Unionism has been a part of the Nigerian economy for a long time, but in times like this where we find ourselves in a very trying economic challenge, we need to take a closer look at every player in the economy. There are many things causing hardship and it is not limited to Nigeria alone. The war in Ukraine is a mini world war and all nations of the world are affected by it to one degree or the other. Nations like Nigeria that depend on importation of goods for most things would be the hardest hit by these events as we can see and feel. While we cannot control things to our advantage at the high level, say forcing an end to the war in Ukraine, we can at least work towards ways of assuaging the pains of the biting economy. One major way is to look at the functions of unions and how they help sharpen the teeth of a biting economy.

I have observed the way unions operate in Nigeria from a very close range and I have seen their mode of operation. Once a thing is in high demand or is widely used some “smart guys” will bring up the idea of forming a union to defend the interest of those in such a market. Then they elect a chairman and other executives, form a task force, and start price fixing. You heard that right. All that unions do is to fix prices and enforce it.

At the point where they start fixing prices the whole essence of competition is lost. While there are many players with undertakings in the specific sector or subsector (as the case may be), instead of having them compete, what we have is a complex monopoly. And what else is this than a conspiracy against consumers.

Quite interestingly and surprisingly unions and their members don’t know that price fixing is a crime under the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act. Amongst other things the act states, “An undertaking shall not directly or indirectly by agreement, threat. promise or any other means, attempt to influence or conspire to influence upward or discourage the reduction of, the price at which any other undertaking supplies, offers to supply or advertises any goods or services.” So when through their unions undertakings of a particular sector conspire to fix a price, they have committed an offence. So our unions are just criminal organisations promoting, aiding, abetting criminality in the country.

First Hand Experiences Of Such Criminality

Price fixing happens in virtually every sector and service and product type. I had close interaction with pure water companies around Karu axis of Abuja and found out that they had a union which sets prices for producers of pure water to sell. Not only do they conspire to fix prices but they also penalise those who refuse to comply. Not only do they threaten to penalise, they also have a secret police and spies, like the Gestapo, who will come to you like just any buyer and ask to buy pure water. Whatever price you sell it they will go back and report. If they discover that you sold it less than the agreed price, they’ll penalise you heavily.

Not only do they penalise defaulters, those who are high in the echelon of the executive committees break these rules secretly for advantage. So they say no one can sell lower than a fixed price to drive buyers away from other producers then secretly sell theirs at a price lower than what they’ve fixed to draw customers to themselves. By this and other devious ways unionists commit crimes and manipulate their members for advantage.

Another sector where such conspiracy happens is the transportation sector. I noticed that there was a particular junction where if you get down from a keke (tricycle) to take a bike, they’ll tell you N150. But if you walk inwards a bit they’ll tell you N100. One day I went to the place where I will get that of N100 and I got a rider that took me for N100. When I alighted he told me [paraphrased], “oga, they no they do anyhow for that place o. If they catch me say I carry you for N100, na wahala I dey o.” So I realised that there was a task force appointed by the okada riders union that arrested and penalised those who took people for anything less than N150.

The list of abuses and offences goes on and on. This is the trend of trade unions in Nigeria. They exist solely for the crime of price fixing, bullying their members, and oppression of consumers. and probably nothing else.

Role Of Trade Unions

The role of trade unions is primarily to defend the best interest of its members. Sadly the conspiracy of price fixing is not in the best interest of its members. The things that are supposed to be to the best interest of members should tend towards enlightenment about improved methods of production or service rendering (that is innovation), business skills and methods to improve management process and resource control, sourcing of funds for members, etc. and most especially, being able to speak with one voice to tackle things that affect the industry. Nothing in all these has to do with price fixing.

Now this most important part is what a member of a union benefits from the most. Unions ought to be able to make the pain of their members felt in places where decisions are made. They ought to interact closely with lawmakers, having a forum for discussing issues, drafting, submitting and funding bills in the national assembly that will be of interest to members. They could also use the media to voice out things that will be of benefit to members both to decision makers and consumers. The list of things that can be done goes on.

Sadly we don’t see any of these happening. When fuel prices went up, did we see any action in terms of publication or whatever from the trade unions to the government. And I don’t mean protests. The efficacy of protests is overrated. Did they follow the circumstance closely to see what is being done to alleviate the burden? Did they come together to brainstorm on how undertakings under the various unions would survive without harming consumers in spite of the increase in fuel price?

When electricity tariffs were increased, the AEDC sent requests for comments and opinions about what people think about the planned increase. I wrote my own opinion and sent it to them by email and possibly a number of people also sent theirs, but I can almost bet the mansion I don’t have that none of these unions sent any message to dissuade them from increasing the tarries despite the fact that it will adversely affect the undertakings of their members. Why? The confidence that “people will buy no matter the price we fix.”

The confidence of such unionists in their crime is that with total compliance of their members consumers would have no choice but to buy goods and services at whatever prices they fix. Little do they know that such an action only kills their market. For in doing so they are only forcing people to realise how they can adjust their affairs to do without their goods or services.

One union that basks in the confidence that people will have no choice but use their services no matter the price they fix are transport workers. The people who patronise them the most are those who work in offices but little do they know that there comes a time when going to work would no longer be profitable because of the extremely high transport rates. At such times people would stop going to work and rearrange their lives to make a living from close proximity to their houses. Others will go online to get work and have no need to be travelling from place to place. The next are those who go to occasions and events, including church services. But many have already scaled down the number of events they attend and do their church services at churches within trek-able distance. So the patronage is dropping drastically and will continue to drop if they continue to bask in the fantasy that consumers have no choice but to pay whatever they fix.

Back to the pure water industry. They also often believe that water is essential and people can’t do without it. But the truth is that water is essential, not pure water. The selling point of pure water is not even in the purity as the name suggests but in the ease of assessing water that is drinkable to some degree. Many know that pure water is not pure as the name suggests. People can make safer water on their own at home, but it will put them through some level of stress. People boil borehole water and find it very safe. I’ve heard of people using ‘water guard” which I’ve never seen before. If pure water becomes more expensive than typhoid drugs, people would rather choose to be treating typhoid every now and then since it will save them money. By the way, people still treat typhoid occasionally when they consume pure water. So if the cost far exceeds the ease, the market of pure water producers would be greatly damaged.

For other consumables it is not news that Nigerians have gone back to farm including myself. I harvested a whole lot of groundnuts last year from which I produced groundnut oil of considerable quantity, kuli kuli, and peanut butter. After the harvest of groundnuts I planted beans and the harvest was massive. People are beginning to work towards self reliance in production of food. So there’s already a loss for farmers in particular, for the exorbitance with which they were selling their produce. We know that security is a major challenge to farmers, but there are those who are not affected by it but using the narrative of security challenge to inflate prices.

Such unions (formally formed or informally existing) may make money from the few who absolutely don’t have a choice but to use the prices they fix, but the profit you think you’re making would be greatly reduced. And when profit is not made minimal and is garnered from the few rather the many, the result is you will always find an increase in the services and goods you too consume. You charge the woman who is taking goods to the market to sell a higher transport fare, you would go back to the markets to find that the cost of your food has increased. Meaning you’re making more and more money with less and less value.

What union would incur such great harm to its members and call itself a union seeking the good of its members? The practice of jerking up prices and fixing prices on flimsy excuses of increase in fuel price and dollar rates is injurious to public good but most especially to the very businesses and undertakings that engage in them.

There are few sectors that are run by versatile individuals with a vast business acumen. They are not forward to inflate prices like others. One sector that is run by people with good business sense and where there is a healthy competition is the telecommunication sector. All through the whole wahala of increase in fuel price and dollar rates, you didn’t hear of any of the telecommunication networks increasing the cost of call tariffs or data plan. They have remained intact in the storm and have been the saving grace of those who wish to seek jobs online and who have succeeded in their pursuit.

I was privileged to see how these guys were able to cope without bothering the consumers therefore keeping their loyalty. A person who lives near a mast told me that when the cost of diesel started going up they chose to invest heavily in solar. So they reduced the usage of diesel entirely by putting on their diesel gens only for a total of about two hours per night. Those periods where they put on the gen is just to keep up the battery at night. During the day they don’t use even a single diesel.

That is smart. Not only have they found a solution to keep going without bothering consumers, they have found a way to even increase profit than when diesel was cheaper. That is what innovation is all about. And that brings me to the next part.

The Essence Of Competition Laws

In all our businesses and undertakings we need to understand the essence of competition laws. While it is true that monopoly makes business easy and sweet, and competition drives people mad, competition laws are made in the interest of the public good. Competition ensures that consumers are best served and given the best value for their money. Monopoly on the other hand serves only the interest of one or few to the grievous detriment of the public good.

Competition laws don’t make business hard as it forces innovation. No society grows without innovation. In the comforts of monopoly maintained by bullying in one form or the other, innovation dies and the society retrogresses.

Another law that seems to be the opposite of competition laws is patenting which ensures only one person has the sole right to benefit from a particular invention. While they seem to be antithetical to each other they both force innovation. So they work from two opposite ends to ensure innovation.

By innovation man advances and the quality of life improves. Sadly the Nigerian economy lacks innovation. Only a few sectors have those brilliant and innovative minds. Others are full of slackers and copycats. They don’t innovate, they only sit there and stretch their neck around and ask, “what is the thing that people are doing and earning a good living from?” Once they know they delve into it. Okada business is earning bikers money, everyone jumps into it and stifles the market. POS is making money, and POS shops start propping up in every corner. Opening a shop, buying things cheap and reselling them expensive is making money for shop owners, everyone opens a shop and starts selling things they should rather have tried to produce. That’s the nature of the majority of the players of the Nigerian economy.

One example of how price fixing and consequent lack of innovation is damaging to the Nigerian economy is the staleness of the transportation sector. True, the government is doing very poorly in respect to mass transit as Nigeria is the only country I’ve seen that private individuals are the ones that use their private sedans for public transport. But the trade union in the country has what it takes to revolutionise the transport system. In other parts of the world they have an established schedule and time table for bus movements and the whole country plans their activities with this schedule. You’d hear things like, “I’ll leave for your place with the ten o’clock bus.” Everything is scheduled, planned, and followed. This ensures that the activities of people are in sync with the movements of the buses and trains, which in turn ensures that buses and trains are always optimally utilised and full. The only planning we see in the Nigerian mass transit is to increase price during rush hours and reduce it at other times of the day, and when vehicles are not full to waste the time of those already in the vehicle.

In places like Austria, as some people who once lived told me, you don’t pay for transport when you enter a vehicle or alight, rather you subscribe on a monthly basis. And once you subscribe you can enter their trains as many times and to as many places you want to go without paying anything else. The logic is simple, to follow a schedule trains must move with or without passengers if it must be adhered to. So it is better to plan how many trips would be made a month and how much it would cost, then spread the expenses over a large number of subscribers. This has worked for them so well. With a little planning the society would run in a far smoother way. And luckily for us we exist in a really advanced world with many advanced countries to motivate us and to copy from, then innovate to come up with our own solutions.

It will do the nation a world of good if we imbibe a tradition of study (both of texts and methods), research, and innovation. I would rate Nigerians very poor in this areas. The average man (that is not a civil servant or fully employed) wants to just get a shop, borrow money to fill his shop with goods, then sit in his shop and talk the whole day about celebrities. The man that works laboriously as a driver and his conductor, after a busy day, would spend the night in the beer parlour blowing all the money he has forced out of the hands of others by exorbitant fair away. My bro once dropped his phone in a bus one evening and he asked around if it were possible to find the particular bus, and someone told him with assurance that he should go to a particular beer parlour where he knows drivers and conductors go to drink at night. And as assuredly as he was assured he found the driver there and recovered his phone. That was commendable of the driver though, but why spend the night in a beer parlour? Who pays for such a wasteful life? The answer is simple. So, there seems to be no time for proper study except from what one can learn accidentally in the place of aimless talk and arguments in the beer parlour.

So we should abide by competition laws and imbibe a habit of study. It is true that life at the moment is really hard, but when we imbibe a habit of study and innovation about our affairs and undertakings, it won’t be as bad. And please and please, let’s cut down our covetousness. It is the poison that drives men to all the evils we’ve narrated.

May God help us. Thank you and God bless you.

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  1. Nice read, kudos to the writer.
    Well i would say that the idea of UNION in any given community or shpere is supposed to be a good thing. But most African country- Nigeria included – have foud themselves at the mercies of their leader (Political leader, UNION LEADERS, etc).
    Unionism is supposed the regulate the market such that the consumers pay what is expected for the quality of the goods or service that they receive and also that the producer get a pay that is equally good for the services they render or for the goods they are selling.
    But as long as corruption lies in every sector of a community, the effect of UNIONISM will be negative.

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