AFTER ONDO STATE ELECTION: WHAT NEXT FOR THE WORKING PEOPLE?
AFTER ONDO STATE ELECTION: WHAT NEXT FOR THE WORKING PEOPLE?
Owoyomi Damilola Owot
SPN Ondo State
Amidst the economic recession viz-a-viz non-payment of 7-month salaries, Ondo State people went to poll to decide who would govern the state for the next 4 years. The gubernatorial election, beleaguered from inception by all kinds of crises and contradictions, came up on the November 26, 2016 and saw Rotimi Akeredolu (Aketi) of the All Progressive Congress (APC) emerge as the Governor of the state. He successfully beat Eyitayo Jegede, the preferred candidate of the outgoing Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Peoples Democratic Party.
For us in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), the only conclusion to draw from this entire election is that Ondo State workers, youth and the poor masses had no real choice in this election. All the candidates were pro-capitalist which means that, in this period of crisis, working people should be ready to resist another 4 years of neo-liberal capitalist attacks on their living conditions through casualization, non-payment of salaries, mass retrenchment, hike in school fees, introduction of sky-rocketing taxes and general increase in hardship of the working and toiling people of the state. While the vote clearly reflected the anger of the working masses towards the Mimiko PDP government, whose anti-poor policies of the past 8 years have made life harder for working people, the sad reality however is that Aketi and the APC do not stand for anything different. This is because the APC, just like the PDP, is a capitalist party that supports anti-poor and neo-liberal policies of privatization, casualization and deregulation. Therefore, the emergence of Aketi will most certainly translate into the deepening of the crisis of mass poverty and underdevelopment that has been the lot of the people of Ondo state for decades.
Manipulation, Violence and Mass Apathy
There were usual allegations of ballot stuffing, bribing of voters and violence in the November 26 exercise which are the main characteristic of elections in Nigeria. This was supplemented by mass apathy. As it was statistically proven, not more than 580,887 people participated in the election out of a total of 1.659,186 registered voters which indicated that less than 30% of the registered voters took part in this election. Also, as stated by INEC, 378,606 people refused to pick up their PVCs. This is possibly because they saw no reason in participating in this election as they have often found disappointment in previous elections. Some never bothered to pick up their PVCs as they prefer watching television on the election day to going to vote for the same anti-poor politicians who, on getting into power, fail to fulfill their sugar-coated promises. Despite the 1,280,550 eligible voters (those who actually picked up their PVCs), only 580,887 turned up for the election which is below the half of eligible voters; perhaps, over 600,000 voters travelled on Election Day? The winner of the exercise, Rotimi Akeredolu won with 244,842 votes, which is 1/7 of the total registered voters and 1/5 of eligible voters. This is to show that even the elected governor has the mandate of only a tiny percentage (less than 20%) of the people of Ondo state.
In addition, the election was a further confirmation of the enormous political crisis and internal divisions that now grips the two main capitalist parties â€“ the opposition PDP and the ruling APC. These political crises are a reflection of the impotence of these two parties in the face of the deepening economic recession caused by capitalism and the gradual erosion of their support base as disappointment in the political system increases. More than ever before, opportunity exists for an alternative working class political party with a socialist programme. If such a genuine political alternative had existed in the November 26 elections, Ondo state electorate might have no problem with rejecting the candidates of the PDP, APC, AD and all the other capitalist parties put together.
This is not idle speculation. Olusegun Mimiko, the outgoing governor of Ondo state, has had a checkered political character, starting with being active in the former Unity Party of Nigeria, then in the Third Republic being in the AD (Alliance for Democracy, now mostly in the APC) before joining the UPN which, in turn, he left joining the Labour Party, twice winning the governorship, before switching back to the PDP in 2014.
Although Mimiko contested the governorship under the umbrella of the Labour Party (LP) in 2007, he did not emerge as governor until 2009 when an election petition tribunal declared him the winner of the 2007 elections against the then incumbent Olusegun Agagu. The LP was formed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) after lots of pressure and campaign by socialists and working class activists that working people and the poor needed their own, independent party. Unfortunately despite the potentials that existed at its inception, the LP was been hijacked by opportunists and capitalists. This was largely due to the refusal of the trade union leaders to build the party as a real political voice of the working people with a mass workers’ base, genuine internal democracy and clear-cut socialist programmes. The result was that the party’s tickets in various states across the federation were sold to the highest bidders who were only interested in using the LP as a stepping stone towards achieving personal goals. This is evident in Ondo State where Olusegun Mimiko used the LP platform twice to win the governorship seat only for him to ditch the party and cross back to the PDP. But Mimiko’s move was not simply personal, it was part of a trend, the LP had already backed the PDP’s candidate Jonathan in the 2013 presidential election. Just weeks before Mimiko’s defection the then chair of LP, Dan Nwanyanwu, was saying that the “LP may adopt Jonathan again” in the 2015 election (Guardian, September 16, 2014).
But this was not unique. We had seen before LP leaders switching to pro-capitalist parties. Adams Oshiomhole, under whose leadership of the NLC actually presided over the formation of the LP, also neglected the labour platform to contest the Edo state governorship elections under the Action Congress (now APC). We rightly predicted back in 2012 that Olusegun Mimiko of Labour Party would turn his back on the labour platform and defect to PDP (see Socialist Democracy, Nov/Dec 2012 edition, â€˜AFTER THE ONDO ELECTION: What Next For The Working Masses?â€™). The rot in the LP and its dirty politics only goes to show that the bureaucratic Labour leaders are not serious about building a political party that can defend the interests of the working masses. In the industrial plane, a similar situation occurs as majority of the Labour leaders are not ready to seriously fight for better welfare and living conditions of the working people
Lack of Genuine Alternative
The decision of the Ondo State people to vote in Akeredolu of the APC is not unconnected to the lack of difference between the contesting bourgeois parties (APC, PDP, AD, SDP etc.). This is evident in the activities of the contestants. For instance, Olusola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) has switched parties more than any other politicians. He (Oke) switched between 4 parties within 5 months. In 2012, Olusola Oke was a candidate for the Ondo state gubernatorial election under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before losing to the Olusegun Mimiko of Labour Party (before he himself defected to PDP). The lack of career chances that Olusola Oke saw in PDP (after the likes of Mimiko had defected to it) is what made him to defect to the All Progressive Congress (APC) where he was allowed to contest in the primaries. After losing the APC’s primary election to Rotimi Akeredolu, he then switched to Action Alliance (AA) before he finally switched to the faction of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) that had not ended up in the APC, where the big looters had promised him the ticket. His defection to AD saw him rewarded with governorship ticket of the party despite of the fact that the party already had a candidate.
The fact that these parties (APC and AD) have no scruples with allowing new members to contest under them or even be their flag bearer is a sign that these parties have no principles of any kind. They are merely electoral machines for money bags to achieve their political ambitions. No wonder the parties keep producing anti-poor politicians who want to acquire the public office to corner public wealth. As seen the Sheriff’s faction of the PDP which gave the ticket of the party to a billionaire businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, has no other motive than to deliver Ondo state into the hands of moneybags who will use the state resources for the purpose of making more profit; exploiting the working people and cornering public wealth. Olu Agunloye of the Social Democratic Party on the other hand was once a minister of power and steel under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) before defecting to APC where he contested but lost to Akeredolu at the primary election for the Ondo State gubernatorial election in 2012. This made him to defect to SDP early 2016 where he was given the ticket to contest for Governor. The above analysis has shown the fact that all the gubernatorial candidates that participated in the November 26 elections are the same as they keep switching between various capitalist parties in search for political power. Even if a candidate other than Aketi had won, the lot of the working people of Ondo state would still not improve for the better.
The lack of a genuine alternative in the elections meant that for many voters, any other candidate other than Mimiko’s protÃ©gÃ© is a good option. Some workers and ordinary people saw in the election an opportunity to give Mimiko a bloody nose. Many were rightly angry that after the failure of his administration, Mimiko still intended to continue exploiting the workers by imposing another candidate on them. This is evident in his refusal to pay up the 7-months salaries owed and the arrogant manner he asked workers to vote Jegede as a condition for payment of the backlog. While we agree that the current economic recession is behind the non-payment of salaries in over 27 states across the country, SPN will continue to argue that the mismanagement of the state resources in the period of boom through white elephant projects, wanton looting and corruption is equally a factor. This arrogant speech of Olusegun Mimiko has evidently shown that the state has resources to pay even the backlog of salaries and allowances of Ondo State workers but he has simply refused to do so.
Besides, Ondo State education sector has been at the receiving ends of the lapses of the Mimiko’s administration. Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), a state-owned university, for example cannot be differentiated from a forest. Save from the 2015 struggle of students against increment in fee, shortage of staff and unfavourable academic environment has been the lot of the school up to this moment. Adekunle Ajasin University Akugba-Akoko (AAUA) which used to be one of the cheapest state universities in Nigeria is currently charging N50, 000 as acceptance fee for fresh students making it one of the most expensive. The Ondo State University of Medical Sciences (UNIMED) which was established by the Mimiko administration charges as high as N182,000 as school fees for Ondo state indigenes and N242,500 for non-indigenes and additional N150,000 for accommodation. Hence, SPN wonders the purpose of the institution if the people of Ondo State cannot afford admission into a university built with the state’s fund. Ondo State government has also taken drastic steps to shut public secondary schools in the state through poor funding and no attempt to upgrade the facilities in the schools. Even public school teachers can no longer enroll their wards in public schools where they teach because the conditions are so bad. Negligence and underfunding on the path of the government has forced various principals and head of schools to force fees on students in order to cater for some immediate needs. This has forced many working people to withdraw their children from public schools in favour of private ones which are run with the major purpose of making profits. This has further eroded the little emoluments of the workers even when they are not being paid for over 7 months.
Some of the reasons that have also hindered the return of a Mimiko-like Jegede’s PDP is the evidence of collapse of public infrastructures in many parts of Ondo state. For instance, more than 4 local government areas (out of 18) have been in complete darkness for over 2 years without the intervention of the state government. The economy of these areas has further been worsened as most large scale farmers of this area are not able to adequately store and process their products, leading to wastage and consequently, loss of value. Hence, the living condition of the Ilaje, Ese-Odo, Irele and Okitipupa Local Government areas of Ondo state is best described as been under the deliberate attack by the Mimiko led administration. These and many more are believed to be the reasons why the Ondo state people opted for APC as they see them (APC) as a lesser evil. Parts of the consideration for some is the need to align with the party in power at the centre with the hope that this could attract federal support for infrastructural projects that can aid development. None of these expectations would be met as is seen in the impotence of the Buhari APC government over the last 19 months in resolving any of the economic challenges facing the country be it unemployment, fall in state revenue, foreign exchange crisis, inflation, corruption etc.
Despite the usual excuse that the current economic recession being experienced in the country is caused by the former PDP-led administration; it is crystal clear that the current APC-led federal government has continued to build on the same foundation of the previous Jonathan/PDP’s led administration. Over the last 19 months, the Buhari/APC led government has further eroded the income of the workers, making life unbearable for the masses through the deregulation of fuel price, devaluation of naira, inadequate funding of education and health sectors, non-payment of salaries at various states and general inflation.
What to Expect
Truly, Ondo State, just as the rest of the country, is endowed with enormous human and material resources which if judiciously utilized under a democratic plan can generate substantial resources for the development of the state. Unfortunately, succeeding capitalist ruling parties in the state have often shown more desire to loot the state resources instead of developing its potentials for development. Even, the few available returns are being squandered and siphoned by those in power, leaving a token for the state treasury. Therefore it is possible to develop Ondo state and lift its people out of poverty. But this will not be achievable through capitalist economic policies that the Akeredolu/APC administration would implement when in power.
At the initial stage, the Akeredolu/APC administration may first want to appear to be pro-masses as did Mimiko at first. For instance, he may decide to part of the back-log of salaries owed by the Mimiko/PDP led administration, perhaps through the help of a bail-out from the federal government in order to gain some popularity. But no one must be fooled. Even if the new administration is able to do this, the truth is that the APC led administration will always have a way of eroding the payment by the deliberate underfunding of social amenities, increase of public tax, fees and dues which in turn will lead to complete shutdown of public services. Just as we have seen in Oyo, Osun and other states, the APC administration just as the PDP administrations are united in the exploitation and driving down of workers living condition, underfunding of education and other anti-people policies.
So if at the inception into office the Akeredolu/APC led administration of Ondo State appears friendly and pro-masses, the trade unions and the working people should never believe in such an illusion. Instead they must be vigilant and make sure every open and concealed attempts of the state government to further exploit them are severely resisted through mass actions. It is only through a critical and effective surveillance and preparedness to call strikes and mass actions that the working people of Ondo state will be able to defend their wages and living conditions and win concessions from the Akeredolu/APC-led administration.
But no permanent respite can come the way of the working and toiling people under capitalism. Therefore together with fighting for wages, democratic rights and better living conditions, it is very necessary for the working and oppressed people to start organizing themselves under an alternative working class political platform armed with socialist programs with a view of taking political power. This is because it is until the commanding heights of the economy are nationalized and put under the democratic control and management of the working people that it can be possible to begin to seriously confront the problems of economic recession, inflation, non-payment of salaries and corruption. Anything besides this is window-dressing. Only a socialist economic plan can free Nigeria’s economy from the clutches of the few rich and ensure that our enormous resources are deployed to meeting people’s genuine needs instead of profit. We call on the workers, youth and the poor masses of Ondo state and Nigeria at large to join us in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) so that together we can fight for the building of a political alternative free of careerists with the aim of overthrowing capitalism which is a system of the few billionaire looters and replace it with a democratic socialist system which is a system that favours the mass majority.