OSUN STATE: Beyond the Salary and Pension Grandstanding
Working People and Youth Must be Prepared to Struggle for Improvement
By Kola Ibrahim
July 16, 2023 makes it a year that the then ruling government of Gboyega Oyetola/All Progressives Congress (APC) was ousted by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Demola Adeleke in the 2022 Osun State governorship election. Not a few people in the state felt a sigh of relief, as the Oyetola/APC government was synonymous with sadistic anti-worker and anti-poor policies, which was more of a continuation of the previous Aregbesola/ACN/APC government. The twelve years of APC rule from 2010 to 2022 represented a new height in terrible mismanagement, corruption and anti-people’s policies that could make the previous PDP and AD governments look like saints.
By the time the Oyetola government was ousted, the APC government was owing workers and retirees over 30 months of salary and pension arrears, years of unpaid gratuities, promotion arrears, leave bonuses, etc. Aside salaries, the government continued the profligate legacy of the Aregbesola government, by incurring new debts for inflated projects and outright looting. By the time the Oyetola government ended its reign, the state (through Aregbesola and Oyetola APC governments) was already indebted to the tune of over N331 billion. This is aside the N76 billion salaries and pension debts, as well as billions of contract debts. In specific instances of graft, the Oyetola government reportedly collected over N18 billion federal government bridge facility loan and spent a large percentage of it, after election and just few weeks before its exit. Also the government borrowed N2.7 billion bank loan to fund construction of flyover of less than 500 meters.
Added to all of these is the collapse of social services and infrastructure across the state. Public education remained comatose, while the healthcare sector was grossly underfunded and understaffed. Most roads, inter-township and intra-township, were in dilapidated state. Cases in example include the Osogbo-Ikirun road, Ife-Ilesa road and Ife-Sekona road. Public water supply system was dilapidated. Worse still, working people and the poor were burdened with various taxes. To add insult to injury, the spate of insecurity was high as government-backed shock-troopers and thugs dominated the society, unleashing terror on the people. All of these pervaded Osun State under the APC-led government.
RECOVER THE LOOTED FUNDS
However, almost a year into the Adeleke/PDP government, there seems to be no direction for resolving all the various challenges on ground. While the APC government left rot in governance, the PDP government obviously has no solution within the framework of capitalism. While the Adeleke government raised alarm over the looting of the state resources and huge indebtedness by the APC government, it looks like the government only wanted to use it to score political point rather than recovering the looted state funds.
If the government was serious about recovering the looted funds, it would have set up a democratic and open probe committee comprising government officials, representatives of workers, retirees, relevant professional groups, etc., while a task force for recovery will subsequently be established to recover the identified loots. But can the Adeleke government undertake this task, when stalwarts of its party are also salivating for their own ‘juicy’ opportunity? Besides, some officers of Aregbesola administration are in the new government. Yet, without efforts to recover the looted funds and stop further looting through bogus contracts and huge emoluments, the state cannot move forward.
THE SALARY AND PENSION GRANDSTANDING
The Adeleke government has prided itself as promoter of workers’ and retirees’ welfare; yet this seems like mere grandstanding. It is not actually a detour from the past. While the payment of few months’ arrears of salaries and pensions, part payment of gratuities and offsetting of long-withheld contributory pension, have brought some relief to workers and retirees, the government’s approach does not depart from the previous policy of Oyetola. For instance, the government has continued with fractional payment of gratuities, though it has increased the amount being paid by 100 percent. However, aside the fractional payment denying retirees of the relative value of their entitlement, the idea of selected payment for few means that a retiree may get just one payment in a year or two. Also, fractional payment of few months of salary and pension arrears (with only two to three months being paid out of 30) deny workers and retirees of value of their withheld entitlements, especially with spiralling inflation and higher cost of living.
A pro-worker approach would be to pay at least a significant percentage at once, even if the whole arrears would not be paid at once. Rather than utilise state resources to do this, the government employed a private consultancy company to undertake another round of staff audit, even when government used the excuse of staff audit to delay salary and pension payment sometimes last year.
The argument of lack of fund is not tenable given that the same government that complained of the fraudulent loans and contract that put the state in huge indebtedness is still repaying these loans with interests and also pays jumbo salaries and allowances to political office holders. The government could have simply stopped paying the debts or worse still, demand moratorium on the loan repayment on the ground that the government is auditing the loans and contracts for which the loans were procured. This would have given government time and resources to address workers’ welfare and embark on serious projects, while also having time to recover the looted state funds. But the PDP government will hardly go this route because it has the same capitalist approach to governance just as its APC counterpart.
EDUCATION, HEALTH, INFRASTRUCTURE RECEIVE LITTLE ATTENTION
However, beyond the workers’ and retirees’ entitlements for which the government has scored itself high, there is nothing else to show for the close to a year in power. Public education at all levels, is still in a comatose state. Most of public primary and secondary schools are still with dilapidated infrastructures, and shortage of teaching staff. While the government has promised to computerise schools to address low performance of students in national examinations, the piecemeal approach leaves much to be desired. For instance, while government’s promise to revive the nine computer centres in the state is too little to address the lack of computer and digitalised education, the failure to address other factors such as shortage of teachers, especially for major subjects, and provision of conducive facilities such as well equipped laboratories, workshops and libraries, and classrooms, as well as better welfare for teachers and education workers, show the lacklustre approach to education reform.
About 1,500 teachers employed by the Oyetola in the twilight of his administration were summarily sacked by Adeleke government, even when schools needed these teachers. While Oyetola’s employment programme at the twilight of his administration is hypocritical, Adeleke’s sacking all teachers and even medical personnel, who have been given appointment letters is wrong and vengeful. The government should have simply ascertained their qualification and enrol them as employees. It is not strange that the government has not embarked on employment of teachers and medical personnel since it disengaged those employed by Oyetola. This shows lack of urgency in governance.
The government approach to infrastructure is also not fundamentally different from that of previous government. While some road projects are being constructed, this is still too little to make strategic impact on socio-economic dynamics of the state. More than this, these projects are being undertaken under the same fraudulent contract system of the past, where inflated contracts are awarded, with contractors making away with more than 20 percent of the contract sum as profits. Yet, the ministry of works can be developed and equipped to undertake these projects. This, aside reducing costs in the long run, will also allow for holistic planning of road infrastructure development.
NO HOPE IN ADELEKE’S PRO-CAPITALIST POLICIES
Flowing from the above, it is clear that the Adeleke government given its pro-capitalist orientation will not be able to do much, and will end up like its predecessors. While it still enjoys some honeymoon, given barrage of attacks on the people by previous governments, the government will be unravelled in the coming period when people’s expectations are being unrealised. If the government cannot do much within first year, when the cabinet was not formed, one wonders the magic the government will do when the administration is populated by politicians who will take a significant chunk of state resources for emoluments and contracting.
For us in the DSM, a genuine revolutionary government of the working people, youth and the oppressed will prioritise the interests of the majority of the population. This will mean that, aside recovering billions looted from the state coffers by previous governments, elected politicians and appointees will earn the emoluments of civil servants, while extravagance and lavish spending in government will be stopped. Furthermore, the government will equip the ministry of works with adequate equipment and manpower to undertake major and minor infrastructural projects such as road construction, housing projects, schools and hospital building, etc. These coupled with state investment and democratic management in agriculture and agro-allied industry, among others, will expand the state revenue and economy.
However, given the limitations of a sub-national government, the above measures may not be sufficient to provide needed funds to fully provide free and quality education, healthcare, sanitation, water and mass housing programme, while also providing resources to pay good wages, provide tens of thousands of jobs, and develop the state economy. This is why such a revolutionary government in Osun would also fight for the enthronement of a workers’ government at centre that will carry out the nationalisation of the commanding heights of economy under the democratic management and control of the working people in order to free up resources from which there would be more allocation to states. In other words, such a revolutionary government in Osun would lead a national campaign for judicious use of our collective resources for the interests of the majority of Nigerians, rather than being used to serve the interests of handful of local and multinational capitalists.
REBUILDING THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
Finally, the working people and youth in Osun State must begin to organise through their organisations especially the trade unions, student unions and community movement, in order to place their demands on the Adeleke government. Unfortunately, the state of trade union movement in Osun State is nothing to write home about, as the pro-establishment leadership of major trade unions, especially the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) have mortgaged the movement for pecuniary benefits under the previous governments. This has discredited them, even among workers. Workers must reclaim their union by mobilising for a vibrant, uncompromising and principled leadership.