The State Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State, Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu has called on governments at all levels and other employers to, instead of seeking to embark on reducing the workforce in their ploy, following austerity, they should cut down on some of the wasteful spending on political hangers, other executive perks both in the public and private sectors. Onuegbu in an interview with Senior Correspondent, Sylvester Enoghase at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of TUC in Lagos, insists that the falling crude oil price provides a good opportunity for government at all levels to block all leakages in the system such as corruption, inefficiency, oil theft and the huge cost of governance in Nigeria. Excerpts:
How do you see the economic implication of the falling prices of crude oil at the international market on Nigeria?
We are of the considered view that the falling crude oil price provides a good opportunity for government at all levels to block all leakages in the system such as corruption, inefficiency, oil theft and the huge cost of governance in Nigeria.
This is because the volume of money lost to corruption and inefficiency in Nigeria may be more than 40% of the annual budget, also the amount of money lost to oil theft and pipeline vandalism is humongous.
It is on record that by government’s own admission, which is very conservative, about 10% of Nigeria’s total crude oil production of about 2.5million barrels per day (MMbpd) which is about 250,000bpd is stolen, this is almost two and a half times the total production size of our neighbour, Ghana.
And so, the nation therefore loses about $6 billion yearly to crude oil theft and another N165 billion to theft of refined products.
In fact our concern is that hardly does any day passes in Nigeria, without the story of how large sums of money are stolen by Nigerians who are in positions of trust. Hardly does a day passes without the stories of how Nigerian crude oil is brazenly stolen by oil thieves assisted by their collaborators in high places.
The revelations at the various probes by the National Assembly (NASS) are heart breaking as billions of Naira, and now trillions of Naira meant for the improvement in the welfare and condition of living of ordinary Nigerians is brazenly stolen by those who they are entrusted in their care.
What then do you suggest the Government should do to save the nation’s economy from collapse?
What the government should do is to immediately pass the petroleum industry Bill (PIB) into law because Nigeria has lost hundreds of billions of US Dollars in oil and gas investment due to the non-passage of the PIB.
The truth is that investors have continued to adopt a wait and see attitude, refraining from making any new investment pending the passage of the bill. Since 2009 when the Yar’Adua government first introduced the PIB, no new Final Investment Decision (FID) has been taken on any oil and gas project in Nigeria, not even on the government-promoted, Brass LNG project.
While we are dithering in Nigeria, there are new oil discoveries all over Africa, drawing in investors just as new technology is making hitherto unreachable and uneconomic hydrocarbon deposits accessible in Europe and North America thus attracting investors to those environments.
On a serious note, Nigeria therefore cannot afford the luxury of time while politicians indulge in unnecessary bickering over such an important bill on a sector that is the main stay of our economy, accounting for over 90 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings, about 40 per cent of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and 80 per cent of government revenue.
Could you please, tell us why the issue of corruption, poverty and insecurity is getting out of control in Nigeria?
Thank you. Well, my decision to comment on issue of corruption, poverty and insecurity in the country is because it concerns our dear country Nigeria and if not tackled, it would do more harm than good. We can recall that since the advent of democracy in 1999, the federal government has budgeted and spent well over N60 trillion (sixty trillion naira) while the State Governments and their local government counterparts have budgeted around N65 trillion (Sixty-five trillion) naira; a combined total of about N125trn (One hundred and twenty-five trillion) Naira; without any commensurate impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Nigeria.
This huge gap between government spending and direct effect on the lives of the citizenry can only be explained by the horrendous systemic corruption that currently holds the nation in its thrall.
This is because it is widely believed that some 40% of the budget is frittered away through corruption and inefficiency because the continued haemorrhaging of our national resources as a result of blow-outs through corruption has undermined the capacity of Governments at all levels to deliver on the various promises of democracy to the citizenry.
The implications of these are diverse and varied, especially in the capacity of the government at all levels to provide social and physical infrastructure and meet other governance obligations to the citizenry.
And this means that the capacity to empower the people and lift them out of poverty becomes diminished and access to social services and public infrastructure for the masses becomes hampered and as a result, about 75% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line and more and more people are being pushed into this bracket with increasing cases of unemployment and rising precarious jobs.
The hopelessness amongst the youth in Nigeria as a result of rising unemployment has since reached unacceptable heights as life and living in Nigeria has increasingly become a grind and deeply frustrating as all the dimensions of poverty keeps exacerbating daily.
As poverty becomes more entrenched, lives become insecure and as more and more people become impoverished, desperation increases as people seek diverse means of escape from this morass and to express their discontent with the situation.
It is therefore not surprising that as a result of corruption and the refusal of the leadership at all levels to govern effectively, insecurity of diverse degrees and manifestations have become the order of the day in Nigeria.
And the carnage and bloodletting especially in Northern fringes of the country including the rising violent armed robberies and kidnappings in the South have all become present realities in our dear nation.
Could you throw more lights on some possible solutions to these challenges as it concerns the masses?
We suggest that it is a collective responsibility for all Nigerians to seek ways for tackling all manifestations of corruption in our national life.
We agree with the extended suggestion of the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic, David Mark, that the death penalty should be extended to oil thieves, which by implications means that anyone who steals public wealth since it is derived from oil, should face the capital punishment.
We also recommend that public corrupt officials should face capital charges in the courts because their actions created other criminal activities in the country.
From your point of view, how can Government, employers of labour and workers work in harmony to overcome the ongoing austerity measures in the country?
In our analysis of the ongoing macro and micro economic situation of Nigeria, there is need for every Nigerian worker to be worried as the nation has lost more than 40% of its revenue from oil since the last six months as a result of the accelerated decline in the global prices of oil from over U$120/barrel in December 2013 to around U$60/barrel in December 2014.
Our concern is that the implications for our fiscal space and monetary health is dire when we realise that oil receipts account for nearly 80% of our national revenue and over 90% of our nation’s foreign exchange receipts.
And when the Federal Government called for austerity measure to cushion the economy from the effects of the falling prices, it became obvious that the tightening of expenditure meant that the quantum of funds available for the running of the economy has drastically reduced and now as I speak, we are already beginning to see its impact on the present backlog in the payment of workers’ salaries across the nation, with some states owing their workers up to five months in arrears, while the Federal Government has been unable to pay its December salary. And this is very unusual.
The non-payment of workers’ salaries as a result of the current austerity challenges expectedly, is because of the penchant of governments at all levels to hold the lives of Nigerian workers in contempt and total disdain, believing that their lives could be suspended or held in abeyance for them to continue enjoying the unbridled looting of our collective patrimony.
Our concern is for peaceful industrial harmony to prevail, we expect the government to follow the rule of the game by not delaying the payment of workers’ salary because if decisive steps are not taken, Governments and Employers at all levels are expectedly going to threaten the operational environment of Nigerian workers exacerbating the already oppressive work environment and conditions of employment come under severe pressures across both public and private sectors of the economy this year.
Should these macroeconomic challenges linger for a long time, what should the workers do?
We urge Nigerian workers to be prepared for a robust and vigorous engagement of our social partners in this year to ensure that Nigerian workers and indeed all Nigerians are not negatively affected by the situation.
We must all be prepared to engage the government for a new and an enhanced Minimum wage package across board for all Nigerian workers to cushion them from its negative impacts.
We also urges the government at all levels and other employers to, instead of seeking to embark on reducing the workforce in their employ to cut down on some of the wasteful spending on political hangers on and other Executive perks both in the Public and private sectors to be courageous enough to eliminate corruption and inefficiency to the barest minimum.
We are of the view that When policies that would eliminate corruption are implemented, public and private organisations become trimmer and more nimble thus fitter to conduct its affairs profitably and efficiently and avoid the crisis that may be generated if they decide to embark on negative policies that will be deleterious to Nigerian workers.
How do you see the current slump in oil prices at international market and the Nigeria economy in the next one year?
Some of the challenges include the fall in the revenue of the Federation account; the dwindling economic fortunes of Nigeria due to the global fall in crude oil prices from some $120/barrel in December 2013 to some $60/barrel in December 2014 ; the devaluation of the Naira by the Central bank of Nigeria; the unprecedented level of oil theft and pipeline vandalism leading to divestment by oil and gas multinationals and shrinking of the Federation account ; the inability of the National Assembly to pass the petroleum industry bill into law; the inability of the government at all levels to address the challenges in the health sector, leading to incessant strikes in that sector ; the waning war against corruption ; general insecurity, growing insurgency in the north (part of the country) and kidnapping in the Niger Delta .
The workers in some 22 state governments are being owed at least 3 months of their salaries; some states even up to 5 months. Similarly the TUC, Rivers state, supported her affiliates and in some cases intervened directly in resolving contentious industrial relations issues.
We also intensified our struggle for a fair and just society; and the campaign for credible elections and good governance this year directly or in partnership with our media partners, civil society groups and other platforms for engaging governance in the state. We are presently working on the deployment of a website for the e-reporting of Election observations by our Elections observers and the general public in fulfilment of our determination to ensure that the 2015 general elections in Rivers state is free and fair.
What are your plans for TUC’s Rivers State Council this year, putting into consideration the challenges posed by oil slump at the international market?
We would continue intensifying actions to defend and advance the interest of workers and the ordinary people in Rivers State and Nigeria through social dialogue, advocacy programs and improvement in our relationship with the Rivers State Government, the INEC in Rivers State, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Security agencies, employers of labour and other stakeholders in the production chain and civil society groups.
We would take steps aimed at providing the enabling environment that will assist our affiliates organise more corporate entities in the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone as well as carry out programs and activities to re-awaken the health and safety consciousness of Nigerian workers.
As the umbrella body of the Senior Staff Associations in Nigeria, we are not unmindful of the great expectations on us that we provide direction for the labour movement and accordingly, we would continue to improve on the capacity of our State council/affiliates to proactively meet rising industrial relations challenges.
This, we believe, will foster an atmosphere of peace and industrial harmony necessary for increased productivity, wealth creation and economic development of Rivers State and Nigeria.
However, we recognise that maintaining an atmosphere of industrial peace and harmony in Rivers State or anywhere for that matter is a joint responsibility of all the parties to industrial relations. It is a function of the actions and inactions of all the parties and therefore requires the determination, commitment, collaboration and mutual understanding of all the key parties, labour unions, employers, government and her agencies.
Accordingly we would like to use this opportunity to appeal, once more , to all stakeholders in the industrial relations landscape to give more time and attention to social dialogue, always be guided by the principles of natural justice and equity and respect for human dignity and extant labour laws in their approach to labour and Industrial relations matters.
We would also improve on our relationship with our TUC National Secretariat, TUC State Councils in the Niger Delta States and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the larger interest of Nigerian workers as well as improve on our advocacy activities especially our campaign for a just and fair society and credible elections next month’s general election
It is our belief that with your support, prayers, commitment and solidarity we would also make appreciable progress this year.
What advice do you have for the Government and people of Nigeria?
We use this opportunity to draw the attention of governments at all levels to contribute to the on-going conversation across our nation’s socio-political space by ensuring a peaceful political atmosphere before, during and after next month general elections
This becomes key given the crucial nature of events that will unfold on the political space early this year, and which we believe may have serious consequences for all Nigerians especially her workers if they are not well handled by all the gladiators in our political space.
Nigerians do indeed have every cause to be worried given the body language and posture of the present actors who are poised to do battle in the forthcoming elections because every election and electioneering year in Nigeria has always held elements of fear and trepidations including an acute sense of foreboding in the hearts of generality of the people.
This is a function of the knowledge that it was the mismanagement of the 1966 elections that ultimately led to the Civil war in Nigeria; consequences of which we are still suffering as a nation today.
As Nigerian workers who in conjunction with their dependants and extended families usually bear the greater portion of the consequences of any political miscalculation, it is important that we express our deep worries at recent events in our polity as the general elections draw nearer and nearer.
It has become very clear that our political actors have not learnt the lessons of our historical past, neither have they learnt from events in other climes both near our borders and in far flung places and are bent on re-enacting it here again even on a greater scale.
We are more concerned that the increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) ought to worry our politicians, but from the look of things, they are not perturbed in any way and have gone about doing things that led to the creation of the circumstances that originally gave birth to the rise of the framework that has ultimately led to the sorry state of the burgeoning number of the Internally Displaced Persons in our body polity. It was election and electioneering mismanaged by the ruling elite that planted the seed of insurgency in the early days of our democracy. It is the same that is being fanned on daily basis by the same politicians.
We are deeply concerned because if they are not worried, we are worried. We therefore urge all politicians not to see the next month general elections as a do or die affair, but a process that ought to allow Nigeria and Nigerians to come out victorious.
The ruling elite ought to mind their language before, during and after the elections as the lessons from the careless use of language in the previous elections by the politicians should serve as restraints to all.
We believe that those who are in positions of authority and are opinion moulders in their respective niches owe it a duty not only to themselves, but to the people they claim to aspire to represent or protect to say only those things that will build our polity and not destroy it.
This is the only place we have as a nation unless they want to turn all of us not just into the present IDPs but refugees in other countries of the world.
The acts of violence of whatever kind should be frowned upon by all and strictly shunned and punished collectively as it diminishes our democratic culture and whittles down the remaining collective respect we have as a people and as a nation.
We therefore urge the security agencies to be alert at all times to ensure that adequate security is provided for all and sundry irrespective of their positions in life in order to guarantee safe environment for the elections to take place peacefully.
INEC expectedly as the electoral umpire has a responsibility to ensure that a level playing field is guaranteed all participants in the electoral process.
This confers greater credibility on the process and validates its outcomes thus reduces resort to self-help by all parties.
In line with this, we urge the electoral body to immediately revisit the issue of the PVCs as more than 40% of the registered voters have not collected theirs till date. This is an unacceptable disenfranchisement of a huge chunk of the voting population and those that have not registered previously.
We advise the body to ensure that those who have the temporary cards and were unable to get their PVCs because of no fault of theirs are allowed to vote in the elections should be supplied with its due of uncollected PVCs which will be exchanged with the temporary cards as their owners come in to cast their ballots. This ensures that this large number of disenfranchised are guaranteed their constitutional right to vote in the general elections.
We also urge all Nigerians to avoid a repeat of the very frightening occurrences that were witnessed during the various party primaries portend great danger for the survival of the nation.
We are worried that if that level of manipulation and brigandage could be unleashed on their own party members then, Nigerians who may be assumed to be more distant from them are in trouble during the general elections.
We must not allow the prophecies and desires of the nation’s enemies concerning 2015 to become a self-fulfilling one.
We reiterate the need for all political actors to make the present campaigns issue based devoid of personal attacks and inflammatory statements which have contributed in heating up the polity.
This is because there is greater fear in the minds of Nigerians as a result of the drum beats of war that we hear from the diverse political camps. It is better for all that these drums are rolled back as in every election because the people will decide one way or the other and this will have implications on the desires or expectations of the political parties whether we like it or not. This should not be a reason to bring the nation down to its knees but should be an opportunity to deepen our democratic practice and culture.
Source : Independent