Tinubu, Digital Economy and Future of Unionism in Nigeria by Dr. Onibiyo

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In Nigeria, there is a smidgen of hope that things can start to get better when with one single utterance President Bola Ahmed Tinubu removed the ruinously expensive petrol subsidy, and confronted headlong the age-long distortionary foreign exchange dual regime. Both tackled policies had enriched unscrupulous middlemen and crooks to make money while depriving productive parts of the economy of cash.

Nigeria with a Gini coefficient of 0.35, a pittance average income per head of $2,200, and a life expectancy of 53 all these are unbefitting indicators for an assumed Giant of Africa. While the expected turnaround will demand uncommon sacrifice from the populace, a cerebral and well-informed labour union, a low-profiled government official, and creative and innovative academia, to latch onto the emerging digital economy as promised by the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The need to mitigate the grinding effects of subsidy removal and forex unification on the most vulnerable cannot be ignored, particularly when those to champion the cause of the unheard are ill-informed or extensively driven by the sole urge for an increase in salary at the expense of those that are distanced from available low-hanging fruits from government turnaround measures. It is widely believed by this author, that with half-decent policies, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu can pull a 360 degree turnaround not only economically but socially as it will take the enthronement of good governance to achieve such feats. It is therefore concerning that the Nigeria Labour Congress are yet to come to terms that injections into the economy are not only through a salary increase, knowing well that Nigerians not receiving public salary are three folds more than those on salary and surely we cannot keep doing the same thing all the time and expect a different result.

The voice of the endangered, the vulnerable and the poorest of the poor in Nigeria cannot be heard on Social Media. The poorest of the poor populated the rank and file of the unbanked. These endangered Nigerians also have their own economy, which does not recognize the consumption of Indomie, beverages, spaghetti or eggs. They are the ones that the teeming poor, in their poverty, have forgotten and these are the people that deserve the palliatives of #8,000. They are simply assumed to be nonexistent, to the extent that the proposed deployment of #8000 has fallen into the public basket of mockery and assumed apparent foolery by the government as another means of executive scam. While the trajectories of government in this regard, created odium of mistrust and suspicion, the educated nor the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has also not taken any informing steps to query the inability of the government to identify the vulnerable. Hence the continual use of the channels of these vulnerable as cesspools of corruption.

A non-strategic labour union under the leadership of President Tinubu’s administration will keep firing blank bullets on social-related issues. The Tinubu-led administration pattern and approach to issues will inadvertently push labour unionism into irrelevance due to the latter’s inability to properly engage the government to deliver on good governance to the teeming labour force and Nigerians in general. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) recently volte faced by her submission that the NLC does not know the content of the National Social Register (NSR) just as the NLC cannot account for the inability of public Servants in Nigeria to access housing under the National Housing Fund scheme (NHF) of which NLC is a signatory. While workers’ monthly NHF contributions go into the real sector, housing remains quite outside the reach of contributors, only for developed properties to be sold majorly to non-workers in the organized Private Sector (OPS). This further aggravates housing insecurity such that at the end of 35yrs in service, helpless workers are given a paltry sum of N300,000 as life savings instead of a mortgaged building.

The above scenarios signpost the deteriorating disposition of unionism and such shallowness in grasping economic trajectories by labour Unionists under an evolving and dynamic administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, whose pace and thinking should be seen matched by timeline on most of his promises and intentions, rather than the archaic approach of incessant calls for salary increments and strike threats. The NLC missed the points by insisting that the poorest of the poor palliative is a scam, and also submitted that such palliatives, could go the same way as the Trader Moni scheme and should be discarded. Such expression, while not only unfortunate, properly situated that the NLC is unaware that there are some Nigerians living far below 8,000 per month. This ignoramusly shared common ground was punctured by the Governor of Nasarawa State when he testified that a 5,000 Cash palliative distributed in his domain was like a million to the vulnerable. This position is further buttressed by the recent submission by the World Bank that “no fewer than four million Nigerians fell into the poverty trap between January and June 2023 and subsequent warning that another 7.1 million may plunge into poverty dungeon brackets if properly targeted measures are not taken to manage the impact of fuel subsidy removal.

Interestingly, a well-ordered distribution of N8,000 to 12 million poor would have captured the four million and the additional seven million all severely endangered by poverty. Beneficiaries of the N8000 palliative programme are to be mined from the National Social Register (NSR), comprising State Social Registers (SR) of poor and vulnerable households. Demands should be exerted on the State Government to also make public their State Social registers. A strategic labour union will not only demand public presentations of the National Social Register but back it up with structured strike warnings to governments at all levels to make public the would-be-beneficiaries lists. Concerningly, the disposition of the NLC throwing the bath and the baby away signals her constricted and fixated views of salary increase, as the only acceptable way of injection into the economy.

Interestingly, NLC must come to terms that injections into the economy are not limited to salary increases. Simply because the vulnerable are not in the working class, and the vulnerable along with other Nigerians are more than the working class. It is an outright error of commission for NLC to think that an increase in salary will translate to a significant increase in other Nigerians’ welfare. From the days of the Udoji Salary Awards in the 70s, we have been tinkering with salary increases and the apparent failure to plug the loopholes and leakages continually besets us as a nation. Throwing both the baby and the bath water away shows how ill-informed NLC is. First, the proposed N8,000 palliative would have advanced the most vulnerable economically and socially. Secondly, it would have been interesting to see NLC purposely issuing a strike warning for the first time in ages not over salary implementation but over the failure of the government to publicly make available the shrouded-in-secrecy National Social Register.

Such a position could either show the shoddy preparations of the past administrations who claimed to have used this register for Nigeria vulnerable and also put the present administration on the spot, knowing well that Nigerians will over review and extensively comb thoroughly such Social Register. Such National Social Register will allow Nigerians to openly critique such document; fine tuned it, and gets it ready for cash deployment, to the vulnerable. Issuing a strike warning to tell the government to submit the document into the public spaces, will be very much in order so that Nigerians can fish out names of the dead, names of unscrupulous politician children, and smuggled names of privileged individuals. While NLC could also go ahead to sponsor a bill slamming imprisonment without the option of fines upon any politician or government officials found fingering monies meant for the vulnerable. Such dispositions will further bring NLC closer to the government, as a frontline to be consulted before policy implementations.

Concerningly, NLC keeps failing in deploying timeline as a weapon and mechanism to constrict dispositions of the executive and the yet-to-be-appointed ministers. Weaponising a timeline is a way to keep the executive from derailing. In time past, palliatives included purchasing mass transit buses, increments in the minimum wage, social investments and empowerment schemes for unemployed persons. With efforts to wean the nation from petrol-consuming-mass-transit-buses and other fossil energy dependants, it is high time to demand from the government; both at the federal and the state to start metro line railway system as such will safely port and deepen our transportation system away from the over subsidised fossil fuel consumption.

There is a need for the labour Union to monitor and also prove data being churned out by the government. The warning has been given by this administration that they will push Nigeria into a digital economy and this suffice to say that the economy will be purposively driven by data, hence the need to ensure that data guiding the systems has integrity and reliability is not out of pace. A strategic thinking labour union, will position herself, armed as frontline beneficiaries of these mined data even as the data emerge and to duly get it analyse appropriately, be able to challenge, advise and recommends as appropriate to the government. It is no longer about strikes but about superior arguments with facts and figures to put the government on her toes and get Nigeria and Nigerians to the enviable spot on the world map.

While I do not envy the demanding roles of Dele Alake who double as the spokesperson of this administration, it is of importance that most of the programme of this administration should be amply driven through sensitization and awareness. Thorough awareness of the populace will further constrict the dispositions of conspiracists. Now, we have the unheard, the vulnerable, quite voiceless, who are neither aware of a decision being made on them, been thwarted and been rescinded without a single voice from them. The labour grossly failed to do the needful, the Bureau of Statistics could not amplify their voice to situate the existence of the vulnerable while the teeming poor have also forgotten that beneath them, are another social groups that could be termed as the poorest of the poor, the unbanked and the forgotten. It is on behalf of these people that we have all shared a common ground to throw the baby and the bath water away without a blink.

– Dr. Onibiyo Ezekiel, a public analyst holds PhD Finance from Nasarawa State University.

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