Emmanuel Adikwu, Organizing Secretary, CDWR
11 October 2006
About 500,000 workers have been penciled down for retrenchment if plans to that effect by the Obasanjo-led government succeed. Undoubtedly, this will go down in history as a testimony to its anti-poor pro-rich “reform” programmes. Among these “reform’s” gains are the privatisation or give away of public corporations, houses, schools etc, debt buy back, ceaseless foreign trips by the president, looting of public funds, corruption in grand style; now hundreds of thousands of families are threatened with even worse poverty.
As a policy the Obasanjo government has repeatedly told whoever cares to listen that, “government has no business being in business”. And it thus creates basis for the give away or conversion of public corporations to private or corporate businesses for peanuts. This is at the expense of the poor working masses, whose future and that of their teeming dependants are constantly jeopardized as a result of the harsh economic condition arising from the IMF/ World Bank inspired counter-reform programme being implemented by the government.
While wishing, and doing everything possible to give public assets and even more profit making opportunities to his friends and imperialism, President Obasanjo ignores how these policies permanently impoverish and oppress the Nigerian masses. Arrogantly Obasanjo justified this in one of his speeches when he stated, “The sufferings being borne by the masses today is to pave way for enjoyment tomorrow.” But the reality on ground has countered any semblance of goodwill in that statement.
Let us for instance look at the various increases in pump price of petroleum products by the government geared towards providing more funds for government. Each time this leads to adverse increase the prices of goods and services along with the attendant hyperinflation that follows. The poor and oppressed workers are worst hit especially because the basic necessities of life are gradually becoming luxuries that are only within the grasp of the super rich.
These same poor and oppressed workers that have borne the brunt of the ruthless reform being implemented by the Obasanjo government are faced with this unjust and inhuman 500,000-person sack. If it sails through, it will be the highest singular sack of workers in one fell swoop in Nigerian history by any government. The reasons given for the mass sack is that there are 1.5 million civil servants in the country and their emoluments are too much of a financial burden to the nation. And also, that the bloated civil servants consume 45 per cent of funds available for development, through recurrent expenditure, leaving only a little to spend on provision of services and infrastructure.
The sales of public corporations are explained away to factors such as inefficiency. Yes, but in reality these corporations have long been neglected and under funded and hindered by government bureaucracy. The little funds that are able to be attracted are either mismanaged or stolen by thieving administrators and their cronies who think it is business as usual. To date, some of these corporations are being owed several millions by other establishments and powerful individuals. Ordinarily, if such millions are reinvested in these corporations together with adequate funding, a whole lot of difference will be made in terms of good remuneration to motivate its workforce, as well as the procurement and maintenance of equipment and facilities so as to be able to provide qualitative services to the millions of people that depend on these services on a daily basis.
Of all those responsible for the malfunctioning or collapse of such corporations, none has been prosecuted. Instead, they celebrate mediocrity and institutionalize corruption; more than half of public wealth is being wasted on luxuries of government officials at the expense of everything that will revamp our economy that is in shambles. But the attendant hardship that emanates from a sick economy is easily shifted and placed on the heads of poor workers and their dependants through untold hardship and sufferings that comes from high billing and poor services being rendered by these corporations. This is coupled with the unjust sack that usually follows the privatisation of such corporations.
These reforms have further subjected the masses to unmitigated, excruciating poverty in the midst of plenty. There is no provision of social welfare for the teeming population of unemployed that is steadily on the rise as our schools turn out certificate holders and graduates from various fields, added to retrenched civil servants, skilled and unskilled laborers etc that are in the labor market searching for unavailable jobs.
The few employed workers, and those sacked recently are tied to family members and friends who depend on them for survival, even on the peanut being paid to them as salary by government and private employers. The pay package is barely enough for the feeding, while other pressing needs like house rent, transportation, children maintenance and school fees, electricity bill etc must have to be taken care of by the meager N7.500 salary, that could barely take care of a kid.
Long gone are the days that poor workers were able to afford a decent meal, as a course of three square meals have become a luxury instead of a necessity for a productive healthy life; as such could only be afforded by the rich. But the reform continues to bite harder on the poor and oppressed masses, as public schools have collapsed, decent- affordable houses are non-existent, roads are generally bad, electricity is epileptic and most times non-existent, food is relatively expensive, social infrastructures are scarce if ever available, the list is endless.
NITEL and the Nicon Hilton Hotel were sold to Transcorp for far less than they are worth. Transcorp is a private investment group in which President Obasanjo is a major shareholder along with other politicians and businessmen of questionable financial means. If politicians that oversee the public wealth, now use these public wealth to buy public properties in the name of privatisation and are still in control of the wealth that was used to buy such properties; one is forced to ask the rhetorical question: “what sort of mathematical equation is that?”
On this basis, if a popular opinion poll is carried out; the vast majority of the masses that constitute over 90 per cent of the population will support a reform programme that will create millions of jobs, public funded qualitative education for all, good services and qualitative social amenities, public funded qualitative health care etc. With the fabulous wealth accrued to the government in addition to the human and huge natural resources available in Nigeria – it is possible to make Nigeria the pride of Africa if the political and economic structures are democratically run and managed by workers and poor peoples democratic representatives; Or in other words, a workers’ and poor peoples’ government is enthroned.
For any meaningful gains to be achieved now and in future, it is imperative for labour and civil society organizations to provide a formidable platform for a mass movement that could transform the society. This impending unjust exercise that will throw about 500,000 poor workers and their teeming dependants into a cataclysmic social liquidation has provided an opportunity, albeit unfortunate, for the beginning of a serious fight back by working people. First and foremost, Labour and Civil Society must immediately condemn this proposed unjust sack exercise, and commence mobilization of rank and file workers along with the general public, through press releases, leaflets, rallies etc aimed at launching a concerted campaign with a workable programme to stop this retrenchment and build a movement that can wrest political power from this crop of corrupt politicians.
Various far reaching demands should be made, amongst which should be:
2.An immediate end to privatisation of public properties
3.A call for the probe of all monies realized from the excess crude earnings.
4.A public probe of the unwholesome sales of public properties.
5.Probe into how the recovered loots both in Nigeria and in foreign banks were expended.
6.Probe into the funds generated from telecommunications and other licenses etc.
7.The nationalisation of all the commanding heights of the economy and resources of nature to enable the democratic drawing up of a plan to use the country’s resources in the interests of working people and the poor, not the profits of the rich and imperialists.