WORKERS’ STRIKES, INEQUALITY AND INSECURITY IN ABUJA
Between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 in Abuja, two different unions of public sector workers went on strike over their wages and working conditions.
By Omole Ibukun, DSM Abuja
The Nigeria Union of Teachers went on strike twice over the non-payment of their 2014 to 2018 promotion arrears and the lack of funding of Local Education Authority (LEA) schools, first in November 2021 and then later in January 2022. The teachers first called off the strike on the basis of an agreement with Local Council Chairmen which was later betrayed by the Chairmen. The Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) had to go on strike by February 17 when the local councils refused to pay their January salaries.
By the beginning of March the strike was called off when their January salary was paid, but this meant that the state is still owing them a month’s salary or is late in salary payment by one month. These area councils lamented that they could not pay Local council workers because they have not gotten the December 2021 allocation from the Federal Capital Territory Administration yet had enough money to fund their re-election campaigns or to sponsor the election of their stooges in the FCT Local Council Elections that held on February 12. These same area councils complained of lack of funds when it was time to pay teachers too.
Meanwhile according to reports, between January and June last year, the six area councils received the sum of N9,293,186,316.83 as allocation from the federal government, and none of the councils got less than one billion Naira. In addition to these allocations there is a huge revenue from the tax that local councils place on properties in their council areas. For example, in the cosmopolitan AMAC area council alone, small businesses are folding up because they are made to pay unnecessary taxes like the exploitative “certificate of fitness for continual habitation” issued by the AMAC Environmental Health Services where small businesses are charged up to 150,000 Naira per year or they will have their place of work closed down. While this tax system is exploitative and condemnable, its existence is evidence that there is enough money in the purse of the local councils to pay workers and also carry out basic tasks. Therefore, the alleged non-release of December allocations or lack of funds claimed in response to the demand of teachers should not be an excuse for not paying workers their wages.
But rather than pay workers, the area council chairmen saw these crises as an opportunity to use workers to struggle for local government autonomy which will in effect mean their own autonomy to steal as they like from the government’s purse.
While we support the workers’ demand for local government autonomy to ensure that the allocations of the councils are no longer held down by the FCT Administration and state governments, we also need to point out that local government autonomy does not guarantee the judicious use of the allocation and other resources for the benefit of workers, youth and community people. Only the democratic control of finances of local government by elected representatives of workers, youth, community people can achieve that. Even though this local government autonomy helps to decentralise government the more and bring the government closer to the masses, if the working masses do not hold the local government responsible through popular mass actions, the essence of local governance will be defeated.
The demand for the democratisation of the FCTA administration to ensure that it is no longer led by a minister appointed by the President but an elected representative of the residents and workers of the FCT is also a very valid way to democratise the FCT, but workers must be willing to go further. The fact that there are states in the country where elected representatives do the opposite of what they are elected for, shows that our elections must include the right to recall and the supremacy of the local congress of the masses over elected officers.
The withholding of local government allocations, and other actions like the indiscriminate demolition of the settlements of the many working poor by the FCT Administration while the estates of the rich are empty and wasting away, are all symptoms of a corrupt capitalist arrangement of the Federal Capital territory. This arrangement is rooted in the elitist idea that the FCT is meant for the rich including corrupt politicians and top government functionaries and therefore poor workers must be frustrated economically out of the FCT. This is why the FCTA was very determined about demolitions so much that demolitions commenced almost immediately after the February FCT elections were concluded. The sharp contrast between the extremely rich estates of Abuja and those settlements of the poor already speak volumes about the sharp inequality in the capital city.
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) in Abuja have taken up public activities like paper sales, leafletting and interventions at public political programmes to call for the working people of Abuja to come together to resist these policies of inequality, including issues of poor electricity supply, erratic water supply, and a failed urban transport system. This is also because all of these issues are at the root of the crises of insecurity creeping on the FCT.
For instance, the UNIABUJA Staff Quarters in Giri was attacked by kidnappers recently. Also recently, residents of the Kuje-Gwagwalada-Giri axis of the FCT had to resort to protest over continued insecurity in their part of the capital city. While the authorities are quick to use the crises of insecurity in the city to point fingers at criminal elements so as to justify demolitions of settlements of the poor, we think that in addition to law and order approach, it is important to address social and economic inequality with free and quality social housing, free and properly-funded public education, free and constant electricity, clean and available water, functional transport system and the consistent payment of workers’ salaries in the capital city. We call on workers, community people, trade unions and civil society to organize and fight for this.