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By Chinedu Agbebire
Different governments in the South-east Nigeria, irrespective of political parties (PDP or APGA), have in common the anti-poor policies, programmes and activities, in addition to wastages and corruption at the expense of the welfare of the working people and social infrastructure. But arguably the neo-liberal attacks seem to be more virulent in Abia state than the other south-eastern states of Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
The state of things in Abia is a direct reflection of the ruling elites' commitment to enslaving the people, a situation reminiscent of biblical Israelites in bondage in Egypt. Nothing is fundamentally working out; no light, no water, no security, no social infrastructure, in fact no life. This is well demonstrated in many strikes embarked by the workers, particularly the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Abia state chapter. The teachers went on strike over non payment of their salaries. Abia state polytechnic workers have gone on strike before it was recently beheaded. Unfortunately all these strikes were called off without the workers' demands fully met.
Instead of the government fundamentally addresing the problems and meeting the workers' demands, the government is busy peddling lies around and keeps denying owing workers. But if at all there is any payment of salaries it has been simply chaotic. For instance, according to a teacher, "whenever they owe us for three months, on the fourth month, they will pay one month's salary to prevent us from going on strike … even the long time approved minimum wage has accumulated as we are yet to receive the salaries from before the approval … Abia state teachers have been neglected. Issues concerning salaries, leave allowances are not mentioned anymore … The last time I was paid was in February, that was when I was paid my November salary and since then we have been waiting for our December salary… when we are even promoted, our new salaries are not usually implemented." (Premium Times, March 9 2013).
However, the attacks are not peculiar to workers alone, traders, peasants, students and all other sections of the poor masses have had their own fair share. Presently, the most glaring one in the state is the violent and unbridled demolition of poor traders' shades, slums, and shops without adequate compensation or alternative, particularly in the commercial city of Aba. This is done in the name of urban planning and beautification while the fundamental issues concerning the welfare of the working people are left unaddressed.
To intensify the attack on the living condition of the suffering masses, the government introduced different extorting policies through levy, tax, fees etc. In Aba, heavy taxes are imposed on houses and shops in the name of Physical Planning and Infrastructural Development Fund. Worse still, the government does not use its legitimate machinery to collect these fees. It rather employs the services of thugs who do not only intimidate people but also wreak havoc in the process. A sanitation fee is forcefully collected from people who dispose wastes themselves in the nearest bush but have never set their eyes on a government waste bin van. Yet, there has been nothing fundamentally to show for the infrastructure levy collected from the masses.
In continuation of its attack on public education the state government embarked on a brazen mass privatization of public schools. This will deteriorate the condition of teachers through retrenchment by the private owners. In addition to privatized public school is the mushrooming of private school as a result of under-funding and neglect of public education. In other words, the private schools have developed to fill and exploit the vacuum created by the failure of government, though with ultimate aim of profit maximization. But the government which has abandoned education is out to make huge money off the private schools. The nursery and primary schools for instance have been asked to pay the whopping sum of N150, 000 per year or face closure. This attack has forced some of the affected proprietors to form a union known as Amalgamated Grassroots Union of Private Schools Owners AGUPSO. Sadly, on account of the failure of government to provide adequate and quality public schools as alternative to the private schools more of the burden of heavy taxation of AGUPSO will be borne by the parents, most of them with poor income.
It is therefore imperative for the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and pro-masses' organizations in Abia state to immediately begin to fight against the privatization of schools; agitate for the return of already privatized schools into public ownership and adequate funding of public schools to the extent of guaranteeing free and quality public education. It is this that will ensure that the children of the poor have access to quality education and discourage patronization of private schools. Unfortunately, the PDP government in Abia does not care about the poor. This is why it does not provide public education but heavily tax the private schools which are also patronized by the poor for lack of alternative.
However, this monumental failure and economic attacks are not peculiar to Abia state alone; it cuts across all the states of the federation irrespective of the political parties in power. All the capitalist parties are united against the working people and the poor. Already, many working masses are desirous of a radical change but are at loss on how to go about it. This was clearly demonstrated in our interaction with workers at May Day rallies particularly in River state. Some workers were exceptionally happy at the introduction of Socialist party of Nigeria (SPN) programme, manifesto and ideas. This shows that they are already tired of the present state of things.
But being tired alone is not the solution, identifying the actual cause of their misery is very important. The real cause of all these absurdities is the capitalist system of economy presently practiced in Nigeria and all over the world which is incapable of meeting the needs and aspirations of the people. This system of economy is ultimately responsible for the suffering of the working masses in the midst of plenty. Capitalism only guarantees the betterment of tiny 1% over 99%. The system alongside its methods of operation like privatization, commercialization, Public Private Partnership etc, are the fraudulent ways through which the tiny few enjoy to the detriment of majority. If there must be change, there must be system change. Ordinary change of political parties is not a fundamental step towards a genuine change. Unfortunately all the political parties in Nigeria today, the PDP, ACN, CPC, APGA, NNPC and even the new purported united opposition party APC, are not radically different in activities, program and mission. They all subscribe to the same anti-poor capitalist system of economy.
In the absence of a mass working people built on a socialist program, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) came up with the initiative of forming the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as the alternative party for workers, youths and the poor as a genuine path to bring about genuine change in Nigeria. The party aims to put an end to anti-poor capitalist policies and use the resources of the society for the benefit of the working people. The commanding heights of economy should be under public ownership with democratic control of the working people. This would ensure the mobilization of adequate resources for implementation of pro-working people program and massive infrastructure development. Elected and appointed political office holders on the platform of the party shall only earn the average salaries of the civil servants in addition to incidental expenses which are verifiable and donate the rest to the party and mass organizations of the working people. If the party (SPN) is in total control, savings from not paying jumbo salaries to political office holders shall be ploughed back for developmental programs. We therefore call on all change seeking Nigerians to join SPN for total and positive transformation of Nigeria.