Monday, February 11, 2019
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Jos, Nigeria

he growing awareness and increasing political consciousness of the average electorate has in recent times, brought untold pressure on the political class – who before now, carried on as though it was sacrilegious to be accountable to the Nigerian people – and has made them concede to demands they know full well what the burden of its implementation was going to look like eventually.

But in a bid to stay on in power, the gravity of those hasty concessions looks like it mattered less (especially to the people) even when it should be subjected to scrutiny by no less a personality than the electorate. The concessions to the NLC and the ASUU by the APC federal government is – in my humble view – considered as hasty. I say this for a number of reasons; chief of which are the coming elections.

By hasty, I do not mean to suggest that these concessions are not without adequate consultations rather I mean to say that even though they are well-intended; they looked more like a bait to get something from the people than to give something. The next government after now has been saddled with the responsibility of following through with details of the agreement for the purpose of implementation.

Having said this and going forward from here; it is important we recalled what the agreements contained, why governments of the past had shunned it and why this government had decided to sign it despite its inability to back many of its previous agreements with adequate funding. Simply put, the demands of the both the NLC and the ASUU is about money. Call it adequate funding or pay rise if you wish.

The demands for an increase in the minimum wage of public servants is one that should’ve been no hassles for this administration if they understood that what made the minimum wage a necessity was beyond just pay rise. It is worthy of note that the Naira – as our currency – has been on life support following the failure of government to fix power, the rail lines, the refineries and lastly accede to demands for restructuring the federation.

The effects of unstable power supply on the naira – if fully appreciated by stakeholders – should’ve triggered a whole new and different approach to solving power failure. How can the former NEPA now rest in the bosom of independent operators who have vested interest? Why do we not devolve the power to generate electricity to the state governments instead; with the option of a public-private partnership?

Now, states that have viable potential for industrialization are crippled because of power failure and are reduced to now belong among those protesting against the implementation of a mere 30,000.00 naira minimum wage for their workers. The effect of a lack of working rail lines across the country has produced a multiplier effect on goods and services thereby making it too costly for the purchasing power of the naira to handle.

The combination of our underperforming refineries which has made the automated gas oil (or Diesel) quite expensive to procure and, the trailer and truck operators has made the naira too weak to do anything for public servants as well as salary earners in the private sector. It is also a strong factor behind the inability of industries to post good profits or pay their workers well after they’d lost a fortune in running cost.

Again, the minimum wage has a lot to do with the review of the revenue allocation formula or the restructuring of the Nigerian state. Now, why continue to review the allocation formula when there is a much better approach? Coming shortly after the demands for restructuring failed to get the attention of government; the NLC took center stage to ask for a pay rise.

Government – in her usual folly – chose the part of reviewing the revenue formula as against exploring the possibilities of a restructured federation. What this means is simply that in another decade from now (that is, if the NLC would be patient enough) the NLC will most certainly stage another protest for pay rise. To wit, our federation is a vast geographical boundary that is loaded with massive deposits of wealth.

The problem is that those who led us lacked the mental capacity to explore beyond known boundaries. To them, since Nigeria is blessed with fossil fuel then it should remain a member of OPEC and feed the citizen from proceeds of oil. But if they saw oil as a money-making machine that should generate needed funds with which to invade other territories in search of other money-making machines, the reverse could’ve been the case.

Therefore, as long as the naira remained in that ‘German Hospital’ and on life-support; pay rise by way of reviewing the allocation formula was a mere waste of time. Think of what the economy was like when telephony was arrogantly announced as the preserve of the rich in the 90s and think of where the economy is today that the same telephony has come into the hands of the common man.

Sometime ago, the APC administration had announced that the entitlements of former Biafran soldiers is a settled matter. Again, sometime ago the government had announced the Ogoni Clean-Up exercise with so much pomp and play. These are yet to get the kind of serious funding that went to the Northeast in the name of fighting insurgency. The question is: Has government transformed into a promise and renege institution?

The demands of the ASUU – like the NLC – are one and the same thing – adequate funding/pay rise. However, the approach to meeting their demands entailed a closer look at the issue of autonomy for the universities. What will an autonomous university system mean for the Nigerian federation and its educational system? Will it encourage more research, improve the quality of graduates and attract sponsorship from the industrial sector or will it be like the Nigeria Football Federation – a den of corruption and impunity?

I believe that for previous governments to have shunned any form of commitment to the demands of ASUU, it must be because they lacked the funds to back up their commitment otherwise there was a better explanation to it. Hence, acceding to demands that’ll only end up creating more troubles has never been the style of any responsible administration. No people-oriented government will turn down what they can do for the people without hassles.

Those of us who have one dealings or the other with the current government can tell that what has characterized the administration since inception is their inability to provide funding for contracts or even pay for already executed ones. And it is strange how they hoped to implement this commitment if they returned to power after the 2019 general elections.

If they do not return; it becomes a temptation for the new government when it should be adjusting self in new office. The NLC are aware of the many times Dr. Chris Ngige – Honorable Minister of labor, had dribbled the Labor Union just when the Union thought an agreement had been reached. Therefore, the safest thing to do now is to not assume that because this government had committed itself; it was duty-bound to implement it.

Also, do not conclude that whoever questioned the seriousness of this commitment was idle or against the APC. For the electorate, it is not yet Uhuru for those who think that the APC had done well by committing to sign the longstanding agreement with ASUU and NLC respectively. If the commitment is not because of the elections, the only other way to test the genuineness is to watch what happens to that commitment after the elections if the APC returns.