RIGHTSView: PETROLEUM SECTOR AS NIGERIA’S 2013 BLACK SHEEP

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 13 January 2014 | 3,775 times

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Year 2013 has been phenomenal in the political annals of Nigeria’s nationhood given that it was one particular year whereby scholars on Nigerian affairs believed substantially that real governance took flight while mundane and quarrelsome politics took centre stage.

While the economic technocrats such as the officials of the Federal Ministry of Finance gave conflicting signals regarding the nation’s economic growth vis-à-vis economic development, independent observers were miffed by the claims in government quarters that Nigeria’s economy grew significantly.

Even as the intellectual conflict escalated between Nigerian Government’s economic team and the many independent economic experts on the wide chasm between the acclaimed national economic growth with the widening parlous economic situation of virtually the majority of Nigerians, the World Bank reportedly issued a projection that by the end of 2013, Nigeria’s economy will grow faster than the South African economy.

On April 12, 2012, the Nigerian State said the growth in the Nigerian economy was a clear indication that there is a lot of confidence in the nation’s economy.

Nigeria’s Junior Finance Minister who is gunning for the soon-to-be-declared vacant position of governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Dr. Yerima Ngama, said the growth noticed in the non-oil sector was particularly impressive, adding that government would continue to work on improving the economy.

Dr. Ngama, who briefed the media on Nigeria’s presentation at the 37th General Meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) made up of 53 member countries, claimed that Nigeria’s presentation was about the best.

His words: “Our report was actually the best. For the year, for the quarter which ended on 31st December, 2011, only about 46 countries have actually submitted their data and Nigeria was third in terms of Gross Domestic product growth. We recorded a GDP growth of 7.68 per cent in real terms and this is largely due to growth in non-oil sector.”

Those who doubted the official claim backed up by some strange claim from the World Bank that Nigeria’s economy is the third fastest growing economy globally, said it may amount to a “voodoo economy” for officials of government to so claim huge economic growth when in actual fact an agency of the same government Bureau of Statistics gave a frightening report concerning the spread of poverty and youth unemployment.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said global unemployment number rose significantly last year and Nigeria accounted for some of these huge joblessness.

The ILO, the United Nations agency responsible for overseeing international labour standards, in a report downloaded from online sources, made bleak projections of another increase in unemployment worldwide by 5.1 million in 2013 – which would push the total to 202 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria, ILO said 77 per cent of workers have what is called “vulnerable employment”.           

Ironically, the World Bank on Monday, May 13, 2013 issued its economic report on Nigeria whereby on one hand it stated that Nigeria’s annual growth rates that average over seven per cent in official data during the last ten years also placed the nation among the fastest growing economies in the world but raised concern regarding high rate of poverty.

The World Bank however accepted the doubts expressed in independent quarters that the economic growth has not reflected on the living standards of average citizens.

The World Bank observed thus: “This growth has been concentrated particularly on trade and agriculture, which would suggest substantial welfare benefits for many Nigerians. Nevertheless, improvements in social welfare indicators have been much slower than would be expected in the context of this growth. Poverty reduction and job creation have not kept pace with population growth, implying social distress for an increasing number of Nigerians.”  

Mr. Jide Ojo, a development analyst, in an article stated that job losses have increased the scope and extent of poverty afflicting the largest populations of Nigerians.

Similarly, many observers pointed to the high rate of official corruption and lack of transparency and accountability in the petroleum sector among others as the main cause of widespread poverty in Nigeria. Only recently, the Central Bank Governor raised alarm of huge stolen fund from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in 2013. The CBN had stated that $49 billion missed but later realised that actually the equally huge public fund amounting to $10.8 billion is missing and feared to have been stolen by officials who are battling vigorously to come up with doctored auditing report.

Still on the claim of unprecedented growth in the Nigerian economy without the expected commensurate economic development being reflected on the general living standards of Nigerians, economic scholars say the two concepts are distinctive.

In the considered view of John Willis, “Economic growth and economic development are closely related but not synonymous. Economic growth can exist independent of the state of economic development. Conversely, economic development can exist independent of economic growth. The distinction is often one of timing. Economic development is essentially investment in an economy; economic growth is increased production of an economy.”

To now answer the question of why most Nigerians grew poorer in the year 2013 even when government officials claim that the economy of the nation witnessed significant growth, we only need to analyse two key sectors that dominated the news media last year for the wrong reasons to determine which can be called the black sheep of the economy. Factually, slow productivity which comes about by collapse in social infrastructure will definitely account for lack of economic development and improvement in the living standards of the citizenry. 

For half of year 2013, the public university system grounded to a halt due to industrial action waged by the Academic Staff Union of universities (ASUU) over issues that are not unrelated to emoluments and wages. The polytechnics all over the country similarly were shut down due to industrial crisis. Sadly, the polytechnics are yet to call off their strike.

The question to be asked is, how can a nation experience economic growth and/or development when the institutions for the training of manpower with the requisite 21st century compliant skills are shut down for half of the entire year thereby throwing millions of youth to the situation of uncertainty?

There are credible claims that the public educational facilities are not upgraded, thereby threatening the quality and standard of manpower churned out into the labour market.

Again, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity was constantly in the public eye as one sector of the economy that must be up and doing in the discharge of its thematic mandate. Observers say the Labour Ministry in the year 2013 concentrated more on resolving the deluge of Labour union related crises that it paid lip service to the equally important thematic area of productivity.

Many observers also questioned the rationale behind letting expatriates in the private sector of Nigeria to treat Nigerian workers under them as slaves even while the Labour Ministry looked the other way in the year 2013. The problem of casualisation of Nigerian workers is yet to be tackled through effective legislation.

But the Labour and Productivity Minister, Chief Emeka Wogu, came up with robust responses when I confronted him shortly before the last Yuletide with the many questions of non-performance and he rolled out statistical evidence to show that the Labour Ministry was never the sectoral black sheep of the year 2013.

The Labour Minister, who is a lawyer of many years standing, told this writer: “The focus of the Ministry of Labour and Employment during the last one year has been to safeguard the interest of workers in an environment of uncertain economic recovery and rising prices. The Ministry focused on seven major thrust areas in 2013.”

The first important priority area, he said, was to amend labour laws to make them more relevant and effective in a dynamic economic environment. This included, inter alia, enhancement of the scope and coverage of Acts and raising the quantum of benefits under them.

The second area of focus, according to Chief Wogu, was to protect real wages of workers in times of high inflation. This was done through enforcement of statutory provisions under the Minimum Wages Act as well as non-statutory interventions.

The third area of attention was to enhance the coverage and benefits under welfare and social security schemes, with special focus on the unorganised sector even as the Labour Minister said the fourth area of emphasis was to safeguard the health and safety of workers, specially workers in mines, lift operations, maritime services.

The fifth thrust area was to ensure elimination of child labour from hazardous activities and rehabilitation of child labour through the crafting and presentation National Policy on Child Labour which was approved by Federal Executive Council (FEC), the minister claimed.

The sixth important area of focus in the considered view of the minister, was to develop skills and employability of workers through schemes of the National Directorate of Employment and several trainings at the Michael Imoudu Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), Ilorin.

The ministry, in his assessment, also took a host of other initiatives which included measures to promote better industrial relations, conduct regular quarterly and annual employment-unemployment surveys, research studies, training and awareness generation programmes.

Due to constant endeavour of the Honourable Minister and staff of the ministry, the overall industrial relations climate though tense, remained peaceful and cordial. The number of threatened strikes during 2013 was 398 out of which 362 were apprehended and averted, he affirmed just as he recalled that the National Policy on Productivity were both presented for approval by the FEC. This was later launched.

My take as well as many other voiceless Nigerians feel strongly that the Nigerian Government must develop a robust framework to ensure that the foreigners who now run our strategic economic activities in the telecommunication, electricity power and manufacturing firms treat Nigerian workers humanely. Nigerian small scale investors are in dire need of essential incentives from the finance institutions so they can borrow and run their enterprises under friendly and less suffocating conditions and low interest rates from the commercial banks. The rate of Nigerians fleeing into other Western economies in search of the good life must be checked and it is only when the investment climate is made favourable and the insecurity and situation of uncertainty checked can this noble goal be achieved in 2014. The black sheep of Nigeria's economy in year 2013 is largely believed to be the opaque petroleum sector. This is the view of a lot of Nigerians just as this writer awaits any contrary opinion from the administrators of the petroleum sector of the nation’s mono-economy. 

RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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