NIGERIA ON A CLIFF EDGE:
NIGERIA ON A CLIFF EDGE:
Sharp Working Class Policies and Strategy Needed to Prevent Total Ruin
By Segun Sango, General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement
How come that despite cracks in the ranks of the utterly corrupt and oppressive ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it continues to maintain its grip on power?
How come a seemingly simple constitutional matter like making the Vice-President act in the absence of a sick President Yar’Adua has turned into a debacle that dominates media headlines at a time of economic impoverishment of the mass of the peoples through such anti-peoples’ measures like the current increase in fuel prices?
Questions like these would be agitating the minds of labour activists and their allies in the youth and students movement today.
The answers are however not far-fetched. First is to reiterate that the Nigerian capitalist class continues to lack real basis in industry and manufacturing but cling to State or government as the golden goose that lays the golden egg in the form of petroleum resources. At the background of battle for State power is the question of who controls and allocates petro-dollars.
Thus elections since 1999 to date could not have been anything but ‘do or die affair’. It has also bred violent ethnic, nationality and religious uprisings.
The other side of the socio-political coin is the absence of genuine mass based political opposition that links daily agitations for better living with the take-over of power. The so called ‘mega’ or ‘opposition’ parties AC, ANPP, APGA – would not act differently to the PDP in similar circumstances. They shout rigging in the morning and embrace government of national unity (read looting) in the evening. At the Lagos public hearing of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, Ahmed Tinubu, the de-facto leader of the AC, openly canvassed for a two-party State. It is all about zoning or rotating treasury looting!!
Nor is the leadership of the Save Nigeria Group inclined to rock the capitalist boat. The totality of their demands is to ask the rotten ruling class to reform itself whereas what is needed is a revolutionary alternative and change.
On the other hand, the dissenting sections of the ruling class, are seeking reform from the top to prevent revolution from below! “We are thieves but let there be honour among us’ is their real message.
Finally, as we set for press, the Anambra governorship election was held. It had been touted as test case for 2010 while the media screamed that the whole world was watching Anambra. Millions of dollars went into preparations by INEC, security agencies and civil society groups. At the end of the day, ballot boxes were again snatched by armed thugs while the police and INEC looked the other way; voters’ figures were inflated yet many could not vote because their names were not on the register. Anambra might yet be a dress rehearsal for the farce that looms in 2011 if the status-quo remains.
This pamphlet therefore constitutes a socialist warning and clarion call on the mass of the working peoples to put at the front burner of their economic and political agitations and struggles, the question of how to build their own political alternative. For any other way, as we analyse, can only lead to two or three outcomes viz., the continuation of the present quagmire, the replacement of one section of the ruining class with another or the total collapse of the Nigerian State. None of these would be of any benefit whatsoever to ordinary working peoples.
AN UNSCRUPULOUS AND RECKLESS RULING ELITE
Socially, politically and economically, Nigeria appears set for a rapid race into a bottomless pit. Presently, the negative impact of several years of pro-rich, anti-people policies adopted and embraced by both the military and civilian sections of the capitalist ruling elite has now driven Nigeria to the brink of an unimaginable socio-economic and political disaster. Economically, the sharpest expression of this disaster is the continued and deepening mass poverty, in the midst of abundant resources, with only a tiny proportion of the population (i.e. the top politicians, state officials and their capitalist allies) wallowing in stupendous, but needless, personal wealth. This, it must be stressed, is primarily responsible for the ‘Catch 22’ situation, which dominates Nigeria’s political landscape today. There is in power ruling elite, which, for all useful purposes, is a complete failure and irredeemably corrupt. In a truly democratic atmosphere, the kind of ruling elements that dominate Nigeria could not be tolerated even for a week by the people, let alone being expected to win elections. However, such is the brazen recklessness of these rotten and contemptible elites that every election is manipulated in such a way that only they, and/or their surrogates, can emerge as winners!
The capitalist ruling elite are totally bankrupt and, at the same time, reckless. While they acquire power in the name of democracy, their reign is actually dominated by acts of impunity. While Nigeria’s 1999 constitution stipulated a maximum of two terms, of four years each, for presidents and governors, former President, Obasanjo, nonetheless spent hundreds of billions of naira to subvert the constitution when plotting to remain in power beyond the constitutionally allowed tenure. Happily, his “third term” agenda was defeated. However, because the forces that thwarted Obasanjo’s unbridled ambition belong to the same camp of corrupt, anti-people politicians, they subsequently colluded with the same Obasanjo to foist on Nigeria a person known to be suffering from a chronic medical disease as President.
There is widespread disaffection and anger across the country against the palpable failure of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled central government. Regardless of promises to implement electoral reforms, the 2011 general elections will not be any fairer than the farce called the 2007 general elections. This of course will only deepen the prevailing mass discontent within society. Already, there have been barely-hidden calls for military coups. However, still heavily weighed upon by the burden of its own past crimes, the military has apparently, for now, decided not to emerge as “saviours” of the country and its eternally suffering masses once again. However, the retention of power by the PDP in another farcical exercise come 2011, will certainly aggravate all the current tensions arising from social and economic deprivation as well as Nigeria’s religious and nationality crisis. The kind of explosive atmosphere, which another rigged election will bring about, could push significant sections of the ruling elite to, once again, resort to support for a military coup, as an option to effect regime change, so as to prevent a mass revolt that would challenge the entire capitalist system.
Here, it must be bluntly stated that all the social and political prerequisites for a reactionary, right-wing military coup are latent in Nigeria’s situation at the moment. There is in power a ruling elite/party that is completely bankrupt economically, socially and morally. Nothing functions or is functioning as it is supposed to, despite Nigeria’s super-abundant natural and human resources. At the same time, you have opposition parties that are completely indistinguishable in all essential features from the PDP, which they all, individually and collectively, wish to remove from power. And most unfortunately, you have a labour movement led, at best, by elements who generally make a correct analysis/critique about the inherent failure of the capitalist system, but permanently shy away from adopting the necessary political and economic strategy that can bring an end to the system which has turned life into a permanent nightmare for most ordinary people. Therefore, depending on timing and other factors, a military coup in contemporary Nigeria may be seen, given the situation, even by sections of the wider population, as the best way to defuse the social tension building up. However, such is the enormity and ferocity of the problems and crisis facing Nigeria today that another military take-over of power may actually be the trigger that would set in motion the beginning of the end of Nigeria as an entity, with all the calamities this process would entail for the ordinary people across the country.
Where do we go from here?
The only way to avert the looming socio-economic disaster is to fight to put in place a working peoples’ government that will be prepared to implement a democratic socialist economic transformation of Nigeria as a basis to enhance rapid economic development of the country with a view to meet the social needs and aspirations of every Nigerian. Today, massive unemployment and mass poverty exists throughout the land. Despite abundant natural and human resources, the vast majority of people continue to sink deeper into misery. This is, primarily, the direct consequence of the ‘profit-first’ approach of capitalism to the issues of development and social needs. Hundreds of billions of dollars, which ought to be used to develop the economy and guarantee the social needs of all, are being routinely looted and shared by a few capitalist elements, both local and foreign. This is partly because, with the world economy being dominated by the major imperialist powers, the Nigerian elite see no point or real possibility in investing in developing the country’s productive resources and look instead to short-term gain, through speculation and outright theft.
While Nigeria presently needs a big workforce to develop its industries, construction, housing, education and healthcare sectors, tens of millions of Nigerian youths, including many educated ones, are now permanently condemned to roam the streets for non-existent jobs. But this does not have to be the case. If the commanding heights of the Nigeria’s economy were publicly owned and democratically planned in such a way as to provide jobs for every able person and at the same time guarantee the social needs of the masses for decent accommodation, healthcare and education, it would be entirely possible, within a very short period of time, to transform the present gloomy atmosphere which prevails in the country into a very buoyant one. By putting in place a gigantic master plan to pave all necessary roads, build all necessary schools and houses to accommodate the educational and housing needs of the people, and a massive healthcare programme that will ensure that every Nigerian has access to quality medical treatment irrespective of their social status, it would be entirely possible to rapidly transform the prevailing economic decay and backwardness.
This kind of approach, of course, sharply contradicts the neo-liberal, capitalist economic agenda of privatisation and liberalisation. In a working peoples’ economic paradigm, the country’s major natural resources, including its finances will be used to meet people’s needs and provide services for all. Of course, this kind of centrally planned economy can only flourish if placed under the direct democratic control and management of the working people themselves. Towards this end, the labour movement, particularly the trade unions, must stand opposed to the constant quest of imperialism and the ruling elite to fully liberalise and deregulate the economy, including the oil sector. For a very long period until now, the trade unions, particularly the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had always opposed the regime’s effort to fully deregulate the oil sector, a situation which labour has correctly argued will only lead to sharp increases in prices of petroleum products, which will only have adverse effects on living standards and the economy as a whole, especially since the economy and society heavily rely on petroleum products, in the absence of functional and stable electricity. Labour’s opposition to this anti-poor economic policy has never been limited to propaganda and intellectual disagreement. In fact, labour has in this respect, organised and led several general strikes and mass protests across the country to drive home its rejection of the deregulation of the oil sector.
LABOUR UNSCIENTIFIC OPPOSITION
The ruling capitalist elite have always insisted that there is no alternative to its anti-economic growth, anti-poor policies. While most Nigerians expect that as a major oil producer, petroleum products should be made available and affordable within the country, the ruling elite had always claimed that even the current prohibitive prices of these products are being subsidised by the government. Now, however, they have somewhat changed their tune, claiming that the hundreds of billions of naira allegedly being spent to subsidise petroleum products are, in actual fact, money going into the pockets of oil racketeers and other fraudsters. For this reason, the PDP capitalist government has resolved to carry through the total deregulation of the petroleum sector.
In its recent press statement, issued on 19 January 2010, the NLC leadership, among other things, stated, “The NLC has, since 2000, when government began its mindless and endless increase in the prices of petroleum products, stood firmly on the side of Nigerian people and led them in mass strikes and protests to ensure government sees reason. We are not about to change our position nor shirk our responsibility to the Nigerian people who have not benefitted from the dividends of democracy”. The statement goes further: “The NLC’s position is that if, as government officials have consistently told us, the reasons for fuel shortages are hoarding, corruption and blackmail by private oil marketers, the solution cannot be to hand over the entire sector to the same unpatriotic marketers”.
Unfortunately, however, while the NLC leadership has continued to loudly proclaim its opposition to the deregulation of the petroleum sector, statements like that quoted above and their overall general conduct have only shown that labour lacks the coherent ideas and a scientifically verifiable strategy to take the economy forward, outside the framework of neo-liberal capitalism. This point of view can be manifestly confirmed from the communiquÃ© issued after the emergency NLC NEC meeting, held on 20 December, 2009. In the communiquÃ©, the NLC had made the following submissions and proposals:
1. “The petroleum sector needs a holistic restructuring in order to ensure stability of production, distribution and even pricing”.
2. “Corruption is endemic in the sector and immensely contributes to the problems of the sector”.
3. ” While agreeing to the issue of restructuring the downstream sector of the petroleum industry for effective delivery, it is unequivocally opposed to any increase in the prices of petroleum products” and “that government should repair the four refineries, build additional ones solely owned by government, or through private sector initiative”.
4. “Regulatory Agencies to be strengthened to be able to sanction potential defaulters”.
5. “Power projections must be attained to encourage manufacturing and boost industrial growth”. “Roads should be fixed and railways reactivated”.
6. “The government must take immediate steps to ensure the availability of petroleum products”.
When plainly decoded, the NLC’s position in this respect means a conditional acceptance of the ruling class’ deregulation agenda. Specifically, the NLC’s demands are both contradictory and utopian in character. Most worryingly, the NLC leadership currently appears to be at the end of its wisdom and lack initiatives to take forward, to a logical victory, the struggle against the total deregulation of the petroleum sector and other neo-liberal, anti-poor policies. The NLC leadership has, for instance, correctly argued that the solution to fuel scarcity and corruption in the oil sector cannot be achieved through a total hand-over of the entire sector to the same unpatriotic marketers in the name of deregulation. However, its demand for “a holistic restructuring” of the oil sector “in order to ensure stability of production, distribution and even pricing” only begs more questions requiring concrete answers. Indeed, the ruling elite can always argue that they are precisely interested in ‘holistic restructuring’, hence their deregulation policy. Yet, what ordinary working class elements would like to know is, what is the fundamental difference between the capitalist government’s own “restructuring” and what Labour means by its own “holistic restructuring”?
Instead of appearing to try to tinker with the current system, Labour needs to clearly state that, to achieve its goal “to ensure stability of production, distribution and even pricing”, the entire oil sector, including production and distribution, needs to be publicly owned, planned and democratically run to generate enough energy and resources to meet the needs of all Nigerians. That as long as the present profit-first agenda of capitalism remains the cornerstone of production and distribution of petroleum products, as well as other key sectors of the economy, instability and high prices will remain problems.
Unless the NLC’s “holistic restructuring” of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry is carried out in the above (democratic socialist) manner, frequent price increases and scarcity of petroleum products will remain the rule and not the exception. In this regard, it is illusory and utopian to believe for a second that the capitalist ruling elite and their foreign counterparts, who mostly benefit from importations and racketeering of fuel products, would have the incentive and moral integrity to put in place policies that can effectively regulate the scarcity and corruption, which have continually crippled the oil sector.
On the surface, it sounds radical to demand that the existing four refineries be made to function and that more be built where necessary with a view to meeting domestic demand for products, guaranteeing stable electricity, making roads viable and reactivating the railway system etc. However, asking dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, neo-liberal elements, who have only been able to prove their mettle as leaders by selling public properties and institutions to themselves at give-away prices in the name of privatisation, to now begin to spearhead a programme of massive public investment in roads and rail construction, is totally unrealistic. Asking elements that have allegedly spent, over a period of time, hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain the nation’s refineries and boost electricity generation and distribution, with nothing concrete to show for it, to assume responsibility for developing the nation’s refineries, electricity, roads and rail systems, is nothing but a hopeless illusion and deception.
The emergency NLC NEC meeting held on 20 December 2009, specifically called on the government “to take immediate steps to ensure the availability of petroleum products”. Since that day, and despite the NLC’s statement (dated 19 January 2010), restating the congress’ opposition to deregulation and hikes in fuel prices, scarcity and high prices have remained. Most significantly however, the NLC leadership has conspicuously failed to highlight the government’s failure to meet its demand in this respect and neither has it come forward with concrete proposals for action, to force the government and oil marketers to ensure availability of products at normal prices.
Meanwhile, throughout the series of the mass rallies embarked upon by the NLC, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the pro-labour section of civil society, under the banner of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), against the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, for a new minimum wage of N52,200 (US$ 348) and radical electoral reform to guarantee free and fair elections in the country, the NLC leadership had always threatened to call massive industrial strikes and mass protest across the country if the government failed to meet its demands. Sadly, however, now that government has failed to pay the new minimum wage and in reality, imposed its deregulation agenda through the artificial scarcity of petroleum products and its increases in the prices of petroleum products, the NLC leadership appears helpless and bereft of ideas to struggle. The main reason for the ominous silence and paralysis of the NLC leadership, where bold ideas and actions are required, is because of the fact that the leadership does not have the coherent socialist ideas and strategy needed to replace the unpopular anti-poor capitalist policies.
For instance, the NLC leadership, since 2000, has led around seven general strikes and mass protests across the country against incessant hikes in fuel prices. Yet despite these struggles, the price of a litre of petrol has risen from N20 to between N100 and N120. In some parts of the country, including the oil-producing Niger Delta, the prices are even sometimes higher. Thus, the threat of a general strike and mass protests over this same issue today, immediately begs the question of why that approach has never succeeded, in the past, in deterring the government and the oil marketers.
Will the same anti-poor, capitalist government remain in power or not after such general strikes and mass protests? As past experiences have shown, if the general strike and mass movement fails or is not able to remove from power the self-centred capitalist elites running the country, then, sooner than later, whatever limited gains may be won by mass movement, can be rapidly eroded by more ferocious social attacks and policies from the ruling class. The only way to take the mass struggle of the working people out of this vicious circle – of a determined struggle followed by more anti-poor policies – is for the masses’ struggle to be consciously waged within the framework of an agenda and strategy of replacing the current capitalist government with a government of the working people and the general poor, built on a democratic socialist foundation.
Consequently, instead of the NLC and TUC leaders making futile calls on capitalist politicians and government to implement pro-poor policies, concrete steps must be immediately set in motion to create a truly working peoples’ political party or build the Labour Party as a genuine political platform of the working class, committed to fight for a workers’ and poor peoples’ government to take power from the hands of the self-serving capitalist elements, so as to be able to harness Nigeria’s natural and human resources for the benefit of all.
Under the present dispensation, the capitalist ruling elite will always oppose workers’ demands for a living minimum wage, while they themselves live in obscene wealth. They will always claim that the country’s economy cannot guarantee people’s needs and aspirations. However, if the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy are publicly owned, democratically run and planned by the working people themselves then there will be more than enough resources to meet the needs and aspirations of all. Similarly, the demand for a free and fair election, within the framework of a credible electoral system, will only be beneficial to the ordinary Nigerians if this will lead to the emergence of a truly pro-working peoples’ government. Hence the necessity for labour to have its own party, with an independent ideological outlook different from that of the capitalists, who only rejoice in the creation of a few millionaires while millions live in abject poverty amid super-abundance.
Labour needs to act fast to end the gloomy atmosphere of helplessness, which currently reigns among the masses as a result of the perpetual misrule of the ruling elite and labour’s seeming inability to fight for decent living for the ordinary masses. As a starting point, labour needs to draw up a programme of action, deliberately aimed at improving the living conditions of the masses and against the pro-rich, anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the capitalist ruling elites, while also defending democratic rights. Here, a fresh but short ultimatum needs to be given to the government, to stop all plans to deregulate the petroleum sector and at the same time guarantee the availability of petroleum products at current prices. At the same time, labour must press for the immediate implementation of the N52,200 new minimum wage demand and firmly resist retrenchment.
Labour leaders need to use the period of the short ultimatum being advocated by the DSM to send out signals to all rank and file labour activists and people in the society to prepare for struggle. Specifically, labour must prioritise and champion the formation of struggle committees, within the industrial unions, communities, schools and workplaces. These struggle committees must be saddled with the task of mobilising, organising and educating the masses, towards the attainment of set goals. Labour must, once again, be prepared to resume mass protests/rallies and industrial action where necessary, to ensure that its demands and objectives are achieved.
Already, there is a huge groundswell of disaffection and opposition to the capitalist elite’s misrule and corruption. What is missing and, which only labour is in a position to provide, is a comprehensive programme of economic and political demands, predicated on a clear strategy, of bringing into being a genuine working peoples’ government. Once the programme of action and the leadership’s determination to pursue this to its most logical conclusion is assured, the DSM is confident that the overwhelming majority of working people across the country will massively and rapidly rally around the labour movement, to save the country and its long-suffering people from capitalist economic and political ruin.
ETHNO RELIGIOUS CRISIS
There is an increasingly urgent need for labour to give a correct and decisive leadership to the struggle of the working masses for better living standards and genuine democratic government. Otherwise, the country would only remain on the path of its current rapid race to total economic decay and social disintegration.
Take for instance, the current national tragedy unravelling in Jos, Plateau State. Within a period of three days, over three hundred people have been killed as a result of the perennial ethno-religious strife that has become more pronounced in the northern part of the country, especially in the past twelve years of unfulfilling civil rule. In particular, the current mayhem, resulting in hundreds of deaths and colossal destruction of property, with the displacement of tens of thousands of people from their homes, is the third such development in Jos and Plateau state, following the previous tragedies, which happened in 2001 and 2008. Similar tragedies have befallen many cities across the north and the south of Nigeria at one time or another in the past ten years of aggravated socio-economic crises.
As usual, Nigeria’s failed capitalist state has responded to this tragedy with its customary brave words and big threats. Law abiding citizens have been assured for the umpteenth time, to go about their lawful duties, with the usual promises to bring culprits and perpetrators to account. Of course, none of this will ever happen. This is because the main issues behind the escalating ethno-religious strife in the country are both political and economic, being a consequence of the increasing economic deprivation in which most Nigerians live. It is political to the extent that most of these ethno-religious conflicts and crises were always most invariably the consequences of the lopsided manner with which the country called Nigeria was created by British colonialism. Many tribes and nationalities with different cultural and religious backgrounds were arbitrarily lumped together with and subjugated under the rule of their most populous neighbours who, for most periods before colonialism, had never coexisted under same political or religious authority.
Unfortunately, the local capitalist ruling elites who succeeded British colonialism have done everything under the sun to make it impossible for ordinary Nigerians to democratically discuss and negotiate genuine conditions for peaceful coexistence among the diverse nationalities and tribes that make up the country. In this respect, every independent effort to convoke a truly democratic sovereign national conference has always ended up being distorted and sabotaged by the capitalist ruling elite, through their divisive politics and narrow-minded self-interest.
Apart from this, the frequency and scope of the ethno-religious crises of the past ten years and more is directly caused by the especially excruciating economic conditions under which most ordinary Nigerians are forced to live. With the ruling elites’ perpetual looting of the hundreds of billions of dollars that ought to have been used to develop the economy and improve the masses’ living standards, most ordinary Nigerians are left in social conditions that make them more easily susceptible to a supernatural, religious explanation of their conditions and the way out. This, it must be stressed, is responsible for the upsurge in Islamic and Pentecostal fundamentalism during recent years.
Therefore, the working class needs to take power from the hands of the self-serving thieving elites and bigots that presently control society and politics. With a bold socio-economic programme aimed at addressing the basic needs and aspirations of all, a workers’ and poor peasants’ government will then be able to organise genuine democratic discussions and decisions on how best to achieve peaceful coexistence among Nigerians without the fear of any nationality, tribe or religious creed wanting to lord themselves over other nationalities, tribes and religions within Nigeria. Unless labour hastens in this direction, more explosive tragedies like the ongoing one in Plateau state will become more frequent, as the crisis of capitalism deepens in Nigeria.
A TIME BOMB CALLED NIGER DELTA
The Niger Delta issue represents another time bomb that can lead to the disintegration and destruction of Nigeria as an entity with all the calamitous social consequences which that would entail for most people. Presently, oil from the Niger Delta region fetches over 80% of Nigeria’s total income. For decades, most of the oil wealth being extracted from this region has always been pocketed by foreign oil corporations and the local capitalist ruling elite. In consequence, the entire country and most especially the Niger Delta region have remained in an unimaginable state of economic decay and prostration. This is the primary factor that has given rise to the development of armed militia groups, ostensibly fighting for the liberation of the Deltan masses.
Based on intensive campaigns of bombings of oil installations, kidnappings and hostage-taking, the activities of these militia groups have temporarily succeeded in forcing the Nigerian state to come up with a so-called amnesty programme, offering cash for weapons and a temporary cessation of the military crack-down on militants who are willing to drop their weapons, with a claim that the state needs an atmosphere of peace to effect the necessary rapid economic and social development of the Niger Delta region.
However, with the inherent weaknesses of capitalism, particularly of the prevailing, global, neo-liberal brand of capitalism and the special ‘kleptomaniac’ characteristics of Nigeria’s thieving ruling elite, very little of the desired and promised development of the Niger Delta or the whole of the country will ever happen. Predictably, therefore, the current peace in the Niger Delta, should be expected to shatter sooner rather than later. On their own, the activities of the Niger Delta militia may not be sufficient to topple the Nigerian state. Even then, the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty which their activities will engender, together with the drastic disruptions of oil productions and massive reduction of oil incomes, will be enough to put Nigeria on the path of permanent political instability which, at a certain conjuncture, may provide the perfect and ultimate excuse for the military to once again attempt to take over political power in the country. They would do this, ostensibly, to ‘ensure stability’, but the dreadful consequences which this will have for the struggles of the Niger Delta people and those of the rest of Nigeria for bread and democratic freedom are clear.
The only way to avert this looming disaster is for the working class to take power armed with a massive socio-economic programme and policy of using the Niger Delta’s oil wealth to meet the basic economic aspirations of most ordinary Nigerians, as opposed to the current capitalist economic arrangement where only one percent Nigerians consume 80% of the oil wealth coming from the Niger Delta. Only this kind of approach can ensure that the ordinary masses of the rest of Nigeria and of the Niger Delta come together in joint struggles with a view to defeating the local capitalist vampires and their imperialist backers and exploiters.
YAR’ADUA ABSENCE AND DEBATE OVER JONATHAN’S ACTING PRESIDENCY:
Labour Must Fight for a Working Class Political Alternative
For well over two months now, President Yar’Adua has travelled out of the country for a medical treatment in Saudi Arabia without the decency and humility to permit the Vice-President to take over as Acting President. Even though, the entire PDP leaders including Goodluck Jonathan, the Vice-President subscribe to the same pro-rich anti-poor agenda. Ailing President Yar’Adua and his closest supporters in government have refused to allow Jonathan to become Acting President because of their fear of losing out of power equations in the event that a person from the south-south becomes president. Thus for this narrow and very selfish calculations, the capitalist ruling elite are recklessly pushing the country to the brink of another ethno-religious conflicts and civil war.
The present controversy or artificially created impasse over whether the vice president should be made defacto acting president or not, in the absence of the president is, at heart, a serious crisis of a ruling elite that preaches democracy but always practice autocracy. Even, when it is self-evident that for the health reason president Yar’Adua could not temporarily or otherwise perform his duties as president, the self-serving elements at the corridors of power have continued to make hair splitting argument that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria expects the president to formally write to notify the National Assembly before his vice can be made acting President. On the basis of this spurious legal argument, those mostly making certain material gains and or privileges from the fact of Yar’Adua remaining as president have in fact being arguing that until Yar’Adua writes to the National Assembly of his temporary or otherwise incapacity to perform his duties as president he may as well be away for as long as he likes without allowing his deputy to officially assume the position of acting president. This line of insane reasoning is said to be in consonance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. This Section 144 of the Constitution empowers the beneficiaries of the president, his ministers, to determine whether he is fit to continue to govern or not. It is ridiculous to expect a set of self-serving people who owe their continued access to privileges and perks of public offices, and of course public loots, to Yar’Adua to initiate his removal as President. It is like asking a man to cut off the only hand he uses to feed.
However, notwithstanding the numerous ambiguities and undemocratic provisions, which dominate the 1999 Constitution, nobody would have expected a reasonable person to stubbornly hold on to power despite being terribly sick and bed ridden. Ordinarily, there should not have been any fuss over a president handing over power to his deputy if he is temporarily incapacitated. It is a standard practice in any organisation including the very lowly like a committee of friends. That is why that there is always provision for a deputy to head of an organisation. But our ruling elite are a madhouse of elements whose best attributes are vanity, self-service and backwardness.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the correctness of the demand that Jonathan be made acting president as expected by the Constitution, we in the Democratic Socialist Movement strongly urge the working masses not to join the bourgeois elite in their false messianic mission to enthrone Jonathan as the acting or defacto president. To do so will be tantamount to calling on Lucifer to hand over to Satan, same of the same. Within the frame work of the neo-liberal capitalist agenda supported and being pursued by all the major capitalist ruling parties (PDP, ANPP, AC, APGA, PPA), a Jonathan or any other person either from the north or south being made president would only go ahead to implement policies that will deepen the agonies of the ordinary masses.
In this regards, ASUU President Ukachukwu Awuzie has correctly stated that “the swearing in of Jonathan as Acting President will not solve the misery and suffering being faced by Nigerians because he is a product of a rotten system. We should be therefore careful not to give false expectations to Nigerians, that when Goodluck Jonathan is in power, the people will be better for it. In fact, it is the same party, same programme and therefore will not bring about any desired change in the country’.” (ThisDay, February 2, 2010).
Nonetheless, this has not stopped all sorts of bourgeois radicals from exploiting the issue of Jonathan being prevented from becoming Acting President to present themselves as champions of ethnic equality and rule of law. There is in fact an ongoing campaign being led by major bourgeois opposition figures within the AC, ANPP and sections of the civil society, asking that Goodluck Jonathan be made Acting President. According to these bourgeois elements, their campaign is aimed at preventing a constitutional and political crisis that may eventually degenerate into a situation where the military will come back to power again.
Of course, no sane person will like to encourage and support any conduct that might once again bring back a dictatorial military rule. However, the strategy of endorsing and or legitimizing a Goodluck Jonathan Acting Presidency or even de-facto presidency is the surest way to socio-economic catastrophe that may sooner than expected bring back on agenda once again, an undesirable era of military dictatorship.
Presently, everything is grounded. Apart from crude oil exploitations, there are very little productive activities going on in the economy. The so-called private sector has been virtually reduced to the level of pure parasites where companies that are supposed to be producing goods and services have virtually become lottery firms using tricks to entice people to become instant millionaires as they try to attract the few customers that live above poverty line. At the same time, the country’s polity is firmly trapped under the rule of corrupt bourgeois elites that have no scruple and regards for democratic ethos. Despite the stupendous incomes which the country has earned under their tenure, the current set of rulers has only succeeded in reducing the overwhelming majority of Nigerians to a state of abject poverty. Yet, if an election is held tomorrow, it is this same set of hated looters that will emerge as winners across the country. Faced with this kind of dead-end situation, the military, which today is still being haunted by the ghost of its past crimes and as such unable to make a direct bid for power might become emboldened to once again stage a come-back to power.
Of course, the prospect of another military coup under the current volatile socio-economic crisis, may in fact, lead to a process that will detonate a greater socio-economic calamities for the long suffering people of Nigeria. It may even turn out to be a phenomenon that will hasten the total disintegration of Nigeria as a corporate entity.
Unfortunately, some unnamed trade unions are reportedly planning a “symbolic” one day strike in favour of Goodluck (Nation, February 2, 2010). This must not be preoccupation of any trade union that is worth its salt. Rather, this crisis of trust has only further underscored the need for a working class political alternative to chase out entire thieving ruling elite irrespective of parties, ethnics and religions. Based on the irrefutable experience of the failure and corruption of the different sections of the bourgeois elite and the ruling parties, labour, as part of its struggle for a genuine democratic elections, must immediately begin to prioritize the creation of a genuine political party of the working people that seeks to build a mass movement with the goal of forming a workers’ and poor peasants’ government to bring to an end the rule of capitalist self-seekers and looters. This is why Labour must oppose any idea of participating in, or simply supporting, any so-called “government of national unity”, something which would be a way of the ruling class trying to maintain capitalism by involving Labour leaders in attempting to hold back struggles in the name of “national unity”, “reconstruction” or some other nice-sounding phrase.
ASUU President Awuzie has called for the formation of “a people’s political organization to contend for power, reorganize the country and build a popular democracy”. This is a step in the right direction but needs to be made more concrete and then seriously campaigned upon, not left just as words in a press conference
Labour Party which the Nigeria Labour Congress helped form has enormous potential to become a fighting organ and political platform of workers and poor masses. Sadly, however the party has been taken over by anti-poor politicians and crass opportunists. It is the most favoured dumping ground for capitalist politicians that lost out of power games within their own parties. This is made possible by refusal of trade union leaders to consciously popularise the party and mobilise workers, youths and poor masses to join it. It is still possible for labour leaders to spearhead the struggle to reclaim the party in order for it to serve the interest of the poor working masses. To become a fighting working class political organ, the party has to identify with daily struggle of workers, youths and poor masses for immediate demands and link with struggle for taking political power. However, it will not be enough to win political power, in order to be able to on the lasting basis meet the basic needs, yearnings and aspirations of ordinary people the party has to embrace a democratic socialist programme. This will entail nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy like oil, banking, etc and putting the under democratic control of the working people themselves. This will ensure adequate mobilisation of resources that will be committed to provision of social needs like education, health care, public electricity, integrated transport system, etc; and meaningful economic development.
The DSM holds that if the Labour Party cannot be transformed into a conscious, revolutionary platform specifically created to bring forth and develop working class leaders and candidates and embrace a pro-working class programme highlighted above, then the broader labour movement will have to take the initiative, perhaps under the LASCO banner, to form a working people’s party that can bring together the forces that can challenge capitalism.
For all those in Nigeria dissatisfied with the various anti-poor policies of Yar’Adua government at federal level and governments at state and local council level and who are interested in fighting back against these policies, the organisation to join is the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).
The DSM has played an active role in all the general strikes and mass struggles against fuel price rises that have repeatedly taken place since 2000. DSM members have played prominent roles, nationally and locally, in LASCO, (Labour Civil Society Coalition), and JAF (the Joint Action Forum), consistently arguing for determined action to both stop fuel price rises and a wider mobilisation to remove the rotten Yar’Adua regime and replace it with a workers’ and poor peasants’ government, committed to carrying out the socialist transformation of Nigeria. This is why we have been calling on the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, trade union leaders, socialists and pro-masses’ organisations to build the Labour Party as a fighting working class political alternative that could wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels. We and other socialists and trade union activists have formed the Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party (CMB-LP) to mobilise workers, artisans, traders, youths and working people in general, into the Labour party. CMB-LP has been campaigning for the opening up of the Party, the setting up of functional branches and structures in workplaces, communities, schools, at local government state level. We fight for the democratic running of the party’s affairs the building of the Labour Party as a fighting working class political alternative.
DSM has been active, both as participants and supporters, in many different trade union protests and struggles for better pay and improved working conditions. We work in the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR), in defence of democratic rights in workplaces and communities. We also work in community organisations, like the Ajegunle Peoples Movement, in Lagos.
Among students and youth, we campaign against outrageous fees and other neo-liberal attacks on education, for the respect of democratic rights of education workers and students, and against the victimisation of worker and student activists. The DSM also stands for the rebuilding of a campaigning and fighting national students’ movement. Also in this respect, we work in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), which has student and youth activists as members and also campaign for adequate funding of public education. The ERC, while campaigning for the rebuilding of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as a fighting and truly democratic organ of Nigerian students, has been trying to fill the void created by the right-wing, moribund elements that have continuously led this student body in recent times.
One of the major activities of DSM is the education of a new generation of working class and youth activists in the genuine ideas of Marxism as propagated by Lenin and Trotsky. We organise seminars, symposia and schools and publish politically educational material. An important way to help spread DSM ideas and further build a socialist alternative is by making regular donations and helping sell our publications.
The DSM works alongside all activists seeking to defend and improve the position of working people and the poor, but we always stress the necessity of building a mass socialist movement to change society. This is a key plank of our activity in mass movements, including the trade unions, and in the Labour Party and why we urge all those who agree with our ideas to join with us in the DSM in fighting to break the grip of capitalism over Nigeria and for a socialist future.