YAQUB: We Can’t Force Firms To Keep Workers When Critical Infrastructure Is Lacking
THERE is no sector of the Nigerian economy, as of today, that is not affected by job cuts. It is the reality in both private and public sectors, basically, because we have an economy that has completely nosedived, as we have been in the doldrums for not just years, but decades. This is due mainly to mismanagement of our economy by previous administrations. There is no economy that would develop if there was no electricity. The energy sector has collapsed for too long.
Before 1998, the textile industry used to be the highest employer of labour after government. If you go Kaduna, Kano and Ilupeju and Ikeja areas of Lagos State, when workers close from the industries in the evenings, you would assume they are coming from the stadium after a major international tournament. But today, all those who used to work in those factories are now Okada riders and the factories have been turned to all sorts of things. In other words, where there is no electricity and where petroleum products are as expensive as we have it today, factories can’t survive.
This is because, running costs becomes prohibitive. So, some of these companies have, shamefully, on our part, relocated to neighbouring countries, and have retrenched their workers. That is the case with the manufacturing sector. And up till this moment, the sector is still facing hardship. It makes it difficult to sustain the argument of keeping the jobs. Keeping the jobs, without payment of salaries and without the tools for production is not encouraging.
What has led to job losses is, because we do not have a competitive economic environment for production. That has affected the manufacturing sector and the service industry, like banking. There is also the issue of being cash strapped. There is no money. We have become an import, rather than an export country. When we import good, it helps the economy of foreign countries to grow and for them to employ more people while we lose jobs in Nigeria. All these factors have led to collapse of jobs, both in the service and manufacturing industries.
Who should be blamed for the job cuts?
The issue of job loss is not just happening under the new administration; it is an inherited issue, which was passed down over the years from the military to the civilian governments. Therefore, no specific government can be held responsible for job cuts. The only government that should be blamed is that, which allowed itself to be hoodwinked to implement the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) by neoliberal institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was the Babangida regime that allowed the implementation of neoliberal policies that sold public properties to private hands and messed up government’s interest in electricity, roads and others, which have led to the collapse of the economy. These have also affected jobs. So, any government, including the Buhari government, which is going to create jobs, without addressing the problem of electricity and re-energising the economy such that public facilities, such as electricity and affordable energy, including petroleum products, can be used for production, is joking. You can’t create jobs when there is no conducive environment for the economy to grow. In elementary economics, there is something called four factors of production, which include land, capital, entrepreneurship and labour. If those things don’t exist anymore, how are you going to engage in production? If the condition is not right, it would put pressure on public finance, because more people are going to be pulled into the public service and monies that should be in the public treasury for capital projects and create would then be used to pay salaries. It is the duty of government to reduce those factors that have made production difficult, particularly electricity and high cost of production products, as well as, review privatization of public assets.
Does labour see government achieving the lofty job target promised by the All Progressives Congress during electioneering campaigns?
Politicians don’t think about policies, they think about promises. They go onto the podium and say they would create 100,000 jobs and other figures, because they know that one of our major problems is unemployment. They have politicised the issue of job creation and unemployment, just as they have politicised many other problems. They need to come out with a direction that would address, in totality, the issue of job creation. If a candidate says that when he gets into office, he would create one million jobs in six months, he has not said anything that impresses me. What he should have said is that he would revamp the economy, ensure stable power, build roads, refurbish refineries and correct trade imbalance in order to create more jobs.