Government Must Accede to Lecturers’ Demands
· “Opon Imon” Project is mere grandstanding
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), Osun State Chapter hereby calls on the Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola/ACN-led Osun State government to immediately accede to the demands of the striking lecturers of the state-owned tertiary institutions. We condemn the nonchalant attitude of the state government that has made the strike to degenerate to this level, which may lead to disruption of calendar of the four state-owned tertiary institutions. We call on all well-meaning people to prevail on the Aregbesola government to avert worsening the crisis in the education sector in the state.
The striking lecturers embarked on total strike on Monday, 18th March, 2013 after initial warning strikes had failed to make the government yield. The lecturers are demanding, among other things, reversal of the obnoxious tax the government is implementing, immediate commitment of the state government to the contributory pension it started, and for the implementation of the sixty-five years retirement age for lecturers of polytechnics in Nigeria. To us, these demands are genuine enough that should not have warranted a strike had the state government, despite so much propaganda on education reform, shown some level of responsibility.
We in SPN, while we believe that there may be need to tax the rich as one of the means of raising revenue to implement pro-poor policies, we believe that government should not turn itself into a rent-seeker, waiting to just tax the poor and working people to implement its programmes that are at best bogus. This is more so that government’s policies have not ensured fundamental improvement in the living standards and income of the majority of the population.
The state government has not implemented the nationally legislated N18, 000 minimum wage, while pensioners are still lamenting over unpaid pension arrears. Moreover, fees in the state tertiary institutions have not fundamentally changed from the obnoxious level they were raised to by the inglorious era of Oyinlola/PDP. Public primary and secondary schools are still in their poor conditions as the so-called “massive” school renovations only apply to about ten schools, out of over two thousand public primary and secondary schools in the state. Potable pipe-borne water supply in the state can simply be termed non-existent; more than two years after the government came to power. Road rehabilitation has not applied to more than 80 percent of the local roads that are plied by most of the citizens. Yet, the state government claimed to have saved N35 billion. How can such a government then come to ask for more tax from people it has done little for?
On pension, we in the SPN has always been opposed to the contributory pension scheme, which to us is an attempt at duping workers of their salaries, and relieving government of its social obligation of ensuring living pension for those who have committed their active years to serving the public. We believe that government has a fundamental obligation in giving a living pension, based on cost of living and inflation, to retired public workers, and not deduct from meager workers’ salaries. The reality is that what workers will collect from the contributory pension will be fractions of what they would have collected under previous pension scheme, while handing over workers’ fate to profiteers organized in banks, insurance companies and pension fund administrators. Against corruption and mismanagement that have dogged the normal pension scheme, we call for a democratic committee of pensioners and workers to manage pension funds that government will be paying workers’ pension into. It is unfortunate that our assertion that the contributory pension will never resolve the problem of unpaid pension is being manifested with the failure of the Osun State government to remit its own share of pension contributions of workers. This is callousness, which must be condemned.
The current strike has again knocked hole in the propaganda of the government on education reform. While government claim to be introducing “Opon Imon” – computer tablets – for some students in the state secondary schools, the tertiary institutions lack basic computer facilities and access to modern information technology, necessary for twenty-first century learning. Even, secondary schools where the so-called “Opon Imon” project is being implemented lack basic facilities like laboratories, libraries, sport facilities, adequate classrooms, adequate staff, etc. Even, virtually all the secondary school lack access/connection to electricity. While the government wants the public to believe that the project is a world class that will take education out of the woods, only a fraction of the secondary school students will have access to the computer tablets, if the project is not another grand showoff. This means that more than 80 percent of pupils and students will have no access to basic facilities, yet the government will want everyone to believe that public education is already at global standards! This is mere grandstanding. Government’s failure in the public education sector is already leading to mushrooming of private coaching centres. While we are not against deploying information technology and modern technology in improving public education, the reality is that what the state government is doing is haphazard that has no direct bearing on the fundamentals.
We call on the striking lecturers to reach out to other sections in the state especially the students and their parents, explain the through situations to them and mobilize their support, before government start rolling out its propaganda machine. The lecturers should organize mass activities like symposia, rallies, distribution of leaflets, etc Already, the state Deputy Governor, who also doubles as the Commissioner for Education is blackmailing students, who are demanding immediate concession to lecturers’ demands as being sponsored, while a protest by students of Osun State College of Education (OSCOED), Ilesha, on Tuesday, 19th March, 2013 was heavily attacked by government-sponsored police, who used live ammunition and arrest to attack the students. We condemn this kind of strong arm approach of a government that claimed to have come to power on popular support.
Alfred Adegoke Kola Ibrahim
State Protem Chairman State Protem Secretary