The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns the latest antic of the Osun State government to break the strike of the academic staff unions of the four state-owned tertiary institutions, without meeting their demands, using the some pliable elements in the student movement leadership, and the judiciary. It will be recalled that the lecturers had embarked on a total strike about a month ago after several months of demanding, among other things: government's payment of its counterpart fund into the pension fund, domestication of the sixty-five years retirement age policy in Osun State, and end to extortionate tax system for workers.
The Aregbesola-led ACN government, rather than responding positively to these clear demands of workers, has been looking for various methods to avoid the issues and the demands. Firstly, it went to town to say the demands of the lecturers are unreasonable and that the government has no money to meet lecturers’ demands. This excuse failed on the strength of the profligate character of a government that spends so much on so many white elephant projects and handful political officers and jobbers, but finds no money to improve workers' conditions. Subsequent protest by students against the government's insensitive attitude was brutally repressed by police in Ilesha at the instance of the state government. The government has however gone ahead, after a kangaroo "Education Summit" (organized by the Ministry of Information), to buy off a pliant but hungry section within the students' movement in the state, in order to break the strike of lecturers.
Consequently, an apparently government-sponsored court case was filed by some so-called student leaders to compel lecturers to call off their legitimate strike. An Osogbo high court was reported, on this basis to have issued an injunction compelling schools to be reopened. The decision of the court presided over by Justice Jide Falola, who was notorious for helping the ousted Oyinlola/PDP government send so many innocent people to jail on trumped- up charges as a magistrate, has further dented the yet-to-be-repaired battered image of the judiciary. It is a known fact that issues of strike and industrial dispute are within the remit of industrial court, and not of a state high court. More than this, it has shown the duplicitous character of the Aregbesola government, which some months ago, was touting the idea of reforming the judiciary in the state, but is now found to be manipulating the same judiciary for its interest. This clearly shows that the so-called judicial reform of the government is meant to create a plaint judiciary in the state.
Besides, the strike action has further knocked a big hole in the nebulous education reform project of the government as tertiary education in the state has continued to be blighted by infrastructural decay, education commercialization and incessant strikes, occasioned by the poor working conditions of education workers.
We condemn the strong-arm approach of the Aregbesola government, in trying to behead genuine agitation of the working people in the state. It will be recalled that just recently, the same government employed the service of a pliant section of the labour leadership in the state to behead the agitation of workers for the implementation of nationally legislated N18, 000 minimum wage. That it has gone further to find pliable instrument within the student movement leadership shows that Aregbosola/ACN government has turned this treacherous method into a vital state policy.
Furthermore, we condemn the action of the renegade student union presidents who are the mercenaries hired by the state government to break the strike of the workers. Their action, even if successful, will not resolve the problems faced by students and workers, neither will it end agitations and strikes. Rather, it will embolden the government, which had not hidden its distaste for tertiary education, to further attack the democratic rights of students to functional and quality public education. We believe the genuine interests of students are similar to that of their lecturers and workers in general: adequate funding of education, free but quality education, improved infrastructures and facilities, better working and living conditions for workers, secure and decent jobs for graduates. None of these demands can be realized when student leaders see themselves as appendages of an anti-worker government, which the Aregbesola government represents. We call on students in the state to reject this treacherous action of these renegade student leaders. Moreover, students must direct their anger over school closure to the insensitive Aregbesola government that failed to accede to lecturers' demands before it degenerated to strike which is the last resort of the workers to press home their demands. For students to support the state government is to destroy their own future, as, aside emboldening the government, they are also laying historical precedent that will affect them when they join the ranks of the working class.
We reaffirm our support for the striking lecturers and call on the state government to accede immediately to their demands to save the future of the students in the state. We believe the state has the resources to meet these demands without compromising other social responsibilities of the government, if only the spendthrift character of the government is curbed. More than this, we demand comprehensive and massive renovation and improvement in dilapidated infrastructures and facilities in the state schools (from primary to tertiary level).
We also call on the striking lecturers to organize popular and mass actions including rallies, protest marches, leafleting, and discussions with other sections of the working people and students, as ways of popularizing their demands and struggle, among the oppressed people in the state, and compelling the state government to accede to their demands. The strike action is not enough, as, in the absence of mass actions; the government can capitalize on the frustration of parents and students to attack workers. Moreover, we call on all workers' unions in the state to reject this latest ploy of the government to curtail their democratic right to strike. If this state-sponsored court action is allowed to stand, it will set a terrible precedent for the workers' movement in Osun State, nay Nigeria. It should be recalled that similar obnoxious method was used by the state government against workers over minimum wage when it dragged workers before the National Industrial Court, to annul the minimum wage. This should not be allowed to stand. We in the SPN support the lecturers' struggle, and enjoin them to pursue the struggle to a logical conclusion. The blame of the strike should be placed at the doorstep of the government that failed to accede to the lecturers' demands.
Alfred Adegoke Kola Ibrahim
State Protem Chairman State Protem Secretary