• Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Managing the fallout of economic reform: the need to come together

Managing the fallout of economic reform: the need to come together

The Nigerian Labour Congress organised a protest on February 28, 2024. The protest targeted the hardships caused by the economic reform implemented by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration.

It was planned for two days but was called off after the first day, which must have been a relief for the government, but the point had been made. However, the protest itself was not as successful as the NLC had envisaged, as the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which represents senior staff associations, declined to be part of it, preferring to pursue more conciliatory means with the government.

Read also: Tinubu to NLC: Maintain peace now, meet us in 2027

Various government spokesmen, including the Department of State Services (DSS), displayed overt political pronouncements, indicating the federal government’s evident agitation over the workers’ protest. The Attorney General of the Federation has his job cut out for him in holding counterparties accountable for the legal instruments they sign with the government and in seeking to enforce the sanctity of court pronouncements.

But I must quickly add that no court of law can bar aggrieved citizens in a democracy from organising peaceful protests to ventilate their grievances on issues dear to their hearts. It was clear that this was a peaceful protest and not an attempt to shut down the economy.

The government’s apprehension stemmed from the possibility, however small, that the protests could be hijacked by hoodlums, mirroring the October 2021 End SARS protests. The conduct of the Nigerian police during the protest should also be commended. The unprecedented gesture of police officers in Ikeja distributing water and biscuits to protesting members of the NLC was certainly a sight to behold and has gone a long way to demonstrate that the Nigeria Police Force fully understands its constitutional role to protect peaceful protesters in a democracy.

I take the position that the one-day peaceful protest organised by the NLC last week was a welcome development, as it offered members of the labour union the opportunity to air their views and empty their hearts of anger and frustration over the hardships they and their families and other members of the public are experiencing. While noting the government’s concern, I think their approach should have been more positive, proactive, and supportive of the peaceful protest, which would have taken the wind out of the sails of the protest.

That was the effect that the uncommon police gesture in Ikeja, Lagos, had, which could have been replicated on a wider scale across the country. That could have been a turning point in the search for a common approach by both the government and labour in addressing the economic challenges facing the nation. At the end of the day, the protest was not about the 15-point agreement between the government and the labour unions or whether 80 or 90 percent of it had been addressed. It was about the palpable hardship the people are experiencing and the need for government at all levels to move faster to address them. The government missed a golden opportunity to be more empathetic.

Q: “Granted, the government has not been idle; the plan to quintuple the number of beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer programme is evidence of this.”

Granted, the government has not been idle. The plan to quintuple the number of beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer programme is evidence of this. The tripartite meeting between the federal government, the state governments, and selected private sector leaders last week in Abuja over a coordinated effort to address the effects of the economic hardship caused by the reform programme is a giant step forward. But it will take some time for the benefits of these initiatives to translate into cheaper food prices and relief for the people.

Having noted the foregoing, I believe the time has come for the NLC to sheath its sword and take a more conciliatory, collaborative, and cooperative approach. The government, in its pronouncements and body language, should create the atmosphere for this to happen. The government has enormous resources at its disposal to achieve any desired national objective in a legitimate way. As Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State said while addressing peaceful protesters in Ibadan, “This is the time to pull together and face the challenges that we have.” The Nigerian Labour Congress should tone down its adversarial approach to labour unionism, which has been its trademark since its inception in 1978. The fact that the peaceful protest took place successfully all over the nation without any incident and with the full support and cooperation of police formations across the country should be enough encouragement for the NLC to give peace a chance.

Read also: Otu seeks NLC support on Cross River bloated wage bill

The NLC and TUC should work collaboratively with the government, both on a realistic new minimum wage and to help bring down the prices of food and essential commodities. This is because members of their affiliate unions work in the firms, farms, and factories that produce and distribute food items and other essential commodities. They know the key cost drivers in the production process and are in a position to advise on how to bring them down, where possible.

This is a challenging time for us as a nation. The way forward is for all stakeholders led by the government, including the labour unions as a key group, to work together to achieve the desired outcomes.