Written by Workers' Alternative Sunday, 29 March 2009 12:05
The Nigerian teachers under the aegis of the NUT have been on strike to back up their demands for a Teachers' Salary Scale (TSS), a demand that has been raised for about 20 years. This same demand was agreed to by the government in 2003, but up till now has never been signed. One significant aspect of this strike is the overwhelming support it is presently enjoying from the public. Almost all bourgeois newspapers put the public support at a huge 88% of the population. This is a magnificent response and a major source of inspiration for the teachers.
Suffice it to say, this present strike has thrown up a lot of troubling questions. If the demand has been raised for 20 years ago, why is the NUT saying enough is enough now? What is responsible for this marvellous public support and can it be sustained? What must the NUT do to win this battle once and for all? These are the questions to be tackled by this write-up and most importantly to solidarise with the father of all professions.
Why the Strike Now?
The demand for a TSS has been in the forefront of the teachers' demands since 1988, but what is peculiar about the present period that has pushed teachers go on a full blown action to actualise this demand?
Despite the fact that Nigeria is reaping in colossal amounts of income from oil, about $300 billion in the last 20 years, despite the fact that revenue from oil continues to break all the previously recorded figures, the majority of Nigerians are still very poor. Over 77% of Nigerians are living on less than $1 per day. Life expectancy in Nigeria has dropped from 53 last year to 47 this year. The big question in the mind of every Nigerian remains, "where has this wealth gone?"
Over $16billion allegedly spent on power generation cannot be accounted for, over N300billion has been siphoned off from the Education Ministry alone, Health, Works and Housing and all major ministries are just spending public money as if nobody will ever bring them to account. The travelling allowance for the presidency alone is over N650million per annum, out of which over 75% has already been spent and a bill is being prepared to ask for more.
There is no way the Nigerian working class in particular, and the Nigerian masses in general, will forever tolerate this unbearable exploitation by the Nigerian ruling class. Not only the teachers, but all the Nigerian masses are just fed up with this mafia-like, inept, and extremely corrupt Nigerian ruling class. The teachers are taking the lead, but this strike is everybody's strike against the oppressive Nigerian ruling class.
Why the overwhelming public support?
Nigerian ruling class is not only siphoning off the newly generated wealth; it is freely and cheaply distributing among themselves our collective properties built up by the past generations. The only policy they know is privatisation and social disintegration. To justify this policy before the public, they need to ruin the public institutions and parastatals.
According to this logic, public education must be made completely useless; public health must be destroyed, for no other reason than to justify their surrendering to private profit-seeking and greedy individuals. Almost 100% of the Nigerian ruling class attended public (state) schools and yet they are unanimous in their determination to destroy them.
The overwhelming majority of Nigerians instinctively understand the mission of the Nigerian ruling class and this explains why they are presently massively supporting the teachers. Over 88% of the public who support the teachers are the ordinary workers who want free and compulsory education at all levels and the intellectuals who still remembered the higher quality of Nigerian education some time ago.
Who then constitutes the remaining 12%? They are the President, the Governors, the Commissioners, the Kings and all their hangers-on. Of what benefit is free and compulsory quality education to them? To them only their children should have access to quality education; to them only their children should have the requirement to replace them in their privileged positions. He or she who wants a just and better Nigeria, will definitely support the teachers.
What must the teachers do to win?
First and foremost, this tremendous public support must be sustained at all cost. How do we achieve this? Public interest must be recognized. The demand should go beyond the TSS. The present struggle can only be won as a struggle to save the whole of public education in Nigeria from total collapse. It must be seen as a struggle for quality public education, for free and compulsory education at all levels, for the right to organise trade unions and for better working condition for private school teachers, for a decent minimum wage for all Nigerian workers. No hope must be placed in any Obas (Kings) or any member of the ruling class, for their interest is obviously against the public interest.
To expect the Nigerian ruling class to save our public education is to expect the lion to eat grass. It is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle, than for Nigerian ruling class to improve health facilities, to develop social infrastructure and make life meaningful for the average Nigerian. This task is for the Nigerian working class to carry out. The permanent solution can only be won when the teachers, together with the Nigerian working class as a whole, take power into their own hands through a party of the working class with a socialist programme. This is possible and it is the only alternative we have towards achieving a more decent Nigeria. The process has already started with this strike; we must sustain the tempo and elaborate it beyond the immediate demands.
Dare to struggle, dare to Win!