OSHIOMHOLE: A Deserved Victory For The Working Masses, But Challenges Lie Ahead
OSHIOMHOLE: A Deserved Victory For The Working Masses, But Challenges Lie Ahead
For the first time since November 4, Barrack Obama was eased out of front pages of Nigerian newspapers by the November 11 Court of Appeal unanimous affirmation of Adams Oshiomhole’s victory as the Governor of Edo State, South-South Nigeria. To the poor working masses of Edo, the emergence of Oshiomhole, who as the immediate past President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) led workers and poor masses in 8 general strikes and protests against some neo-liberal anti-poor policies, as the governor of Edo State is as historic as the victory of Obama in the US presidential election. This perhaps explains why the chants of Obama! Obama! rented the air as Oshiomhole mounted the podium for his inauguration.
Adams Oshiomhole’s victory is seen as the dawn of a new era for a state which had been held at the jugular and fleeced for over 9 years by marauding, thieving politicians. Since the advent of civil rule in 1999 somebody truly elected by poor working people themselves assumed political office. It was due to the electrifying effect of this victory on the masses that, unlike the usual rent-a-crowd feature of all previous inaugurations, about 100, 000 self-mobilised poor masses thronged the 30,0000 capacity stadium to witness the swearing-in of Adams Oshiomhole less than 24hours after the Court of Appeal ruling. Even those who could not walk were carried into the stadium to witness the historic occasion.
The inauguration took place after 19 months of political and legal struggle to reclaim the peoples’ mandate stolen by the anti-poor People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the April 2007 elections widely adjudged as the worst and most farcical in history of Nigeria, nay the developing countries.
It is disappointing that Adams Oshiomhole ditched his original plan to stand as a candidate of the Labour Party and stood on the platform of an utterly corrupt, bourgeois opposition political party, the Action Congress (AC). Nonetheless, the mass of poor working people voted for him because of his radical labour credentials and his campaign promise of radical reforms to end poverty. In fact many actually thought he was a “Labour” candidate. In a state that experiences real poverty, underdevelopment, massive erosions and unemployment, this promise to end poverty means the possibility of heaven on earth to ordinary working people. It was these radical campaign programs and labour credential which made the mass of people in Edo State to support him despite the unimpressive character of his adopted party, the Action Congress (AC).
First and foremost, his victory has confirmed our position that radical working class elements could win election on the basis of active support of poor working masses and that when such elections are rigged, the mass of the people will be prepared to fight. We in the DSM have always argued against those who say that a working class candidate must contest on the platform of a bourgeois party in order to get campaign funds to prosecute the election that the active support of the mass of the people, trade unions and pro-masses organizations will guarantee whatever resources needed. This was confirmed in miniature in Edo State.
According to Adams Oshiomhole himself on an African Independent Television (AIT) interview on the evening of the Court of Appeal ruling, he mentioned that during the campaign some working class persons called to donate recharge cards to him. Where the PDP needed billions of naira to rent crowds to rallies, every of Adams Oshiomhole’s appearance at the sitting of the election petition tribunal always turned into political rallies as enthusiastic okada riders, market women, youths and students abandon their duties in solidarity. Equally, immediately after the rigging of the April 2007 elections, the mass of the people came out on spontaneous protests and demonstrations.
Again, all this shows the potentials of what could have happened if Adams Oshiomhole had openly embraced a distinctly working class political party which the mass of people can really identify with as their own party. In other words, if Oshiomhole had contested on the platform of the Labour Party, where he had originally declared his bid for gubernatorial seat, he would still have won.
CAN HE DELIVER?
As things stand now, the masses of Edo State believe that Oshiomhole, having successfully led mass general strikes as NLC President against anti-poor neo-liberal policies like the hikes in fuel prices, is capable of fulfilling his radical campaign promises to end poverty.
Oshiomhole himself had reiterated these campaign promises at the inauguration to rousing applause. He said, “At the forefront of these challenges are the need to rebuild our education system, revamp infrastructure and create employment through the stimulation of production in both agriculture and industry”. Furthermore, he re-affirmed the promise for provision of motor able roads, free and quality education, electrification, pipe borne water, quality healthcare, mass employment, decent housing, adequate remuneration of workers etc
However, achieving this laudable programme and satisfying the huge expectations of the mass of people requires mobilising every kobo of resources accruable to the State and their judicious allocation. This can only be guaranteed if Oshiomhole begins to mobilise the Edo working masses in support of a drive to reverse all anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the past governments. All government assets privatised and contracts given out at over-priced rates to contractors must be reversed while compensation must only be paid on the basis of proven need. He must block all leakages in the state resources by cancelling the wasteful expenditure and corruption which characterised past regimes. He should cancel paying interest on the debts run by previous regimes. Particularly, we call on Oshiomhole government to set up a panel of elected workers, community representatives and government officials to recover all funds looted by past administrations in the state.
Achieving judicious allocation means institutionalising democratic control with elected committee of elected representatives of workers, communities, professionals and government officials.
As part of drive against official corruption, all public office holders should be placed on a living wage not above that of the average skilled workers and professionals, with democratic controls to guard against looting. He must not run a government of contractors and consultants who alone usually account for more than half the cost of projects and thereby limiting the number of projects that could be done with available resources. Instead, the state ministry of works should be well equipped and empowered to be able to execute even some of the major projects. With this, the state could judiciously invest the resources accruable to it in the genuine interest of the working and poor people of Edo State.
Limited as the above measures are in terms of what is needed to really eradicate poverty, Oshiomhole must not for a single second expect the cooperation of thieving politicians who see politics as a big racket for insatiable, self-serving interests. Pro-masses programs like free education, employment, cancellation of illegal taxes, payment of skilled workers wage to political office holders etc will inevitably come up against the opposition of entrenched capitalist interests even in his adopted party, the Action Congress (AC). This clash of class interests will be reflected in the House of Assembly (dominated by the PDP) which could limit Oshiomhole’s actions, and like Kaduna State in the Second Republic, pose the danger of a future attempt to remove him if he becomes too pro-masses. Therefore, the only way to save his government in the immediate and future periods is for Oshiomhole to immediately begin to mobilise, in an organised way, mass rank and file support to defeat the inevitable opposition from the ruling elite and their political servants.
It must however be admitted that there are obvious limitations to what could be achieved within the confines of a single state more so that political power resides at the centre with self-serving and corrupt capitalist who will stop at nothing to frustrate any radical efforts aimed at improving the lots of the masses. Allocation of resources is so skewed on the basis of decades of capitalist domination so much that every State government including an Oshiomhole-led ‘People’s government’ will have to, even if temporarily, depend on monthly hand-outs from the federation account to implement its policies. At the same time, the presence of a government in Edo State willing to implement radical reforms means that the question of allocation of resources becomes crucial to the working and toiling people.
Therefore, Adams Oshiomhole should demand that the Federal Government provides Edo, and all other states, with the necessary resources to implement pro-working peoples’ policies while stressing that such resources must be controlled and managed by elected committees of workers, communities, professionals and government officials to prevent official corruption which has always been the bane of allocations. But in the absence of pro-working people government in other states, increased resources will still not have desired results on the poor working masses. It is therefore incumbent on Oshiomhole (alongside labour and pro-masses organisations) to consciously mobilise workers, youths and poor in other states for a fight for improved living and working conditions and link this with the need to wrest political power from the capitalist looters holding sway nationally and in all states and local governments.
GRAND ILLUSIONS IN THE CAPITALIST CLASS
Suffice to stress, Adams Oshiomhole will have to lean on the organised strength of the working masses if he is to break the resistance sure to be put up by the looters. Unfortunately, he himself swims in an ocean of illusion that the interests of the masses and the exploiters are reconcilable. In this vein, he has urged the members of House of Assembly to put to shame the “doomsday prophets who are projecting frosty relations between the executive and the legislature”.
But to really avert the doomsday Oshiomhole must consciously build active mass support. In our “Socialist Manifesto for Adams” (SD Special Edition April 2008), the DSM proposed that Adams must build a real “peoples government” by instituting a “Working Peoples Assembly made up of elected representatives from workplaces, communities, villages and schools to decide the next steps on how to implement the proposed reforms and recall any member of the State House of Assembly who goes against programmes aimed at improving the living conditions of poor working people in the state.” With such an Assembly, Adams Oshiomhole can build the political power necessary to push through radical and pro-masses’ reforms.
Unfortunately, Oshiomhole has selective trust in anti-poor bourgeois politicians. Equally, he accepts neo-liberal policies but insists it must have “a human face”. This informed his uncritical endorsement of Olusegun Obasanjo for second term as president despite leading massive protests against his anti-poor neo-liberal policies. He even shared in cutting a big cake to celebrate the phantom victory of Obasanjo at the 2003 polls that was characterised by massive riggings and manipulation. In the same vein, he officially proclaimed Bola Tinubu the former Lagos State governor as the best governor in Nigeria in the run-up to the 2003 elections.
However, the worse chink in his armoury is his membership of Action Congress which is an anti-poor people’s party like the PDP. As pointed out above, he will surely face tough battles and frustrations from the power brokers in the AC who see governance as an opportunity to loot the treasury. This is why we in the DSM regretted that Adams Oshiomhole left the Labour Party to stand for the Action Congress and call on him to quit the Action Congress now. Already, some hacks in the mainstream print media have been urging him to emulate the “achievements” of the current AC government of Lagos State. But it will be an unmitigated disaster for poor masses of Edo state should Oshiomhole use the AC government of Lagos State as a standard to emulate.
What obtains in Lagos is veneering the rot and massive propaganda. Some selected areas are beautified while most access and interior roads are deplorable. The state government distributed “free” exercise books to public schools with over 100 students in a classroom with no chairs and tables and housed in mostly dilapidated buildings. The Fashola government established a Bus Rapid Transport system manned with workers who are subjected to poor pay and working conditions and denied rights to unionise. Needless to say, the BRT itself is a tokenist approach to a state that is in dire need of holistic integrated and modern transport networks. AC created 57 local governments just to create jobs for its large army of leeching hangers-on. Up till now, there is no iota of development that benefits the poor masses in all these local governments and councils. This largely explains why the last local government elections in the state attracted mass apathy and boycott from the electorate.
We hope all this and other instances of grand deception that define Lagos state AC government are not what Oshiomhole desires for the poor working masses of Edo state. He should therefore set a different standard of using public resources for the benefit of the entire society. He must shake off the albatross constituted by the AC both in programme and personnel to his government. Above all, a lesson must be learnt from Frederick Chiluba of Zambia (also a radical labour leader before contesting) whose refusal to break away from neo-liberal programmes and pro- capitalist elements made him to implement anti-poor, self-serving policies as against his election promises. Eventually, it set him on collision course with the poor masses who had massively voted him into power. The choice before Adams Oshiomhole is therefore to choose between the interest of the masses and that of the capitalist exploiters whose main interest is to continue the status quo.
We in the DSM again restate our call that Adams Oshiomhole should immediately quit the Action Congress (AC) but instead help build the Labour Party, together with labour and pro-masses’ organisations, as a fighting party of the working and toiling people that could defend their immediate demands and lead them in struggle for political power nationally. A working people’s party with a fighting programme becomes more important than ever given the global financial crisis whose impact of the global economy has been predicted to be on the scale of the 1929 great depression. The implication of this on the living standards of working people globally and in Nigeria is bound to be calamitous. NLC, TUC and LASCO must begin mobilisation of workers, youths and poor masses for fight back. Adams Oshiomhole could help build this movement by actively taking the side of the masses. This and his commitment and that of the Labour Party to pro-masses programmes could serve as a pole of attraction for workers, youths and poor masses across the country to the party. However, in order to guarantee basic needs of all and economic development on a lasting basis, the Labour Party will have to develop to a national movement which embraces socialist ideas and methods in and out of power.
As we observed in the “Socialist Manifesto for Adams”, the greatest obstacle to Oshiomhole’s outlined radical measures is his unwillingness to frontally oppose capitalism and consciously put forward a democratic, socialist option, while he is prepared to fight on individual issues. This will mean that little of his social programme could ever be implemented let alone sustained. However, if he leaves AC and helps build the Labour Party as a genuine mass working class party he would have succeeded in opening a fertile ground for socialist ideas to grow among workers and poor masses who will be ready to defeat iniquitous capitalism in Nigeria with support and solidarity of working class internationally.