• School Fees, Non-payment of Salaries
by John Cliff
For several months, Osun State workers have been subjected to starvation due to the failure of government to pay their salaries. These problems started at the tail end of Goodluck Jonathan’s regime with the plunge in crude oil prices (and the huge sums spent by both major parties on the elections).
The several loans that Osun State Government obtained were used to embark upon white elephant projects. These were contracted with party members who siphoned away state funds. They were also used to directly compensate party loyalists with appointments which are paid jumbo salaries.
In spite of the untold hardship that Osun State workers were subjected to, they still maintained some level of calmness. This was partly due to the arguments put forward by Governor Aregbesola and the APC that the Federal Government had refused to pay its allocations because of the then opposition position of the State Government.
In short, working people were dissuaded from taking concrete action against this malady in the hope that things would change for better with the coming of the APC Federal Government.
This notion was blatantly expressed by one of the labour union leaders who said in his May Day speech that Osun people should pray for Aregbesola and the newly elected president so that they would have the power to take necessary actions.
But within a few months after Buhari assumed power, it became apparent to the workers that the undoing of Aregbesola was not premised upon the callousness of Jonathan, as claimed. But it was due to the mismanagement of state funds and the diversion of public funds to private use by the tiny elite of the State.
The bail out loan from the Central Bank was not used to pay workers their salaries. Rather Governor Aregbesola introduced the anti-worker policy making everyone pay N4,000 before their children could stay in public schools. This irrational policy stirred up protests, especially in the secondary schools.
Osogbo high school children took the leading light by embarking on protests to reject this policy. Their demanded that Aregbesola pay their parents before imposing such taxes. Following their protest the state government embarked on massive propaganda against the protesting students, describing them as rogues and vandalizers of public property. These did not deter students from continuing action against this hideous policy. Indeed, the technical students followed suit and joined the struggle.
There was also an outburst of anger from the Osun State workers who had not received any money for several months. This anger was vented by the immediate suspension of work by Osun State tertiary institution workers with the unity of trade unions, such as CASUTI, ASSUP and COESU.
The tertiary institutions’ students equally played a key role in bringing down this policy by embarking upon massive protests which triggered arrests of student activists, threats of victimization etc.
The state then called for negotiations and the workers agreed to suspend their strike. This brought temporary calm. But the looming questions are: can the Governor escape collisions with the workers with his neo-liberal policies? What should be the future actions of the workers?
CASUTI recently gave some indications with their press statement. This denounced the State Government’s current policy of the marginalization of some schools. So the struggles for workers to be paid and the ending of school fees will continue.