OPINION: The Reason For The Spat Between NLC And President Tinubu

OPINION: The Reason For The Spat Between NLC And President Tinubu

March 05, (THEWILL) – Recently, Nigerians, under the banner of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), have been taking to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction with President Bola Tinubu’s reforms, which have led to hardships for the masses.

These street protests, the fourth organised by the NLC, since the ascension of President Tinubu into office about nine (9) months ago, occurred last Tuesday. It was aimed at opposing the adverse effects of policies such as the removal of petrol subsidies and the consolidation of multiple foreign exchange rates to the Naira. These policies, which have directly impacted the cost of living, are contributing to a significant decline in President Tinubu’s job approval ratings.

Owing to the hard times with which a critical mass of Nigerians are contending, it is possible that the president’s current approval rating is even lower than it was in February last year when approximately 8.9 million out of the estimated 88 million registered voters who collected their Permanent Voters Card (PVC) cast their votes for him in the presidential election.

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Coincidentally, my recently published book, “Leading From The Streets: Media Interventions By A Public Intellectual 1999-2019”, sheds light on pertinent lessons on leadership, which should not be only from those elected into public offices, which is the erroneous impression held by most people, but from ordinary people in the streets.

In the book, which is scheduled for public presentation in May, I espoused the message that leadership is not only expected from those who hold high political offices such as the presidency, the National Assembly, or governors’ mansions across the 36 states of the federation and their respective houses of assembly.

But leadership is also expected from all of us as humans in our various endeavours, including labour leaders, and other folks going all the way down the ladder regardless of our positions on the social hierarchy.

However, leadership entails responsibility, altruism, and patriotism. The absence of these essential leadership qualities and non-application of the principles, seem to be at the heart of the conflict between President Tinubu and the NLC, led by Comrade Joe Ajaero.

As a public policy analyst and democracy advocate, I find the NLC’s decision to call for protests significant and even poignant because it signals a mobilisation of the masses to hold the country’s leadership accountable by protesting on the streets. It is fitting that it is legitimate to do so as protest is an intrinsic tool in the practice of democracy.

The legitimacy of protests as a crucial aspect of a truly democratic environment is evident in the fact that a government leader, such as Seyi Makinde, the governor of Oyo State, participated in the NLC march last week. That move is reminiscent of President Joe Biden joining United Auto Workers (UAW) protests in the USA. Similarly, the majority leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly HON. NOHEEM BABATUNDE ADAMS welcomed protesters in Alausa on behalf of the speaker, demonstrating support for the masses by acknowledging their plight and promising to pass their concerns across to his fellow lawmakers at the subnational level.

At the national level, the response from the National Assembly (NASS) to the resistance stimulated by the (NLC) was warmly received by Senator Diket Plang, Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour.

The significance of the recent street protests in Nigeria, whether by youths or organised labour, lies in the unprecedented demonstration by the Nigerian police that they can be allies of the people, as their slogan suggests: “The police is your friend.”

The much-vilified Nigerian police had imbibed the culture of leading from the streets. Against the backdrop of the horrible experience of both protesters and the police during the unfortunate incident of #EndSARS in October 2020, which resulted in the loss of lives on both sides, the offer of water and biscuits to protesters by Lagos State Police Command was extraordinary.

However, the situation took a new turn last Thursday, when President Tinubu, during the launch of the second internal railway line in Lagos, used the opportunity to address the NLC directly, by taking a swipe at the leadership, thus stirring up further dialogue on the matter.

When the NLC showed partisanship by aligning with Peter Obi’s Labor Party (LP) during the 2023 general elections, it lost its moral authority as a labour movement with altruistic intentions. Instead of remaining neutral, its leaders, especially Joe Ajaero, ventured into politics and faced backlash in his home state of Imo when the state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, was seeking re-election and Ajaero got into a fracas with political thugs during which he was, unfortunately, rough handled.

In light of the nasty experience highlighted above, NLC has to re-examine itself to determine whether it is not eroding its moral authority by getting involved in partisan politics or remaining neutral.

While organised labour may have valid grievances against the incumbent government for failing to fulfil promises or agreements within its anticipated time frame, President Tinubu also makes a point in criticising organised labour for being too quick to resort to strikes, staging four within nine (9) months of assuming office.

His argument that Nigerians should give his government more time to implement its Renewed Hope development agenda resonates with me and likely with many Nigerians, especially the 8.9 million who voted for him on February 25 last year based on the result produced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

This is eight million more votes than those cast for his closest rival, former Vice President and PDP presidential candidate, Waziri Adamawa Atiku Abubakar, and 12 million more than those for Mr Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s candidate.

With the NLC openly aligning with Mr Obi and the LP during the 2023 elections, President Tinubu has reasons to be suspicious of the NLC’s intentions for going on strike so persistently. Below is how President Tinubu stirred up the hornet’s nest. “The Labour Union should understand that no matter how long we cling to our freedom and rights, the four strikes within nine months of an administration’s existence is unacceptable.

“If you want to participate in the electoral process, wait until 2027. If not, maintain peace. You are not the only voice of Nigerians.”

The NLC’s apparent eagerness to criticise him and the ruling APC, as well as embark on strikes without exercising patience suggests that it may still be in campaign mode over a year after the general elections held on February 25 last year had been concluded.

That suspicion is valid owing to the conventional wisdom, ‘in politics, all weapons are legitimate’.

Therefore, there is no doubt that there exists mutual suspicion between President Tinubu and the NLC, leading him to criticise the NLC, to which the labour union responded in kind within twenty-four hours after the admonition:

“It is regrettable that the President seems oblivious to the profound hardships endured by millions of Nigerians. The pervasive hunger, unemployment, housing insecurity, and escalating costs of necessities such as food and healthcare demand immediate attention and decisive action…Yet, instead of addressing these pressing concerns, President Tinubu appears preoccupied with political calculations and future electoral prospects…The NLC wishes to emphasise that our primary objective is not to vie for political positions, including that of the President. Rather, our sole focus is on advocating for effective governance that prioritises the welfare and security of all Nigerians. We urge President Tinubu to redirect his efforts towards fulfilling this fundamental duty of public office, rather than engaging in political rhetoric.”

While it is fair enough that the leaders of organised labour in Nigeria have exercised their right of reply, is the spate of strikes justified and does it show leadership on the part of the NLC? Is it not telling that the other half of organised labour, Trade Union Congress, TUC, backed off from the last street protest?

Perhaps, it is because that branch of the labour union is in cognisance of the dictum: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Hence they are patient enough to understand that President Tinubu doesn’t claim to possess a magic wand that would make all the socio-economic and political challenges afflicting long-suffering Nigerians vanish overnight. Therefore, the desired changes would not manifest like magic.

As such, anyone expecting such immediate solutions would be living in a fantasy world akin to Alice in Wonderland.

The reality is that change takes time to manifest. Unlike humans, who can act with immediacy and speed, policy changes are often bogged down by bureaucratic bottlenecks designed to maintain the integrity of the public administration system. If changes are made without due process, laws may be broken, and that would affect the integrity of government and governance. And that would not be in the best interest of either leaders in government houses or leaders on the streets.

Indeed, we must all accept that the government is a vast bureaucracy, comparable to a train that requires a significant amount of energy to propel it before it can leave the station. It’s also like an aircraft that experiences turbulence during takeoff.

As we know, after the initial burst of energy required for takeoff, both trains and aircraft encounter difficulties that gradually diminish as they gain velocity or altitude, respectively. Similarly, I would argue that it will take time for the country under the current leadership to overcome its current challenges.

It is difficult not to admit that just nine months in leadership at Aso Rock Villa is too short a period for significant changes to be made in an economy or country that has been described by some as a “dead man walking.”

As universally acknowledged, transitioning from policy conception to implementation can be a lengthy process, spanning from the initial idea to its execution.

Therefore, it may be overly optimistic to expect President Tinubu’s policies to take full effect in less than a year. In that regard, one would align with Nobel laureate and literary icon, Prof. Wole Soyinka, who on a recent visit to President Tinubu stated that:

“Something you may have noticed about me is that most heads of state, when they take office, I always leave them alone for about the first year,” Soyinka said.

“I don’t know if you have noticed that because they need… I know when they come in, they don’t start from ground zero…They often start even lower than ground zero and they have to make up….So I have this personal policy, whether it is Obasanjo, Jonathan or Buhari, in the first year, I will never say anything….So, I’m adopting the same principle this time. At the end of one year, ask the same question again and listen to my answer.”

Even in the private sector, it’s uncommon for boards of directors to expect Chief Executive Officers, CEOs newly appointed into office to significantly alter the fortunes of their firms within such a short timeframe of a mere 9 months. It is, therefore, unsurprising that President Tinubu is appalled by the avalanche of strike actions numbering up to four staged within nine months of his tenure.

While the NLC emphasised that the government has been engaging with organised labour concerning the hardships being endured by the masses, of which it has acknowledged and outlined interim solutions and palliatives, it is aghast that the promised policy changes have yet to materialize. However, at this juncture, it’s worth considering whether the NLC has fully acknowledged its role as being only one part of Nigeria’s labour landscape, as President Tinubu has pointed out to them.

The other component of the economy is the employers of labour represented by the Nigerian Employers Consultative Assembly (NECA). Shouldn’t collaboration with NECA also be factored into the efforts to improve the economy of the country, of which the investors or entrepreneurs are the playmakers?

That is the prism from which I am assessing President Tinubu’s recent meeting with influential figures from various industries, including Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and Tony Elumelu, a strong advocate of Africapitalism.

As an aside, Elumelu’s brainchild, the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), which focuses on empowering youth with entrepreneurship skills and seed funds across 54 African countries, is currently being studied at Harvard Business School owing to its unique blend of business and philanthropy values, which are the undergirding principle of his Africapitalism ideology.

The aforementioned individuals, along with other eminent business colossus including Alh. Samad Rabiu of BUA Industries were invited by President Tinubu to help devise solutions to address the economic challenges facing Nigeria with a view to stabilising the economy.

Obviously, without the input of the likes of Aliko Dangote, whose firm is the largest private sector employer of labour, Mr Jim Ovia, chairman/founder of Zenith Bank, Mr Femi Otedola of Geregu Power and First Bank, Amina Maina (VP NESG), Mr Boye Olusanya, GMD of Flour Mills, Mr Segun Ajayi-Kadir (DG MAN), Mr Bismarck Rewane of Financial Derivatives, Samaila Zubairu (AFC), Innocent Chukwuma founder/CEO of Innoson Motors, Mr Jubril Adewale Tinubu of Oando, H.E. Charles Soludo, Anambra State Governor, H.E. Dapo Abiodun, Ogun State Governor, Mr Olayemi Cardoso, CBN Governor, Mr Kola Adeshina of Sahara Energy, amongst others, how can the possible solution to the enormous economic challenges besetting our country be holistic?

In reassuring Nigerians of his commitment to work assiduously towards pulling the economy out of the current doldrums that it is mired, he renewed his vow while delivering the speech at the Lagos railway commissioning ceremony, during which he had expressed reservations about NLC’s hostility towards his administration:

“I speak to Nigerians through this podium that change is possible, and change we must achieve. Progress we must achieve. It is not about a single individual. It is about the highest growing population in the world.”

On an optimistic note, Nigerians may not have too long to wait for respite as Finance Minister and coordinating minister of the Economy, Mr Wale Edun, has stated that the implementation of some of the palliative measures such as payment of N35,000 to workers for 6 months promised a few months ago, compulsory payment of N25,000 to 12 million households to ameliorate the hardships being experienced by the most vulnerable in society is also set to be commenced. The release of 102 tonnes of grains in strategic reserve, promised by President Tinubu, is also ongoing according to Agriculture Minister, Abubakar Kyari.

But the masses are so anxious and distressed that when the government stays silent while working on its plans to alleviate poverty, such as not responding to the calls for a reversal of the policy of subsidy removal on petrol and naira, it would be pilloried for being insensitive to the plight of Nigerians.

If it makes pronouncements about projects and programs aimed at hardship reduction before they are ready for implementation, such as CNG buses and new minimum wage, it would be accused of not being sincere with Nigerians by raising their hopes with empty promises.

It is a case of if the government is silently working behind the scenes, it would be damned. If it acts boldly and openly it would also be damned. That is simply because the masses have reached their wits’ end and justifiably so.

Hopefully with the promises on the cusp of being kept by the Tinubu administration, the hardships in the land would be reduced while an agreement on minimum salary, of which a committee has been set up, would be deliberated upon and settled, even as the implementation of the use of Compressed Natural Gas, CNG as an alternative fuel for powering vehicles gets primed for implementation sooner than later to ease the pains of the critical mass of Nigerians facing the threat of being crushed by food inflation that has hit the 30% mark based on Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS survey.

More good news is that as a result of the recent drastic measures taken by the leadership of the CBN, the naira exchange rate against foreign currencies has been improving compared to when it was in a free fall.

Similarly, an international/local crude oil syndicate of thieves who have been syphoning the products and denying the economy of badly needed income has been smashed through the help of a private security firm, Tantita.

Prior to their being checkmated, the stealing of our crude oil was so much that our export of the commodity dropped to as low as less than 1 million barrels per day, which is far below the capacity of our country which had attained a level as high as 2.2m a couple of decades ago.

Happily, crude oil production has now been ramped up to 1.5m barrels per day and is on track to reach the 1.7m barrels projected in the 2024 budget, which the country had been unable to meet, hence the supply of Foreign Exchange, FX into the economy has been far less than demand and the reason the economy has been on a tailspin.

The positive development of income from crude oil sales has given the economy a new bounce since it amounts to more FX income, as it is the scarcity of it that has made the economy anaemic.

Also, importation of refined petroleum products which had been gulping billions of dollars, sometimes more than we earn from crude oil sales, has been reported by Information Minister, Alhaji Mohamed Idris Malagi as having dropped by up to a billion litres since subsidy on its pump price was scrapped.

Arising from the above, using the upcoming first anniversary of this administration on 29 May as a milestone, and all things being equal, happy days may not be in the too distant future for long-suffering Nigerians as the measures so far being implemented are expected to start yielding succour to the hoi polloi that have apparently not given up on their motherland despite the tough and rough times that they are going through.

*** Written by Magnus Onyibe

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