Governments at all levels and the Nigerian private sector have been urged not to use budget cuts as an excuse to sack workers.
The Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB) a labour and civil society coalition led by prominent human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, said sacking workers at this moment may spur social crisis that may affect the country’s socio-political fabric. The group also provided a roadmap that can bring the economy back to life amidst growing fears of a meltdown in Africa’s largest country.
“The government and the private sector must resist an easy recourse to job cuts and reduction of public spending on social services especially healthcare services” ASCAB said in a statement signed by its Secretary for Publicity, Adewale Adeoye.
The coalition of labour and over 70 civil society organisations also listed steps the government should take to ensure the economy and worker’s interests were protected. The suggestions range from short term protection of jobs and a complete overhaul of the Nigerian economy which involves a paradigm shift from dependence on oil to diversification and investment in production rather than consumption.
ASCAB said Nigeria’s historic dependence on crude oil was at wits end. The group noted that “unlike other oil producing nations of the world, Nigeria has little to show for six decades of oil exploration, production and exports, other than facilitating crude accumulation by state actors through massive looting of state resources.
Is said the six decades of crude oil exports had not translated into any significant development of the nation’s productive forces while the country remains consumers of goods including items are little as tooth pick.
It observed that one of the immediate impact of Covid-19 is the drop in volumes of sales of crude oil as well as reduced pricing in the international market resulting in lowly foreign exchange earnings.
“The COVID-19 crisis has worsened the vulnerability of all working people and the least protected in society. It is highlighting deep economic and social inequalities and inadequate health and social protection systems that require urgent attention as part of the public health response. The impact of lock-downs on jobs, livelihoods, access to services, including health care, food, water, education and social services, safety at home, adequate standards of living and family life has been severe,” ASCAB said.
ASCAB said COVID-19 has proved that the future of every country rests on production of goods and services and not a cosmetic programme that is solely dependent on foreign products.
It said the ruling class has failed to diversify the productive base of the economy, but has funded budgets that oils corrupt bureaucracy and waste.
The group said the challenge that the Nigerian government must decisively confront at this time is how to significantly increase, at least doubling public spending not only on healthcare services but also on public sanitation, water supply, and public education.
“Increased spending on public education would allow decongesting overcrowded classrooms by employing more teachers and urgently building more class rooms before children will resume school. Doubling public expenditure in these areas will bridge huge gaps in service provision in these critical areas which are important for the early containment of Covid-19”ASCAB said.
Due to the devastating impact of lock-down measures which have resulted in massive hunger among people working in the informal economy, ASCAB called for urgent payment of emergency cash grants to those working in the informal economy adding that it will boost local consumption and assist local industry to quickly recover from long closures occasioned by the lock-down.
ASCAB listed steps the Federal Government needed to take in the next six months to reshape the country’s economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. They include doubling of the budgets for healthcare, public sanitation, water supply, and public education, funding for PPEs and adequate compensation for healthcare professionals in the frontline of caring and treatment of Covid-19 patients; intensified massive testing and building more well – equipped isolation centers with adequate provision for the care of those in isolation; a separate stimulus package for the informal sector through their cooperatives and organizations to boost local economies having been excluded from the CBN 50b grant due to conditionalities.
The group also called for rapid provision of water and sanitation services, adding that states can be directly supported to provide both temporary and more permanent water supply technologies in communities and public places. It called for the provision and rehabilitation of collapsing healthcare infrastructures in the communities, rapid expansion of classrooms to decongest public schools both at primary and secondary school levels, support for development of local technologies for Covid-19 containment.
It observed that several universities and individuals have come up with designs for ventilators, respirators, medical face masks as well as claims on Covid-19 management and curative drugs. It asked the Federal Government to strengthen the framework to verify existing claims. Others are the immediate halt to all evictions in informal settlements and work clusters.
ASCAB called on the trade union movement to join forces with the progressive civil society to mount vigilance on the political class to achieve stated objectives.