For a Genuine Working People’s Alternative Now
Governorship election will come up in Osun State on 9th of August 2014. The ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which is seeking extension of tenure of the current governor, Rauf Aregbesola will be contending with a similarly pro-rich, reactionary party that is ruling at the federal level, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). PDP’s candidate is Iyiola Omisore. Some other contestants are Fatai Akinbade, a former PDP stalwart and former secretary of the ousted Oyinlola government, who is contesting on the platform of Labour Party and Mr. Segun Akinwusi, a former head of service contesting under Social Democratic Party (SDP. One thing that is common to these parties and contestants is their pro-rich, anti-poor policies and dispositions.
Aregbesola government uninspiring
The incumbent governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, in an interview with Vanguard newspaper published on July 11, 2014, painted a picture of a rosy Osun State under his administration. Nothing can be farther from the truth. In reality, the policies of the Aregbesola government – a government that rode to power on the back of huge support of the mass of people – have mostly been elitist and anti-poor. Working and oppressed people are made to suffer for various policies that are at best cosmetic, but in most cases anti-poor.
For instance, while Mr. Aregbesola is strutting around towns for his campaign, students of tertiary institutions in the state are kept away from schools for over five months running, no thanks to the failure of the government to meet the genuine demands of the striking workers in the institutions. These demands include proper funding of infrastructures in the institutions, and employment of more teaching staff, to cover for chronic shortfall of teaching staff in the institutions. Meanwhile, according to the propaganda machine of the government, the government has improved education in Osun State to ‘global standard’.
While the government claimed to have rebuilt about thirty schools, reportedly committing as much as N14 billion to the projects, several hundreds of schools are still in deplorable state, with hardly any functional teaching facility. In fact, just four, out of the over thirty new schools the government claimed to have built have been completed. If it took the government four years to build four schools, how many years, will government need to rebuild most of the schools? In the name of rebuilding schools, the government closed down and destroyed hundreds of schools, reducing the number of primary and secondary schools in the state from over 2, 100 (two thousands and one hundred), to 900 (nine hundred) schools. A terrible example is the Fakunle High School, Osogbo, a school with enrolment of over 3, 000 students, which was demolished to pave way for a shopping mall! This has caused untold hardship to parents and pupils. In many instances, pupils have to transit by many kilometers to get to their ‘new’ schools. This policy of school merger has disoriented the school system, leading to overcrowding of existing schools and ineffective monitoring of students.
Worse still, the conditions of the schools the pupils were transferred to, are as terrible as the ones they left. This has made many reactionary pundits to demand that the schools that were originally owned by missionary be returned to them. We in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) reject this reactionary demand of return of schools to their previous (missionary) owners who had been fully compensated when the schools were taken over by the government in 1970’s. This demand if granted will deny poor parents and their children access to education, as these schools will be priced out of the reach of poor and working class parents. Worse still, it will lead to dislocation of education system, as each school will introduce its own policy without governmental control. It also has the tendency of leading to divisive acrimony, especially along religious line. For instance, it will be difficult for students of other faiths and religious beliefs to attend Christian/Muslim missionary schools, where religious ethics will be enforced. This, at a period of deep social and political crises, can generate dangerous religious crises. We, on the contrary, demand free education at all levels, massive renovation and rehabilitation of schools and democratic running of schools by elected representatives of teachers students, parents, and the communities. Inasmuch as we are opposed to the Aregbesola government’s merger policy, we consider return of schools to missionary owners as a horrible alternative.
The Aregbesola government has also claimed that it has distributed educational computer tablets, called “Opon Imo” to students. While the SPN supports any effort to improve education, we consider this policy, without basic improvement in school facilities, as painting a dilapidating house. More than this, the Opon Imo tablet has become another drainpipe for the state. According to government sources, each tablet costs over N50, 000, which is almost a double of the market value. Besides, the tablets, as against the lies of the government, have no textbooks, but mere teaching notes written by some teachers. Besides, it was not every student that got the tablets as against the propaganda of the government when the project was launched.
Farcically, the teachers were neither trained in the use of the tablet nor given personal copies. This has meant that the students are disconnected from their teachers. It is simply impossible for any meaningful knowledge to be impacted on students with “opon imo” in such situation. It is incredulous that the Aregbesola government has turned computer tablets, which should serve as mere learning aids, as substitute to practical teaching and education. Laboratories, libraries, etc are hardly available. There is chronic shortage of teaching staff in schools. Yet, government claims to have improved education. It is thus not accidental that public education has nosedived with students becoming disoriented, teachers demoralized by these anarchical education policies.
Expensive Contract System
While we in DSM will welcome any improvement in social infrastructures, no matter how little, we are quick to point out the futility of piecemeal approach and capitalist manner of such policies. For instance, with Public Works Ministry properly equipped and developed, N14 billion reportedly handed over to big time contractors for the rebuilding of 30 schools could have been used to reconstruct hundreds of schools, to standard. More than this, it will lead to decent and secure employment for thousands of young people, as against handful of part time and casual jobs the contractors offered in order to maximize profit. This also applies to road construction, where several billions of naira has been expended on limited stretches of road. The over N10 billion reportedly used to construct some hundred kilometers of inner township roads, could have been used to construct several hundreds of kilometers of roads, if the contracting system had not been entrenched. Today, the Ministry of Works, and its professional staffs have been rendered idle, as their jobs have been contracted out. Thus, it will not be surprising when the government starts using the excuse of redundancy to retrench workers.
School Feeding Program and School Uniforms
The governor in the Vanguard newspaper interview mentioned the school feeding programme as one of the success stories of the government. Of course, one will readily welcome and support any initiative that tends to reduce the burden on poor parents and improve the lives of poor kids. However, this programme, which was started by Oyinlola government, is not all that a rosy story. The so-called jobs being provided for the cooks working for the school feeding programme hardly provide them with living wage, yet big time contractors, who supply materials for the programme, continue to amass wealth.The cooks are only expected to gain marginal profits from materials provided for the school feeding programme. This can lead to cutting of cost at the expense of quality of foods. One would have expected the government to employ cooks and place them on living wage. More than this, we will expect the government to state how it will resolve pervasive poverty that has made parents unable to feed and clothe themselves and their kids.
While the APC government is committing public resources to lining the pockets of the rich and politicians, working people are being squeezed under the guise of financial prudency. The Aregbesola government gave almost one billion naira of public fund, under the guise of giving free school uniforms to pupils, to a private business to set up a garment factory in the state. However, some months after the so-called free school uniform programme, poor parents are now being forced to procure the same school uniforms from the private garment factory (which now has the monopoly of producing public school uniforms) at more than double the price of former school uniforms. This has caused an untold hardship to poor parents.
Pensioners and OYES
While politicians are earning millions as salaries and allowances, working people are made to go through hell to get their basic incomes. A case in point is that of thousands of retirees who are still owed several months of pension arrears; while no gratuity has been paid since the current government emerged almost four years ago. Worse still, many workers have been pushed into the exploitative Contributory Pension Scheme that hands over workers’ pensions to private pension managers, who pay workers peanuts but earn huge profits from them. To add insult to injury, the government has refused to remit its contribution to this fraudulent pension scheme, thus denying many retirees of their meagre entitlements.
The so-called employment scheme government established under Osun Youth Employment Scheme (OYES), where twenty thousand young people were purportedly employed, has been nothing but rip-off. The volunteers, aside being paid peanuts of less than ten thousand naira as salaries, are denied any democratic right including regularization of job, accident allowances, retirement opportunity or right to unionization. Worse still, those employed are to be disengaged within two years. Already, the first batch of the volunteers have been disengaged, many of them returning to the streets.Yet, there is a huge shortfall in the civil and teaching services due to mass retirement of thousands of workers.
No Viable Alternative
As terrible and anti-poor as ruling Aregbesola/APC government is the PDP and its candidate Iyiola Omisore constitutes a horrible alternative. The PDP ruled the state for seven and half years, three and half years of which was illegally gotten through a rigged election. The seven and half years of PDP were years of the locusts, as every facet of social services and public infrastructures plummeted. There were serial attacks on workers and students’ rights. The state university established by the Oyinlola/PDP government was made exclusively for the children of the rich with school fees as high as N200, 000, even when the state government hardly implemented the then public sector minimum wage of N11, 000. The party, PDP has been ruling the country since its emergence in 1999, yet more people are living in penury than ever. This is in spite the fact that the country has earned unprecedented wealth reportedly running to over $600 billion.
The party’s candidate, Iyiola Omisore, who has been in politics since 1999, is part of this rotten politics. He was a former deputy governor between 1999 and 2003, and the first major event associated with him was mismanagement of millions of naira meant for water treatment and supply. He was fingered, but later acquitted of the murder of former Justice Minister, Bola Ige. He is a two-time senator, whose elections were fraught with violence. As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation between 2007 and 2011, he oversaw enactment of budgets that denied young people of education, destroyed social services and handed public wealth to the rich few. Therefore, his candidature has nothing to do with improving the lots of the working people, but to use growing disillusionment of poor people with the current government to access power and implement worse anti-poor, pro-rich policies. He has never been identified with any pro-working people policy. For instance, in his recent interview in Guardian newspaper, his alternative to the backward school merger of Aregbesola government is privatization of education through return of schools to their former owners.
However, based on general disillusionment with the Aregbesola government, some workers and oppressed people are already looking in the direction of Omisore. This has been given boost by the recent victory of Ayo Fayose/PDP in Ekiti State governorship elections. This is like moving in a vicious cycle. The same mass of people implacably opposed the almost eight years of PDP rule, and struggled, even at the cost of their lives, to have Aregbesola elected as governor. Yet, less than four years, many sections of the populace are disenchanted with the government. This clearly underscores the urgent need to build a new mass working people’s party with clearly socialist programmes. This is what the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) stands for. There is tendency for a mass disillusionment in all the contestants, which may lead to voters’ apathy, thus allowing major bourgeois parties to rig, where they have opportunity and strength.
The other capitalist candidates like the Labour Party’s Fatai Akinbade and Social Democratic Party’s SegunAkinwusi (immediate past Head of Service in the state) have no fundamentally different résumé from APC and PDP candidates. They were part of the rottenness associated with current and past administrations. Akinwusi was Head of Service for eight years under Oyinlola and Aregbesola. He was the brain behind the fraudulent Contributory Pension Scheme that has led to dislocation of careers and worsening living conditions of many workers and retirees. Akinbade was Secretary to Oyinlola government for eight years, superintending over several anti-poor policies of the government. Indeed, the emergence of these yesterday men, including Omisore, aside being a product of lack of viable working class and socialist alternative, is a reflection of the failure of the Aregbesola government, whose four years have not engendered any serious improvement in people’s lives.
If Aregbesola wins the coming governorship election, it will only mean consolidation of anti-poor regime and further diversion of public funds to private contractors, political patrons and political office holders. On the contrary, in the event that the opposition PDP defeat Aregbesola, it will mean emergence of another, possibly worse, scoundrel in power. Surely, the next four years will be years of mass struggle of working and oppressed people against one government’s anti-poor policy or the other. The need to rebuild working people’s mass organizations like trade unions, student movement, community movements, etc. is more urgent now than ever. Unfortunately, many labour union leaders, in search of filthy lucre, have turned themselves into pawns of various politicians. Moreover, there is the need to start the process of building a new working and poor people’s political platform as an alternative to all anti-worker and anti-poor parties. This is where the SPN stands.
Alfred Adegoke Kola Ibrahim
State Chairperson State Secretary