WHAT MANNER OF OPPOSITION?
As a major opposition party, the Action Congress (AC) can find itself in power someday at the central level. Presently, it is in power in Lagos State and depending on the outcome of the series of litigations over the farce called 2007 general elections, it could form the government in a few other states.
In its propaganda, the party described its members as “democrats” or “progressive” to distinguish its members from those of the ruling PDP seen as “dictatorial”, “undemocratic” and “reactionary”. In fact, a large chunk of what presently constitutes the AC is made up of elements like Abubakar Atiku, the former Vice President under Obasanjo who claimed they left the PDP because of its undemocratic character and conduct; while others are mostly made up of erstwhile followers of Chief Obafemi Awolowo school of thought.
But, in sharp contrast to what obtains in contemporary era, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as premier of the old Western Region and later as leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria stood, albeit in a different historical period, for a welfarist agenda. Unlike their present day political offsprings, Awo’s central political strategy relied on substantial state intervention in the provisions of infrastructures like roads and electricity as well as functional social services like education, health care, housing, employment, etc.
Partly due to its peculiar background, it is the opinion of certain political activists that all opposition forces should rally round the AC platform, with the idea of coming up with a viable political platform to wrestle power from the strangulating hold of the PDP and its throw-back leaders against the 2011 and future elections.
HOW DIFFERENT IS AC FROM THE PDP
In outlook and conducts, there is no any fundamental difference between the PDP and the AC. This of course, is said without being oblivious to the constant and sometimes deadly contest for powers and positions between these two sections of this same capitalist class. The “fight to finish” over the “third term plot” by Obasanjo to remain in power beyond May 29, 2007 and the subsequent “Do or Die” 2007 general elections are just two recent examples of a never ceasing ferocious intra-class and regional competition that dominate the day to day activities of these elements. But using working class socialist parameters, we in the DSM had always maintained that members of the PDP and the AC, ANPP, etc are anti-poor, utterly corrupt and undemocratic.
Appraising the combination of elements that fought and defeated Obasanjo’s “third term” plot, the DSM had, in a statement titled: “After the Defeat of “Third Term” Agenda, Where do the Masses Go” (June 1, 2006) drawn a political portrait of the present day leaders and members of the AC. We quote: “For instance, all the state governments and its so-called Houses of Assembly in the South West excluding only Lagos State gave cacophonic support to the third-term agenda, partly because it would ensure the perpetuation of their own ‘son of the soil’ in power! On the other side of the spectrum were the governments and State Houses of Assembly from the other zones, who for similar self-serving goal, opposed the elongation of Obasanjo’s presidency simply because it would either prevent or prolong the time when their own “son of the soil” could become president!
“Both camps unreservedly support capitalism and its ferocious neo-liberal reforms. Both sides do not fight over the act of converting what belongs to all into an exclusive property of a few in the name of privatisation and trade liberalisation! The disagreement is always on which person or persons should be in direct control of this organised economic fraud and political racketeering! Both camps, including the anti-third termists of the AD and ANPP, at states and national levels are deep soaked in an ocean of irredeemable material corruption and electoral manipulations. Notwithstanding their supposed opposition to the third-term agenda, Atiku, one of the most prominent anti-third term advocates, recently, in a letter to Obasanjo, asking for the latter’s political support in his bid to become president, described Obasanjo as an “exemplary leader”, who has rescued Nigeria from the rule of the locusts! Senator Uche Chukwumerije, the arrow-head of the opposition to the third-term agenda in the National Assembly, just last year, in an interview with the Guardian, stated that what he liked most about President Obasanjo was his “healthy contempt for public opinion”! In the wake of the widespread protest which greeted the PDP rigged victory in the 2003 general elections, Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, who would today want us to believe that he is politically different from Obasanjo, had amongst other things stated: ‘The most urgent need of the hour is to rally round the presidentâ€¦â€¦We must accelerate the pace of privatisation. We must intensify the liberalisation and opening up of the countryâ€¦â€¦..Let this task unites us irrespective of the party affiliation or political disposition.’ (Nigerian Tribune, May 27, 2003, p.2). Show me your role model, I will instantly know the kind of person you are!”
From the above quotation, it should now be very obvious to conscious working class elements while the AC representatives in the National Assembly had always colluded with their PDP counterparts to promote the collective class interest of the thieving elite at the expense of the interest of the ordinary masses. When recently teachers in primary and publicly owned secondary schools went on strike, demanding improved conditions of work, all elected members of the PDP and the AC at all levels united to defeat the teachers’ demands. In sharp contrast, when in August the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Committee recommended jumbo increases in the salary and allowances of all senior public officers, this was immediately and without rancour or dissension approved and accepted by PDP, ANPP and AC legislators in National Assembly.
LOCAL COUNCILS PRIMARY
If there existed amongst certain layers of the change-seeking elements a debatable degree of illusion that the AC is fundamentally different from the PDP, that illusion must have died with the conducts or non conducts that the outcome of the AC’s local councils primaries in Lagos State, the only state where it currently holds power.
To start with, the party leaders have on several occasions, and for flimsy reasons, cancelled planned primaries. At the same time, there have been loud and voluble cries by rank and file party members of their leaders design to impose unpopular candidates to run in the forthcoming local council elections. In the first instance, this has always been the central characteristic of the AC leaders even while in the AD or other parties. And if the truth must be told, this will continue to remain their standard practice. This is because the capitalist interest, which the AD stands for, is self-serving and thus can only be ultimately protected through undemocratic and arbitrary conducts and decisions. While those of their members who today find themselves at the receiving end of this undemocratic arbitrariness may deserve general sympathy, the fact that they themselves are jostling for power not for any collective betterment of the people but for their own self-serving gains equally underlines why they can not be expected to put up any prolonged principle resistance against the leaders in positions and arbitrariness.
In the first instance, most of the foot soldiers usually supporting the candidates were more mercenaries than principled party supporters. Their support for a candidate is usually based on ability of particular candidate to muster enough resources to keep its campaign going and also partly based on the prospect of the particular candidate being able to secure party ticket. When the chips are down, most of these supporters will usually backed whoever receives the party leadership endorsement because of the syndrome of not wanting to be with the losers! Thus, in an unlikely event that the AC or any other capitalist opposition party comes to power at the central level in the 2011 or any future elections, conscious working class elements have no reasons to believe that the socio-economic interest of the masses will become radically better than what presently obtains under the PDP government.
THE AC GOVERNMENT IN LAGOS STATE
Beyond futuristic speculations, the AC government in Lagos State, the only state where the party currently holds power, more pointedly shows what an AC government would be centrally. Just like President Yar’Adua’s PDP at the central level, the AC government in Lagos State is not short of series of grandiose plans of how to make the economy and peoples’ living standards become better. While at the central level, President Yar’Adua has the much touted 7-point agenda. Under Yar’Adua’s seven-point agenda, human and capital development would be boosted, essential infrastructures like electricity, roads and other forms of transportation will become stable and available. Under governor Fashola’s AC, Lagos State will be transformed into a modern mega city. Lagos roads and transportation in general would be re-invented. Other forms of transportation means like railways and waterways will be given necessary and adequate attention. Concern for long-term environmental considerations will become the cornerstones of planning in Lagos State. In this respect, Lagos streets, in the next few years, are expected to assume a new look as a result of orchestrated tree plantings as part of Lagos mega city agenda. However, beyond powerful media propaganda, both at the central and federal levels, there is nothing on ground after more than 15 months in office despite the huge revenues and resources accruing to the governments.
Of course, there are certain outward moves to improve on roads infrastructures and the likes within the state. However, beyond the buhaha, of the first few months in power, most of these roads projects have remained in various states of abandonment. Despite contrary official propaganda, most roads, major and minor, in the Lagos metropolis and councils remain in deplorable conditions. Instead of placing emphasis on constructions of more roads and or making the existing ones more functional, the Lagos State government has mostly concentrated on counter-productive divisions of the existing roads and or projects through which public funds can easily be siphoned into private pockets. As we write, most roads in Lagos State are without functional drainage including where some existed before. Even newly constructed millennium roads like LASU-Igando road, are built without drainage.
Under the guise of beautification, many Lagos markets and houses being patronized or owned by poor people are being demolished with a bestial gusto without giving a hoot for the rehabilitation of the victims of these demolitions. In carrying out its demolition the AC government have been making it loud and clear that they will only compensate those with certificates of occupancy. Such is the insensitivity of government officials that they threatened those who failed to demolish their own houses in Ajeromi-Ifelodun local council within the short time notice given to them with the penalty of being surcharged for the cost of the demolition if the government is left to carry out same! And as usual, government spokespersons say only those with certificates of occupancy will be compensated. Meanwhile, same government officials, for decades, have been collecting tenement rates from the owners of these properties notwithstanding that they have no certificates of occupancy.
Thus, when the critical assessment is made of governor Fashola’s governance in Lagos State so far, certain conclusions become obvious. The implementation of his very many laudable projects, are anchored on capitalist contract approach, elitist in conception and implementation and ultimately anti-poor. Due to “profit first” nature of capitalism, most of the huge resources that will be voted to these projects will only be able to have very minimum impact, beyond rhetoric and massive propaganda. This is because provisions of standard and affordable roads, housing, schools, hospitals, etc would only come after profit consideration. Similarly, the government’s so-called beatification being done in order to provide a pleasant sight for the few thieving elite at the expense of tens of thousands of victims.
In order to truly turn Lagos State around, some of the policies and actions being outlined by AC government will be necessary. But socialists always ask “who gains”, will working people and the poor benefit or will it be the rich and profiteers who gain from change?
However, even with the best will in the world it is important to underline the fact that none of these policies can be successfully implemented within the framework of the prevailing capitalist economy and polity. Take housing for instance; it is not only houses that were built on utility lands and without approval that would have to be demolished if Lagos is to be truly modernized. Most people in contemporary Lagos live in under sub-human conditions. Under a truly new dispensation, most of these houses would have to be demolished. But only a truly publicly elected pro-working peoples’ government can carry out in a humane way the kind of gigantic demolition of houses that would be required. But the starting point for such government will not be demolition of houses but massive constructions of alternative decent accommodation combined with democratic discussions and consultations with owners of existing sub-standard houses on what to do with them. If all roads in Lagos State are to be paved, adequate facilities and infrastructures provided for education and healthcare of the masses, then solutions would have to be based on massive public works built on workers democratic control and management of the state revenues and its disbursement.
The current emphasis on Private Public Initiative (PPI) can only scratch the problem on the surface because the primary aims of any venture executed through PPI will be to make legally guaranteed super profits for the private investors involved. Therefore, as things stand today, governor Fashola’s AC government based as it is on capitalist ethos would not be able to deliver on many of its set out developmental goals. Thus, its ability to win Lagos for AC come 2011 would not be based on its real achievements but as usual, on its ability to match PDP’s rascality for rascality, riggings for riggings and bribery for bribery. There would then exist mass apathy towards the government just as was the case in 2003 and 2007. Even the forthcoming local government elections fixed for October 2008 will be met with serious apathy. Faced with considerations to control power at all cost, many present leaders of AC would not hesitate to cross over to the PDP if that is the only way they believe they could hold on to power. As things stand today, the AC by the time of 2011 would have become totally discredited among the vast majority of the masses who could not see any substantial difference between it and its main rival, the PDP.
Presently, the AC is able to hang on to power in Lagos State because of the absence of a truly people oriented political party contesting power with it. In 2003, despite its late registration and paucity of funds but because of its pro-people appeal, the then socialist led National Conscience Party (NCP) in Lagos gave a serious fright to the AD/AC power peddlers. However, the pro-capitalist rightward shift/orientation by the national leadership of that party under the leadership of Doctor Osagie Obayuwana has temporarily robbed Lagosians of a focused pro-people opposition to the AC in Lagos State. Similarly, the present inability to build Labour Party as a truly pro-people campaigning party is also partly responsible for why AC is tolerated in Lagos State. This is because the vast majority of Lagosians are politically conscious enough to recognize that PDP is not an alternative to AC. Nevertheless, based on its pro-rich ideology and policies, the AC will sooner than later exhaust its political capital among the people. Increasingly, discerning people are unable to see any radical difference between the PDP and the AC.
Of course, the consequential disenchantment and apathy that this scenario portends does not offer any succour to the long-suffering masses of Lagos State. Therefore, in order to bring governance to meet the aspirations of the people, it has become imperative for all change-seeking elements to begin to make moves to truly transform the existing Labour Party into a true fighting party and defenders of the masses or if need be, to build an entirely new working class party that will be committed to socialist transformation of society. Until this is done, the Lagos masses just as well as the masses of other states will be left under the merciless rule of different sections of the capitalist ruling elite or the other as can be found within the AC, ANPP and PDP.