By Victor AHIUMA-YOUNG
LABOUR and its civil society allies, have writtenÂ President Yar, Adua to prepare for unprecedented nationwide industrial action should the governmentÂ Â Â Â deregulateÂ Â Â the downstream sector of the Petroleum industry.
Under the umbrella of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), organised labour andÂ its allies in a letter to the President, advised him to listen to the voice of the people and muster the political will to do justice to the wishes of Nigerians and jettison the planned deregulation, implement fully the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) report and hasten the review of the national minimum wage.
In a letter signed by President of Nigeria Labour, President-General of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and Co-Chairman of LASCO, Comrades Abdulwaheed Omar, Peter Esele and Dr. Dipo Fashina, respectively, LASCO, warned that should government insist on pursuing anti-people and anti-democratic policies which the group sees as detrimental to workers and the Nigerian People, it would mobilise both workers and Nigerian masses to fight such policies.
LASCO in the letter recalled to the President a meeting it held with government team on October 16, 2009, where it gave reasons why deregulation would be anti-people and undesirable the way the government is planning it.
According to the letter â€œthe Government lamented at the meeting that marketers are hoarding products and that their underhand tactics had forced the NNPC to rent initialÂ 600 trucks to distribute petrol products with a pledge to hire additional 400 trucks.
If with Government involvement, the marketers are holding the country to ransom, then what they will do under â€œderegulationâ€ can be better imagined.
We also told the Government team that its argument that the economic meltdown makes deregulation necessary is not in tandem with trends in other parts of the world like United States and Europe where the meltdown has meant government stimulus package for the economy and the citizenry. As other forward looking countries have shown, this is not the time to cut social spending; rather this is the time to increase social spending.
Another major fault in Government thinking that was discernible at the meeting is its almost metaphysical belief that deregulation will lead to availability of petroleum products and crash in prices of the products.
The Nigerian people do not have such beliefs or faith in the religion of market forces. In any case the deregulation of diesel has only led to hoarding and astronomical increase in prices of the commodity.
It is our view that the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry will only spell doom to the economy and bring untold hardship to the Nigerian people.
If deregulation is allowed, the country will return to the era of arbitrary high prices, profiteering, adulteration of commodity,Â artificial queues as well as endless importation of refined petroleum products.â€
â€œ We are of the view that the problem of instability in the supply and distribution of petroleum products is embedded in the inefficiencies and corruption in the management of the Petroleum Support Fund and sharp practices in the down stream sector of the oil industry.
These are exacerbated by the deliberate weakening of the capacity of the refineries to produce due to incessant but deceptive Turn Around .Maintenance that only lead to frequent breakdowns.
For us in the Labour Movement, the solution lies in government stopping the importation of refined petroleum products at no distance future, having the political will to decisively check leakages in the down stream sector of the oil industry, honestly fixing the refineries and building new ones.
The chain effect prices of petroleum products have on other commodities and services makes it imperative that the product must be available at moderate prices to the average Nigerian.
In these times of global economic crisis most governments have abandoned the path of market fundamentalism in favour of a regulated people_oriented system of governance. This stresses the need for stimulating and reinvigorating the labour market through mass job creation and cushioning the effects of the economic downturn on the citizenry.â€
On the issue of the minimum wage, he said: â€œ In line with this, workers need a stimulus package and better standard of, living by government increasing the Minimum Wage and carrying out general wage review in the country.
While the wages of workers were raised by 15% in the last three years, emoluments of Public Office holders were increased by over 800%.
The rather lame attempt at cutting 20% from the wages of public Office holders is only tokenism in the current compensation scheme. We are demanding the expeditious conclusion of negotiations and implementation of a new Minimum Wage and general review of wages in the country.â€
â€œAnother issue of concern to the Labour Movement is the need for fundamental electoral reforms to check the massive fraud and violence that have become the hallmark of our electoral system.
The setting up of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform .Committee was a welcome relief to most Nigerians who believe in the sustenanceâ€™ of our democracy through credible elections.
It was surprising that despite the ,wide consultations that led to the recommendations of the Uwais Committee; the Federal Government jettisoned some fundamental recommendations that would . have strengthened our electoral system and ensured that the votes of the people count. We believe that a neutral and. independent electoral body would go a long .way? in restoring confidence in the electoral process.
The recommendation that for the INEC Chairmanship, the National Judicial Commission should screen candidates, short list and forward three candidates to the National Council of State, which shall select one of them and send to the National Assembly for ratification, to our mind, is the best way of ensuring unbiased electoral umpire for the nation.
Secondly, to check election riggers benefitting from elections they never won, the Committee had also recommended that all electoral disputes should be resolved before the swearing-in of elected officers.
This would ensure that the practice of unelected persons imposing themselves on the electorate for upward of 18-36 months as we have witnessed in our recent electoral history, will be effectively brought to an end. Additionally, the practice of election riggers who when sworn in, use state funds to oil their litigation to stay in power, will be eliminated.â€
LASCO added â€œour position is that these issues if thought through and implemented by Government will not only go a long way in raising the quality of life of workers and the Nigerian people, but also ensure a level playing field for electoral contestation and good governance.
We pray that your administration will listen to the voice of the people and muster the political will to do justice. But if Government insists on pursuing anti-people and anti-democratic policies which we believe will be detrimental to workers and the Nigerian People, the Labour Movement will have no option but embark on a full blown national strike after todayâ€™s rally.â€