As we await the economic downturn

Guest

Economists and laymen alike worldwide are  agreed that the world is  suffering an unprecedented economic crunch. While most advanced nations are busy recapitalising their banks, financial institutions and manufacturing concerns, and ensuring that jobs are protected, we remain comatose. Rather weirdly, government economists and Ministers in this country outdo themselves trying to convince Nigerian workers that the global economic downturn is yet to hit Nigeria.

Obviously, the solution does not lie in folding our hands and awaiting the arrival of the economic downturn before government embarks on interventionist policies that will safeguard jobs and ensure that our teeming army of unemployed is not swelled further through massive retrenchments that are bound to come with economic downturn. Economic predictions do not seem to favour us, the economy is expected to slow down much more than expected this year. What with our country struggling to reduce import dependency, our weak Naira and declining oil revenues? What with the government refusing to pass on the benefits of lower crude oil prices to workers who are already milked dry by inflation and shylock landlords?

Except the government takes immediate measures to safeguard jobs and ameliorate workers’ suffering, Nigeria might end up witnessing her worst crime spree in decades by the time the economic crunch finally arrives and millions of workers become jobless. For one thing, the Nigerian stock market, which many workers invested large chunks of their savings in, has become the world’s second-worst performing equity market, while the Naira is really struggling against the dollar despite America’s very critical economic woes thereby making survival tough for the average worker as even gari is priced in US dollars.

With due respect to the honourable members of the steering committee recently established by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, setting up a steering committee to advise the President on the impact of the global economic crisis is not enough. Brainstorming sessions alone will not put food on the table of the already poverty- stricken workforce of this nation. We probably have had hundreds of economic committees since independence, yet our nation remains one of the most badly managed economies in the world. The problem has nothing to do with the quality of eminent persons who serve in committees. Rather, it is the lack of political will by government to implement committees’ recommendations.

One only hopes that this most recent of economic committees will put the interests of the hardworking, suffering but silent workers of this nation first in their deliberations by immediately advising the government to review the pump price of petroleum products downwards and thereby remove a major catalyst for high inflation. Without prejudice to other measures the committee may be considering, such reduction will help bring down the cost of transportation and food.

A second rather urgent intervention the committee needs to ensure is the need to rescue our failing financial, manufacturing, and other enterprises in the textile and food and beverages sectors that are closing shop and sending thousands of workers into the unemployment market. For instance, Michelin closed shop two years ago, Cadbury has moved its production to Ghana, while the textile industry is now a shadow of its former self, having been dealt a death blow by cheap imports from China. Yet we are told that the global economic crunch is yet to hit our shores. Thirdly, the committee should ensure the immediate resolution of our perennial fuel crisis. It is very unfortunate that despite earning billions of Naira in profits annually, and the unresolved massive corruption recently unearthed in the administration of petroleum subsidy, major oil marketers are threatening to stop importing petroleum products, claiming to have lost $319.8 million to exchange rate differential in the third quarter of 2008 alone.

While we await the economic committee’s report, rhetoric and wrangling by those who should administer palliatives to workers continue. Take the case of our law makers for instance. Rather than conduct a sober evaluation of workers’ lot in the face of the global crunch and the inadequate minimum wage workers currently earn, our lawmakers are yet to pass a bill to review the National Minimum Wage Act 2000. It appears the interest of Nigerian workers is the last thing on the minds of our lawmakers as evidenced by the fact that the proposed bill before the House recommends that the national minimum wage should be increased to a paltry, grossly inadequate N30000 monthly.

Meanwhile, workers continue to be robbed on petroleum products. Rather than advise his boss to alleviate workers’ suffering, one of the President’s advisers chose to engage in pedestal economics, arguing that, “If you enjoy low fuel price now, what happens tomorrow if the oil price which is ever unpredictable goes up again.” Someone should tell Aso Rock that in economics, prices of commodities are adjusted in response to market trends. Unfortunately, ours is a monopoly economy run by a monopoly government.

While the Federal Government remains confused about what to do with the pump price of petroleum products, our Minister for Science and Technology, Dr. Alhassan Zaku, laid prostrate before the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Mahesh Sachdev recently, begging for help with our nation’s epileptic power supply. Sadly, even the Minister has no answer to the Power(less) Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN’s) problems. It is not enough to tell foreign diplomats about alternative plans for electricity generation by government. Nigerians are tired of rhetoric. If nations with only a window of sunshine in a whole year can harness solar energy, why can’t Nigeria with very hot sunshine do more for the most part of 365 days? Who says the economic downturn is yet to arrive in Nigeria?

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