Working People’s Political Alternative
Working People’s Political Alternative
Report of a Political Summit hosted by UAD and DSM
The political summit jointly organised by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and United Action for Democracy (UAD) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 with the theme: Building a Formidable Working People Political Alternative towards 2007 Elections, was a huge success. The major highlight of the event attended by about 200 persons, including 23 journalists, was the open support for socialism by elements that had never hitherto publicly identified with the idea. This includes the inimitable civil rights fighter Gani Fawehinmi, the founder and leader of National Conscience Party (NCP), who further called for formation and registration of a socialist party. Most of the contributors did not only agree to the need for a working peoples’ political alternative but also that such platform must be based on socialist programme.
Most trade union elements, however, while agreeing to the desirability of a working people’s platform, betrayed their little or no faith in the capacity of working masses to constitute themselves into a formidable political alternative that could wrest power from the thieving bourgeois elite. They more or less argued that the only viable means in which the interests of the working masses could be best represented is for socialists or progressive elements to join bourgeois platforms, either overtly or covertly anti-poor, in order to win political offices.
This position was dismissed as being opportunistic and openly jeered by the audience. The majority position was that the contest in elections could not be divorced from the nature and programme of the platform. It is utopian or deceptive for individuals to hope or promise to ably represent the interests of the working people while in political offics without being accountable to political organisation/party of the working people. It was agreed that labour and pro-masses’ organisations must come together to form a working people political alternative that could usher in a workers’ and poor peasants’ government into power and guarantee provision of basic needs for the poor masses.
The main speakers at the programme which had participants from labour, academia, students and civil societies were Dipo Fashina, former President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Uchenna Ekwe, who represented Adams Oshiomhole, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) President, Oyewusi, the Deputy President of Congress of Free Trade Unions (CFTU), Biodun Ogundare, representative of Peace Obiajulu, President General of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Segun Sango, General Secretary of DSM and Biodun Aremu, Convener of UAD. Other labour leaders present include, Denja Yakub, Assistant General Secretary of NLC, A. C. Anyanwu, General Secretary National Union of Banks and Financial Institutions Employees, Matthew Obakin of Senior Civil Servants Association, the General Secretary of Air Transport Union and Ayo Ogundele, Assistant General Secretary of CFTU.
Biodun Aremu (UAD) was called to give the opening remarks on behalf of the organisers. He traced the alliance between UAD and DSM to their active membership of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) which led Nigerian workers and masses in the popular struggles of seven massive general strikes and protests against the anti-poor Obasanjo government. He stated that review of LASCO activities by the two organisations after the death of Chima Ubani, a central leader of the Coalition, led to their resolve to call a summit that could set tone for a working people political alternative. He said the summit would provide platform for the organisations and their political collaborators to air the views and suggest the way forward. According to him, the UAD and DSM had concluded that the only lasting alternative for the working masses was regime and system change. He stressed that labour and pro-masses’ organisations had to take struggles beyond only the fuel price issue, get organised and mobilise Nigerian workers and masses to take political power.
Segun Sango (DSM) began his speech with assertion that it was time for the Nigerian working people to take over political power. He, however, stressed that there was need for a working peoples’ political platform with a clear-cut political perspective and programme different from that of those committed to preserving capitalist, neo-liberal, anti-poor philosophy of Obasanjo government. He said it was only a working peoples’ government run on socialist programmes that could, on a permanent basis, provide food, health care, education, housing, decent jobs, electricity, water and other basic needs for the poor masses. He averred that with the last seven general strikes and protests, the working masses have expressed their wish for an immediate termination of Obasanjo regime and the rejection of all anti-poor politicians irrespective of parties, tribes and religions.
He stated further that much as a pan-Nigerian working peoples’ party is needed, so also a basic organised support among the working masses is needed to bring such party to power. A genuine pro-masses party must, from the beginning, resolve to fight along with poor masses in their daily struggles.
He stressed that our treasury and public offices are looted because the capitalist system thrives on such practices and not because there is something inherently wrong with the public establishments. According to him, the beneficiaries of the ‘peoples’ loot’ will not willingly leave power except when they are engaged in organised consistent struggle like strikes, mass protests etc. No genuine pro-masses leader will deny the need for a pro-masses platform uniting all activists as a step towards an organised means aimed at wresting political power. On this note, he concluded with a clarion call on labour and pro-masses organisations viz. NLC, TUC, CFTU, UAD, NCP, DSM, DA etc., to come together to make the much needed working people political alternative a reality. (See full text, ON THIS WEBSITE; of a joint statement signed by Sango and the UAD Convener, Biodun Aremu which was presented by Sango at the occasion)
Dipo Fashina in his contribution stated that woe that betides the poor masses of Nigeria today was a product of global capitalism. This necessitates that Nigeria has to cut the link with global capitalism in order for basic needs of the people to be guaranteed and the public resources used for the benefit of the poor masses. Thus, what is needed is a party of working class with a clear socialist programme. He stated further that such party should openly canvass for the commanding heights of the economy to be run and managed by the working people.
Gani Fawehinmmi began by commending the steadfastness of the organisers to the struggle of the poor masses. He stated that it was the pedigree of the DSM and UAD of genuine commitment to advance the cause of the poor that made him to attend the summit despite his very tight schedule. He then stated that the first step towards resolving the socio-economic crisis was the identification of correct ideological position. Such ideology must be expounded thoroughly so that the working people could understand and appreciate its imperativeness. He was of the opinion that there was no need for numerous faces of important personalities but clear-cut ideologically oriented people.
He took swipe at Adams Oshiomhole for contemplating to contest for governorship of a state instead of President of the country. “How could a man who has brought us out to fight against global economic slavery of Obasanjo denigrating himself to become just an Edo State Governor. I do not understand why a leader of the Nigerian people will be fighting for sectional interest instead of standing on the side of the entire working people of Nigeria to fight. He will achieve nothing if he becomes Edo State Governor other than meetings upon meetings, motion without movement”, Gani said.
He stressed 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, perhaps for the first time in the public, 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. This party can be formed and recognised by Nigeria constitution within two months. I am not happy by the way thing things are going”. It appears Gani has lost faith in the capacity or potential of the NCP that he founded and sacrificed his time, energy and resources to build and get officially recognised due to the self-serving elements now in its leadership who have bastardized the objective and prospect of the party. This apparently partly inspires his interest in socialist alternative. He said, “I must confess, I don’t know the economic programme of NCP today”!
He concluded by commending PRONACO but said that the problem with Nigeria is not tribal but essentially economic and consequently endorsed UAD and DSM initiative.
In his contribution, Ucheana, who represented Adams Oshiomhole, said he also agreed to a party with an ideological position. But what was needed now was not a socialist name but a party with people friendly programme that it could sell. Therefore, there was need for a broad progressive national party as umbrella of all left parties. He cautioned against attempting to build a purist party from the beginning. He said he supported any strategy that guarantees getting the ultimate goal of power. He bemoaned criticism of left elements and labour leaders, stating that the strength dispensed in writing off “our comrades”, if used against “our opponents”, much could be achieved. He called for a review of tactics in order to achieve results.
Adewusi of CFTU said there was no controversy as to what ideology Nigerian people need. He was of the opinion that progressive and left elements have spent much time on speech making without taking concrete steps. According to him, “we must do those things that will bring people to power”. He said what was needed now was an alliance and not formation of new parties. He stressed that there were already enough platforms that could come together to contest power.
Apparently in reaction to the growing criticism among the left on Adams Oshiomhole resolve to contest Edo State Governor as against the Presidency, which was echoed at the summit by Gani, Adewusi said he did not see anything wrong with Adams Oshiomhole being Governor of Edo State. He expressed hope that if Adams becames Governor, he would make difference that would serve as model. He stated further, “we must not just sit somewhere and continue to criticise; we must get in and make the difference. It doesn’t matter how we get to power. Let us get there first and think on how to plan a socialist programme.”
In his contribution, Biodun Ogundare, began with the message of the Peace Obiajulu, President General of TUC, he had come to represent. The message stated, “We must raise our candidates and give them the needed support. We hope to vote the right person as the President of Nigeria”. The statement was however silent on political platforms of such candidates asked to be supported. But Biodun Ogundare said that in his personal capacity, he supported a political alternative of the working people. He thus tasked the summit to identify our constituency, viz. students, labour, artisans, peasants, traders, informal sector. In his words, “There is need for us to get organised. We need to organise our constituency and set for power. Let’s get unorganized labour like Tailor, Carpenters, Barbers, etc organised.”
Denja Yakub, Assisstant General Secretary of NLC, among other things, tried to justify why Adams Oshiomhole opted to contest governor. He said he disagreed with the opinion that Adams Ohiomhole could win election to the Presidency. This was because there were no structures to support such effort. He stated further that, as against the belief that NLC has structures across the nation that could help realize the goal of Adams becoming President, most state chapters of the Congress had lost focus.
Denja rounded off with a call on all present to contest election on various platforms. In his words, “I came to this platform to pass this message that if we are interested in changing power, we must all decide to contest for political posts or else we have no business being here. If we want a change and we are looking at the presidency, then, we will wait for ever. We should be interested in grabbing other posts.”
Other contributors included Titi Salaam, Victor Osakwe and Idris Bashiru, all members of DSM. They voiced their support to the need for a working people alternative with a socialist programme. Also spoke at the summit were Wale Balogun, the National Deputy Chairman, South West of the NCP, John, the representative of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and Orisakwe of TUC. They called for the alliance of pro-masses’ organisations to contest power but without emphasis on socialist programme.
The closing remarks of the summit was given by Segun Sango who summed up the popular position of the summit in support of a working peoples’ political alternative with a clear-cut socialist alternative. In reaction to a statement made by Denja and supported by most trade union elements at the occasion, Sango said it is opportunistic to encourage a situation where supposed pro-labour, pro-masses’ elements will unilaterally decide to run on the platform of bourgeois parties on the basis of a false analysis that a working class political party could not win elections. He conceded that it is theoretically possible for a genuine working class people party to decide to concentrate on certain electoral positioning than the others, e.g. governorship. This, he however argued, is an issue that has to be primarily decided by the party based on its overall strategy and tactics and not something to be whimsically decided by individual elements seeking power at all cost. Commenting on minority views that suggested that in order to wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite, “we must behave like monkey in order to catch monkey”, he retorted that in such escapade there would be hardly a difference between original monkey and its imitation.
The summit unanimously agreed for a follow-up programme and actions towards realizing the resolution of the summit, which is the formation of a formidable working people alternative. Otherwise, the summit would have only succeeded as a mere academic exercise.
The July Special edition of Socialist Democracy on the way forward for the working masses after the defeat of the infamous third term (the tenure elongation for Obasanjo) was distributed, while N350 worth of previous editions were sold at the summit.
Statement by the organisers of the political summit for a working peoples’ political alternative, United Action for Democracy (UAD) & Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), on June 28, 2006 at the Lagos Travel Inn, Ikeja.