OSHIOMHOLE: ONE YEAR AFTER
OSHIOMHOLE: ONE YEAR AFTER
Time to Build Labour Party and Implement Working Class Oriented Policies
It would appear as if the government of Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State has lasted more than one year. This is because it has drawn wide range attention, both locally and internationally and a host of controversies, especially generated by the defeated PDP. Adams is the first trade unionist to be elected into government in Nigeria by a heroic struggle of mass of working class people and the poor. To these poor people, Adams is the perfume needed to subdue the fouled air of poverty, lack of development and joblessness, which the PDP government has meant for them for the past 10 years.
While the last one year has been a big relief for the people of Edo state who had hitherto been held in jugular by the self-serving political merchants and mercenaries since the advent of civil rule, it is not yet hurrah. While campaigning, Oshiomhole had specifically promised his government “would restore, renovate and refurbish at least, two secondary schools and two primary schools in each local government area within one year of our stewardshipâ€¦ The overall restoration agenda will include provision for adequate staffing and motivation for teaching and non-teaching staff.” At the tertiary level, Adams manifesto promises “enhanced funding of our higher institutionsâ€¦ we will also improve the working condition of academic and non-academic staff and make their remuneration more competitive.” On healthcare, the manifesto states, “We recognize that the major problem in the area of health is affordable access and poor facilities. We are determined to confront this challenge.”
He re-affirmed this commitment at his inauguration a year ago, “At the forefront of these challenges are the need to rebuild our education system, revamp infrastructure and create employment through the stimulation of production in both agriculture and industry.” Furthermore, he re-affirmed the promise for provision of motorable roads, free and quality education, electrification, pipe borne water, quality healthcare, mass employment, decent housing, adequate remuneration of workers etc.
However, what is on the ground does not measure up to the expectation of the people but they have taken solace in the fact that the leader they truly elected is in power. Besides, they have big hope that after the initial lag period the Oshiomhole government will surely deliver. It is now incumbent on Oshiomhole not only to bring to the reality the hope firmly reposed in him but also to fulfill his campaign promises.
Although, Adams has opened up roads, especially in Benin City with a view to rehabilitate the already dilapidated ones, there are many that have not been touched yet. No single road could be said to have been constructed by the former Governor Lucky Igbinedion, PDP governor for 8 years. Today, the situation remains almost the same with the people lost as to what is Adams capacity to make a difference. In April, 2009, about 5 months after being sworn-in, the PDP-dominated House of Assembly approved an appropriation budget of N74.9billion, much of which was meant to dualise existing Ugbowo roads, airport road etc., and the rehabilitation of Siluko road and other parts of the state. None of these has been done in concrete terms. However, the government has consistently used delay in budget approval (which took the intervention of the masses before the House approved it) and the fact that no reasonable work could be done during the rainy season to stave off criticism. Skeletal works on about 29 feeder roads had been fixed between June and October on temporary basis and a massive work on erosion control, especially the opening up of the Benin moat has been on-going. This has solved the erosion problem in 5-junction for instance.
In its effort at beautifying Edo, the government has reportedly committed about 1 billion naira for the exercise in Benin City (and particularly Ring Road). Of course, there is qualitative facelift in Rind Road but this has not come without serious effects to ordinary people of the state, many of whose stores and homes were demolished. Though, the rich were also affected, they can easily cushion the effect while the poor are left with no alternative. However, with the enormous developmental challenges confronting the state in the areas of education, health and infrastructure, beautification, while it is desirable, should have been at the lower rung in the scale of preference. The concentration of efforts on ephemeral and cosmetic challenges such as beautification cannot offer fundamental changes which functional and quality public education, job creation, rapid industrialization, health facilities and provision of other basic amenities can produce.
EDUCATION NEEDS URGENT ATTENTION
For instance, Edo State is unfortunately one of the states in the country that have been unable to implement the improved pay package for teachers called Teacher Salary Scale (TSS) which in reality translates into marginal increase in the salaries of the teachers. To drive home the demand the teachers in Edo state had to embark on strike which forced pupils to spend 3 months out of school. If Oshiomhole want to truly improve on the quality of public schools, among other things the teachers have to be adequately motivated even above what the TSS could offer. Primary and secondary schools in the state are an eye-sore with dilapidated buildings, leaking roofs etc. Where there are schools, most of whom have no teachers or chairs and the children are too poor to buy needed books. In most other areas like Osa primary school and Ugboton secondary school, the only ones in Gelegele area, it is better to go to farm than school. The same sorry story of rot can be replicated in Ovia-North East local government or Ohunnwode LGA or any other of the 18 LGAs.
The Oshiomhole government has been hampered by the state House of Assembly by not approving the UBE board. This has made it impossible to access about N5.4 billion fund, which could have empowered the state to improve on primary education delivery. To remove such obstacle constituted by the House of Assembly to public education is one of the reasons we have called on Oshiomhole to set up a working people assembly which could through mass action compel the pro-capitalist, anti-poor assembly to approve pro-masses programme. However, while the assembly has hampered efforts to improve on the primary education, it could not be blamed for the rots in the senior secondary schools and higher institutions in the state. Apparently, Oshiomhole met complete rot all over, but that is why the people voted him to power. In this situation, building just 19 model schools as the governor promised will only be an insufferable pittance, a drop in an ocean of needs.
The upgrading of facilities in all the general hospitals across the state has remained a promise. Lassa fever has become epidemic in Edo Central and started spreading to other parts of the state. In August 2009, the management of Irrua specialist hospital said it had recorded a total of 428 suspected cases of Lassa fever (an average of 1.8 per day) with 45 deaths which shows an increase in the cases recorded in 2008 with 229 suspected cases and 30 deaths. These figures represent cases recorded not minding similar one that are not taken to the hospitals due to lack of resources to pay fat hospital bills.
On the positive note, N31.69 million is reportedly being spent by the government monthly across the state owned hospitals, for free malaria treatment for children under five years old and pregnant women including free antenatal care. However, the awareness on this policy has been poor. Besides, such monthly expenditure requires democratic control by elected representatives of health workers and communities in order to ensure judicious channeling of the resources to the right places in the interest of the ordinary masses. This is imperative because the past regimes also spent huge resources on similar policies with no visible effects on the masses.
Under the Edo State Youth Employment Scheme (Edo YES), Oshiomhole promised to create 10,000 jobs across the 18 local government areas. The scheme was to be financed by 5% of federal allocation to LGA and 10% of state allocation but this was not to be as all the local government chairmen buckled and the scheme left asunder. Capitalist politicians cannot be trusted with the lives of our youth. Youth and working class elements who still leave their destiny to be tossed about by these greedy politicians have to learn that real gains can only be won by collective struggle. We need to have our own local government chairmen, elected through our own working peoples’ party which the Labour Party should be, and rescue our fate through hard battles. This is why we have called on Oshiomhole to contribute immensely to building of the Labour Party as a working class political alternative not only in Edo but throughout the country. Oshiomhole has managed to create about 4,000 jobs within the last 5 months and no worker in government employment have lost any job. But for sure, the beneficiaries of new jobs are only being paid what is barely enough to eke a living, not a living wage that would be enough to cater for their basic needs. In order for the scheme not to go the way of previous ones, it has to be created in line with the service and productive needs of the people. Every worker in Edo State , nay Nigeria, must be paid a living wage. This has informed the agitation of the Labour for a new minimum wage of N52, 200.
ORGANISED WORKING PEOPLES’ ASSEMBLY NEEDED
With the abyss of decay before the emergence of Oshiomhole it would have been 8th wonder to achieve all his promises within a year in office. But can Oshiomhole deliver on his promises not just in the one year in power but consolidate in the course of his tenure. Oshiomhole has readily blamed the late approval of the budget by the state of assembly as one of the reasons for not being able to achieve the target he set particularly on the road construction. The character and composition of the House of Assembly is obviously a major obstacle to any social reforms and pro-masses’ programme Oshiomhole could have wanted to implement. At the same time there are severe limits on what any single person, however well intentioned, can achieve on their own, for real change a democratic mass movement is required. This is one of the reasons we have consistently advocated the setting up of Working Peoples’ Assembly. In our “Socialist Manifesto for Adams” (SD Special Edition April 2008), the DSM proposed that Adams must build a real “peoples’ government” by instituting a “Working Peoples Assembly made up of elected representatives from workplaces, communities, villages and schools to decide the next steps on how to implement the proposed reforms and recall any member of the State House of Assembly who goes against programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of poor working people in the state.”
However, beyond the obstacle constituted by the state House of Assembly, another major challenge is how to raise adequate resources to implement the laudable programme and meet the growing demands of workers and masses for improvement in the living and working conditions. Oshiomhole has been harping on internally generated revenue through taxation to augment the monthly allocation. Though, there has been improvement in this regards, the fact is that it is not enough for implementation of the programme. Besides, it has placed the government on the collision course with some professional and education workers in the state university. The workers at the state university, Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma for instance, consider the new tax regime as salary reduction. They indeed went on strike over the matter. While tax payment is a civic responsibility its implementation must not render the take home (net income) of the workers inadequate. More so, one of his campaign promises is to make the remuneration of academic and non-academic staff of the higher institutions in the state more competitive. It is expected that Edo state will be among the first to implement the agreement on improved pay, better working conditions and adequate funding the federal government has signed with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Incidentally, Oshiomhole played a central role in the resolution of the matter between the government and ASUU.
While commenting on the new tax regime in the May Day 2009 issue of this paper we argued that the long neglect of public facilities and the undemocratic, corrupt manner in which public corporations were run have led to the near collapse of public schools and hospitals and the loss of confidence in public utilities by the people. As a result at present both the poor and rich send children to private schools and patronise private hospitals. Therefore, the fact remains that the increments arising from the new taxes imposed on private schools and hospitals would be passed on to the people. As it has promised the government has to now upgrade public hospitals and schools in terms of facilities and decent pay for workers up to a level that means that even those in government and their families could patronise them. By improving on the quality of the public hospitals and schools the government will render attending private hospitals and schools as a luxury.
It is only in the above context that progressive tax policy such that makes the rich pay more while the poor pays little could be fully justified. The books of private companies should be opened and publicly scrutinized in order to arrive at the correct tax to be paid. At the same time we are against tax policies that excessively hit small businesses and farmers while letting big business and farmers get off lightly. Policies and methods like this, no doubt will be resisted by the elite but if the Edo working masses are mobilised into defending such policies since it is going to defend their interest, those who stand in the way will surely be defeated.
The last one year has however shown the limitation of what could be achieved with taxation. As we have consistenly argued, the best way adequate resources could be mobilised to finance development is to put under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy with open democratic control and management by the working people. But actualising this constitutes a serious limitation to a state government. This is one of the reasons we have been calling on Oshiomhole to have an orientation towards building a Labour Party as a national movement that could fight to secure extra funding for the states, wrest political power nationally, commit public resources towards basic needs and developments, and ultimately change society to socialist order etc.
As we observed in the “Socialist Manifesto for Adams”, the greatest obstacle to Oshiomhole’s outlined radical measures, however, is his unwillingness to frontally oppose capitalism and consciously put forward a democratic, socialist option, while he is prepared to fight on individual issues. Adams has always been giving the impression that the prevailing unjust capitalist system can be run to fundamentally work in such a way to safeguard and guarantee the interest of the labouring masses. But we in the DSM have continued to agitate that Adams and all Labour leaders and pro-masses’ elements and organizations should embrace outright socialist agenda which will rely on working class and youth democratic governance and management to ensure that the societal resources and wealth are constantly used for the benefits of all and not just the a tiny few as under the prevailing capitalist disorder.
This is linked to making a national stand in fighting for real improvement in the working masses and poor’s life by demanding that the nation’s resources and income is taken out of the hands of the rich and looters. Oshiomhole’s position as a Governor gives him a platform to mobilise the working masses in Edo to demand change and, at the same time, call for the working masses in the rest of the country to follow suit. Adams must also be prepared to oppose other Governors. On November 9 the ThisDay newspaper reported that Oshiomhole had attended a meeting of state Governors that agreed “full support of the Federal Government’s policy on deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry”, policies that Labour is opposing. If this is true Oshiohole has made a big mistake, if it is not true he must shout from the roof tops his support for Labour’s stand against de-regulation.
However, even within the confines of Edo state it is still possible for Oshiomhole to mobilize every kobo of resources accruable to the State and ensure their judicious and full utilization in order to start to satisfy the huge expectations of the mass of people. As we have been canvassing, Oshiomhole should mobilise the Edo working masses in support of a drive to reverse all anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the past governments. All government assets privatised and contracts given out at over-priced rates to contractors must be reversed while compensation must only be paid on the basis of proven need. He must block all leakages in the state resources by cancelling the wasteful expenditure and corruption which characterised past regimes. He should cancel paying interest on the debts run by previous regimes. Particularly, we call on Oshiomhole government to set up a panel of elected workers, community representatives and government officials to recover all funds looted by past administrations in the state. For instane, billions of naira provided by UNDP to provide water for the state was literally stolen by the illegal administration of Osunbor. Unfortunately, while the Oseni-Panel constituted by Adams Oshiomhole, shortly after resumption of office had completed its investigation and submitted its reports to the administration, nothing has been heard of it. To be sure, the Oseni-Panel revealed as usual, massive scandal, willful looting and sharing of public money to “godfathers”, yet the governor has only used it as a scare crow till date without any concrete legal, political or social steps taken to bring the looters to book.
In addition all public office holders should be placed on a living wage not above that of the average skilled workers and professionals, with democratic controls to guard against looting. He must not run a government of contractors and consultants whose profits and fees alone usually are very expensive and account for more than half the cost of projects and thereby limiting the number of projects that could be done with available resources. Instead, the state ministry of works under workers control should be well equipped and empowered in form of ‘public works’ to be able to execute even some of the major projects. Well trained and remunerated workers and professionals employed in ‘Edo Public Works’ with the required facilities and raw materials will do far better jobs, and equally save the state from the reign of expensive and inflated contracts. With open democratic management and control by workers and professionals the ministry should be able to do quality jobs geared towards meeting the needs of the people. With this, the state could judiciously invest the resources accruable to it in the genuine interest of the working and poor people of Edo State .
ADAMS MUST LEAVE AC AND BUILD LABOUR PARTY
On Saturday 31st October, 2009 at the Labour Party get-together in Benin, Oshiomhole told the story of how and why the Labour Party was formed in this way: “when we fight and strike over one issue or the other, the big man at the top concede one or two things but shortly after he comes back with more deadly policy that we need to fight again. We then go on strike again but the boss still comes back with even deadlier policy. The strike becomes a routine so much that what you win with the left hand is taken back with the right. It becomes a vicious cycle. We then thought there is need to stop this barbers chair and have a political party that will represent the interest of the poor. That’s why I and others created the Labour Party in Bauchi”. He captured the reason why the working people and their allies in the villages and urban poor have to build their own party. But he was not done yet. He went further to say: “I know that people who come to gather here (LP members) are the best you can find anywhere, self-sacrificing people who get things doneâ€¦.”.
But Oshiomhole has to go beyond this speechifying; he should leave the Action Congress and work concretely to build the Labour Party. It is incongruous or a lack of faith in the capacity of workers and ordinary people for Oshiomhole to leave his own party to join with the Action Congress (AC) a party that is just the second-eleven of the big thieves the PDP. In July 2006, Oshiomhole himself told the media that he had finally decided to pursue his political aspirations through the platform of the Labour Party. In The Guardian of July 27, 2006, Oshiomhole was reported to have said: “It would not be nice to be seen hobnobbing with the dark forces that works against the country’s development, hence the decision to actualise his ambition via the Labour Party.” He was particularly quoted as saying that: “We need a complete break from the past”. In the This Day of July 13, 2006, Oshiomhole was also quoted thus: “Governance should be about people, it has been my guiding principle. Labour has been my primary constituency, I will not fail it.” It is unfortunate that he done exactly opposite of what he had promised with the rotten alliance with the AC. Oshiomhole’s embrace of Yar’Adua government with his anti-poor, neo-liberal policies is another sad story.
While the AC criticizes the PDP, they are not in anyway different. They share the same worldview. While the PDP privatizes public utilities, deregulates the downstream oil sector and spend public wealth to bail out private banks, the AC poses no alternative; rather, they support all of these neo-liberal policies, which overload the masses with problems. Besides, most AC members are decampees from PDP. It is unfortunate that Adams has found it difficult to break with these exploiters. While Edo State may be important, we have always advocated that Adams should use his goodwill and general popularity to stand a platform for the working people on a national level. Such platform like the Labour Party will harness all the potentials in every street and cranny of the country together to fight the big thieves in other parties. Besides, he needs a fighting, working class Labour Party to actualize a pro-masses’ programme. He appears to have heaved as sigh of relief with the increase in number of the AC in the Edo House of Assembly and with high possibility of being in the majority in the coming months as there still some cases still pending in the electoral tribunal. But it would be political suicidal for Oshiomhole to rely on the AC, which is as anti-poor and pro-establishment as the PDP, in the legislative arm to help achieve his programme. He will surely face tough battles and frustrations from the power brokers in the AC who see governance as an opportunity to loot the treasury. Most of the elements in the AC only primarily care for positions and self-serving advantages which positions of power can fetch.
However, it has dawned on the Labour Party (particularly those in the grassroots) that the LP/AC alliance was a marriage of incompatible bedfellows. For instance in the last general elections all candidates on the platform of the Labour Party had to drop their aspiration and give total support to AC candidates in return for the adoption of Oshiomhole as the gubernatorial candidate of the AC, in the spirit of an MOU reached between both parties. Unfortunately, this has not meant well for the growth of the Labour Party. There have hardly been meaningful steps taken to ensure the growth of the Party, both in terms of political education within the Party and mass campaign on issues to win the support of workers, youths, students and ordinary people for future elections. As we have been arguing, the Labour Party has to be built as a fighting working class party which, in and out of power, identifies with the daily struggles and immediate demands of workers, youths and poor masses. The Party must play a leading role in the struggle of workers and poor masses against the anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization.
While the MOU only covered the 2007 elections, Adams has been acting as if the working relationship with AC has come to stay on the permanent basis. For instance, he was the chief host at the ceremony where the AC welcome their kindred spirits who had decamped from PDP. He was on the same platform with self-serving, corrupt politicians whose history has shown that given similar opportunity, they could be worse than hated Anthony Anenih.
NO TO MEGA PARTY, FOR A MASS BASED FIGHTING LABOUR PARTY
In Edo State now and generally in the country, there is a discussion on building a mega-party to fight the PDP, which has become one big obstacle to the masses’ interests and aspirations. This mega-party will be constituted by those who lost out in the power tussle in PDP alongside other pro-establishment parties. In the first instance, what will be the programme of this so-called party in relation to the living standards of the poor? Secondly, who are the fellows in this party the same capitalist politicians like Atiku, Buhari, Bafarawa, Tinubu, Ikimi etc? The Labour Party can be the real mega party, if built as a fighting party on a socialist programmes such a party will attract millions of support, both electorally and otherwise. It will defeat the PDP without any polluting alliances. However, the LP should not shy away from joining forces with other pro-working people groupings and trade unions on specific issues. For instance, issues on electoral reforms, fighting deregulation and job cuts will be examples of this. We can begin to firm up the Labour Party by patiently building it without any ruinous short-cut method of joining any mega party.
On sustainable and permanent basis, the Labour Party should be built into a national mass political party that could wrest power from PDP, AC, PPA, ANPP and other pro-rich parties and run a working peoples’ government on socialist programmes. Such government can bring about nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy (top companies that determine the direction of the Nigeria economy) and placed them under working class democratic control and management. The mass support enjoyed by Adams and the independent heroic actions of the people have shown clearly that the poor working masses are yearning for change and are ready to defend their interests- the time to start organizing the working class and the poor through a platform of their own is now!