NLC: Time to pause and ponder

IN its reaction to Federal Government’s announcement of the full deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said it would mobilise its members against the move. Although the labour movement made some germane observations about the welfare of the populace as well as the need for the government to get the nation’s refineries working to bring down the cost of production, I think the overriding concern of the NLC should be the overall interest of Nigerians. Therefore, I fail to see the justification for the subtle threat by the NLC in its statement.

The government’s position is clear: Fuel subsidy or under-recovery is a euphemism for fleecing the country by those in charge of the programme. As explained by Mele Kyari, Group Managing Director of the NNPC, the cost of under-recovery is bloated because Nigeria inadvertently supplies PMS to the whole of West Africa. In other words, the Nigerian government subsidises price of petrol for other countries. By taking this stance, the country will be saving close to

N1trillion annually from the exercise. So, I do not understand why NLC wants the government to abandon a policy meant to plug leakage in favour of a system that was hemorrhaging the country.

Perhaps the leadership of the NLC does not realise that while the subsidy regime was in place the government was not only bridging the price differentials between the international and local prices of PMS, it was also paying the marketers exchange rate differentials, that is the difference between the official foreign exchange rate and the black market rate. All a marketer needed to do was to say that he sourced his dollars from the black market at a particular rate and the government would have to pay the difference between the official exchange rate and the parallel market rate. The government also paid the marketers demurrage for the products they imported as well as interest on the money deployed in the conduct of their business because the government assumed that the marketers must have sourced funds from banks and would need to pay an interest on the borrowed money. How can a responsible body like the NLC agitate for the continuation of such a wasteful system, especially now that the country is struggling with revenue and neck deep in debt?

The NLC has always maintained that its interest is to protect the ‘poor who would be affected by the removal of fuel subsidy.’ But pray, how is the interest of the poor served when the government expends scarce resources on paying interest on loans it did not take and demurrage on products it did not import? How is the interest of the poor served when the government deploys resources meant to develop the whole of the nation to keeping just a few fat cows in business? I think the NLC needs to take another look at its agitations. It needs to know the difference between criticizing a government policy and protecting the interest of its members. It is not every government’s decision that should be attacked by the labour movement. Before

rushing to make a statement about a government policy, the NLC needs to seriously look at the policy and consider its long-term effects on the people. The leadership of NLC should learn to resist the temptation to always play to the gallery to guard against losing its essence. Instead of planning to mobilise its members against subsidy removal, what NLC ought to do is to task the government to ensure that profiteering marketers do not fleece members of the public. NLC should encourage the government to put machinery in place to ensure that the interest of every Nigerian that has a cause to buy PMS is protected. Once that is done, the job of NLC is complete.

I agree that agitation is the mainstay of a group like NLC. Without agitation, the body feels it is lifeless. But there are ample issues that NLC can mobilise against. Corruption is entrenched in the country, NLC can mobilise against that. Observance of rule of law is still at a low ebb in the country, NLC should mobilise against that. Insurgency and banditry are threatening to run the country under, NLC can mobilise against that. The standard of education is on a free fall, NLC should mobilise against it. The government seems undisturbed about the rising cases of out-of-school children, NLC can mobilise against that. Our health facilities are nothing to write home about, NLC should mobilise against that. Kidnapping is becoming a very serious problem, NLC should mobilise against that. NLC should also mobilise against the molestation of the citizenry by men in uniform. If NLC should do what it ought to do, it will not be in want of issues to mobilise against. NLC should realise that there is a time to speak up and there is a time to keep quiet. Wisdom is in knowing the difference.



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