Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Downsizing and Obasanjo’s Reform Agenda

Downsizing and Obasanjo’s Reform Agenda

By Niran Okewole

Nigerian workers have watched with dismay and anger as the Federal Government unfolded its plans to “downsize” the public service. By this arrangement, the heads of 33,000 workers are to be placed on the guillotine. Former NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, has criticised this initiative, stating that it would deprive not just the workers themselves but also 231,000 spouses and children, and another 100,000 dependants of their means of livelihood. Fallouts of this, he said, would be an increase in mortality, school dropout ratio, social tension, crime rate and social dysfunctions such as prostitution as coping strategies among young dependents.

In spite of the public outcry, the Federal Government has stubbornly plodded on, arranging a N50 billion World Bank loan to facilitate severance pay for workers whose sack letters, we were told recently, are already being written.

This retrenchment fiasco is part of a whole system of structural “reforms” in the public service the terms of which are contained in the generic guidelines for reform of parastatals issued by the Bureau of Public Service Reforms in collaboration with the Bureau of Public Enterprises, both organs of the Presidency) in March 2006.

The overall vision of the whole exercise was stated as achieving “a Nigerian Public Service that works efficiently and effectively for the people”. The document goes on to state that “the reform of parastatals, which at the federal level, number over 400, is no doubt a critical complement to the public service reforms which is already focused on the core civil service, as well as the general reform agenda. This is especially because of the place of these agencies in the direct provision of services to the public”.

In enforcing this purportedly lofty aim, the document charges the leadership of these bodies thus: “Reform is a principal policy of the Obasanjo Administration. It therefore behoves the leadership of all parastatals, both at the board and management levels, to be committed to positive change and be eager to initiate and drive the process passionately, for the ultimate benefit of the public and posterity, regardless of the perceived effect on group or personal interest”.

In other words, we know these reforms are unpopular, and the people will kick against it. “Ultimate benefit” is the song Nigerian leaders have been singing since the days of “austerity” and SAP. The song has not changed; only the bandleaders have, to now include the erstwhile critics of the no-human-face measures who are now worse than their forbears.

Here the iron fist inside the velvet glove peeps out. One gets a whiff of the guiding genius behind the whole exercise: nothing less than the neo-liberal chimerical policies being foisted on us by western imperialism, which has also reared its ugly head in the area of debt management, pension reforms, banking reforms and health insurance.

Further reforms include process re-engineering, computerization, re-skilling and re-tooling, and service delivery reform which ordinarily might be considered laudable but the success of which under the current dispensation is, to say the least, doubtful. Others such as further structural adjustments, further redundancies and staff rejuvenation, performance contracting, etc leave no shadow of doubt about the sinister intentions of government.

With respect to pay review, leaders of parastatals have been told that “implementation of monetisation and thus the payment of the enhanced staff allowance rates, is contingent upon the commencement of restructuring of the organization, at least up to the Personal Record/Payroll Audit and the consequent preliminary staff severance”.

Another thrust of the reform exercise is commercialisation. We are told that “being more commercial” means, in effect, a framework for decision-making that is more like a private profit-maximising company which is freely competing for business with other firms.

In most cases, commercialisation means that the business activities undertaken, which are being ‘reformed’, are activities carried out through an institution owned and controlled by government, although in many cases commercialisation is followed by some kind of privatisation – even if this happens many years later.

Approaches to achieve this include full commercialisation, partial commercialisation, and corporatisation. On the latter, we are told, “in addition to profit making, commercialised enterprises should be fully exposed to market forces”.

Finally, under general performance agreement obligations, there is a clause which vests management with the power “to hire and fire” their personnel at all levels and to reward on a competitive basis, with the exception of the chief executive and the executive directors. “This is quite in character: place all workers on the slaughter slab while protecting themselves.

This has much made it clear that the current reform exercise is a sinister attempt to turn the working people into a business machine which would generate profit for the privileged few while subjecting the masses to a state of ruin. Not much can be expected from the current dispensation. The salvation of the masses lies in a decisive thrust to take over political power and institute a new order where the productive forces and the commanding heights of the economy will be nationalized and placed under the democratic control and management of the workers themselves. Till then, it remains a long walk to freedom.