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Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005

 

LASCO’S RALLIES

WHERE DO THE MASSES GO FROM HERE?

 

For the seventh time in its just over six years in power, the PDP capitalist, pro-imperialist government headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, effected another astronomical hike in fuel prices. As usual, prices of most goods and services skyrocketed. Most sections of the working people, plus sections of the capitalist class in industry and agriculture, outrightly condemned and rejected the latest hike of fuel prices because previous increments had only wrecked unlimited havocs on masses living standard and the economy as a whole.

For the masses, it was not just a question of mass anger and rejection but an occasion which called for the necessity of resistance. On the one hand, they had waged 7 mass protests and general strikes against fuel price hikes in the past six years. Two, the particular hike in issue was based on the provocative excuse that Nigeria now earns more incomes from crude oil sales and for that reason, the already economically flattened masses should be made to pay more for their goods and services! None of the ruling elite even hinted that working people should enjoy any benefit from the higher oil revenue! At the same time, the Paris Club demanded that $12.4 billion should be used to pay back Nigeria's so-called debt to the imperialism. Quite naturally therefore large layers of the working masses were at least expecting labour and civil society leaders that had led past resistance against this anti-poor policy to do something.

LASCO RESPONSE

Finally, about five weeks after the August 26 price hike, LASCO met on September 5 to deliberate on this issue and take appropriate actions to fight same. For the first time, wide sections of labour and civil society leaders at least verbally openly accepted that the anti-poor, pro-rich policies such as incessant hike in fuel prices are the inevitable consequences "of the anti-people reform programmes of the government built around the neo-liberal ideas of the IMF and the World Bank". Other aspect of these anti-people programmes enumerated by LASCO are "the devaluation of the naira, privatisation, commercialisation of education, health and other social services, retrenchment of workers and trade liberalisation etc".

On this basis, the September 5 LASCO meeting resolved: "It has thus become necessary to adopt more far reaching and comprehensive strategies, mobilise a wider spectrum of the Nigerian society and broaden the issues. The essence of this is not only to achieve a lasting solution to the fuel supply and pricing crisis but also to address fundamentally the wider problem of insensitive governance which lies at the root of the endless crisis".

Furthermore, LASCO resolved "to initiate the emergence of a broad, popular movement aimed at a far-reaching and fundamental restructuring of governance system in the country. This movement will include labour, civil society, women, students, pensioners, professional and religious bodies and the informal sector".

Against the above background, LASCO leaders rightly said that the issue at stake deserves a more comprehensive and combative resistance. Arguments were canvassed at LASCO meeting that the struggle against the fuel price in issue requires mobilisation of the various sections of the masses and various strata of the society if meaningful results were to be achieved.

But instead of coming up with an immediate programme of action which combined rallies, protest and demonstrations together, LASCO leaders merely agreed to hold "protest rallies" across the country as its "immediate" response to fight what it had described as an outrageous increment. When asked what will happen if, as most expected, the Obasanjo regime refused the demand of the vast majority of the Nigerian people for the reversal of the fuel price hike in issue? The September 5 meeting resolved thus: "If by the end of the rallies the objectives of good governance of which democratic pricing of petroleum products is a component has not been achieved, the movement will have no option but to commence on mass protests and work stoppages".

THE RALLIES

Measured by any yardstick, the September 2005 LASCO rallies were a huge success across the country. One of the main labour leaders within LASCO, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Workers Union, Sylvester Ejiofor, at a subsequent LASCO meeting which reviewed the rallies in issue aptly captured the situation thus: "We made minimal efforts but got maximal results". This it should be stressed was a point made by him to underline the relative weakness of LASCO forces and structures in most parts of the country at this stage, but that notwithstanding the weaknesses and organisational shortcomings of the organizers, the working masses response everywhere across the country was tremendous and indicative of the general mood within society.

There is therefore only one scientific way to interpret the response of the masses as exemplified in the rallies in issue. Plainly put, the working masses, through their response in these rallies, have restated their total rejection of the prevailing economic, political and social dispensation. That is why the masses response to LASCO's call for rallies far exceeded LASCO leadership's preparation and enthusiasm.

Unmistakably, the masses through their responses in the rallies in issue and the previous seven general strikes over same hated fuel price hike, are demanding an end to the Obasanjo's regime and all pro-rich, anti-peoples policies. Sadly however, most LASCO leaders are either far behind the masses pace and consciousness and or are consciously striving to avoid taking responsibilities to actualise the masses aspirations if not consciously striving to frustrate same.

UNFILFILLED PROMISES

Before the commencement of the rallies, LASCO made two broad promises. One, LASCO promised "to initiate a far-reaching and fundamental restructuring of the governance system" in the country. Two, LASCO promised "to commence mass protest and work stoppages" if the government failed to effect total reversal of the fuel price hike in issue. Today, one month after the completion of LASCO rallies, the government has not only refused to effect the demanded reversal, it has in fact refused to effect even any marginal reduction in the widely rejected hike. Unfortunately however, LASCO leaders have failed to live up to their own words and resolutions. There is no any current programme of action being undertaken to stage "mass protests and work stoppages". There are also no visible steps being taken to initiate the emergence of a broad, popular movement aimed at a far-reaching and fundamental restructuring of governance system in the country. Based merely on the verbal commitment of the Obasanjo regime not to hike fuel prices again until December 2006, most LASCO leaders have apparently relapsed into the old lethargy of doing nothing to fight the regime and its increasing anti-poor economic and political agenda. Going by their past records, some of these leaders will only contemplate doing anything at all if failure to act might make the masses to bye pass them.

BOTTOMLESS PIT

Whatever the labour leaders think or wish, in contemporary global capitalist milieu and in a country controlled and ruled by a very servile, pro-imperialist and especially corrupt elements, the only certainty that awaits the working masses is a bottomless pit. Right now, living is unbearable for the vast majority of the working people, including wide layers of sections of the middle classes. Under relentless and ruthless neo-liberal capitalist policies the state has virtually divested itself of all responsibilities towards the existence and upkeep of the working people. Today, everything is measured on how much money an individual has. In other words, every working class person is fully responsible for the feeding, housing, healthcare, education and even total maintenance of their adult but jobless children and dependants. The central philosophy of governance today is that government should have no business in provisions of goods and services for the people. However, it is important to know that government continues to collect revenues officially meant to be used on behalf of the country and its people! The natural consequence of this has been the unprecedented degree and volume of official corruption among the powers that be at the central, state and local council levels. Today, individuals, state officials and business collaborators like Chief Michael Adenuga, Alhaji Aliu Dangote, etc are personally rich to the tune of tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of billion of naira. In sharp contrast, the vast majority of the masses continued to suffer abject poverty with most of their children having no better occupations than crimes, frauds, drug peddling, prostitution, etc

Politically, the climate is dominated by the same cheerless features. To start with, most of the people in power at all levels today used stolen money and manipulation of state apparatus to be in their respective positions. From all available indications, they are poised more than ever to use all crooked means to maintain their respective hold power. The main ruling party, the PDP, organised an internal party election recently. Both in form and content, the party leadership did its election largely against the letters and provisions of the PDP's own constitution and widespread agitation of their own members!

One chief Chris Uba, a self confessed rigger of the 2003 governorship election which fraudulently produced Chris Ngige as the PDP governor of Anambra State, was recently recalled from suspension into the PDP fold and instantly made a trustee of the party at the national level. The notorious sergeant Rogers who was the main hit man against the perceived opponents of the Abacha military junta was recently re-integrated into the army. The regime has been shouting from the roof-tops its war against corruption. But for over six years, nobody has been successfully tried and convicted for corruption except the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, who was recently sentenced to six months imprisonment for having stolen and unjustly acquired money and properties worth tens of billion of naira, in the same country where a man, Mr. Jamgbadi of Zamfara State, few years ago had his right hand amputated for allegedly stealing a cow! When you talk of the likely successor to the presidency come 2007, the most prominent names that are being touted are the same anti-poor, pro-rich, pro-imperialist elements like Obasanjo himself, his Vice, Atiku Abubakar or Ibrahim Babangida, the former military dictator who gave virtual official recognition to corruption and eventually annulled the result of the presidential elections which his regime organised on June 12, 1993 so as to maintain his hold on power, etc.

However, it is not only the central ruling party that is hopeless, the ruling opposition parties, ANPP and AD, in the respective states where they hold sway had not exhibited any different or better prospects than the hopeless ones offered by the PDP. In terms of massive and colossal corruption, those at the elms of affairs in the ANPP and AD controlled states are completely indistinguishable from their counterparts in PDP controlled governments. In terms of ideology, all the main capitalist parties including PDP, ANPP and AD fully and unconditionally support and defend the centrally anti-poor, pro-rich policies of privatisation, commercialisation of basic goods and services, devaluation of naira, trade liberalisation, mass retrenchment of workers now called right-sizing etc.

Fully conscious of the fact that most sections of the working masses do not regard the ANPP, AD etc as credible alternative to the PDP, a new platform called Movement for the Defence of Democracy (MDD) was recently floated by prominent politicians from AD, ANPP and some notable ex-PDP politicians. Lacking any genuine social base amongst the people, plus facing the fact that their main rival currently firmly controls the monetary and political apparatus of the country, the MDD’s chances of upstaging PDP from power in an election that can be anything free and fair, is almost an impossible mission. But even if the miraculous thing happens and elements in MDD come to power, it will be nothing but just another phase of darkness and rapacious corruption.

Unfortunately, opposition parties with pro-masses profile or bent like NCP, Labour Party, etc do not presently have the spread, resources and right ideological, practical and organisational orientations needed to put in place a formidable political movement of the working masses only which can put a final halt to the present and future rot represented by the different sections of the capitalist ruling class.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

There are two inescapable conclusions that must be drawn by LASCO and all those who are genuinely fighting for improved and guaranteed living standard for the working masses. First and foremost, the point has to be stressed that the current political and economic systems which only favour a few rich has to be changed for that which place the economic and political need and aspiration of the masses at the centre of its overall strategy. As we in the DSM often say, only a workers and poor peasant government built on socialist policies can put under common ownership the commanding heights of the economy and major resources of nature and manage same democratically with the view to abolish the prevailing mass misery in the midst of inexhaustible abundance.

The second and inescapable conclusion flowing from this is the recognition and acceptance of the inevitability of mass actions (e.g. rallies, demonstrations, boycotts, work stoppages, mass armed self defence against attacks by state forces, communal clashes in the struggle for immediate and ultimate improvement in the living standard of the working masses are vital. LASCO leaders must jettison the false impression being given that periodic protests and occasional grumblings can compel the capitalist class to accede to the needs of the masses by abandoning its own self-serving agenda. Instead of this utopian and counter-productive approach, we in the DSM call on LASCO leaders to immediately name specific days of actions in form of "mass protests and work stoppages" etc against the fuel price hike in issue and other anti-poor policies of the regime on education, health care, employment, pensioners welfare, etc. These protests must be organised with a conscious perspective of using the struggle to prepare the masses organisationally and politically for the removal from power of the corrupt capitalist elements. Yes, a major part of the demand will remain a total reversal of the fuel price hike. Nonetheless, the mobilisation and programmes of the struggle must embrace the totality of the unjust capitalist system. If this is not done, the masses can be easily demoralized in their just struggle. For instance, the regime may out rightly refuse to effect any reduction or reversal of the fuel hike in issue while the specific days of action lasted. It may even, as it has done in the past, grant some limited concessions to the mass movement only to come back later with a bigger increment. In either case, the masses will feel demoralized if they were made to believe, from the beginning, that this limited objective is all that is required to better their own lot.

Two, we in the DSM demand that LASCO leaders immediately take the "initiative" to crystallise "a broad popular movement, which will include labour, civil society, women, students, pensioners, professional bodies and the informal sector" to carry out "a fundamental restructuring of governance system", something that we argue can only mean a socialist transformation. We should stress that this approach must never be juxtaposed to concrete mass actions but in fact, must be consciously combined with mass actions on the day-to-day socio-economic struggle of the masses. The idea of some LASCO leaders that working people can use, campaign with or pressurise the PDP, AD, ANPP or now, the MDD in order to secure their demands must be firmly rejected.

If the LASCO leaders appreciate and accept the above outlined perspective, LASCO will surely be able to lead a successful working masses struggle against capitalist induced mass poverty and political repression. Failure to recognise and implement this perspective will sadly but surely lead to the betrayal of the working masses by LASCO leaders in the immediate, medium and long-term period. That is why we urge those who want a real fight back and a fundamental change to join with us in the DSM campaigning for this alternative.

 

 

Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005