On Monday 17 May, 2021, Kaduna State workers commenced a 5-day warning strike. The Monday action received popular support from the workers as they down tools in many state institutions and facilities. The workers, led by Ayuba Wabba, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), defied the El-Rufai threat and courageously marched against poverty, hunger and insecurity in Kaduna State.The strike action was declared by the NLC against the sacking of 4,000 state workers by the El-Rufai-led Kaduna State government in April, 2021.
It is on record that in the past 6 years of El-Rufai as the Kaduna State governor, well over 30,000 workers have been sacked in the state. And yet many of these workers from 2016 have been denied their terminal benefits. It is thus very much on point when on Monday, workers carried a large banner that reads “Hell Rufai Stop Poverty, Hunger and Insecurity; Stop the Mass Sack; Respect Workers and Human Rights”.
The Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai is notorious for socioeconomic attacks on working-class people. He has a terrible history of being the neoliberal goldenboy in Nigeria. When he was the director of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) between 1999 to 2003, he supervised the privatization of important State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) such as Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), Nigeria Airways, Unipetrol Nigeria and privatization transactions like Ajaokuta Steel and Aluminum Smelting Company (ALSCON).
All of these privatised SOEs did not just fail, the failed prro-rich people policies which informed their privatisation has persistently contributed to economic crisis Nigeria often slipped into.
The neoliberal policies which Nasir El-Rufai now furthers as the Kaduna State governor with illegitimate mass sack and wages reduction, have impoverished the people and left the state’s economy worse off. And the structural reforms have led to greater accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few elites which Nasir El-Rufai is a lead figure of.
Beyond the mass sack of state workers, the Kaduna State government is making moves towards converting grade level 1 to grade level 6 workers into casual workers. Kaduna State is perhaps plunged into its worst socioeconomic crisis since its creation, with unceasing cases of kidnapping and banditry. Poor farmers and women, particularly within Southern Kaduna are regular victims of physical attacks and killings.
These are manifestation of the El-Rufai-led government’s failure which is an extention of the failure of global capitalism. The anti-workers state policies of the government has compounded the crises in Kaduna State. Clearly the position of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE) as contained in its May Day statement that, mass sack of workers since 2015 is responsible for insecurity in Kaduna and neighboring states, is very much on point.
Kaduna State Government’s Reaction
As the day for the commencement of the strike action drew nearer, government out of desperation the state attempted to demonize and demobilize the strike on one hand. And on the other made efforts towards patronizing some sections of working-class people in the state.
At a press conference organized by the Kaduna State Government (KDSG) on 15 May, it was mentioned that the government plans to its reform public services and “rightsize” civil servants and other workers delivering public services, in response to fiscal headwinds. The fact remains that workers are poorly remunerated in Nigeria, with a meager N30,000 for a minimum wage. Kaduna State also has one of the worst employment indices in Nigeria with over 45% unemployment rate and less down 100,000 public services workers according to official statements.
By implication it cannot be workers’ salaries that is burdening state economy. It is definitely the bogus salaries of political office holders in the executive and state assembly. The neoliberal model of public work allocations through contracts (instead of directly by the ministries) that’s largely responsible for the shrinking state finances, while elite business people make loads of money in profit. The cost of operating and managing political offices is too huge, the political office holders must be placed on salary equivalent to average workers salaries.
Also if the El-Rufai-led state government is committed to the welfare of the generality of the working-class people in Kaduna State, he should make a total departure from neoliberalism. In the press text released on 15 May by KDSG, it was mentioned that the state governor will not attend to 100,000 people while ignoring the larger public welfare of 10 milion citizens. That was an attempt by the state government to pit different sections of the working-class against each other with the erroneous and mischievous misrepresentation of the working-class as the 1percenters.
On Monday, Muda Lawal, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) led some of the leadership of the Labour center to the Kaduna State Head of Services, while workers were taking action on the streets against poverty and insecurity. We and I dare say many workers find the visit which wasn’t informed by any democratic discussion within the federation as a disservice and abberation to the traditions of working-class struggle. Cadres of Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) have earlier called the leadership of TUC to extend solidarity to the Kaduna State public services workers, in the light of current development we thus insist that TUC must issue a solidarity statement and its affiliates must join the ongoing strike according to their capabilities.
The action that commenced on Monday is a success not only because it held but that it will go a long way to rebuild workers confidence in the trade union movement. But it is not yet Uhuru. In a statement published by the state government in its immediate aftermath, it was stated that the KDSG won’t reverse the sack of 4,000 workers and is hell bent on implementing neoliberal reforms in the public services.
Of course we know that is part of the last tactics of desperate and insensitive capitalist elements in power. What that means for us is to continue the action. It is equally important that organized Labour declares a 3-day nationwide strike because the socioeconomic attack on workers is not peculiar to Kaduna State. About 16 State governments are yet to implement the ₦30,000 minimum wage, and the Federal Government is making attempts to reduce workers salaries too.
All of those are enough justification for us to wage struggle for workers to win political power through our mass action. Mass organized action of the working people remains the potent path to our self-liberation and establishing an alternative social-economic and political order based on social justice, equity and the all-round development of all.
by Lai BROWN