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A Nigeria Labour Congress strike is purely academic



The Nigeria Labour Congress threatens to embark on industrial action and has even postponed it. Their grudge is over the scarcity of cash across the nation in the past two months. Backdrop to it is the policy of the Federal Government to redesign naira notes. The Federal Government gives as its reason the requirement to redesign the nation’s currency on a regular basis. Other justifications have since been cited in different quarters to include preventing the use of naira to influence voters in the course of the last presidential and governorship elections. Justifications are many but so are the negative impacts, a reason NLC says it is embarking on strike. But is it timely?

One debate that will continue for a while is whether or not the extreme negative impacts on people and economy are worth it, considering that the approach adopted for execution eventually failed due to the Supreme Court ruling. The pain of a policy that was horribly executed was too excruciating for Nigerians and this was reflected in the manner they voted in the last election.  Strangely, most politicians didn’t openly speak about this aspect in spite of how it affected their electoral fortunes in different ways. And I don’t mean in terms of using money to buy votes. The fallouts impacted their basic needs. But there were a few politicians who didn’t keep quiet – state governors. Some of them spoke directly to the Federal Government, and even went to court to challenge the cashless policy because of its impacts on their people.

I think it takes a person who doesn’t know this nation well to criticise the state governors who challenged this badly executed policy at the time they did. Of course, not all Nigerians felt the impact the same way. Someone told me that a radio presenter in Oyo State slumped and died; this happened as he was walking from one Point of Sale operator to the other looking for cash to take transport to the office where his colleagues were already on air expecting him. I learnt that a woman was in labour, but the hospital workers said money must be transferred first and an alert received before they would attend to her.

Unfortunately, the woman and the baby died before the bank alert was received long after the hospital bill was paid. That was what this policy did to Nigerians. I said somewhere that I got naira for 40 per cent of the total amount I wanted each time I asked for it. One person said he never experienced such a situation. It turned out he offered services for which people like him insisted on cash payment from hapless citizens or no way.

Online, some ridiculed the state governors who went to court over the policy. There was one particular individual with a Nigerian name who supported the cashless policy obviously because he believed the candidate he supported in the last election would win if other candidates didn’t have money to buy votes. So he referred to the state governors who went to court as “clowns.” I wondered if he experienced what many Nigerians were passing through at the height of this punishment. Days later, he was saying in another conversation that he was a UK citizen and he worked there. Yet this guy was ever commenting on every issue in Nigeria, including cashless policy that harmed citizens in ways he knew nothing about.

In the days when Nigerians perennially wore a frown on their faces because this policy was biting them hard. In the days when they turned the steps in front of ATM machines to where they slept just to get some cash. In the days when they gathered as early as 4am in front of banks waiting for the staff to open. In those days when many of our people silently struggled to maintain their dignity in the face of money they had in banks but which they couldn’t withdraw. I watched and shook my head for the physical and psychological torture for people that these things amounted to. One senior citizen told me he had to switch off his phone because of the number of people who wanted him to find cash for them. Some Nigerians could buy money with 40 per cent of the total amount. Millions of others couldn’t, ever struggling each day to get by.

Can we separate the shoddy manner this policy was implemented from the usual Nigerian way of doing things in an unplanned manner? No. Here, lack of adequate plan permeates everything. No coordination. No attempt to execute the policy based on the statistics and careful analysis of the same. We have a government institution that wanted to implement cashless policy but wouldn’t take a microscope and assess how convenient it would be for our large farming communities, villages, remote areas without banks and PoS terminals to access funds for their simple daily needs. We have an institution that wouldn’t place the number of banks and PoS side by side with the population of people in each LGA, state, market, etc. before it executes a policy. Muddling through is ever what they do.

It’s an institution that wouldn’t take into consideration the fact that most banks and their ATMs are concentrated in cities, and that most communities don’t have banks some 150 kilometres anywhere near them. Examples are the communities along the Kaduna-Abuja highway. From Kaduna metropolis all the way to the border LGA between Niger State and Abuja, a distance of about 180 kilometres, I don’t recall noticing a functional bank. Many people and PoS operators here are required to travel long distances to access cash. Even the banks didn’t have the cash. It was in that kind of situation a government institution introduced the strictest, inhumane, and most dehumanising cashless policy anywhere on the face of this earth.

One would have thought that when the hardship bit most hard was the time an entity such as the NLC would come out to make its displeasure known. It should have spoken up to bring to the attention of the relevant institutions that the policy they were executing put Nigerians in serious pain. But there was silence. The only main entity speaking up was the state governors, and even the three that initially went to court to say that the policy was impacting people negatively were from the North. This is a phenomenon I’ll take up here one of these days and I expect those who hate northerners, those who don’t want anything good to be spoken about northerners, those who love to have northerners demonised and hatred promoted against them to call me names as usual.

It’s fine because all of us can’t see things the same way. But a person must stand for something. In the public space, I advocate that no one or media house should demonise any tribe or any part of Nigeria because members of their own tribes aren’t angels. Months ago, I wrote a column advising the Fulani to sue any media house that continued to report “suspected Fulani herdsmen” after each armed attack even in situations where no investigation had established this. The tribe of other criminal elements are never mentioned along with their offence. But the Fulani are always mentioned. I also embarked on “My Media Action Against Discrimination” on social media, specifically reporting this phenomenon to the EU, US, and the UN. I asked that sanctions be imposed on media houses whose report promoted profiling and hatred for a tribe. Since then reportage from media houses has changed from “suspected Fulani herdsmen” to “suspected herdsmen.” It’s a small step, my small victory and I rejoice over it.

Back to the NLC that was quiet when state governors were fighting on behalf of Nigerians. They should know that state governors have done the needful. They fought in court and got relief for Nigerians. The activism of these courageous and people-oriented governors, those of them who didn’t mind the possible consequences on their political future, got the job done. So the threat of embarking on strike by NLC officials at this time is purely academic. They should leave the public space and return to their office.

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