Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
Paper of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
INCESSANT FUEL HIKE:
Labour Needs Revolutionary Mass Actions To DefeatThis Baseless And Provocative Anti-poor Policy
The recent hike in fuel prices is one hike too many. It is the 7th time that fuel prices will be arbitrarily increased since President Obasanjo led PDP government came to power on May 29, 1999. Then, a litre of petrol and kerosene cost N20 and N18 respectively. Today, a litre of petrol officially costs between N50 and N51:50k, while diesel and kerosene sell for N63 and N62 respectively. Suffice to stress, these phenomenal increases in fuel prices would even have been bigger but for the fact that the working masses, under the central leadership of the NLC, had gone on five nationwide general strikes/mass protests against the incessant hike in fuel price each time an increment had been effected.
Since mid-eighties, all the successive capitalist governments, including the current one headed by Obasanjo, have always claimed that there is no other viable option to avoid the incessant hike in fuel prices. Occasionally, government’s spokespersons do concede that this policy has been wrecking serious havocs on the living standard of the working masses but these they always say are just the unavoidable birth pangs that herald the joy of a new baby. That in the long run, affordable energy will be guaranteed for all. But far from showing any prospect of a better future, this policy of incessant hike of fuel prices has only been yielding mass closures of factories and companies which are unable to profitably pass on these increases onto consumers who themselves are mostly jobless and underpaid. Today, there is a growing layer of elements that used to use one form of automobile or the other before but could no longer afford to do so, not to mention the financial burden on those that are still using any while costs of public transport fares, cooking, etc are prohibitive. This is aside from those whose small scale businesses have collapsed as a result of erratic electricity supply and high fuel prices. Against this background, the current hike in fuel prices and the reason given for this hike clearly shows that real enjoyment can never come the way of the masses under the prevailing capitalist dispensation.
STRUGGLES AGAINST FUEL PRICE HIKE
The central position which fuel products occupy in the lives of industries, agriculture, public and private institutions, big and small businesses, individuals, etc underlines why the NLC has led five nationwide general strikes/protests against previous hike in fuel prices. Many honest followers of events will readily concede that but for these strikes, prices of fuel products would be higher than what they are today. However, the fact that these strikes have not also been able to prevent the rise, say in the price of a litre of petrol from N20 in 1999 to N51.50k in 2005 is also something that cannot be ignored by serious analysts. In fact, the fact that the NLC and most LASCO leaders from the civil society organisations have not come up with concrete and concerted programme of action to fight the current hike in fuel prices shows that the main labour leaders are fundamentally bereft of an alternative workable ideas to the ruinous one being pursued by the government.
There are three immediate negative implications in the current labour leaders’ reaction or inaction. One, the inability of labour leaders to fight this increase might give the misleading impression that there is no other viable energy policy to the one being implemented by the government. Two, labour’s inaction on this issue may falsely reinforce the right wing, pro-rich position that mass struggles, including general strikes, are ineffective or irrelevant in the masses struggle for permanent decent living conditions. Three, the demoralisation produced by the NLC/LASCO leaders giving the impression that they are prepared to struggle and then, suddenly calling off struggles without any significant concessions being won.
As said before, but for the general strikes in issue, more outrageous fuel prices and other anti-poor economic and political policies would have been imposed on the working masses by the Obasanjo capitalist government. However, there is a growing concern and depression among significant layers of labour activists and the masses in general that labour leaders’ outlook, strategy and tactics have fallen far short of what the situation actually requires. The false impression being given by the Obasanjo government that its anti-poor, pro-rich agenda are unstoppable is largely caused by the bankrupt outlook and wrong strategy being employed by the main labour leaders.
First and foremost, it should be stated that there is no rational and valid basis for the mass poverty and mass unemployment that pervades the land today. As a country, Nigeria is stupendously rich in mineral and natural resources. Proceeds from crude oil exportation alone could start to largely transform the economic and social conditions of the country and its people positively if properly and equitably used. Instead, we have a grotesque situation, where according to a World Bank body, only one percent of the populace consumes 80% of all generated wealth! Against this background, labour leaders continued support for privatisation of the major resources and key sectors of the economy is to say the least, from the masses point of view, tragic.
Arising from this pro-capitalist outlook, labour’s strategy for mobilisation for the general strikes that have taken place in the past six years have, of necessity, been opportunistic and elitist. Firstly, these general strikes are regarded by labour leaders as mere means of exerting pressure on government and oil marketers to squeeze out limited periodic concessions on prices and not an expression of total discontent of the working masses against the entire economic and political agenda and conducts of the Obasanjo government. The labour leaders are not prepared to challenge capitalism and imperialism. Because of this approach, emphasis on mobilisation had always been primarily concentrated on enlisting the sympathy of "patriotic" sections of the bourgeois society in the National Assembly, the media, among big time clerics and traditional rulers rather than grass root mobilisation of factory workers, rank and file public servants, urban and rural poor in general.
It should be stressed that these false approach and strategy were often responsible for the sudden and needless suspensions of impending actions and or the signing of rotten compromises with the government after every general strike. Twice, in October 2003 and in November 2004, labour leaders had called off impending general strikes on the basis of a futile hope that a "solution" "acceptable" to both the working people and the capitalist class can be dialogued! Invariably, this servile approach on the part of labour leaders has only been exploited by the capitalist government to launch more brazen attacks on the economic and political needs of the masses.
THE WAY FORWARD
The current hike in fuel prices was effected because the Obasanjo’s government feels that the incoherent policy and half-hearted strategy of the main labour leaders would have worn out the enthusiasm of the masses to resist government’s anti-poor agenda. Sadly, we have to admit that government’s calculation in this respect, to a certain extent, is correct. Unlike before, the current hike had not created the situation where different sections of the working masses put pressure on the NLC leaders to lead a struggle for reversal. The truth is that many layers of the working masses are either frustrated or wary of the inconsistencies of the labour leaders in struggles vis-à-vis government anti-poor policies. When told that the general strike planned for November 16, 2004 had once again been suspended, a house wife, Mrs. Echeme Chima angrily told New Age of November 17, 2004 thus: "They (labour leaders ed) should leave us alone to face whatever policies that the government wants, since they can no longer fight for us. One day, we shall take our destiny in our own hands and confront the government".
Therefore, for maximum success, future labour mobilisation against hike in fuel price or any other anti-poor policy has to be waged within the context of an overall strategy that seeks to remove from power the Obasanjo capitalist government and not ones based on the current utopian approach of hoping to cajole the government to do justice to the basic needs of the people.
Secondly, labour leaders need to stop giving the impression that general strikes can only be called against anti-poor oil policy. The anti-poor policies of the government on jobs creation, housing, health care, children education, social services, etc need to be vigorously combated as well. Therefore, in fighting the current fuel price hike, other issues negatively affecting the living standard of the entire working masses should be articulated with a view to mobilise the entire working class people and youths around these demands. If this is seriously and consistently done, a new wave of powerful working peoples’ resistance can be built within a very short period of time which will not only be strong enough to force the government to reverse the current hike in fuel prices but one which can be powerful enough to begin the process of removing once and for all, the unjust capitalist elements who preside over mass poverty in the midst of plenty, from economic and political control of society.
NATIONAL CONFAB IS AN EXPENSIVE JOKE:
Labour Leaders Should Pull Out Immediately
Nigeria as a country was the creation of British imperialism. Although several parts of what is today called Nigeria have been separately ruled by British imperialism as colonies and protectorates until January 1, 1913, when the entire geographical area now known as Nigeria, by virtue of a British imperial Act, became a single political entity. As was the case with other countries created in Africa by European imperialism, the various nationalities and ethnic groups that make up what is known as Nigeria were never consulted before the country became one single political entity under British colonial authority.
Just like now, the primary consideration of imperialism in the creation of Nigeria was more informed by the calculations of how to make the most maximum profits and material gains with the most minimal investment from the Nigerian people and resources. In this respect, the political subjugation and subordination of the minority nationalities, which in many cases, had never been under the political control of any other nationality to the political domination and control of the major nationalities was devised by British colonialism as a very convenient economic and political strategy.
As to be expected, there have been a lot of violence and violent violations of the democratic rights of the minority nationalities arising from the imperialist self serving calculations that formed the basis of Nigeria’s creation. Today, the Niger Delta, an oil producing region, generates about 80% of government’s total annual revenues, but in reality, enjoys less than 10% of the total wealth being generated. For this and other related reasons, agitations for one form of assembly or conference have always been recurring political demands by different political trends both before and after Nigeria gained flag independent in 1960.
Owning largely to the escalated and relentless mass poverty among the vast majority of the working people across the country, the demand for a Sovereign National Conference or National Conference to equitably redesign Nigeria, in the past 1½ decades or so, has acquired a cacophonous character with large layer of the working masses hoping that a redesigned Nigeria could bring a substantial improvement in their living conditions.
Sadly however, when the Obasanjo government National Confab is critically examined from all essential angles, it is not too difficult to see that the government so-called confab is nothing but a big, expensive joke. As it is, Obasanjo confab is a deliberate design to rubbish the idea of a genuine democratically elected Sovereign National Conference and at the same time, an exercise meant to divert the attention of the suffering masses from challenging government numerous anti-poor policies being implemented in the false hope that a National Confab to redesigning Nigeria is going on.
A COMPLETE FARCE
The confab is roughly made up of about 400 persons. Every one of these persons was nominated by government and pro-government bodies and individuals at all levels. Therefore, referring to the individuals as "delegates" is misleading. All the elements participating in the Obasanjo’s confab are representing no section of Nigeria people and therefore cannot be truthfully called delegates. The truth must be told. These elements only represent the aggregate interest of the ruling parties across the country. If only from this point alone, it should be very clear that nothing fundamentally good and new can come the way of the masses arising from the outcome of the on-going confab.
Secondly, the so-called confab is mostly dominated by individuals and elements that have ruled and ruined Nigeria before.
Thirdly, all the major issues that formed the bases of agitations for a national conference, even among the elite and bourgeois nationalists, have either being decreed as "no-go-area" or already rejected at the committee stage of the so-called confab. The present state structures are to be retained. There will be no return to parliamentary system because presidential system has been decreed by the powers that be.
While, of course, the participants at the so-called confab have great differences over the percentage of share of Nigeria’s wealth that should be assigned to the elite on the bases of geo-political zone, they and their capitalist and pro-capitalist backers are however unanimous and united on keeping the unjust capitalist/privatisation order where only 1% of the population consumes 80% of all incomes.
As things stand, the confab is broadly made up of two camps. The first is the camp of the status quo - those who would do everything to preserve Nigeria’s prevailing unjust socio-political structure. To this camp, the issue of self determination or resource control by minority nationalities is a treasonable demand. The paltry constitutional derivation revenue formula which entitles oil producing states to claim 13% of revenue from oil and gas is considered too much and in fact, it is currently being challenged in court as unconstitutional. The second camp broadly made up of opposition politicians in AD, ANPP and bourgeois nationalists across the country and most especially from the South-South geo-political zone clamouring for a minimum of 50% revenue to be paid to the zone or communities where those revenues are earned. Broadly speaking, this camp advocates what it calls "true fiscal federalism". In popular parlance, this literally means an arrangement where the regions or the states collectively get more money from the federation account in contrast to the current arrangement where the Federal Government gets the lion share.
This demand is based on the groundless assumption that if more money is appropriated for the state or region, the working masses within that state/region will have a better lease of life. However, every average political conscious person who knows the kleptomaniac/corrupt nature of the elements in government, even at states level and their anti-poor characters will know that this so-called fiscal federalism is nothing but a formula by certain section of the elite to get better material advantage over their capitalist competitors while pretending to champion the welfare of their own people. It has little or nothing to do with the basic interests of the working masses whether more revenue is appropriated to a state/region/federal government. On the basis of the prevailing dispensation, nothing tangibly can come to the masses.
As if to underline the fact that it is a huge expensive joke, there is no law backing the existence and the activities of the confab. So, what ever "good’’ resolutions passed by the confab will just have to be passed on the Obasanjo’s government. At best, some of these resolutions may be sent to the National Assembly in form of bills which may or may never be passed into law. Of course, given the preponderance of the elements in support of the status quo within the confab and the National Assembly, the chances of any new radical political reform coming out of the confab activities is almost zero.
Unfortunately, the PRONACO option does not offer a better prospect for the masses. Of course, it correctly exposed the insincerity and fraud behind the Obasanjo confab. Sadly however, PRONACO’s major demands are equally elitist in nature. Among other things, they want the presidency and other top and economic posts to be shared and rotated among the elites of the different nationalities or geo-political zone. Like those in Government confab, they see nothing fundamentally wrong with the current unjust social economic order where a few live in stupendous opulence and the vast majority live in perpetual want in the face of super abundance and in inexhaustible resources.
Therefore, even if the PRONACO elements organized their own confab and come up with more radical resolutions than those that may be passed by government owned confab, the fact that they have no coherent political programme and strategy aimed at capturing political power means that such confab will be no more than a workshop with no legislative or political power to implement own resolution.
A SHEER DIVERSION
Viewed from the above perspective, Obasanjo’s confab is nothing but a sheer diversion. While striving to retain all the essential features of the current much hated Nigerian state, the Obasanjo’s government is using the national confab to give a false impression that it is out to effect a political reform. This is nothing but a sheer ploy to divert the attention of the working masses from initiating political processes to terminate his reign of mass exploitation and oppression.
We in the DSM consequently reiterate the demand that the NLC and TUC leaders, including those claiming to represent the civil society, to immediately pull out of Obasanjo’s confab instead of continuing to give credibility to a confab which at the end of the day cannot achieve any tangible gain for the masses, and work in conjunction with National Conscience Party (NCP) leaders, Labour Party leaders, DSM leaders, DA leaders with a view to work out a programme and strategy to win political power from the prevailing self serving capitalist elements. Labour and PRONACO leaders have no business dissipating energy on either government or an independent conference. They should instead clearly send direct messages that the capitalist government economy and political policies have failed and will continue to fail the masses. Thus, instead of participating in government confab to prepare resolutions that will never be implemented or resolutions whose authors lack political power to implement, a direct and simple message that the working masses should politically get organized with a view to take power to run society in the interest of the entire masses is what can lift the spirit and strengthen the struggle of the masses against perennial capitalist exploitation and oppression.
If Labour and PRONACO leaders, today, draw a bold pro-working masses economic and political agenda and democratically choose the flag bearers to politically and economically fight for the actualization of these demands, much more gains against exploitation and oppression can begin to be made in the run up to 2007 general elections.
ADAMS OSHIOMHOLE LED NLC:
Six Years Of Missed Opportunities
Without any iota of doubt, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC, for the past 6 years, has been the most exciting and remarkable phenomenon that has happened to Nigeria labour movement in the past few decades. Unlike the openly pro-establishment, right-wing labour leaders like Pascal Bafyau, the NLC president between 1988 -1994, Adams Oshiomhole has brought in a new lease of robust radicalism and activism into the labour movement in general.
Throughout the protracted anti-military mass struggles of the 80s and 90s, the NLC, under the leadership of Pascal Bafyau, not only refused to lend the power of labour to that struggle but in fact on many occasions, used its position to undermine the anti-military struggles.
When the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, under pressure to quit power, announced a decision that his military junta would vacate power come January 1, 1993, Pascal Bafyau, as NLC president, publicly called the military to take their time and not succumb to mass pressure to vacate power in a hurry. The semi-general strikes that took place during Pascal Bafyau tenure were spontaneous amongst rank and file workers across the country and anytime they happened, Pascal Bafyau leadership was only renowned for taking steps to end such strikes, rather than helping to build the strikes to achieve their objectives.
In sharp contrast, the NLC under Adams Oshiomhole leadership has organised and led five nationwide general strikes/protests against government anti-poor, incessant fuel price hike apart from its several open critique of government anti-labour policies from time to time. However, a critical scientific analysis of the policies and conducts of the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC in the past six years sadly reveals the phenomenon of missed opportunities.
Despite the tumultuous labour struggles that have taken place since Oshiomhole became the NLC president, the working peoples’ economic and political conditions generally have been going from bad to worse. While the series of general strikes that have taken place on the one hand show the potential political power wielded by an organised working class movement, on the other hand, the lack of coherent anti-capitalist, working class programme and determined revolutionary leadership also means that this potentially most powerful force in the society can be made to passively endure anti-poor policies as the current attacks on the workers’ rights through the 2005 Trade Union Act and the current hike in fuel prices show.
The entire trust of labour’s economic policy under Oshiomhole is, at best, bourgeois reformist perspective. Oshiomhole leadership does not see or recognise the fact that capitalism cannot guarantee the basic needs of life for the working masses, hence all the reactions to the economic policies emanating from labour always tend to give the false impression that workers’ and capitalist interests can, through "honest" dialogue, be reconciled to the mutual satisfaction of both classes. In one breath, labour supports privatisation and deregulation of certain aspect of the economy. In the same breath, the same labour leader will grumble about the anti-poor policies that are the logical features of these neo-liberal capitalist policies.
The Oshiomhole leadership has led struggles for the increment in the minimum wage and against casualisation of labour. In this respect, it should be noted that the labour leaders have recorded some measure of successes. However, this has been invariably followed by mass retrenchment of workers by the various managements and employers on the usual excuse that an increment in the minimum wage and the conversion of some casual workers into permanent staff have led to the escalation of their production cost without corresponding increment in revenues. This, in a way, has been responsible for labour’s inability to sustain the campaign against casualisation of labour and for increment in the minimum wage despite the fact that labour’s wages are grossly below the rate of inflation and cost of living. So, for years, while government indulges in incessant hike in fuel prices with their attendant geometric rise in cost of goods and services, labour leaders have been unable to lead the struggle for an increase in minimum wage to match the cost of inflation because they themselves are trapped in the bourgeois school of thought which only measures necessities and possibilities in terms of how much profit can be generated from any activity as opposed to the actual needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the society.
Instead of fighting for the common ownership and the democratic control of the commanding heights of the economy by the working people with a view to plan production and services centrally, so as to be able to attend to the basic needs of all, labour, under Adams Oshiomhole, like all pro-capitalist elements, has been giving support to quasi-populist ventures such as labour transport ventures and the demand that workers be assisted to buy a few of the shares of public companies being privatised. The Adams Oshiomhole NLC has not seen anything wrong in the outrageous salary and allowances being officially paid to themselves by top officials in both public and private sectors.
The transfer of public resources and utilities into private properties of capitalist corporations of the few rich is the mother of all corruption. But instead of mounting a principled opposition to these anti-poor policies, labour leaders have turned themselves to cheer leaders of Obasanjo’s government fake anti-corruption crusade.
In the past six years, the Obasanjo government has earned about N10 trillion as income from various revenues. Sadly however, this period has also witnessed intensified sales of public properties to profit merchants and racketeers at give away prices. Very disappointingly, the labour leaders are not mounting a struggle against the entire capitalist class to give public account of where all this fabulous amount has gone to, who are the people buying these public properties being sold and how do they derive their wealth? With a leadership imbued with revolutionary programmes and strategies, the myriad of problems currently ravaging the capitalist economy nationally and internationally should have been used to advance an alternative working class, socialist agenda. But lacking an independent working outlook and strategy, the growing failure and crisis of capitalism has sadly now been represented by the bourgeois ideologues that there is no viable way out of the current social-economic hopelessness faced by the vast majority of the working people on daily basis.
Arguably, labour’s politics under the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC in Nigeria’s labour history is the most politically backward and or the most pro-capitalist. Internationally and nationally, labour used to have a tradition of forming own party or give active and open support to a party regarded as having a pro-labour or left wing inclination or image.
In 1989, Pascal Bafyau, the then openly right wing NLC leader, led the NLC to form the Nigerian Labour Party. Because of the NLC’s own leadership right wing outlook, the manifesto of the Nigerian Labour Party and the conduct of the party leaders were more pro-capitalist than pro-working people. Nonetheless, the capitalist ruling class, through its military wing which was then in power, refused to grant recognition to the party for the fear that some more pro-working class labour leaders might come up to use the party to give a true fight to its class.
Most pathetically, the NLC under Oshiomhole’s leadership has totally neglected or refused to take any practical step to form an independent working class led political party which will not only be prepared to fight for day to day improvement in the living conditions of the working masses but one which would have, as a primary goal, the task of winning political power with a view to form a government of workers and the poor working masses in general so as to be able to guarantee decent living for all in place of the present system where the vast majority live in permanent poverty and deprivation in the face of the inexhaustible abundance. Yes, there exists currently a labour party but this is only so in name. Both prior to the 2003 general elections and thereafter, Oshiomhole leadership has refused or neglected to take practical steps to build the party.
The five nation-wide general strikes/protests which took place against fuel price hike not only clearly demonstrated the fact that the working people want an end to Obasanjo’s government and its anti-labour agenda, but at the same time, provided the unique opportunity to build a formidable working class led political party among all strata of the working people across the country. So, during year 2003 general elections, the working people were left without own political party platform and thus became object of easy prey by the different sections of the prominent capitalist ruling parties. For narrow economic and political capitulations, most labour leaders at the states’ level gave political support to the governors or those they perceived as front runners in their respective states wile the NLC at the national level itself gave open support for Obasanjo’s re-election.
In his first term in office, the AD capitalist government in Lagos State headed by Ahmed Bola Tinubu sacked about 15,000 workers, including many trade union leaders like Ayodele Akele, for daring to demand the implementation of a new minimum wage which the Oshiomhole leadership itself had negotiated with the federal government under the excuse that government does not have enough resources to pay this. Yet, without qualms and sense of loyalty to the workers, Oshiomhole openly canvassed for the re-election of governor Tinubu. Even when it became apparent that the 2003 elections was characterized by massive manipulations and riggings and opposition parties, including pro-labour political party like the National Conscience Party (NCP) were calling for cancellation of the exercise and fresh elections, the NLC leadership stoutly queued behind the PDP government headed by Obasanjo.
Three months later, President Obasanjo’s government imposed an outrageous fuel price hike which provoked a 9-day nation wide general strike and protest. This strike/protest shook the government to its foundations, such that the usually self-confidant President Obasanjo lost his composure and accused the NLC leaders of wanting to topple his administration. Instead of stating that the working people also had the inalienable rights to win political power in the country and that President Obasanjo’s government had lost all legitimacy and acceptability of the people, a condition which made it a necessity for the working people to remove it from power, the NLC leaders went out of their ways to convince the government that labour had no interest in political power and that it is just a pressure group.
At a time, when most conscious members of the working masses have come to the conclusion that nothing good can deliberately come the way of the masses and are earnestly yearning for a political leadership to once and for all confront the Obasanjo government, the NLC leaders have decided to give an undeserved credibility to government diversionary national confab with their participation. As we write, an unconfirmed story circulating in the labour circle claims that all that Oshiomhole himself is politically scheming for is to become governor of Edo State come 2007 under the PDP platform.
While the Oshiomhole leadership has tenaciously held on to the false philosophy that the capitalist ruling class and the working masses are "partners in progress", Obasanjo’s regime has never lost a moment to push the working class down the drain so that profitability can flourish. While the pretence called the National Confab to reform Nigeria’s polity is going on, the regime has just promulgated a new Trade Union Act whose central thrust is the killing of any effective working people resistance to pro-rich and anti-poor policies of capitalist government and the so-called private sectors. Yet, labour leaders continue to politically cling to the coat-tails of the capitalist parties for salvation to the working people.
Easily, the most unique feature of Adams Oshiomhole led NLC is the fact that under him, the NLC has led five nationwide general strikes/protests. Without doubt, these strikes severally and collectively have established labour as the most capable and viable platform which can lead a successful resistance and onslaught of labour against capitalist induced mass misery and political oppression.
Unfortunately however, the pro-capitalist outlook and conduct of the labour leaders have, for now, make it impossible for the full potentials of this labour power to positively manifest in the living conditions of the working masses. While the working masses regard these general strikes as a process through which fundamental improvement in their living conditions can be achieved, Oshiomhole merely sees them as means of trying to persuade President Obasanjo to be a listening leader. In other words, the masses are striving to use the general strikes to effect change of the government and its bad policies, the NLC leaders merely want to use the strikes to persuade the capitalist ruling class and the Obasanjo government to change its bad policies.
So, instead of effecting rank and file mobilisation of workers within and outside the trade unions, students, rural and urban poor, etc, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC had always chosen as its priority the mobilisation of prominent members of the ruling class in the National Assembly among governors, top clerics, lawyers and traditional rulers in the false belief that these sections of the ruling class can actually stand for more edifying ideals than what is spear-headed by the executive led by Obasanjo. In reality this false approach has never succeeded either with respect to the fuel price issue, privatisation, mass retrenchment, anti-labour law, etc or prevent the Obasanjo’s government from rough-riding over the economic and democratic rights of the working people. In sharp contrast, this false strategy has had the opposite effect of practically demobilizing the building of an effective organisation of struggle/action committees among the different strata of the working people across the country.
The Adams Oshiomhole led NLC is, as the saying goes, in the eye of history. The capitalist government of President Obasanjo has now totally revealed its pro-rich, anti-poor character. Equally too, the futility of the NLC leaders’ strives to present themselves as a responsible, moderate opposition has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt, as absolutely ineffective to secure the basic needs and aspirations of the working masses. The current hike in fuel price is nothing but a provocative attack on the living standard of the working masses. Coming immediately after the regime has just signed into law a trade union Act which not only expressly forbids the NLC from leading the struggle against this kind of policy but one which makes provisions that make the organisation of a strike almost practically impossible, the stage has been prepared for additional attacks and derogations from the economic and political rights of the working masses in the coming period.
Unless the NLC leaders today are expressly prepared to reject capitalism with all its unjust ethos and practices, they will not be able to find the necessary focus and vigour needed to wage successful struggles against capitalism and its inherent injustices. Sadly however, this would mean that the years of radicalism and struggle presided over in the past six years by Adams Oshiomhole are nothing but wasted opportunities.
WHAT TO BE DONE
The current socio-political situation and as well as the crisis of leadership within the labour movement pose serious challenges before socialists and the advanced layers of the working class movement in general. To drive the working class movement forward at this stage requires an organised and focused left-wing/socialist platform of the most combative elements within the NLC, TUC, CFTU, LASCO, NCP, Labour Party, etc. At recent labour meetings, there have been noticeable growing opposition to some of the most pro-establishments positions of the Adams Oshiomhole leadership. The suspension of the general strike slated for November 16 2004, was seriously challenged by significant number of labour leaders. The decision to participate in the government’s so-called National Confab also reportedly attracted vast opposition by certain elements within the labour hierarchy. Significantly, the Oshiomhole leadership had its way on both occasions notwithstanding this opposition.
We should be frank with ourselves. One of the main reasons responsible for this is that this opposition itself lacks a holistic analysis of the political character of the trend represented by Adams Oshiomhole and what kind of political alternatives are needed to overcome the short comings of the leadership. In addition, this opposition does not even have a defined left platform to articulate and defend its positions against that of main leadership. Thirdly, this opposition has so far given the false impression that its desired changes in policies and strategies could be achieved within the frame work of the current bureaucratic and highly self-serving trade union structures and leadership.
The combinations of the above factors have created a pathetic situation where at the end of the day, the opposition leaders always toe the line dictated by the main leadership. But as could be seen by every honest person, this kind of "don’t rock the boat" approach has only helped to deepen the frustration of the vast majority of the working masses.
Therefore, to break this dam of frustration, there is an urgent need to create a broad left labour platform. This platform should embrace all those that support the economic and political needs and aspirations of the working people against capitalist oppression within and outside the trade unions. This platform must expressly pledge to struggle for the working masses to capture political power so as to form a working people’s government in order to permanently guarantee their economic and democratic rights. The platform must be made up of all those that accept as main strategy mass mobilisation and mass actions by the working people themselves as the primary strategy to better their own lots now and in the long run. This kind of platform, from the beginning, will have to expressly pledge to relentlessly fight any government that says it can not or does not have the resources to make life better for the working people.
To start with, this platform must be prepared to articulate the basic demands and needs of the working masses and simultaneously commence mass mobilisation, mass action on these demands, aiming to involve the widest layers, inside and outside the trade unions. These actions can begin on single issues like fuel price hike, the minimum wage, water, electricity, education but also need to link these questions to the general need to change society. Simultaneously, this kind of platform will have to boldly campaign for democratic control and financial accountability within the trade union itself. This kind of platform has to insist that workers’ leaders earn no more than the average income of those they are representing plus only genuine incidental expenses. Without this kind of agenda, all lofty working class ideals and aspirations which any contemporary left labour platform may have will come to naught under the crushing heels of self-serving pro-establishment labour bureaucrats. However, a left labour platform, with the correct political programme and determined revolutionary strategy and tactics, can rapidly become a formidable political force within a very short period of time.
Never before in history has the working masses been so put off/alienated by the policies and conduct of the capitalist ruling class. Therefore, the present impression of class harmony is absolutely false and groundless. The experience of the last seven general strikes/protests has clearly shown beyond doubt the fact that an anti-poor capitalist government headed by Obasanjo still remains in power till today is because the labouring class, the only class capable of forming and running a different kind of government from the ruinous and self-serving one being run by Obasanjo has not been able to produce the kind of revolutionary leaders needed to bring to an immediate end, the tenure of this anti-poor government or any other similar one.
The more this kind of consciousness and programme gain ground and influence within the labour movement, the nearer will be the permanent victory over mass exploitation and oppression. On the other hand, the more the present kind of leadership dominates the labour movement, the more the years of harsh anti-people’s policies and wasted opportunities lie ahead for the working masses.
OBASANJO’S ANTI-CORRUPTION POSTURING WILL NOT HALT TREASURY LOOTING
Some Nigerians may take Obasanjo’s regime as being serious with its current anti-corruption posture, particularly with a handful of government officials publicly exposed and sacked for being corrupt and some arraigned in the court of law for possible prosecution on corruption charges.
The list of the scapegoats in the latest anti-corruption publicity stunt by Obasanjo, the grand master of corruption himself, includes Tafa Balogun, (ex-Inspector General of Police forced to retire over N13 billion illegally acquired wealth), Mrs. Bola Osomo, former Housing Minister dismissed over federal government property sale scandal, Professor Fabian Osuji and Chief Adolphus Wabara, former Education Minister and Senate President respectively, who lost their positions on corruption charges involving N55 million senate bribery to increase budgetary allocation to education ministry.
Before now, the regime had equally arraigned in court, some of its top notchers including the deceased former Internal Affairs Minister, Sunday Afolabi and two dismissed ministers over National Identity Card scam worth $242 million. However, nothing is heard any longer on the case after the demise of the principal culprit, Sunday Afolabi who had been earlier reported to have confessed that substantial part of the stolen money was used to "capture" southwest Nigeria from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) for Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
As expected, the press is awash with praises by government officials at all levels who are themselves corrupt for the anti-corruption stance of Obasanjo in an effort to make mountain out of a mole hill and deceive the public when in actual fact mega corruption with due process continues in the system, in the corridors of power unabated. The whole national drama is a public relations stunt to deceive the international community, the much touted foreign investors and Transparency International, the organisation that last year rated Nigeria the third most corrupt nation in the world!
PRIVATISATION IS MEGA CORRUPTION
Privatisation is the main thrust of the regime’s neo-liberal economic policies since its inception in 1999, apart from devaluation, commercialisation and cut in government expenditure on social services. All anti-poor economic policies determined by IMF/World Bank.
By its design, privatisation programme is to transfer ownership of public properties and investment to mega rich privileged private individuals and corporate bodies at give away prices. The beneficiaries of the unwholesome transactions are mostly government officials, their fronts and foreign partners. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and National Council of Privatisation (NCP) are the government’s octopus bodies perfected to dispose public property to private hands. And in recent time, the past activities of the bureau under El-Rufai, have been called to question even from the unexpected quarters, the National Assembly with respect to the privatisation scandal in Nitel -Pentascope deal, Ajaokuta Steel debt buy back, Sheraton Hotels which ran into billions of naira. This makes Osomo’s scandal a child’s play. Yet today, El-Rufai is the apple of the presidency’s eye.
The same regime has conveniently looked the other way against all cries that the former Works Minister, Tony Anenih should be probed for squandering over N300 billion meant for federal road construction and maintenance. With nothing to justify the huge sum, the former minister, rather than being probed got promoted as the chairman of the ruling party’s (PDP) board of trustee and a close confidant of the president.
In the recent exposure of the fraudulent sales of 207 choice properties of federal government at Ikoyi, Lagos, five of the beneficiaries were direct relations (brothers, sisters and in-laws) of Stella Obasanjo among other top government officials including serving ministers, governors and senators acquiring properties worth several millions of naira without questioning the source of their stupendous wealth.
The Ikoyi house sale scandal is a vivid example of what privatisation means in the true sense of it - legalized stealing of public wealth. Quoting The Guardian of Sunday April 17, 2005, page 10, one of the affected occupants of the sold houses, a woman who resides at 25, Ilabere Street, Ikoyi has an agonizing tale to tell: "I am one of the victims. My house was sold. My husband, a Colonel, is still in service. As far back as 3rd of February, some guys came to inspect our house. They said that my house has been sold along with my neighbour’s house. They said they have documents from the ministry of Housing to back up their claims. They didn’t allow me to read the letter………I asked him who bought the house? He said it is a directive from the presidency, that an official in the presidency bought the two houses".
The cancellation of the deal by the president was not a self righteous step but a pre-emptive one, hurriedly taken to forestall embarrassment the deal would have caused him with the involvement of his household. Stella Obasanjo has her fingers in many blue chip companies using fronts. Her business involvement and that of Gbenga Obasanjo, the president son in COJA and other shady deals remain unprobed.
The major face of corruption in the government is the privatisation programme where government officials rush to buy under-valued public property with stolen public money. These properties/establishments are, in most cases, resold at exorbitant prices, while workers and residents are thrown out in order to maximize profit.
Obasanjo’s regime has made over N10 trillion, mainly from oil in its six years, yet there is no visible development in infrastructure or standard of living of the poor masses except the increasing body weight of Mr. President. The lot of the people is unemployment, mass retrenchment, insecurity of life and property. So, while government makes more money than ever before in the history of the country, life has become more miserable for the poor working masses.
According to the United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), about $107 billion of Nigerian money is held in private accounts in Europe and the US. With the country’s fictitious foreign debt quoted at $35billion, the World Bank says the country is now poorer in terms of income levels than Bangladesh.
Also quoting the Department For International Development (DFID), over 70% Nigerians live on $1 daily. Between 80 and 90 million Nigerians are living in absolute poverty while 29 percent of the country’s children are under weight. Yet, government embarks on wasteful spending on White Elephant projects such as 8th All African Games (COJA) which gulped N3 billion on official figures. Mr. President has spent, as at the time of going to press, 512 days outside Nigeria at a cost yet to be determined. Before the end of this year, another twenty one government establishments, including Nigerian Ports Authority, NIGERDOC, NEPA etc. are to be sold off, as usual cheaply, to corrupt government officials and their business associates. The attendant effect will be mass retrenchment of workers in those establishments adding to misery in the land. The regime is united in corruption against the poor working masses.
OBASANJO FIDDLES AS THE NATION ROTS: CAN HE FIGHT CORRUPTION?
The tough image against corruption being depicted by Obasanjo is a mere political bravado. Nobody should be deceived. The regime itself is a child of corruption. The elections that brought Obasanjo and PDP to power was a monumental fraud. Apart from collecting money from dubious characters including 419, fraudulent politicians and government officials to execute the elections, Obasanjo’s election in his home state, Ogun, has been declared an electoral fraud by a court of law. He had also become accomplice to several electoral fraud in different states. Anambra State saga is a quick reminder where Ngige and Uba confessed to Obasanjo how the gubernatorial election in Anambra State was rigged. What did he do? In his (Obasanjo) word, "I was horrified and told both of them (Ngige and Uba) to leave my residence".
It is not a hidden fact that before Obasanjo was sworn-in in May 1999, Obasanjo Otta Farm Project had completely been abandoned. Where then did the resources that revamp the farm to a state where according to Fani Kayode, now monthly generates N30 million as profit, come from?
Presently, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Iweala earns a whooping sum of $247,000 (not paid in naira!) per annum. On top of this, her accommodation, feeding, transportation, telephone, education and health care expenses of herself and family are completely borne by the government. This takes place in a country where the minimum wage is N5,500 and where tens of millions are jobless and without any social security payment.
If the regime is serious about fighting corruption, all it requires is simple. All the political/ public office holders should first declare their assets with periodic assessment; earn average wages of skilled workers; adequate funding of social services and amenities like education, health, transportation, security, electricity etc. But the regime will never do this. On the contrary, what obtains is a situation where public office holders earn fabulous salaries and allowances, with some receiving their salaries in dollars, inflating contracts, etc combined with policy of privatisation and commercialisation of public utilities that allows few rich who have stolen or via their fronts, acquiring to themselves these properties at give away prices at the expense of the poor majority. In this kind of situation, crusade against corruption is a farce.
CAN THE SUFFERING END?
Under this capitalist regime, with its anti-workers neo-liberal policies, the suffering of the workers and poor masses will continue. Things will get worse with more pains and pangs for the Nigerian people. The coming period will witness more stealing of public fund by government officials at all levels to prosecute year 2007 election. With the anti-people programmes of the regime, more jobs cuts, grinding poverty, starvation and homelessness will be the lots of the poor working masses.
The only way forward is for the masses to rely on their own strength, mobilise, organise and build a movement that will struggle against the system with the vision of replacing this unjust government with a working class-based government that will nationalise the commanding height of the economy so that working people can begin to democratically plan the economy for common good. This can be achieved when workers, youth, farmers, poor masses organise into working class party with socialist perspective, programmes and ideas.
2005 TRADE UNION ACT:
undemocratic and Anti-Labour - DSM
On 30th March 2005, President Obasanjo signed into law an anti-labour and anti-people Trade Union (Amendment) Act targeted at taking away from the poor working masses their rights to protest and strike against his regime, anti-poor policies. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) issued a statement on April 12 against the said law. Below is an excerpt of the DSM statement on the Act:
If there is still any doubt on the anti-people intention of the Obasanjo government in the pursuit of neo-liberal policies or its disrespect for democratic rights of workers, the new trade union law just promulgated should have removed it. The law is undemocratic, anti-worker, anti-people, vindictive and draconian. We of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemn the reprehensible law and call on the all the labour centres, NLC, TUC and CFTU to set up processes and actions to defeat this anti-worker, anti-people law.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should resume the campaign it commenced when the bill was before the National Assembly and later suspended out of illusion in the legislatures.
This year May Day should be dedicated to the struggle against this anti-people’s law along other attacks on the workers’ interests. Adams Oshiohmole leadership of labour must not insult the intelligence of Nigerian workers by inviting Obasanjo to the Workers’ Day as usually done, as Obasanjo’s hatred for workers’ interests knows no bound.
THE DRACONIAN, UNCONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS
Among the vexatious areas of the law is the fascist provision that makes it illegal for workers in the so-called essential services which include education, health, electricity, air traffic control and aviation, communication and water services, to go on strike. It is not only ironical but also shamelessly hypocritical that the government that does not deem health and education sectors, for instance, so essential to deserve adequate funding, could come around to see them as such while it is determined to use an undemocratic law to quell workers’ inevitable resistance to the crisis arising from its counter-productive policies.
Another obnoxious provision of the law is the one that outlaws embarking on industrial actions by the labour in protest against anti-people policies of the government like perennial increase in the pump price of the petroleum products.
The foregoing cited provisions are not only draconian but also blatantly unconstitutional. It sharply runs contrary to the spirits of the section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates rights to freedom of association. While the trade union law pretends to recognise the freedom of association, it defeats the essence of existence of such association which is the protection of the workers’ interests. The law outrightly denies workers in the so-called essential services enjoyment of this fundamental right. While it creates impression that the interests of workers are limited mechanically to the issues pertaining to their condition of services. But the fact is that workers are not isolated from the entire society, like every citizen any policy of the government is of interest to the worker. Therefore, if such policy is against general interest for decent living, the workers have right to protest.
The essence of the law is to clip the wing of the labour that has been providing leadership for the working masses in their opposition against the characteristic anti-people policies of Obasanjo government euphemistically called economic reforms, especially the incessant increase in fuel prices. It is on record that the labour has led five popular nationwide strikes and protests in the life of Obasanjo administration against hike in fuel price. It would be recalled that the government rushed to the National Assembly with the vindictive trade union bill shortly after one of such general strikes and protests in June 2004.
If the government thinks that with this anti-people law it has secured field day to unleash neo-liberal attacks on the people, it will be seriously disappointed. Any legislation meant to perpetually subject working people to abject suffering, more so, in the midst of abundance as obtains in Nigeria, will be naturally resisted sooner than may be imagined.
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT MUST MOBILISE TO DEFEAT THE LAW
We call on the labour and masses to reject this anti-worker, anti-people law. The labour leadership must not allow itself to be held down by the obnoxious law made by outrightly corrupt politicians who revel in treasury looting and election riggings, when and where the need arises to provide leadership for the masses in protest against any form of IMF/World Bank inspired anti-people neo-liberal policies.
We are of categorical position that there are two major lessons the labour leadership should learn from the spirits and letters of the law. First, while the labour leadership has always tried to help save the face of Obasanjo’s government at the peak of masses’ anger, the same government has stopped at nothing in the attempt to emasculate and cripple the labour movement. Second, the government, with the support of all the major pro-capitalist parties, is hell bent in implementing neo-liberal policies of privatisation, deregulation, downsizing, increases in fuel price and prepared to crush anybody or group that stands its way.
We therefore call on labour leadership to convene the conference of workers, civil society groups, pro-labour activists and working people organisations with a view of forming a genuine working people party as the political platform to wrestle power from the anti-people, corrupt governments at all levels. The massive support the labour always enjoys from the masses whenever it calls for action, if well harnessed, is an indication of the good prospect of the labour led party at the polls. Moreover, it will be extremely difficult to rig out such a party rested on the masses in election without a popular revolt.