NIGERIA IN CRISIS: WHAT IS THE WAY OUT?
NIGERIA IN CRISIS: WHAT IS THE WAY OUT?
Over 60 at DSM Public Symposium
By H.T Soweto
On Saturday 25 February 2017, over 60 people turned up at a public symposium organized by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). The theme was: “Nigeria in crisis: What is the way out?” There was a sub-theme: “After Feb 6 and 9 protests: What next?” Against the background of the February 6 and 9 mass protests which indicate a reawakening in mass consciousness, the aim of the symposium was to discuss the capitalist economic crisis ravaging Nigeria and what the appropriate responses should be from the labour movement and other mass organizations of the working and toiling people.
While the current economic hardship reflects a deep crisis of capitalism, many of the speakers stressed the imperative of the labour movement fighting for improvement and resisting the resolve of the capitalist government to make the working masses to pay for the crisis. With the February 6 and 9 protests, workers and young people have demonstrated their determination to fight for this if provided leadership. Besides, the crisis which is a clear case of failing and failure of capitalism has further underscored the imperative of the labour movement forming a mass working people party on socialist program that must struggle for political power.
Speakers that turned up for the event included Ismail Bello – Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers or Nigeria (NUTGTWN), Dagga Tolar (DSM acting General Secretary and Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Ajeromi Ifelodun LG (in personal capacity), Abiodun Aremu (Secretary, Joint Action Front), Sola Olorunfemi (Secretary, Autobate), Omoyele Sowore (Publisher, Sahara Reporters) and Lanre Arogundade (founding member of the DSM and Director, International Press Centre).
Many left organizations sent representatives bearing solidarity messages to the symposium. Also at the symposium were a representative of ANACOWA (A union of commercial motorbike operators) and a representative of truck officers sacked by Dangote Cement PLC â€“ a company owned by Aliko Dangote (the richest man in Africa). There was also Dr. Olusola Adeyelu (Aristotle) recently suspended by the management of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) for openly criticizing the management and a student, Adeyeye Femi suspended from the University of Lagos for writing a post on facebook critical of the University’s policies.
The over 6-hour debate was both enlightening as it was invigorating. The discussion reflected the confidence gradually returning back to the left and labour movement following the great illusion that heralded the coming into power of the Buhari/All Progressive Congress (APC) capitalist government. Nearly two years after taking power, nothing fundamental has changed for ordinary people. In many ways things are worse.
Poverty and joblessness on the rise
As Ismail Bello pointed out “recession is not just an economic term, it is a phenomenon that is having impact on the pockets and stomachs of working people”. Wages and living standards are being destroyed as the Buhari/APC government unleashes the brutal consequences of the crisis of capitalism on working people. Yet, while the governments of 27 states find it difficult to pay retirees and workers, they find it easy to pay just about 108 former presidents and governors billions of Naira which could have been more wisely spent to clear the backlogs of arrears being owed thousands of retirees.
Painting a picture of the decline in the income of workers and purchasing power, Ismail Bello cited the example of the current N18, 000 minimum wage whose dollar value as at 2013 was about $120, today it is no more than $50. Inflation has eaten deep into wages so much that workers can barely fend for their families. The situation is even worse than this for workers in the private sector.
During his speech, Dagga Tolar further harped on this point by comparing the value of wages now and in the 1980s. In the 1980s, the minimum wage was N125 whose dollar value as at that time is equal to about N110, 000 today. So that even if government decides to pay N110, 000 as minimum wage, it is only giving workers the living standard of the 1980s. Yet the regime is not even ready to pay the demand of N56, 000 new minimum wage which the NLC has laid before it.
Minimum wage and the Crisis in the NLC
A vital issue in the struggle of the working masses is the present crisis in the NLC which has led to the emergence of a new labour centre called the United Labour Congress (ULC). The crisis arose out of the disagreement among union officials and some unions formerly affiliated with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the conduct of the NLC’s 11th National Delegate Conference (NDC) in early 2015. After maintaining a factional NLC for a while, Joe Ajaero (an aspirant for the position of the NLC president at the 11th NDC) and Igwe Achese (National President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers) led others to form the ULC as a new labour centre. Joe Ajaero is also the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE).
At the moment both labour centres are demanding different figures for the review of the minimum wage and, going by the last May Day celebration, both camps do not appear ready to work together. While the NLC and TUC have laid before the government the demand for an upward review of the national minimum wage to N56, 000, the ULC is demanding N96, 000.
However, without a unified figure it would be difficult to win the demand for higher minimum wage as the labour is expected to present a single figure to the tripartite committee comprising government, private employers and labour. So far, it does not appear that labour leaders are truly serious about the calls for higher minimum wage or prepared to fight for it.
For instance, the government has not set up tripartite committee to discuss the demand despite having promised to do so since in May last year during the national strike called against a fuel price hike. Yet the labour leaders have not mounted any serious pressure on the government to set up the committee, neither have they begun the mass mobilization of workers for struggles to press home the demand. We do not want a repeat of what happened before when, in December 2008, the NLC called for the then N11, 130 minimum to be increased to N52, 200 only to later in 2011 agreeing to Jonathan setting the current N18, 000 wage. But even this was not fully implemented. Now we have a situation where labour leaders have not seriously fought for payment of the several months of salary arrears owed to workers in about 27 states, something that is very important both to ease workers’ current situation and to begin a determined mobilization of workers to successfully struggle for higher wages.
Addressing the Crisis in the NLC, Ismail Bello pointed out that, whilst the split was not a product of a principled disagreement, there is no reason why it should threaten the united struggle of the working class. According to him, during the time of the late Michael Imoudu, there were as much as 4 labour centres yet they at all times united to struggle anytime the interest and welfare of the working class was threatened. They formed Joint Action Committees (JAC) which united the different labour centres in joint campaigns and struggles.
Responding to the debate, Dagga Tolar pointed out that the crisis and the emergence of the ULC without any evidence that rank and file workers were consulted itself shows how rotten and undemocratic the labour movement has become. Rank and file workers should be involved in the running of their unions including participating in taking such important decisions as splitting from the NLC and forming a new labour centre. Unfortunately the labour movement has been bureaucratized to such an extent that important decisions such as when to call on and call off strikes are simply taken at the top. The workers have been turned to mere spectators. Unless the lack of democracy in the unions is tackled, there is no way the labour movement can be rebuilt as a fighting platform of working people.
Dagga Tolar also called for united struggle of the NLC, TUC and ULC starting with the minimum wage struggle. There should be a framework for joint campaigns and struggle by the three labour centres to harmonize figures and initiate struggles for an urgent upward review of the minimum wage in order to reduce the excruciating poverty that public and private sector workers are experiencing as a result of inflation and high prices of basic needs. Workers and trade union activists should demand that the labour centres as the first step declare a two day general strike for a living wage, against salary arrears and retrenchment.
If this is not done, they would give the government a chance to weaken and undermine the struggle to the detriment of the working masses. While the bureaucrats have a lot to gain by the division, it is ordinary workers that will bear the brunt. The DSM therefore calls on rank and file workers not to allow the bureaucratic split to divide them. They must develop solidarity with each other. Workers of each of the labour centers must always strive to give solidarity to the struggles of workers of other labour centres. This is the only way to lay the basis for the overcoming of the split and barriers and presenting a strong and united front to the employers and government.
Ismail Bello also made the very important point that the labour movement needs to be rebuilt as platforms that leads the entirety of the working people, and not just registered union members, in struggle for social transformation.
Capitalism has failed
Ultimately, the Buhari/APC government has adopted the same neo-liberal economic policies as the Jonathan/PDP regime. Meanwhile the experience of privatization and other neo-liberal policies is collapse of industries, deepening of impoverishment and widening of the income inequality gap. A case study of this phenomenon is the textile sector which at its height in the 1980s employed over 300, 000 but right now employs no more than 20, 000 in spite of so-called state intervention and special loans approved for the sector.
According to Bello, going by the additional example of the power sector, privatization has failed. This proves the electricity workers right when they struggled tenaciously against the privatization of the power sector. Unfortunately, except a few trade unions and organizations like the DSM and others, the electricity workers were practically abandoned. Estimating the political character of the Buhari/APC regime, Bello argued that executive lawlessness and recklessness are the order of the day under the regime.
According to Dagga Tolar who is also a teacher, another example of the failure of capitalism is the education sector. “Even though Lagos is ahead of other states yet there are public primary schools in Lagos having not more than 3 teachers. Out of these 3 teachers, you have the headmaster or headmistress and the assistant. This invariably means you have just one classroom teacher in a whole primary school because the other two will not teach”. If this is the feature of public education in Lagos state then one can only imagine what goes on in other states.
The failure of the Buhari/APC regime poses sharply the need to fight more openly for a clear socialist alternative. This one of the reasons the DSM has continuously agitated within the labour movement for formation of a mass working peoples’ party on a socialist program. But as the current labour leaders have not tried to form such a party, the DSM has taken practical steps by building of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a body which can start to create an independent workers’ challenge to the pro-capitalist parties. This step has drawn the ire of the capitalist ruling elite who have refused to register the SPN despite it fulfilling all legal and constitutional requirements for registration by INEC. But we will not give up the battle to help build an independent political force of the workers and poor.
In his speech, Abiodun Aremu (JAF Secretary) correctly said “our struggle must have clear alternatives to the crisis. There is a difference between slogans and programmes. You cannot change society by simply proclaiming socialism as an alternative; you must be able to pose what the socialist alternatives are”. Aremu also called for mass protest on the condition of mass unemployment.
Following the examples of the 1917 Russian revolution led by the Bolshevik party whose centenary is this year, for us in the DSM such programmes would include (1) full employment with adequate benefit to those currently unemployed, (2) end to casualization and contract staffing, (3) payment of living wage and placement of political officeholders on the same minimum wage structure as workers, (4) free education and health, public work programmes funded by the state to rapidly develop public infrastructure, (5) government investment in agriculture and industry, (6) respect for democratic rights, (7) an end to victimization of students, youth and workers activists, (8) end to repression, harassment and torture by the police and other institutions of state repression, (9) protection of minority interests and recognition of the right to self-determination, (10) an end to all neo-liberal policies of privatization, deregulation and commercialization, (11) nationalization of the oil and gas sector, industry, mines, ports, banks and thee financial sector under public democratic control and management and (12) a workers’ and poor government that can fully implement such a programme.
The symposium ended with solidarity songs and renewed commitment to continue the struggle for socialist transformation.