GOVERNANCE GRINDS TO A HALT IN OSUN
GOVERNANCE GRINDS TO A HALT IN OSUN
By Alfred Adegoke, Osun State Chair, Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN)
It is no gainsaying that the Governor of Osun State Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has ground governance to a halt since August 9, 2014 when he was re-elected for a second term in the Osun State gubernatorial elections. Since then, he has sacked his commissioners and senior special advisers (which normally takes him about two years to appoint, if one would go by what happened in his first term). Since then, August 9, 2014, till now it has been galore of woes of non-payment of salaries and pensions, while public works are grounded. Some of the workers still share the illusion that with Buhari’s victory they are now expecting the largesse of Buhari to trickle down but the question still remains of what prospects await the mass of the working class, youths and the poor in Osun State in the incoming era.
We call on the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the public sector unions to place demand on the government for immediate and unconditional payment of all the outstanding salaries and pensions and an end to non-payment of salaries. Socialists and working class activists in Osun should initiate campaigns for these demands.
GALE OF WORKERS’ STRIKES
When the Judicial workers resorted to strike in January 2015, no one would have expected it to last this long. Their union, JUSUN, had won their case over financial autonomy but they still had to embark on a nationwide strike to drum home their demand for the implementation of court judgment. The respective state branches of the union were directed to negotiate with their State Governments. Unfortunately, Osun is among the states, yet to reach a deal with their unions and the regular courts remain under lock and key with such unimaginable consequences to Osun State, not only in terms of the collapse of the entire judicial system in the State but more in the personal welfare problems confronting those involved in the administration of justice and their respective families, including pending or would be litigants as well as freedom and liberties of awaiting trial inmates, etc. But the JUSUN strike is just a tip of the iceberg.
The medical and health workers are also on strike, protesting the non-payment of their salaries and allowances for many months running, leading to the closure of LAUTECH Teaching Hospital, Osogbo, the only state-owned tertiary healthcare institution. The lecturers and staff of tertiary institutions, colleges of Education and Polytechnics as well as the Osun State University are enmeshed in series of industrial dispute with the government over their allowances and funding of the educational sector. Currently, lecturers in the state-owned polytechnics and colleges of education, under the banner of Council of Academic Staff Unions of Osun Tertiary Institutions (CASUOSTI) are on two-day weekly strikes to demand payment of their salaries, allowances and pension deductions, among other demands. Just recently, teachers in the state, under Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) called off a month-long strike over non-provision of instructional materials, including chalk and register for schools. Also, broadcast workers under the banner of Radio, Television and Theatre Art Union (RATTAWU) were also on strike some months ago over withheld allowances.
The Unions that are not on strike do not fare better, though they still go to work but they are owed salaries since November 2014, about 6 months, as well as private deductions accruable to union and cooperatives societies for years since June 2010 fuelling concern about when government will start paying as workers are forced to bear additional interest on the loans they borrow due to the government delays.
The same tale of woes goes for the pensioners who are owed more than six months of pension arrears. The pensioners have staged a protest to the State Secretariat and presented the death certificates of thirty-seven of their former compatriots who are now dead, asking what government is going to do about it. The list must have risen now beyond proportion even among the workers. One of the workers, an asthma patient died on the street on his way to procure drug. He had run out of stock and by the time he could get financial assistance to buy the drug he suffered an attack and died on the way. In a state where the government claims to implement a free health policies the State Hospital at Asubiaro, Osogbo does not have requisite drugs and personnel, making the people to suffer more and pay more through private Health care.
Some members of the Association of Senior Civil Servants and Trade Union Congress (TUC) also staged series of protest demonstration in Osogbo as tension deepens over the non-payment. Following the outcry that this protest generated, the government, rather than pay workers’ withheld salaries, only paid 40 percent of a month’s salary! Added to this is the divide-and-rule tactics of the Aregbesola government. This is reflected in the selective payment of salaries for some workers and pensioners, while leaving several others unpaid.
However the leaderships of the trade union centres, the NLC and TUC, have refused to organize mass industrial actions to defend the interests of their members, even when there is groundswell of anger amongst workers and pensioners in the state. On the contrary, labour leaders have helped the government to continue to exploit and impoverish workers. Recently, when workers under ASCSN were gearing up for industrial action, a renegade labour leader and impostor, went on air to fervently deny any planned strike. The joint resolution of the leaders of NLC, TUC and Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) issued on February 26, 2015 only faintly called on the Aregbesola government to pay workers. There was no ultimatum or planned action if the government refused to accede to this demand.
However, in spite of the leadership of NLC and TUC, public workers including the state television and radio workers began a 3-day warning strike on April13, 2015. We welcome this independent initiative of the public workers and their unions. We call on workers to set up strike/action committees centrally and at workplaces to sustain the struggle and mobilize mass support. They should involve working class activists and socialists like members of DSM in all the activities of the action committee.
EDUCATION SECTOR IN LIMBO
The education policies of the government were further exposed with the crisis in the sector. For example, the mergers of schools and uniforms created a security problems leading to the closure of some schools over students mayhem. There is no better index to appraise the failure of the educational policies than the score- card of Osun at the 2014 WAEC/GCE when the state came in a distant twenty-second (22nd) due to the rot in the schools where government is building about 20 showpiece schools out of over 2000 schools which remain in ruins. The much touted magic of notepad computers (Opon-imo) could not achieve any desirable result. The notepad computers (Opon-imo) are given to only students of the final year class preparing for the SSCE exams for just few weeks and retrieved before their exams. It is therefore little wonder why Opon-imo was not relevant to the success of the students at the Senior School Certificate Exam. Opon-Imo like common school uniform for public school students only became an avenue for juicy contracts.
Regarding school uniforms the government had doled out almost one billion naira to a private company to roll out the first set of uniforms free, but these uniforms were of poor quality and easily worn out leaving students who have to buy subsequent uniforms at the mercy of the price monopoly of the private company and marketers. While the government’s initial free school uniform may look benevolent, it was an attempt to use public fund to set up private business, as the money given to the company served as its initial capital to set up the company. Thus, subsequently year after, the students and pupils have to procure the uniform at exorbitant rates, at costlier rates than former uniforms.
The company for many months could not produce because the source of its free fund had dried up, and many parents could not afford the exorbitant prices of the poor quality uniform. Consequently, many students have to wear tattered clothes to school. Currently, the uniform has been changed again. They claim to have resumed production but the question to ask is whether the clothes are now affordable or of better quality?
The Governor has hinged his inability to perform on the dwindling resources of the state but the truth is that he has been receiving all the allocations due for the state but workers’ salary and public works were not his priorities when he was busy with the 2015 general elections. More than this, the government is a government of contractors, which has meant enormous resources of the state being given to contractors for over-bloated contracts, while the Ministry of Works is lying idle and decrepit. Several billions have been committed to few road contracts and handful of schools, which could have built several more, had the state government not committed public resources to private contractors and financial corporations, who have milked the state dry.
The wasteful spending of public resources, as reflected in the N1 billion school uniform projects, spending of public resources on political patrons e.g. procurement of buses and cars for leaders of market women associations, religious leaders, etc., and exorbitant salaries of political and public officers, constitute the major leakages for the state. Therefore, as much as we agree that Osun State has been affected by dwindling revenue from crude oil which itself reflects the neo-colonial nature of Nigeria’s economy that makes it depends on crude oil alone for government revenue, Aregbesola government is responsible as the allocation received has been diverted to the interest of politicians and not the needs of the people.
NEED FOR A GENUINE CHANGE
The poor manner of administering the state is also reflected in the politics of the government. unlike 2011 when most politicians from ACN rode on the popularity of Aregbesola to power, the August 9, 2014 governorship elections where the opposition PDP secured up to 40 percent of the votes, even when its candidate was arguably the most despised politician in the state, shows that Aregbesola, his government and politics are becoming unpopular. The same trend is seen in the March 28 general elections in which the PDP won up to 40 percent of the votes, though the running APC won. All this shows that Aregbesola is fast becoming an albatross on the state. Unfortunately, there is no mass party of the working people to challenge the government on the electoral front and provide serious political alternative to the rots of the APC and PDP.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), despite still struggling for registration, has become a loud voice of the most advanced layer in the state. SPN has organized public programmes to reach out to working and poor people. It is also a platform of propaganda for the working people, while also playing vital roles in the struggles of workers and students in the state. We call on working people and youth to join us in this task of building genuine platform of change.
As General Buhari is now elected as president, the issues are not yet addressed and some of the workers are preparing to wait until after swearing in on May 29 2015, sharing the illusion that the largesse from General Buhari’s Federal Government would start to roll in. We need to warn however that Osun and indeed Nigeria are in for another round of disappointment as the ruling class will cook up one story or the other on the reason why the masses will have to still tighten their belt as they cannot deliver and emancipate the mass of the working class, the youths and the poor from the problem of poverty, ignorance and disease etc.