Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Workers Kick Against Privatisation of NITEL And Airports

Workers Kick Against Privatisation of NITEL And Airports

By Demola Yaya

In the past few weeks, Nigerian workers and their unions have been waging some titanic struggles against privatization of some commanding sectors of the economy. Already, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN) had on February 26, 2008 held a peaceful sensitization rally against the Federal Government proposal to sell six viable Airports in the country and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

The 8 years of General Obasanjo’s misrule were characterized by numerous sales of the country’s national assets. This includes NITEL, the nation’s telecommunication carrier sold to Transcorp, where Obasanjo is a principal owner; refineries, whose sales was reversed, albeit temporarily, by Yar’Adua, after a mass protest led by LASCO, amongst others.

While the central labour unions and leaders of NLC and TUC have been kicking against the sales especially of NITEL; Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries to Alhaji Aliyu Dangote and Femi Otedola, their disagreement is not really against privatization par say. Their disagreement is purely hinged on way and manner in which these assets were sold.

Mainly because of the labour opposition to the sales, Yar’Adua government has revised the terms of sales of NITEL. In an exclusive interview with The Guardian newspaper of February 26, 2008, the NLC General Secretary, John Odah lauded President Yar’Adua for reviewing the sales of NITEL and called on the government to probe the transaction. Odah said in that interview, “our call for a judicial probe is a logical follow up to the reversal of the sale. The NLC has always contended that the sale of NITEL to Transcorp without competitive bidding was not transparent”. To NLC and TUC, if the sales had been subjected to “competitive bidding”, there is nothing wrong with privatization.

However, as long as privatization remains the economic pivot of the Yar’Adua administration, even if the sales of refineries and NITEL are reversed for now, they and other assets would still be sold at one time or the other to the capitalist individuals and corporations and even at lower prices to the detriment of the workers of these companies. Sales of collective wealth to few private individual can never be transparent or beneficial to the workers. Privatization will only be beneficial to the tiny self-serving politicians and their imperialist masters.

Exactly a week after the reported revocation of NITEL to Transcorp, the Yar’Adua government has started coming out in its true neo-liberal colour. Contrary to the reported revocation of sales of NITEL to Transcorp, the regime has struck a deal with Transcorp. Under the new arrangement, Transcorp will cede 27 percent out of its current 51% equity to a “new core investor” while the federal government will give up to 24% of its 29% stake to the so-called new come investor. Until the new core investor is found, Transcorp will retain its present 51% shares in NITEL and M-tel.

In furtherance to its commitment to privatization agenda of its predecessor, an arrangement is already in the pipeline by the Yar’Adua government to sell four main airports to private individuals and corporation under a the guise of “concessioning”. According to Mr. Felix Hassan Hyatt, Minister of State for Transportation (Aviation), “We are talking of updating the first four international airports to bring them up to standard. People are making mistake that we are privatizing airports. But that is not the issue. The issue is that we have agreed that government does not have the funds. And we must uplift the standard of these airports to international standards…….it is possible for private entrepreneur to come in and with a short period of time develop the facility to acceptable international standard. All you need to do is that you do not allow them to rip off the society. You have to incorporate the interest of the society” (The Guardian newspaper, March 4, 2008)

The first four airports slated for sales are: Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt and Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.

Reacting to this, the aviation workers, under the platform of Air Transport Services Senior Staff association of Nigeria (ATSSAN) on March 5, gathered at Freedom Square of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for a peaceful march protest with placards and solidarity songs round the Murtala Muhammed Airport against Yar’Adua government sales of major Airports in Nigeria.

The same old argument that government does not have resources to maintain these airports or other public assets is unacceptable. The problem is not availability of resources but the neo-liberal agenda which discourages committing public resources to public needs and promotes the mantra of “government does not have business in business.”

What is therefore required in this situation is an organised mass action against privatization and neo-liberal policies as a whole by the NLC and TUC on the one hand and initiating processes that will translate to formation of a political party that will truly represent the yearning and aspirations of the poor working people, genuinely built and viable enough to wrest power from the present thieving capitalist elite. It is such a party that will fight and defend masses interest in and out of power and implement pro-masses policies that can transform Nigeria and make living and working conditions better for the working people. This is no time to dissipate energy on how privatization of our collective wealth can be democratic and have a human face. It is time a viable political platform of the poor working people is built and used to organize our resources and assets for the benefit of mass majority as against the present situation that allows only a very few to amass stupendous resources to themselves at the expense mass majority.