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Published On: Sun, May 22nd, 2016

Editorial: Fuel price hike: FG should communicate better 

There is urgent need for the Federal government to improve its communication with the people on key issues.

This is perhaps a fundamental weakness of this administration, and nothing demonstrates this more than the cavalier manner the hike in pump price of petroleum products was announced without proper consultations with key stakeholders such as the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Nigerian people.

That ultimately the Federal government deregulated the downstream sector of the petroleum industry was a clear case that the government is finally getting its act together. In the circumstances, it was the best thing to do given the parlous state of the economy, dwindling revenues and the perpetual controversy around the subsidy in the first place.

The response of the organised labour in the opinion of this newspaper was staggered, not measured and well-thought out.  It should have consulted widely with all stakeholders, including government before giving the Federal government deadline to reverse it.

More importantly, it should have marshalled out alternatives, if any, to the government and use same to shore up its bargaining with the government. Many are not persuaded of the usefulness of a general strike as a weapon to fight government to reverse the new supply and pricing framework introduced for petroleum products penultimate week. Nor, for that matter, do they see much to be gained by a reversion to the status quo.

Key to the emerging perspective is that the discourse around the domestic economy’s outlook has apparently benefitted from a new awareness of the country’s currently huge revenue shortages, which has rendered governments at several levels incapable of meeting their wage bills and other crucial overheads; and, more importantly, recent revelations of the colossal corruption attendant upon the administration of fuel subsidy by previous administrations.

This recognition of the dire nature of the times complements a burgeoning belief in the anti-corruption crusade (albeit, not without its discontents) and the anti-profligacy stance of the Buhari administration.

Additionally, sections of the public have wondered at organised labour’s fixation on a silver bullet solution to national challenges with negative impact on workers’ welfare.

Most doubt that in our current situation, a general strike is not an optimum response to government’s preferred solution to one of the symptoms of a complex body of issues, involving the structural nature of Nigeria’s federalism.

The NLC may not have gauged the public mood and disposition properly – or maybe it thinks it can drag the public along – as it sets out on its action. With the availability of petrol and reasonable pricing an existential need for the greater number of Nigerians, typically evoking emotional responses, traditional calls by organised labour and its civil society collaborators to the barricades and to shut down the country over fuel price increases – in the past twenty instances, over thirty years – usually resonated well with the public.

This was largely due to widespread feelings of disillusionment with the federal government, generally considered corrupt and unaccountable, with poor management skills of the economy, seeking to take away affordable fuel as possibly the most important safety net left to the suffering people of Nigeria.

Business Hallmark believes that the organised labour may have misread the public disposition accurately; its protest seeks to feed into evident public irritation with a succession of ill-considered policies in the petroleum sector.

Yet, there has been recurrent public complaint – largely justified – that the Buhari government is one that barely communicates with Nigerians, even when seemingly acting with the best of intentions.

And, that a lot of its activities are largely opaque, if not out rightly shrouded in mystery, as in the instance of the administration’s anti-corruption programme’s recovery of stolen public assets, the extent of which Nigerians are still unaware of.

It is the stand of this newspaper that  the Buhari administration has not done well in the area of information management as a tool of galvanising national consensus in order to drive governance for optimum result.

The current brouhaha over hike and the response of labour is a warning parable of the future – as serving a very  potent  example of how things may go awry if the government does not start communicating its actions, policy directions and implementation regularly, clearly and coherently to the Nigerian public.

It is a sign of a huge disconnect between the Federal government and the public that such radical proclamation was to be made as the exacting removal of subsidy without prior sensitisation of the public and communication in a way that would clear all doubts. This has left a lot to be desired, forcing on Nigerians the sudden need to cope with skyrocketing food, transportation and alternative energy costs.

This is certainly at the core of the grouse of organised labour, whose proposal of a new minimum wage to reflect newer realities is still up for consideration.

This newspaper lauds the courage of the government in removing the subsidy, as it showed certain flexibility on the side of the government in recognising the inevitability of the prime place of the market in economic policies. Much as this was the most logical thing to do, it would not end there, as there’s need for the government to roll out a cushioning effects for the sake of the masses, especially in the areas of transportation and food security.

As the Federal government has done the right thing, we encourage her to go the whole hog to allow market forces in all other spheres in accordance with modern trend globally and best practices.

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