The Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) has condemned steps suggested by state governors for reviving the country’s struggling economy.
The 33 measures that include tax raise and mass dismissal of workers smack of “extreme selfishness and insensate cruelty”, the labour union said Friday.
PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reportedhow the governors had advised President Muhammadu Buhari to consider implementing urgent steps to instill fiscal discipline and prevent the nation from economic collapse.
The suggestions include elimination of fuel subsidy estimated at over N4 trillion, retirement of civil servants from age 50 and above, shutdown or merger of government agencies, ending the use of central bank advances for budget financing, elimination of NNPC’s federation-funded projects, and capping Social Investment Programme (SIP) and National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy budgets at N200 billion.
Responding to the proposals, the NLC president, Ayuba Wabba, in a letter addressed to the president on August 8, said while it is obvious that the country’s economy needs a turnaround, some of the prescriptions are cruel. Mr Wabba said the NLC found the planned removal of petrol subsidy “unrealistic, insensitive, and hypocritical.”
“It is on record that governors have always been against the culture of saving for the rainy day. Despite this culture of recklessness predating your administration, few of them have anything to show for all the money they have collected,” he said.
“If there is little or nothing to show for the principal sums or revenues collected over the years, what assurance do we have that the additional sum on top of the principal popularly called subsidy (most of which is shrouded in mystery and crime anyway} can be put to effective use.”
The labour group also kicked against the governors’ recommendation for higher and more taxes, saying it will only make the poor poorer and rich richer.
The taxes include the state sale taxes of 10 per cent, increment of VAT to 10 per cent with a timeline to reach 20 per cent, and a three per cent flat rate personal income tax on all Nigerians.
Mr Wabba said the recommendation will make the rich pay less, in clear violation of the well-known norm of the rich paying taxes to cover up for the poor.
“The rich should be the ones to be compelled to pay more taxes as obtained in other civilised societies and not what the Governors are canvassing for. Accordingly, we call for a raise in taxes across the board for the rich, including increased taxes on luxury goods and lifestyles,” he said.
He also said the Congress found it distasteful that petrol subsidy in Nigeria creates distortions in the economy but they do the opposite in the United States or Western Europe.
“Truth is that removal of the little benefit the average person in Nigeria enjoys could lead to unintended consequences which we would be better off without,” he said.
He said the effective operation of the country’s refineries is the solution to subsidy and the ballooning deficits. He pointed out that the $1.9 billion Nigeria loses to oil thieves monthly is enough to settle the issues in the education sector.
Mr Wabba also described the governors’ suggestion to lay off civil servants who are older than 50 years as ” repugnant, shameful and utterly irresponsible”.
“Aside from running contrary to your mission and principle of creating 100 million jobs (aside from poverty intervention schemes}, this policy is a clear invitation to anarchy and damnation. Those promoting this idea should be treated as enemies of your government,” he said.
“The implementation of this proposal will lead to the sacking of almost a quarter of the public sector workforce, the decapitation of that workforce through the retrenchment of its most experienced layer, and the intensification of poverty and misery among citizens.
“If State Governors strongly believe that age 50 is the problem, we demand that all Governors, public office holders, and politicians above 50, as a mark of good faith, should immediately step aside. Leading by example would spur public servants to take a cue.”
The NLC said it considered as “heartless” the recommendation that the planned 22 per cent salary increase for workers be put on hold given the current reality of the country’s currency and inflation.
He suggested the fastest way of reviving the economy is through building the capacity of its personnel because of its multiplier effect.
“President Obama put this strategy to good use. President Obasanjo also did the same when he reviewed upward the wages of workers across the board in the early 2000s,” he said.
“In our view, if any costs need taming, it’s the profligate lifestyle of governors, the excesses and ostentatious lifestyle of political office holders, and the corruption they promote.”
He said the governors are clawing and clutching at everything in sight to save their skin because the moment of truth is here.
“We recall you had the presence of mind to give out huge bail-out and budget support funds to enable the Governors clear backlogs of salaries and pensions for which we workers remain grateful to you.
“You equally halted repayments during the covid-19 pandemic. There could be no better demonstration of understanding and empathy by a leader but the Governors abused it all as few of them applied these funds to the purposes for which the funds were given.
“Give and take, not more than 20 percent of these funds were properly channeled. In the past, ICPC did a good job of tracking down how these funds were used which is partly responsible for the financial straits we have found ourselves in today. Accordingly, we would strongly urge you to direct ICPC and EFCC to track afresh and make public how the Governors diverted and misused these funds with a view to full recovery,” the NLC said.