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Socialist Democracy May 2006


Socialist Democracy

May 2006



Socialist Democracy (SD) conducted interviews with some labour leaders and rank and file workers on assessment of Obasanjo's government, minimum wage, state of industry and workers alternative. Below are excerpt from these interviews.

Ismail Bello, Secretary, Lagos state NLC:

The Obasanjo government raised a lot of expectations when it came to power in 1999. Without fear of contradiction, the issue of employment generation, job loses, etc remain the albatross of the government. For a World Bank apologist like Iweala to admit that there is serious level of unemployment, demonstrates the seriousness of this issue. At the level of industry, the neo-liberal economic policies of the regime in terms of its pursuit of the directive of global economic institutions like IMF, World Bank, WTO etc has exposed local industries to unfair competition, leading in most cases to closure and job loses.

The case of the textile industry is particularly worrisome. Here is a sector which is second only to government in terms of its employment generating capacity. Employment in the textile sector moved from around half a million in the late 1970s and early 1980s to around 250,000 in 1990s and well below 50,000 now. Industries groan under the heat of bad politicians, multiple taxation, poor state of infrastructure, corruption and inefficiency of custom to enforce protection of banned items. Ultimately, the people suffer. Several thousands of jobs have been lost this year alone and more are still to go. Other people are loosing jobs in the public service. The unemployment circle remains a problem Obasanjo could not address in 7 years.

At the level of government, again, the reform agenda is decimating the workforce. Where are the new jobs created? Now, new industries are not emerging. Workers in the formal sector have no access to credit or government support in any form. Even the so-called poverty eradication is just an avenue to enrich party faithful.

So where is the hope for the common man? As it is, it is clear that we cannot get to the Promised Land with these greedy, selfish politicians who are more loyal to the West than their own people.

In terms of resources, what Nigeria has amassed in the last 7 years is enough to get us to the path of economy recovery. But what do we have? Obasanjo repaid dubiously acquired loan of $12.5 billion to Paris Club of creditors. With this kind of commitment to the West, our way to development will remain tortuous and if care is not taken, unattainable and that is why some of us share the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) position that only a break from the hegemony of the west and their local surrogates with labour and civil society groups forming a government with pro-people policies and programmes could Nigeria be a better place for me and you to live as real human beings.

Bright Anokwuru, Chairman, NLC Anti-Casualisation Committee,

The way the federal government is going about privatisation is something no one is able to explain. What we have seen is retrenchment here and there in the name of privatisation. Sometimes, it baffles one's imagination. I think, first and foremost, the unions in these industries to be privatised should be alive to their responsibilities. We must ask the question: what are they privatising? Is it the staff reduction they call privatisation? So by the time they come out and declare direction as to what it is all about, then they will come to NLC and then we will join hands.

Casualisation is assuming a dangerous position, because so many companies are calling it either casualisation or outsourcing. Give it whatever name, it's taking a dangerous dimension, and that is why we are trying to bring all the unions in all the industries along to work together, plan together, so that we can fight this evil. . Because this is a Capitalist State; their interest is not about human beings. In fact, even their machines are more valued than human beings the workers. Except we come together to fight this monster, the unemployment will increase by the day. So that's why we have been brainstorming; planning with unions and asking the leadership of industrial unions to come together so that we can be able to address this casualisation which is rendering everybody jobless now.

Mayday was a battle that was won for workers, at least to mark a day in a year, to remember the struggle of workers; especially, the massacre in Chicago in 1886. But unfortunately, the unions or the workers are losing track as to why the Mayday is celebrated. I think it is a day we are supposed to tell the employers the truth about how we feel things should be done. I would have expected that at Mayday rallies workers would come up with various placards that depict, that address their problems. But we have seen what are we celebrating. Is it the gains, the profit, the celebration of the bondage that we are still in. I think we must be able to get this. But, workers should go back and begin to ask themselves questions as to whether it is a day we should address the employers or the government of what they have done to address the plight of the workers.

My message to workers is that, like we have the motto: the struggle continues; but we cannot continue when we are sleeping. We must all rise up, and see injury to one as injury to all and fight for liberation of every worker. In fact, the question of he or she does not belong to my sector does not arise; once a worker is oppressed, it affects everybody. So, we must all rise up to the challenge and fight to see that every worker is liberated. "You cannot expect the slave master to let the slave go. Without the struggle of the slave himself to liberate himself; he will continue to be slaves. This is my message to workers on this 2006 MayDay".

Didi Adodo, General Secretary, CFTU:

For those who expected much, they will be disappointed with the Obasanjo regime. But for those of us who don't expect much from the regime, the little we expected could not be delivered. Every successive leadership of this country has always plundered the goodwill of the Nigerian masses. Just like his predecessors, the 7 years of Obasanjo's regime is a waste. His 7 years has taken us back. The standard of living of the people becomes lower than the period when Obasanjo regime emerged. For instance, in 1999 when the regime came in, the value of the naira was about N77 to a dollar, but now, it is N145 to a dollar! What the workers earn cannot take them home while over 90% of Nigerians are living below the poverty line while this country has enough of what everybody needs but not enough for everybody's greed.

Iron and Steel has public and private sectors. The private sector has been groaning under terrible government policies due to lack of potential manpower, high tariffs, which do not allow them to produce basic things. And of course, lack of energy, security, companies paying the government to provide water, security, electricity and banking, more or less.

In another development, government has been constructing Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mills for over 23 years and yet, it is still under construction. Even most of the places that have not been completed, government handed them over to the private companies to now complete, operate and transfer back to the government. The government did that under the guise that it does not have money to complete Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Company and as such, the company that came in had to say that it could not carry the weight.

For Delta Steel, government sold it in the name of privatisation. The company is there now producing at about 40% capacity utilisation using scrap. The government has not yet completed the rail that is supposed to be used to convey iron-ore from Itakpi to Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Company. The Itakpe has also been given to the company - Global Holdings Limited. Meanwhile, the government is still owing workers several years of salary.

Mr. Ibrahim Joseph from Niger Biscuit:

I am a staff but I'm not happy because they don't pay me the benefit that I am entitled to. There is no way the volume of work I do could be compared to what I am being paid. I am grossly being cheated. The Obasanjo- led government does not have the interest of workers at heart, so I don't think it's a government anybody should encourage to continue; there are no workable amenities being put in place by the government. No right thinking poor Nigerian will say he is happy. It is a selfish government that should be discouraged by all means.

Mr. Abdulraman Balogun from Kablemetal:

The 7 years of the administration is nothing to write home about because it has not impacted positively in the life of the ordinary Nigerian. I personally have not seen anything better this administration has done. All its policies are anti- workers. Workers have not progressed. Instead, we are witnessing company closures and job losses. it is the right time for us to have our own political party. Take a look at what is happening in the political scene, you will discover that those who continue to rule us are from the same circle, and if you don't belong to them, you cannot emerge. It is better too for workers to also have their own party and government which can take into consideration the needs of workers. It is very good for workers to have their own party because those in power presently are serving their own interest, their family members and that of those that put them there.

Mr. Esho Olatode from UTC:

Things are not ok at all. They are getting more difficult to manage.

Mr. Samson Ajibola from African Consumer Care:

The regime has not done very well. In the aspect of our work, many are not enjoying. For example, the casuals who are mostly youth are being badly treated like slaves. Government should provide better and stable work for them. For those who are privileged to have jobs, the remuneration is just too outrageous.

Mr. Innocent Okereke, a security operative at UTC:

There is no enjoyment as a citizen or as a worker. For me I cannot say I've enjoyed anything. I've finished school since 2000, and looking for a job from one place to another without getting one. At times I have to sleep outside. It's real hell! All this I'm doing is just for one to survive. So, I can't say that I've enjoyed anything under this government. I see myself as a slave in my own country because as a citizen of this country, I do not enjoy the benefits that a citizen is suppose to enjoy when working; at the end of the day you will just discover that you are a slave. Like now, am a graduate, there are no enough jobs, I've gone round everywhere; no work, that's why I took this security job. I think I'll fully support the struggle against casualisation by NLC.

Mr. Awoyinka Oladele from Nexans Kablemetal:

Obasanjo has done nothing good to the life of ordinary people because his government is for the rich people. Since he has been on the throne, nothing good has happened to the life of poor people.

Mr. Demede Olusegun, Secretary of NUCFRLAMPE at Nigeria Spanish Cement Company:

If you ask so many union leaders, they will tell you that the Obasanjo administration has not, in anyway, favoured workers, especially on the issue of privatisation, the new labour act, and all sorts of things that are anti- workers. So, if you ask the average workers this kind of question, they will tell you that the Obasanjo government has been a clog in their eyes; that things are not going on fine; that many companies are closing down for lack of raw materials. Look at the textile industry; the population of textile industry has reduced drastically. On the other hand, this has thrown many people into the labour market, if you look at it. The whole situation is so pathetic

Mr. Michael Falowo from CAPL:

If the NLC can help us we will be very happy. For now, we casuals; as in ordinary workers are really suffering. We do suffer a lot. We want NLC to fight casualisation.

Mr.Patrick Okechukwu from Niger Biscuit:

I think it will be good for Nigerian workers to have their own government against the present rot.


Socialist Democracy May 2006