From February 2018 to May 2019, four women have died at HMP Styal. Who cares?

“In the United Kingdom, forty per cent of sentenced women serve three months or less, and yet somehow manage to `harm themselves’ at a rate of three incidents per inmate. Women prisoners’ self harm is neither epidemic nor outbreak. It’s life. It’s part of the harm of being a woman in a neoliberal political economy. The Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the U.K. criminal justice system, said as much in March, 2007. Behind the Corston Commission Report sits HMP Styal, `one of the largest women’s prisons’ in the U.K. Between August 2002 and August 2003, six women died at Styal … That was then. This is now. February 27, 2009:  `The chief inspector of prisons has warned of more deaths at Styal women’s prison if services for vulnerable inmates do not improve…. John Gunn, brother of Lisa Marley, who died at Styal in January last year, asked: `How many more women have to die before something is done?’” That was then, ten years ago, to the day. This is today: From February 2018 to May 2019, four women have died at HMP Styal: Nicola Birchall, 41, February 2018; Imogen Mellor, 29, June 2018; Christine MacDonald, 56, March 2019; Susan Knowles, 48, May 2019. None of the deaths was treated as suspicious. BBC News reports, “The latest HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ report, in May 2018, was positive.” 

Here is what “positive” looks like: “95% of women said that they had problems on arrival. 53% said they had a problem with illicit drugs on arrival and 27% had an alcohol problem. 72% reported having a mental health problem. There were 735 incidents of self-harm in the six months to March 2018. Four women were transferred under the Mental Health Act in the six months to March 2018. 65% of women released who were not on home detention curfew did not have sustainable accommodation. Some women had been in and out of custody up to 11 times in 12 months.” Positive.

According to the most recent Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales, the general picture for incarcerated women, including remand prisoners, is equally grim: “Self-harm trends differ considerably by gender, with a rate of 570 incidents per 1,000 in male establishments (with incidents up 25% on the previous year) compared to a rate of 2,675 per 1,000 in female establishments (an increase of 24% in the number of incidents from the previous year). In the 12 months to December 2018, the number of self-harm incidents per self-harming prisoner was 4.0 for males, and 8.3 for females, increases from 3.5 and 7.0 respectively in 2017.” The majority of self-harm happens to those who have been in custody 31 days to 3 months. 

The latest Inspectorate report on HMP Styal was positive concerning the prison’s attempt to follow recommendations from earlier reports, but the situation remains dire, and that’s the point. The individual deaths of Nicola Birchall, Imogen Mellor, Christine MacDonald, and Susan Knowles are suspicious, as are the high rates of self-harm. 

In 2007, Baroness Corston noted, “There are many women in prison, either on remand or serving sentences for minor, non-violent offences, for whom prison is both disproportionate and inappropriate. Many of them suffer poor physical and mental health or substance abuse or had chaotic childhoods. Many have been in care … I have been dismayed at the high prevalence of institutional misunderstanding within the criminal justice system of the things that matter to women and at the shocking level of unmet need … There can be few topics that have been so exhaustively researched to such little practical effect as the plight of women in the criminal justice system.”

That was 2007, sparked by conditions in HMP Styal. It’s 2019, and still few topics have been so exhaustively researched to such little practical effect as the plight of women in the criminal justice system. Every death, injury, harm, unmet need, vulnerability is suspicious and should be treated as such. What happened to Nicola Birchall, Imogen Mellor, Christine MacDonald, and Susan Knowles? Nothing. There is nothing celebrate here.

(No More Prison)

Welcome at last to the 21st century

Welcome at last to the 21st century

so wrote a colleague-past
at my reportage of now
having one of those devices
you see folks walking 
into stationary poles with

is it any good
I enquire
as it seems
I have not been

I hear there is
running water
electricity even
and plentiful
(so politicians say)

Welcome at last to the 21st century
where you can see
hunger on a world scale
from local Bonteheuwel
to the beyonds of Syria
and darkest Africa too 

the 21st century
where humanity
behaves as though
there is another
planet to go and ruin

the 21st century
where women
and children too
would want there 
to be another planet
to shelter from the storm

there is illiteracy
and innumeracy too
on this man-trashed sphere
most especially down here
Africa South way

Welcome at last to the 21st century

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / David Harrison)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 1: In Europe

In the past month, around the world, heartless populist leaders have had successes in numerous elections. The Indian election occurred over 6 weeks, with 900 million registered voters, and 63 percent actively voting. The European elections were organized in 28 countries to renew the European Parliament where European laws are discussed and passed or not. It comprises 751 Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs. The European Elections presented a great danger for women and minorities. European populist groups have organized since 2013, creating a structure called “Agenda Europe”, promising to “restore the natural order”. This fabricated argument about a “natural order” is precisely unnatural and threatens violence against women, minorities and Nature.  Despite all its shortcomings, the European Parliament has, in general, over the years pushed for more progressive laws. In response, the current generation of heartless leaders have developed ultra conservative doctrines to curtail any possibility for inclusive and progressive evolution.  

As political scientist Rosalind Pollack Petchesky has noted, “Abortion acquires political volatility in periods when the social position of women generally is under siege.” Today, access to sexual and reproductive health has been challenged by the heartless leaders even in places where one would have thought these rights inalienable. The heartless movement materialized with neoliberal austerity measures and structural reforms. Neoliberalism opportunistically aligns itself with various strandsof neoconservatism and religious fundamentalism. 

Heartless populist leaders bear common features: an opportunistic mind guided by big data algorithm systems and an unfettered desire for power. They use nationalist – racist messages through social media without concern forethics or veracity. Theirtargets have included immigrants, feminists, Romas, Muslims, and more. The European and Indian elections have brought these neoliberal, conservative, propagandist, and rights-unraveling elementstogether. In Europe a resistance has also strongly emerged. In some countries, Socialists and European Green parties gained seats. Meanwhile populist parties having difficulty agreeing to form one group in parliament; their divisions appear deeper than expected. 

In France, the populist party, Rassemblement National, RN, finished with less than 1 % ahead of the center liberal party. Marine Le Pen’s RN party list led by Jordan Bardella garnered votes from the popular discontent represented by the Yellow Vest movement, mostly a vote of rejection of the liberal doctrine of the current President Emmanuel Macron. The surprise came from the Greens who became the third party ahead of the regular conservative and socialist parties. The German Green party became the second party in Germany this time, ahead of the populist party. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark sent more socialist and social democrats to the parliament with, again, a representation of the Green party.    

In Poland, the extreme right-wing/populist Law and Justice party (PIS) won 45.6% of the vote, sending 26 MEPs to the European Parliament, while the opposition European Coalition (Social Democrats) won 17 seats and the leftist coalition obtained 8 seats. The Law and Justice party increased its representation compared to the previous European election. Their conservative campaign was based on imaginary Polish values which included strict control of sexual and reproductive rights, reducing health services for women.  Although Polish women have had total access to abortion until 1993, conservative religious leaders in Polish politics have made Poland one of the European countries with the most restrictive laws on abortion. Currently, each year 150 000 Polish women get back-alley abortions. Women in Poland have organized to block a total ban on abortion. The PIS based its campaign on repetition of social media slogans against immigration, supporting family values and energy independence. Actually, they implemented the most xenophobic and anti-women’s rights policies, including lowering protection against domestic violence, reducing access to contraception, and keeping coal energy production, refusing to comply with reducing CO2 emissions according to the Paris Agreement. 

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s ruling party won a landslide victory with 52.3%, giving 13 seats to Orban’s EEP, 7 seats to the opposition and 1 seat to the Fascist party. When Viktor Orban was first elected, only 3% of the Hungarian population thought that immigration was an issue. Orban’s domination took off when he met Arthur Finkelstein, an arch conservative Jewish American homosexual, just to challenge common assumptions. Finkelstein has built a discreet career using invisible parallel means of communication, such as negative messaging in public spaces and social media. He has been behind many elections of conservatives around the world from Ronald Reagan to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Hungarian slogan for the European elections was similar to the Polish one. Women had to curtail their desire for emancipation to serve the great country of Hungary, migrants had to back off from entering the country, and environmental issues were irrelevant in comparison with the rebuilding of Hungary’s great past.

According to Ludmila Acone, in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian right-wing party ‘The League,’ and current co-vice Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, won the most seats with 34,3%,which gave ‘Identity and Democracy’ 28 seats. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Stars movement, with whom Salvini shares executive power, received 17,1% of the votes, or 14 seats. Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the democratic party, came in second with 22,7%, or 19 seats. These elections strengthened Salvini’s power in Italy. At the last European election in 2014, The League only received 6.2% of the ballots and sent 5 MEPs to Brussels. His success is based on his ability to «speak to people’s guts. » Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is the main land of arrival, and often a place of transit, for migrants and refugees traveling by sea and seeking asylum in Europe. Salvini based most of his political program on the urgency of fighting immigration and the right to defend oneself against migrants who are supposedly more violent. The League, supported by Steve Bannon, extended its power by producing fake news, thanks to social media. Negative messages annihilated the discourse on climate change: Italy is not sending an MEPs of the European Green Party.

The League’s political agenda rests on ‘replacement theory.’ This approach claims to protect «the traditional family» against the danger of abortion, divorce, contraception, and gender equality. Salvini pretends to protect women, thanks to one of the Five Stars movement’s legislative initiatives: the code red laws, protective measures against domestic violence. Italy has one femicide every two days.

(Image Credit: European Views)

What happened to Tanya Day? Nothing. Just another Aboriginal woman died in police custody

Tanya Day and her granddaughter

In Australia, for Aboriginal women and their families, the wheels of justice do not turn at all, but they do try to grind the people into dust. On December 22, 2017, Tanya Day, a 55-year-old Yorta Yorta grandmother, “died of traumatic brain injuries” in police custody, in the Castlemaine Police Station, in Victoria, Australia. Next month, the coroner is expected to release her report. Tanya Day’s family and supporters have asked the coroner to consider systemic racism. as a cause of death. If the coroner agrees, a new standard may have been set. Whatever the coroner decides, Tanya Day – like Cherdeena WynneMs Dhu, and scores of other Aboriginal women– did not “die” and was not “discovered”. Tanya Day was killed in police custody. Harrison Day, Tanya Day’s uncle, died in police custody, also in Victoria. Harrison Day died, or was killed, June 23, 1982, 37 years to the day. From 1987 to 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody met to discuss Harrison Day’s death and those of 99 other Aboriginal women and men. They issued a raft of recommendations, of which more than 30% have never been implemented. After Ms. Dhu’s death in custody, in 2014, promises were made but Western Australia has not introduced a single law emerging from the circumstances of Ms. Dhu’s death. From Harrison Day, in 1982, to Tanya Day, in 2017, to today, the line of murders of Aboriginal women and men in custody is direct and genocidal.

By all accounts, Tanya Day was a vivacious, lively, politically engaged woman. She was an activist who campaigned to stop the deaths of Aboriginal women and men in prison. At the time of her death, she was actively helping the family of Tane Chatfield, a young Indigenous man who died in police custody. She was also on what her family calls a health craze, involving regular exercise and healthy diet. On December 5, 2017, Tanya Day boarded a train to Melbourne. According to her family, she had not been drinking regularly, but on that day, she had. She fell asleep on the train. When the conductor awakened her for her ticket, she was confused. There is no report that she was aggressive. The conductor called the police. The police took her off the train and took Tanya Day to the Castlemaine Police Station. The charge was public drunkenness. The police called the family to come fetch her. By the time they arrived, Tanya Day was hospitalized. She died seventeen days later. 

Tanya Day fell in her cell in the police station five times, which caused traumatic brain injuryShe lay, alone, on the floor for hours. Tanya Day should never have been in that police station. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody strongly recommended doing away with public drunkenness laws. Subsequent scholarship and experience have supported that recommendation, pretty much uniformly. The laws that criminalize public drunkenness remain on the books. As one human rights advocate noted, “Most Victorians have committed the offence of public drunkenness.” If Tanya Day had been White, she would have been allowed to stay on the train and sleep it off. Even if not, someone who needs assistance to stand belongs in an emergency room, not a police station cell. Australia has known all of this for decades, formally, and has done less than nothing. That kind of inaction is a key ingredient to genocide as to femicide. What happened to Tanya Day? Australia. 

(Photo Credit: ABC News Australia)

In Cambodia, woman farmer Hoy Mai says NO! to the theft and devastation of her land and life!

Hoy Mai

This week, Cambodian woman farmer Hoy Mai has appeared in a Thai court, where she has filed suit against Thai sugar company Mitr Phol, Asia’s largest sugar producer. Hoy Mai, now 56 years old, has been waging a mighty campaign against the Goliath corporation for two decades, a campaign for land, life and justice. This week’s court case is considered a landmark case. If the court decides in Hoy Mai’s favor, thousands of displaced farmers could benefit. The story begins in October 2009, in the northwest province of Oddar Meanchey, in the throes of the Khmer Rouge violence. In one of the most violent areas in Cambodia, Angkor Sugar Company, a subsidiary of Mitr Phol, evicted 119 households. Since that day, Hoy Mai has fought for restitution, first, and justice, for herself and her neighbors.

According to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, “Hoy Mai’s family and 118 other households in Bos village, Oddar Meanchey province, were forcibly evicted in October 2009 as part of an ELC [Economic Land Concession] granted to Angkor Sugar Company. Their homes were burnt down and they lost all their belongings and farmland. Despite promises that she would receive another plot of land, she received neither land nor compensation, leaving her and her children homeless and destitute. Hoy Mai, at the time five months pregnant, was charged with violation of the Forestry law and jailed for eight months after trying to appeal to the authorities in Phnom Penh. She went into labor in the prison where she was forced to stay for three days and two nights until she was taken to the hospital. Only a few hours after she gave birth to her baby she was taken back to jail. For two months, she nursed her son in the prison with terrible sanitary conditions and sharing the cell with seven other women. Eight months after her detention, Mai was brought before a judge. Instead of a fair trial the court told Mai that she would be released only when she signed an agreement to with- draw all claims to her land in Bos village and accepted replacement land.”

The Khmer Rouge is gone, but the damage remains, as does Mitr Phol. From 2009 to today, Hoy Mai has refused to accept that situation: “We want compensation so we can rebuild our homes and farm our land. We hope the court will give us justice.” Hoy Mai and her attorneys have hit upon the idea of going to Thailand, where Mitr Phol is based, and instituting a class action suit there. Hoy Mai demands compensation, restitution, recognition, acknowledgement, truth and justice. It’s that straightforward.

In 2014, Hoy Mai explained what she and her neighbors wanted and expected from the State: “We want them to help us get our land back so we can live like before.” In 2016, Hoy Mai explained that she and her neighbors planned to return to their own lands: “Whether the governor allows us back or not, we will still go to our land. We are scared, but we have to struggle. We experienced being evicted. So we are not afraid.” This week, Hoy Mai said, “They took our land. I lost everything. My children did not go to school and I had no farming land … I survive by the day … For us, it [the land] is our life.”

In Cambodia, for the past twenty years, woman farmer Hoy Mai has said NO to the theft and devastation of her and her community’s land and lives. Hoy Mai joins rural women and women farmers in PeruIndiaEcuadorLiberiaGhanaMalawi, and around the world in demanding justice not only for herself and her community, but for women farmers and rural women everywhere. Mitr Phol may be the fifth largest sugar producer in the world, but Hoy Mai knows that justice is larger, wider and deeper than any corporation. “For us, it is our life.”

(Photo Credit: Leonie Kijewski / Al Jazeera)

Isolation Rooms and “The Feral Child”: What Impact Does Social Deprivation Have On Children?

Earlier this year, a young student in the United Kingdom attempted to take her own life in an isolation room at her school where she had quietly spent her days for more than a month. The child, whose identity has not been disclosed, lives with mental health issues as well as an autism spectrum disorder. 

Isolation rooms have become a common form of punishment for students in the United States as well as in the U.K. Often, the children who are sent to spend their days alone and in silence, without stimulus, in these spaces have autism spectrum disorders or other special learning needs. 

While there is little scientific evidence to track the impact that days spent in quiet isolation have on developing minds, anyone familiar with child psychology knows that a lack of socialization and stimulus is detrimental to development. In fact, a landmark case in developmental psychology directly deals with the results of being kept in isolation early in life. 

In 1970, thirteen-year-old Genie Wiley was discovered by social services in her family home in California, where she had spent most of her life in isolation, locked away in a small room. Genie’s father often tied her to a chair and discouraged her from speaking, crying or making any noise at all. 

When Genie was finally taken out of isolation and taken into the care of psychologists, the thirteen-year-old tested on the mental level of a one-year-old. She was originally thought to be autistic. She was mute and incontinent, and only responded to her own name and the word “sorry.” Her mannerisms were described as rabbit-like and she was branded as “the feral child”.

Genie’s case is most well-known for the insight it provided into the process of language acquisition. Although she was a strong non-verbal communicator, psychologists struggled to teach her language, and especially grammar, suggesting that she missed the critical window of language learning. However, Genie’s extreme case also shows the drastic impacts that a lack of socialization and stimulus can have on a child. 

After working with psychologists, Genie became able to communicate with drawings and did well on intelligence tests. She grew to enjoy music and learned to play. However, after years spent in isolation, she was never able to communicate or socialize normally. Eventually, research funding ran out and she was sent to live in a foster home, and little is known about what happened to her since. 

Genie’s case was a drastic one. She was abused and kept in near complete isolation for a decade. Yet, she demonstrates that putting a child away in isolation is not a neutral action. It is a punishment that instills its own kind of trauma, particularly for developing children. This trauma is heightened for children on the autism spectrum or others who may have difficulties socializing with their peers and yet schools often use isolation rooms as a “dumping ground” for exactly this kind of student.

Genie Wiley

(Photo Credit 1: Cambridgeshire Live) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian)

Sankofa: In Memory of Gil Scott Heron Now Eight Years Gone

Winter in America

Sankofa: In Memory of Gil Scott Heron Now Eight Years Gone

Warn me to battle not monsters, Gil
You gazed into the Abyss
And now you have become it.

I see you shining as I gaze at the Abyss also gazing

And trying not to become what I see.

Your body was dust and into dust it has returned.

Now I can hear the stones singing
Whenever I put my ear to the ground.

Songs of revelation and revolution
Rebirth and regeneration
I too am dust
Your poetry breathing life into me.

Earth

A million people in the streets of Hong Kong hear your songs
Umbrellas and heart
Verses bear spray and ballistic shields
Rubber bullets
And heavy riot sticks
For now their government listens
I mean
Could a million Chinese be wrong?

Trans activists reading the names of the fallen of their community
Telling their stories of hidden violence
Hear your songs.

Strike a pose for the Latinx who died on Rikers Island
Because she couldn’t raise $500 in bail money for a misdemeanor.
Her kindred also found dead on the streets of Texas
And beheaded on courthouse steps in Mexico.

Choiceless families of choice, don’t forget them after Pride month.

Speak no evil?

Larry Kramer already told us that silence equals death
Don’t forget how to act up.

It is good to go back to get what has been forgotten.

Names of kindred on heart shaped Stones
Left on Potter’s Field on a New York island
Or sewn on blankets presented on the National Mall
Now archived in Smithsonian Museums.

Remember the names
The stones
The blankets
And, most importantly the people.

Angry protestors in Tennessee hear your songs
The heads of 24 policemen provided the percussion section
Another officer involved shooting.

Let the earth be my weapon before it becomes my womb
Let me be judged by twelve
Before I am carried out by six.

Water

Thirsty people seeking asylum hear your songs
So do the the Samaritans on trial for leaving them water in the desert
Facing 20 years in prison for acts of federal felony compassion.

For compassion’s sake they chant “No More Death”
A deadlocked jury still can’t decide between the spirit of the law
And the laws letters.

The dying continues:
The body of a six year old girl from India is found in the desert.

How did she get there?

And, who have we become?

Japanese Americans say history is repeating itself.
Interment camps reopening
With the same justification
National insecurity.

Mr. Sulu, we are still a long way from the Starship Enterprise
Our four-year mission is just to get an Orange Man’s foot
Out of America’s assAnd to boldly get back to
Where we were before.

It wasn’t good; but it was better
And better is good
Shout out Barack Obama
I understand you better now.

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got‘
Til it’s gone.”

To those out there who still know how to throw a rock,
Light a fire
And make a gas mask out of
A wet handkerchief and human saliva I say:

Teach the children
They won’t find these skills on YouTube
Or Instagram.

Presenté, keepers of our memories.

Can you dust off your light sabers one more time
In this inelegant age of random blasters?
As the dying continues.

See no evil

Laura Engram defending white nationalisst on Fox News
While American war criminals are considered for presidential pardons.

But no one yet found guilty of polluting the drinking water in Flint Michigan.No one guilty of the deaths in our border prison camps.

5200 ICE detainees are quarantined with suspected cases of Mumps and Chicken Pox

The Hieleras becoming hot zones.

Fire

And just who blew up the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman anyway?
Are we being prepared for an October surprise in June?

Who will harvest that bitter fruit come September?

Men set themselves on fire in Washington D.C.
And I think of Buddhist Monks in Vietnam in 1963
And lately Monks and nuns witnessing for Tibet
Middle Path adherents taking the belief in the impermanent
To an extreme
You only get to do that once!
Burn baby burn.

Air

I hold up this candle next to your sun, Gil.
All of the songs you sang still work.
Which means how we are living here in America doesn’t.

Justice is blind still holding the scales of Libra.
But she is standing on an inclined plane
The pan that represents me and mine
Always the lighter of the two.

Once the question was:
Are there two separate and unequal justice systems in America?

Now the question is:
How many unequal Justice systems does America have?

Or, Is that just me being optimistic?

Avoiding the question
Is there a justice system at all?

Pardon my chagrin
Pardon my skepticism
Pardon me while I have to explain to young black men
That there is no pardon for playing with toy guns in a city parks.

Or selling loose cigarette to make ends meet.

Pardon me while I tell women that rape can be used as a tool of war Without an international outcry.

Or if I say Excusez-moi — will you think me more educated and therefore less of a target?

Na!

Camo-hiding Huxtable affectations do not work better then
A Kevlar vest
A helmet
And a good gas mask.
You could ask Sandra Bland
I mean, if she were alive.

Pardon me when I question that our answer to gun violenceis not reporting the shooter’s name on the news.

Hear no evil.

Pardon me when no matter how hard we try to prevent copy cat killings The killing continues.

I guess the non-copy cats must think they have come up with an amazingly original idea!

Pardon my invective.

Pardon my anger.

And pardon me for taking a bite out of you, Gil
To write this poem
There are no new ideas
Just ideas that are well stolen
From the past that is prologue.

Or, call it Sankofa looking back as I fly forward through time.

I feel so lost.

I’m just reaching back to help me on my journey forward.

May justice stand on a firm foundation.

May there be a level playing field to calibrate the scales of justice.

Take your thumb off of the scales
And keep your foot off of the earth’s neck
So we can all breathe again.

Hear no evil.

Why do I forget what I should remember
And remember what I should forget?

Hermann Hesse said that if I listened to the blending of all the outcries
I would hear OM the word of words.

I’m not that good yet.

But I can still hear you, Gil
In the rocks and stones and from the Abyss.
When I put my ear to the ground.

(Image Credit 1: OkayPlayer) (Image Credit 2: Berea College)

(we) laugh it off

(we) laugh it off

we laugh it off
democratically
(even though
there was none
back there in 1976)

we laugh it off
myself and a folkie
a work colleague into 
Dylan Baez and Jim Croce 

June 1976 it was
circa the 16 and 17
a stay-away from work
(my first it was)

a manager fellow it was
(we are being genteel here
as he was harsher labelled)
suggesting we get
a police escort to work

we laugh it off
explaining to him
that they oversaw
apartheid and the like

(in the name of law and order
keeping us safe from the red peril
keeping us safe from the yellow peril 
keeping us safe from the swart gevaar)

June 1976
the Soweto uprising
the Soweto student rebellion
(there are those who
called the event a riot)

many exiled in its wake
before and after

Youth does it matter 
to you today
what this political holiday
was all about

Will it make tomorrow
any the better if you did

(Photo Credit: South African History Online)

Nigerian workers and the work of Penelope

This season of national anomie is not the best of times for Nigerian workers. Emasculated, apoplexy, pauperized barely describe their present predicament. The palpable enormity of despondency suffusing Nigeria was evinced by the fact that the recent announcement of a new national minimum wage was met with stark indifference, undisguised apathy and the ominous feeling that it can neither palliate nor improve their economic situation.

The gloom and hopelessness enveloping the average Nigerian worker has its roots in the financial and psychological haemorrhage Nigerians have suffered over the years, exacerbated by decades of poor socio- economic policies, inept leadership, political quagmires and pillaging of Nigeria’s national treasury. With the total cabalization and cartelization of the various means, levers and instruments of power, majorities of excluded Nigerians have had no chance, respite, reprieve or breathing space in the economic pogrom heaped on them. In the early nineties, the common refrain was that poverty ruled over Nigeria’s landscape like a colossus. In 2019 Nigeria has not only become the poverty capital of the world, poverty and its attendant mentality have been ingrained in our minds like myths immemorial.

Nigerians toil relentlessly daily to overcome an array of obstacles that have been erected against their progress. Nigerians strive to acquire additional skills and degrees to improve their situation in an economic system that only makes them slave harder, longer and more for a tokenistic existence. While many  Nigerians pull themselves up by their bootstraps, hanging precariously on the socio-economic cliffhanger, political office occupants swim in luxury. That is why the assurance member of the House of Representatives who recently became speaker in the current dispensation nonchalantly rubbed it in the face of Nigerians by buying his wife a 100Million naira car.

Work is central to people’s wellbeing. In addition to providing income, it’s also an important psychological boost that enhances people self-worth, promotes social contacts and increases national productivity. The impact of qualitative work on the accomplishment of worker aspirations and galvanizing socio-economic and political advancement is unquantifiable. UNDP noted that work contributes to public good, and that human beings working together increase material well-being and accumulate a wide body of knowledge that is the basis for cultures and civilizations. 

But how many Nigerian workers actually get self-actualized or get the financial and work satisfaction they deserve or require?

The universal principle is that if you work hard you will eventually reap the fruits of your labour. If you are a diligent and honest worker in Nigeria, you end up with nothing at the end of the day. Faced with pitiful salaries and a skyrocketing cost of living, the average Nigerian worker needs loans or cooperative assistance to pay rent and school fees, to buy second hand cars and household items, to perform basic ceremonies like weddings, naming, burials, and children’s parties. The private sector actively collaborates in the scheme to perpetually penurize and enslave Nigerian workers as most of them engage in unfair and unsavoury labour practices. Further, the woes of Nigerian workers continue unabated after employment, as the Nigerian retiree is said to be one of the poorest in the world and Nigeria has been described as one of the worst places in the world to be a pensioner.

The present government reels off positive statistics and gloats over its various achievements, such as programs to bolster youth employment, diverse social protection schemes, unprecedented capital projects expenditure and patronage of local contractors. Meanwhile, many Nigerians still face severe social and economic hardships. So, who are the beneficiaries and what is the actual impact of these much touted programmes? During Buhari’s first term, Nigerians became poorer during the first term of President Buhari, and unemployment is spiralling out of control.

For Nigerian workers, when it rains, it pours. In the past six months, Nigeria has been described as one of the most miserable, poorest, slave-like open defecation hole for workers’ rights in the world. The current minimum wage is far less in value than the 1981 minimum wage, meaning that the quality and standard of living of Nigerian workers hit rock bottom in 2019. These grim statistics only serve to underpin the misery of Nigerian workers. If you are not part of the ruling elites and their acolytes, working becomes equivalent to performing the work of Penelope.  Convinced that their case is beyond redemption, many Nigerian workers have generally resigned themselves to fate and have lost the quest to live independent, fulfilled and enjoyable lives 

The average Nigerian worker has been left to permanently penny pinch on the fringes of an impecunious life. This is where the work of Penelope comes in, work which is eventually fruitless, unrewarding and leaves the worker poorer at the end of the day. Overtaxed, slavish and poorly remunerative work makes the worker labour continuously in vain with no end in sight and no hope at all, a vicious cycle of no savings, tangible achievement, or headway, just living for the next day. No matter what you do, you will never get by and you will never get ahead, with the odds stacked against you by an insidious, reprehensible system that crushes your wellbeing, welfare and progress. This is the kind of work that is preponderant in Nigeria and the kind of work that the majority of us are engaged in.

It isn’t surprising that Nigeria lags behind on Global Human Development indices and reports. The link between work and human development as advanced by the United National Development Programme needs to be continuously highlighted for the sake of posterity. Work enhances human development by providing incomes and livelihoods, by reducing poverty and by ensuring equitable growth. Human development— by enhancing health, knowledge, skills and awareness— increases human capital and broadens opportunities and choices. It’s time for the current regime to make crucial policy choices tocreate work opportunities, ensure workers’ well-being and develop targeted actions against inequalitiesthat can have positive impacts on society as well as the wellbeing of Nigerian workers and their families.

Nigeria’s social partners must join forces to make Nigeria a better place for Nigerians to work and enjoy the fruits of their labour; to make work a fulfilling activity regardless of cadre or profession; to block loopholes in laws and rules that make it easy forpublic and private firms to exploit and denigrate workers, to uphold the freedoms to associate and to bargain collectively that can make it possible for Nigeria to realize humane and just conditions and terms of employment that canameliorate our collective sufferings and put an end to the work of Penelope that majority of honest, hardworking, long suffering Nigerians presently suffer. 

(Image Credit: Time)

Migrants in Custody at Hospitals Are Treated Like … Felons?

Sometimes a headline says it all, the whole reported story and a great deal more: “Migrants in Custody at Hospitals Are Treated Like Felons, Doctors Say”. The New York Timesreports, today, of the now familiar and yet still jarring brutality the Trump administration, the Nation-State more generally, visits on the bodies and souls of those courageous enough to seek asylum. In this instance, the focus is the abuse directed at “a 20-year-old Guatemalan woman who had been found late last year in the desert — dehydrated, pregnant and already in labor months before her due date.” The treatment by ICE agents is vicious, mean and often illegal. Horrible. But the doctors never actually say the migrants are treated like felons. What is to be made of the phrase, “treated like felons”?

As the article explains, “In many cases, doctors say, their patients are newly arrived asylum seekers, like the Guatemalan woman in Tucson, who had fled violent abuse from her baby’s father back home. Such patients, who are in custody only because of their immigration status, are often subjected to security measures meant for prisoners charged with serious crimes.” Dr. Patricia Lebensohn, a family physician, thinks that constant supervision in a patient’s room “makes sense if you have a prisoner that’s convicted of murder, but this is a different population, especially the asylum seekers. They’re not criminals.”

They’re not criminals, they’re not felons, and so they deserve to be treated as … human beings with Constitutional, legal, civil, and human rights and protections? Is that the implication? This is the common sense that emerges from decades of mass and hyper incarceration. This is a reason that shackling pregnant women, women in childbirth, “makes sense”. They’re criminals, felons. It makes sense for agents to be present during medical examinations, to listen in on conversations with doctors, to watch ultrasounds, to intentionally interfere with sleep, to harangue and harass. It makes sense because they are criminals. It makes sense because they are women, people of color, poor, fleeing violence, begging for mercy and demanding assistance, seeking justice. Criminals and felons, each and every one. This is our common sense, but it doesn’t have to be. Imagine if we treated migrants and felons like people, like ourselves. Another headline is possible.

(Image Credit: ACLU)