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November 9, 2005

 

The following is the opening statement made at a press conference held by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Lagos to publicize the conclusions of its 16th National Congress.

Twenty-two journalists from 13 media organisations were present. Represented were the newspapers This Day, New Age, The Sun, Champion, Nigerian Tribune, Comet, Daily Independent, Guardian and Punch; the radio stations Ray Power FM and Radio Lagos; and camera crews from the MBI and LTV – 8 television stations.

 

 

NIGERIA RAPIDLY DESCENDS INTO AN ABYSS: ONLY A

 SOCIALIST CHANGE CAN SAVE THE MASSES

Between 22 and 23 October 2005, we members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), debated and discussed extensively in our 16th National Congress, socio-economic problems confronting the poor working masses in Nigeria and proffered a way out of these crises. This congress took place at a period when Nigeria is steadily falling into bottomless disasters – rampant ritual killings (for supposed wealth and prosperity), renewed ethnic militia activities, tragic killing of hundreds of people in transport mishaps etc. In a particular case in Lagos, an eleven-year-old boy was lynched by a mob on the allegation that he was a kidnapper or luring people for kidnappers for moneymaking rituals. The mass resort to myth, superstition and ritual killings in the search for solutions to economic questions of poverty, jobs, security, reveals the growing frustration and desperation among layers of the poor working masses as living conditions become more and more terrible.

 

Again, on 23 October 2005, the nation woke up to the tragic news of the death of 117 passengers and crew aboard a Bellview 210 aircraft following a fatal crash. At about the same time, the wife of the President, Stella Obasanjo, died of complications allegedly arising from a cosmetic surgery in a Spanish hospital. Hundreds now die virtually every week from auto-accident largely due to death traps called roads. Sad as these events are, they yet throw to the fore the anarchy that pervades Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist society. The Bellview plane crash has exposed the use of outmoded equipments and facilities, cut-throat competition and slack on safety measures etc in the aviation sector.

 

That public officials travel at will for medical attention over even slightest ailment betrays the contempt with which the ruling class treats the country’s health sector, which indeed is in a prostrate state arising from government neglect. It is therefore clear that these shocking events are unnatural but preventable calamities thrown up by the prevailing neo-colonial capitalist system.

 

But, on the other side, within two years since the DSM’s last Congress held (2003) has shown again and again the enormous capacity and willingness of the Nigerian working masses to struggle for a better future. However these two years have shown that willingness to struggle is not enough. Without a socialist programme and strategy to change society, the misery of life under capitalism will continue!

 

SORDID REALITY

 

Between our last Congress in 2003 and now, the living conditions of the average Nigerian masses have plummeted sharply. This is true also for the general economic performance of the country when assessed by real indices of poverty, health services, literacy level, employment and even economic output notwithstanding that the Obasanjo capitalist government has raked in more money than any previous regime in the country’s history, particularly in the past 2 decades.

 

The government, for instance, amasses a minimum sum of $190 million per day from oil sales alone. In the past five years, the government has earned over $100 billion from oil sales. With the higher export price of oil this year, the annual income from crude oil sales is expected to be around $37.7 billion, and then rise another 9% to $41.1 billion in 2006.

 

This has not stopped the Obasanjo’s government from following the dictates of the IMF/World Bank and imperialism to impose economic hardship on the already pauperised Nigerian poor working masses via its neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, cuts in social spending, deregulation, etc alongside massive wastages and fiscal recklessness, looting and endemic corruption. The government has raised petroleum products prices seven times since 1999 such that price of a litre of petrol rose from N20 in 1999 to N65 per litre in 2005. Whereas there has been no corresponding increase in workers’ wages since 2001, while inflation has eaten deep into the income of the poor working people. So, without additional income, the working masses have had to pay more for transport, healthcare, education and other necessities, as well as to generate their own power and water.

 

This is because the government has shamelessly abandoned it responsibilities in provision of necessary services in line with capitalist, money first neo-liberal philosophy. The UN currently ranks the country 158 of the 191 poorest countries in the world. 70% of the population are said to be living below poverty line (on less than US$1 or N146 per day). According to the United Nations Human Development report for 2004 only 10% Nigerians have access to essential drugs, while life expectancy is 51.8 and 52.3 years for men and women respectively.

 

DEBT ENSLAVEMENT OR DEBT RELIEF?

 

The Obasanjo anti-corruption crusade has remained largely a charade. The same goes for the criminal deceit called debt relief package just brokered with the Paris Club of creditor nations; the IMF/World Bank. The so-called debt relief is indeed second slavery in disguise. The Obasanjo government, for instance, claims to have spent over $700 million (about N100 billion) on the turn-around maintenance of the refineries, but this has only gone down the drain, as there is nothing to show for it. Yet nobody has been arraigned for misappropriating the resources.

 

The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an IMF/World Bank nominee and the Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olu-Adeniji draw their salaries in US dollars, contrary to the provisions of the code of conducts for public officers. While Okonjo collects a whooping $247,000 (N33,839,000) per annum, Adeniji gets $120,000 (N16,440,000) per annum, aside "fringe benefits". Far above the N794,085 per annum salary prescribed by Public, Judicial office holders (Salaries Allowances, etc) Act No. 6 of 2002.

 

On the so-called debt relief, instead of demanding that imperialism repays, at least some of the loot that it has stolen which could be used to begin to tackle the hydra-headed problem of absolute poverty, unemployment, lack of social and economic infrastructures, mass illiteracy, insecurity, declining life expectancy, etc, the government rather brokered an agreement which seeks to strengthen the imperialist plunder and economic domination of the country. A whooping $12 billion is to be paid to the Paris Club to enjoy a "relief" of $18 billion. But no one has bothered to query why Nigeria should still owe $31 billion to the Paris Club when it actually borrowed $13.5 billion and has cumulatively repaid about $42 billion.

 

As if this is not enough, the debt deal requires Nigeria, amongst others, to secure an approval from the IMF Board for its economic reforms and submit itself to continuous economic monitoring. This implies that Nigeria must continue with the current neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation and liberalisation of the economy with its attendant ruinous impacts on living conditions of the working masses. Despite the national grief of Bellview plane crash and the death of his wife, President Obasanjo was reported to have instructed Minister of Finance to expediting processes in paying the Paris Club from out external reserve.

 

MASS RETRENCHMENT AND ATTACKS ON WORKING CONDITIONS

 

The huge unemployment level is being compounded by the government’s neo-liberal policies with mass sack of workers from the public and private sectors, particularly in the banking sector as banks race to meet the new N25 billion capitalization policy. The CBN itself blazes the trail with the decision to sack hundreds of its workers in the spirit of "right sizing". But the unemployment scourge spreads over all sectors – agriculture, production/manufacturing, and services. Most school leavers cannot get jobs many years after leaving school.

 

Sadly however, the collaborationist and reactionary character of many trade union leaders renders workers more vulnerable and weakens their potential to resist management attacks. Despite the inflationary trend, workers wages have remained as they were since 2001, while their working conditions have deteriorated, in most cases to inhuman standard, especially in the factories. Against official labour laws, many factories operate predominantly on contract workers / casual workers, in order to cut costs to enhance employers profits.

 

EDUCATION PRIVATISATION AND COMMERCIALISATION

 

The education system continues its decline into chaos arising from government privatisation and commercialisation policies. The government’s neo-liberalism has meant that public resources will not go into public education. There has been massive cut back in spending on education and schools are responding by charging exorbitant fees that parents cannot afford. A new trend of an influx of students, mainly from a working class background, from private schools back into the public schools to escape from higher charges has been noticed at the primary and secondary school levels. The result is over population and outstretching of existing facilities and manpower in the poorly funded public schools.

 

The higher institutions do not fare better. Of the over one million students that applied for spaces in the universities this year, only a paltry 147,000, or 15% of total candidates, will get admission as a result of government’s arbitrary quota system. To deepen the confusion and restriction, the pro-government committee of chairmen of university governing councils recently called on government to impose direct tuition charges in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, a proposal which government has pledged to consider. Government also sanctioned a criminal and extortionate multiple admissions examinations process with a latest post-JAMB exams which is being used by many universities to extort millions of money from helpless admission seekers.

 

NATIONAL CONFAB AND PRONACO

 

As the DSM foretold, the huge expensive joke called National Political Reform Conference (National Confab) organised between June and July 2005 by the central government ended as a monumental farce. None of the numerous so-called resolutions drawn by the Conference can fundamentally improve the economic, social and cultural condition of the masses; neither can they resolve the real political crises afflicting the nation. Worst still most of these resolutions will never be voluntarily implemented by the powers that be.

 

But the alternative conference being organised by PRONACO will not fare better. Rather than organised its activities on the basis of objectives and strategies which seek to resolve key issues bothering on masses’ welfare and living standard like food, housing, education, social amenities, employment, etc by ultimately posing an agenda for power, the PRONACO leaders and organisers have been pre-occupied with narrow, elitist and well worn bourgeois reformist slogans of resource control, true federalism, fiscal federalism, etc. Suffice to say that these measures can, at best, from time to time only serve the narrow interest of one section of the ruling class or the other in their scheming for vantage position in the control of the nations wealth. For the poor working masses, more money to a section of the ruling class (fiscal federalism, resource control, etc), rotational presidency etc, will not, in themselves, translate to better social and economic conditions.

 

PRONACO distances itself from the day-to-day struggles of working people while posing to be concerned about crises confronting society. In the unlikely event that genuine pro-masses resolutions emerge from the PRONACO conference, the question then arises: which government or political platform will implement such resolutions? Surely, any political calculation that refuses to pose the question of political power from the point of view of the working masses taking over the reigns of governance, starting with the formation of mass working peoples’ party as 2007 approaches cannot best serve the interest of the masses.

 

POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE PLATFORM FOR 2007

 

If the current political trend continues, the 2007 elections will be cheerless. Notwithstanding the celebrated bickering among the various elements of Nigerian thieving elite, they are still going to be able to cling unto the power in the face of lack of formidable political alternative. The most likely response of the electorate to the elections is sound apathy, though massive figures of votes will be manufactured and allotted among the big pro-market parties, according to their respective spheres of influence.

 

But the working masses, youth and students are not helpless. In the face of the unrelenting assault by the ruling capitalist class on all fronts; they have proved that, given the proper lead, they would fight to defeat the ruling capitalist government and its gamut of neo-liberal policies. This, they have demonstrated with their responses to the numerous anti-fuel price hike strike/protests and rallies called by Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). But a major limiting factor in developing the movements further has been labour leaders’ unpreparedness to take the struggles against particular attacks on living conditions like fuel price hikes beyond symbolic strikes and demos, and their pandering to the capitalist system. This was particularly seen in the last minute call off of the November 2004 general strike and the decision to limit the recent protests simply to rallies.

 

In other words, the labour leadership has been generously wasting the rich opportunities the various popular struggles it has led have boldly offered for the formation of a genuine working people’s party to wrestle power from the representatives of parasitic and anti-people system sucking the country’s blood right in its heart. In fact, the masses have already placed boldly the demand for a regime and fundamental policy change on the agenda of the struggle against anti-people policies of the government.

 

Seeing Adams Oshiomhole (Nigerian Labour Congress President) as the symbol of the struggle, in the last protest marches across the country, the working masses of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds resoundingly called on him to contest for President of the country in 2007. This clarion call, which has only been acknowledged by Adams but without political will to take up the gauntlet, is clearly indicative of burning desire of people for fundamental change in governance and their expectations from labour and mass organisations leaders. The reluctance/refusal of labour leaders, however, to take the bold initiative of convening a conference of labour and civil society organisations with 2007 and the need for a working peoples party on agenda is obviously the direct consequence of their pro-capitalist outlook and their eagerness to hang to the coat tails of bourgeois politicians across political divide so as to be regarded as responsible elements.

 

However, it is instructive to state that much as it is desirable to have a working people’s party, it is not automatic that such a party would continue to enjoy the support or guarantee fundamental improvement in the lots of the masses. For this to be the party has to identify with the daily struggles of the working people side by side with the quest for political power. More importantly, in order to succeed such party must be built on pro-people’s socialist programme, fundamentally opposed to the prevailing pro-market capitalist neo-liberal policies embraced and implemented by all the big pro-capitalist parties presently at the helm of affairs at all levels of government.

 

In order to improve the lots of the poor masses and set the stage for the fundamental development of Nigeria, the following must be achieved.

 

Repudiation of Nigeria’s fictitious foreign debt; total cancellation of Africa’s debt stock with no strings attached; repatriation of all Africa’s stolen wealth stashed in foreign banks by corrupt pro-west leaders; Africa’s resources to be totally committed to guarantying food, housing, shelter, education, decent jobs, etc for African masses.

 

An end to government neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, cut in social spending on education, health, infrastructures and utilities, etc.

 

A socialist transformation and overthrow of capitalism with its unjust social and economic relations is needed to fight the chronic problem of economic under-development, mass poverty and imperialist plunder of Nigeria on a lasting basis. To this end, we are renewing our call on labour and civil society coalition to facilitate the process of formation and building of a mass working peoples’ party with genuine socialist programmes and a clear agenda to fight for a workers’ and poor peasants’ government; public ownership of commanding sectors of the economy and main resources of nature placed firmly under democratic control and management of the working people. This is the only way to harness the enormous energy of the masses and prevent a situation where the masses are sadly exposed, like helpless souls, to the danger of choosing between one gang of capitalist rogue or the other in the 2007 elections

 

We have therefore called this press conference with the purpose of reaching out to a wider layer of the people, especially, the poor working people on how they can struggle and defeat the regime and system that have made poverty, misery, diseases, etc their lots in the midst of abundant human and natural resources and replace them with the regime and system that will guarantee them better living and working condition like free and qualitative education, affordable housing, healthcare delivery, social security, jobs for able-body men and women, good road, constant electricity and portable water etc. We therefore urge you to assist in giving this text a wider publicity in your media outfits.

 

Thank you

 

 

Segun Sango

General Secretary, DSM