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Socialist Democracy March 2004

 

MASS MOVEMENT IN 2004:

REVOLUTIONARY STRATEGY NEEDED

Last year, the Nigerian working people, led by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) waged several battles and struggles including general strikes and mass protests, against the anti-poor, pro-rich capitalist policies of the Obasanjo government, and by extension, that of its counterparts at the state and local council levels.

While of course, these battles and struggles have achieved one form of concession or the other for the masses, they nonetheless had left the anti-poor governments across the country intact. It was therefore not a surprise when towards the end of last year, the Obasanjo government for the third time in less than six months, increased the prices of petroleum products, this time under the guise of petroleum tax!

Not unexpectedly too, the working people led by the NLC leadership and Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) promptly commenced propaganda and agitations against the latest neo-liberal, capitalist and anti-poor economic drive of the current so-called civilian rulers. A date, January 21, 2004 was earmarked for the commencement of a general strike/mass protests, etc, against the Obasanjo government, until, amongst other demands, the price of a litre of petrol was officially brought back to N34. It should be noted that this was the agreed price between the NLC leaders and the Obasanjo government in the aftermath of the June/July 2003 general strikes and mass protests against the then hike in fuel prices. But sometime in September, 2003, that price agreement was unilaterally changed by the government when it raised the official price of a litre of petrol from N34 to between N40.50k and N43 respectively.

There was massive anger and determination amongst the working people across the country to fight this particular treacherous and insensitive policy. Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) had with effect from October 9, 2003, planned to commence general strikes/mass protests across the country when on the night of October 8, 2003, the NLC leadership suspended the proposed struggles, on the basis of an undertaking made by all the state governors, oil marketers, members of the National Assembly and representatives of the federal government, etc, to reverse the price of a litre of petrol to N34.

As we all know, oil marketers and the government subsequently failed to implement their own undertaken. Unfortunately, the labour leaders' reaction to this new twist in the situation was to say the least, pathetic. While they kept moaning this betrayal, they totally failed to outline concrete proposals on how to fight back. Suffice to stress, these inconsistency and incoherence of policy and vision are what emboldened the government to once again hike the prices of fuel under the guise of fuel tax last December.

JUDICIAL TWIST

As was noted before, Labour and Civil Society had fixed January 21, 2004 for the commencement of general strikes and mass protests against the latest hike in fuel prices. Then, a different, though not totally a strange dimension, was added to the whole issue. The federal government went to court with a view to stopping the proposed struggle saying that the NLC has no right to go on strike or mass protest against unpopular government policies. However, the Chief Judge of the Abuja High Court ruled that the NLC and the working people by extension have the constitutional right to go on strike and organise mass protests in the defence of their interests. He concluded his ruling by saying that the government had made no valid case that could enable him abridge the constitutional rights of the defendants as stipulated in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Predictably, the federal government appealed this ruling. In its first ruling on the matter, the Appeal Court gave an Interim Order suspending the proposed strike as well as further collection of the N1.50k fuel tax. On the basis of this ruling, the proposed strike/protests were suspended. Eventually, the Appeal Court struck out the matter saying that the lower court had no jurisdiction to hear the matter in the first instance and that only a Federal High Court has jurisdiction to entertain same.

Now, the matter has been re-filed at the Federal High Court. The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court in person of Roseline Ukeje has once again imposed an interim order based on the consent of the parties, suspending the collection of the tax in issue as well as the right of the NLC to go on strike or mass protest, at least, on this particular issue. The leadership of the NLC had subsequently and publicly denounced its lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, saying that its consent was not sought and would not have been voluntarily given even if sought, when the issue is the suspension of its constitutional and human right to strike and protest over any unpopular policy, even if for a second.

Mr. Femi Falana on his part lashed back at the NLC leaders saying that everything he did was essentially what the leadership had always desired, and that the NLC leaders who are no better than labour aristocrats were merely out to sacrifice him for their own failures. At the end of the day, a meeting of the NLC leaders and Mr. Falana held and came out to tell the public that both parties had reconciled their differences which they claimed was as a result of communication gap between client and counsel. From the point of view of a liberal labour public relation "expert", this outcome was a good marketing resolution. After all, all is well that ends well.

But where do the working masses go from here? As things stand today, can the working people, led by the NLC, commence agitations for mass protests and strikes without seeming to disobey the court order? What effect(s), if any, can the court order have on the current capitalist rulers vis-à-vis their unbending disposition towards every anti-poor drive and policy dictated by imperialist, global capitalist vultures? How best should the NLC leadership, the labouring masses, all genuine change seekers and pro-masses political parties/organisations respond to the intolerably unjust capitalist order which dominates the socio-economic and political ethos of the day? Can courts forbid struggles?

These and other pertinent questions are what should be addressed by the socialists and all working class organisations and activists.

COURTS AND STRUGGLES

First and foremost, it should be pointedly stressed that the "no strike, no N1.50k tax collection order" whether based on mutual consent of counsels/parties to a case or not, whether temporary, long term or permanent, constitutes a set back for the working masses vis-à-vis their inalienable right to fight unjust and unpopular policies. Therefore, the only principled option before labour is to make it abundantly clear that it is not prepared to circumscribe the struggles of the working masses within a self-serving limit prescribed by the capitalist ruling class, the very direct opponent of the working masses over the issue at stake. Therefore, it should be stressed that this is the time when labour leaders and activists must not only make radical pronouncements, important as these may be but much more importantly, the labour movement must come out with precise proposal of programmes and actions deliberately aimed at bettering the socio-economic and political lots of the masses both now and in the long run.

This, for instance, is the time when labour must commence fight for the immediate implementation of the 12.5% increment in minimum wage across the country, in both public and private sectors without a single retrenchment, within the general framework of a policy of fighting for decent minimum wage that automatically increases to match rate of inflation. This is the time when the NLC should insist on government’s reversal of a litre of petrol price back to N34 which was the selling price agreed with Labour and Civil Society in the aftermath of the general strikes, mass protests of June/July, 2003. This for instance is the time when labour should come out smoking against government’s neo-liberal policy of pricing education beyond the reach of the vast majority of the working masses.

This is the only meaningful way to show that the NLC leadership did not for a second intend to abdicate its duties to defend at all times, the interests of its constituencies, the working masses, the vast majority of the people of Nigeria, merely on the basis of a court order, made by an apparently class prejudiced and an unelected individual, in guise of a judge. No, the NLC leadership must not submit to this sheer blackmail. If not, sections of the capitalist ruling class in every sector of the economy and society will always find means to manipulate/interpret the laws (which were made in the first instance by the same ruling class) in such a way and manner in which the labouring masses can never lawfully fight for their rights and interest because of one court order or the other.

In all human history, the exploited and the oppressed had always, without the permission of their exploiters and oppressors engaged in emancipatory and liberative struggles to better their own lot. Therefore, the issue at stake borders on the humanity of an exploited and oppressed to fight back, instead of meekly tolerating injustice. Even the bourgeois authors of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognised this right when in section 40 of the constitution they made the following provision: "Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests".

Thus, from all angles, no court of law has valid basis to make any order interim or not, forbidding the working masses or sections of them from fighting socio-economic exploitation and political oppression at any time they may desire. Any judge who gives such an order must be seen as someone on his or her own, outside the purview of law, well at home with arbitrariness. Refusal to obey orders made by such judges would be the best and most direct way of saying no to injustice and illegality either of the executive or judicial type.

THE GOVERNMENT

To the whole world, the Obasanjo government gives the impression that its court action against the NLC was instituted to prevent the NLC and others from embarking on any mass protest and or strike or any other manner of protest on the N1.50k, so-called fuel tax, introduced by the administration through the 2004 appropriation bill. This, again, is another lie by the regime. The first prayer/claim of the government's Motion on Notice, in the suit in issue demands: "An order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants/respondents, (NLC &others ed) by themselves, their agents, servants and/or privies or otherwise howsoever, from embarking on any mass protest and/or strikes or any other manner of protest on the 21st January, 2004 or any other time thereafter pending the determination of the plaintiff/applicant's substantive matter".

This evidently exposes a calculated design by both sections of the capitalist ruling class within the executive and judiciary to use the dispute on the N1.50k fuel tax to put a blanket ban on workers and Nigerian masses' right to fight for their interests not only on 21st January, 2004 but also at "any other time", pending the determination of the suit in issue!

The order restraining the working people from going on mass protest/strikes or any other manner of protest was made alongside an order restraining the government from further collection of the so-called fuel tax of N1.50k. At the time these orders were made, the Obasanjo government gave a false impression that it respects the rule of law by promising to suspend further collection of the fuel tax in issue.

However, almost immediately and simultaneously, pronouncement by the regime's leading officials including the President himself, the Vice-President and Minister of Works amongst others, left no one in doubt, that this is one policy that this administration will not abandon come shine or rain. In the Vanguard of February 18, 2004, the Minister of Works, Adeseye Ogunlewe dismissed agitations against the fuel tax as futile. He said: "To us in this ministry, therefore, experience and the challenges they brought have taught us there is really no alternative to the introduction of this levy". In other words, the fuel tax will still be implemented under one label or the other. It may then be called "road tax" or "development" levy or any other name. It is a matter of time.

In the time being however, the regime has come up with a more comprehensive agenda which severally and collectively will only worsen the plights of the working people. Top on this agenda is the plan of action to carry out massive retrenchment in the civil service and government corporations and parastatals. In order to make this insidious attack on the living standard and society's purchasing power to sound good, the regime has decided to code name it "right sizing". This is because many people already associate words like "restructuring", "downsizing", etc, with jobs massacre.

Simultaneously, the regime has unfolded an agendum which declares a total warfare on all sections of the forces fighting for state funded education at the tertiary level. Henceforth, lecturers that go on strike for improvement of their conditions of employment and better funded educational system will not receive any pay for the period that they may be on strike. From now on, government shall no longer carry out any capital projects in the nation's tertiary institutions, whether in terms of provisions of infrastructure, academic and residential needs, and notwithstanding the increase in the growing number of youths needing education.

From the next academic year, a bed space in the nation's federal universities, polytechnics, college of education, is to cost a minimum of N10,000. Presently, an average of N2,000 is officially paid for a bed space. Fearing that the management of these institutions may not be able to implement this provocative policy, especially given the predictable resistance of students, most of whom come from working class, poor homes, the regime has threatened to deduct such expected revenues from the statutory allocations that may be due to any institution not able to collect or fully collect the N10,000 per bed space levy.

Meanwhile, the regime remains committed to its central economic agenda of selling to private individuals and capitalist corporations, all the main levers of the economy, resources of nature and financial institutions, as demanded by global capitalist institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. But as we in the DSM always explain, this central economic strategy will always bring greater disaster on the living standard of the working people, whether in the short or long run. This is because private capitalist owners of companies and finance are always first and foremost, interested in profit maximisation and only incidentally in beneficial services. Even while buying publicly owned resources and companies, they do manipulate the processes so much that they always pay far less than the real worth of the assets being acquired. But once they acquire ownership of these enterprises or resources, they invariably carry out mass retrenchment of staff while simultaneously raising prices. Thus, for the working masses, capitalism, privatisation, liberalisation, commercialisation, etc, represent doom, a permanent dead end!

CORRUPTION

Nothing reveals better the insensitive, corrupt, pro-rich and anti-poor character of the Obasanjo's administration than the president's request for an additional jet to the presidential fleet. To say the least, this request is both insensitive and utterly corrupt. It is insensitive because the request itself was made while simultaneously introducing a so-called fuel tax or N1.50k on the already over burdened working masses. Immediately the implementation of this tax proposal was commenced, prices of fuel, transportation, food, houses, education, health care, etc, shot up. Millions instantly had their living standard reduced, while private companies not only hiked the prices of their goods and services but also, in many cases, embarked on mass lay offs giving as reason, the incidental rise in the cost of production arising from the new fuel tax. Meanwhile, the total expected revenue, by the regime from this tax is no more than N3billion annually. But without scruple, a few self-serving elements in the guise of presidency want N10 billion for another jet to be added to the presidential fleet!

But the whole project is not only insensitive, it is, as usual, soaked in utter corruption. In the 2004 budget in issue, the Obasanjo regime requested for a sum of $80 million for the proposed jet. Subsequently, The Guardian newspaper did an investigative story which revealed that the total cost of a new brand of the type of jet which the government proposed to buy goes for only $48.9 million, a sharp contrast to the sum of $80 million requested by the Presidency. Pronto, government's spokesperson, Mrs. Remi Oyo, the following day, came up with a scaled down figure of $52.4 million, which of course was still higher than what it would take to buy a new jet. Originally, government planned to buy a second hand Boeing Business jet (BBJ 1) for $32.8 million and thereafter spend $45 million to repair and upgrade it to a VIP standard! This is not all. Offered for sales are three planes in the presidential fleet, namely Hawker Sidney 1000 series, $4.7 million, Gulf Stream 11, $1 million and Boeing 727, $12 million. All these to be sold after huge sum had been spent on their upgrading and repairs. So, while acquiring an additional jet at a highly inflated price, three planes bought with public funds are simultaneously being sold at rock bottom prices obviously to members of the regime and their local and foreign collaborators.

NATIONAL QUESTION

Right from the beginning, the entity called Nigeria was contrived by British imperialism, primarily for its own self-serving goals and that of its capitalist class which dominate its own socio political ethos. As secondary beneficiaries of this skewed arrangement, the Nigerian elite, particularly from the three major nationalities of Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba have relied essentially on force and fraud to keep as one country, this entity called Nigeria. From the colonial times, up till today, the country has witnessed series of agitations and wars, of one form or another in pursuance of one form of self-determination or another, be it for religious, ethnic, social, economic and/or political ends.

In the recent past, Niger Delta has become a permanent abode of strifes and conflicts. When the youths in the communities are not kidnapping top oil company officials, they are most probably engaged in intra/inter ethnic wars, to claim political/territorial supremacy or self-determination, all with a strive to escape mass poverty which is their permanent portion. Ostensibly to arrest this worrisome trend, the Obasanjo government has set up a military task force called "Operation Restore Hope". Recently, the military operatives of this task force invaded the Ohoro Uwheru community in Ugheli North local council of Delta State with a mission to search for hidden arms. As usual, with these types of task forces, the "Angels" of hope sent to Ohoro Uwheru community only left stories of compounded sorrow, tears, blood, at the end of its "mission".

According to the General Secretary of Uwheru Clan, 20 persons were killed while at least 11 houses were completely burnt down. He speaks further: "Every house in the community with a population of 4,000 persons had their door broken and valuable property, including money, bags of garri, groundnut, stolen. Even antiquities and personal goods of the people were either stolen or destroyed" (The Guardian February 11, 2004). However, Brigadier General Elias Zamani, the army commander who led this inglorious unprovoked attack, did not deny the claims of the Uwheru Clan except to say that just only one person was killed and not 20!

HUMAN RIGHTS RECORDS

The political and human rights records of this administration are to say the least appalling. Apart from the fact that prominent opponents and critics of the regime are not being clamped in jails without trial as was the case under the military, the Obasanjo's so-called civilian administration has continued with a ruthless, daily and pervasive abuse of the rights of Nigerians particularly those with working class background. Under this administration, police continue to detain people indefinitely without trial. Extra-judicial killings either in the name of fighting crimes or quelling ethno/religious "riots" have assumed horrendous proportions in the past five years.

However, the most revealing of the dangerous and anti-democratic feature of the current set of capitalist politicians across the country was the sheer scale of brigandage and fraud perpetrated in the name of "civilian to civilian" elections, conducted in April/May, 2003. Despite wide spread desire for change across the country, the powers that be, at various levels, used money lavishly, in addition to the unprecedented manipulation of state apparatuses, especially the army and police, to perpetuate themselves in power, to be able to continue to loot and oppress the poor. Fearing to face a formidable political opposition in 2007, the Obasanjo government right now is plotting to deregister pro-masses opposition parties like the NCP on the basis of an alleged poor performance in a highly pre-determined, fraudulent exercise.

Suffice to stress, the Obasanjo government's quest in this regard is the only logical political strategy dictated by its pro-rich, anti-poor socio-economic policies. Come 2007, the Obasanjo government cannot legitimately expect the working people, the victims of mass unemployment and mass poverty, the victims of education, health and social services, commercialisation and privatisation, victims of ethno-religious repressions, etc to voluntarily come out to vote to retain their tormentors in power. So, what to do? De-register all parties that may become potential platforms through which the people may strive to vote a government with an alternative vision and programme different from the pro-imperialist/capitalist option embraced by the PDP, ANPP, AD, etc.

MASS MOVEMENT IN 2004

From the above outlined premises, one fact stands out. The working people are faced with a formidable enemy whose daily and long term pre-occupations are concentrated on how to create more avenues for both local and foreign capitalists to loot the country dry in the name of privatisation and liberalisation, while eternally coming up with policies either on oil, education, health care, housing, job creation or provisions of water, electricity, telephones, etc, which only seek to make living more miserable for the vast majority of the working people.

The issue at stake therefore is one which goes beyond whether an unelected person, even in the name of a judge, can properly or judiciously restrain, even for a second, the right of the working people and their organisations like the NLC, LASCO, etc to organise or mobilise to fight for a permanent decent living in all spheres of life.

The issue at stake goes beyond the N1.50k petroleum levy or the reversal of the official price of a litre of petrol to N34. The Obasanjo capitalist government at the central level and those of its counterparts in ANPP and AD at the state level cannot but always advocate and implement programmes that will only worsen the plight of the masses. This is the best way by which they can feather their own nests at the expense of the working masses. Therefore, labour leaders and activists of all persuasions have a duty to articulate a comprehensive pro-labour, pro-masses economic and political alternative to counteract the ruinous options offered by capitalism. It is of no use supporting the privatisation of NEPA and NITEL, while being purportedly opposed to the privatisation and deregulation of the oil sector of the economy. Labour therefore needs to come up with an integral, creative economic agenda wherein the wealth of society and resources of nature are publicly owned, centrally and democratically run by the working people themselves, in such a way and manner that goods and services are produced and organised primarily to satisfy the material and socio-political needs of at least, the overwhelming majority of mankind in sharp contrast to the prevailing unjust capitalist disorder where the overwhelming majority of mankind live in perpetual misery and oppression in the midst of inexhaustible natural and human resources.

As we often say in the DSM, this kind of desirable situation can only be brought about through a mass, socialist revolution that puts in power a workers and peasants government. Therefore, the issue at stake goes beyond whether an NLC strike is able to defeat one particular anti-poor policy or not. The central issue is how to effect a change of an anti-poor government. It is for this reason that the DSM for years has been in the forefront of the agitations for the formation of a trade union-sponsored mass workers' or labour party. This, it should be stressed, was borne out of the conviction that only a combination of the industrial and political struggles can pave way for a decisive victory over capitalist, anti-poor policies and their governments. In other words, the issue at stake is both industrial and political.

THE STRUGGLE IS BOTH INDUSTRIAL AND POLITICAL

This development however, we must stress, from the beginning, is not an alternative option to industrial actions/struggles, as being suggested by some labour leaders. In today's Nigeria, a Labour Party will only be able to have active support in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria only if it intervenes in the daily struggles of the working masses against incessant increment of fuel prices, retrenchment, poor pay, commercialisation of education, housing, health care, water, light, telephones, ethno-religious/self determination movements, etc. Thus, far from the emergence of the Labour Party being an antidote to strikes, an ideologically relevant labour party will not only help to accelerate rate of strikes but equally help to raise the vision and political consciousness of the strikers in such a direction that can rapidly accelerate the process of a mass socialist revolutionary removal of the capitalist elements from power through a combination of an industrial and electoral strategies.

In year 2003 and early this year, the current NLC leaders initiated many important struggles against the anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo government. Unfortunately however, the vision informing this leadership and its methodology fell far short of what the working masses conditions require in today's Nigeria. First and foremost, the NLC leaders don't see these policies as the necessary consequences of a neo-colonial capitalist system. From this flows, two major flaws. One, they failed to see the issue as one in which the active participation of the rank and file workers within and outside trade unions and non working class layers of the poor must be deliberately cultivated. Two, from this arose the repeated error of presenting every struggle as an end in itself instead of it being a link in the series of means to an end.

AN ALL CLASS ALLIANCE?

Sometimes, in frustration, labour leaders and general activists seeking a change of the current dispensation often call for a broad alliance with all ideological trends including Christian and Islamic clerics and traditional rulers. In reality, this is an impossible alliance. It is impossible for the capitalist politicians in PDP, ANPP, AD, etc to mount a principled opposition against President Obasanjo, whose policies and ethos they all severally and collectively subscribe to. It is impossible to expect a consistent opposition to Obasanjo government's anti-poor policies by Islamic and Christian clerics, many of whom are oil marketers and contractors of substance merely cloaked in spiritual garments, nor from Any-Government-In-Power (AGIP) traditional rulers on government pay roll.

Fortunately, from the working class stand point, this is a needless alliance. On several occasions, in the recent past, the working people across the country have exhibited in several ways their capacity to struggle for a fundamental change. If the truth must be bluntly told, it is the leadership that still lags behind the masses' willingness and determination to struggle. When a general strike or mobilisation for anything is being done in the name of the working masses, conscious and considerable effort must be made to directly mobilise the working people. This, as we often stated, must include mass meetings, rallies, symposia, seminars, mass leafleting, formation of strike/struggle committees etc.

Sadly, many of the general strikes of the recent past were not conducted in this manner. Hence, their relative weaknesses. In other words, if it does seem as if the masses are indifferent to the NLC strike calls, it can only be because they are not being properly carried along.

Therefore, to take the mass struggle from its present level to a higher pedestal, a kind of scientific, through mobilisation and organisation must be brought to bear on future struggles. Henceforth, struggles for daily improvement in material conditions of living and political rights must be treated as part of the overall struggle of the working masses to take political power from the minority capitalist class. Labour leaders in the NLC and the Labour Party must champion a united action approach towards pro-labour parties like the NCP and DA. The leadership of the NCP and DA on their own equally have a duty to come up with a strategy wherein all organisations that claim to place the working masses at the centre of their affairs can be made to act in unison with a view to accelerating the defeat once and for all of the prevailing anti-poor order.

If built on the active membership and control of the rank and file members of these organisations, if built on a complete socialist alternative economic and political agenda, a united platform of struggles by the NLC, NCP, Labour Party, DSM, DA, etc, can rapidly change the political balance of forces in favour of the labouring masses against the rampaging global capitalist vampires even sooner than the year 2007, the year of another general elections, all things being equal.

 

 

Socialist Democracy March 2004