Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

OYES! Yes but not under slave conditions

OYES! Yes but not under slave conditions

By Kola Ibrahim, from the June 2011 Osun state Special edition of Socialist Democracy

When the new Osun State government established a youth employment scheme tagged OYES which immediately employed what the government called 20,000 volunteers comprising graduates of universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, and secondary school leavers, everybody welcome this development. It is indeed an improvement when viewed against the background of the bankrupt regime of the ousted Oyinlola/PDP government that did not care a hoot about job provision. Indeed, former governor Oyinlola was quoted in one of his monthly interviews saying that his own daughter was unemployed, therefore nobody should disturb him if his/her ward is unemployed; it is to him a general problem of which he holds no responsibility. Therefore, the current policy of the Aregbesola’s government on OYES is a departure from this obnoxious and irresponsible nature of the ousted government. According to government’s publicized plan, the OYES volunteers are to work in five major areas such as first aid and paramedical services, road maintenance, traffic control, sanitation, etc. However, it seems all this has been abandoned and the volunteers turned into slave-like activities.

Visits to many local governments where these volunteers are placed reveal an obscene scenario in which these volunteers are just herded around to undertake some menial jobs without providing them with necessary tools. In Ikire, Irewole Local Government, for instance, the OYES volunteers are seen using cutlasses to cut lawns along the Ife-Ibadan expressway. In Osogbo, volunteers are seen using their hands to remove refuse. The same scenarios are played out in other local governments. It seems as if government just wants to showcase these volunteers as a success story of the government. This seems to be the case when viewed against the background that provision of basic tools to work with, even if these volunteers (majority of whom are graduates of one tertiary institution or the other) are to do these menial jobs, is a necessary ingredient of dignity of labour. One expects the government to provide them with adequate tools such as modern cleaning equipments and lawn cutting machines.

Of course, the government has purchased waste packing trucks for each local government, but this is just a token of what is needed. Here lies the contradiction; the provision of these facilities will mean reduction in the number of the volunteers doing these menial jobs, which raises the question of where to put the remaining volunteers. This in itself raises the question of why these volunteers are not placed in the areas earlier highlighted by government itself. More than this, these volunteers are paid poverty wages (N10, 000) monthly which hardly lift them from poverty. This is aside the fact that they are not allowed to organize into a union or even enjoy any civil service rights and benefits. The excuse of the government advocates that the current slave arrangement is meant to instill discipline in these volunteers is misplaced and unscientific. There is no place where poor working conditions have motivated people to be more productive, rather it makes people frustrated. It thus seems the government wants to use this to reduce/frustrate some of the volunteers out of the scheme. This is kind of bringing back the image of the Oyincorps Scheme of the ousted government.

The DSM clearly oppose these inhuman working conditions and call for normal and adequate working and living conditions and dignity of labour for these volunteers and their employment on secure jobs that relates to their field of work. We call for the payment of minimum wage, right to unionize and access to all the rights of other civil servants. We also maintained that provision of all this should not lead to retrenchment of any of the volunteers or other civil servants.

We in DSM had earlier maintained in previous edition of this paper, that while the idea of employing 20, 000 youths is plausible, this is just a token in resolving the unemployment problem facing Osun State and indeed the country. We maintained that the real source of unemployment is the huge de-industrialization ably aided by neo-liberal policies of the government at all levels which ensured that not only public and state owned enterprises are privatized (after being destroyed by corruption and bureaucratic activities political appointees who see their appointment as chance to amass wealth), but also social services (like education, healthcare, etc) and infrastructures (road, water supply, mass housing, mass transport services, etc) are underfunded, abandoned and commercialized. This has led to mass retrenchment, collapse of social services and infrastructures, inaccessibility to commercialized social services and exploitation of working people. Therefore, if any serious government is interested in gainfully engaging the unemployed without enslavement or causing retrenchment or reduction in living conditions of already working population, it must reverse this trend.

This will mean massive funding of social services i.e. massive improvements in school facilities (more classrooms, lecture rooms, laboratories, libraries, sports facilities, teaching and non-teaching facilities, etc), health infrastructures, massive public work like massive road network, mass housing, water provision etc and direct government involvement in industrialization especially in the agro-allied industrial sector where a state like Osun is advantaged which will have to be put under the democratic control and scrutiny of the workers, community, consumers and the government to prevent their collapse by undemocratically appointed political patrons. These programmes will provide massive jobs for youths, both skilled and semi-skilled under improved working and living conditions for the employed (adequate wages, working tools, etc). Indeed, provision of free education, healthcare, cheap mass housing, etc will reduce cost of living and greatly increase purchasing power of the majority of the population. To provide adequate resources for these programs, government will have to cut the share of political office holders, put in some quarters at over 50 percent of the public resources, while ministry or department of public works will have to be well equipped to execute government projects rather than wasting huge amount on contractors.

But the question is: why is government not doing this? The answer lies in the nature of the government and the ruling party. The ACN is a pro-capitalist party that is based on the idea of a few controlling the levers of governance and economy. For instance, the party’s major officials are real time moneybags and contractors. This idea of state massive investment in social infrastructures and economic investment is clearly strange to them. This is why investment in infrastructural development and economy that can guarantee secure and adequate jobs for all able bodied citizens is not realizable by these politicians and party, and by extension, this government. Provision of these basic facilities will reduce the money available for politicians to loot. For instance, the idea of reducing the pay of politicians to that of the skilled workers will clearly affect the interests of the big time politicians in this party who spent millions of naira in the last elections; the same way that stopping contracts and making the public works department or ministry handle government’s projects. It should be however be underlined that unless the workers’ unions unite the unemployed and semi-employed like the OYES volunteers through collective demands, the plight of these sections of the oppressed class can be exploited by the government to attack the welfare of workers, the same way that Bisi Akande/AD government used the excuse that workers would consume all the state resources to attack workers through retrenchment and cut in wages. Therefore, workers must pressure their unions and their leadership to include the demand for adequate wages and right to unionize for the OYES volunteers and indeed the unemployed. This also means that the workers’ unions will demand massive investment in social infrastructures and industrialization.