May Day 2013: Jonathan Government Intensifies Attacks on Democratic Rights
May Day 2013: Jonathan Government Intensifies Attacks on Democratic Rights
15 DSM Members Arrested at May Day Rallies
By Peluola Adewale
A worker making enquiry at our stand in Lagos, photo DSM
The report of Democratic Socialist Movement members’ participation in this year’s May Day is dominated by the story of arrest or comrades, or threat of it, at a number of rallies nationwide. This is not accidental. We were the only group that went to many May Day rallies with materials critical of the corrupt and anti-poor government at a period when its intolerance of dissenting views is reaching a fever pitch. Indeed, we were the only socialist group that was present at most of the rallies where we intervened. Against the background of the increasing insurgency in the north, the past few months have witnessed the Goodluck Jonathan government using Boko Haram to justify a growing descent into civilian dictatorship with brutal attacks on democratic rights throughout the country. But as the report from Oyo state reveals President Jonathan is not the only culprit. A good number of the state governors could rival the President in the clampdown on opposing views.
However, this is not the first time our comrades have been arrested at the May Day rallies since the return to civil rule over our messages and demands against anti-poor government. In 2006 it was workers that physically wrested and freed Demola Yaya and Eko John Nicholas from the grip of police at the main May Day rally in Abuja. They were about to be taken away by the police led the Abuja’s Commissioner of Police Lawrence Alobi when the workers intervened. The police chief considered the inscription and caption on the DSM banner and paper respectively on the infamous third term ambition of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo very offensive. The message on the banner read, “3rd Term: Obasanjo Again? No Way! For a Mass Working Peoples Party Now To End All Anti-Poor Policies”.
This year we set out to intervene in Abuja and 13 states cutting across North-west, South-west, Niger Delta, North-central and South-east parts of the country. We planned to take the advantage of May Day to reach out to workers with the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as part of the membership drive for the party in addition to popularizing socialist alternative to manifold crises of capitalism in Nigeria. Today Nigeria workers, youths and the poor do not have a party. The Labour Party, formed and then effectively dumped by NLC, has completely become another anti-poor pro-establishment party run on a “cash and carry” basis with political merchants and mercenaries in its leadership. While we continue to campaign for a mass working peoples’ party running a socialist programme we of DSM have come up with the initiative of SPN as a party to represent the interest of workers, youths and the poor in elections and identify with them in their daily struggles against capitalist attacks.
Armed with Socialist Democracy (the paper of DSM), SPN leaflets, SPN banners, SPN Manifesto, we went to the May Day rallies. One of the leaflets which had been originally produced for the intervention at the aborted April 10 protest against pension fraud and corruption and titled, “Bring down this Government of Looters”, unsettled the security operatives. Acting to the mood of their Commander in Chief, who does not brook opposition, such materials would not only be disallowed at the rallies but the comrades also had to be whisked away. As the report from Abuja reveals, it was not only the leaflet that is considered “seditious”. Placards with different demands and slogans were also seized from workers as everybody was being searched before going into the Eagle Square, the venue of the May Day Rally. The SSS operatives in Kaduna also attributed the arrest of comrades in the state to the SD (our paper) with the bold headline on pension fund scam.
In all, comrades were arrested in Abuja, Kaduna, Niger, Anambra, Oyo and Imo States. We were harassed by security operatives in Lagos and Osun states. Comrade Victor was chased out of the venue of the May Day rally in Delta and threatened with arrest. Good enough, he had been able to distribute some copies of the leaflet before the SSS operatives came calling. Indeed, somebody called to join SPN from the state having read the leaflet. We did not have incidents in River, Ekiti and Ondo states. Indeed in Ondo state four of 10 copies of SPN manifesto sold were bought by security operatives! The comrade who was supposed to go to Kwara could not make it for unavoidable reason and sent the materials to a supporter in the state who could not get them until after the May Day event.
It took pressure from comrades and supporters locally and internationally on authorities to secure the release of comrades arrested in Abuja, Kaduna and Anambra. Those in Kaduna and Anambra spent night in the detention. Francis in Anambra was actually arraigned before a magistrate court on seditious charges before being granted bail and matter adjourned till June 12. The Anambra state commissioner of police, overwhelmed by the protest calls and text messages, promised to withdraw the case at the adjourned date. We have to resume the protest action as the day approaches. Comrades in Oyo, Niger and Imo were released after the May Day event had been rounded off. Some of comrades arrested in Oyo were not allowed to be taken away out of the venue by some labour, civil society and student activists. Three of Oyo comrades have been asked to report again to State Security Service Headquarters on Friday May 10 for the fourth time since their arrest on May 1.
Three of the reports are essentially prison notes. The rotten alliance between labour leaders and state governors at the expense of interest of workers is a common feature in some of the reports. This has been the character of the May Day in Nigeria at least in the last one decade. We could not capture the main event at Abuja, particularly the mood of workers, because of the arrest of comrades at the “point of entry”. Media reports revealed instances of the cosy relationship between the President and labour leaders, who did not however forget to lace their speeches with usual hot air. There was also exchange of banters on corruption and pension fraud between the President and labour leaders.
The theme of this year May Day was “One Hundred Years of Nationhood: The Challenges of National Development” to mark the centenary of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates on January 1, 1914 which led to the creation of what is today called Nigeria. This event will throw again to front burner of the national discourse the unresolved nationality questions. We of the DSM shall effectively join the debate with socialist alternative to the crisis of nationhood in Nigeria. There is indeed plan to publish a book in this respect.
Despite the clampdown by the security operatives we achieved one of the objectives of the intervention which is to make new supporters and activists for the party, something we were especially able to do in Rivers state. However given the arrests of DSM comrades and the current downbeat mood among workers, sales of our paper Socialist Democracy were down on last year. Nevertheless, we were able to sow socialist ideas across the country which in time shall germinate and blossom into material force. At least 15, 000 copies of the SPN leaflets were circulated.
H.T Soweto and Odunayo Eniayekan
“Chei see as this guy shake Mr. President!” From across the room, a medium-size TV set sprang alive. Peter Esele had just finished his speech. But as he walked to his seat he chose to give President Jonathan a very friendly handshake; the kind only bosom friends give. It was to this show of affection between the Trade Union Congress (TUC) president and President Jonathan that the burly Strike Force agent reacted. He seemed as worried as us that trade union leaders have too much cozy relationship with a government daily oppressing workers instead of fighting for their members interest. His colleague grunted in reply, adjusted his torso on the chair and resumed his questioning: What are these? We answered perhaps for the tenth time: “They are leaflets of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and they are not seditious”.
We were at the Strike Force base; an unmarked detention facility somewhere in the heart of Abuja. Outside and disguised under luxuriantly growing shrubs, we could just make out what looked like an underground facility (a torture chamber perhaps) with its air vent sticking above the ground. Elsewhere in the compound was generally empty, office materials were sparse. It seems to have been built as a facility to hold the enemies of the state such as the two young men brought in minutes earlier with two bags of “seditious” materials.
Some 45 minutes previously, we were on the queue with workers at the entrance of Eagle Square – venue of the May Day celebration. The mood was bustling for despite the emasculation of the real militant essence of workers’ day; many workers instinctively understand it is a day dedicated to celebrating the power of the working class. To join in this celebration and urge workers not just to celebrate but harness this enormous power to effect revolutionary change in society has been the task of DSM members every year as we transverse the length and breadth of the country armed with leaflets and the Socialist Democracy (SD) – the newspaper of DSM.
On this occasion, we had travelled 10 dangerous hours by road from Lagos to Abuja and at one time our vehicle was forced to park for two hours in the middle of the night because armed robbers were having a field day some metres ahead. We arrived 10 am in Abuja and with no time for a bath hurried off to the Mayday venue hoping to popularize socialist alternative to the crises of capitalism with our materials as we have always done. This time around we were armed with something more than a paper; we had with us leaflets and the manifesto of a party for workers, youths and the poor – the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). We didn’t know this was to be our ticket to a 9-hour “all-expenses paid” trip to the gulag.
President Jonathan was to be at the May Day which perhaps explained the heightened security at the venue. All kinds of military and paramilitary security forces took strategic position wielding the arms; the sight was simply oppressive. Some mounted on horses. There were overfed police bulldogs surging around viciously, tongue-out and charging at any living being in sight with their malnourished handlers straining with their chain. One could only imagine the animosity that must exist between both beings. In spite of this, we went through the multiple security checks without incident. That changed once we got to the gate of Eagle Square. Just one look at the SPN leaflet issued on April 10 to support pensioners’ protest with the bold headline “Bring Down This Government of Looters!”, we were promptly arrested and driven to the Strike Force base where the same question was put to us: “what are these?”
For what looked like the umpteenth time, we were explaining why we believe an alternative political party of the working class is urgently needed to bring down this government of looters. Interestingly, a few placards had being seized from some workers too. They bore different radical slogans on pension issues, PHCN privatisation, minimum wage etc. From there we realised, and as reports of arrest of SPN members in several other states on Mayday later confirmed, that this was a general clampdown on any voice of dissent or opposition especially around the workers day.
The event of the next 5 hours was like a nightmare. Stripped to our bare shorts, we were thrown into a cell. No charges were read, no written statements. We were just thrown into a cell. It was an illegal detention. We were both hungry and tired; Comrade Soweto was on a medication and needed to eat. We laid on our back on the carton strips and patiently contemplated the ceiling. For Comrade Odun, it was the first time seeing the inside of a cell, so he was as curious as a tourist. For comrade Soweto, he had lost count so he promptly dozed off. Except for the gnawing hunger, the condition inside the cell wasn’t too different from the conditions in many homes of the Nigerian working class and poor. Food came after two hours constituting of beans and yam – a completely working class diet which we later found out is a staple of the gun-men of the State.
We didn’t know where this was going and as is best under such circumstances, we expected the worst to happen. Unfortunately not in the form it took. When it happened, it was fast. Too men armed with assault rifles burst in upon our cell and pointed to comrade Soweto: “You come forward!” they yelled. He walked slowly to the door of the cell arms raised up. “Turn Around!” He did. The next sound was that of guns being cocked and that was when Comrade Odun shouted. We didn’t know their intention before but just then we knew. They had been ordered to shoot us!
Shooting of detainees especially in the legs is common with the police especially special forces like the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). These ones are called Strike Force and from all indications are as deadly as their name. We spent the next harrowing 10 minutes crouching from one end of the tiny prison cell to another hoping to receive the bullets anytime they came flying on less deadly parts of our body. It could mean that they wanted to torture us psychologically. This they achieved as, we were thoroughly exhausted psychologically, when it ended. One of their bosses who heard the commotion had come to restrain the men from shooting us. They went away grudgingly complaining “you promised you will allow us to shoot them oh”. The boss assured them they would have their chance but we needed to be interrogated first.
We spent the next two hours reacting to the sounds of opening doors and tyres screeching on the driveway outside. What would come next? We didn’t know. Around 5pm, the men of the State Security Service (SSS) came to pick us up. As we were wore our clothes, we were very glad to be leaving the Strike Force base. At least the SSS agents in suit look more human; the officers at the base in their combat outfits and red eyeballs look more like something out of a war movie. We were driven to the Presidential villa – the devil’s fortress. We spent another two hours here although more relaxed. We even had tea! Somehow the government wanted to release us. They had achieved their mission anyway which was to prevent us from embarrassing the regime in public with our leaflets and paper. More so, taking us to court on seditious charges would only lead to an uncomfortably public trial that would put our ideas and that of the rotten regime under the spotlight. We would have come out politically victorious and the regime’s image further battered.
After a 45-minute long interrogation with the SSS, we were released. They wanted to know about the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and our ideas. We told them all. We are the best representatives of the working and poor masses. Our party shall stand with the working class and fight at its head to take political power. There is no other way to change Nigeria than to end capitalism and put in place a democratic socialist system that can ensure the collective ownership of Nigeria’s resources and their equal distribution. By 7pm, we breathed the air of freedom. Our materials had been seized; 200 copies of Socialist Democracy, 200 copies of Manifesto of SPN, leaflets, banner and all. But our socialist ideas and conviction that we shall win one day remain unshakeable.
By Sadare Dimeji Macaulay
Selling and circulating of materials – photo DSM
The event was supposed to take place at Muritala Square which was militarized. But by 9am there was no sign that the workers were coming there for the rally. After waiting for some minutes, we observed that the soldiers were leaving the Square. They didn’t reply to our enquiry on the new venue.
We later discovered that the venue had been changed for security reasons. Kaduna is located in the Northwest Nigeria which has had its fair share of Boko Haram terrorist activities. Indeed, the May Day rally in the neighbouring Kano state was cancelled. The new venue was Ranchers Stadium. We all marched into the venue after being scanned and searched. The program started around 9:30am with the arrival of the Deputy Governor Nuhu Ramalar Bajoga representing the Governor Mukhter Ramalar Yero.
Present at the rally were about 26 labour unions affiliated to the TUC and NLC. The National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers (NUTGTW) charged the rally with placards with inscription such as: “NIGERIA PRODUCE WHAT WE CONSUME, CONSUME WHAT WE PRODUCE”, “WANTED: JOB SECURITY, FOOD SECURITY, SOCIAL AND PHYSICAL SECURITY”, “NO INDUSTRIALIZATION WITHOUT ELECRIFICATION LET THERE BE UNINTERUPTED POWER”, “RE-OPEN CLOSED FACTORIES CREATE MILLION JOBS”, “TEXTILE REVIVAL FORWARD EVER “., “LONG LIVE DEMOCRACY, NO TO DICTATORSHIP”.
This motivated us to begin to sell SD and circulate SPN leaflets among the textile workers. We also interacted with them and argued that their demand cannot be realized on a lasting basis under the anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist system. We stressed that we need a party of the working people to fight against anti-poor capitalist policies and ultimately fight for system change. This is why SPN has been formed as party for workers, youths and the poor. We therefore called on them to join the party and help build as a formidable party for the working people. We joined the workers in the march past and encouraged them to raise aloft very well their placards while we also displayed our paper, Socialist Democracy, with bold headline on pension fund scam. This apparently attracted the attention of the security operatives and the Deputy Governor standing on the podium to receive salutes of the workers.
The suffering of the workers was also captured in placards: “WE ARE MOURNING THE DEATH OF 650 WORKERS OF AREWA TEXTILES PLC KILLED BY MANAGEMENT OF AREWA TEXTILE PLC AND UNION BANK PLS KADUNA”. Another one says, “WE ARE MOURNING THE NONE PAYMENT OF OUR TERMINAL BENEFITS SINCE 2002. We identified with virtually all the trade unions with our materials. This also gave us out as “trouble makers” to the men of the State Security Service who apparently were now monitoring our activities at the rally.
In his speech at the rally, NLC chairman , Adamu Ango, decried the continued use of casual workers by the state government, saying some of the workers were being paid N5000 as monthly salary while some have served for 18 years. The affected workers were engaged by the state Forest Management Agency and the Environment Protection Agency. He also called on the state government to ensure payment of the salaries of local council workers and the arrears of their N18,000 minimum wage.
On his part, the State Chairman of TUC Shehu M Hammed, urged the state government to commence the payment of the N18,000 minimum wage to pensioners to enable them live decently.
While speaking the Deputy Governor Nuhu Bjoga, solicited the support of civil servants in the state to enable the administration provide the dividends of democracy. He did not comment on the demands raised by the labour leaders.
As at this time we observed that we had been monitored by the security operatives. So as the rally was being rounded off and workers began to disperse, we quickly ran to the podium to seek the support of labour leaders to prevent our arrest. We told them we were under threat of arrest by security operative because of the solidarity materials we had been selling and circulating. At this stage one labour leader enquired about the price of the paper and requested to have a copy. It was handed to him. Suddenly, he yelled “this is inciting!” He continued, “Who permit you to be selling this type of things in Kaduna, an environment that is volatile”. We responded that one of activities of DSM is to argue and campaign for the unity of the working people, youths and the poor against their common enemy instead of fighting themselves.
While still on the podium, some SSS operatives came to question our right to sell or circulate materials at the rally. They then barked at us, “You are under arrest”. We looked around to call the attention of labour leaders. Alas, in a jiffy they had gone. We said ok if that was the case they should let us go to the NLC office to confirm our rights to sell or circulate materials at a workers’ event. They pretended to agree.
As we reached the place where about 200 policemen gathered to march out of the venue they collected our materials and showed them to the policemen. They asked the police, “why did you allow these people to enter”. From there we were taken away but not to NLC office but the state headquarters of SSS.
On arriving at the SSS office, we demanded to be allowed to call our people. They refused. Our phones were seized. We were given a form to fill and bombarded with different questions, “who born you (sic)?” “Who is your parent?” “Who sent you?” “Who are your sponsors?” “While are you in Kaduna?” etc. All this went on for several minutes. Then our pictures were taken. After like an hour they came to tell us that they had wanted to release us to the NLC chairman but he could not be reached on phone. They then asked us to call somebody in Kaduna to come and bail us. Comrade Macaulay said he had no one to call except in Lagos.. Comrade Sefiu said he had an uncle in Kaduna. Then the question, “does he have a land in Kaduna, or is he a civil servant?” Sefiu said, “No”. Then they replied, “He cannot bail you”. Macaulay thereafter called a man who had indicated interest to join us at the rally. He said he was far away but pleaded with the operatives to release us. They disagreed. Our demand to call comrades in Lagos was rebuffed for umpteenth time. We were then taken before the State Director of SSS who threatened to make sure the service year of Dimeji, as a youth corps member, was extended and ordered his men to detain us and prepare to take us to court on Friday May 3.
We were stripped of our shoes, shirts and belts and thrown into a cell. After one hour we were taken out, made to sit on the floor and subjected to another round of interrogation. Then the verbal assaults, “radical engineer, revolutionary, you want to cause commotion and go, you want to do revolution, you are criminals”. All this was going with riffles pointed at us. One threatened, “I will give you three bullets, see you, you don’t have job”. The customized DSM shirt with “MARXIST” printed on it which comrade Macaulay wore also became their object of mockery. We were taken back into the cell and given food. After eating, we were chained in the legs and made to sleep on bare floor.
The following morning, we reiterated our demand to call our comrades, friends and relatives who could have been worried having not known our whereabouts or been able to reach us on phone. They said it was only the state director, who was not yet around, that could grant our request. They interrogated us again and restated their threat to take us to court on Friday. We said no problem but insisted we had to call our comrades.
But by afternoon, it appeared they had come under intense pressure to release us. Besides, taking us to court might be counter-productive and could further batter the image of the regime which has come under severe criticism for its intolerance of dissent view and attack on democratic rights. This apparently explains why they had to call our comrades in Lagos asking them to send somebody to secure our bail. One of the operatives called Pelad on Dimeji’s phone and restated the condition for bail: a landowner or civil servant in Kaduna. Pelad told him that such condition could not be met but somebody who is reputable would be coming to secure our bail, and also requested that Dimeji’s phone should be returned to him so that he could be reached.
Then about 2pm, Abel Adejor, a human rights activist based in Kaduna called that he was on his way to bail us. After interacting with the operatives for a while and exchanged several calls with our comrades, he took some operatives to his house and office, as requested, to ascertain that he would produce us whenever we are needed. We were finally released by 6pm after we had spent well over 24 hours in the custody. Our personal effects were returned but they held on to 40 copies of the SD and some copies of books on Minimum wage and January 2012 struggle written by Kola Ibrahim. They called them exhibit and inciting materials.
Good enough, before the arrest we had sold 20 copies of SD and circulated about 2000 copies of SPN leaflet on pension fraud and corruption, titled, “Bring down this government of looters”. One person registered to join the party.
We appreciate all our comrades locally and internationally for their sustained pressure and demand for our release. We express our special gratitude to Abel Adejor who secured our bail. We appreciate the trauma friends and relatives went through for about 30 hours during which our whereabouts was unknown.
By Awe Michael
We got to the venue Minna Stadium, the venue of this year May Day celebration in Niger State as early as 8:00am. But there were no workers around as at this time except those who came to monitor the setting of the stage and some security operatives.
At about 8:40am, workers were already trooping in. As we brought out our materials and set our stall, we were approached by a man who claimed to be an officer of the NLC. He inquired whether we had taken permission from the NLC chairman before selling or circulating materials. We replied that we did not consider doing that necessary at a workers’ event. He insisted that we must take permission since the rally was that of NLC. After discussing with some of his colleagues, we were told that we had to sign an agreement that we would not cause any form of trouble throughout our stay at the rally.
We then agreed to sign the agreement but they insisted that we must go to NLC office to do so.
On our way, we discovered that they were not NLC members but the operatives of State Security Service (SSS). Seeing the danger, Michael tried to call Niger State Chairman Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on phone but was forcefully prevented from doing so. While still on transit to their office, he was continually harassed whenever attempted to call.
On getting to their office, they continued to maltreat us. We challenged them that their action was an attack on our democratic rights and demanded to see their boss. We were later given Security Profile form to fill and our pictures were taken. We were also asked to write statements which we did.
We were detained for about six (6) hours and were released around 3pm knowing full well that the May Day rally would have ended
Our materials were said to be exhibits and therefore they refused to release them to us. The materials seized included 75 copies of Socialist Democracy, about 2000 copies of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) leaflet, DSM banner and a book written by Kola Ibrahim.
We were able to discuss after our release with the leadership of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) who promised to take the matter up in order to avert such attacks on democratic rights in the state in future.
Eko John Nicolas and Moshood Osunfunrewa
The Ogun State workers, like their colleagues nationwide, joined their counterparts across the world to celebrate this year Workers’ Day on May 1st, 2013. This year May Day celebration was held at the MKO Abiola stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta, the capital. This year event was not fundamentally different from the past ones. As usual it was held as if originally organised to celebrate the state governor.
The event which had the state deputy governor in attendance and other top state functionaries commenced very late (about 12pm).This was due to the late arrival of government officials. The turnout of workers was very low, and general apathy reigned supreme among the rank and file, especially within the public unions, like NUT, NIPOST etc. We were informed by workers during interactions with them, that this was due to the unceasing attacks on workers’ living and working conditions, backlog of unpaid salary arrears and allowances, unpaid pension to retirees, increasing taxes. This is in a state with a purportedly caring and progressive ACN government with workers’ friendly credentials (as often touted in print and electronic media).
The workers were also angry at the rotten romance of trade union executive with the state government while they maintain uncaring attitudes towards the plights of workers. Added to this is the exploitative character of the various union officers in the state. A clear demonstration of this, the workers averred, is exorbitant price the kits for May Day celebration were sold to them, which they claimed was compulsory. There is also Increment in check-up dues without commensurate benefits. The trade union leaders collude with management to frustrate attempts by workers to agitate for better conditions of service.
The disenchantment notwithstanding, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) leaflets were well received. Over 500 copies were distributed while 36 copies of SD were sold. Though patronage was mainly dominated by the older workers, this can be attributed to the paper’s lead article on the Pension Fund Scam, which they easily ‘connected’ with.
A number of workers from various unions within the state were made now want to discuss more with us. The security agents were well behaved, as no incident of harassment was recorded, and some of them warmly received the SPN leaflets. Three comrades participated: two from the state branch-Eko John and Adetayo Peters, while Moshood joined from Lagos. Overall, it was a good outing. We shall continue to deepen our work among the rank and file workers with a view to winning them to join SPN and ultimately over to socialist ideas.
The early morning downpour threatened to disrupt the May Day Rally in Lagos. We had to brave the element to make it to the venue. Though, the rain had subsided, it was still intense enough to soak our materials if displayed. Nonetheless, we set a stall at the entrance with the materials covered with waterproof material which unfortunately was not transparent. This means the materials were hidden from the passers-by. A few copies had to be sacrificed so that workers would know what we had in stock. Besides, some copies were taken round the stadium.
But the rain was not only the militating factor we had to contend with. Some SSS operatives came to seize a bunch of SPN leaflet titled “Bring Down this Government of Looters” from a comrade. They termed it “seditious”. Good enough, we had not brought out all the copies of the leaflet and other materials. Some were kept in the cars to protect them from the rain. But we stood up to them when they tried to disrupt our stall and challenged their authority to deny us our democratic rights. We left them with copies they had seized and continued to circulate and sell our materials.
We had come to intervene with Socialist Democracy, Manifesto and Constitution of SPN and two separate leaflets of SPN. One of the leaflets was produced by the Lagos state Chapter of the SPN while the other security operatives termed “seditious” was originally meant for intervention at the aborted April 10 NLC protest against pension fraud and corruption. We also displayed two banners at strategic places around the main entrance of the stadium and closed to our stall to attract the attention of workers. Some workers came to buy materials and enquire about the party. One worker and a youth indicated interest to join the party.
But moving around with the papers and leaflet was not without incident. Some overzealous policemen asked some comrades not to sell the papers or circulate leaflet within the main bowl of the stadium where most of the workers had gathered for the traditional march past. This underscores the increasing involvement of security operatives in the May Day activities. Indeed, a 20 meter radius from the podium was condoned off by stern looking, heavily armed policemen and SSS operatives. Their heavy presence was not without the knowledge of the labour leaders. The NLC chairman indeed specially recognized their presence in his speech. In fact, they had been apparently put on red alert to arrest the workers of Lagbus, the operator of BRT, who had planned to stage a protest at the rally.
The NLC chairman and the leadership of Amalgamated Union had allegedly warned the workers against any protest and threatened them with arrest if they went ahead. The workers had wanted to use the May Day to demand the reinstatement of Samuel Olowookere, their union secretary sacked by the management, and the improvement in their pay and working conditions. Lagbus is supposedly run on the basis on the basis of Public Private Partnership (PPP). But in reality it is run with public resources for the profit of individuals who are associates or proxies of the top functionaries of the state government. This means that any protest would be an embarrassment for the state governor. This is what the labour leaders would not allow to happen.
The state governor indeed praised them his speech. He commended them for their understanding and collaboration which ensured there have been no strikes or labour unrest in the past two years. Of course, it is not that there has not been cause for public sector strike in the state. Workers are short changed with the new minimum wage structure while teachers have forfeited the Teachers Salary Allowance under the guise of the implementation of the so-called minimum wage. The labour leaders were silent on the issue of minimum wage. However, last year the medical doctors went on strike for some months in the state.
Earlier the labour leaders in their speeches praised the achievement of the state governors in all the sectors including housing, health and education. In their speeches, it was “all is well” in the state. One wondered whether they were actually talking about the same Lagos we all live. The speech of the NLC Chair was not ended without a demand: a befitting vehicle for the office of NLC Chairman!
We had to cut short our intervention. The rain which had been drizzling incessantly for the better part of the period we had spent at the rally suddenly became heavier. The workers themselves started leaving in drove and the governor had to hurriedly round off his speech. Besides, we had other reason to leave. We got the report of the arrest of comrades across the country. We had to begin immediate efforts and campaigns for their release.
The downpour limited our intervention , but about N7,500 worth of SD and SPN manifesto were sold. This was perhaps our lowest sales in a long while. Different disruption encountered could have partly accounted for this. Besides, it appears the Lagos state workers have accepted their fate on Minimum Wage. Hence, minimum wage one of the lead articles was of little interest to them. The pension issue appears to have taken a back seat with cancellation of April 10 protest by NLC. About 3000 SPN leaflets were distributed. It was not a bad outing anyway. We are sure that some change-seeking elements would have got the materials and begin to seek genuine alternative to the pro-establishment parties like ACN and PDP and their anti-poor program. The SPN would cross their mind.
By Kola Ibrahim
DSM/SPN comrades from Ife, Ilesha and Osogbo participated in this year Workers’ Day in Osun State. The event was held at the Technical College, Osogbo. Twenty copies of the Socialist Democracy and four copies of the SPN constitution/manifesto were sold at the programme. This is a far cry from the past where workers usually patronize our materials en mass. However, our leaflets, both Osun special May Day, and national SPN leaflets, were well received with workers taking over the distribution of the leaflets. A few contacts were made for SPN on the basis of our leaflets and past activities. All of these reflect how our ideas can gain currency even in a period of lull in consciousness.
This year May Day saw a huge participation of workers. However, while the mood might not be totally termed as that of celebration, it could not also be said to be combatant or radical. The workers seem to have accepted the little amount that was added to their wages few days before the Workers’ Day, even if they are not satisfied with the increase. Unlike what the Aregbesola government was expecting, namely that workers would massively switch to its side with the increment, the reaction of workers was more of cynicism than appreciation. In fact, most workers left after the march past, as they could not see any reason to listen to the governor. This is not unconnected with the fact that the wage struggle took close to two years before it could be won, and this has surely rubbished any positive action by the government. Moreover, the increment in wage was much lower than workers’ expectation, and indeed lower than what workers in some other states in the region are collecting.
The labour leaders, who should have raised the demand of increase in pay to meet rate of inflation, actually decided to celebrate the government. They could not even credit the little victory to workers, but rather saw it as a reflection of the virtuousness and magnanimity of Aregbesola, and their own negotiating prowess. Rather than defending their members’ rights to adequate remuneration, they used their speeches (both of the NLC and TUC) to reel out the ‘achievements’ of the government in all sectors. This definitely affected the consciousness of workers, some of whom started jubilating with Aregbesola.
The speech of the governor was even more radical than those of labour leaders, but of course with a lot of self-praise. Of course, the governor promised to start the immediate payment of pension and gratuity arrears, the reality however is that unless there is pressure on the government, this may be another blank political statement.
Unlike last year, the march past was more of ceremonial thing than a militant action. While our march, with DSM banner, was mainly on solidarity with workers, we could not have placards because of harassments by security operatives, especially men of SSS, who prevented our SPN banner and placards from being displayed. Indeed, they attempted to seize our papers and other materials, but we resisted this. Comrade Alfred was also harassed during the march past. Fortunately, workers welcome our solidarity action. We hope to build on the contacts we have made and organize more activities in the coming period.
By Wole Olubanji
At the Oluyemi Kayode stadium, Ekiti-State workers celebrated this year May Day. The celebration which was organized by the NLC and TUC branches of Ekiti-State has as its theme; “100 years of nationhood- the challenges of national development.” Speeches around the theme definitely captured the many political and economic problems afflicting Nigeria, but it failed to address the many internal problems facing the state. However, the DSM and SPN comrades at the state had a quality time with workers and copies of the Socialist Democracy (SD) and SPN manifestoes were sold.
Before the programme started, we had reached out to the workers with copies of the SD, SPN manifestoes, leaflets and other struggle literature. Of course some workers expressed that they are “seeing the DSM” for the first time, while a good number of them acknowledged they had heard about the DSM. While introducing the SPN and its constitution/manifesto to them, the workers agreed that the current political system has failed, but some also expressed an expected pessimism towards the creation of a working people political alternative. Such pessimism is not unexpected in a state where the working people played a significant role in wrestling political power from an anti-workers’ PDP led administration for the current ACN led administration which has meant no difference in terms of living and working conditions. However, 15 copies of the SD and 8 copies of the SPN constitution/manifesto were sold. Considering the sparse attendance at the May Day event, the number of materials sold is not a bad outing. Moreover, our interaction with workers shows that the state is a fertile land for potential revolutionary activities including building of the SPN.
The NLC chairman of the state while delivering his speech pointed out the many “leadership problems” with Nigeria after almost a century of nationhood. Security challenges and poor conditions of service for workers are given special attention in his analysis. He also appealed to the governor to pay the Teachers’ peculiar allowance as being currently demanded by the State chapter of NUT. The TUC chairman also spoke religiously against the current national system of corruption with impunity. Coming back home; he used a larger part of his speech to canvass a second term ticket for Governor Kayode Fayemi mentioning reasons why the governor will win a second term ticket. Clearly, the labour leadership revealed themselves as a propaganda department of the state government. Of course, this explains why the leadership cannot make a case on behalf of the workers against deplorable rural roads, exorbitant state university fee, overwhelming unemployment, and deficient medical centres.
In his speech, and in reaction to earlier speeches, the governor took his time to appreciate the industrial harmony in the state. While speaking on the NUT demand, the governor was careful in making any categorical or committing statement. He instead promised distribution of laptop for teachers in the state, and immediately, unfriendly murmurs accomplished his ‘gesture’. Aggrieved teachers present were quick in pointing out the misplaced priority of the government when it proposed to buy laptop for teachers without qualitative wage to keep them in good mental state. Such projects are not uncommon in the state anyway; the government recently distributed mini laptops to SS2 students whose learning conditions are ridiculous.
We established contact with the NUT through its Publicity Secretary, and we gathered that the NUT nationally has directed that if state governments fail to pay the TPS before June 1st, then state branches can embark on industrial actions. We believe that DSM/SPN intervention in this potential struggle in the state will definitely enhance the development of the party and organisation in the state. NUT is the most active and largest union in the state.
In conclusion, with constant interaction with the working and poor people of Ekiti with our alternative program and identifying with their daily struggle, the SPN may be looking at building a strong working-people based chapter in the state.
By Ayo Ademiluyi, Onwualu Alexander and ChineduAgbebire (SPN/DSM Reporters,) in Port-Harcourt
This year commemoration of May Day in River state was held at Isaac Boro Park in Port-Harcourt. As early as 7:30 am, comrades had set up a stall on the main field of the Park with the SPN banner and a table with copies of the Socialist Democracy (SD), the SPN Manifesto and Constitution, SPN Rivers/Bayelsa Join Us leaflet, SPN leaflet on pension fraud and membership forms.
It did not take long before workers began to troop to the stall to ask questions about what the party represents and how to join. Comrades also went among workers to share the leaflets and sell the materials.
In our interaction some workers initially expressed mixed reaction to the call to join SPN. While they agreed on the need to fight and sack out the looters, they were sceptical about a new party as almost all the existing parties are not fundamentally different.
From our analysis of the general crisis of capitalism which was linked to the need for workers to struggle for an alternative and the need for a working people political party, hence the formation of SPN, some workers became sympathetic to our ideas.
Some also asked about what really would ensure that the SPN is not hijacked. Comrades explained further that with a clear-cut socialist programme and consistent fighting orientation including intervening in the day-to-day struggles of the working people, the party would rest on the working people and therefore difficult to be hijacked by opportunists and careerists.
With these convincing arguments, some workers filled up the forms to join while many others promised to get in contact with us. With this, we have been able to win contacts whom we intend to work with to build the SPN in Rivers State and beyond. We intend to initiate activities to integrate the contacts, win more workers and youths and build the party in the state. The maiden meeting of the party in the state was indeed held a few days to May Day, specifically on April 27, with 15 change-seeking people in attendance.
By Ebike Iseru
In Oyo State, this year edition of Mayday celebration was held under a very heavily militarized atmosphere. There was a huge presence of armed police and SSS operatives at the Adamasigba stadium â€“ the venue of the event. This is a clear indication of the level of apprehension by the ACN-led government in the state especially given its anti-worker conduct and attitude since its inauguration in 2011.
However, despite this intimidating and condemnable presence of armed police and SSS operatives, members of DSM/SPN in the State went ahead in a very organized and determined manner in exercising their democratic rights. We intervened with the distribution of two different SPN leaflets separately issued by the state and national organ of the party as well as sale of SPN constitution/manifesto and Socialist Democracy (SD), publication of DSM to peacefully canvass workers and artisans gathered at May Day rally to join SPN and seek to win them to the ideas for a socialist transformation of Nigeria.
We arrived at the venue as early as 8am and set up DSM/SPN stall with SPN banner at the entrance of the stadium. While two comrades manned the stall others moved around to sell and distribute SPN/DSM publications and leaflets respectively. It was obvious that the contents of SPN leaflets as well as the messages and demands on our placards unsettled the governor and labour leaders who unknown to us had previously signed a pact with the state security service (SSS) that no leaflet or placard would be allowed during the May Day rally.
This kind of a rotten pact effectively undermines the real essence of the May Day. The labour leadership has the role to educate their members on the history of workers’ struggles so as to draw inspiration and appropriate lessons for the present. However, this historical duty is not appreciated by labour leaders who collaborate with the state at the expense of workers and the poor.
The DSM/SPN intervention among of the workers drew the ire of the government and some layers of the labour leadership who immediately ordered the security men to close in on our comrades. At this time DSM members had already joined the march past with our placards, leaflets and papers.
The placards had inscriptions calling for implementation of N18,000 minimum wage across board in the state, adequate compensation for victims of the ongoing demolition policy of the government, decent working condition for YES-O volunteers among others. We stood out as a lone star in the firmament of a conformist labour movement!
As we approach the podium where the government and labour leaders were, we were accosted by some government aides accompanied by heavily armed police and SSS operatives attached to the governors entourage. They attempted to prevent us from advancing further, unless we dropped our placards. They argued that ‘this is not a political gathering’ and as such placard wielding groups like ours are not allowed. We stood our ground and insisted on our democratic right to peaceful protest. This further infuriated them but they actually got the impetus to unleash assault on us from the State Vice Chairman of NLC and State Chairman of JNCPS who ordered that SPN members must be prevented from participating in the march past.
They forcefully collected our papers, destroyed our placards and arrested four comrades on the spot including the Oyo State DSM Secretary, Abbey Trotsky. At this point some, workers, sympathetic labour leaders and activists led by the Co-ordinator of Oyo State Chapter of JAF, Dr Demola Aremu , got wind of the illegal arrest and intervened. These interventions successfully prevented the police from taking the arrested comrades away from the venue. Nevertheless, they were physical assaulted and forced to sit on the bare floor like common criminals. The arrested comrades were released after about an hour. Later it was observed that two of the DSM members from the school of hygiene, Eleyele, Ibadan, who also participated in the intervention, were missing without having any idea of their whereabouts.
They were not with us during the march past. As at this time students from university of Ibadan had already mobilized to the venue. Though the Governor and his entourage had left, the labour leadership was still much around. Forced by the palpable anger and agitation among workers and students the state NLC Chairman, Dr. Bashir Olanrewaju agreed to lead a delegation to the office of the Director of the SSS to inquire about the missing duo.
True to our suspicion the two missing comrades were abducted and taken to the SSS office for questioning. They were subjected to harsh treatments like frog jump and were made to crawl on their elbows. Eventually, they were released but asked to report to the office the following day. Upon their arrival the second day, the two comrades plus the Oyo State DSM Secretary were detained for more than 8hours.
The events that characterized this year Mayday celebration paint a bleak future for the workers movement in particular. It shows that the ruling elite across all party affiliations is becoming more desperate to stifle all opposition to their misrule and anti-poor conduct. These repressive actions further raise the need for workers, students, youths, artisans, petty traders and socialists to join effort at building political alternative for the oppressed strata of the society. The SPN has been formed as a step in this direction as a party for workers, youths and the poor.
We therefore call on the workers, artisans, students and all layers of the oppressed strata to join in the effort to build the SPN as a genuine and formidable political alternative to all anti-poor, capitalist political parties. We should all work together to achieve a socialist transformation of Nigeria that will ensure a just and equitable existence for all. The repression of the present ruling class should only serve to strengthen our conviction of the possibility of such a transformation.
The actual numbers of SD, SPN constitution sold could not be stated categorically due to repressive activities of the police and SSS operatives. However, a sum of N3, 400 was realized from the general sale before the clampdown.
By Uche Dike
With workers already assembled at Dan Anyam stadium, we were told that the venue had been changed to Heroes Square. On getting to the new venue the heavily armed security operatives were already at the entrance to frisk workers and anybody going in. At this point I was arrested and my materials seized. The materials were taken to the state police headquarters while I was held at the venue. But I was able to confront a labour leader who said the governor would be attending the May Day celebration for the first time and would receive an award at the rally. Therefore, they did not want circulation of any material that could incite workers against the government. My materials were brought back to me after about four hours and I was released.
While at the venue in the custody of the security operatives I noticed that the rank and file workers were not happy that AIT, a big private television station, was contracted for live broadcast of the May Day event allegedly for N6million while the workers of the state-owned Imo state Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) are being owed six month salary arrears The workers of ADA PALM and CONCORD HOTEL are also being owned backlog of salary arrears. This was not of interest to the labour leaders. In their addresses, the NLC and TUC chairmen reminded the governor that he promise them befitting secretariats and vehicles when he was campaigning for governorship election. They also shamelessly assured the governor that they were not ready to embark on any strike. It was good that I had been able to distribute a few copies of SPN leaflet at the stadium before moving to the Heroes square, the new venue, where the materials were seized.
By Ojo Olajire
Instead of using the worker’s day celebration to demand for improved welfare and working conditions of Ondo-State workers, the labour leaders in Ondo used it to celebrate the re-election of the State governor. The atmosphere was that of merry making with workers dressed in customized attire. It is clear that preparation has already started for next year May Day from the customized centenary Ankara pervading the venue of the Mayday celebration.
Except for the usual government promises and ‘hope-raising’ rhetoric, there was nothing significant to alleviate the plights of the working people.
Few workers in attendance were either mobilized with money openly shared, or forced to attend due to compulsory registration. This low attendance is an indirect protest from the rank and file of the workers against the government’s non-payment of workers’ salaries in the state.
There was an unfortunate absence of political slogans or statement, except for the SPN leaflets which were enthusiastically received by the workers. Workers obviously identified with our materials, but there was a dominating fear among them.
By Victor Osakwe
I got the venue of the May Day celebration early to begin circulating and selling our materials as quickly as possible. By my arrival, chairs and canopies were still being arranged at the venue and workers were just trickling into the venue.
After finding a suitable place I set a stall with a few copies of SD and SPN Manifesto. I did not bring out the whole our materials on sale so as to prevent them from getting wet. It had rained heavily the previous night. I started distributing the leaflets to all passers-by while inviting them to pick our papers and manifestos just as I did at the last year May Day.
It was not long after that six SSS agents came to me led by a lady who looked very young and who spoke good English compared to the others. She brought a copy of SPN leaflet and asked if I was the one distributing it. I answered in the affirmative. She then ordered me to carry my bag and leave the premises. I asked to know why and she answered that she was not ready to hold any discussion with me but that I must leave the premises immediately. She started ordering the security personnel to start packing my leaflets, papers and manifestos. I started packing everything into the Ghana-must-go bag and the remaining leaflets still with me were seized by one of the operatives.
They now led me out of the premises. I stood close to the gate and made a call to Pelad and as I was explaining to him what happened, the lady and all other SSS operatives came to see me again saying they did not want my presence near the wall of the college where the May Day celebration was being held. This time, I was led by two of them holding guns and asking me to cross the expressway to the other side.
It was apparent that it was the leaflet that attracted their attention because its caption says “BRING DOWN THIS GOVERNMENT OF LOOTERS”. I had not sold any paper or manifesto by the time I was marched out of the venue
On the May Day proper, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly attended on behalf of the Governor. Since I was not in the venue itself, I was unable to make comparison with the attendance of last year. But it was a carnival-like atmosphere as worker came with food and drinks..
I could not sell the papers outside as the SSS operatives still came out of the venue pointing at me while at the same time controlling traffic as there was a long hold-up of vehicles in and around the venue. They were pointing at me saying “why are you still here?” I ignored them hoping to be able to meet the workers at any given opportunity. Unfortunately, this was not possible as the security operatives continued to monitor me even afar off.