PROSECUTE INDICTED TREASURY LOOTERS BUT LABOUR MUST FIGHT FOR A NEW SOCIAL ORDER
MASS RALLY AGAINST CORRUPTION:
PROSECUTE INDICTED TREASURY LOOTERS BUT LABOUR MUST FIGHT FOR A NEW SOCIAL ORDER
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) fully supports the mass rallies/protests against treasury looting fixed for May 8, 2008 by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). These could be a launch pad for a real campaign to put ownership and control of Nigeria’s assets in the hands of the working people and poor.
Given the rapacious manner with which Nigeria’s successive rulers (both military and civilian) have been looting money that ought to be used to develop the economy and improve the masses’ living standard, labour’s action in this respect is exceedingly just and in fact, long over due!
In 2005 the World Bank in a special report titled: “Power and Poverty”, estimated that with a sum of $10 billion, about 75% of Nigerians could have access to stable electricity supply. Currently, only about 33% of Nigerians are connected to public electricity. However, due to the most tragic and blatant massive looting of the treasury, a mind-boggling sum of $16 billion was said to have been spent to boost electricity supply by the President Obasanjo administration with bottomless darkness being the only tangible result derived from this alleged expenditure.
While making cacophonic noises about “due process” and “war against corruption” in governance, the ongoing power sector probe by the House of Representatives has, in fact, revealed that reckless and massive looting of the treasury was the order of the day under Obasanjo’s presidency. In her testimony before the House of Reps committee probing the power sector, Mrs. Ngozi Iweala, a one-time Finance Minister under Obasanjo, disclosed how contracts for projects worth $2.2billion were awarded without due process on the specific instructions of President Obasanjo! Another sum of N6.2 billion worth of projects were awarded to 34 unregistered/illegal companies! While the World Bank estimated that with $10 billion, 75% of Nigerians can have access to stable electricity supply, Obasanjo and government capitalist contractors claimed to have spent $16 billion with the resultant effect that electricity supply for the roughly a third of Nigerians that have access to it, is the worst ever in the history of the country.
Most importantly however, the revelations coming out of the power sector probe are just an indication of what happened in all other sectors of the economy. For instance, the ongoing ‘Senate Probe’ of the land allocations in Abuja under Obasanjo’s presidency has equally revealed nauseating, pervasive acts of corruption by those in charge of our public affairs. The central economic policy of the Obasanjo regime, which unfortunately has been continued by the present Yar’Adua regime, is privatisation of public enterprises and state resources. Through these pro-rich, anti-poor policies, top placed politicians and state functionaries from presidency to governors, local government chairmen, parliamentarians and the judicial officers have been using their privileged positions to convert what belongs to all of us to their own exclusive private property and that of their capitalist collaborators/contractors.
The DSM therefore fully endorses the stance of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that: “all the stolen funds must be recovered” and “All those who looted our funds, whether in power sector, the oil sector or the Aso Rock sector must be prosecuted”.
However, labour leadership must bluntly appreciate the fact that there is nothing new or special in the revelations coming out of the power sector probe. In fact, with the series of the ongoing probes or proposed probes, it does appear that Nigerians are being treated to another edition of self-serving anti-corruption posturing usually employed by current power holders to put those that put them in power and/or those they succeeded at bay so that they too could have unfettered opportunity to loot.
Thus, the late kleptomaniac military dictator, General Sanni Abacha, set up the Okigbo Panel, which told Nigerians how a sum of $12.4 billion disappeared under Babangida’s tenure with nothing concrete to show for it. Suffice to note, the Abacha government did nothing with the result of the probe and neither have his successors (Abubakar Abdulsalami, Obasanjo and now Yar’Adua) done anything with the findings of the Okigbo Report.
When Obasanjo himself came to power, he set up several probes on the Abacha and the Abdulsalami’s administrations. In particular, he set up two panels, one headed by Christopher Kolade and another one by Retired Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi. These two panels eventually came up with astonishing reports of massive corruption and abuse of office by Abdulsalami’s administration, which significantly spent less than a year in power. On Abacha, we were told of several billions of dollars salted away in different foreign banks. Suffice to note however, nothing was ever done to prosecute those indicted by the reports of various probes set up by President Obasanjo in his early days in power.
Of course, President Obasanjo later set up the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), which on record has successfully prosecuted a few high profile public officers and politicians. Even then, most of those who were successfully convicted and prosecuted were merely given punishments no more than a slap on the wrist. For instance, Alamiesiegha (the former governor of Bayelsa State) for being caught with a sum of Å1million at London Heathrow Airport, among other charges, bagged a 3-year sentence in prison, while Tafa Balogun (former Inspector General of Police) who was convicted of stealing N17billion bagged only a six-month jail sentence. To add insult to injury, neither of these duo actually spent a day in prison after their convictions, under the alleged excuse that they were sick or had spent the equivalent terms of their sentences in detention while awaiting trial!
Thus beyond the token few prosecuted or convicted, Obasanjo’s EFCC could not bring to book several public officers which everybody knew were living beyond their legitimate means. In fact, towards the dying era of Obasanjo presidency, the EFCC was virtually turned into an instrument of witch-hunting political opponents of President Obasanjo and his “do or die” collaborators.
Therefore, against the above inglorious tradition of indicting looters without anything being done to punish them, labour needs to bluntly face the truth that its modest demands for the prosecution of all those that have looted our funds “whether in power sector, oil sector or the Aso Rock sector” would require more than one day rally in Abuja. Given the acts of pervasive corruption, among top placed rulers and government officials, the NLC must really prepare for protracted mass actions, including industrial strikes and peaceful demonstrations, if the findings of the on-going power sector probe are not to be swept under the carpet as usual.
The NLC also needs to organise similar mass action at states and local government levels. Going by the stupendous resources which have been appropriated by the states and local councils in the past 8 years or so, and the prevailing deplorable economic and living conditions of the vast majority of Nigerians, to successfully prosecute all treasury looters, similar probes and mass actions have to be organised at the state and local councils levels and not just against the central government in Abuja.
WINNING THE WAR AGAINST CORRUPTION
However, in its utterances and actions, consciously or unconsciously, labour leadership must never for a second help spread the illusion that a successful war against corruption can be waged by merely prosecuting all indicted looters. The working masses and labour leaders in particular need to face the brutal reality that the prevailing economic and political system under which the country is governed are inherently corrupt and thus would remain corrupt for ever.
For instance, under the reigning neo-liberal capitalist programme of privatisation and monetisation, juicy public property and assets are being shared among the ruling capitalist elite at the central, state and local council levels across the country by all the ruling parties (PDP, AC, ANPP etc). Mostly, these properties were and are still being sold at prices grossly below their real value and most often, using publicly looted funds to acquire same..
This explains why every election has always been, and will always remain, a do or die affair for the elite. Those that have used their positions to loot public funds and or acquired undeserved privileges would never voluntarily organise a free and fair election capable of dislodging them from power. Meanwhile, it is equally important to stress that beyond the inbuilt corruption which capitalist administration entails; Nigeria’s ruling capitalist elite are specially renowned for its utter self-serving characteristics and insensitivity to the needs of an average person.
In a country where the minimum wage at central and state levels are N11,000 and N9,000 respectively, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission recently proposed a new wage structure for top political office holders including presidency, judiciary and legislators. For instance, the annual salaries and allowances of the just 469 members of the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) have been increased from 41 billion naira to 60 billion naira. Now, a Senator will earn 2million naira as basic salary per annum, 4 million as accommodation allowance, 6 million for furniture allowance, 8 million naira as car loan.
This not all, most members of the National Assembly are either officers or members of one committee or another, thus having right to official cars and all sorts of perks which have already been provided for already. Of course, all these enumerated packages do not include patronages received in form of grafts and over inflated public contracts. This indeed is the real meaning of monetization – a government run by over-paid politicians in the interest of the few rich in society.
Quite expectedly, both arms of the National Assembly had in a jiffy passed the bill concerned without any disagreement or rancour by all the legislators of the ruling PDP and all their so-called opponents in the AC and ANPP. Although President Yar’Adua is yet to sign this bill into a law, the media has however reported that members of National Assembly have already started to pay themselves on the basis of this obscene increment. Faced with this kind of situation therefore, labour leaders need to sharpen their focus on the state of the nation. The country is currently making stupendous wealth from the sales of crude oil, yet the condition of living and the overall state of the economy are in the worst shapes possible. Money either is being looted outright by the top government officials and or insensitively shared among top placed rulers in the executive, legislature and the judiciary through awards of jumbo pays such as outlined above.
Displaying a high level of insensitivity, the jumbo pay awarded to top government officials was justified by the need to pay ‘a living wage’ to an already over paid, pampered, tiny minority in the corridors of power. With this reckless act, the ruling elite has thrown a gauntlet. Consequently, the NLC and TUC leaders no longer have any excuse not to demand now a living wage for all categories of workers at all levels. Labour and working class leaders especially must now jettison the notion that the ruling class care about the masses welfare. Just last week, the President was reported to have approved a higher electricity tariff for consumers with effect from July 1, 2008. Simultaneously, the President had pledged to spend a whooping N177.95 billion to subsidise electricity consumption for the next three years. Suffice to note, these two related policy have sharply brought out the anti-poor character and corruption inherent in capitalism.
After wasting $16 billion to generate darkness, President Yar’Adua, without any qualms, has authorised an increment in the electricity tariffs. Laying foundation for another era of corruption, he has equally promised to subsidise electricity by N177million under the guise of encouraging private investors in the country. Presently, there is no any private company generating electricity for public consumption. It is therefore immoral and unjustifiable to set aside subsidy for non-existing private enterprises.
WHAT LABOUR SHOULD DO NEXT
Consequently, in order for labour’s mass actions against corruption to be meaningful and effective, it has to be anchored on a strategy, which simultaneously seeks to mobilise the entire working masses to fight for an immediate improvement in their lives and for a revolutionary transformation of the prevailing unjust order.
Labour needs to centrally confront capitalism and its anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, etc. Labour needs to adopt an outright socialist policy of collective ownership and working class democratic management of resources of the society. It is only within this context that enough resources and skills can be generated and mobilised to guarantee a living wage condition for everybody and not just for the few rulers at the top of society, as is the case under the current dispensation. In this respect, labour needs to immediately break its so-called “strategic partnership” with the Yar’Adua capitalist government and employers of labour in general. Labour leaders need to wake up to the reality that President Yar’Adua and his capitalist colleagues are not interested and will never be interested in the genuine fight against corruption nor in the provision of decent living for the ordinary masses.
Recently, there were speculations that President Yar’Adua was covertly behind the probes being conducted by the House of Reps and the Senate on certain sectors of the economy under Obasanjo’s tenure. Pronto, President Yar’Adua trenchantly disassociated himself from such insinuation. According to the President’s Special Adviser on communications, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, the President was, in fact, disgusted by the distraction the development has caused the administration. He added: “There is no way the President could have sponsored such a deal against his predecessor. That is a very wicked perceptionâ€¦. How can President Yar’Adua do a thing like that. He is even disturbed by the way the probes have affected the focus of the administration” (The Guardian, back page, May 5, 2008).
Against this background, the proposed mass actions/rallies must not be anchored on a false perspective of mobilising just to let President Yar’Adua appreciate that he must wage war against corruption with all the political will and decisiveness that the war requires (NLC May Day Statement). To say the least, this is an utopian perspective. President Yar’Adua and his co-capitalists are ideologically anti-poor, pro-rich, neo-liberal and for all these reasons, inherently corrupt. There is therefore not any realistic way by which President Yar’Adua or any other capitalist President/leader can be enlisted to wage any genuine war against corruption. For this reason, labour leaders need to stop, today, their counter-productive collaboration with President Yar’Adua’s so-called Electoral Reform Panel. Instead of an approach which gives the false impression that President Yar’Adua or capitalist elite in general can take measures, which will economically and politically better the lots of the working masses, labour should instead adopt a revolutionary political strategy, which consciously strives to build an independent working class political party expressly committed to new social order, economically and politically.
Therefore, instead of giving credibility to an incredible process being called an Electoral Reform Panel, labour should step up the strategy and tactics that can build the Labour Party as a viable political instrument to uproot all sections of the thieving capitalist elite and usurpers from power and replace them with a workers’ and poor government. Unless this approach is immediately embarked upon, the next so-called general election will be greater farce than all the charades that we witnessed in 2007 and in the recent so-called bye-elections.