President Yar’adua’s Era: A new dawn for the masses?
JUNE 2007 GENERAL STRIKE
Towards the tail end of its inglorious rule, the Obasanjo government took some decisions which many patently could see as nothing but deliberate steps taken to benefit cronies and inflict further hardship on the already over-burdened masses. Issues in this regard include the hike of fuel prices, the cheap sales of Kaduna and Port-Harcourt refineries, the suspension of the implementation of the 15% pay rise already approved for federal workers, etc.
Given the depth of mass anger and protests which greeted these policies and especially faced with a nationwide general strikes/protests, President Yar’Adua, who himself was embroiled with serious crises of political legitimacy, arising from his own emergence as President from brazenly rigged elections, had little choice other than to make very limited retreats on these controversial issues. However, when a critical analysis of his directive/decision in this regard is undertaken, it is very easy to see that President Yar’Adua’s response is no more than the usual self preservative, self-serving measure of bourgeois leaders. Take the concession given by the government on the fuel hike issue for instance. At the end of the day, government grants total reversal of the increments on diesel and kerosene. It reversed the additional 100% increment of the VAT. In addition, government also reduced by 50% the increment on petrol. And finally, government pledged not to increase the fuel prices for the next one year.
To many government apologists, these concessions and pledges collectively show that President Yar’Adua is a “listening” president. In reality however, there is nothing new in the particular and general methods used in tackling the issue of fuel hike, which was not borrowed word for word from the Obasanjo’s inglorious era, including relying on the Labour leaders not wishing to challenge the government. For instance, the pledge not to officially hike fuel prices for the next one year is a pledge to continue with the past policy of incessant fuel price hike without commensurate rise in masses’ purchasing power. Very tragically too, these “pledge” only provides official shield for the fact that kerosene and diesel, currently and openly sold above government official prices and also the fact that petrol itself is only being sold at official N70 per litre in major cities across the country. As a result of incessant power outage, virtually every factory relies on electricity generator runs on diesel which is consequently passed on the consumers. Thus, at the end of the day, the so-called concessions granted by the President in this respect added very little economic value to the overall economy and masses’ living conditions.
THE REVERSAL OF SALES OF THE KADUNA AND PORTHARCOURT REFINERIES
The suspension of the sales of the Kaduna and P/Harcourt refineries to Aliyu Dangote and Femi Otedola (two of the capitalist octopuses created through the mass scale looting of the treasury by the Obasanjo’s neo-liberal government) was hailed by many bourgeois ideologues and pseudo radical leftists as an indication that a Daniel has finally come to judgment. In reality, there is nothing new in this kind of measure. Sometime in 2002, 55% of NITEL, the nation’s telecommunication carrier, was sold to a company called International London Investment Limited (ILIL), for a sum of $1.3billion. To secure this sale, ILIL had to make a down payment of 10% of the cost price and was expected to pay the balance within a period of 8 days after the conclusion of the transaction in issue. However, either by design or accident, the company could not come forward with the balance until 9 days after the transaction was signed. Invoking the clause regarding period of payment, President Obasanjo promptly revoked the sale to ILIL. 5 years after this revocation, 75% of old NITEL, plus 75% of its new subsidiary (MTEL), was subsequently sold to Transcorp, a company where Obasanjo reportedly has the major shareholding, for the mere sum of $750million.
Thus from DSM experience, the revocation of sales of a particular public asset or institution for whatever reason is not necessarily beneficial or progressive, so long as the authorities are still committed to privatization policy, which President Yar’Adua has publicly announced as the economic credo of his administration. Therefore, in this respect, it is a matter of time before these public assets and several other juicy public properties are sold to same or other capitalist individuals and corporations and even possibly at lower prices.
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF 15% PAY RISE FOR FEDERAL WORKERS
Firstly, the point must be made that this is a mere implementation of a policy, which Yar’Adua’s predecessor in office already granted but unreasonably suspended. Even if this policy had been initiated by Yar’Adua government, on its own, it amounts to little or nothing in the prevailing socio-economic climate, for those who solely derive their incomes from fixed salaries with no access to large scale treasury looting. To further worsen matter, this marginal increment was implemented with the notion that government is at liberty to “right-seize” its workforce, an euphemism for mass retrenchment of workers. Meanwhile, it should be recalled that the obasanjo government increased wages by over 300% in its maiden period in office. As a result, many states government were put under pressure to effect significant increment in workers wages.
However, faced with the vicious anti-poor policies of incessant hike in fuel prices, commercialization and privatization of social needs like education, health care and combined with sustained mass retrenchment of workers in both public and private sectors, this sizable increment effected in workers’ wages became totally inadequate to guarantee the basic needs of the working masses and their dependants. Therefore, from the socialist point of view, wage increment can only be significantly beneficial to the working class living standards when taken side by side with the costs and access of the wage earners to decent houses, food, healthcare, jobs, functional and affordable infrastructures, etc. Thus, to call the implementation of 15% pay rise for federal workers only an outstanding achievement is a product of ignorance/self-deception.