OBIDIENTS AND LP: For a Conference of Trade Unions, Youth and Socialists to Discuss Rebuilding of the Party
One of the major features of the 2023 Election is the phenomenon of Obidient movement. It is a movement which originally rose from an important political conclusion reached from the EndSARS youth revolt of October 2020. Though sparked by the protest against police brutality, the revolt was actually driven by deep anger against the political establishment whose failure was held responsible for the trenchant social and economic woes.
By Peluola Adewale
The EndSARS protest, which lasted between October 8 and October 20, for the better part was said to be apolitical. But by the time it was crushed by government with the military troops and bullets, many young people had come to the conclusion of the need for an alternative to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or a third force, to fight for political power. However, generally this was based on a simplistic premise that the failure of political leaders to turn around the country despite its huge human and material resources is a result of their age and their unbridled corruption, not the capitalist philosophy and policies of the successive governments, which are actually the culprits. Therefore, to many of these youth the solution to Nigerian crisis simply lies in replacing the old “analog” leaders with young leaders attuned to the demands of the new digital age and averse to corruption. Once this is achieved, all of Nigeria’s problems are solved. Nonetheless, while Socialists argued that concrete policies are also required; this reflected an advancement in the political mood compared with what obtained at the beginning of the movement.
The enthusiasm towards such a political alternative reflected in the geometric rise in the membership of a so-called Young Democratic Party of Nigeria (YDPN) within a few days of its establishment on social media around the period of the EndSARS revolt. At its peak it had over 300,000 members online including about 70,000 in Lagos alone. However, the party did not take off on the ground. But the mood for a political change remained alive.
Then entered Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, former honorary economic adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan and later the Vice-Presidential Candidate in Atiku Abubakar’s PDP ticket in the 2019 election. So, he is also a true-blue member of the establishment. But compared to Bola Tinubu and Atiku, who are seen as the archetypal representatives of the rotten order they want to break from, the change-seeking young people saw in Obi a better alternative. The fact that Obi himself acknowledged there is no fundamental difference in his program and those of Tinubu and Atiku did not raise any red flags. Yet, it is the same economic program which is mainly responsible for the monumental failure of the last 24 years of the civil rule. Rather, they saw him as younger, albeit he is 62, healthier and more competent to run capitalist economy in Nigeria. Atiku and Tinubu are 71 and 76 respectively, and the potential of another President spending a considerable part of years in office in hospital like the outgoing President Buhari was seen as something that should not be allowed again.
The fact is that Obi’s limited critique of corruption and anti-establishment rhetoric as well as his arguments that Nigeria’s resources can drive development if prudently managed had powerful effect on these sections of young people and urban middle class people who called themselves Obidients. However, the revelation in the Pandora paper and his investing government money, as Anambra state governor, in a business with his family interest shows that he himself is not clean of corrupt practices. Obi also had a huge support base among Igbo people who understandably, given the character of Nigeria’s politics, believed that in 2023 it should be the turn of a candidate of their ethnic extraction to become President. However, the fact that Obi’s candidacy drew acceptability from young people and masses from other ethnic groups as well as the official endorsement by the Nigeria Labour Congress made his choice by the majority of Igbo people an easy decision.
Obi who had already bought the nomination form of the PDP left for the Labour Party (LP) at the eleventh hour when it was clear he would not win the primary of the PDP. However, the fact that he eventually chose the LP to contest presidential election further strengthened his support among the people who wanted a break from the APC and PDP, both which are associated with the monumental failure of the ruling elite since the return to the civil rule in 1999.
The LP at every election usually puts its ticket for sale for any moneybag politician who has failed in the bid to become candidate of the PDP or APC. But in Obi the party had a bourgeois candidate with supporters among whom are those genuinely seeking a better change. Unfortunately, despite the positive desire of many of his supporters to use his candidacy to transform Nigeria for the better, what Obi represents is an illusion. Officially the manifesto of the LP is ‘social democratic’. Though not socialist, and aims to work within capitalism, it is still antithetical to the neo-liberal capitalist program which Obi espouses and promoted in his campaign. This includes his plan to remove fuel subsidy in line with neo-liberal policy of deregulation, devalue naira in compliance with the dictates of the IMF and World Bank and transfer funding and managerial responsibilities of public schools to private corporations. However, he had a major slogan of transforming of Nigeria from an economy based on consumption to the one of production. Though, he did not present a coherent programme on how to achieve this in a neo-colonial economy and he is indeed a major enabler of consumption economy with his import dependent business from which he became a billionaire, the slogan captivated many especially in the face of high unemployment crisis in the country.
Obi and LP officially lost the presidential election, coming third after APC and PDP. Nonetheless, the party had a good outing with over 6 million votes and officially carried 11 states and FCT Abuja. It is also likely that the party in addition won in Rivers state but for rigging in favour of the APC. It was also significant that Obi won in Lagos which ordinarily is the political stronghold of Tinubu. This is instructive as Lagos was the epicentre of the EndSARS youth revolt. Meanwhile, the party has challenged at tribunal the declaration of Bola Tinubu as the winner of the election. On the positive side, the party won one governorship position, six senators, 34 house of representative members and a number of seats at different state assemblies including four in Lagos.
Many Obidients do not see themselves as members of the LP. To them the party is just a special vehicle needed by Obi to become President. The fact that he is in the tribunal means he will keep his support base politically engaged and get associated with the party while the petition lasts. It is not clear whether or not Obi himself will remain with the party until the next general election. But is it cannot be ruled out that he would stay in the party with a view of using it as a bargaining chip in a possible talk of electoral alliance ahead of the next general election with the PDP which may be needed in order to defeat the APC.
Whether or not the Obidients join the LP, they are likely to remain actively in opposition to Tinubu government over its actions or inactions. The problem is that they may reduce every failure of the government to the character, age or health of Tinubu and not his capitalist economic program which Obi fundamentally shares with him. But their participation in struggle or action against Tinubu government in the quest for a better Nigeria will provide opportunity to reach out to them with a critique of neo-liberal policies which Obi also supported and engage them with socialist alternative.
However, prudent management of resources which Obi promoted in his campaign can still be held aloft by Obidients as the magic wand to turn around Nigeria. But even the Economist, which endorsed Obi, decries the limitation of such a message. They wrote: “Yet thrift alone is unlikely to solve Nigeria’s problems. Federal government spending is just 6 percent of GDP. Even with more efficient spending, there will be not be enough cash to tackle Nigeria’s enormous infrastructure needs”. (Economist October 10, 2022).
Socialists fight against corruption and support every effort against it. For judicious use of financial resources, we argue for democratic control of finance and running of agencies, use of democratically controlled and well-equipped public works and not the fraudulent contract system for projects and public officials on workers’ salaries, not jumbo pays. Obi does not articulate measures like these in his idea of prudent management. The fact is that corruption cannot be successfully fought if the corrupt and inequitable capitalist system is left intact. This is one of the lessons that must be learned from the failure of Buhari. Obi himself also proved the correctness of this point when he was the one –a promoter of prudence in government – who actually signed into law the criminal pension for ex-governor and deputy in Anambra though for whatever reason he himself did not collect the pension after leaving the office. There must be revolutionary overthrow of capitalism before corruption can be defeated and prudent management of resources guaranteed at all levels.
As a means of achieving their quest for building a better Nigeria, we call on the radical and genuine change seeking elements among Obidients to remain active in the LP and support our call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress, (TUC) to commence the process of rebuilding Labour Party as a true party of working people, youth and the poor. As a first step towards this, we propose that the NLC and TUC convene a special conference that include trade unions, socialist and left organisations, left coalitions like TPAPM and JAF, and LP leaders, members and elected public officers.
We hold that such a conference should agree that for the party to become a genuine working people’s party, it must be based on a fighting working people’s programme and its affairs run democratically. This means that its officers, party candidates and public representatives must not subscribe to neo-liberal capitalist programmes which attack conditions of the working people, youth and the poor. Indeed, we will argue at the conference for a socialist programme that includes nationalisation of commanding heights of the economy under democratic management and control by working people.
A charter of demands must be placed on the elected public representatives of the party at all levels to openly fight for. Such a charter must include the opposition to all anti-poor neo-liberal policies – fuel subsidy removal, privatization, commercialization of public education, etc – and the measures to improve conditions of workers, youth and the masses – like living wage, adequate funding of public education and health care, unemployment benefits, etc. The party must at all time be openly critical of any of its public representatives who impose or support any anti-poor policy.
The conference should also agree that the party must not preserve its ticket for money bags but make it possible for an average worker or any ordinary person who is willing to also vie for it. This means that the ticket must be free and the party conducts credible primary election to choose its candidates. The practice of charging nomination fee, let alone a very outrageous fee, as a condition to stand as a candidate in party or public elections is alien to the tradition of a workers’ party.
The affairs of the party, including participation in elections should be financed from members’ subscription, grants from trade unions, donations from public officials, donation from the public and sympathisers, etc. In other words, the culture of consistent financial commitment to the party by party members and supporters must be encouraged. However, this means that the party has to, both in and out of office, intervene in the daily struggles of working people and youth in order to win both political and financial support. The elected and public officers must receive average salary of skilled workers in addition to incidental allowances and donate the rest of their official pays to the party and working people and youth struggles. It is also imperative that there must be democratic accountability and transparency in the management of finances of the party.
We of the DSM are committed to join any effort and initiative for building a mass working people’s party including attempting the transformation of the current Labour Party into the true party of workers, youth and the poor for the socialist transformation of the Nigeria state and its economy. However should the above-outlined steps fail to salvage the LP, something which cannot be ruled out given the depth of the rot, we would be prepared to enter into useful discussions with all genuine fighting forces about what needs to be done to ensure that the working class, radical youth and poor masses have an independent political voice in the next general elections and beyond.