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Socialist Democracy March - April 2005

 

OBASANJO’S NATIONAL CONFAB

A Journey without Destination

 

For a host of reasons, the on-going national political reform conference represents the most topical political development of the day. Minus feeble and incoherent opposition by a few members of the capitalist class across the country, the overwhelming majority of the capitalist class appeared, for once, to be united over this major political development. The ANPP and the AD controlled states, just like their counterparts in the PDP controlled states had, without any special prodding, nominated their allotted delegates as at when requested. Hitherto, prominent members of the ruling class, especially from the northern part of the country and particularly those from what is called the core north that had always maintained a vehement opposition towards the clamour for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference and even of a national conference without sovereignty seemed, for now, to have reconciled themselves to the new reality.

 

Nationalist groups and nationalist oriented politicians most especially, from the southern part of the country, which hitherto had been agitating for one form of separation or secession have equally come round to argue that all they ever wanted is "true federalism" and "unity". Even labour leaders are not left out of this show of "National unity". As far as the labour leaders are concerned, President Obasanjo's government national confab may not fully meet with the aspirations of the people. Nonetheless, they still hold the belief that their own cooption and participation in the confab can further tilt the scale in favour of the masses.

 

Before and since after inauguration, the confab has emerged as one issue that overwhelmingly dominates the media and public discussion in general, particularly among the elite. Expectedly, President Obasanjo himself has been waxing eloquent on the wonderful things that are expected to be achieved by the confab. Hear him: "History has presented us with the opportunity to reassess, refocus, redefine and redesign our political landscape in a direction that would strengthen the bonds of unity, enhance the process of democratic consolidation, strengthen the structures so as to solidify those values that promote democracy, good governance and good neighbourliness and open boundless opportunities for all Nigerians to be, and to feel that they are part of the evolving political process and socio-economic advancement". High hopes are being raised about the birth of a new Nigeria. But what really can the masses expect from this so much talked about national confab?

 

AN ORGANISED FARCE

 

When all the issues and circumstances surrounding President Obasanjo's confab are critically examined, it is not very difficult to see that the whole exercise is no more than the packaging of an expired wine in a contaminated container. A mere glance at the credentials/pedigrees of most members of the so-called confab reveals a horrified catalogue of those elements that have ruled and ruined Nigeria before plus a large dose of some that were actually disgraced out of power for one fraudulent conduct or another. From this point alone, it should be obvious to an average conscious working class person/leader that President Obasanjo's confab is no more than a political project designed to find relevance for the prominent capitalist elements that had held power before but had been elbowed aside or that have not been that much relevant in the current dispensation.

 

Right from beginning, the regime has left no one in doubt that its confab is a grand design for the perpetuation of the hateful status quo. This explains why its 400 member overwhelmingly male confab is completely made up of handpicked and appointed prominent members of the capitalist ruling class across the country. For the regime, the stake is so high that it could not even trust a highly manipulated election to produce the required delegates that will work in accordance with its own pre-conceived conclusions.

 

Here, it should be stressed that President Obasanjo's game plan is to forge, as much as possible, some kind of unity among the thieving members of the capitalist class in lieu of 2007 general elections. As a conscious capitalist statesman, President Obasanjo knows very well that the working masses are increasingly showing active opposition to all anti-poor, pro-rich capitalist policies. And for this reason, he has convoked the on-going confab, drawing in labour leaders, hoping that self-enlightened considerations by members of the capitalist class across ethno-religious divides would enable them to reach some agreements among themselves with a view to narrow down intra-class conflicts which might further undermine and damage their reputation before the masses as 2007 inches nearer.

 

The agenda or lack of an agenda by Obasanjo's confab is one sure underlining factor which shows that the whole exercise is nothing more than a grand and expensive journey to nowhere. According to President Obasanjo, state governors and most members of the confab, the issue of Nigeria, as one corporate political entity, is "non-negotiable". Presidential system is also to be taken for granted and so, all talks of a return to the parliamentary system seen by some as cheaper to run and more democratic in nature are regarded as sheer rubbish. To the Obasanjo's government, all is fundamentally correct with Nigeria! In this respect, capitalist politicians arguing for the phasing out of the state system in favour of fewer but bigger and financially stronger regions have been told to shut up because according to President Obasanjo, the regions were in the first instance broken into the states because of their inadequacies to meet the Nigerian situation!

 

While politicians and delegates, most especially from the South-South part of the country, are expected to demand that 50% of revenue generated from any part of the country be kept within that part, none of the delegates, North and South, can be expected to raise for discussion the current unjust economic arrangement where only one percent consumes 80% of all nationally generated wealth. In the last week of February 2005, a whooping sum of N318 billion of a so-called of "oil windfall" was shared by the federal, state and local governments. Yet, the nation's education and health sectors for instance continue its steady decay and destruction due to gross under funding. An estimate by Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) says that an average annual investment of N24 billion on tertiary education can rapidly enhance the quality and quantity of university education being given to Nigerian youth. Sadly, neither the government, the authors of the confab, nor the confab members regard issues affecting the living standard of the masses as serious enough to demand a special attention. While unbudgeted money is being earned and shared, government at the same time is threatening education and health workers fighting for improved services and working conditions with a policy of "no-work, no-pay".

 

Again, the pro-rich, pro-imperialist policy of converting public enterprises and resources into a private property of a few capitalist incorporations and individuals is something taken for granted by all the greedy, self-serving elements that dominate the so-called confab. And for this reason, the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and liberalisation, which by their nature have been responsible for the current unprecedented and unrelenting mass misery in the midst of super and inexhaustible abundance shall not be discussed or reviewed at Obasanjo's so-called national confab.

 

Very significantly, the regime has not bothered to pass any law to govern the existence and activities of the so-called conference as if to underline the fact that the whole confab show is no more than a distraction to keep potential opposition busy while the ruling parties are busy plotting how to perpetuate themselves in power come 2007 and thereafter. Suffice to stress, this brutally means that whatever resolutions passed by the confab may be totally ignored by the executive and the legislature. In the absence of an enabling law, and being appointees of those in governments, any resolutions of the ongoing confab cannot be legally enforced. The executive may not even bother to send these resolutions to the National Assembly in order to pass them as laws. Even if they are sent to the National Assembly, it is not given that they will ever be passed into laws.

 

Furthermore, any aggrieved person or group of persons can, as things stand, apply to court to set aside the entire confab together with its resolutions and recommendations on the basis that the whole show has no legal or constitutional foundation! Against the background of the fate that befell the Oputa Panel (the commission that investigates rights abuses under military rule) when the Supreme Court ruled that the creation of the panel and its resolutions and recommendations were illegal and unconstitutional, this perspective cannot be regarded as an idle speculation by any reasonable person.

 

Finally, president Obasanjo and the three ruling parties, PDP, ANPP & AD, had no democratic pedigree upon which a reasonable assumption of a genuine democratisation project can emanate. All members of these three parties in power at federal, state and local government levels outrightly bought and stole their mandates, severally and collectively. This is the irrefutable proof that has now been confirmed by even the judiciary, with respect to the so-called 2003 elections and thereafter. Therefore, it will be the height of political imbecility to expect these political gangsters to come up with a political agenda that will actually politically and democratically empower the working masses to better their own lot.

 

PROGNOSIS

 

Against the above outlined background, we in the DSM restate, without any fear of contradiction, that nothing positive will come to the masses as a result of this so-called national confab. By its conducts so far and the inherent historical antagonism that exists between different sections of the capitalist ruling class, this confab will not be able to effect any appreciable alteration of the prevailing constitution and other statutes. To start with, the very unjust parameter which forms the basis of the current much hated Nigeria constitutes the very basis upon which the confab's delegates were chosen. It should be stressed that this is one of the main reasons why those sections of the ruling class from the northern part of the country which hitherto had always opposed the idea of a national conference are for now prepared to go along with the charade, fully secured in the knowledge that any serious reform that can threaten the status quo which they perceive as not being their own sectional interest can always be blocked at the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly respectively, using their numerical strength under the prevailing legislative dispensation!

 

Theoretically, the confab may agree to increase revenue sharing on the basis of 50% to the federation account and 50% for the producing areas or the community. Though in reality, it will take a titanic battle to get other sections of the ruling class that are currently challenging the 13% revenue allocation to oil producing states as too much to just by mere resolution of an unelected body, accept to increase revenue sharing to 50% on the principle of area of derivation. Theoretically too, other seemingly beneficial resolutions may also get passed by the confab. However, on the basis of self-serving nature of the capitalist system and politicians, these will not automatically translate into better lives for the working masses of any given part of the country. For the past six years of civil rule, governments across the country, courtesy of steady rise in oil prices internationally, have been making more money while simultaneously all the indices of living conditions of the masses have been growing from bad to worst.

 

Against this background, we in the DSM consider the participation of the NLC and TUC leaderships in Obasanjo's so-called confab as a monumental tragedy in that their participation only helped to lend credence to an incredible process while at the same time diverting the attention of the labour movement and the working masses in general from what they ought to be doing in order to bring to a permanent end, mass poverty in the face of a limitless abundance.

 

The NLC leadership has been reported to demand the reduction of the powers presently enjoyed by the President and Governors. To say the least, this demand is utopia; it is tantamount to asking oppressors to voluntarily give up their oppression! Even if miraculously, the powers currently enjoyed by the President and Governors are reduced, so long as same are enjoyed or left in the hands of other layer of capitalist elements, this will merely mean the continuation of business as usual and the prolongation of the prevailing vicious circle for the masses. The NLC delegates to the conference had also called for full employment for all employable persons. This is generally a correct demand. However, within the framework of capitalism with its array of neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation of social services etc, this demand can never go beyond mere rhetorics and cheap propaganda. To be talking of full employment without mobilizing the working masses to remove from power the capitalist ruling class whose major preoccupation in public and private sectors is mass retrenchment is like singing funeral dirge in a wedding ceremony!

 

Tragically, since November last year the NLC leaders have retreated from leading serious struggles against the rotten elite ruling the country. Six times - between June 2000 and October last year - the working people of Nigeria, through nationwide general strikes and protests resoundingly expressed their total objection to the pro-rich, anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the Obasanjo capitalist government. Often, the NLC leaders did not ensure that these struggles won decisive victories but they showed how Labour could rally almost the entire country behind its banner. A further general strike was planned for last November 16, 2004 but the NLC leaders called it off at the last minute and have since then turned their attention to trying to win favours of the elite. However, the working masses and poor will not get much joy from these tactics.

 

Therefore, we in the DSM boldly assert that the solution to the socio-economic and political crises cannot be found in the Obasanjo's national dialogue. The working people have to start breaking away from the pro-capitalist/pro- imperialist socio-economic arrangement of the country with the ultimate agenda of the socialist reconstruction of the society.

 

WHAT MUST BE DONE

 

What NLC needs to do but which unfortunately its leaders are running away from, because of their own pro-capitalist outlook and sentiments, is a practical step to build a broad democratic discussion that will give birth to a coherent policy and strategy which can bring to power a working people's government that will implement pro-people policies that can bring permanent decent life for the people. Therefore, against Obasanjo's fake undemocratic and unrepresentative conference which the NLC has embraced, we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have called for the "trade union leaders and all pro-labour activists and socialists, to as a matter of urgency, take immediate, practical steps to convey a conference of all pro-labour groups, unions, associations and other forces, with a goal of forging LASCO with all other mass organisations of the working people, including pro-masses parties like the National Conscience Party, etc into an alternative mass working peoples party different in orientation and approach from all the existing capitalist, pro-rich, pro-imperialist parties, in and outside government, at federal and state levels. Right from the beginning, the revolutionary transformation of the prevailing unjust economic and political arrangements must be boldly placed in the frontline of the party's agenda." (Quoted from SD Special Edition on Obasanjo’s National Political Reform Conference).

 

The point should also be stressed that the threat by PRONACO to organise its own separate "National Conference" or " Sovereign National Conference" in the given political situation, with the best of intention, will only help the capitalist ruling class to divert the attention of the labour movement and working masses from drawing the necessary conclusion to build the powerful Pan Nigeria working masses political platform needed to successfully wrestle power from their capitalist exploiters and oppressors. Only such a movement could defend the rights of all the different people in Nigeria.

 

What the conditions of the working people required today are labour and pro-masses leaders that are prepared to come up with a coherent economic and political package designed to improve the living and political conditions of the masses in all ramifications. In practical term, this will require that labour leaders, PRONACO leaders, LASCO leaders etc, right now should come up with a real political and economic alternative to the anti-peoples' policies being implemented by all the ruling parties and on this basis make a direct appeal to the masses to get organised and capture political power from the self serving capitalist politicians across the country. Obviously, there has to be a genuine democratic debate over what concrete programme is needed and we in the DSM will be arguing for a socialist alternative.

 

What the situation requires today are pro-masses leaders that are ready to directly take their cases to the working class committees and amongst the poor masses, in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria, not those seeking to organise a mere workshop in the confines of a hotel premises. It should be stressed very well, that what we need is a labour/pro-masses/NCP leadership that will, alongside struggling on today's issues, right now begin the democratic selections and presentation of Presidential, Governorship, Senatorial, House of Assembly etc candidates to the electorates, in preparation for the 2007 general elections.

 

The capitalist politicians will prefer and can afford to defer their campaign till the last minute. One, they are in power already. Two, they have nothing positive to offer the masses, so the shorter the campaign period the better. Three, their main campaign strategy is always to use money and state apparatuses to win at all cost not to reach out to the masses. On the contrary, a genuine pro-masses party cannot flourish let alone being strong enough to displace from power, the self-serving capitalist politicians, unless built on the basis of day-to-day interaction and intervention in the daily struggles of the masses. So right from now, a genuine pro-labour/masses political platform/movement should be prepared to immediately come up with its own alternative economic and political agenda too and importantly, its chosen representatives/flag bearers who will lead the struggle for the actualisation of these agenda. This more than anything else will enable the masses to have a proper appreciation of the preparedness and viability of a genuine working people's political alternative to the prevailing hopelessness offered by the bourgeois parties. Without this kind of approach, the year 2007 general elections will come and meet, once again, the working masses without a viable political platform.

 

 

 

Socialist Democracy March - April 2005