NIGERIAN LABOUR CONGRESS STRIKE AND ITS IMPLICATION FOR DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION

NIGERIAN LABOUR CONGRESS STRIKE AND ITS IMPLICATION FOR DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATION

INTRODUCTION
Inefficiency in the production and distribution of petroleum products and fiscal pressure on the government caused the Federal Government of Nigeria to announce that the acceptable price range for petroleum products had to be reviewed periodically with strong consideration given to the financial and economic environment.
On January 1, 2012, the administration of President Jonathan announced the removal of petroleum subsidy and adjusted upward, the pump price of petrol. The government’s goal was full deregulation of the oil down stream industry. Due the upward review of prices, prices ranged between N 141 and N 200 per litre nation-wide rather than N65. The government’s reason for the subsidy as stated by the government was that it had become clear the fuel subsidy arrangement was riddled with putrefying and massive corruption, as some importers of fuel products inflate the cost from the international market, which runs into billions of Naira. This was with the understanding that government will offset the outlay as usual and subsidise it for Nigerians.
Last year alone, the Federal Government spent over N1.3 trillion on fuel subsidy, leaving it with fewer funds for infrastructural projects that would impact positively on the lives of Nigerians in general. The immediate impact of the price hike on per litre of petrol due o the subsidy removal led to an immediate increment in the cost of living and the general wellbeing of Nigerians. The response of Nigerians was immediate protest and demonstrations against the government policy. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress(TUC) went on strike against the government policy.
The objective of the national strike was to force the government to revert the price of petrol to the old price of N65. The NLC and TUC claimed that there was a subsisting understanding the labour union and government in 2009 that removal of subsidy will not commence until certain conditions had been met. These include fixing all the refineries and building new ones, regular power supply, and provision of other social infrastructure as rail ways and repairing of roads as well as eliminating corruption associated with supply and distribution of petroleum products in the down stream sector of the oil industry. The strike lasted for six days before it was finally called off by the Labour unions after a unilateral reduction of the pump price to N97 by government. This was not the first time that Labour Unions in Nigeria had gone on strike over attempts by government to remove fuel subsidy, price increment and deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry, these had occurred in 2000 and 2004. During those periods, economic activities were paralysed in the country for several days resulting in economic losses in millions of naira.
AIM OF THE THIS PAPER
This work seeks to analyse the strike by the Nigerian Labour Union over the petrol subsidy removal and its implications for Development Communication.
Anyaegbunam, Mefalopulos and Moetsab (2004) define Communication for Development as the systematic design and use of participatory activities, communication approaches, methods and media to share information and knowledge among all stakeholders in a rural development process in order to ensure mutual understanding and consensus leading to action. The aim is to facilitate people’s participation at all levels of the development effort to identify and implement appropriate policies, programmes and technologies to prevent and reduce poverty in order to improve people’s livelihood in a sustainable way.
The authors identify that Communication for Development can be applied to all development sectors that rely upon the choices and actions of people to succeed. They state that it is not limited to promoting agriculture alone, but also assists programmes for nutrition, health, gender, population and reproductive health, livestock, forestry, environment, literacy, income generation, sustainable livelihoods and other key areas. It usually focuses on the needs of communities and those organizations working with them. It empowers all stakeholders, especially the poor in rural and urban areas, to contribute actively to the decision-making processes of development as a whole.
Communication for Development can also be applied at any time during the project cycle. When applied during project formulation it ensures that the people actively participate in the identification of problems and needs which form the basis for project planning. Applied to a project already under implementation, Communication for Development helps to identify and solve communication problems and improve dialogue among all stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of the project are achieved. It might even be used for the adjustment or repackaging of project objectives and activities to ensure that they are relevant to the people’s problems and capabilities.
The authors identify that communication and participation have the following roles in development:
• People empowerment
Communication for Development uses participatory activities, media and materials to empower people to articulate and share their own opinions, needs, problems and abilities both among themselves and with outside development agencies. This enables the people to influence the decision- making processes of formulating and implementing projects and programmes intended to satisfy their needs and solve their problems. People’s participation in decision-making leads to consensus between them and the development agency on actions aimed at more sustainable community development. The outcome of this type of participation is often successful and sustainable because people see the decisions and plans as theirs and strive to ensure effective implementation. Empowerment increases people’s readiness to mobilise themselves for collective action in order to achieve the objectives of the development effort.
• Mutual understanding and consensus for action
Communication for Development uses communication research, approaches, methods, traditional and modern media and materials to improve dialogue between rural people and development agencies in order for all parties to reach mutual understanding and jointly decide on problems, needs, solutions as well as on new and appropriate technologies and practices. Such decisions often marry local capabilities with outsiders’ knowledge and skills for more effective problem- solving. Jointly identified solutions are often more acceptable to the people because they are seen as relevant to their needs.
Dialogue ensures that the people’s culture, attitudes, capabilities and skills, as well as their views and opinions form the basis for the planning and formulation of effective and relevant development projects and programmes. Communication for Development can be used with success at any point in the development cycle to ensure people’s participation. It is, however, most effective when used at the conceptualisation of the development effort to ensure that the people’s perceptions of their livelihood and environment are taken into account in the process of planning. Thus, Communication for Development ensures that information from development agencies is packaged in ways the people will find attractive, understandable, useful and relevant. In the same way, it also enables the people to transmit their perceptions and knowledge in ways that will be comprehensible to development agencies.
• Creating an enabling environment for policy to benefit the people
In an advocacy role, Communication for Development helps to raise the awareness of policy and decision-makers to the need for better communication between projects and rural people. It also helps in coordinating policy between decision-makers and the people by packaging and transmitting the rural people’s opinions in ways the policy makers will understand and vice versa.
Based on the general responses by Nigerians as captured by the media, the quarrel Nigerians had with government on the issue was that government had chosen to unilaterally withdraw subsidy on petrol (PMS) and had chosen the time when it felt to do that. The public had accused government of not involving the Nigerians in the decisions leading to the government’s policy on the full deregulation of the down stream sector of the petroleum industry. The government had based its decision on the huge expenditure incurred on paying off subsidy on imported petrol which it regarded as uneconomical was unsustainable and an economic waste. It also argued that subsidy only benefitted mainly petroleum marketers or importers. It also argued that subsidy removal would promote the growth of the petroleum down stream sector of the oil industry which will in turn lead to investment in the sector such as the building of new refineries and creation of many jobs for Nigerians. Despite all these desirable advantages identified by the government, the mistake that the government made that resulted in the massive protests by Nigerians against the proposed full deregulation of the down stream sector of the oil industry was that government failed to carry the citizens along in the processes of decision making leading to its final decisions to deregulate the down stream sector of the oil industry.
Development communication which leads to full empowerment emphases genuine participation of stakeholders and this is when relevant stakeholders take part throughout the whole cycle of the development initiative and have an equal influence on the decision-making process. Narayan (2002) conceived empowerment “as the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affected their lives.”
Genuine participation in development implies having the opportunity and the power to take part in decisions concerning one’s own well-being, participatory communication models need to take the issues of power and empowerment into account. Furthermore, once adopted, participation can hardly remain contained within the realm of development projects. It often transcends its scope to enhance projects’ results and sustainability and become a capacity-building element of a broader social dimension.
In relationship to the government’s policy on deregulation of the down stream sector of the oil industry, the government did barely involved Nigerians as stake holders in decisions over the years finally resulting in its policy to completely remove subsidy on petrol. The government mere consulted with stake holders while the decision on when and how to go about deregulating the oil industry solely rested with the federal government. This is what is referred to as participation by consultation in development communication, which refers to when stakeholders are consulted but the decision making rests in the hands of the experts; and in this case the expert is the government. The absence of full participation of stakeholders led to the massive protests and demonstrations by the trade and labour unions as well as civil societies and the general public.
The implications of the strike for development communication include the following:
 The strike has shown that the concept of development communication practiced by the government and its development communication experts is one that does not give room for empowered participation which encourages open communication which involves dialogue among stakeholders. The government feels it has the responsibility to think for the people and what its decisions on development issues are what are fit for the public. This type of development model which is rooted in modernization theories offers little or no participation outlet for benefitting communities of development projects in assessment and choice of development needs much less of being part of the processes of decision stages that lead to the execution of such projects. The Nigerian’s government attitude towards other stakeholders in development projects had indeed led to the failure of many development projects.
Development communication which operates on such model will definitely not be a tool that can bring about change be it socially, economically or politically. It will not bring about empowerment for the people now or in future. There is need to change the model of development communication being used by the government for a participatory model. For example the model used by government does not equip local community leaders across the country with the right the right development skills that they can use to solve local development issues within their own communities.
For how government deals with local community leaders is how in turn these community leaders deal with their people on issues relating to inclusive decision making on development issues. For example, in many communities across the country, these leaders are referred to as opinion leaders, they, to greater extent; decide how things are done within such communities. When their opinions are not taken on issues that require collective decisions, such projects in most cases tend to fail because they would work to frustrate the success of such projects within such communities for they see their opinions as worth more than others. This is how the government treats other citizens’ stance or opinions on national issues do not matter.
When government begins to adopt a policy of transparency and social inclusion on development issues, such attitude will, hopefully be adopted by the citizens, after all, follower easily tend to emulate their leaders. The implication of this on development communication is that it will entrench the use of good development communication approach in communities across the country and this will in turn foster sustainable growth and development.

 The strike has greatly emphasized the need for dialogic communication in development communication. The type of communication employed by government is communication that is only used to inform audiences about development initiatives, activities and results. It is about transmitting information and messages.
Anyaegbunam et al (2004) defines dialogic communication is a communication type that is used to engage stakeholders, assess the situation, and devise effective strategies leading to better and more sustainable development initiatives. It is about using communication to generate new knowledge and consensus in order to facilitate change. Government’s greater emphasis on the mass media as an important tool of communication between it and citizens indicates it merely considers citizens as audiences readily to be influenced by the messages it received. This communication approach is rooted in the basic Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver (SMCR) model, which has been widely criticized.
During the strike, government sponsored many anti subsidy advertisement in the mass media which aimed to convince Nigerians to support its policy of removing subsidy and not to join the strike rather than open a truly open discussion with the strikers. The government felt that its perceived benefits of full deregulation of the down stream sector of the oil industry was worth more than listening to the concerns of the labour unions and Nigerians in general over the deregulation policy. Even when government reinstated a partial subsidy on petrol before the strike was called off; the decision for partial subsidy was a sole decision by government. The implication of this was that government understanding of development communication practice was poor despite wide acceptance of the need for policy makers to engage all stakeholders in decision making on issues affecting stakeholders and treat also treat them as equal partners in the processes of development.

 The fuel subsidy removal which the strike was against has short and long time possibility of increasing the level of poverty amongst the poor, as fuel subsidy removal often result in indirect price increment on the basic needs of life such foodstuff, clothing, shelter and so on. These had been witnessed since the unilateral removal of subsidy on petrol by the government.
Since the removal of the subsidy, the cost of living had increased at a marginal level. Development communication aims at bring about positive and sustainable changes in the lives of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized. It aims at restoring economic, social and political empowerment of these groups of individuals.
Fuel subsidy removal and the way it is being handled by the government works against what development communication intends to achieve for ordinary Nigerians. Rather than the deregulation lifting the populace out of poverty, it is deepening their economic poverty. The government’s fiscal policy stance following subsidy removal is important in determining the poverty effects. The inflation resulting from subsidy removal can be considerably reduced with a conservative fiscal policy response, however, experience with the government fiscal policies have rather shown that the plight of the poor is not on the mind of the government.
Although the government had promised to re-invest savings from the petrol subsidy removal on infrastructure to cushion the hurt that will be felt by ordinary Nigerians as well as stimulate economic growth, the question is how involved will Nigerians be the processes of re-investing the proceeds from the subsidy removal? Will their voice matter? Going by government’s understanding of development communication’s concept, perhaps the Nigerians will be consulted and that is where it ends as always as the government often decides what is good or bad for Nigerians anyway.
 The strike has highlighted the need for an alternative understanding of development communication concept different from that used by government. Government needs to engage development ideas that place people or in this case citizens at the centre of government policies and national development.
Development is about change and about people. Government usually conceives communication mostly in terms of public relations, media production, information dissemination, or corporate communication. Since the use of communication in development has been associated historically with information dissemination and one-way persuasion. It is not surprising that many managers and decision makers involved in development focus primarily, or even exclusively, on these aspects. This leads many of them to seek communication interventions only halfway through the project cycle, rather than as part of the project’s initial conception when it is more strategic and cost-effective. Distinguishing development communication from other areas of communication is essential—failure to do this leads to misconceptions and wrong expectations. There should be a refocus in the use of development communication by the government in future. It should emphasize participation and place people at the centre of development.

 During the strike, strike organizers and protesters organized and mobilized the strike using social media such as face book as well as SMS mobile service. Web based social media sites and communities discussed the strike, chose strike venues and the away forward as regards resolving issues relating to the strike. News about the strike was constantly updated by protesters and activist on the web. The world wide offers important opportunities for development in many of human endeavour.
Based on the important roles social media played in mobilizing and furthering the aims of the strike, this shows that social media tools can be important tools that can be used to further important change objectives. For future development efforts, development communicators in Nigeria can learn from the important roles social media tools have played in the cause of the strike. They need to embrace such tools for development communication purposes.
Development communicators around the world are now employing web 2.0 tools for development purposes. Holly, Corbett, Jones, Garside and Rambaldi (2007) defines Web 2.0 is a form of information communication technology (ICT) that was created for and thrives on the participation of people and empowerment of users. Web 2.0 tools and approaches present new opportunities for change. The concept of web 2.0 for development now in vogue among development communicators refers to employing web services to intentionally improve information sharing and collaborative production of content development.
Development communicators in Nigeria need to employ web 2.0 tools to integrate, combine, aggregate, generate, moderate and mediate development information, ideas and perspective. Web 2.0 for dev tools have the potential of giving a voice to the marginalized and those in need of change. Theses can also be particularly useful for projects aiming to revitalize culture and enhance community development. Web 2.0 websites typically include some of the following features: tags, RSS feeds, mash ups and authoring systems.

 The constant strikes by the Nigeria Labour Congress resulting from disagreements with government on labour and national issues, in this case that on deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry affects the pace of development of the country as many development projects by government and nongovernmental organizations are usually put on hold during such strikes. The constant strikes affect long time partnership and positive communication between Labour unions and government.
Strikes can strain communication and breed distrust among the parties involved. It has serious implication for development as such could affect the long time workings and cooperation between the government and other development partners such the Labour unions on development issues and projects, for when there is mistrust between development partners, there are high tendencies for both parties to misjudge and mis-interpret the viewpoints and development objectives of each other. This was evident in the feud between the government and The Labour Union. Government felt it was misunderstood by the Labour Unions and Nigerians on its policy of the deregulation of downstream of the oil industry.
There is need for government and other development partners such as the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) to employ development communication tools to enhance communication and building of trust or goodwill amongst them. There is important for development of the country. Development Communication experts should impress these points on government and the NLC. Development Communication aims to bring about positive change and development and this will not be achieved when the government continues to handle development issues the way it does with other stakeholders.

In conclusion, the strike has shown that all stakeholders in any development projects are important for the success of such projects. Development does not occur in isolation, many variables are important for it to occur. Some of these include full participation, open dialogue and building of trust amongst development stakeholders. All these are important for the success of any project. Government should work with citizens in achieving development goals be it in the oil sector or any other sector of the country. Government does not have a monopoly over development ideas. The people know what is best for them. Rather government should empower the people to work for themselves. Government must understand that it cannot work with the people from a distance like using the mass media to try to convince them on its views on national issues such as on the deregulation of the oil industry. It has to work with the people if it hopes to achieve its objectives of national transformation in all sectors of the country.
For these reasons it has to adopt a renewed concept of development communication which lays emphasis on empowered participation of citizens.
Government should see the Nigerian Labour Congress as a partner in progress and not as its antagonist. Development Communication has a great role to play in facilitating development in Nigeria, but it can only be effective in doing this if only the government as well as other stake holders recognize this and adopt it in pursuing development objectives. Strikes do not just happen; they are products of miscommunication, poor dialogue environment and selfish interests of stakeholders on issues under contention. Development communication can help ensure the success of development projects or issues.

DEFINITION OF TERMS
Development communication. It is a social process based on dialog using a broad range of tools and methods. It is also about seeking change at different levels, including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating, and learning for sustained and meaningful change. It is not public relations or corporate communication.

Deregulation. Revision, reduction, or elimination of laws and regulations that hinder free competition in supply of goods and services, thus allowing market forces to drive the economy. Deregulation, however, doesn’t mean no control or laissez faire.

Dialogic. A mode that is associated with the emerging participation paradigm. It is based on the horizontal, two-way model of communication that creates a constructive environment where stakeholders can participate in the definition of problems and solutions.

Downstream. This is a term commonly used to refer to the refining of crude oil, and the selling and distribution of natural gas and products derived from crude oil. Such products include liquified petroleum gas (LPG), gasoline or petrol, jet fuel, diesel oil, other fuel oils, asphalt and petroleum coke. The downstream sector includes oil refineries petrochemical plants, petroleum product distribution, retail outlets and natural gas distribution companies. The downstream industry touches consumers through thousands of products such as petrol, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, asphalt, lubricants, synthetic rubber, plastics, fertilizers, antifreeze, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, natural gas, and propane.

Empowerment. A process leading to individuals being able and willing to take part in decisions concerning their own lives. It can refer to a personal, community, or institutional level.

Participation. Indicates the involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making and implementation process, which can occur at different levels and degrees (for example, from passive participation to full collaboration). This concept is at the core of the current development paradigm. In communication, the participation mode is linked with the two-way/dialogic model.

Participatory communication. A major approach within the dialogic or participatory mode. It combines participation and two-way communication methods, techniques, and tools to ensure mutual understanding, investigate key issues, minimize risks, and identify best options, and, most of all, to build broad consensus for change as defined by stakeholders.

REFERENCES

Anyaegbunam, Mefalopulos and Moetsab (2004). Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal, starting with the people. A handbook. Retrieved on 3rd March,2012, from http://www.fao.org/sd/dim_kn1/docs/y5793e00.pdf

Holly Ashley, Jon Corbett, Dave Jones, Ben Garside and Giacomo Rambaldi(2007).Change at hand: Web 2.0 for development. Retrieved on 2 March, 2012, from http://pubs.iied.org/pdfs/G02834.pdf

Narayan, D., ed. (2002). Empowerment and Poverty Reduction. A Sourcebook. Washington, DC:
Paolo Mefalopulos(2008).Development Communication Sourcebook. Retrieved on 3rd March, 2012, from http://www.caluniv.ac.in/Global%2520mdia%2520journal

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