Jonathan, who admitted that enough had not been done on job creation, corruption among other challenges, however noted that government was making steady progress in some sectors of the economy in spite of the challenges.
“Since the advent of this administration, our actions and policies have been geared towards placing the country on the path of sustainable progress where everyone can better achieve his or her dream.
“The transformation agenda is about taking and implementing measures today in order to give our people a brighter tomorrow. It is about creating jobs, creating wealth and ensuring better deal for Nigerians. This is an onerous task and requires the support of all citizens of this great country. Central to this transformation, is the creation of a political and stable environment which economic development activities will flourish. To this end, we are strengthening our democratic institutions and confronting the challenges facing our country with great determination and firmness.
“Labour has been in the forefront for the demand of good governance and increase action against corruption and these issues are being vigorously tackled from various fronts. Prosecutions are being pursued in matters arising from petroleum subsidy fraud. Embezzlement of pension fund and other serious long-standing malpractices have been de-mystified by this administration.
“We are however not unmindful of the fact that the ultimate benefit of this current result must reflect in the lives of the citizens. I agree totally that until we create jobs, until Nigerians can wake up and find food to eat, until sick Nigerians can walk to the hospitals and get treatment, the economic indices may not mean much to us,” Jonathan said.