Comrade Tchuks, May, 30, 2021.
As the pandemic continues to ravage the world, the crisis in the health sector continues unabated with grave consequence on the working class and the poor. The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted greatly on the economy with high risk of negative impact on the general wellbeing of workers across the globe. Nigeria, being a backward capitalist state, is not left out of the misery posed by the ravaging effect of the pandemic. The drop in oil price coupled with the devastating effect of the pandemic on the economy in 2020 remains a heavy yoke that the Nigerian workers and the poor carry till date.
The global lock down at the behest of the pandemic in 2020 contributed largely to shutting down of the global economy. Nigeria, a country just walking out of an economic recession was one of the greatest recipients of the economic woes. Though, the lockdown has since been eased, but not without a heavy economic cost. The accompanying steep drop in oil prices amid a drop in global demand left Nigeria drastically short of earnings, given its dependence on the commodity as its biggest revenue source.
In the bid for the country to survive economically the Buhari-led APC regime has resorted to devaluation of naira and borrowing to meet the budget deficit.
According to the data at our disposal, total revenue earned in 2020 was N3.93 trillion representing a 27% drop from the target revenues of N5.365 trillion. However, debt service for the year was to the tune of N3.26 trillion or 82.9% of revenue.
Nigeria’s debt service cost of N3.26 trillion has now dwarfed the N1.7 trillion spent on capital expenditure in 2020. This is also the highest debt service paid by the Federal Government in the recent memory.
The inevitable response of the regime under this huge debt yoke is continuous cut in social services such as health care delivery service, food production, portable water, education, electricity etc., thereby dumping the Nigerian masses and indeed Nigerian workers and the poor in the valley of misery.
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic took a great toll on the already shattered Nigeria economy, an aftermath of decades of implementation of obnoxious capitalist policies, thereby causing low purchasing power, inflation, high cost of living and high cost of production. Also, the constant increase in fuel price and electricity tariff by the Nigerian ruling elite coupled with the non-implementation of a living wage has worsen the already unbearably high cost of living and deepen the poverty of Nigerian workers and the poor. This is not to mention the continuous upward spiralling inflation. Nigeria’s food inflation rate surged to 21.79% in February 2021, which is the highest rate recorded in Nigeria since October 2005—exactly 15 years and 4 months ago.
Also, coming out of the lockdown, public and private employer of labour, in a bid to keep their business afloat and maximise their profit, introduced several inhuman policies without adequate consideration to those who creates the wealth (workers). Policies like contractual employment, outsourcing, downsizing and rightsizing became rife across several organizations all in the bid to maintain profit margin. A case in question is that of ISON Xperiences Limited (Outsourcing firm for MTN, Airtel and Spectranet Call Centres) in Ibadan Oyo State, whose name became popular owing to the case of outbreak of coronavirus in their plant wherein several of her workers contracted the novel virus. These workers were forced to work in the time of the lockdown with little or no adherence to social distancing and other precautionary measures as prescribed by World Health Organization, exposing them to the risk of the virus thereby making the company the epicentre of the virus in the whole of Oyo state.
The company coming out of shutdown of their plant imposed by the government of Oyo state to curb the spread of the virus, resulted into sacking of 220 workers and other heinous policies in the name of sustenance of business leaving several of these workers in penury.
Instead of the union of these workers, National Union of Postal and Telecommunications Employee (NUPTE), to protect and defend the interest of the workers, they were found to be hand in arm with ISON management in carrying out the anti-workers’ policies. The leadership of the union has become extremely reactionary and useless.
Many public organizations have also resorted to paying workers half salary even in the face of the increase in price of almost every commodity in the market. Worst still, some states are yet to implement the minimum wage signed into law since April 2018, further contributing to the pains that workers have to contend with on a daily basis. No doubt, the rising cost of living occasioned by several economic trajectories has wiped out the value the N30, 000 minimum wage which was never a living wage in the first place.
Casualization at both the private and public sector is now rife with working conditions that leaves the workers in severe poverty while employers of labours cash out heavily on profits. It is worthy of note that casual workers are not allowed to be organised under any form of union leaving them vulnerable to exploitations and attacks.
The COVID-19 lockdown last year gave several reasons to employers of labour to either sack or place workers on fractional salaries. The telecommunication sector, despite being the biggest beneficiary of the lockdown as work was moved from site to homes where they offered customers’ access to remote services via their data platform, became the sector where workers were badly hit by these bad policies. Cases of trade unions and their leadership assisting the employers of labour by running outsourcing firms which are contracted by management of companies in recruiting casual workers can be cited.
All these attack on the working class continue unabated because of the highly compromised and heavily corrupted leadership of labour (NLC & TUC) who have become the gatekeeper of the capitalist ruling elite. This had given the capitalist ruling elite and employers of labour the leeway to intensify attacks on the working masses and the poor. The manner in which the leadership of the two labour centres called off the general strike action of September 28th 2020 organised to reject the hike in petroleum pump price and electricity tariff is a reminder that they are conduit to whatever pains being dished out by the ruling elite on the Nigerian working masses.
Nigerian workers have demonstrated several times their readiness to fight and make their condition better. But at every critical moment have been betrayed by their useless and compromised leadership. Therefore, the battle to lift workers out of poverty and penury occasioned by the drive for profits by employers of labour must be linked with the struggle to change this useless labour leadership that held them down for decades. This can only happen when they are armed with the right ideology and consciousness to be involved in who emerged as their leaders.