Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



No to Casualisation; For Decent Jobs with Right to Join Trade Union

By Omole Ibukun, ERC Secretary, OAU Branch

The announcement that the Buhari government would employ 500, 000 unemployed graduates as volunteer teachers has raised hope that finally something is being done about the alarming unemployment situation in the country. This is part of a social welfare programme totaling N500 billion. This according to the government includes a monthly cash transfer of N5, 000 each to one million vulnerable Nigerians and a skill-acquisition training scheme which would see the training of 370, 000 non-graduate in vocational skills. It also includes a micro-credit scheme which would see one million small scale traders, artisans and market women get a one-time soft loan of N60, 000 through the Bank of Industry, free feeding of school children and a free education plan that will involve free tuition for 100, 000 students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

These social welfare programmes are welcomed. However chances are that they may not see the light of the day. For instance while on a visit to the Middle East, Buhari made the following comment: “This largesse, N5, 000 for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the school and correct them and empower agriculture, mining so that every able bodied person can go and get work instead of giving 5,000, N5, 000 to those who don’t work.” (Vanguard newspaper, 28/2/2016). But in a swift reaction, the media aide to the Vice President, Laolu Akande, came out to say that while the President never promised to pay N5000 to unemployed, he did promise to pay N5000 to vulnerable and extremely poor Nigerians and this is already provided for in the 2016 budget.

Even if implemented, the reality is that these social programmes fall short of what is required to begin to address the fundamental crisis of poverty and destitution in the midst of abundance. For instance, the plan to recruit 500, 000 volunteer teachers will only be helpful to Nigerian youths if it is not executed in form of casualization of the hard-earned skills of youths who have committed their adult life to tertiary education with the hope of making meaningful livelihood out of the jobs that these degrees get them. Unfortunately, this appears to be the case. Instead of full-time jobs, the government has said the unemployed graduates would only be “trained and deployed as volunteer teachers in their communities while still prospecting for jobs in their chosen professions”. This would mean they would be paid stipends as monthly salary, they would have no condition of service and trade union rights and they certainly would have no job security.

The ruling party have executed such mass employment projects at the state levels (for example, in Osun State and Oyo State) over the past years and it is necessary to examine the character of these schemes and extrapolate how the party is likely to execute this at the Federal level. Taking Osun state as a case study, Aregbesola’s O-YES scheme paid the ’employed’ graduates around N10, 000 which was just a little above half of the obviously outdated minimum wage of N18, 000. This scheme was casualized such that there was no job security, as the workers were laid off after a year to employ a new set of cheap casual labor. This scheme was later proven to lack any form of genuineness as the scheme was dissolved immediately the Governor emerged for a second term. It is therefore necessary to stress that this policy will only have a positive effect, if the jobs are decent and well-paid with humane service conditions and trade union rights. With the huge shortage of teachers, there is no logical reason why the recruitment cannot be a permanent employment. All that government needs to do is to ensure that teachers pay and conditions are improved in order to make the job attractive.

The number of unemployed graduates in Nigeria is in multiples of this figure of 500, 000 According to statistics, at least 40 million Nigerians are unemployed. So if just 500, 000 of this are employed, what happens to the rest? Only massive investment in the expansion of infrastructure, facilities, agriculture and industrial capacity can effectively engage this population.

Even before the social welfare programmes have taken off, mass layoffs and retrenchment are already expanding the army of unemployed. In the civil service as well as in the private sector, thousands are being retrenched as the economic crisis bites harder. The Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has just revealed that about 50, 000 workers lost their jobs in Abuja over the last two months alone!

While not oblivious of the shortage of teachers in Nigerian public schools, the problem of shortage of facilities for education should be addressed simultaneously. Curricula must be revised, new infrastructures must be built, class size must reduce, and the administration of schools must be democratized, if this policy intends to cater for the over 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. If these things are not done, the planned free feeding of school children would not achieve much.

Although it is commendable that the scheme is emphasizing provision of basic education in the rural areas, the rot in the education sector is evident even in urban centers such as Lagos and Ibadan, where cases of primary schools without qualified teachers and necessary learning facilities are being reported. The drive against illiteracy is incomplete until free and functional education is ensured in both the rural and the urban areas. Also the girl-child education, special education and adult education should be emphasized.

Unless all these are done the policy of employing 500, 000 graduates will end up as nothing but another mere slogan to cajole Nigerians into thinking that this failed capitalist economy can still be salvaged. Ultimately, only a socialist alternative can ensure the development of the education sector and the provision of well-paid and decent employment.