50 years’ independence
50 years’ independence
“The fault lies not in our stars but in the circumstances and system we operate”
DSM holds Symposium to mark Nigeria @ 50
On Friday October 1st 2010, Nigeria marked its 50 years of existence as an independent Nation. Nigeria had “won” its independence from British colonial rule on October 1st 1960. The independence, which was a culmination of a long period of struggle by the young and budding working class, rural and urban poor and the educated middle class intelligentsia, was contrived as a compromise deal between the British Colonialists and the indigenous bourgeois of the 3 major ethnic nationalities: Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba.
With 250 ethnic nationalities and a sprawling land mass of 910, 768 square kilometres and endowed with clement weather free from frightening natural disasters like earthquakes or mudslides, blessed with several natural resources including petroleum, tin, bauxite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc, natural gas, hydropower and arable land, the young nation state looked on with hope to a prosperous and glorious future as an independent nation. However 50 years after, much of the expectation and hope of the people have not been met. Nigeria has become a frightening spectacle of mass poverty amidst plenty with a life expectancy of 49 years for men and 59 for women, homelessness and unemployment, violent crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping, frequent internal instability like wars and ethno-religious crisis, political instability like military coups, election malpractice, virulent corruption and a seemingly intractable militant hostility in the Niger Delta region where the country’s oil resides.
Therefore, while the government and the capitalist ruling class decided to mark the day with fanfare including military and civilian parades and the cutting of a huge birthday cake, about 95 socialists, labour activists, students and youth interested in change gathered at a symposium held by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to analyse, discuss and clarify the problems confronting Nigeria and the way out. The symposium which held at the conference hall of the Textile Labour House was addressed by DSM General Secretary Comrade Segun Sango, Joe Ajaero the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Abiodun Aremu the Co-Secretary of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), Olumide Fusika, Ola Kazeem from the Campaign for Workers and Youth Alternative (CWA), Dr. Femi Obayori from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Lagos State University (LASU) Chapter and Debo Adeniran the Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL). The anchorman for the occasion was Dagga Tolar (member DSM NEC). The day was not however completed without a satiric drama sketch performance titled “Gbanjo â€¦ mo gbe de” by Jelili Atiku in companionship with Lorver Ikeseh.
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary
NIGERIA AT 50: Problems Facing the Working Masses
In his introductory speech, Segun Sango with pulsating clarity and witty remarks drawing laughter and applause from the audience appraised the condition of the working class in Nigeria since 50 years of independence.
According to him, “October 1st 2010 is a day that calls for sober reflection. If you have monitored comments even by bourgeois newspapers, the state of decay and confusion that reigns supreme in the country is too palpable to be papered over. Even Pastors, Imams and everybody are making the same complaint. So today is not for us to lament because most of us know the problem. A nation that is well endowed with human and material resources but perpetually held down in a state of coma is an absurdity that cannot be rationally justified unless you believe in the irrationality of the capitalist system. I will give some examples of how this system is irrational. The scientists have revealed that three-quarter of the earth surface is made up of water. Now I ask, what is the percentage of Nigerians who have access to water, a basic natural resource given by nature free of charge? We do not have hurricane Katrina or volcanic eruptions as they have in Pakistan and other countries yet we cannot get any basic thing going on right. This calls for sober reflection.”
Illustrating the illogical and obscene inequality of capitalism in Nigeria, “Theophilus Danjuma (a former Defence Minister under Obasanjo government) confessed according to newspaper reports to have been awarded oil blocks by the regime of former President Obasanjo which he simply sold for $1.5 billion. Then he said glibly, he spent $500 million to solve some domestic problems. You must be thinking that his family eat dollars. And after that, he now said he didn’t know what to do with the rest and therefore set-up a Foundation and endowed it with N100 million. That its just one person! Now tell me brothers and sisters, with this obscene inequality in wealth where government awards oil blocks to individuals to enrich themselves, how can society satisfy its basic obligations to the people?
“If you place this side by side with the condition of workers who have to go on strike for peanut increase in wages, then you begin to understand the class injustice of the capitalist system. For instance, the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) were on strike for four months last year. When the amount needed to satisfy there demands was calculated, it ran into something less than N60 billion. But why should the government care when virtually all members of the ruling class have their children in private schools in Nigeria and abroad?
“According to Prof. Itse Sagay “In 2009, a Senator in Nigeria earn N240 million as salary and allowances, members of House of Representatives earn N203.7 million. In order words a Senator earn $1.7 million while members of the House of Representatives earn $1.75 million. In contrast, a United States Senator earns $174, 000 and in the United Kingdom, a Parliamentarian earn Å64, 000. In 2009, federal legislators in Nigeria received N102.8bn allowances. This means 109 Senator and 360 House of Representative members cost Nigeria roughly 5% of the annual budget! While the rest of us, if it were to be shared pro-rata, will only get N1, 000 each. What is instructive here is that the United States is the biggest capitalist economy in the world followed by Japan and Germany. You can see that Nigerian Senators earn better than even the United States President! If you now compare this concentration of wealth in the hands of politicians, business men and public office holders to other indices of life, you will realise that ‘inequality in Nigeria, between 1985 and 2004, according to the UNDP Human Development reports for year 2008 and year 2009 worsened from 0.43% to 0.49% placing the country among those with the highest inequality levels in the world. Many studies have shown that despite its vast resources, Nigeria rank among the most unequal countries in the world. The poverty problem in the country is partly a feature of high inequality which manifests in highly unequal income distribution and differentia access to basic infrastructures, education, training and job opportunities’.”
Failure of Neo-liberal Policies of PPP and Privatisation
Segun Sango in his critique of the neo-liberal policies of privatization took a swipe at the Lagos State government of Babatunde Raji Fashola who is a member of the major opposition political party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). “The Lagos State government governed by the ACN opposition usually deceives itself with a toga of progressive and saying that it is building a mega-city. Yet in most places, there are no pipe borne water and good roads. If you look at the condition of roads in Lagos State, most of them including State roads are in deplorable conditions. Most of these roads were built in the colonial periods, now the government cannot even sustain them. This is why I said the capitalist system is illogical. For how can a country have stupendous wealth and yet its people live in permanent misery?
“Former Governor Tinubu and the current Governor Fashola awarded the Lekki-Epe expressway to a private consortium under the new catch-phrase of the capitalist government: Private Public Partnership (PPP), a euphemism for making public resources available for private profit. This happened since 2003, which is about 7 years ago. So far they have only completed six kilometres of that road. From Victoria Island to Epe is 49 kilometres. They completed only 6 kilometres and on that they have erected 3 toll gates to collect money from road users. The question is if PPP is the only way to develop road infrastructures and it has taken 7 years to construct 6 kilometres of roads and erect 3 toll gates, how many years will they take to complete the Lekki road? By contrast under the military, the Lagos-Ibadan road was started from scratch under the Obasanjo military regime and was completed before they handed over in 1979. The same road was awarded by Ogunlewe, a Minister of works under the Obasanjo civilian government, for rehabilitation. They have done rehabilitation on this road for so many years now without any tangible result. At the end of the day, they have awarded it to PPP contractors for them to make money for donkey years”.
He went on to mention the example of Marwa, former military administrator of Lagos State under whom the public works department was empowered to construct roads. “Even though, the quality of the roads may be questionable, the example of Marwa shows that our problems are not insurmountable, they are not irredeemable. For private contractors, the catch-word is profit not service delivery. Under the PPP, a road that should not cost more than N1 million will be awarded for N100 million! The implication of this is that no sufficient number of roads can be done while the quality will be low. In Nigeria, we have so many graduates. Among them are architects and engineers all of whom can be productively engaged with a better functioning Ministry of Works under democratic workers’ management and control.”
Sango also criticised the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) of the Lagos State government. Defining Public Private Partnership (PPP), Segun Sango said “it is Bo Olowo Pawo system” which translates to ‘a system of helping the rich to make more money’. Merely looking at the BRT, you will think it is a public transport. On the contrary, the only thing public about it is that public money is used to facilitate this business. The private buses use public roads built with public money, and possibly it is the Lagos State government that guarantee the purchase of the buses. However, the management is exclusively in the hands of private individuals who do not respect trade union rights and who pay workers as low as they can get away with. But ignorantly, people say Governor Fashola is trying. This is nothing but ‘Bo Olowo Pawo’ system and it is what is happening in States governed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and other opposition political parties. The same goes for the policies of concessioning airports, ports, roads etc. According to the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), only 4% of privatised enterprises are actually functioning efficiently. Also, the Federal Airport Authority was said to be doing better before it was concessioned. This is very terrifying! If the first 50 years of Nigeria’s existence is like this, can anybody make a guess, if we continue along this disastrous path of neo-liberalism, what the next 50 years will be like?”
While bemoaning the condition of decay in the education sector, Segun Sango reminisced about “the system of subsidized school feeding program being operated then by the government for the benefit of students of tertiary institution in Nigeria up to early 1980s, the quality of which compares with meals served at five star hotels today. Many members of the capitalist ruling class who have now concluded that free education is impossible and that government cannot do it alone benefited from the public-funded education system of those days. In fact, the best period of education in Nigeria was when it was public. Why the system of public-funded education has not been sustained till today is not because Nigeria has no money, it is because of the unjust system of capitalism being operated in Nigeria: a system where one person can have one billion naira while millions are impoverished. Today in Nigeria, educated parents are producing illiterate children due to the high cost of education which government neo-liberal policies of education under funding has caused. This is a disastrous reversal because in the past, illiterate parents produced literate children as a result of government policies of free and compulsory primary and secondary education system. Now we are back to square one where the young generation are performing worse than ours or how do you describe the 98% failure in NECO and WAEC?”
Arguing further, “The only priority of labour now is ‘one man, one vote’ and ‘free and fair elections’. Now let us assume the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) is able to come to power at the federal level, what can they do with the neo-liberal policies they also embrace in the States they currently control? Lagos State is one of the richest in the federation in terms of allocation from the federation account and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Despite all this, nothing is working. The conflict between the PDP and the ACN is not on policies but on who should be the greatest beneficiary of these policies. The correct way is for labour to build an alternative working class political party. To illustrate the unity of all these bourgeois political parties on the need to exploit the working and poor masses, no one has heard any legislator from opposition party of ACN, ANPP and even the Labour Party (LP) complain about the outrageous salaries and allowances being paid to political office holders and legislators. In a capitalist republic, socialists elected into public office would accept the wage of an average skilled worker while donating the rest to the labour movement”.
Insisting that the path taken by labour is disastrous for the working masses, Segun Sango argued that a working class political party that has clear cut and distinct pro-poor policies and programs can win. “In 2003, the DSM ran candidate on the platform of the National Conscience Party (NCP) under the leadership of Gani Fawehinmi with Lanre Arogundade as senatorial candidate in Lagos West and scored 77, 000 votes despite massive rigging by the ACN, then called the AC. The campaign was run on working class policies and funds totally incomparable to the millions spent by the ruling AC party. Lanre Arogundade still came third. The people need their own party only that the labour leaders have become the stumbling block.
LABOUR PARTY: How Different Is It From Bourgeois Parties?
“The task of building a working class party is daunting but there is no other way, We need a genuine working class labour party not the kind of labour party we have now where astronomical and non-refundable nomination fee is being charged for party offices election and for candidates wishing to stand on the platform of the party for public elective posts. Even the PDP which is a nest of looters, their nomination fee for presidential candidate is N10 million which is the same amount the Labour Party has also announced for its presidential candidate! How different is the LP now from bourgeois parties? Now Donald Duke and Dele Momodu, both bourgeois elements, are in the frontline of those seeking the presidential ticket of the party. What have these elements got to do with labour all their life? We need a genuine working class Labour Party not the kind of labour party we have now where astronomical and non-refundable nomination fee is being charged for party offices election and for candidates wishing to stand on the platform of the party for public elective posts.
The International Situation
“If it is not well with 90%, how can it be well with the remaining 10%. One way or the other, the problem will catch up with everybody most especially the prosperous middle class who think they can bypass the socio-economic problems of society by sending their own kids to private schools abroad. With the crisis in the advanced capitalist countries also, more and more of our people will become target of racist attacks. In the coming period, that place will no longer be an haven for Nigerians seeking greener pastures abroad as the global capitalist economic crisis bites harder. Already, they themselves are sacking their own workers, in this situation; immigrants will find it difficult to get employment abroad. They are afflicted in the advanced capitalist countries with the same problems afflicting us too: the capitalist system. The world working class are languishing in the midst of plenty. There is a foreign magazine that publishes annually names of the world richest people; it has revealed that there are individuals that have personal wealth more than 35 African countries put together. While millions of people die of preventable diseases and lack access to pipe borne water and basic needs. All this underscores the need for a socialist transformation of Nigeria as part of a Socialist confederation of Africa and the World”.
Socialist Revolution or Barbarism!
According to Segun Sango, “Even though our problem is huge, the way to solve it is simple. The first thing is to make sure that the society’s wealth is collectively owned and democratically-managed in order to avoid the pitfall of the former Soviet Union. In the former Soviet Union, they nationalised the economy and collectivised the land and for a time, it worked. The former Soviet Union was as backward as India compared with the United States of America as at the time of the revolution and within a period of one generation, it became the second most developed country all over the world. But one of the founding fathers of the revolution, Leon Trotsky warned that a nationalised economy requires workers democracy to function effectively for the good of all. A combination of lack of workers’ democracy and the rise of Stalinist authoritarianism eventually led to the collapse of the former Soviet Union and East European governments.
“This is not a society we can bequeath to our children so this is a clarion call for social transformation and revolution. We need a determined working class party that people can believe in. The task may be difficult but as the Chinese say ‘the journey of a thousand miles begin with a step’. We have to begin today otherwise, the current generation will be worse for it. Militancy will increase as well as kidnapping, ethno-religious conflict etc. Things will get worse. So there is not going to be a way out for Nigeria on the basis of capitalism. Our task is difficult, so we should begin to squarely face it. We need a party of the people. The antidote to Nigeria’s problem is public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under working class democratic control and management”.
After this introductory speech, an interesting debate began in earnest among the rest of the invited speakers and contributors from the audience. Dr. Femi Obayori (ASUU LASU) agreed that while the ruling class is celebrating the 50th anniversary with fanfare, there is really nothing worth celebrating from the point of view of the working class. “There is nothing for the people of Nigeria, whether of Ibo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ijaw or whatever extraction to celebrate in 50 years of independence. Those who are celebrating are those who are benefiting or hope to benefit from the present unjust arrangement”. He condemned the Lagos State government which collects about N7.2 billion monthly from the federation purse and generates N18 billion as Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) monthly and yet cannot implement the 2009 ASUU-FGN agreement, a reason while all the staff unions of Lagos State-owned tertiary institutions are now on indefinite strike. According to him, “We need a workers’ party that can arrange society in such a way that it will benefit the working masses”. He believed the inability of building a genuine working class party is due to the frequent ideological disagreement in the left. He argued for an agreement on a minimum program around which all left forces can work.
Ola Kazeem believed that it is not necessary to belabour ourselves with analysing Nigeria’s problem; it is the solution we need to face. “Without a party, it is absolutely impossible to change society. A party that commands the support of millions is a necessary precondition to take power. We must win the masses before we can win power”. Arguing for the building of the Labour Party, he said the name labour is significant in the consciousness of the Nigerian masses owing to the role of labour in fighting government neo-liberal policies. He condemned the labour leaders for not building the Labour Party as a genuine platform of the working class but added that left activists cannot fold arms expecting a genuine labour party to emerge on its own. “We can only have a genuine workers party by moving into the Labour party and agitating for the trade unions to build it”. He believes that out of all four conditions Lenin listed as preconditions for revolution, that is, conditions signifying a pre-revolutionary period, only one has not been fulfilled which is the existence of a powerful party of the working class. “This has to be done and it cannot be done by complaining about the negative features of the Labour Party but by understanding ideologically why things are in this way and by striving to build the party in spite of the resistance of the party leaders and the schemes of the ruling class representatives within the party”.
In his contribution, Olumide Fusika stated that he did not subscribe to the idea that “it is only by building the Labour Party that we can get change”. He criticised the bourgeois degeneration of the party especially in terms of characters like Ayodele Fayose, Andy Uba, Dele Momodu and other capitalist representatives who have entered the party. He canvassed for the intervention of socialists in other parties especially new political parties where, according to him “we can achieve the same thing we want to achieve in the Labour Party”.
In his own contribution, LASCO Co-Secretary Abiodun Aremu traced the history of Nigeria’s political development from pre-independence to post-independence. He noted the rise of anti-imperialist ideology and ultimately left socialist ideology in the ideologically polarised period when the former Soviet Union existed as a world power and how this permeated the student and labour movement. He canvassed for the ideological education of comrades in order to arm themselves sufficiently in the struggle to change society.
Electricity Engineers (NUEE) General secretary Joe Ajaero believed Nigeria’s problems do not call for lamentations but programmatic solutions. He blamed the situation in the country on the government and its neo-liberal policies. As the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Joe Ajaero analysed the problems in the power sector and the struggle of electricity workers against the neo-liberal policies of the government on power generation. According to him “the greatest problem of the working class in the last two years is the problem of privatisation and deregulation”. He spoke of the NITEL workers and Nigerian Airways workers who have been sacked as a result of privatisation. “Workers are at the receiving end of these wicked neo-liberal policies”. He blamed the labour leadership for not fighting privatisation consistently. He accused the labour leaders of participating in the National Council of Privatisation (NCP). He revealed that the recent increase in electricity tariff is aimed at preparing the PHCN for privatisation as the private sector will only buy it if it is profitable. He argued for the collaboration of labour and the civil society in the struggle against government anti-poor policies.
On Labour Party, Joe Ajaero said while trade unions tried to get involved in the party, the character of the party’s Chairman Dan Nwanyanwu and the Secretary repelled them. According to him, the duo were chosen by the labour bureaucracy to head the party in order to prevent the entry of the real forces of change that can build the party as a real working class party. He concluded by blaming the lack of fighting spirit in labour on the compromise of labour leaders with employers and government. He also made a call for more concrete actions and struggles against anti-poor and neo-liberal policies.
On his own part, Debo Adeniran said people have reasons to protest yet they are not protesting because they have been subjected to “mental enslavement”. He called the masses to rise in action against privatisation and other neo-liberal policies. On Labour Party, Debo Adeniran argued that there is nothing in the name when the Labour Party is not representing the interest of the working masses. He called on labour activists to move into any party that can be made to represent the interest of the masses. He also ended by calling on the masses to take actions to defend their democratic and socio-economic rights.
After this, the floor was opened for contributions from the audience. About seven people contributed from the audience. In most of the contributions, the tactics of the left in the struggle for social change was examined while many criticized the Labour party and its bourgeois degenerations. At the end, the meeting agreed with Joe Ajaero’s proposal for a day of protest on issues concerning the privatisation of power sector in Nigeria including the electricity tariff and the working conditions of electricity workers. This was seen as very important considering the fact that the electricity workers have had to embark on strike actions because of these issues but because of the frustration of the people with the problem of electricity in the country, electricity workers have become targets for the population to unload their frustration on thus making their strike actions very unpopular among the people. However, with the intervention of other forces in a protest march, it will be possible to educate the masses on the struggle of electricity workers against government anti-poor policies in the power sector and why they should team up with electricity workers to fight for a publicly-run electricity sector under workers’ democratic control and management.