A HIGHLY MILITARIZED MAY DAY
A HIGHLY MILITARIZED MAY DAY
This year’s May Day witnessed the first-ever joint rallies by the two trade union federations in the country, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), as the first practical step towards a resolved working relationship between the labour centres. However, what should have been the most significant feature of this May Day was eclipsed by the heavy presence of stern-looking, bellicose, armed state security operatives who arrogated to themselves the duty of frisking anybody and vetting material going into venues of the rallies. Any anti-government material was considered as contraband and seized, while their carriers, pro-labour/democracy activists, arrested or harassed.
This May Day came shortly after the general elections described as most fraudulent in the country’s annals and which have raised a deafening hue and cry, locally and internationally. The armed security operatives were stationed to crack down on protests against the farcical election they had expected would kick off on the May Day.
Member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) intervened in eleven May Day rallies nationwide with our paper Socialist Democracy (SD) and with Marxist literature in Lagos and Osun States. In some rallies we also had banners and placards denouncing the elections and anti-poor neo-liberal reforms and calling for working peoples’ political alternative. The attacks and restrictions by the state security apparatus on the anti-government publications were largely responsible for the low sales of our material at some rallies.
Three comrades, Dagga Tolar, in Lagos and Chinedu and Emeka in Akwa, Anambra State, South-East Nigeria, were arrested and detained by the operatives of the State Security Service (SSS). In Lagos our Marxist literature and SD were impounded while in Edo, South-South Nigeria, 60 copies of SD were destroyed by the security operatives. In Osogbo, Osun State armed police went on the trail of comrades who were prevented from entering the venues and thus decided to move round the city to circulate materials. Fortunately, they escaped arrest but the bus conveying them around was impounded.
Given the rising unpopularity of State Governors among workers and masses on the basis of their anti-poor policies and failed promises most governors did not attend the events. But despite this the speeches of labour leaders in most cases were songs praising their respective State’s helmsmen. In Plateau State, North Central Nigeria, workers did not celebrate the May Day citing disputes with the State government over welfare matters. It should have been reasonable for the state labour leadership to use the May Day to mobilize support for, or to commence, mass protest to press home their demands rather than resort to merry making in their offices as a form of protest.
Below are excerpts from the reports from DSM comrades who participated at some of the rallies:
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) held a joint national May Day celebration at the Eagles Square Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital on May 1st to commemorate this year’s workers’ day. Coming against the backdrop of the just concluded massively rigged national elections and the threat of opposition parties to call for mass action on May 1st and the threat of the Inspector General of Police to deploy what he called “minimum and above minimum force” to quell any form of protest by Nigerians aggrieved by the last elections, there was a massive deployment of regular police, anti-riot police, SSS and even military men around and at the Eagles Square. The situation was such that a number of rank and file workers were heard complaining loudly about the militarisation of the May Day event and wondering why the labour leaders could have tolerated such.
As a result of the massive deployment of security operatives at the event, and the subjection of every person seeking entrance to the venue to a thorough search and inspection of all bags and printed materials, it was very difficult for DSM materials to be brought into the venue. To underline the massive intimidating deployment of security agents at the venue, one of our comrades, Mojeed Ibrahim, was briefly arrested and detained by security agents who accused him of being a politician while trying to gain entrance to the Eagles Square. We however succeeded in smuggling in our banner with the slogan, “Reject Electoral Fraud: Build a Working Class Political Alternative”, which we publicly displayed around the venue of the event.
After the speeches of the TUC and NLC Presidents as well as that of the representative of the Minister for Labour at the point when the traditional May Day march past of workers was to commence, a heavy down pour began which effectively disrupted the event.
Speeches by government representatives including the representative of the FCT Minister and the Minister of Labour were met with loud boos. This was a sharp contrast to the loud and tumultuous reception that accompanied the arrival of the immediate past President of the NLC and a gubernatorial candidate in Edo State in the just concluded general elections, Adams Oshiomhole, who was carried shoulder high and later followed round the venue by crowds of workers to the chanting of solidarity songs. For us this clearly underlines the fact that the working masses are seriously yearning for a fighting leadership.
This year May Day coming in the wake of the universal rejection of the April 2007 general elections described as a charade, in Lagos like in virtually all the rallies across the country witnessed heavy militarization. This was to crack down on protests against the farcical election the state had expected would kick off at the May Day.
The first contingent of comrades from Ajegunle who had got to the Onikan Stadium early enough were denied entrance into the venue of the rally by the armed police who frisked everybody and vetted materials going in. The attempt of comrades to sell Socialist Democracy outside the stadium only attracted the bestial best from the armed operatives of the State Security Services (SSS) who together with other security agencies almost equalled the number of workers that had arrived for the rally. Some copies of the SD were seized, even from workers that had bought them, and Dagga was arrested; he was not freed from the SSS’s dingy cell until the following day.
The arrival of the second contingent from Agege met a much fuller presence of workers, which expectedly reduced the overzealousness of the security operatives. Together with Ajegunle comrades whose morale had been boosted by our arrival, we “smuggled” SD and some Marxist literature inside. Thinking that the forces of repression had gone to bed, we did tabling of SD and literature and hoisted our banner at the entrance of the stadium, the same place we occupied at the last year event. Before we could sell any of the materials, some SSS operatives emerged and pounced on the stall and carted away everything on display except the banner which apparently they did not notice. Fortunately, some copies of SD were with comrades selling around the stadium.
Interestingly, while security operatives were impounding materials denouncing the conduct of the election, they were also busy circulating materials issued by a fictitious women’s organisation praising the election and congratulating the beneficiaries of the farcical exercise.
Sadly, despite being informed of the arrest of Dagga and two pro-democracy activists, the labour leaders did not mention it at the rally, although a few days later the national NLC issued a statement denouncing the arrests. Even the attempt by Segun Sango, the DSM general secretary, to give solidarity speech was rebuffed by an uncouth labour leader who snatched microphone from him on the excuse of time constraint. Only one activist was allowed to address the workers. Segun was the very first person to give solidarity message on the same rostrum at last year’s May Day.
This year May Day is significant being the first time the two trade union federations in the country, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) had had joint rallies nationwide. In Lagos, the only feature to show for this was a large number of workers in attendance, arguably the biggest in a record time. In terms of speeches by the labour leaders from the two federations, the story was the same as last year. Tinubu’s Lagos State administration was praised to the high heaven; it was described as only rays of light in the darkness pervading the country. One could wonder if the labour leaders had been talking of a different Lagos. Apparently in order not to incur the wrath of workers, mentions were made in passing of some demands of workers for improvement. However, this was enough to repudiate “all is well” picture the labour leaders had attempted to paint.
We participated in the march past with our banner and placards denouncing the 2007 elections and anti-poor, neo-liberal economic reforms, and calling for working peoples political alternative.
Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State
There was poor turnout, even the policemen complained about it. Workers, when asked attributed it to internal struggles amongst the state NLC leadership where a section was calling for boycott the other for attendance. More importantly, it reflects the general disappointment of workers at the lack of quality leadership, alienation and no clear-cut political programme of action by union leaders.
The workers, when confronted with the harsh realities on ground and the need for a worker’s party shows enthusiasm but when concluding, they claimed to be apolitical. Their interest to the SD was with indifference; one claimed that holding it would be seen as anti-government. The romance of the labour officials and the state government was clearly shown when the presence of the state governor was announced.
Abeokuta, Ogun State
By Moshood HO2
Two comrades namely; Moshood and Smart of University of Agriculture Abeokuta (UNAAB) and Ajegunle branch respectively intervened at the May Day rally. From general observation, there was low-turn out of workers in the state; nearly 80% of the workers there present at the rally were members of the NURTW. There were about twelve unions in attendance, ranging from TUC, NLC, NASU, NUBIFT, NUCCLRAFFEM, NURTW, NUATU, etc.
The rally started around 10.00am with the arrival of the governor. But before the commencement of the rally, the leaders of the SSS harassed and warned us not to sell or distribute any material, but we defied his warning by going ahead with sales and distribution of materials.
The state chairman of the NLC and TUC in their separate speeches eulogised the governor and one even praised him by calling him a magician. The governor too in his address made some empty promises and praises himself on his achievements. Generally, the majority of the workers were not too happy as the governor failed to raise the issue of the new salary structure (minimum wage).
By and large, the intervention was successful, except majority of the workers felt reluctant to buy our materials. Few that bought were either persuaded or had been familiar with the paper. The entire May Day was a jamboree â€“ like celebration galore for the return of the governor to office.
Akure, Ondo State
The May Day rally in Ondo State could be easily described as the most militarized workers’ day in the history of the state. Right from the main entrance of the venue, Akure Township Stadium, was sea of security operatives â€“ regular and mobile policemen numbering about 500, State Security Service (SSS) â€“ fully armed with sophisticated weapons like guns, bomb detectors including armour tank stationed at the entrance searching people that wanted to go into the stadium.
Ordinarily, people who do not participate in the march pass used to sit at the pavilion. But this year, only the senior government officials, TUC and NLC executives were allowed
The State Governor came around 10:00 a.m and the rally commenced immediately. Over 1,000 workers were in attendance. After an opening prayer, the march past commenced, no union made any political demand or slogan. The workers reacted to the headlines of the SD that they had voted but the government imposed their candidates on the people of the state, that the SD would have been better before the elections. In their speech, the NLC and TUC chairpersons condemned the electoral frauds but refused to state what is to be done or political alternative.
As a result of fear of not losing their job or being tagged as anti-government, the workers felt reluctant to buy SD. Despite that all available copies of SD May Day Special Edition, plus copies of April Special Edition and the March/April Edition were sold.
Benin, Edo State
May Day in Benin, the Edo State Capital, could be described as a dramatic one. At about 6.45am, we arrived at Ogbe Stadium waiting for workers and their various unions to arrive
After a short period when unions started coming, they all found the stadium locked. At about 10a.m, the place was forced open by a man described as an official of stadium management.
First, there was a low workers’ turnout compared to previous May Day events. For those present, it was war between the unions and civil society groups and the security agents. The security men present tried to stop any form of demonstration or protest of workers. Leaflets of the NLC calling for the cancellation of election, banners belonging to the civil society groups were all seized by the security operatives. There were also thugs suspected from the ruling PDP who harassed on one of the workers.
When we were selling the Socialist Democracy (SD), we were asked by the security operatives to go outside the stadium and that we must not been seen around. But after some time, seeing us still around the premises, we were called by the security men who asked the thugs to impound the papers from us. In our presence, 60 copies of the paper were torn into pieces, but we were able to sell far more.
Ibadan, Oyo State
In Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital, the May Day celebration started very late because labour leaders were awaiting the arrival of the State Governor. The governor was eventually represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Oyo State, who came around 11.20am. Unfortunately there was some apathy amidst the workers.
There was the usual funfair from the unions during the march past. There were about twenty unions in attendance carrying their banners devoid of demands, dancing purposely to win the best March-Union Contest amidst other prizes usually given by the labour leadership. The whole event would have passed for a traditional carnival except for the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) who raised placards on their victimization by the UBA Plc management and the radical speech read by the new NLC Oyo State Chairman, Mr Basiru, condemning the electoral fraud not only in Oyo State but nationally too and demanding an increment in the workers’ minimum wage in Oyo State,
Members of DSM carried placards on the need for the cancellation of the 2007 fraudulent elections, better funding of the education sector, increase of workers salary to a living wage, etc.
With the little radical background of the new Oyo State NLC Chairman, Com Basiru who served as the Treasurer during the most relatively radical era of Ibrahim Bolomope led NLC in Oyo State; there is likely array of hope that the NLC may return to his old tradition in Oyo State.
We spoke with the NLC Chairman on the need for collaborations on programme and actions with us to fight for improved living conditions etc. Some operatives of SSS interrogated us with a view to knowing our background.
Osogbo, Osun State
May Day in Osun State was marred with a heavy presence of mobile police and other paramilitary agents which hindered our sales. In fact, any attempt to try to sell our materials would have led to arrest. Notwithstanding, we were able to intervene.
As a result of heavy clampdown on the opposition, we carried our materials alongside other materials like the Joint Action Forum (JAF) leaflets we produced on the Osun elections and which was sponsored by Osun State NCP.
We were able to drop the leaflets in strategic positions at the May Day venue. One member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) tried to destroy the materials where we dropped them, but this was stopped by the intervention of many workers who seized the leaflets and distributed them on their own.
Consequently, we used a bus to undertake mass circulation of our leaflets (both DSM and JAF) around the town. This exercise well received by the people of the town. In fact, when a union leader, the state chairman of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) asked police to chase us, it was an independent person that used a motorbike to inform us.
The police seized the bus and started witch-hunting us around the town. The State NCP Chairman, Waheed Lawal, narrowly escaped arrest.
The May Day generated a lot of discontent as a result of the failure of the government represented by the Deputy Governor to announce increase in the minimum wage to N10, 600.
The NLC chairman later appeared in a programme on TV. When people were asked to call in, many persons (including us) called for a drastic action by labour leaders to fight for a living wage for workers in the state. The reactions show the unpopularity of the State government among the people (especially in Osogbo area) and the rising mood among workers who are ready to take the Osun government up on the issue of pay increase.
Port Harcourt, Rivers State
Lexan Ali Onwunalu
Upon arriving at Isaac Boro Park, the venue of the rally, the state chairman of the NLC was already there with the labour leaders waiting for their special guest of honour, his “Excellency” the Governor of Rivers State Peter Odili, to arrive before the routine procession would kick off as if it all depended on him. Even when the programme started, it appeared like the celebration of the governor himself, who stood at the centre stage of the podium, while the NLC chairman and his deputy stood by his right and left hand sides. The workers were matching past the governor in the usual military style as if it was a military parade and the governor was the commander in-chief.
On arrival at the venue, we immediately started selling our papers; some of the workers wanted it free, I told them it was free at the solidarity price of N 10 and N 20 respectively. Some of the workers did not buy complaining that they only had their transport fare with them.
This low response can be best explained by the post 2007 election demoralisation of workers and the lack of a formidable and coherent opposition to the farce called election not only in the state level but nationally. We were the only persons that sold papers whose slogans were calling for the working class and the labour leadership to lead and organise fight back against the horrendous manipulation of workers and masses democratic rights.
However, workers waited patiently to hear the governor pronounce approval of payment 15% salary increase for the state civil servants, full time employment for all casual workers in the state civil service, the payment of Christmas bonus and full payment of all workers allowances before his handover date. They were disappointed that, with the announcement of N1 million to every trade union in the state, every other thing mattered less to the labour leaders and the state governor.
Altogether the celebration was very formalistic and ritualistic in outlook. The few workers that bought our paper represent the advanced section, many of whom felt bitterly betrayed by Adams Oshiomhole for the stand he took in the election. They felt their collective interest was put on the line by Oshiomhole dumping Labour to contest on the platform of the Action Congress. For some AC was the problem, they thought he would not have been rigged out if he had contested with the Labour Party. They could be wrong on this, but my discussions with them showed that they understood clearly the need for an independent working class Labour Party. One elderly man, likely his late fifties, concluded that unless the present labour party is reformed we cannot have true workers’ representation. The whole exercise ended by 1pm when a heavy rain started.
Uyo, Akwa Ibom State
The May Day event, which was jointly organised by both the NLC and TUC, kicked-off about 10am with an unusual record number of unfriendly police officers whom were positioned at different strategic location in Ibom hall, the venue of the rally. Just like every other year, the event incorporated a lot of routine activities such as a march past which was massively participated by over 21 affiliated unions of NLC (private sector inclusive). Following this was the solidarity messages welcomed from various personalities like the governor of the state, Obong Attah, Dr. Apabio, the governor- elect, state head of service, speaker of the state House of Assembly etc
Interestingly, none of the representatives of the employers of labour that graced the occasion shared any fundamental disagreement with the fact that workers remain the bedrock of the economy of any society while giving their solidarity messages. However, they persuaded the working class to accept the present order with the faith that it could still guarantee a better working and living condition for mass of the workers within the framework of capitalist arrangement of means of production, provided the cordial partnership understanding between the workers and the government is concretized.
Specifically, the outing governor Attah in his own solidarity message having shared no fundamental difference with other government functionaries that spoke earlier promised the workers 15% increment in the basic salary without any increment in the proportion of the statutory allocation spends on salary. This promise invariably translates to nothing but a looming retrenchment for workers who themselves wrongfully applauded the gimmick.
Labour leaders too were not left out in the solidarity messages. While all the labour leaders who spoke jointly condemned the state of economic rottenness in the society. Unfortunately, none of them was able to come to realization that only a socio-economic arrangement that allows for socialisation of means of production under a democratic control of workers can lay a basis for a condition capable of bringing working class out of the present economic quagmire. The TUC chairman in his final remarks threw his weight behind the sales of unity schools on the basis of indigenes of the state where the schools are located being allowed to be part of the transaction. While the state NLC chairman too finally submitted by informing the workers that the May Day celebration was first to pass a farewell message to governor Attah for his exceptional governance since 1999. Secondly, it was to call on the governor elect (Dr. Apabio) to ensure a better working relationship between the labour and the government.
The May Day once again revealed that the workers’ leaders still generally lack the fundamental understanding of their central role in bringing about a transformation of a society thus it becomes a central task of revolutionary organization like DSM and other left organizations to work with the rank and file of workers with the view of educating, repairing and winning them to a revolutionary vanguard requires for social transformation of the society.
Jos, Plateau State
Contrary to the usual May Day celebration in Nigeria, the workers day in Plateau State took a different dimension as workers did not hold normal rally at the stadium. Labour leaders instead headed to a SUZZY GARDEN at Zaria Crescent in the city where the various union offices are located and busied themselves with fun fare and merry making.
Workers said that they were at the union office instead of being at the stadium due to the state government’s unwillingness to attend the rally. Another feature of the celebration was that it was devoid of the usual display of placards and rendering of solidarity messages.