Angry, bitter and undeterred, hundreds of pensioners and activists rally in Lagos

If one were to describe the mood on Wednesday, April 10, at the protest rallies of pensioners held in Lagos, perhaps only just three words would suffice: “Angry, bitter and defiant!” This bitter mood was not just against the Federal and State governments many of whom owe pensioners backlog of arrears, but also against the lily-livered and seemingly perpetually betraying trade union leaders who called off the action on Tuesday April 9.

On January 28, the country was gripped with the horrifying news that John Yakubu Yusufu, a former director of Police Pension fund who had confessed to stealing at least N23.3 billion (147 million US$) of pension funds, was sentenced to some few years in jail but with an option of paying a fine of just N750, 000 (just 4,715 US$). This he promptly paid and walked free until a public outcry forced the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to re-arrest him. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) equally under enormous pressure announced in mid-March a call for a national mass protest on April 10. But a week to this D-day, they cut back this protest this down to work stoppage and protest just in Lagos and Abuja alone.

Abiodun Aremu, JAF Secretary, addressing the protesters, inluding pensioners and activists, as well as journalists at the rally

And now the shocker: on April 9, the very eve of the protest, the NLC and TUC called off everything. According to them, the federal government acceded to all demands a day before so there was no basis for going on with the protest. The NLC however in the April 9 communiqué of its Central Working Committee meeting announcing the cancellation of the protest threatened to “resume without warning the suspended action if by the end of April or there about, the Federal Government fails to implement all it has promised to do”. However the vast bulk of pensioners at federal and state levels who have been subjected to a lot of indignities vis-à-vis the mountains of unpaid arrears and non-implementation by government agencies of a series of increments on pensions that has been announced in the past ten years plus the generality of workers and labour activists will treat the current statement of NLC with huge, but justifiable, skepticism. Therefore, if the Labour leadership wants to be taken seriously about this new threat and show that this is not just another face-saving piece of hot air, they should begin immediately mass mobilization activities of workers and pensioners for an action by the end of April. This is imperative given the fact that from experiences the government will not fulfill its promise.

The July 20, 2011 midnight cancellation of a planned general strike over non-implementation of minimum wage after a purported agreement with government is still very much fresh in the memory of workers and labour activists. Despite that so-called agreement and the cancellation of the strike the legal minimum wage set two years ago in 2011 has still not been fully implemented anywhere in the country. Yet, the Labour leadership has not lifted a finger or mobilized the workers back to the trenches.

Babatunde Fashola, Lagos state governor, bans commercial motorcycle (okada) on roads in the state

Besides, the issue of unpaid pension does not affect the federal government pensioners, whom the purported agreement covers, alone. Therefore, the Labour leadership has simply, albeit shamelessly, hung the state government pensioners out to dry.

A pensioner who spoke to The Guardian newspaper gave a foretaste of the anger seen on Wednesday during the rallies. “Today is another sad day in my life. The first sad day was when I lost my wife. This crop of leaders at the NLC has brought nothing to the Labour movement other than disappointment and shame. After they failed to influence the price of fuel last year January, I thought this opportunity to demonstrate their solidarity with pensioners would be grabbed with both hands, but see how they have messed up everything. How can Labour leaders speak the truth when all they do is accepting chieftaincy titles everywhere?” (Guardian, Lagos, April 10, 2013).

Indeed, since the January last year general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal, increasing numbers of working class people and poor masses have had nothing but contempt for the Labour leaders.

But it takes being at the rallies that nevertheless went ahead on April 10 to better empathize with the pensioners. Two rallies were held in Lagos, one at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) secretariat in Yaba which started at around 8am and the other at the Civil Service Union Secretariat in Ikeja which kicked-off around 10.30am. Both these rallies were jointly organised by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) and the Joint Action Front (JAF).

Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary, addressing the rally

Old men and women, frail not really for their age but more because of their suffering, railed against a government that condemns its citizens to penury after retirement. Nojeem Ibrahim, the Chairman of the Lagos State Council of NUP, while addressing the rallies read out the pensioners’ demands. It included among other things payment of all pension arrears, review of pension payment to reflect 53.4% wage increase to workers in 2010 and the payment of N18, 000 (114 US$) minimum wage.

The condition of the pensioners aptly demonstrates the heartlessness of capitalism - a system which benefits a few on the bones of the mass majority. It also shows that the life of the working masses under this system is one of poverty and penury from cradle to grave. As comrade Segun Sango, the Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Protem Chairman of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), summed up everything in his speech at the rally “the struggle of pensioners is everyone’s struggle including young workers. You are like mirror showing every worker what their future would be like unless they fight to end capitalism!”

SPN supports pensioners

Instead of paying pensioners their due, the pension fund has become a slush fund for government officials to loot and for some private vampires to gamble with. Many pensioners have died after years of waiting for their pensions. When they are paid, the amount is often not enough to sustain the pensioners. Despite this, the governments owe several types of arrears.

This is why the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) is demanding that the private sector masquerading under the PFAs and PFIs be kicked out of pension administration. We believe pensions - essentially workers’ life-saving - are too sensitive for the private sector to be involved. We demand that workers through their elected representatives and government delegates control and manage the pension funds on their own.

Various placards displayed at the rallies carried several inscriptions: “provide jobs, not misery”, “Pay Our Pensions”, “Workers need their own party” among others. Members of the DSM circulated hundreds of leaflets calling for building the SPN. While solidarising with the pensioners, the SPN also used the leaflet to call for a 2-day general strike not only on pensions but also on non-payment of minimum wage, the planned subsidy removal, privatisation etc.

Nojeem Ibrahim, Lagos State Chair of NUP, reading out the letter to Lagos state governmnet on the plights and demands of pensioners

A big banner of the SPN was displayed at the rallies. Comrade Segun Sango used every opportunity to remind the pensioners that their suffering clearly demonstrates the injustice of the capitalist system and that a socialist alternative is needed. Pointing at the SPN banner, Segun Sango said “we need a workers and poor people’s government in this country. That is when we can have a situation where our collective wealth will be used to provide a decent existence for everyone whether old or young, worker or pensioner. This is why we have initiated the formation of the SPN to lead the movement to change Nigeria”.

The rallies ended with a one-month ultimatum issued on the Lagos State government by the pensioners to pay the backlog of their pensions. As JAF Secretary, Abiodun Aremu, declared “this is just the beginning!” The next protest, which everyone expects to be bigger, than this will come after the expiration of the ultimatum.

Old woman, 78, agonising over her plight and other pensioners at the rally

Below is the text of SPN leaflet circulated at the rallies.

BRING DOWN THIS GOVERNMENT OF LOOTERS!

FOR A 2-DAY GENERAL STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST

For A Democratic Government of the Working Class and Poor Masses!

Great Nigerian Working People!

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) fully supports the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to call for a protest on April 10 against pension fraud and mass looting of Nigeria’s resources by capitalist leaders. We believe this protest offers another opportunity for the working masses to show their anger and send a strong message to the corrupt and thieving capitalist ruling class that they would no longer tolerate unbridled looting of our collective wealth.

Just last year, we were told how big men and women oil marketers were stealing, with the aid of politicians, billions upon billions of our money through fictitious subsidy payment. Just few months into this year, we have already seen over and over again that that the whole anti-corruption crusade of the President Jonathan’s administration is just a ruse. The government does not only permit corruption, it encourages and even glorifies it.

In this same country where poor men and women are locked up in prison for many years for committing small criminal offences, a confessed pension thief Yakubu Yusufu who was a director in the Police Pensions Board stole a whopping N23.3 billion from the police pensions fund and yet was given an option of fine of just N750, 000. To fully confirm how entirely corrupt the entire government really is some weeks ago, Diprieye Alamieyesiegha who stole the money of Niger Delta people of Bayelsa State when he was the state governor, was granted a state pardon by President Jonathan. According to government spokespersons, he deserved the pardon because he has shown remorse! Is this right? Are poor men and women ever given state pardon for committing small offences? No! The entire money stolen by Alamieyesiegha alone is enough to begin to rebuild failed infrastructures in his home state of Bayelsa. Same goes for the N23 billion stolen by John Yakubu Yusufu. That amount alone means the condemnation of many would-be retirees and their families to terrible poverty and want.

For this and many other reasons, the April 10 protest is a welcome development. However the point has to be made that mass protests in Lagos and Abuja alone are not enough to even begin to effectively fight the daily corruption of the government. Also the pension scam is just one out of the many other issues affecting ordinary Nigerians today. These include non-payment of N18, 000 minimum wage, on-going privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) as well as obvious preparations by government to increase pump price of fuel under the guise of subsidy removal at any given opportunity. This is why we in the SPN call on the NLC and TUC to immediately follow up the April 10 protest with mobilisation for a 2-day general strike and mass protest across the country.

Perhaps nothing better demonstrates that all political parties in Nigeria represents the rich only than the refusal to implement the N18, 000 minimum wage agreement. Even in the states being governed by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and other opposition political parties, they are not paying the N18, 000 minimum wage. They say government does not have money to pay good salary for workers but just look at how politicians are stealing our money every day. The politicians and their business men and women friends are living big while the workers and ordinary Nigerians who work daily to survive are suffering. Also look at the condition of public education, electricity, hospital, roads and all other public infrastructures. Everything has collapsed! No good schools for our children. No good hospital. Thousands of University graduates have no jobs. Now on top of all these, Jonathan, with support of all capitalist parties including ACN, is saying he will remove the so-called fuel subsidy again so that the poor can pay more for fuel.

Indeed, everywhere the working people turn it is a brutal attack. For instance, in Lagos, okada operation has been banned on many roads, the use of tokunbo car for taxi operation has been outlawed, shops and houses are demolished without alternative or adequate compensation, university education has been taken out of the reach of children of the poor with imposition of exorbitant fees in Lagos State University (LASU), etc

The working masses have to be ready to fight again! The same way we fought in January last year, we have to be ready to fight even harder now not just against corruption but against the entire government, at all levels and their anti-poor policies. This is why the SPN believes that the April 10 protest has to be the beginning of a wider mobilisation that would involve general strikes and mass protests to fight all anti-poor capitalist policies and to bring down this government of criminals and looters.

Above all, the labour movement and the working masses have to recognise that the endemic corruption in Nigeria has its root in the unjust system of capitalism. It is only by fighting to put an end to capitalism that we can to root out corruption and ensure a more egalitarian running of society in such a way that our collective wealth can be used in the interest of the mass majority unlike under capitalism where only a tiny minority benefits . For this to happen, the workers and poor masses need their own political party to wrest political power from the corrupt ruling elites and establish a workers and poor peoples’ government which can, through socialist policies and in accordance to a democratic plan, begin to use our collective wealth to better the lives of the mass majority.

DEMANDS:

(1) Jail Yakubu Yusufu and all the pension looters!

(2) No to private sectors’ involvement in the management of workers pension. For workers to manage and safeguard their pensions on their own through their elected representatives and governments officials.

(3) Pay N18, 000 minimum wage now.

(4) Resist every attempt to increase fuel price

(5) For a two-day general strike to fight for the implementation of 18, 000 minimum wage and to resist all anti-poor policies like privatisation and fuel price hike

(6) For a mass working class political party to chase out the capitalist looters and establish a workers and poor peoples’ government that can run Nigeria in the interest of the majority

(7) For a socialist Nigeria run on the basis of collective ownership, democratic control and management of the economy by the working people themselves.

JOIN THE SPN TODAY

My country people! Are you angry with the condition of things in Nigeria? Are you annoyed with the corruption of the looters we call our leaders? Are you angry that more than 28 million youths of our country have no jobs? What about the issue of electricity, does it vex you? Do you feel angry that in this country, those who work suffer while some who because they are highly placed and privileged and hardly work get rich? What about the fact that over 70% of Nigerians are poor, does it vex you? Do you feel things are not going on well in this country? Do you want change? A radical change that will bring to power a poor people government that can ensure that Nigeria’s huge human and natural resources is used to benefit all of us.

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) is a new political party. If you are a worker, market man or woman, okada rider, bus driver and conductor, student/youth, trader, fisherman, artisan etc., in short if you are a poor Nigerian, the SPN is your party. It is a party that will represent your interest. It is a party that will join you to fight against oppression. This is your party. Other political parties represent only the interests of the rich but the SPN is the only political party that stands for the interest of workers and poor Nigerians.

Join SPN today so that together we can fight to bring change to our dear country. Change can only come when all poor men and women, workers, students, traders, fishermen in Nigeria come out to say No to Oppression and Yes to Socialism!

OUR MANIFESTO

If you join us and our candidates are voted into office, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) will bring a lot of changes to this country. This will include:

PUBLIC SERVICES

(a) Free, publicly run, good quality education, available to all at any age.

(b) Free medical care for all.

(c) Provision of welfare benefits for the unemployed, sick and elderly

(d) Ensure workers, youth and women participation in the day to day policy making/implementation program of our nation

(f) Youth empowerment, infrastructural/capital development and eradication of poverty.

WORK AND INCOME

(a) Monthly minimum wage of N50, 000 with periodic increases to match the rate of inflation.

(b) Opposition to retrenchment and casualization. A decent job on a living wage for those that need job while unemployment benefits are paid to those yet to get employed.

(c) Living pension for retired workers .Opposition to private pension scheme. Democratically-run pension funds administration committees having elected representatives of workers and pensioners.

(d) Scrap the anti-trade union laws! For fighting trade unions democratically-controlled by their members. Full-time union leaders to be regularly elected and receive no more than a worker’s wage.

ENVIRONMENT

(a) Provision of adequate and efficient drainage system and well-planned housing policies to prevent flooding

(b) Stop oil pollution and gas flaring. We shall not hesitate to take legal and political actions against any company causing oil pollution or flaring gases

(c) We shall ensure immediate and comprehensive clean-up of all polluted farmlands, fishing ponds/rivers and water as well as pay adequate compensation to victims of pollution

(d) We shall also to pursue environmental policies that can fully guarantee the safety of lives, water, farmlands, fishing ponds/rivers and ensure food security. This will include the public ownership of the oil sector under public democratic control and management

ECONOMY

Public ownership of the country’s vast resources and wealth including oil and gas, banks and nationalization of all other commanding heights of the Nigeria economy under the democratic management and control of the workers/experts, community people to ensure accountability and transparency in order to adequately utilize the resources to meet the needs of all in terms of providing adequate housing, education, health, good roads and other basic infrastructure.

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