By Emma Agu
By now, it is possible that Nigeria’s growing league of professional agitators would likely be sharpening its arsenal to join the strike called, for Wednesday, by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. The strike is to protest the deregulation of the pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS) or fuel by the Federal Government, announced last Wednesday by Minister of State, Petroleum Dr. Ibe Emmanuel kachikwu. Those to be hoodwinked into joining the ill-advised step by the NLC are scores of jobless Nigerians and sundry miscreants who, predictably, are among the worst hit by the dramatic erosion in the quality of their lives caused by the economic downturn.
To be sure, any rise in the price of fuel leads to astronomical changes in the price of virtually every other item or service. In fact, since the announcement of the deregulation, prices, especially transport fares, have spiraled out of control as the price of fuel appears to be the swing factor in the nation’s price index. There is a sense, therefore, in which the timing of the deregulation could lend itself to negative public response.
That said, we must, pause, to ask the pertinent question: what are the options open to the country in the face of dwindling foreign reserves while the social sector and infrastructure are yearning for attention? Specifically, if government is handicapped by dwindling foreign exchange earnings, how does the country get the fuel on which to run various appliances if the private sector is equally incapacitated by the unattractive nature of the subsisting pump price for petrol? Or how do we convince local and foreign investors to risk a business environment that is micro managed by labour by investing in local refineries?
That was the puzzle the Federal Government had to solve, that is, the dilemma between price control and availability of the product. But any honest Nigerian will admit that that dilemma had long been resolved, albeit by default, because following previous patterns, vehicle owners were already buying fuel at cut throat rates, at times of up to N250 per litre. The situation was so bad to the extent that Nigerians started clamouring for the removal of subsidy if only that would guarantee steady supply of fuel. It was against that background that deregulation became not just fashionable but expedient. In that sense, it will not be out of place to suggest that the action by the federal government was actually a timely response to popular demand.
By accusing government of acting unilaterally, NLC looks like it is still romanticising the era when labour strived to dictate socio-economic relations as if the country was running a socialist system. In an era of dwindling national reserves and cut throat competition for investment capital, labour will be deluding itself to believe that it is still endowed with the prerogative to hold businesses and governments to ransom under the pretext of exercising its responsibility to the workers. Such an illusion must stop. Labour should also realize that without productivity and efficiency, workers will lose their jobs, implying that the entire edifice on which labour has constructed its relevance will collapse.
Painful as the decision is, rather than get Nigerians into the streets for another round of potentially violent riots, labour should treat the action of government with caution and show some understanding of the very traumatic predicament the President must have found himself at demurring on his promise to reduce the price of fuel. In this respect, it will be mischievous using the president’s campaign promises to criticise this unfortunate volte face, aware that the condition precedent to his promise has been completely eroded by the free fall in the price of crude oil and by extension, national revenues.
At any rate, the NLC should read the mood of the nation or, in popular lingo, the people’s body language, and advise itself that Nigerians are not supportive of another exercise in professional grandstanding. Besides, it bespeaks of worrisome insensitivity not to realize that any strike or public demonstration stands the chance of being hijacked by the welter of aggrieved groups prowling all over the country only waiting for a trigger to unleash mayhem on the people. To put it bluntly, the situation in the country rules out any action with the slightest chance of worsening the security challenge. Without sounding alarmist, Nigeria, as a whole, is in a state of undeclared war. So how does any patriot go on strike when his or her country is at war? That is why labour must shelve this strike, NOW!