Organised Labour unites over sale of national assets

· NLC, TUC, PENGASSAN threaten nationwide protest

The Nigerian Labour movement has reacted negatively to the idea mooted and supported by the Federal Government to sell national assets in the face of the present economic recession.

While some see the move as mere madness, many believe it is another manipulation by the greedy political class and privileged few elites to corner the public heritage.

The question directed to the government and other apostles of idea is to know which other national assets would be put for sales should Nigeria found itself in worst economic recession in the next 50 years or what the next generation will sell if the present generation sold all the assets left behind by their fathers for the nation when they might have all left.

Already, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to mobilise for a nationwide protest, while the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has threatened to shut down the country should the government goes ahead to sell the national assets.

The NLC warned against the sales but said it would engage the government as a first step to allow the government to see reasons why the national assets left behind by the fathers of the nation should not be sold.

The congress said it would dialogue with the Federal Government on the need to jettison the proposed sale. To show its commitment to this, the NLC inaugurated a committee alongside the Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU) to engage the Federal Government.

However, the congress warned that if the process of dialogue fail to yield the desired results, it would mobilise its members nationwide for protest across the country. Following the inauguration of the committee in Abuja, the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba decried the proposed sale and described it as anti-people.

Apart from the congress readiness for a mob action against the sales, Wabba said the congress is also considering a court action against the government. He said the congress will be dragging the Federal Government to court, and  that 20 lawyers have already indicated interest to represent the NLC in court.

Wabba added that the congress has also resolved to engage the services of intellectuals to come out with alternative policy ideas than the ones being canvassed by government

“We will approach this issue from three dimensions. One is what we are doing now. To inaugurate a think-tank to engage the government. Two, we will mobilise to the street to canvass for policy change when dialogue fails or we can do both side by side. Thirdly, we will engage the services of our progressive lawyers to seek legal interpretation.”

He blamed the current recession in the country on corruption  and mismanagement; adding, “the major problem is tax evasion. Only workers pay real tax. If the high and mighty pay tax, there will be enough resources for development. The Panama scandal revealed that some people currently canvassing for the sale of our national assets are part of the rot in the system”

Wabba advised the Federal Government to take stock of assets that have been privatised, to see the failure in the process. and declared “we are opposed to sales of national assets. The consequences will be more grievous than what we are running from. All of us must stand up.”

Also reacting to the approval of the sale of the national assets by the Federal Executive Council and the state governors, the PENGASSAN National Public Relations Officer, Comrade Emmanuel Ojugbana, stated that such sales will further compound the economic and security problems in Nigeria.

Ojugbana described the plan to sell the national assets as a self-destructive move to Nigeria. According to him, the plan which is only meant to solve short term financial obligations is targeted at handing over the people collective common wealth to a few individuals and further impoverish the others who are in the majority.

PENGASSAN, therefore advised that instead of selling those assets, the government should look for other ways of increasing the revenue base of the country, while plugging loopholes and leakages in government’s finances.

It further advised the governments at all levels to pump out money through execution of capital projects and payment of workers’ salaries to revive the economy.

PENGASSAN, however, cautioned the Federal Government to be wary of such plan as the association will not sit back and watch national assets, especially those in the oil and gas industry such as NLNG that has become a huge revenue earner for Nigeria, refineries and shares in the upstream oil and gas JV operations being shared among those in power and their cronies.

“Any attempt to sell these national assets will be met with stiff resistance from the association, as PENGASSAN will galvanise every support including that of our sister union and labour centres to shut down this country by ensuring that every activity in the oil and gas sector is brought to a complete halt.”

The PENGASSAN spokesperson also expressed surprise on “how anybody can plan to sell the assets, such as the NLNG and shares in the upstream oil and gas JV operations, which have been generating revenue and are still generating revenue for the country to date.

“They should tell us what will happen after the recession if we have sold the assets to greedy individuals. Will the country go cap in hand begging those individuals who bought the assets and borrowing from them?”

Comrade Ojugbana alleged that the plan was ill-timed and unwarranted as it does not serve national interest, adding that no nation can develop, survive or feel secure after selling all its national assets.

“The sale of national assets is not only surprising but also embarrassing for a nation experiencing economic recession. The proponents of the sale of national assets are those who have been actively involved in the operations of the nation’s economy in the past. They were part of those responsible for the country’s current economic situation.

“Moreover, such sales in the past including the power and steel sectors privatisation is just a shift from public monopoly to private monopoly which has further worsen those sectors.”

To the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the consequences of such action would be disastrous. warning that Nigeria should not sell its birthright for a mussel of porridge.

President of TUC, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama said “In our race to come out of the recent recession that has bedevilled the country, caution should be taken to ensure we do not auction our life-wire to people as being suggested by Nigerian governors during the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting and a few other Nigerians.

“The consequences of such action would be disastrous. Tell me of any asset sold in this country without hundreds of people losing their jobs! Did they even tell us what they did with the proceeds?

“Truly, we are experiencing increasing economic complexities, but that does not mean we should sell our birthright for a mussel of porridge. If only those canvassing this will pay their appropriate taxes and the economy well diversified we wouldn’t be complaining by now.

Let us remember that if those who invested in the assets had sold them, the current administration would not have been able to bailout some state governments when they cried for help some months ago. The recommendation of the sale is hasty, unreasonable and we suspect foul play. Our challenge as a country is not paucity of resources, but rather the inability (or deliberate refusal) of successive governments to convert the blessings for the general good of all.”