Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

EDO: Oshiomhole Policies and the Challenge for the Working Masses

EDO: Oshiomhole Policies and the Challenge for the Working Masses

By Chinedu Bosah

Edo State had for a long time been ruled by ruthless corrupt politicians and this is a big factor in its underdevelopment vis-Å•-vis the decay in the level of infrastructure. This explains why the people of Edo State overwhelmingly rejected Osariemeh Osunbor and his godfathers both in Edo and nationally. The 2007 contest for the governorship of the state by Adams Oshiomhole, the former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, provided a formidable platform to root out these anti-poor, corrupt politicians. Oshiomhole was seen as a viable alternative to the hitherto rotten elements in government considering his rich credential having led several mass protests and general strikes against Obasanjo’s anti-poor policies, particularly the incessant hike in fuel prices.

Hardly had he come to power on Wednesday November 12, 2008, after the previous day’s Court Appeal ruling that ousted Osunbor on account of the PDP’s massive rigging of 2007 elections, that Adams started having problems with the Local Government Chairmen on the basis of joint funding of a proposed 10,000 new jobs. The Local Government Chairmen opposed this policy and got the backing of the State House of Assembly. Hence, the policy has died naturally, at least for now. That is possibly because despite the court ruling that the PDP rigged the 2007 Edo governorship election all their other “victories” in Edo were allowed to stand. Thus all the local governments in Edo are controlled by the PDP; two thirds (16) of the members of its House of Assembly are PDP members while one third (8) are AC. With this kind of arrangement, it possible to sabotage any pro-people policy from Oshiomhole and, when the chips are down, the AC members will also play a similar role to the PDP.

Oshiomhole’s Tax Policy

The tax policy of Adams is another contentious issue in Edo State given the recent announcement of a tax/levy increment to be paid by private hospitals and schools. It appears the governor who became popular on the basis of street protest and strike actions has been getting his own dose of his medicine, though at the moment on the smaller scale. The Edo State Chapter of the National Medical Associations (NMA) on April 14 commenced phased strike action that would hold every Tuesday and Wednesday for two weeks. The doctors also threatened to withdraw their services should the government refuses to shift ground. It is instructive to note that public sector doctors joined the strike action. This was so because doctors in the public sectors have direct ties with private hospitals as owners, workers or consultants.

According to the Medical Association the increment, which is as high as a 1500% rise, is outrageous. For example, the charges for application, registration, renewal and relocation for hospitals were increased from N5,000 to N75,000; N30,000 to N300, 000; N20,000/N25,000 to N250,000 respectively.

The operators of private schools have also complained that the charges are too high. Charges for private schools have been increased between 625% and 1000%: The establishment of nursery schools, primary schools and secondary schools went up from N20,000, N40,000 and N50,000 to N150,000, N250,000 and N500,000 respectively.

In a state where private hospitals and schools, as well as other private companies, did not previously pay appropriate taxes and levies as the government used to rely heavily on oil revenue, it would now be difficult for Oshiomhole to justify such high increments. This is more so when the new state government has not made any appreciable impact having just been in office for a few months. As it has promised the government has to now upgrade public hospitals and schools in terms of facilities and decent pay for workers up to a level that means that even those in government and their families could patronise them. By improving on the quality of the public hospitals and schools the government will render attending private hospitals and schools as a luxury.

The obvious truth is that the long neglect of public facilities and the undemocratic private manner in which public corporations were run have led to the near collapse of public schools and hospitals and the loss of confidence in public utilities by the people. As a result at present both the poor and rich send children to private schools and patronise private hospitals.

Therefore, the fact remains that these increments will be passed on to the people. The appeal by Special Adviser to Governor Oshiomhole on Public Affairs and Strategy, Mr. Eric Osagie, to the doctors to exhibit the moral strength to ensure that they do not transfer the burden of the expected taxes on the citizenry is laughable. The number of public hospitals in Edo state is 290 while private registered hospitals total 554.

The Edo State Government no doubt is under pressure to raise money internally given the reduction of funds accruable to Edo as a result of the global economic meltdown that has brought down the price of crude oil. From all ramifications, private business do not pay the correct tax since they can manoeuvre through doctoring of accounts that makes it possible to either evade tax or pay close to nothing. We live in a country where big businesses are given tax holidays, import duty waivers and in some cases these businesses are sole importers thereby entrenching monopoly instead of competition which they preach.

Since the tax policy is going to affect more of the poor than the rich, we call for a tax policy that makes the rich to pay more; hence properties of the rich should be heavily taxed while books of private companies should be open and publicly scrutinized in order to arrive at the correct tax to be paid. There should be spirited efforts at recovering looted funds by previous governments in Edo, which could form part of the resources to be invested in infrastructures.

We call for and support progressive tax policy such that makes the rich pay more while the poor pays little. At the same time we are against tax policies that excessively hit small businesses and farmers while letting big business and farmers get off lightly. Policies and methods like this, no doubt will be resisted by the powers that be but if the Edo working masses are mobilised into defending such policies since it is going to defend their interest, those who stand in the way will surely be defeated.

Moreover, the government can also save cost by equipping its Ministry of Works so that it could execute major projects. With open democratic management and control by workers and professionals the ministry should be able to do quality jobs geared towards meeting the needs of the people. This is measure will also make difficult the business as usual of sabotage and corrupt practices such as contract inflation, kick backs, etc.

By and large, the development in Edo has shown in part the limitation of taxation as a major source of revenue. The best way adequate resources could be mobilised to finance development is to put under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy with open democratic control and management by the working people. But actualising this constitutes a serious limitation to a state government. This is one of the reasons we have been calling on Oshiomhole to have an orientation towards building a Labour Party as a national movement that could secure extra funding for the states, wrest political power nationally, commit public resources towards basic needs and developments, and ultimately change society to socialist order etc.

Security Vote

Another contentious issue that has been raised is the ‘security vote’ as it is the general norm within the Nigeria political space. The undemocratic method of expending such money leaves much to be desired since according to governance in Nigeria, expenditure of security votes is not questionable. We reject such undemocratic method of spending public money because it gives room for squandering and looting.

Recently, a member of the Edo House of Assembly, Fred Omogberai, alleged that Governor Adams spent N911million via a ‘security vote’ between November 12, 2008 and December 31, 2008. It is hypocritical for any member of the House to raise highbrow over security vote when in actual fact the same House voted N5.5billion for Osariemeh Osunbor for last year upon which he spent N4.4billion in 10 months, an average of N440million monthly while they opposed the proposed ‘security vote’ of N3billion for Governor Adams.

However, whether Adams’s ‘security vote’ is less compared to previous administration is not the major issue. What is expected from a radical government such as Adams is to distance himself from such a policy. In the quest to fight crime, the Edo government can apart from mounting pressure on the federal government to properly fund the Nigeria Police, Adams could procure gadgets for the police and organise the communities into community policing as a means of fighting crime. And such money should be open to public scrutiny to guide against corrupt practices and be far less than the amount voted or proposed for security expenditures. This will ensure that more money will be saved and invested in other basic needs of the people. We call on Adams Oshiomhole to scrap security vote expenditure and channel such resources towards infrastructure. It is such method that could reduce poverty and crime.

For a Working People’s Assembly in Edo State

The struggle between the executive and the legislative on the 2009 budget may have come and gone with the passage of appropriation bill of N74.9 billion passed by the Edo House of Assembly and subsequently signed into law by Adams Oshiomhole. But the disagreement has further shown clearly that it is possible to thwart any popular policy of pro-working people government should such government not rally round the people in an organised manner. One major reason the lawmakers backpedalled was due to public opinion and several protests. In an event that the similar anti-people opposition is stronger particularly with the backing of the federal government, it may succeed in scuttling any policy considering the unorganised manner of the people to defeat any reactionary tendency.

This is why in our “Socialist Manifesto for Adams” (SD Special Edition April 2008), the DSM proposed that Adams must build a real “peoples government” by instituting a “Working Peoples Assembly made up of elected representatives from workplaces, communities, villages and schools to decide the next steps on how to implement the proposed reforms and recall any member of the State House of Assembly who goes against programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of poor working people in the state.” With such an Assembly, Adams Oshiomhole can build the political power necessary to push through radical and pro-masses’ reforms. The assembly could also provide platform for workers, youths, artisans and the poor generally to put pressure on the government to always carry out pro-working people policies. It is only by such means that the working people can win politically and economically.

On sustainable and permanent basis, the Labour Party should be built into a national mass political party that could wrest power from PDP, AC, PPA, ANPP and other pro-rich parties and run a working peoples’ government on socialist programme. Such government can bring about nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy (top companies that determines the direction of the Nigeria economy) and placed them under working class control and management. The mass support enjoyed by Adams and the independent heroic actions of the people have shown clearly that the poor working masses are yearning for change and are ready to defend their interests.

The current movement has not grown to the level of amassing enough political strength to defeat capitalism. But this global economic maelstrom has on daily basis made more and more people to question the rights to continued existence of capitalism that cannot provide for the basic needs of the vast majority despite the abundant availability of human and material resources that could make it possible. The search for alternative to the rotten capitalism will make more and more people to rediscover the ideas of socialism.