NIGERIA ON THE BRINK
Only a Working Peoples’ Government can save it
It is 30 months this November that the government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has been in office, albeit through the most farcical election in annals of Nigeria. Like in the 8-year rule (or ruination of Nigerian economy) of his predecessor and mentor, Olusegun Obasanjo, Yar’Adua government has unleashed severe neo-liberal attacks on workers and poor masses. Nigeria is suffering from a form of Dutch disease – mass suffering and poverty in the midst of huge material and human resources. The biggest and longest run oil boom in Nigerian history that coincided with the last decade of civil rule has brought fundamentally nothing to workers and poor masses in term of infrastructural development and improved living standards. Rather, the period of boom has only recorded collapse of industries, mass unemployment, attack on public education and health care, jumbo pay for top government functionaries, brazen looting of nation’s wealth by those in government and their business allies, and criminal transfer of public properties to private vampires for their profit-first interests.
Worse still, the Yar’Adua government, in line with anti poor neo-liberal principle, has continued to prescribe and administer poisons as medicine for the chronic ailment of the Nigerian economy. The latest of the venom, which Yar’Adua government has vociferously determined to add on already festering sore of the poor working masses, is total deregulation of the down stream sector of the oil industry, the main stay of Nigerian economy. This has been presented by this anti-poor government as the magic wand that will turn around the Nigerian economy. However, Labour (trade unions) has not left the field alone for the government and its town criers, on the platform of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) it has organized eight protest marches across the country to rally workers and poor masses against the obnoxious agenda
There is no better way to start this publication of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) written by Segun Sango, the General Secretary of the organization, than x-raying the deregulation agenda of the government on oil sector. Thus, the Chapter One punctures the blatant lie and specious arguments of government to support this obviously anti-poor policy. It also reviews the responses of different sections of Labour (trade unions), calls for a principled approach and argues for determined and sustained mass actions led by Labour to defeat the agenda. To start with, it specifically reiterates the DSM’s call on the Labour to commence mass mobilization for 48-hour warning general strike and mass protests as the next action after the nationwide rallies that have been held by LASCO. Also in the chapter is the review of the Petroleum Industry Bill, which if passed into law will practically transfer Nigeria’s oil wealth to a few private individuals and oil multinationals.
There are two developments, which recently attracted global attention to Nigeria. These are the banking crisis and Niger Delta, where militants have engaged government and oil multinationals in armed struggle. The Chapter Two looks at the quagmire that has defined the oil-producing Niger Delta of Nigeria and argues that much-vaunted amnesty programme is mere scratching the surface. There is no solution in the so-called fiscal federalism either. As against messianic activities of the Niger Delta militants, it canvases for a working class strategy which is primarily built around the mobilization of workers and ordinary Nigerians to defeat the alliance of oil multinationals and their local capitalist allies whose profit-first interest and greed account for the gross under-development of the region and country as a whole.
The crisis in Nigeria’s banking sector, which has seen the injection of N620bn of public funds into 8 banks and the removal of their chief executives has proved that private sector, cannot be solution to the Nigerian economy. Incidentally, the bank crisis, which was created by using depositors’ funds and shareholders’ funds to gamble at stock market and oil industry as well as outright corrupt practices by the top bankers, came to head at a period the Yar’Adua government has intensified its campaign for privatization and deregulation of the key sector of the economy. It is also instructive that government, which is promoting transfer of public properties to private individuals as way out of entrenched corruption in public corporation, attributes the latest dismal rating of Nigeria by the Transparency International as one of the most corrupt nations in the world to the fraud and corruption in Nigeria’s banks. But this crisis in Nigeria’s banks is not simply a national one, it is part of the international financial crisis that has gripped the entire world in the last two years. Chapter Three however argues that beyond failing and failures of some individuals the crisis is a manifestation of the rottenness of capitalist system. Segun insists that the offences for which the top bankers were removed constitute the standard practice of banks in Nigeria and globally.
The immediate solution to the monumental socio-economic crises in Nigeria is political. In 2011 there will be another general election and from what obtains at present, despite existence of Labour Party there may not be working class political alternative for workers and poor masses. Rather, the field may be left for different sections of the thieving ruling elite to contest for political power. All this is what addressed in the last three chapters. Chapter Four looks at the fate of the working masses in the 2011 election and argues among other things that the bourgeois opposition parties, who share the same anti-poor neo-liberal agenda with the ruling PDP, are not an alternative for the working masses. Therefore, Chapter Five posits on what should be the roles of the Labour leaders ahead of 2011 general election and specifically calls on them to build Labour Party as a fighting working class political alternative to wrest political power from the corrupt ruling elites at all levels of government. How to build the Labour Party is highlighted in Chapter Six, which also argues for a socialist programme for the Party.
This publication also contains three appendixes. The first is the reproduction of an article written by three members of DSM in Edo State and published in November 2009 Special Edition of Socialist Democracy, paper of DSM, which reviews the first year of Adams Oshiomhole, former President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as the governor of Edo state. Appendix 2 is a tribute of Democratic Socialist Movement to Gani Fawehinmi, who died on September 5, 2009 and originally published in the September 2009 special issue of Socialist Democracy, dedicated to his life and struggles. Gani was a most outstanding leader and champion of the poor masses who used law as an instrument of social change and for protection of the weak. And unlike most lawyers, he led the political struggle for the achievement of people oriented government with a view to abolish mass poverty which is currently the lot of most Nigerians despite abundant availability of human and natural resources. Appendix 3 is an article culled from November 2009 issue of Socialism Today, the magazine of Socialist Party, the DSM’s sister organisation in England & Wales and written by its General Secretary, Peter Taaffe, on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall. It x-rays the bankruptcy and collapse of Stalinism, which runs contrary to the genuine ideas and method of Marxism. The collapse of Stalinism was used in a global ideological offensive against socialism, which was unjustly equated with that dictatorial, bureaucratic system, to drive through brutal, neo-liberal capitalist policies worldwide. This article explains, using Lenin and Trotsky’s teachings and methods, the ideas of a genuine working class democratic control and management of the economy and society as the only successful way to run a planned and nationalized economy that will not be crippled by bureaucratic bungling and official corruption. It is an indispensable education material for socialist elements
AILING ECONOMY AND DEREGULATION AGENDA
Ultimately, a government is judged by how healthy is the overall state of the economy as well as the well-being of the ordinary citizens. It is now 2½ years that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has assumed power in Nigeria. We therefore pointedly ask these questions: (1) What is the overall state of health of the economy? (2) Do the masses living conditions fared better today? (3) If, as most people already know, that the state of health of the economy and the masses living standards remain deplorable, what must be done to change things for the better?
For the 8 years that President Olusegun Obassanjo, Yar’Adua’s predecessor and political godfather was in power, Nigeria was especially fortunate in terms of huge money generated from the sales of crude oil internationally. However, due to pro-rich, anti-poor neo-liberal policies and massive corruption of the capitalist elite, both the economy and the living standard of the masses substantially took a plunge for the worse. In this respect, the chronic crises, which has for years bedeviled the economy and the living standard of the ordinary masses did not start with the Yar’Adua’s government. Nonetheless, there is a virtual general consensus amongst all shades of political opinions that both the state of the economy and the well-being of the citizens have become horribly worse during the past 2½ years of Yar’Adua presidency.
Recently, the Guardian newspaper published in its edition of July 26, 2009, the result of an opinion poll it conducted. Among respondents from the country six geo-political zones including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, 75% of those polled stated that they were “not satisfied with the performance of President Yar’Adua in the past two years”. In an earlier opinion poll conducted by the newspaper, only 18% claimed to have been satisfied with the lawmakers across the country. This time however, the percentage has dropped to 7%.
It should be said that these stark figures in actual fact would not fully reveal the virtual stagnation and regression which virtually envelopes the entire economy, neither does it fully reflect the excruciating horrors and suffering which most ordinary people face in their daily struggle for survival. Electricity, which is regarded as indispensable for social development and modern civilization, is virtually dead. According to a conservative estimate, Nigeria, with its huge population, requires a minimum of 20,000 Megawatts of electricity. South Africa with less than half of Nigeria’s population currently produces about 45,000 Megawatts per annum. Suffice to note, the paralytic state of the electricity has numerous negative effects on the overall economy and the living standard of the citizens. Meanwhile, as at the time former President Obasanjo left power, Nigeria was only generating about 2,500 Megawatts, which currently has declined to about 2000 Megawatts, a situation that has virtually thrown the entire country into bottomless darkness. According to Bashar Borodo, President of Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), the high cost of diesel and black oil which industries use for their production in the absence of stable electricity is one of the major factors that have led to the collapse of 820 companies between 2000 and 2008. For instance, it is stated that while public electricity will cost N7 per kilowatt hour, power generated through generators using diesel and black oil will cost between N30 and N50 per kilowatt hour. Largely due to the failure of the power sector, a growing number of industries have been or are in the process of being relocated to the neighbouring countries such as Republic of Benin, Ghana, etc. where there is a more stable and cheaper electricity.
According to a UN survey, 92% of Nigerians live on less than $2 per day. This state of absolute poverty is responsible for the sharp decline in the lifespan of most Nigerians with 49 years and 59 years estimated for men and women respectively. According to UNICEF, over one million Nigerian kids die annually as a result of preventable diseases. Nigeria, with an estimated population of about 140 million, constitutes only 2% of the world population but tragically accounts for 12% of world’s under-five mortality and 11% of maternal mortality rate.
Aside from its stupendous oil wealth, Nigeria has extensive fertile soil that can support fruitful agricultural endeavour. In fact, experts estimate that the country has the potential to produce enough food that can support a population 5 times larger than Nigeria. But such is the primitive level of agricultural development or more precisely under development that Nigerian growers use only 8 kilograms to 10 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare compared with the minimum 200 kilograms recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
The infrastructure such as roads, water, education, etc., is in a state of stagnation and utter decay. Currently most inter and intra city roads are in deplorable conditions causing virtual paralysis in economic activities with a number of incalculable lives and vehicles being lost and damaged. Currently, things are so bad that the main roads linking the country’s main seaports at Lagos have become so bad to the extent that the transport dislocation arising from this is already being cited as a major factor causing port congestion, a phenomenon contributing to a high cost of goods and services.
Public education has become so neglected to an extent that only those who have no options send their children and wards to public schools. Increasingly, most children of the thieving capitalist elite are being educated in the best private schools and tertiary institutions locally and internationally. In respect of ASUU’s age-long demand for increased funding of education at all level, like previous governments, the present Yar’Adua government says that it does not have enough money to meet these demands. However, the same government had in a jiffy coughed out N620 billion of public funds to offset certain (bad) dubious loans granted by some private banks without proper collateral! For 16 weeks (June 22-October 23), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) went on strike to press home demands for adequate funding, better pay and improved conditions of service. Characteristically, the pro-rich, anti-poor Yar’Adua government remained impervious to workers agitation until it was forced to retreat. Though, an agreement was reached which entails increment in salary of the academic staff by 40% and progressive increment of education funding to 26% in 2020, it is unlikely that the agreement will be implemented such that will make any meaningful impact on the crisis ridden sector.
Most Nigerians continue to live in conditions often worse than what prevailed in the stone-age era. Living aside the fact that most ordinary Nigerians currently live in houses not fit for human habitation, an official estimate says that Nigeria has a deficit of over 15million housing units. Meanwhile, under the prevailing profit first ideology that reigns supreme currently, there are very little chances that the government can build (for the working class people) 100,000 housing units per annum. Against this background, no one needs to be an expert to know that most ordinary Nigerians now and in the future would continue to live in a horrendous housing condition.
Apart from a tiny layer of top political office holders, top civil servants and judicial officers, together with their capitalist backers and mentors, majority of working class Nigerians continue to earn miserable poverty wages. As we go to press, the Transparency International, an NGO that specialises in monitoring rate of official corruption world-wide has just released its year 2009 annual Reports. As usual, the Reports contained many damning facts about Nigeria. However, the most distressing and provocative aspects of this year’s Report is the revelation that Nigeria’s public political office holders earn the highest salaries and allowances world-wide, while Nigerian workers are rated as the worst poorly paid internationally. This is against the background of the virtual collapse of the state in all facets of life. The situation today is totally unlike what obtained in the 70s and even in the 80s where the state was significantly responsible for provision and funding of education, functional healthcare, electricity and portable water. In contemporary Nigeria, every individual including workers earning poverty wages is expected to privately bear the cost of feeding, housing, electricity, transportation, education, and healthcare of themselves and their dependants. Of all the oil producing countries, only Nigeria has no functional refineries. Yes, on paper, the country has four refineries on which over $3billion have been purportedly spent in order to make them functional all to no avail.
With the magic wand of deregulation, the Yar’Adua government appears to have discovered a formula that will end the age-long backwardness and underdevelopment of the country’s economy. This formula is called deregulation and liberalization. However, instead of ensuring that the refineries work so that most of the locally consumed petroleum products can be processed locally and thereby bring down prices, the Yar’Adua government, in a typical anti-poor capitalist manner has decided to fully privatize and deregulate the entire oil sector According to government’s spokespersons, once the oil sector, the main stay of Nigeria’s economy is fully deregulated and the nation’s refineries privatized, all other social problems will become secondary. They argue that deregulation and privatization will create a situation where government will have to stop spending about N700 billion annually to subsidize imported but locally consumed petroleum products. When this is done they argue government will now have enough resources to address the problem of decayed infrastructure, public education and all other social necessities.
The government and its town criers have also warned that the massive under-development and backwardness, which dominate the economy and society, will remain unless the oil sector the mainstay of the Nigeria’s economy, is handed over completely to profit merchants in the name of deregulation. To cap it all, they are now waxing eloquent that once the oil sector is totally handed over to private profiteers, petroleum products will now be available permanently and at affordable prices. Typical of neo-colonial capitalist elite, they are unmindful of the adverse effect, which this pro-imperialist strategy will further wreck on the nation’s feeble economy and the already deplorable living standard of the people.
Government spokespersons have sought to justify this economic robbery on the basis that government subsidy and hike in petroleum product prices have only benefitted fraudulent government officials and their private collaborators. They have equally argued that deregulating the oil sector and privatizing the oil refineries will create a situation where ordinary users of energy would not have to subsidize fraud and inefficiency, and at the same time ensuring that fuel products are constantly made available to consumers at fair and affordable prices.
Amongst those unfortunately lending credence to this false and simplistic bourgeois phantasmagoria is Adams Oshiomhole, immediate past president of the NLC and current Governor of Edo State, who, in fact is a member of the deregulation steering committee, appointed by Yar’Adua and chaired by the Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda. Arguing from the correct premise that importation of fuel products, as well as huge amounts being paid as demurrage on landed vessels, unnecessarily adds to the costs which the consumers have to pay for, Oshiomhole consequently but wrongfully, called for deregulation and privatization of the oil sector. Hear him: “Demurrage is a problem and the country spends so much to import petrol. The refineries should be privatized. They should be sold off. I don’t care who buys them and how much they pay. Even if it is one naira, let it be sold. The issue is that products must be available” (This Day, February 11, 2009).
Socialists and working class elements must not for a second accept these false arguments. In the not too distant past, capitalist spokespersons used to justify incessant hike of fuel prices on the excuse of meeting the real cost of these products. On the other hand, labour and mass of the working people have always insisted that government claims of subsidies were false. Now propelled by the exploitative desire to totally hand over the oil sector to profit merchants in the name of deregulation, the government has now come round to indirectly admit labour’s position in this regard by stating that its so-called subsidies of prices have only been going to the pockets of oil racketeers and profiteers within and outside government.
But like true anti-poor, capitalist politicians, this belated truth has merely turned out as an excuse to foist on the working people the mother of all social economic robbery, a.k.a deregulation and privatization. Instead of taking firm and concrete measures against all those who looted public money in the name of non-existing subsidy, as well as those who collected tens of millions of dollars to repair the nation’s refineries without actually doing so, the government has now come up with the disingenuous solution to sell off the entire oil sector to these same looters and their capitalist collaborators in the name of privatization and deregulation.
It is equally false to give the impression that privatization of the refineries would make products available and affordable. In fact, since government announced “full deregulation” of diesel and black oil, prices of these essential products have skyrocketed thus leading to further collapse of businesses and services, the direct result of the huge cost of energy. As the government prepares to implement full deregulation of petrol, it has already been estimated that a litre may cost N94.00 or more. This doubtlessly will have a very devastating effect on the economy and masses living standard, which already are near their teeters end.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to remember that the former government of Olusegun Obasanjo granted 18 licenses to private companies to enable them commence local refineries of petroleum products. Several years later, none has been built. Of course, if tomorrow, government decides to sell public refineries to private companies, there will be no lack of buyers, which of course goes to prove the fact that capitalist corporations hardly spend their own money for capital intensive and or long-term ventures but readily pounce on ready-made facilities for quick and huge profits. So, one or two things will happen. One, the privatized refineries may be bought by oil cartels who have no plan of making them functional so that profits can be maintained internationally. Two, even if the privatized refineries are made functional, prices of products will remain extremely high because of absence of stable electricity and other facilities needed to store and distribute products to end users.
While commenting on government latest policy of full deregulation and privatization of the oil sector, Abdulwahed Omar, the NLC President, had among other things, made the following statement as reported in the March 2 2009 edition of the Daily Independent: “The economic meltdown has now shown that the economy and its regulation cannot be left to the whims and caprices of free market forces and that government does have a strong and leading role to play not only in the regulation of business and the economy but that it must also be a key player in the ownership and management of business and non-business institutions for the regulatory role to make impact. We maintain our long held position that privatization has adverse effects for employment, prices and public welfare and that there should be no privatization of the strategic economic social sector and public monuments. But in a situation where privatization is inevitable, the process must be transparent, participatory and accountable with emphasis on the need to protect jobs and benefit of Nigerian workers in the affected enterprises”.
To avoid privatization and deregulation, Umar argued, in a later interview with the Vanguard newspaper, “If government will tackle corruption and reduce it to the barest minimum, there will be a lot of money to do other things. Farida Waziri, EFCC’s Chairperson, was telling us when she visited US that corruption … the level of stealing in Nigeria is no longer in hundreds or millions, but billions.” Arguing further on why government should not deregulate and or privatize the oil sector, Omar says “Government came out to admit there is a cartel that undermines anything they do about this subsidy thing… If government is not able to take full charge of the present situation, what do you think will happen when government decides to hand over to these people, saying okay, do as you like” (Vanguard July 30, 2009).
On his part, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, also in March 2009 had among other things stated: “The Federal Government should as a matter of utmost urgency fund from the national treasury, the process of re-opening all closed down factories in order to reverse the present trend towards de-industrialisation as this has continued to harm employment generation as well as generate lower economic growth. The ongoing nation’s economic crisis is a pointer that only a new system of government that pushes forward the decent work agenda is needed that would put an end to massive inequality which has characterized the nation’s economy. We reject the continuation of the neo-liberal economic policies, which has resulted in massive closure of factories, particularly in the textile and the footwear and rubber industries, reduced power generation, collapse of public infrastructure. Government partnership is critical to ensuring the effective implementation and sustainability of the 7-point agenda, industrial revolution through power and energy agriculture and food security, wealth creation and employment, mass transportation, land reforms, security qualitative and functional education and of course, Niger Delta development”.
There are also sections of labour leaders who also wrongfully argue that deregulation can be beneficial to the working class people under certain conditions. For instance, PENGASSAN President, Babatunde Ogun had argued thus on the current debate: “Before you can deregulate, certain conditions must be fulfilled…The refineries are not working”. His counterpart in NUPENG, Peter Akpatasan had similarly argued: “Deregulation requires that certain parameters must be in place…You cannot deregulate when you have no refineries”. Lately, both PENGASSAN and NUPENG leaderships appeared to have moved from the position of “conditional deregulation” to that which says that “deregulation is a better option for now”. Tokunbo Korodo, NUPENG Zonal Secretary, told the media “our members have listened carefully to the government’s representatives and the Executive Secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Thomas Olawore, and we discovered that their views are complimentary. So, we opted for deregulation as insiders who understand what is going on in the sector”. Korodo was especially irked that the NLC leadership did not get the consent of both PENGASSAN and NUPENG “before forming a consensus against deregulation”. The danger is that the PENGASSAN and NUPENG leaders are putting what they, wrongly, think is the sectional interest of their members before that of the working class as a whole. Tragically if they succeed they will find out sooner or later that deregulation will be used against their own members.
There are also some labour leaders who have said that they will only support deregulation if the government puts in place basic infrastructures such as power, refineries, roads, etc. This is another way of calling on the government to use public money to grow the economy by way of putting in place basic infrastructures only to be handed over to private sharks to profit from.
Suffice to stress, it will be entirely in the interest of the economy and working masses for the NLC to form “a consensus against deregulation” given the inherent negative consequences of this neo-liberal, capitalist policy. Unfortunately however, when scientifically x-rayed, the NLC’s leadership position on deregulation is at best utopian and at worst, hopeless. The demand that government should play greater role in the economy, make local refineries to function instead of relying on imported petroleum products, pump money to revive collapsed industries, reduce official corruption to the barest minimum, all sound very nice to hear. But these precisely are the opposites of what capitalism and its elites stand for. Of course, if all of these enumerated demands can be implemented, it would be possible to achieve a significant improvement in the economy and the living standard of the masses. But this could only be possible under a government of the working people primarily formed to harness the major societal resources (natural and human) to guarantee the basic needs of life for all unlike the prevailing unjust capitalist order, where a tiny few permanently own and devour most societal resources.
At this period, capitalists internationally are only interested in converting public assets and resources unto the exclusive, private property of the few rich. They are not interested in spending money to develop public education, healthcare, etc.
The NLC leadership gives the impression that once government is able to reduce corruption to barest minimum, the nation’s refineries can become functional, without having to pay any subsidy for petroleum products either real or imagined! The problem with this expectation is that the very elements that corruptly grounded the refineries, so that they can profit from oil deregulation, are the same elements being called upon to bring corruption to barest minimum when actually their design is to capitalize on this to enable them full ownership and control of the oil sector. The NLC President was quite right when he stated that there appears to be a force propelling government to carry out these anti-growth and anti-poor measures. Yes, this force is being driven by the imperialist quest to re-colonise Nigeria and the inherent profit/greed calculations of the local capitalist elements.
To guarantee sufficient and functional local refineries, which can produce fuel at affordable prices for industrial and domestic use that would not be crippled by corruption, the working class, first and foremost, needs to fight for a working people’s government that would be prepared to put the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy, including oil, under public ownership and working class democratic control and management. First, oil resources must not under any guise be left to profiteers. Very importantly too, the control and management of these vital resources must not be left to capitalist elements and profiteers. The day-to-day running and long-term decisions on how to run this sector must be that of the working class people with elected committees that are subject to recall whenever they are found wanting in their duties. This is the only practical way that could guarantee production for needs without the usual corruption, which characterises the management of publicly owned enterprises. It is only a working people’s government that is prepared and able to take fundamental decisions that would benefit the majority unlike the present order that only favours a rich few.
AFTERMATH LASCO RALLIES
On the basis of series of mass rallies held against the anti-poor policy of deregulation across the country, by trade unions in collaboration with the pro-Labour/socialist section of the civil society organisations, the Yar’Adua government appeared to have temporarily shelved the implementation date of this widely hated policy. Yet, it is so evident that government’s postponement of the implementation date from November 1, 2009 is more of a tactical and strategic calculation to deflate labour’s opposition so that when this counter-productive policy is eventually implemented, it will meet little or no organized resistance.
While purportedly announcing the postponement of the implementation date of its “full deregulation” policy, Yar’Adua’s Special Adviser on Petroleum Matters, Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah, had amongst other things stated: “it will bring down prices and everyone will enjoy its benefit. The refineries will work and they are being fixed. It is a part of the deregulation programme because the refineries must be able to work to provide ample supply of products just like many other factors that we are now bringing on stream. The compressed natural gas system, it will provide the products that are even at half the rate that we are giving them today. A lot of these measures that the government is taking are to ensure that this deregulation itself will work. So, a lot of these programmes will be brought to play to be able to stabilize the deregulated environment”. (The Guardian, November 6, 2009). On the same date, at Aso Rock, while responding to the visiting British Minister of State for Africa, Baroness Glenys Kinnock, President Yar’Adua had insisted: “we are committed to deregulation, because we are convinced that subsidy distorts the system, encourages corruption and creates more problems than it solves. We are aware that initially, there will be pain, but these will be temporary and the whole nation will be the better for it”. (The Guardian, November 6, 2009).
In practical furtherance of its bellicose, anti-poor, pro-imperialist disposition, the regime and its capitalist allies, the oil importers have already started to create artificial scarcity of petroleum products. This is obviously being done to drive people to the brink where an increment to any price would be preferred to a regime of total scarcity and black market.
To defeat this obvious conspiracy by this capitalist government and the oil cartels, the DSM reiterates its demand for mobilization for an immediate 48-hour warning general strike and mass protest by the working people and the entire poor to prime the masses for a protracted mass struggles any time that the government announces the implementation of the growth retarding, anti-poor measure. We appreciate the fact that the two trade union federations (NLC and TUC) have been threatening to call mother of all industrial strikes should the government go ahead with the implementation of this hated policy. However, the DSM strongly holds that this is not enough. Practical mobilization centrally, involving the creations of strike/struggle committees to coordinate the struggles across the country, the industrial unions, schools and communities must be immediately commenced. The labour leaders must know that mere threats of strikes cannot prevent the capitalist exploiters and looters from implementing policies that will inflict further hardship on the masses as long as these pay the few rich, locally and internationally.
On the contrary, only a determined and protracted working masses action, which ended with the removal from power of the self-serving capitalist elites of all persuasions, can ultimately secure victory for the people on this key issue. Even if a determined action of the masses forced the government to make a retreat on this issue, it will just be a temporary relief, sooner than later, this same hated policy will re-appear. This is one central lesson that must be learnt from the series of general strikes/mass protests organized by LASCO in the past against this same, hated policy. Between year 2000 and now, over seven nation-wide general strikes/mass protests have been specifically organized to fight frequent hike in the price of petroleum products with its attendant hike in cost of living and mass retrenchment of workers in consequence of hike in cost of production by the industries which already are operating far below capacity! Notwithstanding these heroic and titanic struggles, the price of petrol for instance has risen from N20 to N65 per litre officially! Therefore, the current generation of labour leaders needs to fully understand and digest the experiences of the above-mentioned struggles in order to genuinely show that they mean business and that they are not just play-acting.
Unless the NLC leadership approaches this issue on a principled basis as outlined above, it is a matter of time before it also degenerates to the NUPENG and PENGASSAN’s leaders’ pro-capitalist stance of acceptance of “deregulation as a better option!” Notwithstanding the bed of roses and good assurances being offered by oil marketers and the Yar’Adua government, deregulation of the oil sector is one policy that will certainly spell absolute disaster for the economy and masses standard of living. Many of the labour leaders that may today support this counter-productive, anti-poor measure will surely live to reap whirlwinds of unemployment, high prices of petroleum products, as well as the general social dislocations and discontents which this will bring forth.
PETROLEUM INDUSTRY BILL
Totally unconcerned about the ruinous effects which the regime of deregulation and privatization will have on the economy and the masses living standard, the Yar’Adua government has simultaneously tabled a Bill before the National Assembly that if passed into law will practically handover Nigeria’s oil wealth to a few private individuals in Nigeria and multi-national corporations and cartels who thereafter would only be expected to make an unspecified payments to Nigeria periodically.
From the beginning of oil production in Nigeria, the sector had always been under the virtual monopoly and domination of western owned oil grants like Shell-BP, Chevron, Total, Texaco, Agip etc. This has been true despite the 1975 government purchase of a majority stake in Shell Nigeria and the formation of NNPC the following year. Fundamentally since 1955, when the country joined the ranks of commercial oil producers, the exploration, export, processing and marketing of oil products and operations have always remained under the firm grip of imperialism. Through this arrangement, thousands of billions of dollar worth of oil products have been extracted from the Niger Delta. As the titular owners (Niger Delta) of the soil from which this stupendous wealth was being reaped, the Nigerian state has officially earned above $600 billion as revenues so far. On their part, the oil multinationals themselves have reaped thousands of billions of dollars. Presently, imperialism is seeking to remove Nigeria’s titular ownership of the oil wealth. The pretext or excuse for this is said to be the weakness of the government in not always forthcoming, as and when needed, to pay its own shares of money for future investments to expand oil profits. This bad business practice is attributed to massive corruption amongst government officials. Hiding under this alleged lapse, imperialist forces have pressurized the Yar’Adua government to totally mortgage the ownership of the oil wealth to foreign capitalist interests.
Under the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) NNPC’s supervisory roles and regulations will be dismantled. A new, privately owned company strictly accountable to its shareholders will be incorporated in its place. The new company or consortium will operate purely as a commercial venture that could raise money from the market without having to wait on the government to bring its own shares of development levies. Because of the parasitical profit considerations being dangled before Nigeria’s capitalist elites, it is most likely that this provocative, pro-imperialist Bill will be passed into law by the bourgeois National Assembly. There is of course the opposition being mouthed by the bourgeois elites from the Niger Delta against the proposed Bill. However this opposition is not a principled opposition against the pro-capitalist cum imperialist features of the Bill, but one based on pecuniary consolidations. It is expected that once the personal selfish interests of these elites are accommodated by conceding a certain percentage of the shares of the proposed company to the oil communities, these elements will gladly back this Bill.
If this Bill is passed as being proposed, imperialism and its oil corporations for the first time will have something akin to full practical control and ownership of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Under the guise of contributing to joint ventures in order to expand oil prospecting, the new limited liability company envisaged to take over NNPC’s powers and functions will have an unhindered powers to mortgage Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves based on the whims and caprices of its shareholders! Writing in the Guardian edition of August 17, 2009, one Etim Etim correctly underscores a major flaw of the proposed Bill when he stated: “The major disadvantage of foreign domination of the industry is that Nigerians will never acquire the needed managerial and executive skills. Continuous capital outflows through repatriation of profits and dividends constitute a drain on the local economy”. Tragically however, Etim Etim and other neo-liberal apologists continue to laud this obvious agenda for a second colonization as the best thing that is yet to happen to the oil sector and Nigeria as a whole. Just imagine, a bill that seeks to legally and virtually cede Nigeria’s oil wealth to foreign economic interests is being hailed as “nationalistic”.
THE NIGER DELTA’S QUAGMIRE
Under Yar’Adua’s government, there exists palpable failure of governance by the capitalist ruling elite in all ramifications. However, nothing exposes better the utter bankruptcy and total failure of this government and its neo-liberal economic strategy than the under development in the oil sectors and its handling of what are commonly referred to as Niger Delta crisis. Nigeria is not only an oil and gas-producing nation; it has the seventh largest petroleum reserves as well as fourth largest reserve of natural gas worldwide. This unique position, notwithstanding the country still relies on importation to the tune of 85% to 90% of its locally consumed petroleum products!
Between 1955 and now, Nigeria has realized hundreds of billions of dollars from sales of crude oil alone. Unfortunately however, most of these resources were simply looted and shared by the capitalist elites in government and their private sector collaborators without any significant development of the economy and basic social infrastructures across the country. According to a recent World Bank survey, only 1% Nigerians is responsible for the consumption of 80% of all oils wealth. Consequently, Nigeria’s economy as a whole remains chronically under-developed, with tens of millions of youths and working class people living in virtual abject poverty. However, the conditions of life and economy in the Niger Delta, which produces this stupendous oil wealth, are especially calamitous. The entire socio-economic situation, which prevails in the Niger Delta, totally reveals the utter incapacity and insensitivity of a society arranged on profit first basis. If these were not to be the case, Niger Delta area should be among the most developed and civilized areas of land on earth given the billions of dollars worth of oil that have been pumped out from the region, albeit at the price of growing destruction of agricultural, fishing and the eco-system. On the contrary, most people in the Niger Delta live like destitute. Despite repeated government promises, programmes and commissions, most ordinary Niger Deltans remain under barbaric conditions of the worst order.
Naturally, this paradoxical and unfair state of affair has always met with resistance by the different forces from the Niger Delta region. This resistance dates back to the period of colonialism through independence period and after. In the 1880’s, Jaja of Opobo, a prominent Ijaw leader was deposed and sent to Portugal, as an exile on the account of his leading the struggle for a fairer share of the then Niger Delta Palm oil wealth. But rather than addressing the demands being raised against the imperialist cum capitalist elites unbridled exploitation of the Niger Delta’s palm oil and now petroleum, the colonial state and its later fabrications called the Federal Government of Nigeria had always mainly concentrated on political and military repression of this resistance instead of addressing the basic issues being raised. The most recent example of this was the cold blooded murder of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists in 1995 by the Abacha military junta for leading peaceful campaigns for the Delta masses to have fairer shares of the oil wealth being mined on their lands. In a large respect, this is what has given rise to the armed resistance/militia phenomenon in the Niger Delta.
Especially from year 2006, this had resulted in organized large scale attacks and bombing of major oil installations and facilities including hostage takings. All things being equal, Nigeria has the capacity to produce 3.2million barrels per day. However, due to the militants’ activities, this was cut down to about 1.2 and 1.3bpd at the peak of the militants’ campaign. This naturally created a special worry to the Yar’Adua’s government, which not only faces a significant reduction of its incomes as part of the negative fall out of the global capitalist crisis and now faces a major domestic blow from the activities of the Niger Delta militants. Additionally world imperialism, especially the USA, was alarmed that supplies of oil from Nigeria could be disrupted and the contagion could spread to other oil producing areas in the Gulf of Guinea.
The first government reaction, characteristically, was to adopt a strong-arm approach. Consequently, the government ordered its Joint Task Force (JTF) (a combination of military, navy, air-force and other related state forces) to militarily crush out the militants. Thus, a mindless war of massacre and destruction was launched on Gbaramatu, a community in the Delta State of Niger Delta, ostensibly to flush out the militants that allegedly killed some soldiers earlier. At the end of this military misadventure, where hundreds were killed and tens of thousands of innocent people uprooted from their communities, the government apparently realized the futility of its method. Not only that these military offensives totally failed to destroy the militants, who by nature of their method do not operate from static basis, in fact, the untold agony and suffering caused by this senseless war only helped to further alienate the ordinary Delta people and indirectly helped to provide angry recruits for the militants.
Making a 180 degree u-turn, government has now declared that the achievement of peace in the Delta Region, as the most sought after commodity, almost placed at par with oil. No more war, the hundreds and thousands killed or uprooted from their communities in Gbaramatu area of Delta State through military assaults, never existed! All that matter now is peace. The refrain now is: we need peace, first and foremost to be able to carry out the required development of the Niger Delta area! All militants that are willing to lay down arms and renounce militancy will be paid certain monthly monetary allowances under government’s Amnesty. In addition, government has freed from jail, Henry Okah, a prominent leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), currently the most active militant group in the Niger Delta. On its part, the Niger Delta militants had earlier announced a 60-day ceasefire, and now indefinite. A major question now being asked is whether government latest approach to the Niger Delta crisis is the best response to resolve the crisis in the long run. To correctly evaluate the amnesty programme being packaged by the Yar’Adua government, the best point to start with is the motive behind the entire programme.
The number of persons reportedly kidnapped or held hostage increased from 353 in 2008 to 512 in the first 4 months of 2009. In addition, the continued disruption being caused by the militant activities has also been cited as major threats to the operations of the electricity projects and the local refineries. Therefore, the point ought to be clearly underlined that it is the combination of these economic factors that has forced the government to come up with its amnesty package in the hope that it will pacify the militants and enable the multinational oil companies to resume full exploration and exportation of crude oil and gas.
Against this background, government’s amnesty package is not a product of any change of hearts or signs of remorse for all the past and on-going economic and political atrocities being perpetrated in the Niger Delta. After the release of Henry Okah, MEND had amongst other issues, demanded the withdrawal of the army and the Joint Task Force from Gbaramatu area of Delta. In addition, it has also demanded that processes be put in place that can facilitate discussions and dialogue on the main issues that gave rise to armed militia activities in the first instance.
Responding to these demands, Nigeria’s Defence Minister, Godwin Abebe stated thus, “They cannot give conditions to government. Government would make decisions on the effective deployment of troops when the conditions become ripe enough. And when the law and order is comfortably established”.
Within this context, the amnesty package is clearly a device to dodge the major issues at stake and not to tackle them. Also evident from this is the fact that government is not prepared to relent from its strategy of using military force to have its way in the Delta region. Of course, this is the characteristic of the Yar’Adua government’s response to agitations by mass organisations. The nation’s public universities were closed down for over 16 weeks. Instead of striving to meet demands of the education workers at the earlier stage, government instead pulled out of negotiations with the striking workers, insisting that their strike must first be called off. In the same arrogant and fashion, government has now stated that unless the militants stop their activities, it will not be able to carry out necessary development programmes in the region. It is however very instructive that despite the prevailing war-like situation which exists in the Delta, excavation and export of crude oil and gas has never stopped for a day, and that no government official has proposed the stoppage of oil exploration, just for a day, in order to sort out the problem!
As presently packaged, Yar’Adua’s amnesty is thoroughly saturated with the spirit of cash and carry bribery (Ghana Must Go) mentality. Blindfolded by the Niger Delta oil wealth, Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elites have over time, developed the attitude and habit of using money packed in “Ghana Must Go” bags to bribe over their opponents and allies. Therefore, the government apparently believes that the lure of money would be strong enough to make significant number of militants, especially key leaders to renounce militancy. However, going by the culture of corruption, which reigns supreme in all government institutions and commissions, it will not come as a surprise if Nigerians are told that tens of billions of naira have been paid to “repentant” militants, beyond the N50 billion earlier budgeted without anybody ever being able to determine the veracity of such a claim.
However, the fact that some real and prominent militia members and leaders have accepted government amnesty, could at best only have a temporary effect on the scope and activities of armed militia. . Sooner than later, a new and more daring generations will evolve to carry on with the campaigns especially against the background where little or nothing has been done to address the fundamental issues of mass poverty and economic decay which dominate the region. As was reported in Guardian newspaper of November 17, 2009, armed irate youths in Ilaje area of Ondo State in protest took over Conoil production platform and shut down 25000 bpd over non-implementation of an earlier agreement to gainfully employ some youths in the community amidst other demands: while some militants have equally stated attacking fish boats and local traders along the creeks of Bayelsa State and Calabar Channels 1, Cross River State. Also, some militants camped in Port-Harcourt went on rampage over non-payment of their allowances by the government
It is not a matter of if, but when, government’s amnesty package will be seen by all and sundry, as a total failure. MEND on its part has announced ceasefire after the amnesty exercise (August 6 to October 6) came to an end, and have listed some eminent Nigerians as its Aaron team to negotiate with the federal government. Going by events so far, government is not likely to succeed that much with its amnesty “carrot”. And without addressing many of the fundamental issues giving rise to militant activities, it therefore, should be clear that the grave-yard like peace which presently exists in the Niger Delta will soon be shattered. This scenario of course raises once again the necessity of charting out a working class socialist perspective for what has certainly become a political quagmire for both the militants, as well as the Nigerian state.
Firstly, government’s recourse to the amnesty package is partly an admission of the futility of its age-long “force option” approach. But it would be mistaken to believe that government would now concentrate on purely peaceful options and a substantial economic development of the entire Delta region. In fact, government’s propaganda is that without total stoppage of militant activities, they would not be able to carry out needed economic and infrastructural development in the Delta region. There are also those who still wrongfully believe that the capitalist elites can be relied upon to carry fundamental development of the Niger Delta region and by extension, Nigeria as a whole.
In its editorial statement of July 30, 2009, Vanguard Newspaper made the following submission: “Amnesty for the militants is a good idea. However, the Federal Government must have the political will to muster resources for development of the area. Government so easily finds funds for peripheral matters on the Niger Delta and not the core issues”. Frankly speaking, this kind of sentiment is a complete cover-up of the workings of capitalism in general and the especially short-sighted, kleptomaniac characteristic of Nigeria’s capitalist elite. Despite all the noises that have been made to accelerate the development of the Niger Delta area through special commissions like OMPADEC, NDDC, only a paltry sum of money, compared with what is usually voted for military expenditures as well as salaries and allowances of a few thousand federal political office holders, is usually budgeted for developmental projects in the Delta. Between 2004 and 2007, a total sum of N436.54 billion was appropriated for the NDDC but only N110.31 billion of this sum was actually released.
Meanwhile, most of the little resources ever received are usually looted by the capitalist elements in charge of the NNDC. Hence, the creation of the Niger Delta ministry would only exacerbate the orgy of corruption and competition going on in the Delta as the various capitalist elements in NDDC, the newly created bureaucracy (Niger Delta ministry) and the governors intensify the war of supremacy. A central point also needs to be made; it is not the lack of resources that has been preventing sufficient development of Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole but the inherent wasteful and elitist approach of capitalist system, which often inflate, outrageously, the actual costs of projects at the expense of dire needs of the economy and the masses.
In the given situation, it is almost certain that far from diminishing, the armed militia acts of sabotage, bunkering and hostage takings will become more pronounced in the coming period. Already, it is being speculated that the militants possess limited powers to refine petroleum products including kerosene, which is being sold at cheaper prices to consumers in the creeks. This and the necessity to survive will most likely make militancy a very attractive preoccupation for the Niger Delta youths who otherwise would not have a future under the Nigerian state. Nevertheless, the militants, based on campaigns of bombings of oil installations, bunkering and hostage takings, etc., exclusively by trained militia, not connected or accountable to the ordinary masses and their organizations will most likely never be able to defeat the Nigeria state together with their oil multinationals allies.
Faced with the prospect of an endless warfare, there is the tendency for the militants to become more desperate to try and extend their activities beyond the Delta creeks to major Nigerian cities like Lagos, Abuja, Kano, etc. In fact, shortly after the release of Henry Okah, MEND carried out an attack on Atlas Cove jetty depot, the main oil facility serving Lagos, the industrial heartland of Nigeria. This attack temporarily created a big political firmament from which sections of Yoruba bourgeois elites tried to profit from. If such activities become more pronounced, there is the danger that it will give the opportunity to the bourgeois elites across Nigeria to once again exploit local anger to mobilize and divert ordinary people’s rage along ethno-religious divide against the struggle of the Niger Deltan people.
This is because the ordinary/innocent Nigerians that would have their relations killed and or have their means of livelihood destroyed or disrupted as a result of attacks by the militants are more likely to be susceptible to government’s proverbial war on terrorism, or chauvinist ethnic propaganda, rather than strengthening the struggle in the Niger Delta. There is also the fallacious assumption being echoed by the militants which gives the impression that once Fiscal Federalism (a situation like that obtained in the First Republic when the regions used to control the revenues being generated in their respective areas and only contributed a percentage to the Federal Government) is embraced by the federal government, the plights of the people of Niger Delta will become a thing of the past. This idea absolutely contradicts the reality of life in Nigeria as a whole and even in the Niger Delta itself. The super abundant natural and human resources, which Nigeria possess has never translated to a quality life for its citizens who still belong to the world’s group of most impoverished and deprived. It should be underlined that the Niger Deltan capitalist elites have equally shown that they are not any better than their counterparts nationally and internationally, especially when it comes to sacrificing peoples basic needs on the altar of personal greed and aggrandizements. Most of the additional resources received by the Niger Delta, courtesy of the 13% derivation provided under the 1999 constitution of Nigeria are being routinely looted by its leaders.
Unfortunately, whenever this point is debated, militants spokespersons tend to dismiss it as a secondary point that would be resolved after the battle for full “fiscal federalism” is won. This approach, must be pointed out, is not at variance with the bankrupt bourgeois perspective put forward by the majority of political activists during the struggle against the military in the 80s and 90s. It used to be stated that once we get rid of the military, every other thing would fall in place. But ten years after, and despite the stupendous money made during this period, the overall state of health of Nigeria’s economy and living standard of the masses are in worse shapes today than before. While the ending of Abacha’s military dictatorship was welcome, the civilian rulers that have held power since 1999 have not behaved any different or better as there has been a continued battle at the top between the competing elements of the ruling elite on how best to loot the country. The struggle in the Niger Delta cannot be allowed to sink to the level of battles between rival gangs of exploiters to get their own hands on the country’s wealth.
As Marxists, the DSM right from its inception has always defended the right of nationalities, including those in the Niger Delta, to self-determination, up to secession, if democratically resolved by the majority of people of a given nationality. Within any seceding nation or the federation we will always insist on full freedom and democratic rights to all minority tribes, creeds or religions. However, the achievement of this kind of aspirations would remain mere pipedream as long as the colonial contraption called Nigeria remains under the rule of the capitalist elites who would forever continue to use ethno-religious divides to maintain the prevailing unjust socio-economic order.
To be able to successfully defeat the alliance of oil multinationals and their local capitalist allies would certainly require a working class strategy which is primarily built around the mobilization of ordinary Nigerians of all nationalities living in and around Niger Delta. This approach, combined with necessary armed activities, under the strict control of democratically elected committees of workers, youths and grassroots activists, represents the only viable way to defeat the Nigerian state and their imperialist backers with the cheapest cost, materially and in human casualties. However, to inspire and sustain this kind of political force, an outright socialist programme and strategy is an imperative. All over the country the ordinary working masses need to know, from the beginning that the struggle is about using the Niger Delta oil wealth for the development and needs of all Nigerians unlike the present practice where this wealth only helps in sustaining a tiny layer of the rich.
Specifically, such movement has to be prepared to fight against the privatization of the oil wealth together with other major resources, by the neo-liberal capitalist elements under whatever guise. As against privatization, deregulation and all other neo-liberal policies, the kind of movement being canvassed has to be able to boldly fight for the nationalization of the commanding heights of economy including banks, finance institutions, the oil sector, etc. under a government of workers and the poor. On the basis of a central plan and strict democratic control by the elected representatives of the trade unions and community people a real basis and foundation can then be established for the achievement of genuine peace in Niger Delta and across the rest of Nigeria. The DSM members would continue as before to campaign and argue in the labour, youth and community movements for the adoption of this kind of programme and approach towards permanent resolution of the Niger Delta quagmire.
A MANIFESTATION OF CAPITALIST ROT
The new Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido, is without doubt, a man of the moment. Under his tenure, the CBN has taken certain drastic actions against bank barons hitherto held as untouchables.
Going by their regular declarations of fabulous profits and the outlandish life styles of most bank executives, very few could have imagined that, the banking sector, just like the other sectors of the economy was seriously ill. After all, the bourgeois economists and their fellow travellers had assured us that Lamido’s entire predecessor, Professor Charles Soludo’s “re-capitalisation exercise”, which saw the number of banks being reduced from 87 to initially 25 and now 24, had sorted out all major problems that might be afflicting this sector. In July 2009, a foreign magazine called Jeune Afrique in its Africa Report stated that only 4 Nigerian banks could be said to be strong or capable of prospering in the prevailing economic climate. Predictably, this report was denounced by bankers and their paid writers as false. Those who had argued that the banks could not be really healthy, if all other economic ventures were not thriving, were denounced as quacks who knew little or nothing about banks or the economy.
Against this background, Lamido’s “bank audit exercise” has produced a tsunami like reverberations in the usually hallowed and hollow shrines of capital! Up till date, 8 banks (Intercontinental Bank, Oceanic Bank, AfriBank, FirstInland Bank, Union Bank, Bank PHB, Equitorial Bank and Spring Bank) have had their chief executives and directors abruptly removed. Both Wema Bank and Unity Bank have been ordered to re-capitalise by the year 2010, lest a more drastic measures taken against its directors. As at last count, a whopping sum of N620billion of public funds, without any appropriation, has been handed over to the capitalist managers of the 8 banks adjudged by the CBN to be in “grave situation”.
But just why and what brought about the “grave situation” that made a government which had always trumpeted the alleged superiority of private enterprises, adopt a desperate measure of using public funds to bail out private enterprises? Put differently, who and what primarily caused the “grave situation” in issue? According to Lamido and his school of thought, the 8 sanctioned banks were involved in “unprofessional and unethical behaviours” and generally “in a manner detrimental to the interests of their depositors and creditors”. Specifically, the removed bank directors have been accused of numerous untoward conducts: using depositors’ funds to speculate and gamble at the stock markets, granting huge loans to oil importers, cronies and proxies without adequate co-lateral, insiders dealings, etc. Consequently, a certain number of the high profile players in the banking sectors have been charged or are in the process of being charged to courts for these and other related offences. These, admittedly, radical measures, have continued to provoke series of reactions. For instance, the bourgeois ideologues in general and all those hoping to make material gains from Lamido’s governorship of the CBN have been hailing his actions in the above regard as the best thing that had ever happened to the banking sector and the country, particularly under Yar’Adua’s presidency.
Does this therefore mean that the Yar’Adua capitalist government which has been unable to get its act in order, with respect to all other socio-economic issues, has now found the magic formula that will cure the banking sector of all its major illness, both conventional and structural?
LAMIDO’S REVOLUTION: A CRITICAL LOOK
Soludo’s “re-capitalisation” policy was described as an integral part of government’s “economic reform” programme aimed at making Nigeria’s banks strong enough to finance developmental projects, attract foreign investors and consequently move the economy forward. Unfortunately however, nothing of this ever happened. While only a paltry 15% of total bank loans were given to small or medium seized companies throughout the year 2008, big but bogus bourgeois ventures, continued to receive lavish and generous loans, as has now being revealed by the CBN. We therefore ask: Can the current measures being taken by the CBN under Lamido restore and or guarantee “financial sector stability” and in particular, “ease the flow of credit to the real sector” of the economy? In other words, can Lamido succeed where his predecessor, Soludo, had failed?
Sanusi Lamido, no doubt cuts the image of someone who is very determined to win. Although no ideological label has been attached to his so-called “bank reform”, yet the messianic zeal with which he has so far handled what the media generally term “banking crisis” is simply spectacular. Several bank luminaries seen by many as exceptionally successful business managers, corporate executives and rich men and women were exposed as disguised crooks whose perceived greatness are actually based on sharp practices, fast buck business, swindling, gambling and outright fraud! Simultaneously, Lamido has taken certain steps to correct the situation. Those elements in the high hierarchy of the banking sector discovered to be liable of “unprofessional and unethical behaviours” have been summarily sacked and subsequently replaced by new elements! Apparently to repair the damage already caused to the system by these obviously bad elements, as earlier mentioned a huge sum of N620billion has been shared amongst the 8 banks whose directors were summarily dismissed by the CBN for improper conducts in the first instance!
Presently, it is the position of Lamido and other top echelons of the CBN that these sums are “sufficient to resolve and stabilize all the institutions and enable them continue normal business”. After the conclusion of the second phase of the bank audit exercise, the CBN gleefully declared: “We have come to the end of the first phase of the process of restoring financial sector stability”. Although, not being expressly stated, it is apparently assumed that the ordeals and trials being undergone by erstwhile bank chiefs at the instance of the EFCC would be enough to ensure that those bankers that have escaped Lamido’s big hammer would now henceforth always conduct their affairs in strictly “professional and ethical” fashion.
In many respects, most of the measures that have been taken by Lamido and the CBN are breath-taking, though certainly not unprecedented. In 1994, the Sanni Abacha military junta promulgated what was then called the Failed Banks Decree together with a Failed Banks Tribunal to address similar issues to that which Lamido is presently fighting. In fact, those recently arraigned by the EFCC for various bank malpractices merely got no more than a feeble slap on their wrists compared with the brutal treatment meted to their forebears in banking crimes. Here however, the pertinent issue to raise is why and how did bank executives, who fully should still remember the ordeals their colleagues went through, when caught for similar crimes in the past, get so deeply involved in “unprofessional and unethical behaviours”? If past draconian and brutal treatment has not deterred others from manipulating the banking system for personal gains, how then can the current “velvet gloves” treatment of big time, bank criminals discourage others from similar conducts? Presently, 8 out of Nigeria’s 24 banks are outright carpeted and sanctioned for multiple acts of “unprofessional and unethical behaviours”. Does this therefore mean that the other banks are, at all relevant times, immune from similar practices?
Notwithstanding its sweeping or severe nature, Lamido’s current sanitisation exercise will achieve little or nothing vis-à-vis the objectives set out by the CBN itself because what are being regarded as anomalies are in actual fact, the fundamental characteristics of contemporary banking and finance. To diminish from the moral character of Lamido’s banking reform/sanitisation, sections of bourgeois class have already branded the entire exercise vindictive and motivated by ethnic consideration to favour certain sections of the country at the expense of others vis-à-vis banking industry. Going by the eternal and infernal struggles/squabbles that always goes on among the different sections of the capitalist ruling elite, when competing for positions and money, no one that knows Nigeria’s history very well can offhand dismiss this as a factor propelling Lamido’s current “sanitation exercise”. Nevertheless, Lamido’s “sanitation exercise” has brought to fore certain pertinent issues which are much more germane than the scandalous and unsubstantiated claim of ethnic marginalisation.
First and foremost, evident from Lamido’s CBN pronouncements and conducts on the subject matter is a disposition that treats the sanctioned and indicted bankers as mere errant, bad eggs, within the banking sector. Of course, this is an absolutely fallacious conclusion. The banking sector, just like, and possibly more than other capitalist institutions, has always operated and practiced profit-first philosophy. As this profit-quest hits up or gets intense, the various banks in order to survive at the expense of their competitors, always device means and ways of making huge profits with less investments. This is the standard practice of banks worldwide. Against this background, the CBN could not have been telling the whole truth when it sanctioned the directors of only 8 banks out of 24 for conducts being perpetrated by all.
Arising from the global capitalist economic crisis, stock markets worldwide experienced drastic collapse around September 2008. Overall, the Nigerian stock market lost 65% of its previous value at the peak of its boom. Ditto, the entire Nigerian banking institutions were caught red-handed in their orgy of speculation and gambling at the crash of the stock market. In consequence of this collapse, the banks are said to have incurred about N1trillion bad loans. In addition, an estimated N8 trillion ($54billion) have been wiped out of banks stocks. It is therefore incongruous to only hold the sanctioned 8 banks guilty of a widespread conducts of all the 24 banks.
Of course, all the bank directors sanctioned or indicted by the CBN committed all the crimes enumerated against them. It is also the fact that all the banks burnt their greedy fingers in the stock market bust means that all the 24 banks participated in the orgy of speculations and insiders deals for which only a fraction of the banks are now being sanctioned. From this point of view, it follows that the acclaimed success/prosperity of most of those banks that were given a certificate of “good health” could not have been based on real foundations. Sooner than later the bubble will equally burst in these giants with legs of chickens. This of course, once again raises the question of how really impartial was the CBN auditing in issue. There are those who strongly argue that if the CBN had thoroughly, with its initial zeal, audited the accounts of all the banks vis-à-vis their incomes and loans dealings, fewer numbers of banks would have escaped being hammered.
There is possibly an element of truth in this assertion. However, Lamido and his co-bourgeois reformers had no other choice than to back-down from their earlier Olympian heights! Most likely, Lamido and co did not fully realize the gravity of the rot afflicting the sector at the commencement of their sanitation exercise. It must have later dawned on him that if he sticks to his earlier criteria and zeal, the entire banking sector might completely go under. Of course, having started the process, he could not just simply and immediately stop it mid-way. Hence, the CBN decision to go ahead with the auditing of the remaining 14 banks. And given the ferociously, hostile response of the bourgeois world to his so-called reform, Lamido had to tone down his radicalism. Speaking in London on 28, August 2009, weeks before the result of the second phase of CBN auditing were made public, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had among other things stated: “We cannot second guess the outcome of the audit of the remaining 14 banks, but the CBN does not envisage significant problems of the magnitude in the five in which we intervened”.
This statement was deliberately made to assure prospective foreign investors that government would not tamper with their money should they come to Nigeria. This is the explanation for the lacklustre manner with which the bank directors axed in the wake of the second auditing were treated compared with those of the 5 banks originally axed. Even though the EFCC operatives were equally called in like they were called in the case of the first 5 banks, this time around, there were less grandstanding and media spins. This is not accidental; the owners of capital had by then made clear their indisposition towards any sanitisation exercise. The exercise, which was launched to revive the ailing banks, has actually been accused of having “subjected even healthy banks to intense credit crunch”. The sanitisation exercise has been cited as responsible for a lull in inter-bank lending and failure of correspondent banks abroad to honour letters of credit originating from Nigeria. According to the President of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Apapa branch: “This recent development has been sending wrong and conflicting signals to the international business community. Letters of credits opened are now at risk of not being honoured and more worrisome is the level of non-performing loans in the books of these defaulting banks” (Guardian September 23, 2009). Though the manufacturers claimed that the banks had never been friendly to the industrial sector, especially the small firms, the operators claim that the situation had worsened with the prevailing realities in the banking sector. Thus an exercise meant to ease access to credits by the real sector of the economy has been subverted to produce a counter-productive result of causing credit crunch. So much for the effort to rein in the excesses of bank operators!
The injection of N620 billion to stabilize the ailing banks is nothing but a brazen slap on poor Nigerians. Though the CBN has stated that this is a loan that would be recovered at a later date, this has left an impression of a government eager to pay off private debts of capitalist gladiators while leaving their profits to corporate sharks. In the face of crying needs of the masses for proper healthcare, education, housing, jobs creation, etc, the Yar’Adua government even without the courtesy of appropriation by the National Assembly coughed out that huge bail out, in a jiffy, to cover up for the failure of their system. This, the CBN justified, was necessary in order to prevent the total collapse of these banks, which in turn could lead to a greater destabilisation of the entire economy.
However, going by global experience, while these generous stimulants may have temporarily provided some kind of floorings for the banks, this, it must be stated, is at the risk of stocking up deeper crisis in the coming period. From experience, bankers would soon go back to business as usual. Quite alright, Lamido has promised to up the scale of regulation in the industry. But this is easier said than done. All of modern history has shown beyond doubt, the futility of wishing to regulate capitalism within the framework of the system. Of course, it is desirable to have banks that would be prepared to invest money on the real sector of the economy instead of giving it to stock speculators or oil importers. All this however, will remain a pipe dream as long as those who place profits considerations above every other issue hold sway economically and politically in society.
LABOUR LEADERS AND THE BANKING CRISIS
Underlining the strategic importance of banking in modern society, both the NLC and TUC leadership have correctly intervened on the debate over the current “reform” or “sanitation exercise” going on in the banking sector. Unfortunately however, just as on other key economic and political issues, their interventions amounted to no more than a wishful thinking of how to make capitalism satisfy the needs and aspirations of the ordinary masses and the capitalist exploiters at the same time! Instead of articulating and fighting for a holistic transformation of the society including banks and financial institutions, the submission of Labour are only looking for solutions within the existing extremely corrupt socio-economic order.
On August 17, 2009, in a special statement signed by its General Secretary, John Odah, the NLC leadership amongst other things had stated: “We are in support of the actions taken by the CBN Governor in relation to the 5 banks….In the medium and longer terms…. there is the need to restructure the framework of regulation. What is needed is a strategy which exposes emerging dangers as they begin to occur and allows for quick intervention”. On those responsible for the prostrate financial conditions of the sanctioned banks, the NLC statement in issue argues: “The so-called bad loans in the books of the banks need to be recovered. Too often, well connected and highly placed individuals deliberately seek to rip off the system. All legal means must be employed to recover all loans”. Later, on August 25 2009, the NLC in another statement also signed by John Odah, while reiterating their earlier positions, urged the CBN to ensure that the “process” of its so-called sanitisation exercise remains honest and non-partisan.
On its part, the TUC leadership did not just stop at supporting the actions taken by the CBN, it in fact went ahead to expressly accused Lamido’s predecessor, Charles Soludo of complicity with bankers which did not make it possible to detect the weaknesses of the sanctioned banks on time! Just like the NLC leadership, the TUC also supported the injections of hundreds of billions of naira of public funds into these technically failed banks. In fact, the TUC went further to threaten the CBN with dire consequences should the apex bank on the account of its large subsidy later decide to nationalize the affected banks!
It is of course correct as done by Labour leaders to support specific actions taken or being taken against all those who corruptly enrich themselves through banks and other ventures. However, this is entirely different from a utopian agenda which seeks to make capitalist regulators to ensure that banks are run properly, without speculations and insider dealings so that anomalies can be detected on time before causing serious damage. This naive thinking has in fact been debunked by the prevailing global capitalist crisis which has on a large scale once again resulted in massive collapse of businesses, banks and other categories of financial institutions. Thus, if capitalist regulators from the main countries of the world have been unable to fashion an effective regulatory system to prevent periodic capitalist crisis of boom and bust, then there exists even less hope that capitalist regulators of a highly corrupt ruling elite like that of Nigeria can make any difference in this regard. Equally specious is the demand that “all legal means must be employed to recover all loans”. To start with, the bourgeois law does not regard most of the allegations being made against bankers and their debtors, as crimes. Besides, as very rich individuals, most of the elements concerned have enough money to hire the most expensive lawyers who would stop at nothing to exploit technical court rules in order to ensure that nothing come out of the charges levelled against their clients. In this sense, it is only big time bourgeois lawyers that would make the most profits from this pseudo-sanitisation exercise.
It is politically calamitous that the Labour leaders are not making any issue over the huge public funds given to these crisis ridden banks. Against the background of the government’s stout refusal to give similar financial stimulus to key industries like textile which had been forced to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers, this silence is doubly criminal and tragic. Worse still, the TUC is already warning CBN not to contemplate what at best would be no more than capitalist nationalization wherein banks liabilities are nationalized while their profits remain the exclusive property of their private shareholders!
Of course many are aware of the negative examples of nationalization. After periods of growth the bureaucratically run nationalized economies of the former so-called socialist countries such as the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, etc were strangled by the ruling elite before sections of them turned capitalists and stole public assets via privatization. In capitalist countries many know very well how bourgeois elites, through massive corruptions and bureaucratic mismanagement, have ruined and bankrupted public enterprises in Nigeria and all over the capitalist world. So socialists would not hastily blame anybody hating and or dreading the idea of public funds being handed over to unaccountable capitalist crooks in the name of nationalization which is why we stand for socialist nationalization, under democratic control and management, and with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
But then, it is more politically suicidal to suggest or encourage a process wherein huge public funds are doled out to reckless and corrupt failed bankers without any form of control or accountability. However, this much needed control/accountability in the running of banks and other major economic sectors, cannot be reasonably expected from the ranks of the rotten bourgeois elites that are largely responsible for the embarrassing predominance of mass misery in the midst of vast and an inexhaustible natural and human resources that abound in Nigeria and internationally. To be able to guarantee all the basic needs of the ordinary masses, labour must of necessity, fight for an economic order wherein the human and major natural resources of society can be harnessed, in a planned and creative fashion as opposed to the intractable anarchy which dominates the prevailing capitalist disorder. It is only such a new socio-economic paradigm that can make it possible for banks and all financial institutions to give sufficient credits to the real sectors of the economy including small and median scale enterprises, etc. This would only be possible if the cornerstone of society is based not on profit maximisation but strictly on the satisfaction of the basic needs of everybody, especially the ordinary working masses.
The NLC and TUC leaderships have been very vocal with respect to the demand that the government should play leading roles in economic development and activities. Likewise, both trade union federations have openly expressed support for sufficient government investments on social necessities such as healthcare, housing, education, job creations, etc. However, calling on the very rotten layers of the capitalist class which are indissolubly bound with foreign capitalists forces committed to a virulent neo-liberal policies, all which aims at transferring societal wealth and resources to a few capitalists, in the name of privatisation and deregulation, is either ponderous bankruptcy and or deliberate deception of the masses looking for real changes from poverty.
Lest it be forgotten, the current generation of capitalists globally increasingly concentrates on making profits through financial speculation, increasing exploitation and cutting social spending. Already over 30 years ago falling profit rates led the world’s ruling class to start to retreat from the post-1945 Keynesian economic model – state investment strategy to meet social needs and also to develop requisite infrastructures. In Nigeria for instance, alongside years of colossal under-funding of public education from primary to tertiary level, there has developed a parallel, prodigious development of private education at all levels. From federal to state and local government levels, properties and assets, which hitherto belonged to the public, have been sold cheaply to themselves by the ruling capitalist parties. It is now a standard practice to hand over jobs and services that can be done better and cheaper by the public, to profit-first private companies, owned by those in government and their collaborators at far bigger costs. This provides capitalists both with new sources of profit and reduces taxes that would, in the past, have contributed towards paying for these services when they were publicly owned. To therefore expect this kind of elements to now begin to champion decidedly public oriented policies would be nothing but an illusion of the highest order.
Under the present prevailing socio-economic realities, only an outright, working class, socialist revolution which succeeds in bringing to power a government of the workers and the poor can begin to lay the basic economic and political foundations needed to implement the certain radical measures often demanded by the labour leaders. In this regard, the commanding heights of the economy will have to be nationalized under public ownership so as to make it possible to develop and plan societal resources in such a way that it can guarantee the needs of all and not just that of few as under the current dispensation. As members of the DSM (CWI Nigeria) often explain, this kind of gigantic nationalized economy cannot be productively sustained for any length of time in the absence of a democratic management and control by the elected representatives of the working people. But just how can the working class exercise democratic control and management of major public enterprises if the self centred and self-serving capitalist elites continue to dominate the economy and polity? So, instead of demanding impossibility from the ruling class, Labour leaders should today face their historical task by commencing, in earnest, the transformation of the trade unions and the nascent Labour Party into active and conscious organs/platforms of struggle against capitalist induced mass poverty. This is the only way Labour can genuinely claim to be fighting to protect the interest of the working masses. The other option is a line of naivety, deception and betrayal.
2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND THE WORKING MASSES
President Yar’Adua came to power through an highly manipulated election. Faced with barrage of criticism and opposition locally and internationally, the President during his inauguration then stated that he recognized the fact the election which brought him into power was flawed, and consequently promised to effect an electoral reform that will ensure that future elections are free and fair. In actual fact, he later constituted a 20-person Electoral Reform Committee, which traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria in pursuant of that assignment. Presently, the panel had since submitted its report but there is a widespread outcry that the Yar’Adua government has thrown out major recommendations which the panelists and many Nigerians believe could enhance the credibility of future elections. Notwithstanding, the Yar’Adua government still want the whole world to believe that its regime is still working towards an electoral reform that will make the 2011 general elections freer and fairer.
As we write, the President has tabled before the National Assembly a Bill to amend the 2006 Electoral Act. However, whether or not the National Assembly eventually passes this Bill into law, the PDP government has already shown what to expect in the 2011 general elections during the re-run of the governorship election in some parts of Ekiti State, few months ago. Through brazen acts of electoral manipulation, rigging, thuggery and unjust uses of state security forces, Segun Oni, the PDP governorship candidate was declared the winner of the obvious farce called election. Even Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State on her recent visit to Nigeria could not but express the fear of imperialism and the capitalist elites in general about repercussions of rigged elections on a country literarily sitting on a tinder box of socio-ethno-religious combustion. However, for an high-ranking US government official, the foremost imperialist power collaborating with corrupt and anti-poor leaders across the world, Hillary Clinton’s speech, to say the least, is highly hypocritical. Hear her: “lack of transparency has eroded credibility in elections”. Another one: “without good government, even oil wealth cannot guarantee development”. Already there exists a school of thought that hinge the future development of this country on President Yar’Adua government’s ability to carry out profound electoral reforms that will guarantee the transparency and the credibility of the 2011 elections. Elements holding this opinion often argue that even if President Yar’Adua is not able to address the other multifarious problems troubling Nigeria, he should at least strive to leave a good legacy by ensuring that the 2011 general elections are free and fair. In addition, the foremost imperialist country on earth has openly and officially expressed its “displeasure” with the farce that often goes for elections in Nigeria. Therefore, can the working masses now expect the Yar’Adua government to organize free and fair elections come 2011, that will ensure the victory and or emergence of a genuinely pro-masses government?
FAILURE OF CAPITALISM
In its edition of July 29, 2009, the Financial Times (London) in an article revealed what is no more than an obvious when it stated “Nigerians have lost faith in the ability of President Umar Yar’Adua’s government to govern in their interests”. Writing in the The Nation’s edition of August 2nd, 2009, Festus Eriye says, “Nigeria of August 2009 is the picture of a frontier territory where no one is in charge”. These two quotations clearly underline the point that the various socio-economic cum political crisis ravaging Nigeria goes beyond the failings of a Yar’adua government which is just only about two and a half years in power. Nigeria is stupendously rich in petroleum and natural gas reserve; it has several other mineral resources across the country. It has large and extensive fertile and low cultivated lands across the country that can steadily support productive agriculture. On top of this it has a huge population of about 140 million people renowned for an especial zest and vitality. Despite these prodigious advantages, Nigeria today remains a country where nothing works, the economy is underdeveloped, massive unemployment of able-bodied men and women glut the land. Crimes, as a way of living for a vast layer of youth, have assumed an epidemic proportion. The combination of these unflattering conditions is responsible for the deepening and frequency of ethno-religious violence claiming thousands of lives across Nigeria. The latest of which is the Boko Haram crisis. Severally and collectively, the various problems retarding the growth of the economy and keeping the overwhelming majority of Nigerians in perpetual misery, in the midst of an inexhaustible and abundant natural and human resources, are primarily a failure of the capitalist system.
Most unfortunately however, the Yar’adua government through its major policies, conducts and individual actions has only shown an unalterable disposition towards the deepening of policies and strategies that have rendered an otherwise buoyant and vibrant country and people comatose. Right now the government has initiated some key policies and bills, which if fully implemented will only further deepen the imperialist cum capitalist strangulation of the nation’s economic growth and at the same time put the ordinary masses into greater abyss of mass poverty.
Unless the capitalist ruling elites are prevented by the mass struggles and actions of the working masses, both the economy and the living standard of the masses would have become more terribly battered by the time of the 2011 general elections. Assuming but not taken it for granted that the widely hated pro-imperialist, anti-poor government of President Yar’Adua remains in power till the time of the 2011 general elections, then that would instantly confirm the fact that the general elections itself will, as usual, be a farce where openly rejected failures and looters would be scoring “landslide” votes in elections!
Right now, the civilian capitalist ruling elite have totally suffocated all real prospects of growing the economy and thereby impacting positively on the living standard of the ordinary masses. At the same time, these self-satiated elite have become more audacious and reckless with their brazen manipulations of elections to remain in power in perpetuity. Therefore, on the basis of the present political configurations, the ruling PDP can only be removed from power either through a military coup d’état or by a mass revolution of the oppressed working masses. While furiously driving the entire economy and polity into absolute ruination, these self-serving, short-sighted elite continue to delude themselves that they are deepening Nigeria’s so-called nascent democracy. Unfortunately, the opposition parties in general, particularly those of them in government, are, in theory and practice, not fundamentally different from the PDP government at the central level. This categorization of course, includes the Action Congress (AC), whose Lagos State controlled government, going by popular media stereotype, is being presented as something different from the general run. However, the ordinary masses that bear the direct brunt of Fashola’s “Mega City Plc” would certainly not see much difference between the AC government and the totally bankrupt and inept PDP government at the centre. Of course, this does not mean that the ordinary masses would now transfer their votes to the PDP or the equally visionless corrupt party like ANPP, come 2011.
Unless steps are immediately taken to transform the Labour Party into a platform that daily fights for better living, improved economic and political conditions of the masses, and such a party is seen to be making a bold political and organizational bid for power, the 2011 elections will most certainly be met with mass apathy and frustrations by the overwhelming majority of the Nigerian people. Suffice to stress, the absence of such a party that truly commands the support and loyalty of the people means absolutely that the elections would be won by the sections of the capitalist elite that control the state power and resources, i.e. the PDP. Of course, the political repercussions of another highly manipulated election, which essentially leaves power in the hands of the current capitalist holders may unfortunately generate a favourable mood for a military coup.
When the military were forced out of power over 10 years ago, many heaved a sigh of justifiable relief. The general expectations were that the civilian politicians would now make things better. On the contrary, things have generally become worse. Anti-poor policies, which even the military dictators dared not implement in the past are now routinely implemented. In the name of economic reforms, capitalist rulers from central, to state governments have sold cheaply juicy public sectors to themselves and their capitalist collaborators. In this increasingly economic and politically suffocated atmosphere, political restiveness among the masses is a certain outcome. In this kind of situation, sections of the capitalist class may therefore become desperate enough to once again explore a military solution with a view to attempt to hold down and ultimately behead the certain massive mood of anger and struggle that would increasingly develop against the failure of the system and its perpetually corrupt leaders.
On a positive note however, the series of mass protests and strikes by the ordinary working masses against the capitalist anti-poor, neo liberal policies of the successive civilian governments, in the past one decade or so, does offer the possibility that the current, socio-economic drift to the bottom can still be halted and the country saved for the masses. However, if the Labour movement should fail to utilize the repeated opportunities that would be presented in the coming period to take political power from the current imperialists/capitalist puppets and cronies, and in their place institute a truly working peoples government, then it cannot be ruled out that the country could experience a repeat of the Guinean tragedy, which under the given political equations in Nigeria could provoke a violent break-up of the country as corporate entity. In Guinea, the ordinary masses waged several struggles against Lassana Conte’s civilian dictatorship and government of corruption, but their leaders woefully failed to utilize these struggles to remove the corrupt ruling class from power and thus paved way for an ambitious army officers headed by Major Dadis Camara to come to power on the basis of a patently false agenda of rescuing the Guinean masses from clutches of exploitation and oppression.
Just as have been amply demonstrated by the tragic consequences of military dictatorships in Nigeria’s past, as well as under the current military junta in Guinea, a successful return of full military rule, with its inherent, arbitrary, authoritarian and corrupt disposition, would only spell absolute disaster for the economic and political conditions of the masses. But how can this kind of calamitous prognosis be averted by the working masses?
THE BOURGEOIS PARTIES AND THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS
So long as the PDP (an assembly of the mostly anti-poor, pro-rich and especially corrupt elements) remain in power at the centre, and in most states of the country, then the 2011 general elections can only be a greater farce than that of 2007. Most of these elements who would be in charge of state powers when the 2011 elections hold were never genuinely elected by the voters in the first instance. Most of the PDP governors including the president himself, emerged “victorious” in the 2007 general elections on the basis of a most brazen manipulation and state repression.
This fact had forced President Yar’Adua, during his inauguration, to openly admit that the 2007 general elections was seriously “flawed” and consequently pledge to carry out an electoral reform that would ensure that future elections are more transparent and credible. Pursuant to this pledge, the regime subsequently set up a handpicked committee of about 20 persons called Electoral Reform Committee to recommend measures that would ensure that future elections are truly credible and acceptable. The electoral reform panel, which was headed by the retired Chief Justice of the federation, Mohammed Uwais, has since submitted its report. In its recommendations, the Uwais led Electoral Panel proposed two seemingly radical measures, which in the opinion of the committee can enhance electoral credibility. The first recommends that instead of a sitting president (actually, a candidate of a political party) having powers to appoint an INEC chairperson that power should be given to the National Judicial Commission (NJC). The second proposes that all electoral cases be concluded before winners are sworn in so as to prevent the well familiar but ugly situation where a candidate fraudulently declared winner will be in power, using state machineries and resources to fight litigations against the rightful winners.
However, if critically examined, these two propositions have serious limitations vis-à-vis their real capacity to guarantee free and fair elections for the ordinary masses on the basis of the prevailing political tradition and conducts. The first proposition, assumes the non-existing neutrality, integrity and non-partisan disposition of the members of the NJC. In actual fact, the NJC members are exclusively made up of senior judicial officers and prominent lawyers who mostly must have been found system-compliant, before they were made NJC members in the first instance. Therefore, the assumption that such a body will always choose the right candidate is not supported by our contemporary experience wherein state Chief Judges who have constitutional power to choose persons of integrity to probe a sitting governor whenever there is an house resolution to that effect have been known to constitute panels made up of friends, relations and business associates of the governor being probed!
The second proposition assumes, without a basis in reality, that the processes through which candidates emerge from their individual parties were democratic and fair in the first instance and that the major issue for electoral credibility and acceptability is simply to ensure that electoral disputes are concluded before anyone is sworn in.
Presently however, the Yar’Adua’s PDP government has unceremoniously removed these two seemingly progressive recommendations made by the Uwais led Panel before presenting same to the National Assembly. As things stand today, if the National Assembly eventually amended, the current 2006 Electoral Act, before the 2011 general elections, it cannot be radically different from the one used in conducting the most-farcical exercise called the 2007 general elections.
Most fundamentally however, the Yar’Adua PDP regime has already shown in practice, what the 2011 general elections will be like in the governorship re-run election in Ekiti State and the House of Representative re-run election in Oyo State where in just fractions of the states there was massive rigging and violence to procure victories at all cost for the PDP. Also indicative is the development in Anambra State ahead of February 2010 governorship election where the PDP was unable to conduct a democratic primary election to pick its candidate and its national leadership had to impose Charles Soludo, a highly notable neo-liberal economist and former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). All things remaining as they are now, by the time of 2011 general elections, PDP will be controlling 29 states plus Abuja, the capital territory. In fact, more opposition governors, weighing their chances of retaining powers against the rampaging and almighty PDP controlled central government, may still decamp to the PDP just as the governors of Bauchi, Zamfara and Imo States had already done. Thus, the 2011 elections will be holding with the PDP already in an advantageous position. Of course, if performance and the votes of the electorate will be the ultimate criterion that would determine prospective winners, then it can be safely concluded that PDP governments at center and most, if not all the states will be defeated. This is because their rules, severally and collectively, have only brought unaccepted economic and political ruinations to the country and the overwhelming majority of its citizens, while only a few government functionaries and their capitalist collaborators wallow in looted wealth with impunity.
Unfortunately however, precisely because these political gladiators do not have the genuine support of the masses, they, as usual, will go all out to use stolen public funds and state apparatuses of coercion to contrive electoral victories at all cost come 2011. Already, there exists an uncanny tradition across the country amongst all ruling political parties, wherein it is the ruling party that wins all local government elections. Meanwhile, way back in 2003, a right wing political scientist, one Professor Ebele Onwudiwe, had already outlined a theoretical prognosis and justification for the perpetuation in power of the PDP in Nigeria and the ANC in South Africa, regardless of their performances and mass acceptability. Onwudiwe had amongst other things postulated: “Our short history as a modern country evidences no established tradition of two-party system. This is because we have never been divided by political convictions or by economic philosophy. On the fundamental issue of development, all Nigerians stand on one foot…. It follows simply that in a democracy with a dominant party such as the one in Nigeria’s future, or the present one in South Africa, people are free to form any party of their choice, be it regional, ethnic, conscience or what have you. However, those who want political power in such democracies are free to join and compete for it through the vehicle of PDP or ANC”. (The Guardian, May 4, 2003 P. 21).
Plainly here, Professor Onwudiwe is urging all bourgeois opposition party leaders to pocket their individual prides by joining the PDP in order to have a real chance of coming to political power instead of faking non-existent differences with the dominant PDP which will in any case utilize all powers at its disposal to retain power at all cost!
THE BOURGEOIS OPPOSITION PARTIES
Can the main ruling opposition parties, the ANPP, AC, APGA, PPA, etc individually and or collectively prevent the PDP from foisting another farce on Nigerians called general elections, come 2011? Put differently, can these opposition parties individually and or collectively defeat the ruling PDP (at the centre and in most states of the country) come 2011 general elections? To these two related posers, the main spokespersons and strategists of opposition politics would want Nigerians to believe that they can prevent the PDP from conducting another farcical exercise called elections if certain preconditions are available. One, they are demanding that the main proposals for electoral reform as originally submitted by the retired Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Panel be fully incorporated in a new Electoral Act before the 2011 general elections. Two, they are striving to form a mega party that would embrace all the main opposition parties with a view to provide a formidable platform to fight the PDP judgments.
An inherent assumption behind this disposition is an unfounded belief or claim that “mega party” rule will usher in a new era of genuine economic growth and an improved living standard for the ordinary people. Unfortunately however, there is no iota of truth in these claims. While the PDP has exclusively held sway at the centre since May 29, 1999, when the current civil rule dispensation started, after 15 years of military rule, opposition parties/elements from the ANPP, AD/AC, APGA, PPA, etc at various times, up till date, have equally held power in some states and at the National Assembly. Most significantly however, none of these parties has been able to run a government that is truly pro-masses and or less corrupt than those being run by the PDP elements. Notwithstanding the alleged differences between these opposition parties and the ruling PDP, legislators of all these parties at the beginning of this civil rule collaborated and connived together with the PDP to prevent the emergence of new political parties outside the three recognised by the Abubakar military junta, which mid-wived the transition programme that led to the current civil rule. These shameless elements jointly combined to enact an Electoral Act which even in certain respects, more than the military, places more obstacles towards freedom of association, including right to form or belong to a political party of one’s choice.
In the name of democracy, members of the National Assembly including all the legislators of the so-called opposition parties have been paying themselves jumbo salaries and allowances that are 100 times higher than the average incomes of salary earners. This is not all! Under the imperialist driven, pro-rich, neo-liberal policies of privatization and deregulation, governments at the centre and state levels have in the past 12 years of civil rule accelerated the processes of converting stupendous public enterprises and resources into the exclusive private properties of a few rich inside and outside of government circles. All the ruling parties at the centre and state levels are renowned for their anti-working class policies and dispositions. Similarly, the PDP and all the main bourgeois parties run an absolutely intolerant and undemocratic regime within their respective political parties. Just like their PDP counterpart, all the main opposition parties do not have the tradition or practice of allowing their policies and candidates to be chosen democratically by their rank and file members.
Contrary to media propaganda, the Governor Babatunde Fashola’s AC government in Lagos State is not radically different from that of the other capitalist elites in power at the centre and in other states. Of course there is so much talk about his government’s mega city project. This is because under Fashola tenure, there are visible evidences that certain projects have been initiated, which are capable of positively impacting on the infrastructural development within the state. Unlike the administration of his predecessor and political mentor, Bola Tinubu, which was characterized with virtual sterility and manifest corruption, Governor Fashola has, for instance, embarked on many construction projects aimed at making Lagos roads and drainages more motorable and functional. His government has also done a lot to ease the ever-congested traffic in the state by discouraging street trading, etc. Unfortunately however, this kind of laudable programmes cannot be extensively undertaken and or sustained on the basis of the public private partnership (PPP) ideology which Fashola’s government is based on.
Fashola’s mega city agenda is fashioned on a concept of collaborating with the so-called private sector to carry out necessary infrastructural development. Through this approach, government hopes to provide adequate roads through an arrangement wherein private contractors would build roads and collect tolls for a number of years before returning same to the public. For instance, the government has used its public authority to create special lanes for a transport scheme, which for all practical purposes and intents, is privately owned and being run to enrich a few capitalist elements while most of the workers being used are poorly paid and without trade union rights. Because of commitment to enrich a few capitalist elements at public expense, virtually all the road works in the state are being done through private contractors who invariably always inflate the cost of such contracts. Consequently, only a small fraction of the roads that ought to be paved are being paved. This contract system also means that insufficient attention or funds are being invested on public works maintenance, a phenomenon, which has resulted in an ugly situation wherein most of the roads in the state are always in a condition of permanent disrepairs.
Like all capitalist programme, the mega city agenda is being arrogantly pursued at the expense of dire needs of the masses. All in the name of creating standard, modern markets, tens of thousands of traders have been displaced from their source of incomes through mindless evictions from their markets and residential houses, without any form of alternative being provided. While most other capitalist elements may be engaging in conducts tantamount to direct looting of public funds. Fashola, following the footstep of his inglorious predecessor in office, Bola Tinubu, has perfected the unholy practice of giving jobs that can be done at much cheaper cost by the public to the private companies, mostly owned by themselves and their cronies, at much higher cost!
In the past, the self-styled progressives, ruling Lagos State, used to complain the fact that too much money is being spent on social services like refuse clearing. Today however, bigger sums are now being paid to private companies favoured by the state to clear refuse, sweep roads, private security outfits for public institutions like the judiciary, etc. While most Lagosians live in housing conditions often at par with pig pens, Fashola has prioritised planting of flowers, at huge cost to the public, ostensibly to beautify Lagos. Just like his counterparts across the political divides, Governor Fashola is rabidly anti-worker/anti-poor. He is presently in the frontline of politicians arguing against pay increase for the workers such as teachers, medical workers, judicial workers and the generality of the work force, allegedly because the federal government does not have the right to determine wages for the federating units! Meanwhile, this self-serving federal principle is never applied to political officers who collect the jumbo salaries and allowances prescribed by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), a federal organ!
The truth is that if bourgeois political parties like AC win power at the centre on the basis of their pro-rich policies and elitist approach, there would be little or no difference to the horrendous socio-economic conditions currently being suffered by ordinary Nigerians, in the midst of abundance as witnessed under the PDP dispensation. Of course, this can never be a valid argument to defeat the agitations for a free and fair elections come 2011. Therefore, the agitation by the AC and the other ruling opposition parties for a free and fair election is, on its own a very desirable end. Unfortunately however, the anti-poor orientation and corruption, which are the hallmarks of the capitalist opposition parties means that they will never be able to arouse the sufficient loyalty and support of the ordinary masses, who in fact are the only forces that can prevent the PDP from making nonsense of the 2011 general elections and if necessary, through their mass actions, smash the PDP rigging machines.
Yes, the idea of a mega platform, made up of opposition parties with a view to present a formidable and a coherent challenge to the PDP judgment come 2011, is a very attractive proposition. However, because of the inherently selfish interests of leading bourgeois politicians, nothing much may in fact come out of the present clamour for one. Much more fundamentally however, any mega party which embraces the likes of ANPP, AC, APGA, PPA, etc with their neo-liberal mantra cannot be expected to command genuine and enthusiastic support and allegiance of the ordinary masses. Going by their undemocratic pedigree, most of the parties talking about a mega party to fight PDP, in actual fact always operate like the PDP, arbitrarily imposing candidates to run for elections, and conduct local government elections, which constitutionally is under their jurisdictions, with the same degree of arbitrariness and brazen manipulations, like the PDP controlled government.
Therefore, with the emergence of such a mega party, success in the 2011 general elections will still largely depend on ability to bribe and suppress voters, an atmosphere, which no doubt, would put PDP at an advantage against other parties.
LABOUR MOVEMENT AND 2011 ELECTIONS
As things stand today, the 2011 general elections will only plunge Nigeria into a deeper abyss of socio-economic and political disaster of an unimaginable proportion. With the PDP, ANPP, AC, APGA, PPA, etc being the major participants and contestants, the whole exercise would only produce calamitous consequences for the ordinary masses. All of these parties agree and operate an economic and political agenda, which frontally puts private profits above peoples’ needs and that of the economy. They would all be striving for political power to be able to continue to sell all public resources, in the name of privatization and deregulation, to themselves and their partners in crime. These parties, severally and collectively would mostly field candidates, within their respective parties, that do not enjoy the support of rank and file party members. As usual, all these bourgeois parties would primarily base their electoral campaigns and strategy on manipulation of ethno-religious divides. Instead of canvassing on issues of how Nigeria’s abundant natural and human resources can be utilized in such a way that the collective needs and aspirations of all can be guaranteed, elitist and self-serving issues of “power shift”, “federal character”, etc, will, as usual, dominate the political agitations of all bourgeois parties come 2011 general elections.
Only the emergence and active participation of a viable working peoples political party in the 2011 elections can ensure that the real issues of economic development vis-à-vis improved living conditions for the ordinary people will be raised.
On a good note, there is a strong possibility that this kind of political platform to protect masses interest against all layers of oppressors can be built between now and the time of 2011 general elections. Recently, the Guardian newspaper conducted and opinion poll across the country. In Nigeria’s six geo-political zones, 86% of those polled expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the country is being run under Yar’Adua dispensation. Even before President Yar’Adua came to power, specifically between years 2000 and 2007, the country witnessed about 8 labour general strikes including mass protests against the anti-poor government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. This year alone has witnessed several heroic and protracted strikes and mass protests by different layers of education workers from primary to tertiary levels as well as some other industrial unions. Against this planned pro-rich, anti-poor policy of deregulation and privatisation of oil sector, the trade unions, in alliance with the radical members of the civil society organisations had organized several mass protests and rallies across the country, including Lagos, the industrial capital and Abuja, the political capital.
Severally and collectively, these movements represent the anger of the ordinary masses against the corrupt rule of the ruling elite. If therefore, the labour leaders were today, able to draw a central lesson from these various movements, then they will immediately come to an inescapable conclusion that there is the need to create an independent party of the oppressed working masses, which is prepared and capable of posing a working class alternative to the prevailing economic and political rot. With Labour, using its advantageous position, social weight and organizational spread across the country, to build a party which is radically opposed to privatization and deregulation, a party that is expressly committed to optimal utilization of the country’s resources to cater for the needs of all where no one will suffer from joblessness and hunger, in that situation, it would not be very difficult to shove aside all the politicians of the ruling capitalist parties come 2011. Here, the point needs to be stressed that the ruling parties’ ability to rig and manipulate elections can only be defeated by a consciously mobilized masses, which will make widespread use of money to bribe voters and official intimidation, by government in power, less effective to rig votes. And in the event, that the capitalist elite, recklessly go ahead to falsify the results, to declare themselves winners, then they would most certainly incur the rot of the masses who may then be forced to use mass actions including strikes and protests to reclaim mandates stolen from their candidates.
Unfortunately however, most of the current crop of Labour leaders across the country including the leadership of the NLC and TUC are yet to wake up to the responsibilities, which history has placed on contemporary working class movement. In place of clear-cut revolutionary measures required economically and politically to safeguard interest of the ordinary working masses, most labour leaders continue to push measures which at best are utopian and at worst impracticable. For instance, the generality of Labour leaders are opposed to government policy of deregulation and privatization without coming up with a working class alternative to these policies. Instead of fighting that the commanding heights of the economy including the oil sector be nationalized and place under working class control and management, most labour leaders have continued to demand that the capitalist should run their system in a less corrupt manner! While contemporary governments across the world today including Nigeria, use their positions to enrich a few at the expense of the public, most Labour leaders in Nigeria continue to advocate that government should play pivotal role in economic development and provision of essential social services such as education, housing, road networks, etc without having a coherent strategy of how to bring into power a government that will be prepared to implement such obviously radical programme.
Outside the exportation of crude oil, which for all practical purposes and intents entirely depends on the activities of western oil multinationals, virtually nothing else is working in Nigeria at the moment. Most industries have collapsed and or are in the process of relocating to neighbouring West African countries, where there is a stable and cheaper electricity supply. For all others including banks, telecommunications, manufacturing industries, etc, they presently rely and or engage in one form of lottery promotions or the other in order to stir an otherwise dormant and stagnant market. In reality the Nigerian bourgeoisie has given up any idea of attempting to develop the country, they have no intention of even trying to make Nigeria a player on the world market. This unenviable state of affair sharply underlines why the bourgeois elite has institutionalized the art of looting public treasuries in the name of governance.
Crude oil sales virtually constitute the sole source of incomes for Nigeria. And since other normal capitalist pre-occupations of making profit have been made almost impossible by the chronic state of economic decay and under-development, political power therefore, become the only viable and sustainable ways to make easy money. This is why for the capitalist ruling elites, the issue of general elections and or those who control political power becomes a do or die affair. The 2011 general elections will not in anyway be different from the previous elections massively rigged by the ruling class parties. Unfortunately, labour leaders mantra of “free and fair election” does not fully capture how the working class elements should approach the 2011 elections. Instead of building the already registered Labour Party as a formidable platform through which the working masses can contest political powers with the ruling capitalist parties, the leaders of the NLC and TUC have adopted the position that only the full implementation of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee recommendations can ensure free and fair election come 2011.
As it has been demonstrated above, not much improvement can occur in the economy or in the masses living standard if, come 2011, the PDP government is replaced by a government formed by any or a combination of the existing ruling opposition parties. Therefore, the only real way in which the ordinary masses can benefit in a truly free and fair election is for them to have a party purposely built to proffer a pro-people, working class alternative consciously directed at the central problems facing the masses to be campaigning for political powers in the coming elections. If not, the masses will only end up being short-changed once again, just as it happened when the civilian wing of the capitalist class assumed power in the aftermath of military rule. Yes, there are those who still argue that if a free and fair electoral arrangement makes it possible for a section of the ruling class to freely win elections against the incumbents, then, we can all expect that such processes would ultimately benefit the working masses in general.
Unfortunately however, Labour’s campaigns for an electoral reform is strictly based on a demand for the total implementation of the Mohammed Uwais committee original recommendations submitted to President Yar’Adua! In chapter 4, we have made comments on certain key resolutions being proposed by the Uwais Electoral Reform Panel. Here, we only need to stress the fact that the original report submitted by the Uwais committee itself contains some undemocratic and reactionary recommendations. For instance, the Uwais Panel recommends that State Electoral Commissions be scrapped allegedly because of their arbitrary conducts and manipulations of elections under their jurisdictions. While this conclusion is correct in every essential respect, the same however applies to the centrally controlled INEC, which of course is why the issue of electoral reform comes up in the first instance.
As the DSM often argues, the primary reason every election is always rigged by government in power is because of the capitalist elites self-serving ambition to always be in a position to use a public resources for their own personal needs, especially in society where the ruling elite has run the economy aground such that makes it virtually impossible to engage in productive agriculture, manufacturing and commerce. This is why the ruling elite designed a constitution that gives absolute powers to the incumbent government officials to choose who become members of the Electoral Commission at all levels. Instead of demanding that the electoral commission be made up of elected representatives (with right of instant recall by their electors) of mass based organisations and political parties themselves, the Uwais panel only recommended that the power to compose INEC be removed from presidency and given to the National Judicial Commission (NJC) itself, a very veritable bourgeois institution! Presently, there exists so much criticism of the overbearing characteristics of Nigeria’s so-called federation. Therefore, scrapping state electoral bodies in the given situation will only unnecessarily aggravate a situation calling for greater democratization.
Instead of chasing a big shadow, in the name of electoral reform, labour leaders should step out of their illusion and begin, in the earnest, the struggle to reposition the dormant Labour Party with a view to take active and central part in the 2011 general elections. Even though it was already a registered party, Labour Party did not contest power in the 2003 general elections because, according to its then National leaders, the party did not believe in winning political powers from the top but from the grassroots i.e. at the local council level. This dubious and evasive political disposition was again initially canvassed in the period leading up to the 2007 general elections until suddenly when its current national leaders decided to give the Labour Party platform to certain bourgeois politicians like Olusegun Mimiko and Femi Pedro, who lost out in the power games within the PDP and AC respectively.
Today, 18 months to another general elections, there is nothing on ground to suggest that the Party is being built to run in 2011. In Lagos State, the most dominant working class area of the country, prominent trade unionists like Sylvester Ejiofor and his fellow travellers in the state leadership of the Party have been waging ceaseless battles to prevent socialists and other radical elements from joining the party, so as to make it easy in 2011 to prevent the emergence of a genuine working class challenge to the bourgeois duo of the PDP and AC within the state. Recently, the national leadership of the party has resolved to hold its convention at Abuja on December 12, 2009. While this may be a welcome development, there exists however, a serious doubt as to what tangible progress this can bring to the party. This is more so when the party is not being steadily built at states and local council levels. In this type of situation, the national convention will mostly turn out to be no more than an assembly of those wanted and or invited by the national leaders.
Consequently, the Labour leaders immediately need to take two related steps to assure the ordinary masses that their opposition to the deregulation of the oil sector and the economy as a whole, together with the demand for a truly free and fair election is not just mere posturing. In other words, that their actions are not meant just to create false impression that some people out there are defending the masses interest while in reality, they are only shielding the ruling class from mass wrath while implementing a deadly anti-peoples policies. On economic front, the Labour leaders must immediately begin to mobilize for a 48-hour warning general strike and mass protest to practicably show the ruling elite what it should expect if it goes ahead with its deregulation agenda. Of course, the Yar’Adua government has presently backed down on the November 1, 2009 date, which it had earlier chosen to implement full deregulation of the downstream sector. However, by their pronouncements, both Yar’Adua and leading government officials have continued to insist that there is no question of themselves abandoning this patently anti-economic growth, anti-peoples policy. Hear him: “We are committed to deregulation, because we are convinced that subsidy distorts the system, encourages corruption and creates more problems than it solves. We are aware that initially, there will be pain, but these will be temporary and the whole nation will be better for it.” (President Yar’Adua while responding to Baroness Glenys Kinnock, the British Minister of State for Africa, who was on official visit to Nigeria. (The Guardian November 6, 2009).
Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah, Yar’Adua’s Special Adviser on petroleum matters while officially making the announcement purportedly shifting the implementation date of the regime’s “full deregulation” policy, had amongst other things stated that deregulation “will bring down prices”. At this event, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Odien Ajumogobia had also made the following statement: “government had spent about N600billion in 2008 and was expected to spend more in 2009 on subsidy which goes directly to this cabal, explaining that the status quo was not sustainable and hence the compelling reason to overhaul the present system to free it of inherent encumbrances, inefficiencies and corruption. Deregulation would allow market forces to dictate prices of products, for more players in the sector thereby leading to efficiency that would positively impact on growth in the entire sector.” (The Guardian, Saturday November 7, 2009).
Therefore, to defeat this overtly anti-poor policy, the Labour leaders must be prepared to wage and lead a protracted mass political struggle that must ultimately remove from powers all the advocates of this ferocious neo-liberal, capitalist policy. Side by side, Labour leaders need to squarely face up to the political responsibility posed to the working masses by the 2011 general elections. Immediate steps must be taken to reposition the Labour Party for participation in the coming 2011 elections. In this regard, effort must be made to practically build the Party at local, state and national levels. Labour leaders must step up their opposition to deregulation by clearly coming out with a programme of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, including oil, banks and finance, under working class control and management. This will be able to guarantee material and financial resources to meet the basic needs of the overwhelming people, free of the usual corruption and bureaucratic bungling, which characterizes capitalist economy and that of the former Stalinist states such as the ex- Soviet Unions. As the DSM often argue, only a genuine government of the workers and the general poor can be interested and also possess the requisite material and political will and capacity to carry through the kind of economic policies and political arrangement needed to safeguard the working masses against the ever insatiable greed of the capitalists. A most crucial instrument needed to bring about this kind of government is a fighting and democratically run Labour Party.
PERSPECTIVE FOR BUILDING THE LABOUR PARTY
Despite current cheerless political profile of the Labour Party, we in the DSM at this stage wish to urge the advanced layers of the working class, including all those forced to quit the NCP as a result of the right-wing degeneration of that party, to immediately join the Labour Party with a view to building it as a truly working class party.
Yes, we concede that this proposition can be faulted for several reasons. One, despite the mass revulsion, which the vast majority of the working masses have towards the ruling/thieving capitalist parties, the Labour Party leadership has woefully failed to proffer an alternative political programme of action that could harness the masses rejection of these odious parties behind its own political organization. Both in its pronouncements and conducts, the vast majority of labour leaders within the Labour Party and the trade unions have so far failed to come forward with a concrete programme of action directed towards turning the party into a viable political platform that can challenge the thieving capitalist elite for political power. Due to the legendary pro-capitalist outlook of most current labour leaders, there is in fact a strong feeling that the top trade union and Labour Party leaders would never consciously take steps to build the party as a true political platform of the working masses. In fact, there is an equal deep feeling that most of the current crop of labour leaders would viciously fight anybody struggling to build the Labour Party as a mass fighting political platform of the oppressed.
Frankly speaking therefore, the proposal, urging socialists and all advance layers of the working class movement to move into the Labour Party with a view to build it as a genuine mass working peoples party may not seem attractive to longstanding activists. But we believe that, at this moment, this can provide a concrete starting point for the campaign for a genuine mass working peoples’ party. Socialists in the Labour Party would concretely propose steps both to build the Party and give it a socialist programme that can answer the needs of working people.
Of course, the question could be raised as to why we had not made this proposal since the formation of the Labour Party? To this poser, a straight and short answer is that before the Labour Party was formed, there existed in the NCP a better political platform which then held far more political attraction to working class elements in general and the advance layer of activists in particular. Therefore, if the NCP had not lost its political orientation which made it popular among the masses, there would have been no sense in asking socialists and labour activists to move en-mass to Labour Party in the manner being recommended.
Now we are in a new situation where the NCP has collapsed along with its enormous national respect and following that “Labour” , meaning fundamentally the trade unions, has opened the way to the possibility that the Labour Party could become a focal point of attraction for change seeking elements, especially in the runs up to future elections.
Thus, socialists and Labour activists should now move en-masse into the Labour Party with a view to transform it into a fighting platform for the unavoidable struggles which the masses would have to wage now and in the coming period. This urgently requires the building of the organisational and political structures of the Labour Party nationally, at states and local council levels. Deliberate and consistent efforts must be made to recruit ordinary working class elements and socialists into the party. Membership of the party should be thrown open to all genuine pro-labour elements. In this respect, the party at all levels needs to have democratically elected leaders in place of elements mostly nominated as is the situation today. All this has also constituted the central plank of the demands of Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party (CMB-LP) formed by some socialists and trade union activists including the DSM in June 2009 to mobilise workers, artisans, youths and working people in general into the Labour Party.
A party and its manifestos may be popular and or preferred by the majority of the working masses, however, in electoral battles, that kind of party has to have its supporters at ward, local, state and the national levels, without which its votes cannot be maximally mobilised and or protected from electoral robbers. In spite of the short sighted policies generally being pursued by most trade union leaders, the coming period will nonetheless be a period of storming class struggles. Presently, because the thieving capitalist class is not facing any serious principled resistance by the working class movement, President Yar’Adua, who was brazenly and openly rigged into power is being deceptively presented as the person that would solve Nigeria’s intractable socio-economic crisis.
However, sooner than later, the vast majority of people will rapidly draw the conclusion that President Yar’Adua’s dispensation is just a mere continuation of the relentless exploitation and oppression in the midst of plenty of the masses. When this happens, there would develop a renewed mood of anger and struggle. In that kind of situation, there is bound to be both conscious and unconscious efforts by the working masses to extend their struggles to political arena through instinctive strive to put in power a government that is genuinely committed to guarantee their own interest. On their part, most Labour leaders, as a result of the certain fierce hostility of the masses towards all the capitalist parties, may not be able to maintain their present open romance and collaboration with bourgeois politicians. In that kind of situation, there is bound to be some half-hearted measures on their part to develop the Labour Party just so to put themselves in a position to arrest masses radicalization from going beyond bourgeois reformism.
Therefore, if the socialists and the advance layers of working masses today move into the Labour Party and properly root themselves within the party’s rank and file and the masses in general, then there will be bright prospects of making serious political gains from such ensuing mass radicalization. Such activity would not simply be within the present very small Labour Party membership but simultaneously amongst the broad working masses and youth. In this sense, there would be no contradiction between being in the Labour Party and the Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party. Socialists would be arguing both for the need for such a party and for the Labour Party to become the fighting mass socialist party Nigeria needs.
At the same time being already active within the Labour Party would put socialists in an advantageous position to combat the certain reactionary influence and pressure which pro-capitalist labour leaders inevitably would bring to bear on the labour movement. Socialists, while not hiding their policies, would work alongside non-socialists who seriously wish to build a mass, active Labour Party. Socialists will argue for the Labour Party to be a democratic party involving all change seeking elements within the trade unions and LASCO. We will also warn against those labour leaders who would seek to use a growing Labour Party simply as a bargaining chip to secure deals with capitalist politicians.
If you are dissatisfied with the various anti-poor policies of Yar’Adua government at federal level and government at state and local council level and you are interested in fight back against these policies, the organisation to join is the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).
The DSM has played active roles in the general strikes and mass struggles against fuel price rises that have repeatedly taken place since 2000. DSM members have played prominent roles, nationally and locally, in LASCO, the Labour Civil Society Coalition, and JAF, the Joint Action Forum, consistently arguing for determined action to both stop fuel price rises plus a wider mobilisation to remove the rotten Yar’Adua regime and replace it with a workers’ and poor peasants’ government committed to carrying out the socialist transformation of Nigeria. This is why we have been calling on the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, trade union leaders, socialists and pro-masses’ organisations to build the Labour Party as a fighting working class political alternative that could wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels. Also in this respect, we and some socialists and trade union activists formed the Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party (CMB-LP) to mobilize workers, artisans, traders, youths and working people in general into the party. It has been campaigning for opening up of the Party, setting up of functional secretariats and structures at workplaces, communities, schools, local government areas and state levels; democratic running of its affairs and building it as a fighting working class political alternative.
DSM has been active, both as participants and supporters, in many different trade union protests and struggles for better pay and improved working conditions. We work in the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) in defence of democratic rights in workplaces and communities. We also work in community organizations like Ajegunle Peoples Movement.
Among students and youths, we campaign against outrageous fees and other neo-liberal attacks on education, for respect of democratic rights of education workers and students, and against victimization of workers and student activists. The DSM also stands for the rebuilding of a campaigning and fighting national students’ movement. Also in this respect, we work in the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) which has student and youth activists as members and also campaign for adequate funding of public education. ERC, while campaigning for rebuilding of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as a fighting and truly democratic organ of Nigerian students, it has been trying to fill the void created by the right-wing, moribund elements that have continuously led the student body in recent times.
One of the major activities of DSM is the education of a new generation of working class and youth activists in the genuine ideas of Marxism as propagated by Lenin and Trotsky. Towards this end, seminars, symposia and schools are organized and educational materials published from time to time
An important way to help spread DSM ideas and further building a socialist alternative is by making regular donations and helping sell our publications.
The DSM works alongside all activists seeking to defend and improve the position of working people and the poor, but we always stress the necessity of building a mass socialist movement to change society. This is a key plank of our activity in mass movements, including the trade unions, and in the Labour Party and why we urge all those who agree with our ideas to join with us in the DSM in fighting to break the grip of capitalism over Nigeria and for a socialist future.
You can help spread DSM ideas and further by making regular donation and selling publications.
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Send this coupon to Democratic Socialist Movement P.O. Box 2225, Agege, Lagos or come to DSM Secretariat at 162, Ipaja Road, Agbotikuyo Bus Stop, Agege, Lagos. Tel: 08053045953, 07033775517. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.socialistnigeria.org.
Oshiomhole: One Year After
GANI FAWEHINMI (1938 – 2009)
An Outstanding Masses Leader and Fighter
Below is edited version of a tribute to Gani Fawehinmi written by Segun Sango, the General Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), which was originally published in the September 2009 Special edition of Socialist Democracy, dedicated to celebration of life and struggles of the inimitable champion of the interest and cause of the poor masses who died on September 5, 2009.
This tribute is written in order to shed light on Gani’s political activities, especially is pro-labour/socialist orientation. First and foremost, it must be understood from the beginning that Gani was a multi-dimensional personality. Another Gani trait, which must be properly understood, was his steadfast and thorough commitment to whatever he was doing, be it for family members, friends and associates, legal and political struggles. For these two reasons, it should not be surprising that Gani was being eulogized by many and different elements in society.
The truth is that Gani positively impacted on a host of individuals and issues, be it legal or political. In this regard however, eulogies emanating from prominent members of the capitalist elites irrespective of their political parties must be treated with special caution by working class elements. In fact, many of the statements being credited to elements like Ibrahim Babangida, past or present governors, senators, etc, are purely hypocritical. Many of these elements in Gani’s lifetime subjected Gani to draconian repressions including numerous imprisonments in sub-human dungeons called prisons in Nigeria. Even those of them, who did not have the opportunity of being in government to be able to repress Gani for what he stood for, studiously and steadfastly, avoided collaboration with Gani to achieve the central purpose of using political power to abolish poverty. They were too busy struggling to acquire political power to be able to amass personal wealth at the expense of the ordinary masses just like those capitalist elite who effected endless political persecution of Gani under military rule and under the fake civilian government in the aftermath of the exit of military from power in 1999.
All said and done, the vast majority of ordinary Nigerians cherished and would continue to cherish the robust, prodigious, selfless but steadfast commitment and contributions of Chief Gani Fawehinmi to the struggle against oppression, exploitation and all forms of acts of man’s inhumanity to man. His political and legal struggles were so phenomena in scope and character. Unlike most bourgeois lawyers, Gani regarded law as an instrument for the protection of the weak against the mighty and specifically to ensure that those entrusted with governmental power and position of authorities in public institutions and private enterprises are strictly made to observe the laid down laws and regulations of the land. He equally, throughout his over five decades of legal and political activities held tenaciously to the position that government administration and activities must be centrally directed towards the maximum protection of the welfare of the ordinary citizens. When he founded the NCP in 1994, Gani vigorously argued and campaigned that the abolition of poverty must be the central policy of an NCP government.
During his life time and even since his demise there are those who held, or possibly still hold, the opinion that a major political weakness of Gani was his alleged inability to work within a group or a collective for the actualization of his political ideals. Writing in the Nation of September 10, 2009 Dapo Fafoowora in his column had in this respect commented: “It is a pity that in spite of a similarity in their political views, Fela Ransome Kuti, his brother Beko and Gani, all of them now dead, were not able to work together in their prolonged and difficult struggle against social injustice in our country. It seems to be the lot of the progressives that, because of their strong personality, they find it difficult to work together to the detriment of the causes they seek to promote”.
As close political collaborators of Gani for several years we in the DSM totally reject this false accusation against Gani in the strongest term possible. In fact, there exist numerous occasions and examples of when Gani had been involved in concrete practical efforts to, alongside other radical minded elements, participate in economic and political struggles to reshape Nigeria for the better. Specifically, members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) openly attest their political collaboration with Chief Gani Fawehinmi especially since the inception of NCP on October 1, 1994 till virtually the end of his active political period.
Here, we would like to emphasise that this collaboration was always based on frank but fraternal support and criticism. It is on record that Gani never, even for once, requested members of the DSM to stop their independent publications and activities within and outside the NCP. This point is politically significant in the sense that it is usually the inglorious tradition and practices of pseudo Marxist and Stalinist elements to argue that if members of a revolutionary organisation like the DSM works within larger working class organisations like the trade unions, students unions, Labour Party, etc, it is wrong and disruptive to make open and fraternal criticism of the policies and leadership of these mass working class organisations. For instance, Sylvester Ejiofor, the General Secretary of AUPCTRE, and other so-called left elements within the trade union movement and labour party leadership are presently engaged in desperate struggles to prevent all manners of change-seeking elements especially members of the DSM from becoming members of the Labour Party. This obviously is a strategy being used to keep the Labour Party in its present weak shape, organizationally and politically, with a view to ensure that the working class people are unable to proffer working class political alternatives against all the layers of capitalist elements including the self-styled progressives in the AC, ANPP, PPA, etc., come 2011 and beyond.
Of course, Gani’s critics could still argue that many atimes, when seemingly, other radical elements collaborated with Gani, they insist that Gani always and invariably usually quit such collaborating platform. A usual and prominent recent example often cited in this respect was the resignation of Gani from the chairmanship position of JACON, a broad based radical opposition platform formed to fight the military towards the end of their stay in power. However, in discussion with some of us, his close political associates, Gani said he resigned his Chairmanship position of JACON when he realized that several prominent leaders of JACON were only ready to jostle for power based on an unprincipled acceptance of the Abubakar military junta’s transition programme. Here, it is suffice to stress that Gani’s political characterization of JACON’s many leaders was centrally correct, as this was later demonstrated by the then AD leaders (including late Pa Abraham Adesanya) with the staunch opposition to the democratization of party registration criteria at the National Assembly. The then AD and now AC leaders alongside the leaders of the PDP, APP, now ANPP jointly passed an Electoral Act, which subsequently retained all the anti-democratic criteria for party registration prescribed by the ousted military government.
Against the background of an example cited above, Gani, over the years, developed a justifiable disdain for many so-called left and radical elements whom he always painfully felt were not honest and steadfast enough to the cause they are propagating. In his usual inimitable version, Gani ably defended himself against the accusation of individualism and an inability to work within the framework of a collective platform. Hear him: “I have not been the collective man because of half hearted involvement of people. When a man is not prepared to die for a cause, he can be swayed. Many of our radicals are more concerned about the glory that will attend the outcome of a cause. They are not prepared to commit their lives. The moment you find a man not prepared to throw in his life for a struggle, he can be swayed. Many of our radicals don’t want to throw in anything”.
In sharp contrast, the DSM members can attest to Gani’s abiding and unflinching support for those he perceived to be genuinely fighting a just cause. For instance, in the political struggles waged against members of the DSM by the right-wing leadership of elements like Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, Femi Falana, Tanko Yinusa, etc, that took over the national leadership of the party after Gani’s tenure. Gani, on several occasions in private and public discussions with party members espoused his support and solidarity with the embattled DSM members within the NCP. At the peak of this struggle, he granted an exclusive interview published in the March 30, 2007 edition of Vanguard newspaper, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the founding National Chairman of the party, had this to say on the overall conduct of the Obayuwana leadership: “Since I left the leadership of the party in 2004, the party has seriously gone down. I am not happy that Obayuwana (NCP national chairman) has been very inactive. It is tragic that the NCP has no candidate in Lagos now. In 2003, we virtually won the election in Lagos State but for the rigging of the PDP and AD. With hundreds of thousands of votes they said we were third. This time have you heard of any NCP candidate on the radio, on the television, anywhere, have you heard of NCP campaigning for gubernatorial election anywhere in Lagos State? We chose Lanre Arogundade who grew up with the party from the inception, an internationally and nationally recognized activist of tremendous integrity and respectability, a workhorse, a man of honour, to take the flag of NCP but Obayuwana and others worked against this man and brought an unknown person from the U.S. who is not even a member of the party…”
Suffice to stress, Gani’s support and endorsement of a DSM member as NCP candidate in the 2007 election was predicated on his long-standing political solidarity with the DSM as an organisation. At a political event, jointly organized by the DSM and UAD on June 28, 2006, Gani had among other things stated that there was no basis for poor masses to be suffering in a country that makes over N190 million daily from crude oil sales alone. While billions of dollars are being pumped out of the economy to pay odious and fictitious debts, majority of the people have no access to food, education, healthcare, employment, shelter etc. He lampooned the privatisation policy of the Obasanjo regime. “Okonjo Iweala will be talking of market forces. Where is the market and where are the forces?” Gani retorted.
After a thorough analysis of Nigerian economy and ever-plummeting standards of living of the poor masses, Gani Fawehinmi, asserted that the only alternative to pervasive rot that has taken over the soul of the country is a form a socialist government. In his words, “we need a socialist party with socialist economic programme. If you form this, I will join. We don’t need power at all cost. We need power under a platform with socialist programme to fight the West… I am not happy by the way thing things are going”. On the NCP, he had said, “I must confess, I don’t know the economic programme of NCP today!”
Now that Gani is no more, the central issue of mass poverty and how to abolish this certainty retains all its essentialities. We must always remember that Gani, above all, was a doer legally and politically. Gani, throughout his legal and political career demonstrated in clear terms the importance of positive action in pursuance of a cause. If Gani believed an action was legally wrong, he would do everything possible to secure legal redress. Gani never believed in private grumbles in the face of oppression or injustice. Hence, he was always and thoroughly vocal with respect to all issues he handled. For the working class people and members of the DSM in particular, Gani’s activities to crystalise a working class economic and political alternative distinct from the elitist, selfish and self-centered capitalist system, which only caters for a tiny minority, represents his most important political legacy.
Therefore, the best way to preserve the good memory of Gani would be to accelerate the process for the crystalisation of a purely working class and people oriented political platform with a clear-cut anti-neo liberal, anti-capitalist policies and for an express pro-masses ideology. This, as the DSM often debated, with Gani in his lifetime, will be the most scientific and realistic way through which mass poverty can be abolished as fervently desired by Gani in his lifetime.