Tribute to John Odah at 50
Tribute to John Odah at 50
By Segun Sango and Lanre Arogundade
This appreciation of John Odah, the Nigeria Labour Congress’s General Gecretary, was published in the Compass newspaper on August 21 and in the Guardian newspaper on August 23.
AS members of the same generation of students and left wing movements, we join in congratulating John Odah, General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as he attains the age of 50. As we do this, we consider it imperative to situate the celebration within the current social-economic milieu and the challenges that face Nigeria’s Labour and Youth Movement â€“ a milieu in which life expectancy has fallen drastically below 50. John has indeed crossed the Rubicon.
No other approach will be ideologically meaningful to us, for someone who is a product and player in the students movements’ mass activism of the 1980s when the demands of Nigerian students for non-commercialized education met with the brutal resistance of civilian and military regimes who were committed to the capitalist exploitation of the masses through, among others, the commercialization of education, health care etc
As a left wing student activist in the University of Jos, John was part of the vanguard of the campaigns of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) for right to independent unionism, free education at all levels, free health care etc as particularly captured in the then NANS Charter of Demands. The engine room of that movement were however students’ socialist organizations across the campuses that championed the linkage of the students’ struggles with that of the Labour movement that was and still is historically expected to lead the Nigerian social revolution.
It is not accidental in the above sense that John and some members of that generation like Issa Aremu, Chris Uyot, Chom Bagu and Owei Lakemfa, who incidentally also clock 50 this year, have been prominent in the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which again is under the increasing pressure of the working masses to lead the emergence of a genuine working class political movement. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, based on pro-capitalist strategies and policies, none of the social and economic problems currently facing the country and the vast majority of its ever pauperized people can be satisfactorily tackled to sustain vibrant economic growth and decent living standard for the people.
Of course, instead of accepting the utter failure of the capitalist strategy and individual policies, Nigeria’s kleptomaniac and parasitic ruling elite would always want the impression to be created that running Nigeria’s economy is an intractable exercise. While addressing a Town Hall Meeting in Uyo Akwa Ibom State, President Jonathan once again reneged on his government initial pledge to work towards full power supply for industries and household use, starting with the generation of 11,000 mega watts before 2011. Making a 180 degree u-turn from his earlier pledge in this respect, the President now argues that Nigerians should not expect adequate electricity supply within a specified period of time.
Citing his experience as governor in Bayelsa State, he said “he found that when one comes up with 10,000 mega watts for instance, more people will immediately go ahead and apply for power lines and soon after that, power would become inadequate” (Vanguard, July 16, 2010). This bogus and ridiculous argument is meant to paper over the fact that Nigeria, for ages, has not been generating enough mega watts of electricity to sufficiently power its industries as well as personal consumption.
South Africa that has just one-third of Nigeria’s population is currently generating about 45,000 mega watts of electricity per annum, whereas, Nigeria currently only generates only about 3,000 mega watts. Therefore the central task remains how to generate enough electricity required by industries and the people rather than the misleading impression that people’s attitude makes this target unattainable. Sometime last year, at the peak of another periodic scarcity of petroleum products, Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Mrs. Dora Akunyili, paid a visit to the Venezuelan Ambassador to Nigeria, making the usual appeal for foreign investment in the sector.
But in his response, the Ambassador asked Nigeria to look inward and then manage its own resources to better the lots of its people and the economy in general stating further that since year 2000, the price of a gallon of petrol remains the same and the cost of fuelling an average car has not exceeded the equivalent of N160 and also that the Venezuelan government owned and managed over 40 refineries producing petroleum products for both local consumption and export. While the Venezuelan working masses still face large problems due to the incomplete character of the anti-capitalist changes so far carried out in that country, they do not face the absolute disaster that afflicts Nigeria. Despite being the fourth largest crude oil producer within OPEC, Nigeria still heavily relies on importation of finished petroleum products with none of its own four refineries ever working at full capacity.
Severally and collectively, both the NLC and the TUC together with their affiliates have always criticized the anti-masses character of most government policies. They are fond of making correct critique of the anti-poor character of policies of privatization and concessioning of refineries, electricity, airports and roads. Again, both the leadership of NLC and the TUC recently condemned the government’s proposal to spend billions of naira for the celebration of 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence which, seen from the interest of the downtrodden masses, is nothing short of 50 years of failure.
The NLC leadership also recently and correctly denounced the pro-rich and anti-poor proposals for the deregulation and privatisation of the oil sector and the withdrawal of the so-called subsidy on petroleum products and lastly a 200% hike in electricity tariff being championed by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. In a statement titled: “Enough of Sanusi’s Anti-People antics” issued on July 29, 2010: “On electricity tariff, in particular, Congress believes that the basic step government needs to take is to first and foremost improve on power generation and distribution capacity before coming to the question of pricing. It would be illogical and totally unreasonable to charge higher tariffs when Nigerians are at the moment paying for services they are not enjoying apart from the huge hard-earned resources they expend daily on fuel to power generators”. Isa Aremu, the General Secretary of Textile Workers Union of Nigeria aptly captures the paradoxical situation of a thirsty person surrounded by water, when he recently spoke on the release by government of a bailout fund of about N30 billion for the revival of Nigeria’s moribund textile industry. He stated: “Nigeria is not short of presidents and governors. What is missing today is good governance, industrialization and development”.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding all these correct criticism, the top labour leaders have in general, always failed to concentrate on outlining and defending pro-working class economic and political alternatives that are capable of stopping perpetual misery of most of Nigerian people in the midst of an inexhaustible abundance. Therefore, instead of giving support to individual capitalist policies designed to boost profitability, the labour movement should be leading a consistent campaign to place the major economy resources of the country, including banks and financial institutions, under working peoples’ democratic control and management with the direct aim of ensuring decent living for all Nigerians across the country and not just the few capitalist elements that now maintain a stranglehold on the nation’s economy prospect.
In order to successfully achieve this goal, the labour movement equally needs to step up activity to create its own independent political party that will be prepared to implement this kind of pro-masses’ and socialist measures needed to free Nigeria from the socio-political bondage of the local capitalist elements and their foreign backers and masters. Specifically, the labour movement needs to create a truly democratic working peoples’ party or strive to reclaim the Labour Party which has now largely been hijacked by the pro-capitalist elements. It is not enough to merely agitate for free and fair elections when, the way things appear today, the 2011 contests will certainly be dominated by anti-people, pro-capitalist parties like PDP, ANPP, AC, etc.
The labour movement must start from today to offer a political platform for the long suffering working people of Nigeria come the 2011 general elections. Unless labour’s agitation is pursued from within this kind of outlined perspective, the socio-economic nightmare currently being experienced will not be overcome and will only worsen under Jonathan’s presidency or that of any other bourgeois politician. That is not the dispensation that our generation envisaged and fought for.