SPN WELCOMES AGITATION FOR AUTONOMY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND STATE LEGISLATURE
But Warns Autonomy Does not Guarantee Decent Conditions for Working People and Youth
By Chinedu Bosah
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) supports the demand and agitation for autonomy for local governments. We also welcome the agitation for financial autonomy for the state legislature. It is undemocratic for one tier or arm of government to be made dependent on another before it can function. For instance, state and local government joint account system is a fraudulent means through which state governors deprive local governments of their statutory allocation and also loot public resources. Also, It is a mockery of the so-called independence of the legislative arm of government if it has to be at the mercy of the executive for its financing.
We however warn that the local government autonomy will not automatically engender development at the grassroots level except it comes by putting into power a workers and poor people’s government devoted to utilizing public resources to meet the needs of the mass majority. Otherwise, if it is the same bourgeois looters who run the local government councils, the result would be the same.
In the same vein, the financial autonomy of the state legislature does not guarantee that the state legislators will represent the interest of working people and the poor. For instance, there are no special benefits which workers and the poor masses derive from the National Assembly which is not financially dependent on the executive. Rather, the experience in the over two decades of civil rule is that both executive and legislators are united in unleashing anti-poor capitalist policies and economic hardships on the working masses.
We hold that the fundamental cause of failure of governance at all levels is the anti-poor and pro-rich policies embraced by all sections of the capitalist ruling elite. Therefore, granting autonomy to local governments ruled by the anti-poor, pro-establishment political parties whose ruinous capitalist policies are responsible for the prevailing condition of mass poverty in the midst of huge human and material resources will rather bring the national cake closer to a few privileged thieves than developments for the benefit of all.
For the local government autonomy to be meaningful we demand adequate funding of the local government and democratic control of the administration of the local government including projects by the elected representatives of workers, traders, artisans, youths, farmers and community members. This is in order to guarantee judicious spending of the local government resources on education, health care and sanitation, infrastructure and basic amenities, etc.
This also means that the local government elections have to be credible, free, and fair. The fact is that local government election is used by the state governors to put puppets in positions of local government chairpersons and councillors. Therefore, the demand for the local government autonomy must also be linked to the struggle for a local government that is run democratically by the working people to defend their class interest
We appreciate the fears of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) which is against the inclusion of the administration and funding of primary school education, in particular payment of teachers’ salaries, in the local government autonomy. We recall that the responsibility of payment of salaries of primary school teachers had to be taken away from local governments during the military era when they could not pay and owed teachers’ salaries for several months. The apprehension of the NUT over local government autonomy is valid, especially given the recent strike primary school teachers had to embark upon in all FCT local councils. However, the position of the NUT gives a false impression that basic education and teachers’ welfare are being taken care of by the state governments.
We recall that between 2013 and 2014 primary schools were closed down for about one academic session in Benue and Kogi States as a result of the refusal of the state governments to pay and improve conditions of teachers. In 2021 teachers embarked on strike in Edo over pay and conditions. Just on March 15, 2022 teachers embarked on strike in Akwa Ibom, the state which receives the highest allocation from the federation account, to press home demands for better conditions and payment of many years of arrears. All these are clear examples that show that no branch or section of a capitalist government can be trusted with workers’ welfare.
What this means, therefore, is that the NUT must always be prepared to defend the interests of teachers whether they are under local governments or state governments. Also importantly, labour movement including NUT must fight for adequate funding of public education at all levels with democratic control by teachers, other education workers, parents, students and communities.
We hold that whatever the type or form of government so far is run on the basis of capitalism, it cannot guarantee decent conditions for the working people or the provision of infrastructure and social services on a sustained basis. However, with mass struggles, neo-liberal attacks or anti-poor policies can be challenged and defeated, even if temporarily.
Fundamentally, what the working people should fight for is a replacement of the self-serving government at all levels with a government composed of genuine working-class representatives only which can, by the aid of a socialist plan of the economy, guarantee a better life for all. This is why we have been calling on the wider labour movement to initiate the process of forming and building a mass working-class political party that can provide the vehicle for working masses to take political power.