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Labour-Civil Society Situation Room Proffers Solutions To Deal With COVID-19 Economic Crisis 



By Michael Oche
The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room has condemned the retrenchment and deductions from workers salaries by some employees, under the guise of the economic downturn occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labour and the civil societies have resolved to throw their weight behind workers in the affected states in embarking on a strike action if their demands for a reversal of the unjust decision was not met within the stipulated period covered in the ultimatum issued to the affected state governments.
In a Communique made available to newsmen on Thursday in Abuja, the Situation Room chaired by President Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, demanded adequate protection for workers in the country, and what was described as a home grown citizen-centric economic model as sustainable response to the pandemic.
They expressed worry over the continued incidence of job losses, income deprivation and denial of the means of livelihood for workers by some employers who were using Covid-19 as an excuse.
The communique reads in part: “The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room on Covid-19 unequivocally condemns and rejects the arbitrary deduction in the salaries and pension of workers and pensioners, respectively, by the Kaduna state government and other states.
“We demand that state governments must reciprocate federal government’s gesture in granting moratorium on repayment of budget support palliatives by paying workers and pensioners their full entitlements. We also renew our calls for investigation on how states used the palliatives and Paris Club refunds.
“We demand that private sector employers should stop the retrenchment of workers in the guise of Covid-19 as such moves would only impair efforts geared at economic revitalization.”
Raising concerns over the proposed downsizing of the 2020 budget by the Federal Government in line with global trends, the Situation Room noted that budgetary cuts in critical sectors and the freezing of new recruitments in all the Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government except those in the health and security sectors, would make economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis more difficult.
They also noted that the over-padded emoluments of political leaders in Nigeria have remain untouched including their unregulated access to security votes. In view of these, the Situation Room has recommended the adoption of a measured approach to the fallout of Covid-19.
“Government should not cut down on budgetary allocations to education, health, agriculture and infrastructure as these sectors are critical for the needed economic rebound and growth. Government should unfreeze the embargo on public sector jobs. Also, hike in user access charges on public utilities should be shelved for the next six months;
“Given the abuse of security votes by many political office holders in the executive branch of government, we call for the scrapping of security votes from public budgeting in Nigeria. Security votes should be appropriated and accounted for like every other budget item.
“We call on political office holders to reduce their salaries and allowances in order to free up finances for other areas of national developmental needs. We also call for an end to medical and education tourism for elected public officials and their families.”
While calling for an immediate stop to the practice of borrowing to finance consumption, the Situation Room which expressed worry over the increasing rate of foreign borrowing said foreign loans where necessary, should be tied exclusively to capital projects with feasible income and debt repayment potentials cum projections
“Just before the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, Nigeria’s external debt had hit a 16 year high of US$27 billion with a debt servicing commitment of US$1.5 billion per annum which is about 5% of our 2020 federal budget and 75% of our external reserves.
“It is of great concern that our current total debt profile is almost at par with what we owed the Paris Club before the debt amnesty of about US$18 billion from a total debt stock of US$35.994 billion.  CBN records show that the Federal Government borrowed over N4.4 trillion by ways and means in 2019. This is far beyond the maximum of N4.5 billion allowed in CBN legal statutes.”
The Labour-Civil Society Situation Room also urged government to make the budgetary and planning process in Nigeria more socially inclusive, citizens-centered, value objective and reflective of real national developmental needs.
“Pursuant to this, we call on the National Assembly to set in motion legislative processes to deliver the promises of Chapter Two of Nigeria’s Constitution. On the budget process, we must cut our cloth according to our materials. We must discard the use of assumptive and deficit budgets that cannot be funded by available resources and heavily dependent on local and foreign loans especially for recurrent expenditure.
“The focus of foreign loans must be on developing and expanding our infrastructure. We must also go back to the era of long term national developmental planning in order to address in a systematic way gaps in our infrastructural outlay and deficits in our social sector.”
On trapped loans, they said: “We call for support to the private sector operators struggling with “trapped loans”. We call on government to grant moratorium on accruing interests and repayment schedule for such loans. Government can also buy back “trapped loans” and mediate more flexible repayment plans for private sector operators; and
“We call for accelerated disbursement of palliatives and loans to workers in the informal sector. This should be transparent and inclusive and monitored by mass-based groups. Also, conditions for access to the loans should be minimal to deepen access.”
While demanding quick rehabilitation of the nation’s four oil refineries, they warned against further increase in the price of imported refined petroleum products under the guise of removal of under-recovery cost or the withdrawal of what was described as the “so-called petroleum subsidies.
“Once our refineries are working, Nigeria would have no business wasting scarce foreign exchange on importation of refined petroleum products or sustaining a corruption infested fuel subsidy regime;
“We call for the resuscitation of Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Complex, proper governance for our solid minerals sector, revival of moribund textile factories and other manufacturing concerns as a demonstration of our commitment to economic diversification.”