By femi falana
The Working Class Association of Nigeria deserves commendation for organising this workshop to celebrate the centenary of trade unionism in the country. The programme could not have come at a more opportune time than now. Just last week, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi called for a 50 percent reduction in the work force to balance the budget. He also called for the complete removal of fuel subsidy to free funds for development in the country.
Although the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Centre have joined issues with Mr. Sanusi, it is pertinent to appreciate that the Goodluck Jonathan administration shares such superficial solutions to the crisis of underdevelopment. Apart from his membership of Jonathan’s economic team, Mr. sanusi has teamed up with the other apostles of market fundamentalism to justify the removal of the so-called fuel subsidy, retrenchment of workers, galloping inflation, the manipulation of the foreign exchange market and the dollarisation of the economy.
Through dubious monetary policies, the CBN has kept interest rates beyond the reach of genuine investors. These anti-peoples’ policies constitute the cornerstone of the transformation agenda of the Jonathan administration.
About a year ago, the triumvirate of Mallam Sanusi, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, claimed that fuel subsidy had gulped N1.3 trillion in 2011 and that smugglers, oil thieves and the cartel of fuel importers perpetrating fraud in the oil and gas industry could not be arrested and prosecuted. The solution which they prescribed was that fuel subsidy should be removed to allow market forces to determine the real prices of petroleum products throughout the country. Thus, the Federal Government was forced to punish Nigerians for its incompetence which has forced a major oil producing nation to depend on fuel importation and the fraudulent
manipulation of the fuel subsidy fund by the ministries of petroleum and finance as well as the Central Bank in collusion with the cartel of fuel importers. Hence the price of petrol was increased from N65 to N141 per litre with effect from January 1, 2012. But due to the popular rejection of the insensitive policy through the historic protests of January 2012, the price was reduced to N97 per litre. And following the demand of Nigerians for transparency in the oil and gas sector, the mismanagement of the fuel subsidy fraud was referred to the EFCC and other committees set up by the federal government. Both chambers of the National Assembly have equally conducted investigation into the rot.
The main finding of the probes is that whereas N245 billion was appropriated in 2011 for fuel subsidy, the Central Bank illegally paid out N2.3 trillion to the NNPC and other fuel importers on the recommendation of the Federal Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources. Up till now, the lousy officials who committed such grave economic crimes have not been brought to book. In a very arrogant manner, the indicted officials are trying to divert attention of Nigerians by making reckless statements on the state of the economy.
The statement credited to the Finance Minister two days ago that Nigeria lost N400 billion last year through fuel subsidy is grossly misleading. If the genuine fuel imported into the country in 2011 was not more than N800 billion, it is submitted that the country lost N1.7 trillion which has to be accounted for by the Finance Minister and Co-ordinator of the economy.
Mr. Stanley Reginald, the Executive Secretary of the PPPRA has just disclosed that from January-October 2012 fuel subsidy payment was N679 billion, as against the N1.3 trillion paid within the same period last year. This was made possible because the number of importers has been pruned down to 38 from 128.
Since the Federal Government is currently studying the report of the Steve Oronsanye Committee which has recommended a restructuring of the overbloated public service, the call of Mr. Sanusi for 50 percent reduction of the workers in the civil service is rather opportunistic. In any case, the wage bill of civil servants is not the problem of the economy but the gross mismanagement, corruption and capital flight perpetrated by a parasitic ruling class. For instance it is public knowledge that the budget of the National Assembly is N150 billion while that of the CBN is N300 billion in 2012. The PPPRA is paying salaries and allowances of N5.7 billion to 249 staff.
In the 2013 budget, hundreds of billions have been allocated for food, entertainment, cutleries and sundry items in the Aso villa, in a country where the majority of citizens are wallowing in abject poverty. The loquacious CBN governor is not condemning the allocation of such huge funds to service a few government officials!
On its own part, the CBN has continued to distort the economy through the monthly conversion of revenue in dollars to Naira for payment of statutory allocations instead of the issuance of dollar certificates to the three tiers of government.
No doubt, Mr. Sanusi’s call is designed to cover up the unprecedented looting of the economy. Not less than N3 trillion has been channeled to bail out banks which were run down by bank executives with the connivance of the corrupt inspectorate division of the CBN.
The Auditor-General of the Federation has just disclosed that N4.4 trillion has been stolen by MDAs while NEITI has said that $9.8 billion has been withheld illegally by oil companies.
On its own part, the Nuhu Ribadu-led PRSTF has reported a loss of over $50 billion. Why is Mr. Sanusi not asking that the stolen funds be recovered? In the face of mounting unemployment of young and able bodied citizens, the retrenchment of workers by 50 percent should be resisted. The increase in the prices of petroleum products under any guise should also be rejected by the workers and the Nigerian people.
Finally, in spite of its limitations, the trade union movement has played a positive role in the struggle for political independence and the expansion of the democratic space in Nigeria. Therefore, the trade unions should draw sufficient lessons from the collapse of the January
2012 strike and popular protests in order to forge ahead.
It is high time the trade unions, in collaboration with other progressive forces, fashioned out an economic programme designed to harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity, an efficient, dynamic and self reliant economy and ensure that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group as stipulated in Section 16 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
•Falana, constitutional lawyer wrote from Lagos