By Reno Omokri
Psychologists say that when you spend time with a person who has a strong and dominant personality, you must consciously watch out against the possibility of being overwhelmed by that personality to the extent where you find yourself taking on some of their traits. Being a pastor, I have seen this up close and personal.
In larger churches, many pastors often adopt, not the personality of Yehoshua (wrongly called Jesus) the Son of God, but that of the senior man in their ministry. If the senior pastor wears a Jheri curl, they wear one too. If he has certain peculiar mannerisms, they cultivate it within themselves. If he dresses a particular way, they ape him. If he has a real or effected accent, they acquire it. In short, they begin to act less like themselves and more like their pastor.
It is human nature. Boys want to marry women like their mothers and girls subliminally drift towards men who treat them like their fathers. This Oedipus complex-esque behavior is right now playing itself in Nigeria. The dictatorial nature of President Muhammadu Buhari, which has manifested itself in several ways, chief of which are his pronouncements on cases which are still in court, appear to be having a contagious effect amongst members of his cabinet.
Those around the President seem to think that Nigeria is one big barrack where all Nigerians live as unquestioning robots ready to do their bidding ‘with immediate effect and automatic alacrity’. How else could one describe the recent threat by the minister of labour, Mr. Chris Ngige, who ‘directed’ commercial banks not to down size their staff strength and made a thinly veiled threat to revoke their license should they fail to obey his directives? Hear the minister:
“I hereby direct the suspension of the on- going retrenchment pending the outcome of the conciliatory meetings in the industry.” As if that was not enough, the minister further said: “We will go a step further if they continue. We know what to do. After all, the banks have the licences given by the government. We know what to do. They need to comply.” I mean, government directing banks not to sack? Threatening to revoke licenses? Are we not supposed to be a democratic country? The banks are downsizing because the economy is tanking. The way I see it, the only way the Federal Government can ‘direct’ private firms not to downsize is by fixing the economy!
Those of us who have long memories will remember Mr. Ngige as a mild mannered once upon a time political godson of Chris Uba, once a political titan in Anambra state. Mr. Ngige is famously remembered for sheepishly going to Okija shrine with his Bible at the behest of Uba to declare allegiance to his godfather.
We remember him as the anodyne governor of Anambra who (per his own admission) was locked up in a toilet because he was considered a naughty boy by his benefactor and would have remained there were it not for the intervention of Nigeria’s then Vice President who ordered the then Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, to rescue the kidnapped governor from his forced potty training! Now, a man who allowed himself to be consigned to a toilet is now brave enough to threaten others because his new godfather does the same.
At this juncture, permit me to give a crash course in history for those who do not know the genesis of the current crisis in the banking sector. The previous administration, led by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, had come up with the idea of a Treasury Single Account (AKA TSA).
The idea was to have a single account for the government (with a few exceptions) as a way of minimizing the possibilities for fraud and to have a real time view of how much the government has in its kitty. Because of the delicate nature of the banking sector (any banking sector, not just the Nigerian banking sector), it was planned that the policy would be implemented in phases so that the sector does not experience a shock.
But while it was still implementing the policy, that administration’s mandate ended and was not renewed and the succeeding administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari, in its own wisdom, decided to pull out ₦3 trillion (about $18 billion) from the Nigerian commercial banking sector in less than a year.
The sudden loss of such huge funds threw the Nigerian financial sector (not just the banking industry) into a tailspin and the industry has not yet recovered and it is doubtful if it will recover anytime soon. Even in humans, it is not wise to suddenly withdraw a drug addict from his dependent drug ‘cold turkey’. Such an act is inimical and could hurt the addict much more than it helps him and would cause withdrawal syndromes that may even lead to death which is why drug rehabilitation centers recommend gradual withdrawal if the rehabilitation process is to be successful.
What the Nigerian banking sector is going through is drug withdrawal and it needs to be rehabilitated not threatened. If you doubt me, Google the most common signs of drug withdrawal. The first sign Google will likely bring up for you is ‘shakiness’. Another sign is ‘depression’. A third sign is ‘fatigue’. Each of these three signs apply to Nigeria’s banking sector. It is very ‘shaky’ at the moment.
Banking stocks are ‘depressed’ and there is a lot of ‘fatigue’ in the industry because funds are not as available as they used to be and shareholders are breathing down the neck of management to cut waste. The Federal Government cannot pull out ₦3 trillion from commercial banks to the Central Bank of Nigeria in the name of TSA, then get the CBN to employ children of party faithful and start shedding crocodile tears because banks are downsizing. What did they expect?
And the thing is that the Buhari administration’s response to this incidence is upside down and bereft of any well thought out logic. Mr. Ngige does not want banks to sack and so he threatens to revoke their license should they do so. What is the most likely consequence if that happens? Wouldn’t that action lead to even more mass sacking?
Now suppose you have a bank with a staff strength of 20,000 people and supposing that because of the down turn of the economy it decides to downsize by about 200 staff in order to remain profitable, now again, suppose that in response the Federal Government revokes its license. What would then be the fate of the 19,800 staff who are still in the bank’s employ? Can they have a job if the bank’s license is withdrawn? So in order to save 200 jobs, the government’s response is to threaten 19,800 jobs! How smart!
The funny thing is that in the same week that Mr. Ngige issued his threats, it was revealed that the same Federal Government in whose name he is ‘directing’ banks not to sack staff is itself planning to downsize by disengaging officers and men of the immigration and prisons services. Is this not hypocrisy?
Why doesn’t Mr. Ngige ‘direct’ President Buhari not to fire immigration/prison staff or face withdrawal of his license? President Buhari and his team would do well to recognize that governance is not only about demonstrating power and issuing threats as a strongman. You also need brains. An axe can cut a tree but it cannot shave your hair!
Everyday, 18,000 new babies are born in Nigeria. This figure is much more than is born in the whole of Western Europe in the same period. We need to start thinking intelligently on how to fix the economy so that our army of young people can start businesses and employ themselves. That should be the priority of this administration.
If the Buhari led Federal Government does not fix Nigeria’s economy, it will not matter how much they threaten banks. Economies respond to sound policy not to threats! Where have nations that have threatened their workforce gone? We only need to look at Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
Command and control works only in a barrack not in boardrooms! You cannot lock up ₦3 trillion in the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria in the name of TSA and wonder why your banking sector is collapsing. Money was not designed to sit in bank vaults. It should be invested! The present Nigerian Federal Government and the wicked servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents have one thing in common. Both of them hid their money in vaults instead of investing it!
Nigeria has NO Labour laws that could lead to the license of any bank being revoked if they choose to downsize their staff strength in response to economic realities. The employment contract between a bank and its staff are governed by labour laws and where there is a dispute they take such disputes to the industrial court. There are no provision in our laws for the ministry of labour to intervene in a labour dispute between a bank and its employee by revocation of its license.
By law, banks are licensed or delicensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. In this present case, the minister of labour is overreaching himself and it is the duty of the opposition to call him out, especially when there is an obvious failure to supervise on the part of his boss. His threat is WRONG. This is a purely economic issue.
The banks can no longer afford the same workforce as they had when the economy was booming. They are in business to make money. They are not in business to be nice. Nice banks finish last! As long as they follow the terms of the letter of employment contract they entered into with their staff, the minister has no locus to intervene in a contractual relationship between employer and employee. If the government can order private firms not to sack their workers, what is next?
Will they also order men not to divorce their wives? Where does it end? This blame game of shifting blame must end. The minister’s comments are not in isolation. The ruling All Progressive Congress has itself described the mass sacking in the banking sector as a conspiracy cooked up by the enemies of the Buhari administration in order to discredit the government! I kid you not.
This statement was made to the media by the National Auditor of the party, Chief George Moghalu! Yes, it is a conspiracy. The enemies of the government are the very government itself that could not foresee the reasonable consequences of its own actions. I guess it is also a conspiracy that foreign airlines are leaving Nigeria. And oh, you know the continuous decline in the fortunes of the Naira in the parallel and official market? Well that is also a conspiracy.
Perhaps the loss of the People’s Democratic Party in the 2015 election was also a conspiracy to saddle the APC with an economy that is beyond its capacity to manage. You never know!
The sooner this administration realizes that it must deal with things as they are and not as it wishes they are, the better for Nigeria. As I had previously said, 18,000 babies are born everyday in Nigeria. This is coming at a time our economy is contracting (by 0.36% last quarter).
Our government cannot afford another quarter of negative growth. We must do everything in our power to spur our economy. One of the things we need to do is attract foreign investors. And to do that we need to demonstrate a consistent behavior that proves to the world that our government and its agencies will not impede on the free market economy that the private sector needs to thrive.
Dr. Ngige’s behavior does not send this message and though his official title is minister of labour and productivity, his words are leading and are likely to lead to more un-productivity for Nigeria’s labour force. Seeing as our own government is not helping the situation, we are left to say-may God help us!
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija