By Chinedu Bosah
Before now, the cost of living was mostly impacted by the continued free fall of Naira against the dollar occasioned by fall crude oil price and weak productive economy. And as a largely import dependent country, prices of goods and services moved up. This would not have been the case if government had massively invested in the economy to create jobs for the teeming unemployed persons and provide basic infrastructure. Rather than begin the reconstruction of basic infrastructure to create jobs and develop the economy, Buhari’s government is unleashing anti-poor attacks on the working masses thereby compounding the already bad situation.
Between when the price of fuel was increased from N86.50k to N145, price of transportation has gone up by at least 50% and many other services and commodities have followed suit. No doubt, growing cost of living without commensurate increase in wage and earnings forces the working masses deeper into poverty and squalor. The poorer the vast majority become, the rich correspondingly gets richer.
The policy of deregulation enables the government to allow private sector/marketers the leeway to import petroleum products and determine the price in line with demand and supply. As the Buhari government is moving fast towards total deregulation, prices of petroleum products will move up. Just like the previous government, Buhari claimed that subsidy payment allows the corrupt marketers to make so much money at the expense of the government and the people, but none of these oil marketers have been prosecuted. Hence, the Buhari government is only interested in keeping the corrupt oil merchant in business such that they charge cut-throat prices depending on the demand, thereby leaving the poor at the mercy of these marketers. Similarly, Buhari banned 130 crude oil ship sand their cargo in July 2015 for stealing Nigeria crude oil only to re-license them few weeks after. This and more show that Buhari government is simply a government of private sector, private interest and profit.
The ruling elite wants total deregulation for two reasons: (1) it allows the ruling class to guarantee their opulent lifestyle through looting and jumbo allowances despite the huge decline in the price of crude oil; (2) it allows the ruling elite and top foreign and local business men and women to absolutely take charge of Nigeria’s resources and massively exploit the hapless under-privileged. These two motives, which flow from capitalism’s inability to develop Nigeria, drive the concept of deregulation, privatization, liberalization and other neo-liberal and anti-poor policies.
As a consequence of these policies, the purchasing power is drastically lowered. This affects production and services because increasingly as more people are unable to buy, businesses collapse, job losses becomes rampant, the whole economy plunges. At the moment, about 27 states governments owe backlog of salaries – a situation that further compounds the condition of workers. Minimum wage (a paltry N18,000) is supposed to have been increased to match the rising inflation but the federal government has refused but just 18,000 political office holders earn a whopping sum of N1.3 trillion annually. Suffice to note that twice this amount is enough to build a big refinery. For instance, if just the jumbo salaries of political office holders are reduced to that of a skilled worker, government in the last 16 years could have built 5 big and new refineries; repaired the existing 4 refineries to work optimally and build several depots and distribution infrastructure. In fact, funds saved from inflated contracts and its associated corruption and exploitation, ending looting and reduction of salaries of political office holders is enough to jumpstart the economy. But a government that has an agenda to defend private interest will not want to invest publicly so as not to compete with the private sector and undermine their profit interest. This explains why the refineries are consciously made to work abysmally and will eventually be sold to the same private marketers at a giveaway price like what took place in the power sector.
Government mouthpieces/spin doctors and Bola Tinubu are asking the poor to bear the pain and that it will be better in the long run. This is a lie. Shagari’s government said as much when it started implementing austerity measure but the poor got poorer; Ibrahim Babangida assured us that its Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) would better our lives and the poor paid dearly for it. So also will privatization and deregulation not only push more people into poverty, it will worsen the parlous state of the economy because only the profit interests of a privileged few are guaranteed. Almost 3 years after the power sector was privatized, electricity has become more epileptic and many communities plunged into darkness. Despite bailouts, the same government is also imposing a 45 percent increment in electricity tariff. The truth is that what the government is currently doing is to force the working masses to pay for the economic crisis created by the bourgeois class and their collaborating public office holders.
There is an alternative to neo-liberal policies and the capitalist system. Capitalism is like pushing the vast majority into the animal kingdom to be slaughtered. This rat race of profit engenders corruption, economic crisis, poverty and want. We need to begin the planning of our human and natural resources to meet the needs of the people. Doing so will require the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy such as oil, steel, banking, power etc., and their placement under democratic control and management of workers and consumers in order to bring about transparency and efficiency. This alternative is what the trade union leaders should be fighting for and it will require the labour movement to start the building of a mass working class political party to champion the interest of the working class and the poor as it has become obvious that all the pro-rich parties (APC, PDP, Labour Party, APGA etc.,) have not only failed the people, they are incapable of developing the backward Nigerian economy.
Nigerians should not be deceived by the Buhari government, we should organize to defend our interest, fight and defeat these deregulation and privatization policies. Nigerians must demand the reversal of the hike in electricity tariff and fuel price; struggle for a new living wage for workers in public and private sector; demand for the building of new refineries and fixing the existing ones to end importation of petroleum products; demand the end of the domineering private interest in the oil industry; renationalize all privatized public utilities under democratic control of the working people.