The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Catholic Church and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) yesterday kicked against the move by the federal government to sell off national assets in an attempt to address the prevailing economic recession in the country.
They also took a swipe at the Senate over calls by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, urging the federal government to sell off major national assets including the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) to cushion the effects of the recession.
The call has pitted the Senate President and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, and other critical stakeholders who vehemently opposed the idea.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, yesterday in Abuja said such calls fell flat on the aspirations of Nigerians and smack of a calculated attempt to appease political cronies and business moguls closed to the government.
He said: “The recent call by Aliko Dangote for the sale of the national shareholdings in the NLNG and the suggestions by the senate president that the shares, along with other sovereign assets in the oil and aviation sectors, be sold to stem the current economic recession are unacceptable to NLC.
“Investments in the NLNG and Joint Venture oil upstream operations are profitable and represent potential sources of revenue in the future.
“For example, it was the accrued dividend payments from NLNG shares that provided the resources for the first bailout to states when many states could not pay salaries under this present regime. It is on record that dividends, in excess of $1 billion have accrued annually to the national coffers from the gas company over the past 12 years.
“These calls are more worrisome when one considers the history of sovereign assets divestiture in the past. Where are the proceeds from sales of the assets in the power sector for instance?”
According to the Wabba, “With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that these assets were distributed to favoured individuals and surrogates of the ruling elite without any appreciable benefits to Nigerians.
“While we recognise that there is need to take urgent steps to stem the dwindling fortunes of the national economy, we are convinced that the proposals in question will further weaken the revenue capacity of government in the future and weaken the economic base of the nation.”
The NLC leader added that “there are lessons to be learnt from some other Organisation of Petroleum Exploring Countries (OPEC) countries which invested their oil revenues heavily in the acquisition of sovereign assets, both domestically and internationally.
Also, the Executive Director of Caritas International, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), Rev Fr Evaristus Bassey, said the clamour for the sale of national assets by some members of the executive, National Assembly and key private sector players was completely wrong and do not represent the aspirations of Nigerians in any form.
Bassey said: “We seem to disagree with such calls for the sale of national assets; we cannot accept such extremist capitalist views. We cannot subscribe to such views because you cannot sell national assets to private hands.”
He contended that in most cases involving either privatisation or sale of national assets, “the process has often not been transparent, it’s like selling the national assets to a few hands.
“We have not developed to the extent where government will sell off national assets and interest to private individuals,” Bassey observed.
Furthermore, Executive Director of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, also lambasted those calling for the sale of national assets.
He told THISDAY that “that will be the most reckless, selfish and stupid clamor. Historically, governments all over the world have been involved in one form of public enterprise or the other. We also know that there are challenges with management of public enterprises but all over the world, new methods have been designed for effective corporate governance of public enterprises.
“In the Nigerian situation, public enterprises have fared very poorly leading to clamor for privatisation but we are all living experiences to what privatisation has done for us.”
Meanwhile, the NLC yesterday dismissed as misleading, speculations that talks between it and the federal government on new national minimum wage had collapsed.
Its president Wabba, said in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, that the talks had not even started.
According to him, the government is foot-dragging on the issue.
He said the tripartite structure that should consider the modalities for the implementation had not been inaugurated.
“Uptil now, government is still dragging its feet on talks about the minimum wage; the tripartite structure has not been put in place,” he said.
“The point we are making is that we have only agreed on the structure, but the structure has not been formed.
“We have agreed on the membership and the structure of the negotiating team which is going to be tripartite, so this is the point that we are now.
“But at the last meeting of the tripartite team which was held a day after the Sallah break, it was agreed that at the next meeting, all these issues will be sorted out.
“What happened was that government could not form a quorum at the last meeting of the palliative,” Wabba added.
According to him, apart from the Minister of Labour and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation that were at the meeting, key ministries were absent.
“Legitimately, we have a demand that is still pending with them including that of minimum wage and the palliative; therefore at the next meeting, I am certain that we will give government notice.”
Asked if the government was reluctant in setting up a team for the implementation of the minimum wage, Wabba said he would not speak for the government.
“Well, I can’t speak on the side of the government, but we are committed in making our demand, it is left for them to tell Nigerians whether they are committed to it or not,” he said.
According to the NLC president, the union would pursue the issue of the minimum wage to its logical conclusion.
The composition of the tripartite committee was announced on May 26, by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.
The Wabba faction of the NLC had put forward a demand of N56, 000 as a realistic minimum wage, while that of Joe Ajaero is asking for N90,000 as minimum wage.
The government on its part has proposed N45,000 as the new minimum wage.
The joint committee is meant to iron out the differences in the various submissions.