A taste of worsening conditions in Nigeria

Everywhere we look in the world the same process is taking place, privatisation, cuts in welfare, cuts in pensions, job losses and so on. In Nigeria this IMF/World Bank-inspired anti-working class programme is being carried out by the Obasanjo regime. But the workers are fighting back. Here we provide a sample of articles from the Nigerian Marxist journal, the Workers’ Alternative and its programme to combat the regime effectively.

Nigeria - Support the Maritime Workers

By Akin Ojekunle

Oppose IMF/World Bank-inspired port reforms!

Oppose privatisation of the nation’s ports!

As the effects of the draconian IMF-inspired reforms continue to hit the lives of thousands of port workers in Nigeria, the real intentions of the advocates of the ongoing port reforms are clear to all. The Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, first gave the hint at a press conference at the beginning of the year [2005] of the intention of the government to sack 10,000 workers at the Nigerian Ports Authority among other anti-working class measures. So far, over 2,000 have been sacked and more are still to go.

As the anger of workers continues to mount, huge pressure is being placed on the leadership of the two main unions at the port – Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) and the Senior Staff Association of Utilities, Statutory Corporations and Government Owned Companies (SSAUSCGOC).

This accounts for the 14-day ultimatum issued by the two unions on September 23 and the one-day warning protests organized on Tuesday, October 4, 2005, which practically shut down the Lagos port.

In addition, the revolutionary contributions of the port workers to the September 14 NLC protest march in Lagos leaves no one in doubt that the port workers are one of the most militant groups of workers in Nigeria. Their slogan at the protest was “No to the privatisation of the ports”!

The pressure in the ports has been building up for the past few years and has been intensified over the past months. The October 4 protest gives a clear picture of the impending movement of the port workers in the immediate coming period. The protest went on in spite of the threats by the NPA management.

Top on the list of demands of the workers is the call for severance pay for workers already unjustifiably sacked, some of whom have put in over 30 years of service. Some months ago, workers who had put in about six years were sacked without any form of entitlement.

According to the unions, “the ultimatum and notice of spontaneous protests are based on the following specific issues: non resolution of labour issues as it affects: severance package of NPA staff whose continued employment may be affected by the port reforms; severance package of dockworkers that may be affected by the port reforms; unilateral foisting of arbitrary compulsory retirement age on NPA workers whereby patriotic and honest employees are forced to go on retirement without attaining the 35 years of service or 60 years of age as per the provisions of the NPA staff condition of service and our labour laws”.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the trade unions accept the IMF-inspired port reforms in principle; they do not have any viable alternative nor do they believe that there are alternatives to these criminal acts of the ruling elites. They keep on insisting on government involving them directly in the anti-worker reforms programme.

This accounts for why there is no clear challenge to the entire port reforms programme by the trade unions, except when workers push them into action. Even then, they try to limit the scope of the struggle. They have refused to call for an outright end to the reform programme in its entirety.

The so-called port reforms are not geared towards improving the situation at the ports but are to allow a few individuals and big corporations enrich themselves. The entire process is very corrupt and targeted at workers.

Workers must demand an immediate end to the IMF-inspired port reforms, oppose port privatisation, retrenchment, etc. The ruling elite are actually the people that ruined the ports. The past and present governments were responsible for the nomination of various government boards. Those that stole and mismanaged the ports are still in the corridors of power today.

Only workers can save the ports, through a workers’ regime nationalizing the ports and putting them under the democratic control and management of workers.


Nigeria - Sustained attacks on Education: Tuition Fees Now Back

By Ayo Ayodele in Lagos

It is becoming very clear by the day that it “would be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle” than for the children of the working masses to pass through a tertiary institution in Nigeria. All thanks to the sustained destruction of the education sector by the ruling elite.

As the crisis of neo-colonial capitalism deepens, so also the programme of shifting the entire burden of the crisis onto the heads of the masses via the IMF/World Bank inspired reform programs.

The effects of these programmes have been devastating on education, which has been on an exponential decline over the past years. It has been quite terrible within the past years under ‘civil rule’. From primary to secondary and tertiary levels, every thing has gone awry. Every time we think that we have seen the worst, a more terrible policy comes up.

Fees have been on the increase to an extent that higher education is getting out of reach for an average working class youth. There are now numerous cases of students withdrawing for lack of finance.

There are numerous fees – acceptance fee, sports levy, accommodation, health centre, registration, exam fee, lab fee, developmental levy, etc. These are no different from departmental associations’ levies, cost of handouts, etc. They go by many names.

To those who had the chance of going to school in the past, even in the early 1990s, these fees are quite strange. In spite of their introduction, the standards continue to plunge.

However, the situation is getting more hopeless with the formal reintroduction of tuition fees in Nigerian universities. The committee of unelected Pro-Chancellors of the 33 federal universities recently approved this among other anti-people policies, which also includes the fraudulent post-JME examination. The state universities too were not left behind. Already Lagos state has also announced introduction of tuition fees in its university. This is a mere formality as we can see; however, it means more increment of fees and more cuts in the funding of education.

For years, Nigerian students fought against the reintroduction of tuition fees. These fees were cancelled in the 1970s and 1980s because of the struggle of the Nigerian students. For some years, fees have been reintroduced under various guises, but the government was always scared of directly introducing tuition fees.

However, we are back in the dark days. Private universities are where the elite are sending their children. Public tertiary institutions have decayed and are still going down, again thanks to the IMF/World Bank policies.

As the situation is now, it is very difficult and getting impossible for average workers, rural and urban poor, to send their kids to school. A person with more than one child cannot afford to send them all to tertiary institutions at the same time. Without tertiary education, the chances of getting high or even average paying jobs are almost impossible.

The post-JME examination is also another major attack. In UNILAG [University of Lagos], for instance all candidates that scored over 220 in JAMB and applied to UNILAG were expected to take the exam, which cost each candidate N2,000. A candidate who applied to other universities but wants also to apply to UNILAG pays N10,000. It has been reported that the university conducted the exam for about 45,000 candidates and made over N90 million! All the universities have received the go-ahead to implement all these draconian programmes.

The Nigerian students have always fought against these mispolicies in spite of the terrible situation. Just last year, 2004, the Obafemi Awolowo [Ife] university management brought in mobile policemen who killed and maimed students during their struggle against school fees and victimization of student activists.

Unfortunately, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, the umbrella body of Nigerian students is under the control of right-wing opportunists who have sold out the students. The lack of a central fighting body made it easy for the Obasanjo regime to succeed with all these draconian mispolicies of the IMF, as the struggle of the students always became localized and therefore had no serious effect.

The NANS leaders are always too eager to give awards to various government officials, traditional rulers, rich men, etc., most of them known enemies of the masses. Most students know NANS leaders as very corrupt elements.

However, the attacks on education are not going to stop. The radicalisation of the mass of the Nigerian students is intensifying and they are drawing the conclusion that they have to fight to save their rights to education. The Nigerian students must transform their organisations, NANS and the various local students’ unions. This can be done by booting out these traitors and replacing them with militant class fighters who would not sell them out and would genuinely lead the struggle.

The situation in the education sector is bound to get continually worse. Students will be required to pay hundreds of thousands of Naira and this is impossible, as the masses cannot afford it.

The regime is also attacking the teaching and non-teaching staff as well as cutting funding. Salaries are not paid regularly and most tertiary institutions are in huge debt. In addition, the funds that come in are being stolen or mismanaged by the management the regime appointed.

The non-academic staff, lecturers and students must unite in the struggle to save education. Free and quality education is possible only when this system of neo-colonial capitalism is ended. Education must be made a right and not a privilege!


Sale of federal government houses rendering thousands homeless

By Ayo Ayodeji

Labour must defend workers’ right to housing!

Oppose sale of government houses!

Oppose forced ejection!

The independence anniversary gift Obasanjo had ready for the residents of 1004 flats, Bar Beach Towers and Eric Moore Towers was the expiration of the ultimatum the regime gave them to pack out of their apartments and move onto the streets or under the numerous bridges of Lagos.

The 1004 flats, Bar Beach Towers, and Eric Moore Towers have been sold to various business concerns. In the case of the Bar Beach Towers, the government claims that it had handed it over to the military. The Federal government houses in Ikoyi are now to go to the highest bidders soon. The houses are going for as much as N300 million!

In Abuja, the ultimatum was of a different kind. The government is selling all its living quarters but it claims that the current occupants would be given preference. Civil servants resident in government apartments are to come up with a non-refundable ten percent down payment for these apartments; they must pay up within the next 180 days or forfeit the deposit. Once they pay the apartment becomes theirs. So what is the problem?

The problem is that the cheapest of those apartments go for more than N7 million. A three bedroom flat goes for an average of N7 million and the cost of the apartment also depends on its location and not usually on the condition of the building. The prices of these apartments go for as much as over N400 million and not all of the high priced ones are for the ministers.

The highest paid civil servant is the president and he earns about N124, 000 a month, about N1.4 million per year! The asking prices of these apartments are usually equivalent to the wages of over 15 years and that is if the no kobo is removed. That is if the staff did not buy food, pay taxes… in essence if they died!

Civil servants were told by the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Minister Mallam El-Rufai to approach banks for mortgage loans. The way he explains it usually seems easy. “Just go to the bank with the documents of the apartment and the bank would give you the loan that you will later pay back,” he says.

The opinion of the man leading the government’s programme of rendering tens of thousands homeless in Abuja needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. El-Rufai is well known when it comes to carrying out any type of anti-people programme. He is one of the IMF’s most dependable agents.

He is very fond of saying that civil servants can afford the prices of these apartments and that civil servants are very rich people. Until date, he is yet to prove this concretely; not all civil servants are El-Rufai. To prove that civil servants are indeed rich people he should let the world know how much they earn. Only a small percentage of civil servants have access to stealing public funds. A civil servant that can afford these apartments is living above his means. Of course, there are some that are rich but what proportion are forced to live within the means?

Unaffordable

The fact that most of the residents cannot afford to buy is further confirmed by the fact that by the time the ultimatum had expired only about 5,000 applications had been received out of 16,000 apartments. The FCT minister confirmed this fact.

It is obvious that most cannot afford to have the additional burden of mortgage loans with high interest over their heads. In a situation where wages are not paid when due, where there are already numerous debts hanging over the heads of workers, etc, they know that they are bound to default on payment.

Monetisation and sale of government houses

About two years ago, the Obasanjo regime introduced the IMF-inspired programme of monetisation, a programme where government would have a hands off approach to programs like housing its staff, providing transportation, etc. Workers were to receive the allowance for these facilities and government was to dispose of these assets. They claimed that it would make the government more cost effective, efficient, etc; how, nobody knows.

The reality became clear after implementation. The allowances that were supposed to come with it did not come in most of the cases and the prices of government apartments first went up before their outright sale. The criminal intention behind this programme is to cut down on government spending on providing social services to its direct staff and letting market forces sort out its workers.

Crude Plundering

The process of selling of government houses further exposes the crudity of the Nigerian ruling elite and their greedy desire to plunder continuously the resources of the nation. It has been scandals all the way.

We must remember the cancellation of the first bidding of the houses at Ikoyi. The list of those who “won” the bids is a list of who’s-who in Nigeria. The then minister was sacrificed to cover up this scandal. The current minister continued from where the previous stopped.

The sale of the 1004 and Eric Moore flats is also a big scandal; they were recklessly sold at a ridiculous price in spite of the legitimate opposition of the residents. At present, there are numerous cases in court challenging the sale of these buildings.

The residents (made up mainly of civil servants) of these quarters have put up a determined struggle to save the homes over the past months. The regime has used all the tricks in the book to try get rid of them, but has failed so far.

Labour must take a stand

Unfortunately, the leadership of the three labour centres, NLC, TUC and CFTU, have not come to the aid of workers in these struggles. They have kept a safe distance away from the workers and residents; they have only paid lip service and have done nothing concrete. One would have expected them to lead the struggle of the workers in Abuja, Lagos and elsewhere against these draconian and corrupt measures. The intervention of the labour movement is very important now, as that is the only thing that can save workers as a whole from the hands of these plunderers.


What the Nigerian Marxists stand for

We stand for Socialist policies in the interests of the working people. Labour must lead the struggle to save society from the chaos the capitalist ruling class has created (and the bigger crises they will create) based on their economic and political policies.

For a halt and reversal of all IMF/World Bank inspired ‘reform programmes’ such as privatisation, deregulation, cuts in public spending, etc.

We stand against the privatisation of public corporations and utilities. Renationalise all sold or liquidated corporations like the Nigerian Airways, AP, etc.; reinstate all jobs lost due to this fraud ridden and hopeless programme. Labour must withdraw its membership and support of the National Council for Privatisation (NCP) and the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE).

For the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy, that is the take over of the oil companies, multinationals, banks and financial institutions, etc., and placing them under the democratic control and management of workers.

Against Obasanjo-Paris club false debt relief deal geared towards imposing more poverty and pain on the working masses. We stand for the outright cancellation of the fictitious foreign debts.

Against the highly hypocritical and witch-hunting anticorruption crusade that has no real effect, we stand for the trial and confiscation of the properties of all those who have stolen and mismanaged public funds.

For the payment of all outstanding arrears of pensions and gratuities to all workers nationwide and the abolition of all bureaucratic bottlenecks aimed at frustrating pensioners. And the abolition of the reformed pension scheme aimed at short-changing workers.

For an end to fuel price increases and the deregulation of the oil sector. For the nationalization of the entire sector.

For free and qualitative education at all levels. For the cancellation of all outrageous fees imposed on Nigerian students.

For free and qualitative health service for all. For National Health Service, free to all at the point of need.

For a N20,000 National Minimum Wage linked to the cost of living.

Build a mass workers’ party resting on the Trade Unions with a socialist programme. Labour leaders must break all links with the PDP and other bourgeois parties, and concentrate on building their own party.

Forward to a Federated Socialist States of Nigeria as a basis for a Pan-African Socialist Federated States, as part of a World Socialist Federation.