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Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005

 

Socialist Democracy

November/December 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.

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CORRUPTION: DPS ALAMIEYESEIGHA AND TAFA BALOGUN SAGA

Nigeria, Now A Banana republic Governed By Crooks

By Bosah Chinedu, Publicity Secretary,

Ajeromi-Ifelodun Community Movement (AICOM)

Since the inception of this civil rule in 1999, it has always been mega corruption unlimited notwithstanding the grandstanding of the Obasanjo regime to fighting the social vice that has eaten deep into the moral fibre of the society. The essence of governance in this country is stealing of public fund with impunity. So it will be mere hypocrisy for any one to be amazed by the dramatic escape from London of the Bayelsa State governor, DSP Alamieyeseigha, and the similar ridiculous six months jail term offered Tafa Balogun, the erstwhile Inspector General of Police, who stood a mock trial for multiple stealing of public fund running into several billions of Naira. Meanwhile, Mr. Jamgbadi from Zamfara State had his right hand amputated few years back fro being convicted for a cow theft!

Alamieyeseigha was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London on September 15, 2005 by the Metropolitan Police and was subsequently charged for allegedly laundering one million pounds found in his London home, while $470,000 and $420,000 were found in his two different accounts in London besides $10 million worth of asset. He was first detained in Brixton prison and later released on bail with his travelling passport seized, restriction on his movement and placed on surveillance.

Before the trial proper commenced, the governor jumped bail, allegedly disguised as a woman and escaped to Nigeria into a rousing welcome by his loyalists and hangers on. In an attempt to launder the image of the PDP controlled government in the state and at the federal level, efforts are being made by the state legislature to make the Alamieyeseigha saga looks like an isolated case of looting and score a cheap political point by commencing an impeachment proceeding against him as if the institutional looting of treasury only started with the governor. Nobody is deceived. It is an open knowledge that this present civil rule endorses corruption as statecraft.

Apart from the case of illegal transfer of more than a million pound against him in London, Alamieyeseigha is also being accused by the Bayelsa legislature, albeit belatedly, of owning a multi million US dollar refinery in Ecuador, purchasing two properties in London at 2.79 million pounds, buying three properties in Ikoyi and Allen Avenue, Ikeja at N850 million. He was also accused of laundering state funds through six companies, acquisition of N1 billion shares in Bond Bank and acquiring Chelsea Hotels, Abuja, at N1.5 billion. The natural question to ask is, how is it possible, for an individual to steal such huge resources from a poorly developed state like Bayelsa without the connivance of the legislature and the PDP?

Against all these charges, the governor, like his equally corrupt colleagues and the President enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution. But he can only be investigated and impeached. But can the corrupt members of the state house of assembly have the political courage to impeach their own god father who has been playing up Ijaw ethnic nationalism and resource control trump card as reason for his claimed political victimization?. The balance of political forces between Alamieyeseigha and Aso-Rock will determine the course of events in Bayelsa in the coming period.

Although, the Nigerian federal government has been claiming to be fighting crime through EFCC and other agencies, it has been largely selective as only perceived enemies of President Obasanjo have been the targets.. A pertinent question to ask is: how did the money get to the British banks? The fact is that the European and American banks have, at different times, played hosts to looted money from Nigeria, Africa and other third world countries. We also saw how the British imperialism protected Umaru Dikko, the then Minister of Transport under Shagari regime from being tried for alleged siphoning of our money to London. Up to this moment, the banks that collaborated in the crime are yet to be questioned.

Tafa Balogun's symbolic six months jail term has been described as a victory for anti graft war by the EFCC, and with brazen confidence, Tafa has promised to bounce back. No doubt, his prediction to bounce back to national political reckoning will definitely come to pass. He has examples of other public thieves that are now enjoying their loots and calling shots politically and economically. Remember General Jerry Useni of the notorious Abacha looting regime, Senators Enwenrem, Anyim, Chris Uba, Wabara, all former senate presidents and Tony Anenih. What about Salisu Buhari and Governor Bola Tinubu, both of certificate scandal? While Tinubu is still presiding over Lagos with allegedly forged certificate, Salisu now serves on a federal education board. The list is inexhaustible.

Tafa stole over N17billion and he pleaded guilty in an orchestrated court trial and bagged a mere six month's jail term in the same country where a common thief is convicted for seven years for stealing fowl or cigarettes shows the class bias of the judicial system. It is a case of the higher you steal, the higher the freedom and the higher the national prestige.

For the EFCC to describe the symbolic jail term for Tafa as victory for anti graft war shows the intensity of the war against corruption by Obasanjo regime. It is a farce that cannot go beyond mere rhetoric and selective symbolism.

If the governor is eventually impeached and stripped of his constitutional immunity, he can be extradited on request back to London for trial. This is a remote possibility. Another publicity glitz would have been made for Obasanjos phoney anti graft campaign. Another possibility is for the governor to continue enjoying his loot with executive immunity, intimidate and bribe all opposition to submission while assuring imperialism of the safety of its oil investment in Bayelsa and Niger Delta. Either way, the poor masses of the state are the ultimate losers. Huge state resources will be deployed to execute the pro and anti-Alamieyeseigha campaign.

The absence of a clear cut working class alternative in Bayelsa and nationally has further worsened the crisis in the state and it is capable of dividing the people along two enemies of the poor people that can never guarantee any good for the poor masses of Bayelsa State.

Again, this brings us to another contentious issue of "Constitutional Immunity and Diplomatic Immunity". There is a school of thought that believes that Alamieyesiegha should not be tried in London for money laundering since he is a sitting governor. The President, his Vice, the Governors and their Deputies are covered by diplomatic immunity here in Nigeria which should be extended outside Nigeria being a sovereign state. There is other school of thought that argues that Alamieyesiegha is not a sitting president and to that extent, he is not entitled to diplomatic immunity but only constitutional immunity by virtue of Section 308 of 1999 Constitution. To that extent, he should stand trial in London because if he is allowed to come to Nigeria, he can never be tried.

For us in DSM, supporting constitutional immunity or diplomatic immunity for corrupt leaders is just creating safe heaven for corrupt leaders not just in Nigeria but globally. These so- called leaders will stop at nothing to creating more misery for the working people through stealing of the collective wealth of the people. The argument in favour of immunity is that it will enable leaders to be focused and undistracted from their work during their tenure since they will not be answerable to any crime committed while in office. Meanwhile, this rule or undue privilege is not extended to an average Nigerian who is subjected to trial and jailed for petty crime while the self-serving corrupt leaders not just in Nigeria but globally are protected from various crimes committed.

To that extent, we do not support any privileges, exceptions and inequalities for the ruling class at the expense of the poor working people. We therefore demand that immunity, be it constitutional or diplomatic be expunged from our constitution and from international laws. We also demand that Alamieyesiegha should be made to stand trial immediately for all alleged crimes and the trial should be free and fair. In addition, all those who are accomplice to the money laundering crime such as the banks in Nigeria and the ones in London should also be made to stand trial. But we are not deceived. As long as this system holds sway, corruption in high places will continue. Only an overhaul of this system and its replacement with socialist system where the commanding height of the economy and resources of nature are collectively owned under a democratic planning and control of the working people can corruption be seriously checked.

The Nigeria Labour Congress in the state, in concert with other genuine mass organisations, should mobilize the people on the demand for the resignation of the government, including the legislature because the two arms have been in unison since 1999 in the open robbery of the state treasury and blatant rape of democracy. The governor is just a symbol of that brigandage in the state. A new democratic election should be demanded to move the state forward with labour putting in place a political alternative platform to contend against the pro-capitalist parties like PDP, APGA ANPP, AD, etc.

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BELLVIEW PLANE CRASH

"Dividend" Of Privatisation

By Adeola Soetan

The series of plane crash we had witnessed in Nigeria were foreseeable disasters that are bound to occur in a distress aviation industry, which the government and the airline operators have taken for granted for a long time.

The sad incident of Bellview Boeing 737 plane of October 22 that crashed at Lisa village in Ogun state in which all the 117 passengers and crew members perished is a reminder of how increasingly unsafe the nation's airspace has become after the total privatisation of the country's aviation industry. The logic of profit first before safety naturally follows. As it is now, Nigerian government does not run airline business after the defunct Nigeria Airways. It has only limited itself to regulation, facility support and rescue mission through its various bodies like Ministry of Aviation, National Aviation Management Authority (NAMA) and National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA).

The aviation industry typifies the rot that has set into all facets of the nation's life: education, health, electricity, agriculture, and manufacturing with collapsed infrastructures, outdated technology, self-serving management and unbridled corruption.

Aviation industry is a capital intensive sector requiring modern aircrafts, trained professionals, and state of the art airports equipped with best of facilities. The reality in the country is the reverse with tens of airlines springing up daily, owned by the profit-driven capitalist business class and their foreign collaborators, corrupt former public officials, both military and politicians, fronts for serving officials. The mushroom airlines abound in the airspace with aged aircrafts, unserviceable or totally un-airworthy planes putting passengers to avoidable higher risk just for profit.

On both sides of the coin - government and private airlines - it is danger! danger!! and danger!!! Over fifty air disasters have been reported in the country with different degree of fatality, with four major ones in the last fifteen years. Almost all brands of aircraft and all airline operators have had the experience of fatal crash or crash landing due to poor supporting facility or the disuse state of the necessary facilities. Some of the accidents were: January 31, 1997, Skypower Express Airways built in 1984 crashed at the Yola Airport; July 29, 1997, BAC 1-11, 203 AE built in 1965 and owned by ADC airlines crash-landed with 55 persons on board; another ADC Airlines flight 086 from Port Harcourt crashed at Ejinrin, Epe, killing all passengers on board; September 12, 1997, Domier 228-212 built in 1994 and operated by the Nigerian Air Force crashed with 10 persons on board; Chanchangi Airlines had its Boeing 737 crashed on February 22, 1998 at Kaduna Airport; the same year (1998), Boeing 707-355C built in 1968 operated by International Airlines crashed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport; January 5, 2000, Embruer 110PIA Bandeirante manufactured in 1984 operated by Skypower Express Airways crash-landed at the Abuja International Airport; MK Airlines had its Boeing 747-246F built in 1980 crashed on November 27, 2001 while the major fatal plane crash before Bellview happened in Kano State when on April 5, 2002, EAS BAC 1-11 with 106 passengers and crew including former Sport Minister, Mr. Mark Aku, all perished.

This gory picture is symptomatic of the sick aviation industry. One of the major operators, Senator Musa Adede, one time Chairman of Senate Committee on Aviation and owner of Kings Airline adduced poor radar coverage of the Nigerian air space, potholes in runways and poor lighting system as the source of frequent accident in the aviation industry. According to him, there was "no single maintenance workshop in Nigeria". Planes operating in the country had to be ferried to South Africa and others for routine and major maintenance work. And in spite of Nigeria being the sixth largest producer of crude oil, aviation fuel is cheaper in Angola than in Nigeria.

The Bellview crash really exposed the inadequacy of the nation's capacity to deal with emergency and rescue operation. The crashed Bellview Boeing 737 was reported to have crashed three minutes after take-off from Lagos but it took the search and rescue team and all major security forces in Nigeria 15 hours to correctly locate Lisa village, the crash site. Even Aviation Minister, Prof. Babalola Borishade and teams of security personnel with government officials had to make a useless trip to Kishi, a fringe town on the border of Oyo and Kwara States.

If the radar system at various airports were to be effective and functional, it could have been very easy to immediately locate the crash site, which is less than 30 kilometers to Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja where the ill-fated plane took off. Aviation experts were of the opinion that "the radar in Lagos was supposed to still be picking the air craft and even narrow it to where it went down at the distance it was eventually traced" suggesting that the radar is not functioning well.

As reported in Punch Editorial, Friday, October 28, NEMA had claimed that the ill-fated plane used outdated communication equipment, making it difficult to contact the control tower as at when due. Even when Lisa crash site was located, rescue operation was poorly conducted. The two rescue helicopters available in the country could not work at night and there was no equipment to excavate the remains of the aircraft which was entombed for over thirteen days before experts were invited from USA. Up till now, the black box and the cockpit voice recorder could not be found, suggesting that the nation and the traumatized relations of the victims may not never know the real cause of the accident and nor learning anything from the sad event.

The incessant air disaster and the helplessness of the operation to prevent them put to naught the neo-liberal economic policy of the government. For decades that the federal government ran the Nigerian Airways, the defunct national carrier, accident was a rare occurrence notwithstanding the inefficiency noticed at the time. This era of private ownership has put a question mark to peoples' confidence in air travel. Aircrafts operating in Nigeria are best described as flying coffins, a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, profit accrues to the capitalist owners with little care about safety of passengers and the crew.

A massive government investments to upgrade facilities, an overhaul of the entire aviation industry, total ban on aged aircrafts and heavy punishment for defaulters of set standards can reduce the high rate of flight accidents. But giving the decay of world capitalism, Nigeria will need socialism to change the ugly face of the aviation industry for the better. In that situation, people, not profit will be the primary purpose of governance.

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CHIMA UBANI (1963 – 2005)

The Demise Of A Class Fighter

On their way from Maiduguri, venue of one of LASCO’s September "protest rallies" across the country, Comrades Chima Ubani (43), Civil Liberties Organisation Executive Director and Tunji Oyeleru (46), Vanguard Newspapers Deputy Photo Editor met their untimely death in a ghastly motor accident.

The Obasanjo government and its neo-liberal policies programme of deregulation, privatisation and commercialisation of all key sectors of the economy which means abdicating its responsibility in providing social services, decent living standard needed bear the direct responsibilities for the death of these comrades. These and all the other avoidable deaths and other auto accidents are largely due the appalling state of roads, outdated and unsafe vehicles and to a certain extent, the frustration and pressure of daily existence and survival that drivers are forced to agonize about. Indeed, the death of these two men in an auto crash on the 21st of September, 2005 in Damaturu, en route to Abuja, after the rally at Maiduguri on the Potiskum - Bauchi road, to organise and mobilise resistance against the increment in the pump price of fuel, the ninth in a period of six years, was in itself, a product of Obasanjo's government neo-liberal policies.

Though both men had since been buried, they were among the very best the entirety of the working masses would have wanted to continue to have with them. Tunji was a photojournalist with the Vanguard newspapers. His excellent photographic documentation of the Lagos rally and protest organised by LASCO, labour and civil society coalition, which clearly depicted the mass support for the rally did not escape the attention of Adams Oshiomhole, the NLC president who had to personally request that he should be allowed, by the Vanguard, to bring his expertise to bear on the other rallies that were to hold in other geopolitical zones of the country.

Chima, a long time activist since his student days, actively participated in the Lagos rally, as a foot soldier and organiser, by virtue of his position as secretary of the Joint Action Forum (JAF), the umbrella body for the civil society organisations in alliance with the trade unions to form Labour And Civil Societies Coalition (LASCO).

Chima entirely devoted his most active life to struggle. He was the President of the students' union, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1985- 1986). He was the Secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD), a coalition body which provided the practical and organisational lead for the protest against the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election and against continued military rule. At another time, he was Joint Secretary of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), another coalition, which organised the five million march to oppose the attempt by the Abacha junta for self succession in 1998. His political affiliation was however with the Democratic Alternative, which was officially registered as a political party. This formation, which can also be described as a grouping of Stalinists or ex-Stalinists, provided Chima with the necessary organisational framework with which to guide his involvement in the struggle for a transformed Nigeria. This is aside his activities with the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) where he had worked since 1990 until his death, rising to become the Executive Director and through which he contributed enormously to the human right crusade in Nigeria.

Of the ex-Stalinists, he alone still acknowledged that he was a socialist. He had, in June 2005, at a gathering hosted by the DSM to commemorate the 1st year anniversary of the life and death of one of our comrades, Rotimi Ewebiyi, testified to the fact that they had organisationally been put into disarray following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, a consequence of their inability to understand and explain what had happened and why the Soviet Union had collapsed. He was surprised that we had not only kept our ranks, we had even increased with younger generations. DSM has managed to build and sustain its forces via constant political education of our comrades, intervention in communities, labour, students and other oppressed people matter and recruiting change seekers to the organisation among others.

Way back in 1997, during the 10th anniversary of the DSM, the late Oni, a life long labour and socialist pioneer activist of Stalinist School of thought also drew similar conclusion. Oni pointedly stated that we were after all, correct; that Leon Trotsky was correct in his analysis and prediction of collapse of bureaucratized Soviet Union. But coming from a younger person like Chima, it was a recognition and a commendation of all the years of work we in the DSM have continued to put in building the forces of Marxism in Nigeria. But more importantly, it was a validation of the analysis and ideas of Trotsky, who was a co-leader with Lenin and together led the Bolsheviks in consummating the October Revolution in 1917.

The isolation of the revolution in the then backward Russia gave oxygen to the growth of a bureaucracy led by Stalin. The alternative of workers democracy posed by Trotsky was not only frowned at by the bureaucracy, Stalinist bureaucracy attempted unsuccessfully to obliterate and denigrate the work and life of Trotsky. Exiled him from the Soviet Union, Stalin finally ordered Trotsky's assassination in Mexico in 1940. Trotsky's prognosis was that if the socialist revolution does not spread to other key countries and workers organise political revolution to topple the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore the Soviet Union back to the path of genuine socialist building, a counter-revolution would inevitably ensue and erase the entire gains of the planned economy and return it into the ambit of capitalism. This foresight of Trotsky, which offered the only scientific and dialectical perception of Stalinism, was made clear 50 years ahead of the collapse of Stalinism.

Chima therefore, unlike many ex-Stalinists, if given the opportunity, would have probably taken up the study of the works of Trotsky and possibly be won over completely to a full rounded programme of Marxism, which himself would say he never abandoned.

In all our years of work in pro democracy platforms in the CD, UAD, he had at most times, supported position that would be geared towards mass struggle. His active role in LASCO, unlike his ex-Stalinist pears who still proudly acclaimed themselves as "comrades", but would have nothing to do whatsoever, either in private or in the public with socialism, he continued to draw the conclusion for the need for a socialist transformation of the Nigeria society.

Chima did not only entirely agree to our long held position of "regime and system change" which we had canvassed and eventually adopted by JAF, he substantially, as secretary, contributed to the drafting of a Text of Press Conference by the Joint Action Forum (JAF) on August 31, 2005 at the Centre for Constitutional Governance, Lagos, titled: ‘REGIME CHANGE IS OUR STAND, MASS RESISTANCE IS OUR VEHICLE, SYSTEM CHANGE IS OUR GOAL’.

Quoting directly from the text,

"The task that we all must confront now is therefore how to bring an end to the disastrous Obasanjo government as quickly as feasible (certainly before 2007) and replace it, not with a government of the same kind of elite, but with a different kind of government that will be focused on harnessing our collective resources to meet the needs of the people for food, shelter, medical care, housing, education, functional utilities and infrastructure and other ingredients of fulfilled existence".

His support for labour and involvement in LASCO was a clear understanding, like we in the DSM did, that in spite of the pro-capitalist and bureaucratic tendencies of the labour leaders, they were not necessarily synonymous with the entirety of the working masses, and that all attempt at struggle by the working masses, even though led by labour bureaucrats must be supported, for in the end, it is the only way to aid the working masses to attain its emancipation from the clutches of the capitalist induced misery and in the process get rid of the negative influence of labour bureaucracy.

To so many in the civil societies, it is, "we had done it before, under worse conditions, under outright military dictatorship, through the Campaign for Democracy and United Action for Democracy, we had offered leadership to the mass movement in not only offering the necessary propaganda, but in physically leading the masses of Nigeria to struggle against military dictatorship. Why waste time in collaborating with the labour leaders, whose half hearted measures and commitment to struggle amounts to a betrayal of the struggle, even before it had started?"

We in the DSM had always recognised the general truism of this position. At the same time, we have always argued that the mass movement has its own dynamics that could not in any way be ignored. Organising joint struggles or participating in struggles being led by labour leaders does not in any way mean sowing illusions in the labour leaders. If anything, it helps bringing us closer to the working masses. The most important thing is to ensure that such participation is used to raise the consciousness and organisational capacity of the broad working masses in such a way that they can be in a position to determine the programme and policy of any struggles independent of the leaders limitation.

The way and manner the ruling elites have responded in terms of legislation to check and curtail the development of joint collaboration by labour and civil society groups through the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005 is only an indication of the mortal fear that has gripped them over the role of the trade unions in organising and leading the resistances against the neo- liberal policies of the Obasanjo regime. The emergence of a mass political platform, made of the trade unions and the civil societies and other pro-masses political organisations like the DSM, DA NCP etc is imperative. Such platform is to ensure the commitment of the inexhaustible resources of Nigeria to the well-beings of the working masses and other strata of the oppressed people as opposed to the pro-capitalist and neo liberal policy programmes of the IMF\ World Bank which only favour the very few rich. The LASCO successful rallies in Lagos, Benin, Kano, Maiduguri, Yola, , Jos, Owerri, Asaba and Abuja clearly indicated the willingness of the masses, given a focused leadership, to commence a struggle to dislodge the Obasanjo regime and its hated neo-liberal anti-people policy programme.

Chima's death is no doubt, a great loss and a minus to the forces of revolutionary change in Nigeria. To us in the DSM, the greatest legacy that we can ever commit to the memory of Chima Ubani is to continue the struggle to the logical conclusion for the regime and system change, which he subscribed to and canvassed on the platform of JAF and LASCO. To this point, we demand the formation of a working people political platform to challenge the ruling elite for political power. We call on the lefts in LASCO to immediately initiate a conference to discuss with the ultimate goal to bringing about a viable mass working peoples' political platform with socialist programmes of free and qualitative education at all levels, healthcare, good roads, constant electricity, decent living and working condition, housing, job for all etc that can wrestle political power from the present political vampires.

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CLAMP DOWN ON ETHNIC GROUP LEADERS

What It Means

By Victor Osakwe, Secretary, CDWR

As a follow-up to the first Nigeria Social Forum held in Makurdi in 2004, the Second Nigeria Social Forum (NSF) recently took place in Lagos, with the theme: "Another Nigeria is possible" between 14th to 18th November, 2005 with participants drawn across the country.

BACKGROUND

The Nigeria Social Forum is purely a gathering of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are directly funded by international agencies whose goals are centred on reformist programmes meant to act as palliative measures amidst an increasing attack on working class people by the government arising from the neo-liberal anti-poor capitalist policies as dictated by the IMF and the World Bank. Some of these NGOs are under the control of ex-Stalinists and human rights activists with radical background. They are increasingly conscious of the unabated miseries faced by the working people due to the neo-liberal policies of the government but lack the necessary understanding or political will to bring about a change of system and regime. They have opted for nebulous reformist packages ostensibly to alleviate the suffering of the mass of the working class people of Nigeria within the confines of capitalism. Hence the slogan "Another Nigeria is Possible".

IS ANOTHER NIGERIA POSSIBLE?

Yes, another Nigeria is possible. Having followed closely the week- long events of the Nigeria Social Forum and its agenda, one cannot but agree that the deliberations and resolutions, if carried through, will impact positively on the lives of the working class people of Nigeria. But under the present arrangement, where the Obasanjo led government is head-deep in the implementations of IMF/World Bank induced neo-colonial policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, etc all the lofty objectives set out to achieve at the Nigeria Social Forum for another Nigeria without posing an alternative system are farce.

Is NSF prepared to be part of the movement for change to bring about another Nigeria that will meet our collective yearnings and aspirations? This is very unlikely. The NGOs representatives funded by billionaire capitalists will report back to their various financiers, both foreign and local. It will be ludicrous to expect them to threaten the interest of their funders and the system that profits them. At best, they could, under an amorphous platform, agitate for reforms of some aspect of the polity.

A DAY OF ACTION NEEDED

If NSF is to be seen as a movement prepared to pose alternative, it must be ready to go beyond its talk shops and paper works meant to bring about reforms in the system. Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary and one of the leading speakers on the last day of the forum called on NSF organizers to immediately commence reaching out to the broad layers of the society, mass organisations, Trade unionists, farmers, market women and women, radical political parties and other civil society organisations etc, to formulate a programme of action of building a popular movement which, primarily relies on mass actions to actualise its goals. Accordingly, January 18, 2006 has been scheduled as a day of action to struggle against poverty and the neo-liberal, anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo led capitalist government. Having fixed the date, the organizers should reach out to the labour, pro-labour organisations, human rights groups, youths, students, etc and commence mobilisation for the action plan. More importantly, the movement should, in the long run, be built on popular platform and armed with alternative programmes and ideas to wrestle power from the pro-market ruling parties.

DSM INTERVENTION

Although, the NSF was dominated by NGOs professionals, the intervention of the Democratic Socialist Movement was highly instructive. Segun Sango who was one of the leading speakers at the forum spoke on the themes: "Unemployment, Poverty and Development" and "Alternative Strategies for change". On both occasions, he demanded a break with the capitalist system, which is responsible for poverty and mass miseries through the formation of a broad based working peoples’ political party built on socialists basis to wrestle power from the present regime. He also demanded a day of action to campaign against the neo-liberal policies of the Obasanjo led PDP government like education privatisation and commercialisation, etc.

The DSM also anchored a roundtable discussion on the theme: "Who Owes Who? The Debt Question". With facts and figures, DSM made it clear that Nigeria and other so-called indebted African countries do not owe in real term, as they have repaid much more than the original loans collected. Besides, Africa is a net exporter of capital to the West arising from the enormous wealth that has been plundered right from the trans-Atlantic slave trade through colonial era to the current epoch of neo-colonialism and the stashing away of the stolen money of the continent. The participants agreed to our positions and adopted our proposed resolution that the NSF should call for outright cancellation of Nigeria and Africa's debt without conditionality attached and the repatriation of the stolen wealth of Africa stashed in foreign banks by the corrupt pro-west leaders.

The members of DSM also attended some other sessions, viz.: "Between Rights and Reforms", "Promoting Gendered Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Economic Policies", "Gender Equality", "Feminism and the Next Generation", "Youth Posing Alternatives for Human Development in Nigeria". In all these panels, our ideas the need for a socialist transformation of the society - was openly canvassed as the only genuine alternative to the present capitalist rot in Nigeria.

Our materials and literature were also displayed with our banner denouncing the ills of capitalism. Materials and literature worth N8,400 were sold at the five day programme. We made new contacts and two individuals were recruited.

The effort of the Nigeria Social Forum is commendable, but there is a need to immediately commence the mobilisation of the different strata of the society for the January 18 day of action. More importantly, the NSF should reach out to other organisations like DSM, NLC, CFTU, TUC, NANS, NCP, DA and other civil society groups to commence discussion on the formation of a broad left platform, that will crystallise into a mass movement that will overthrow this present capitalist government that means nothing but miseries and poverty for mass of the working class and entrenching socialism with public ownership of the commanding height of the economy under democratic workers management and control for poverty to be made history. Based on this, another Nigeria will be possible.

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POLICE-ARMY CLASH

A Manifestation of Societal Rot

By Sankara O.S.B

The Nigerian army and the police for the umpteenth time on Tuesday, October 4, 2005 engaged in violent clashes at the popular Ojuelegba area of Lagos. The clash which the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero, described as "a minor clash in the enforcement of the law" left in its wake, five civilians dead and scores of innocent citizens injured while properties worth over N3.5 billion were destroyed. The clash also rendered tens homeless as a result of the burning of buildings within the Ojuelegba police barracks.

The Army-Police clash came up against the backdrop of various violent clashes that have rocked Lagos and other parts of the country in the recent past. Notable amongst such clashes are the Army/Agbero/Area Boys clash at Oshodi in May, the OPC/NURTW clash at Iyana-ipaja among others. These clashes recorded varying degrees of damages including loss of lives and destruction of properties.

These clashes, including the intermittent ethnic and religious clashes all over the country, reveal the large scale unease and discontentment arising from mass poverty and impoverishment of the mass majority of ordinary Nigerians whose hope of a better life since 1999 has been dashed by the Obasanjo regime commitment to IMF/World Bank neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, retrenchment and intermittent increases in the prices of petroleum products amongst others.

The immediate reaction to the incident from members of the public was a veiled expression of joy at the fact that the military boys had woken up to help give a more than deserved beating to the police for their unending harassment and forced collection of bribes from members of the public. This joy, however does not in any way resolve any of the contradictions that make the police one of the most hated of jobs, at the same time the most difficult, which would have been most unattractive to many, if not for the state of mass unemployment which leaves many with no option whatsoever.

Men and women of the Nigerian police, many of whom have to pay their way to join the police, trained under one of the most inhuman conditions imaginable, as attested to by the state of the police colleges and after training, buy their own uniform, boots, writing materials, torchlight and all other working tools. It would amount to asking too much to expect anything less than their bestial treatment of ordinary Nigerians. Added to the above is the fact that they have to go on for upward of four to six months before they can earn their first monthly salary, which amounts to nothing at the end of the day. Therefore, the root of the endemic bribery and corruption synonymous to the police is a product of a faulty system that thrives on the impoverishment of the vast ordinary working people for the benefit of the thieving minority ruling elite.

To worsen the matter, the Nigerian State has refused to recognise the right of the police to organise under a democratic union, so that they can legally take on their employer - the government- on the need to improve their appalling working condition, even to the point of embarking on a strike.

Left with no option of employing the constitutional right to organise and associate with themselves under a democratic union, an average Nigerian Policeman or woman turns round to employ the advantage of his or her gun and uniform to meet some basic needs, even if it means harassing and shooting innocent Nigerians, like the Apo Six Killing reveals. The police rent their guns out to robbers, embark on illegal raid and arrest of innocent Nigerians with the intention of extorting bail money before setting them free etc.

The arrest, trial and jocular sentencing of Tafa Balogun to six month imprisonment for 17 billion naira stolen public funds meant for the Nigerian police again brings to the fore the tacit endorsement by the ruling elite of corruption by the police big hierarchy, who criminally loot the resources of the police force.

The working conditions for the rank and file of soldiers, the navy and air force, while slightly different from that of the police is not necessarily better off. these personnel also suffer the very pains that afflict poor working masses, a consequence of the continued years of attack of neo-liberalism which has meant that education, food, electricity, water and now accommodation, which in the past were guaranteed, among a host other basic needs, have to be exorbitantly paid for from the meagre and irregular wages that has been eaten deep by the rate of inflation.

The top echelon of the military, like their counterparts in the police, are well catered for by the ruling elite in Nigeria, especially with the long years of military rule in Nigeria. Like in the past, the lot of the rank and file of the military would necessarily be better off, if even a coup were to be effected to overthrow the present civilian regime of Obasanjo, which was consciously instituted by the top echelon of the military in 1999. The rank and file of the military, like in every other coup, would only be an instrument to be used and dumped, even if there were to be a successful change of government.

If anything, the high incidence of police/military clashes has only made clearer that the entirety of the ruling elite, both the civilian and military, who all subscribe to neo liberalism have failed and needed to be booted out of the corridors of governance. For this to be accomplished, the rank and file of the police, the army, the navy and the air force most correctly see themselves as a part of the working masses, and collectively work in unison to bring an end to the rule of capital and its regime of neo liberalism and replace it with a workers, poor farmers, and rank and file soldiers/police government that will commonly owned democratically control and manage the resources of society to meet the needs of all, instead of the profit motive of capital as it presently obtains.

 

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FLOUR MILLS

Victimised Workers Keep Struggle Alive

By Agbaje Mutiu, Co-ordinator of the victimised workers

The zeal to keep the struggle alive has been demonstrated by the resolute victimised Flour Mill workers who have been holding on to the struggle since March 2005. They have been committed to the fight against casualisation and have unrelentingly pressed the management to grant compensation to the 400 victimised workers who were unjustly sacked by the flour mills management for demanding that the family of their colleague who slumped and died while working be adequately compensated.

The sacked workers took the struggle to another level when they put up a protest armed with placards and leaflets at the Eko Hotel and Suites where Flour Mills held its annual general meeting on the 8 of September 2005. The AGM was well attended by shareholders, management staff and the media. The workers 'press statement was circulated in the conference room and eventually sparked up a heated debate as direct questions were thrown to the management by share holders and the media. The victimised workers were granted several interviews by the Media. The Channels Television report on the peaceful protest further rejuvenated the workers as it brought back some of those that had earlier left the struggle and charged up those that were understandably becoming weak.

On the 5th of October 2005, the sacked workers took the struggle to the Lagos State House of Assembly where members of the Assembly convened a round table discussion between the Flour Mills management and the workers. The Assembly later passed a resolution that the House Committee on Labour should carry out thorough investigations into the complaints of the sacked workers by paying a visit to the Flour Mill fertilizer factory. Another sitting will be held after the conclusion of their findings to resolve the crisis. The media covered the proceedings while interview clips were transmitted on the Galaxy Television.

We therefore call on labour, particularly NUBFTE, NLC and pro labour organisations to help beef up the struggle through boycott of Flour Mill products and through open condemnation of Flour Mills unjust and inhuman treatment of workers. We also call for support to help facilitate some of our programmes and activities. Support can come in form of helping meet the cost of production of leaflets, transportation expenses, crucial needs, etc of the victimised workers. Every contribution will be specially appreciated by all the victimised workers of Golden Fertilizers a subsidiary of Flour Mills Nigeria PLC. We fraternally count on your comradely support towards this worthy cause.

You can contact our secretariat: Forum for Victimised Flour Mills Workers @ 5 Kojo Lane off Layinka street, Ajegunle, Apapa, Lagos. Tel.: 08038209485, 08034927957, 0802715503

 

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REFURBISHMENT OF TEACHING HOSPITALS

Any Cause for Celebration?

By ‘Wale Eleto, Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC)

The Guardian on Sunday November 20 2005 carries a detailed story of the wonderful work being done by the Obasanjo administration in the health sector, with the refurbishment, standardization/modernisation of teaching hospitals in the country. Apparently piqued by the sordid decay of infrastructures and complete lack of modern medical and allied facilities in Nigeria's hospitals, especially, the so-called teaching hospitals, the government appointed a Presidential Project Implementation Committee (PPIC), in December 2000, headed by Emeritus Professor Oladapo Olujimi Akinkugbe, to review and advise on measures to improve the state of equipment within tertiary hospitals in Nigeria. The committee set to work and "a policy on standardization of medical equipment emerged and the estimated cost of rehabilitating and equipping the entire tertiary health sector was put at over N50 billion. As a result of slim resources, the Federal Government decided to undertake the exercise in stages. The eight Teaching Hospitals under the first phase include University College Hospital, Ibadan; ABUTH, Zaria; University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital (UPTH); University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH); Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH); University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu; Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) and University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH)."

With the successful completion and commissioning of the permanent site of ABUTH, Zaria on Friday November 11, 2005, complete with state of the art facilities and high quality staff, such that can compete competently with others across the globe, the government boasts that Nigerians will not have to go abroad for medical treatment. So, needn't we celebrate?

Public officials in the country have had to travel outside the country for medical attention even for remote ailments, at the expense of tax payer's money. This is also true for the rich and wealthy who cherish their lives. For those who cannot afford the megabucks required for the venture, in many cases, they are condemned to death or permanent deformity. Most recently, the wife of the president, Late Mrs. Stella Obasanjo died in a Spanish hospital from complications after undergoing surgery reportedly for abdominoplasty otherwise called tummy-tuck. She could just have been treated in ABUTH, with the full rites of a first lady accorded, had the refurbishment and standardization plan been conceived and implemented earlier. Not to worry, future occurrences can now be avoided. Needn't we celebrate?

The benefits of this historic project are 'far reaching'. They are listed to include: (1) A reverse of Nigeria's appalling rating of no. 187 out of 191 nations in a survey by WHO in the provision of medical facilities to one of the best in the world… (2) It will stop the medical brain drain to foreign countries which we have been suffering for the past 20 years. (3) It will encourage our medical experts that have fled the country abroad in search of greener pastures due to lack of facilities at home, to return to Nigeria since what we now have here may in most cases, be better than what they are now using. (4) The country is now able to provide excellent medical care to all the citizens. (5) There is no more need for any Nigerian to seek medical health abroad as everything required can now be done at home. (6) Huge sums of foreign exchange will be saved by the country from the large amount of foreign exchange spent in seeking medical help abroad. (7) Cost of medical treatment and check-up will be considerably cheaper for all citizens now that the facilities are available to them. (8) Nigeria will be in a position to render specialized medical services to all its citizens, its immediate West African sub-region and African continent at large, thereby earn foreign exchange for such service. (9) The project will now enable first class teaching services to medical students by all the Teaching Hospitals. (10) And last but not the least; the tertiary institutions will live up to its responsibility by contribution to produce a healthy nation which eventually will produce a wealthy nation." (All emphases ours) Needn't we celebrate?

Alas! There is no single reason to celebrate. In the first instance, it is discernible to the sober mind that these gains as listed above are largely exaggerated. One wonders aloud how eight (8) standard (250 bed) hospitals in a country of over 120 million people will achieve these feats. Surely, this is a monumental deceit. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed that just 10% Nigerians have access to good quality health care service. How eight standard hospitals will automatically turn around such sordid reality will be the millennium wonder.

Again we ask why the refurbishment of the fourteen (14) teaching hospitals, indeed the entire tertiary health sector estimated to cost a mere N50 billion (yes a mere) has to be phased so much that the hope of ever carrying out similar work on the remaining six teaching hospitals after completing the first phase in June 2006 is very, very dim. The government proudly announced that it committed a 'whooping' N17 billion on the hospital project and only stopped short of going the full stretch "following slim resources". Yet, nothing betrays the utter irresponsibility and complete misplacement of priority of this government more than this. The renovation exercise, that gulped N17 billion, took government 4 years to complete the first stanza of its first phase.

But within 3 months in late 2003 and early 2004, the same government spent over N90 billion on frivolities; mere distractions. The white elephant Abuja National Stadium gulped over $65 million (N85, 775,000.00) Eighty Five Billion Seven Hundred and Seventy Five Million Naira) while N30 billion went into hosting the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Now, the government goes to town to celebrate that what it sunk into the hospital project "would be the first time in many decades that resources of such magnitude have been committed to tertiary health care." May be the assertion is true. But is it not truer that the Obasanjo government has raked in more money than any previous regime in the country's history, particularly in the past two decades, with record prices of crude oil in the international market. The government amasses a minimum sum of $190 million per day from oil sales alone; in the past five years, it has earned over $100 billion from oil sales. With higher export price of oil this year, the annual income from crude oil sales is expected to be around $37.7 billion, and then rise another 9% to $41.1 billion in 2006. Yet, Nigerians, particularly the poor working people have not enjoyed the marginal benefits of this 'favourable season' for their economy, in crucial areas of their life like employment, education and health care. Instead, the Obasanjo government chose the period it actually made more money to impose more hardship on Nigerians. The government has increased pump price of petroleum products seven times since 1999 (more than any regime in history), such that a litre of petrol now sells officially at N65 from N20 in 1999. Thousands of workers and health sector workers too are being sacked periodically in tune with governments policy of "right sizing" the public sector. The point is that this government must stop to pretend that it means well for the suffering population. With the fabulous wealth at its disposal, as shown earlier, the N50 billion required to standardize the entire tertiary health sector would have been an insignificant drop in the bucket, for a government that really takes 'health as wealth'.

Earlier, some of the identified gains of the hospital refurbishment were said to include that "there is no more need for any Nigerian to seek medical health abroad…. The country is now able to provide excellent medical care to all the citizens. This is a blatant lie. Despite the so-called renovation/standardization, it is still health care service largely for the few rich. Asked about the affordability of services at the hospitals, Emeritus Prof. Akinkugbe replied "it will be idle talk to pretend that everyone from a rural or urban setting would have easy access to such investigations as CT scan or MRI, which costs roughly N30,000 to N50,000 apiece. Those who had cause to go abroad to undertake such tests will certainly find it much cheaper to have them done at home. But for the general run of patients in our teaching and specialist hospitals, access may be difficult unless a new system of payment for such socialized services is worked out". Oh! Prof. Akinkugbe has just said that rather than all Nigerians having access to crucial health facilities, as government want to claim, we will indeed have situations where even many hospital staff will not have access to those facilities. Not with national minimum wage at N7,500 since 2001 and inflation cutting deep into working peoples income.

The logic behind this paradox is simple. The neo-liberal market philosophy which our government rabidly pursues at the behest of IMF/World Bank requires that social services like health care and education must be subject to the "market forces" and available only to the highest bidders. Yet, Obasanjo is so obsessed by the 'unique' achievement that he spoke contemptuously to the hospital staff that may be reluctant to relocate from the old ABUTH complex, Kaduna to the new permanent site in Zaria. According to the Guardian, Obasanjo "warned that he would deal decisively with any staff refusing to move to the permanent site". Tough talk. But nothing was said about what measures government would take to ameliorate the inconveniences of relocating workers from their familiar environment like transportation allowances and other such emoluments to compensate for their sudden detachment from their immediate environment and their families. Workers must just relocate pronto because the hospital has been relocated, no more, no less. This is a reminiscence of military fiat and an affront on the workers' democratic rights.

Nigeria is currently ranked as 187th of 191 nations surveyed for health indices by WHO, only 10% of its population are said to have access to essential drugs, while thousands die of preventable and curable diseases like malaria. Child mortality is said to be in the region of 150 of every 10,000 life births, one of the highest in the world. Life expectancy is 43.6 years for men and 43.9 years for women. Worse still, 70% of the population are said to live below poverty line (on less than US $1 per day). In the light of these grim realities, government step to renovate and standardise health facilities is a good one. But the one currently taken is by far too little, falling far below what the country can afford and must pursue. In order to fundamentally improve the health care delivery system, government must commit huge public resources to health care facilities, hospitals, personnel and equipments in all existing tertiary hospitals and other public hospitals. More of such facilities must be created in areas where they are currently non-existent. In order to expand access to such facilities to the poor, toiling majority, health care services and education must be run as social services at the expense of public funds. To avoid arbitrariness, corruption and mismanagement, all teaching/specialized/general hospitals must be put into public ownership and placed under democratic management by democratic committees of workers, government and community representatives. Not until this is done will the health institution "live up to its responsibility by contributing to produce a healthy nation which eventually will produce a wealthy nation".

 

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HURRICANE KATRINA, ASIAN EARTHQUAKE

How Natural Are These Disasters?

By Demo

The recent increase in the number of natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, etc have probably been due to global warming, though, there is no yet a scientific prove of this. While it could be argued that these disasters are natural and therefore, not be preventable, most of them are man-made and of course, preventable with their accompanied damages contained or drastically minimized.

In the first instance, hurricane Katrina was widely predicted before hand but the corrupt and pro-profit US imperialism ignored all the warnings. For instance, from 2001 to 2005, government spending on projects to protect New Orleans from flooding was cut to $82 million from $147 million. In June 2004 in particular, Al-Naomi, project manager of the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for maintaining flood defences requested for just $2 million for an "urgent" work but the US imperialism claimed that there was no money to fund projects that will minimize damages from eventual disaster! Meanwhile, same government gave billions of dollars as a cooperate bailout to United Airlines and spends $5.6 billion monthly in a senseless and unwinable Iraqi war and occupation which has claimed 2,000 US solders and over 100,000 Iraqis. More importantly, the flood barriers (levees) in New Orleans were built to withstand only a level 3 hurricane. Katrina was a level 4 and the maximum is level 5.

The poor, the sick, mostly African-Americans were mostly hit by this disaster. US, the richest and mightiest military power on earth could not mobilise emergency aid, for days, for over 50,000 people who were trapped at the overflowing Superdome and Convention Centre desperately in need of food, water etc. Again, 30% of the National Guards who are mostly experienced and trained in handling natural disaster have been deployed to Iraq with about 50% of their equipment. The Mexican Gulf region has also been hit by another hurricane, Rita, which has flooded and devastated Texas and New Orleans and consequently led to complete shutdown of regional oil and gas production.

In a similar development, a earthquake tremor spreads its catastrophe across South East Asia in October 7, 2005 with worst damage at Pakistani occupied Kashmir where over 300,000 Kashmiris, including the injured, waiting for help which was not coming. At least, 21,000 died, many of them primary and secondary school children attending classes when their school buildings collapsed on them. The earthquake victims are mostly children, women and young people as most men were at work. The emergency workers like civil defence and fire fighters who could have intervened hardly exist due to lack of funds by the state while the state of hospitals are nothing to write home about. While only 1.7% of the budget is allotted to health, 45% is earmarked for defence! Again, Musharraf government was beforehand warned of this disaster with no precaution taken.

The most repulsive aspect of these tragedies is that profit is being made from people's misery. Transport fare was increased by over 600% for people who desperately needed transport. In Pakistan, state run train was transporting relatives of the affected victims free to their homes while private trains were charging 4 times the original fare.

The lesson of these disasters and their handlings is a further demonstration of the fact that capitalism is incapable of planning for the society and delivering better living condition for the mass majority of the people. What it represents and protects is the profit and interest of the few at the expense of mass majority. In September 2004 for instance, a level 5 Hurricane with 160 mile per hour winds tattered a small Island in Cuba, destroying over 20,000 houses but without a single life lost. It was not a miracle. The disaster was foreseen and the government had made adequate preparation for it. So, as soon as the hurricane alarm sounded, Cuba's leaders swung into action. People were evacuated to new location with their properties. Even animals were evacuated. The idea of looting or violent does not arise in this kind of situation. But because capitalism means profit of a very few first at the expense of the welfare of the majority, despite hurricane Katrina prediction, US imperialism did not prepare or make provision for it. Therefore, capitalism is a failure for humanity. There is an urgent need for a replacement of this system of profit with the one that plans democratically, on the resources of the society for the benefit of everybody where natural disaster could be prevented or its effects minimized with prompt and efficient response to the victims. There is a need for a system where every man wishes and aspirations could be fulfilled. That system is socialism.

 

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COTE D’IVOIRE

Worse Crises Ahead

By AJ Dagga Tolar

The holding unto power by Laurent Gbagbo after the 30 October 2005 exit date from government with the endorsement of both the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) can only mean more and worse crisis ahead for Côte d'Ivoire except the working masses, in earnest, arise to their historical responsibility of overthrowing the ruling elite and commence the process of reorganizing the whole of Côte d'Ivoire within a framework that would allow for the resources of Côte d'Ivoire to be used solely for the benefit of the working masses of Côte d'Ivoire, and not that of a tiny few interest of capital, locally or international.

THE ROOT

The political root of the present crisis predates the army mutiny of September 19th 2002, which crystallized into an armed rebellion and the formation of the Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) which presently controls the whole of the north of Côte d'Ivoire and seeks to overthrow the Gbagbo government. So also did the crisis not start with the coup of General Guei, which overthrew the government of Henri Konan-Bedie, who was the immediate successor to Felix Houphouet-Biogny, who died in 1993, having ruled since independence in 1960.

It was the contest among the ruling elite to determine who takes full charge and command of the stakes between the Bedie and Allassane Quattara that precipitated the initial political crisis. Bedie had to resort to the question of nationality or Ivoirite identity, and carried through a constitutional amendment demanding both maternal and paternal Ivorian nationality as a prerequisite to contest the presidency. By this legislation, Quattara was denied the right to contest the presidency with Bedie. It was this impasse that General Robert Guei used to effect a coup, only for him to later attempt to perpetuate himself in power by transmuting to a civilian ruler in an election that saw him adopting the same means to prevent Quattara from contesting.

The protest against the declaration of Guei as winner of the election by the supporters of Gbagbo which saw the supporters of Quattara fully partaking in it snowballed into a movement that swept Gbagbo to power in 2000, keeping the hope alive among Quattara's supporters that they would, in turn, be rewarded by Gbagbo through the conduct of a new election that would not disallow anyone from participating. Alas, this was not to be so! Gbagbo stuck to the fact that he had been given a mandate, which as thing stood was to have expired on the 30th of Ocotober, 2005.

NO SOLUTION FROM IMPERIALISM

Shortly after the mutiny of September 2002, France sent its troops, later followed by the UN to Côte d'Ivoire. About 10,000 strung intervention forces were immediately rallied to "prevent escalation of the crises beyond control". In actual fact, the opposite is the reason. The intervention is a product of the strategic and economic importance of Côte d'Ivoire to the France and world Imperialism. The country is the largest producer of Cocoa in the world, a product of hard labour of farmers, but whose benefit is appropriated by the bourgeoisies both locally and internationally at the expense of the poor farmers. This is the very crux of the matter. The price of cocoa has been at its lowest ebb in the past one decade with conditions of existence extremely plummeted for the entire working masses. This explains why people who had lived and worked together for more than two, three decades were suddenly divided against themselves by the mere fact that both of their parents are not originally from Côte d'Ivoire.

The very same cocoa, was what had actual attracted people to work and settle down in Côte d'Ivoire from all the neighbouring countries, and it was their sweat and produce that was used under Houphuoet Biogny to bring about the level of development in Côte d'Ivoire today.

The UN, African Union (AU) and ECOWAS were quick to endorse the extension of Gbagbo rule with an additional year, which has been rejected by the oppositional groups who are unequivocal that Gbagbo steps down and new elections be organised. Like Sidiki Konate spokeperson for the rebel Forces Nouvelles states, there cannot be a consensus whatsoever on the choice of a prime minister without Gbagbo first resigning. This point is clearly re-echo by Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, who currently doubles as head of the AU when he states that even the choice for prime minister, though reduced to two, still none is "acceptable to all the sides".

WHAT THEN IS THE WAY FORWARD?

Only the unity of action of the working masses themselves can resolve the crises, once and for all in the interest of the majority of all Ivorians. The collective action, not just the poor cocoa's labourers and poor farmer, but with all other workers and oppressed strata in the lead of a movement that would seek to nationalise the process of cocoa production, as well as other commanding sector of the economy and place them under the democratic control and management of a workers and poor farmers' government, this would free and make available the resources with which the needs of the working masses would be met. Since the need of the masses cannot be met within the framework of a neo-colonial capitalist arrangement, hence, the ruling elite hide under the excuses that some sections of the working masses are not true Ivorians.

There is therefore an urgent need for the working masses of Côte d'Ivoire to commence the process of independently organising itself, so as to free it from being used by rival wings of the bourgeoisies in their bid for power and contend for power in the name of the working masses. While immediate calling for the foreign troops to leave to Côte d'Ivoire and to be replaced by a democratically controlled community and workers’ militia. And also demanding for immediate elections, with the right of all to partake and as well as the right of the working masses to organise itself on its own political platform, with and independent programme of its own to opposed and challenge the bourgeoisies, with the goal of ultimately wrestling power from it, as fore runner to setting up federating socialist state of all west Africans, which would in turn extend to the whole of Africa as a stepping stone to a democratic socialist world, where poverty and the interest of capital and imperialism would not be the order of the day.

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OAU

Stop Victimisation of Student Activists

There is no gainsaying the fact that the OAU authorities are notorious for victimising student' activists. Between 1995 and 1997, Anthony Fashayo, a former students' union president and 15 others were expelled for organizing a rally against the extra-judicial killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and other eight Ogoni activists under the despotic era of Vice-chancellor, Prof. Wale Omole and the military junta of Gen Sanni Abacha. The students, at that time, were acting according to the tradition of their union, which always responds to issues of national interest. The students were not reinstated until 2001.

Just a session after the reinstatement of Tony Fash and co., the university authorities suspended four union activists - Akinkunmi Olawoyin (President), Ekudayo Fadugba ( P.R.O), Hassan Abbas (Speaker) and Adewale Oluwagbemiga (Chairman, Awolowo Hall) - for fighting against the imposition of astronomical charges on students. The offences authorities proffered against these individuals are stealing of university properties and conducts disgraceful to the university image. This is just to call the dog a bad name so as to hang it. The students went to court and got an injunction and since then, they have been on temporary studentship as the case is still on at the federal high court in Osogbo.

In 2003/2004 academic session however, the university authorities initially suspended Olowokandi Feyi Peter (P.R.O, students' union) and Hassan Taiwo Hussein (Soweto) for fighting against the introduction of yet another obnoxious charges called Faculty charges, wherein students were made to cough out money ranging from N 2,500 and N7,500, depending on the faculties. This time around, the students were accused of harassing the university Vice-Chancellor in the violence that followed the November 3rd, 2004 students' protests. When the students embarked on political action to press for the reinstatement of their victimised leaders however, they only got an increase in casualties as more student activists were either expelled or suspended. For instance, Taiwo Hassan (Soweto) already on four-semester suspension was given another four semesters without being "convicted" by the University Disciplinary Panel looking into the November 3rd, 2004 students' protest. Isiaka Adegbile, expelled since 1997 under Prof Wale Omole, Adenekan Adeniyi (ex-Students' Union President), Akinola Saburi (ex-Students' Union Secretary General), Akinkunmi Olawoyin, Wahab Samuel, Abuchi Okafor and Aderibigbe Muyiwa Liptono were arbitrarily expelled. Alabi Mojeed was suspended. These sets of victimised student activists also went to court and got a partial victory in terms of court injunction. Since then, they have been enjoying temporary studentship.

The reality of the mater is that OAU authorities are only trying to make scapegoats of every student protest arising from their policies and insensitivity to the plight of students and workers in Ife. The November 3rd, 2004 protest, for instance, would not have taken place if the university authorities have paid a positive attention to issues affecting the staff and students like issues of non-payment of lecturers' entitlements which led to the withholding of examination results by the lecturers, degenerate student welfare, and continued victimisation of student activists.

We call on the university management to immediately recall all the victimised student activists so as to allow peace in the university. It is only when this is done that the university can harmonise its human and material resources for academic development. The students' union should initiate a comprehensive campaign for the unconditional recall of the politically suspended/expelled students and an end to culture of victimisation in the university.

We hereby call on well meaning Nigerians to write protest letters to the university authorities via the following addresses:

The Registrar,

Obafemi Awolowo University,

Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.

E-mail: registrar@oauife.edu.ng

Or

The Vice-Chancellor,

Obafemi Awolowo University,

Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria.

E-mail: rogerm@oauife.edu.ng

 

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TEACHER ACTIONS IN LAGOS STATE

By Dagga Tolar NUT Vice Chairman,

Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Council

Primary school Teachers in Lagos state commenced a 3-day out-of-teaching strike in the schools to protest the non-implementation of their 2003 promotion exercise, non-payment of their 2004 and 2005 leave allowance, and the 12.5% salary increase for primary school teachers. Monday 21st November, 2005 saw teachers storming the Local Education Districts in all the 20 local councils, closing down the offices, and placing them under lock and key. In Ajeromi Ifelodun the Education Secretary P.B. Akpata had to address the teachers declaring his support for their action.

The Campaign for Democratic Workers' Right in a statement signed by its chairman, Rufus Olusesan, expresses support for the action of teachers, and calls on the Lagos state government to immediately acquiesce to the demands of the NUT. According to this statement the excuse of non-receipt of the Local Government allocation is no longer tenable, and it calls for "an immediate end to the discrimination against Primary School Teachers" given the fact that all other categories of Public Servants have since been paid these same allowances.

NUT must combine the entirety of its strength, teachers in public secondary schools must also be mobilised to be part of this action. The unity and solidarity of teachers must not be taken for granted since both primary and secondary teachers belong to the same union. The present action should be seen as the beginning of a series of actions that must be embarked upon to resist the attack on public education, with its increasing under-funding and collapsing infrastructures and the non availability of the necessary teaching facilities etc. While the AD government of Ahmed Bola Tinubu, claims to be running a free education policy, public education has never had it so bad. In the early days of the regime, 46 public schools were handed over to their private owners, compounding the overcrowded nature of the remaining public schools, most secondary school, are forced to combine both the Art and Commercial classes together, numbering, in some schools, up to 164 in a single classroom, Science education is even worse hit. Schools have had to convert laboratories into classrooms not necessarily occupied by science students.

Primary Education, which is the bedrock of all future education does not fare better. With collapsing roofs, windows fallen off, any rainfall is an automatic end of class. All this has meant that parents have had to take their children to private schools, where the fees are extremely high, with no specified standard. Most of the teachers in these private schools are young school leavers with no training and interest whatsoever in the teaching profession. This allows the proprietors to maximize profit, which has meant a serious fall in the standard of education, as most parents from working class background return their kids to public secondary schools. Public education needs to be massively funded. Lagos and indeed, the whole Nigeria possess the means and resources to run a free and qualitative education from the nurseries up to university level.

For this to be attainable however, both the AD government of Tinubu and the PDP federal government of Obasanjo must break with neo-liberalism. But these governments are incapable of doing this . This means that ultimately, teachers must be in the forefront of the struggle to transform society. They must canvass and support the emergence of an independent Working People Party that will struggle to take over power from the ruling elite and replace it with a workers and poor farmers government, which would then nationalise the commanding sectors of the economy placed under workers democratic management and control. This is what would free up the necessary resources to adequately fund education and free parents, teachers and students from the present nightmare and the bastardization of the laudably concept of "free education" in Lagos state.

PS:

**As the time of going to press, the action has been suspended by the NUT, on the strength of a meeting with the governor, who we are told, has promised to pay the said allowances. NUT should demand for formal agreement and should not again go back to sleep. If it is committed to struggle to meet the need and aspiration of teachers, it must break away from its collaborative hold and romance with government.

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FRESH WAVES OF VICTIMISATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN

By Stephen Alayande T.

As the crisis in education deepens, the University of Ibadan authorities have continued their unabated attacks on genuine students' activists and independent unionism over the students struggle against the university management and the Obasanjo led neo-liberal policy of commercialisation and privatisation of the education. The consistent struggle by the students for public funded educational system and independent unionism on campus, have attracted the wrath of the University management led by the then vice-chancellor of the institution Prof Ayodele Falase - who unjustifiably rusticated and victimised some student leaders and activists for their perceived 'threat to the system'.

These students who were given various degree of punishments for their leading role in the mass protests against the unpopular and anti-poor policies of both the University and the Obasanjo government to make access to university education the exclusive right of the children of the rich whilst the mass majority of working class children are condemned to perpetual illiteracy, include: Ola Adeosun, former speaker of parliament; Alayande Stephen Tolulope, erstwhile NANS Zode D coordinator; Lawal Akeen [Aluta], former President, students' union; Wale Eleto, former General Secretary, students' union; Akintude Olawoyin, former PRO students' union; Fagbemi Isreal Gbadebo[FIG] and Hon. Ali M.O. Ayodeji. Their rustications range from four to six semesters, with one outrightly expelled.

However, a panel was set up by the University authorities ostensibly to look at political related problems with a view to resolving them. The panel sat on 22nd October, 2005 without bringing forth any positive result. Authorities are only playing with time and these students’ lives with the view of suppressing students union activism. For instance, the last time a democratic students’ election took place in UI was December 2001 when, in the absence of a virile students union, cultism has taken over the entire university community.

Not only the students are being attacked by the authorities, SSANU, NASU, and ASUU members are not spared for their united fight against the management increasing waves of attacks on workers.

We therefore call on NANS, NLC, DSM, ERC, etc and other civil society organisations, to join in the struggle to reinstate these students whose future are presently being threaten by the University authorities posture.

OUR DEMANDS.

* Immediate and unconditionally reinstatement of all the rusticated students and the release of all the withheld results.

* For a public funded educational system with democratic participation of all stakeholders ASUU, NASU, SSANU, Students' Union in the control and management of the school.

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LIBERIA

Right Wing Victory In Presidential Elections Provokes Protests

Youth And Poor Of War-Torn Country Oppose Neo-Liberalism

By Peluola Adewale

 

Baring any eventuality Liberia, the first republic in Africa, has produced the first elected female president in the continent, though this is not the first time a woman will lead the war ravaged country. George Weah, a former world 'footballer of the year' and his party, Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), have challenged the victory of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former senior loan officer of the World Bank, on the basis of allegations that the run-off election was fraught with fraud.

According to the NEC, Johnson-Sirleaf got 59.4% of the votes as against the 40.6% of Weah. Weah won the first round with about 30% of votes, which was not enough to form a government as the constitution requires a minimum of 51%.

Meanwhile, the 18 members of Congress for Democratic Change elected to parliament have threatened to boycott the legislature if the alleged massive electoral fraud is not adequately addressed. The CDC is the biggest party in the national assembly.

On the contrary, the international observers have adjudged the election as free and fair. But the thousands of people, mostly youth, that took to the streets on Friday, November 11, to protest the allegedly questionable victory of Johnson-Sirleaf, were not really surprised at the verdict of the observers. One of them, a 53 year-old unemployed man told IRIN, the news agency coordinated by the Secretariat of the United Nations, "The United Nations is not neutral. The international community is in cahoots with Ellen" (Johnson-Sirleaf is popularly called Ellen, her first name, by Liberians).

This reflects the general feeling of the protesters. The high-handed response of the United Nations Police in the capital city, Monrovia, to the protesters, led to two people being injured and further fuels the suspicions of complicity of the international community in the electoral process.

The international community, a euphemism for world imperialism and its various agents, like a leopard that does not change its spots, is not naturally expected to be comfortable with the support base of George Weah, which is mostly dominated by youth, the unemployed and the poor seeking a break from the old order. Although, George Weah does not put forward any programme that is fundamentally different from that of Ellen or that could guarantee a turnaround of the devastated economy, he is seen as untainted and neutral and the symbol of the much desired peace and change.

Many of Weah’s supporters see Sirleaf, a former minister of finance who once supported militia leader Charles Taylor in the civil war, as one of the elitist clique that has ruined the country in its quest for power. "I want a neutral person to rule this country, not Ellen Johnson, who has ruined this country by backing revolutions [civil wars]. We have been used by people like her", Junior Rose, a former child soldier who fought for three different armed factions told the Financial Times (London).

Most of Liberia's 100,000 ex-combatants, irrespective of which faction they were in, back George Weah. Another protester, an 18-year-old called, Hezekiah George, told The Independent (London), "I am not marching for George Weah, I am marching for peace and justice".

Such a social base and high expectations could push Weah in a radical direction. Thus, imperialism cannot trust him with power, more so when a true blue imperialist pupil (Ellen) is available for the job!

IMPERIALIST RING

A leading representative of the international community presently in Liberia is Abdul-Salami Abubakar, the former Army Chief of Staff in Nigeria under President Abacha in the 1990s. After Abacha died in mysterious circumstances, Abdul-Salami Abubakar ruled as dictator of Nigeria from 1998 to 1999. In his brief period in power, Abdul-Salami paved the way for the enthronement of an unrepentant pro-capitalist/imperialist statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo, as president. It was not accidental that Abdul-Salami left office to become an ambassador of "goodwill" for the United Nations. He surely has been called to duty in Liberia, along with other "experts", to guide the outcome of the presidential election to the "right direction". Prevention is better than cure, goes a popular saying.

World imperialism has vested economic interests in Liberia. The Firestone Harbel rubber plantation, owned by the US, is the biggest in the world. Also, sizeable amounts of crude oil have been discovered along Atlantic coast of Liberia. The country is the second-largest maritime licenser in the world, with more than 1,700 vessels registered under its flag, including 35% of the world's tanker fleet.

From all indications, Weah’s recourse to the Supreme Court or NEC can only succeed in postponing the official announcement of Johnson-Sirleaf as the winner of the 8 November election. With the colossal backing of the so-called international community, the results already announced will most likely be upheld.

George Weah has spoken against mass protests, saying that, "the streets of Monrovia do not belong to violent people". This sharply points out the contradictions between the pro-status quo Weah, and most of his supporters, who instinctively know that their aspirations cannot be met without rocking the boat.

However, the fact that Weah's 'appeal' was ignored by his supporters on 11 November suggests that he may not be able to totally control the protesters, who have held several other protest marches and adopted the slogan "No Weah, No peace" should Johnson-Sirleaf be eventually declared winner.

They believe that the presidency of Johnson-Sirleaf will mean government for the interests of international finance capital and its local agents and not for the poor masses of Liberia. This is apparently why the inscription on one of the banners carried by the demonstrators boldly reads, "Liberia is for us. Give it to us".

LIBERIA UNDER ELLEN

Meanwhile, the "iron lady" Ellen has not hidden her resolve to weld the Liberian economy with iron hoops to the self-serving, anti-poor policies of the World Bank and the IMF. When asked to react to the suspicion of people against her government having a close economic relationship with the international finance institutions, she told the press, "I don't see anything wrong with that. After all, we are going to take ownership of our economic programme here, if we work with the IMF and the World Bank and they provide the money, what is wrong?" (Guardian (Lagos), November 13, 2005).

Yes, Liberia may be allowed to evolve its "home grown" economic programme. It has an able Harvard-trained and World Bank-groomed expert as its new president. But, just like Nigeria's National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), such economic package has to be drawn in the image of the IMF/World Bank and subjected to strict monitoring of the imperialist finance institutions, before Liberia could enjoy any "goodwill" from the Bretton Wood twins. IMF or World Bank is no Santa Claus. They put their money where the self-serving economic interests of imperialism are best protected and the investment could yield super profits, which is always at the gross expense of the poor working people.

Already, Liberia along with other war devastated countries, like Somalia, Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire, has just been enlisted in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative programme of the World Bank and IMF, as a step towards getting relief from its about $3 billion external debt burden. The creditors, including World Bank and the IMF, cannot reduce, let alone forgive, the so-called $3 billion debt of Liberia, - which is miniscule to world imperialism but a huge amount to a badly ravaged economy - without being made to pay hard price. Liberia is now at what is called 'pre-decision point', the first stage of the programme. This means that it should have started servicing its debt and implementing harsh economic policies of structural adjustment or capitalist neo-liberal programme, as dictated by the IMF and the World Bank, to be eligible for relief. The new government has to intensify carrying out policies that include cuts in government spending, privatisation, trade liberalisation, downsizing, etc to successfully pass through the 3-stage programme and be entitled to cancellation of its multilateral debt. Johnson-Sirleaf is an unofficial adviser to the outgoing transitional government in hooking up Liberia to the HIPC initiative.

The government of Mali, which has reached completion point of the HIPC programme and had its multilateral debt cancelled by the annual meetings of IMF and World Bank on September 24/25, 2005 had, a week earlier, told striking workers agitating for pay rise in the face of increasingly unbearable cost of living, that one of the reasons their demands could not be met was the international demands for cuts in government spending (IRIN, September 19, 2005). This tells just little of what awaits the already impoverished working people of Liberia.

SOCIALISM OR UNENDING HORROR

Thus, the neo-liberal attack that Johnson-Sirleaf is set to prescribe as the 'medicine' for the socio-economic ailment Liberia suffers, will further compound the perilous situation of the country. Although the 14-year long war badly destroyed the infrastructure and socio-economic fabric of the country, the economy of Liberia had been in tatters much before the civil war, due to similar pro-rich, anti-poor policies and the characteristic corruption of the pre- war governments, one of which Ellen had served (Ellen was finance minister under Tolbert's administration). The Samuel Doe-led gang actually capitalised on the massive riots against an acute hike in food prices, beyond the reach of working people, to overthrow Liberia's leader, William Tolbert, in 1980.

Already the human development indicators of Liberia are horrific. The 85% plus rate of unemployment is the highest in the world. More than 80 % live below the poverty line (i.e. below $US 1 a day) and the level of illiteracy is over 80%. Less than 20% of the population, estimated at 3.6 million, can write or speak English, the official language. In the year 2000, the most recent statistics of UNESCO on Liberia, 61% of primary school age and 18% of secondary school age were in schools. Of course, with the destruction of education system during the war, and emergence of child soldiers, the current figures will be much worse. Life expectancy is 41 years for men and 43 years for women. For over a decade, Monrovia has been without electricity and water, let alone the remote villages or towns. The BBC reported that there are tens of thousands of teenagers who have never seen electric light in their life.

Liberia needs huge resources to turn around its education system, health care, infrastructure (electricity, water, road, transport system, etc) and to guarantee jobs, foods, shelters and the other basics of life. Liberia is rich with natural resources, potentially making it one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. Its main exports are iron ore, diamonds, timber, rubber, cocoa and coffee. Crude oil at commercial quantity has been discovered in its coastal areas and the country makes enormous revenues from its maritime registry (the second largest in the world), which, in fact, provided the bulk of foreign exchange earnings for Charles Taylor's government.

With its immense wealth, post civil war Liberia could jump-start its economy, set the stage for its development and provide basic needs of its population. Of course, it still requires foreign assistance in addition, but this must be without strings attached. The major obstacles that will stand on its path to economic recovery are the deadly embrace of imperialist domination of the commanding heights of its economy and the capitalist economy's profit motive. The neo-liberal policies of discouraging public spending on social infrastructure and basic needs, which the new government is set to embrace as article of faith, will not provide any way out for the mass of the population.

Therefore, to ensure adequate provision of the basic needs of the people (food, job, shelter, education, health care, electricity, water, etc), and to guarantee overall socio-economic and human development, the commanding heights of economy must be nationalised and put under the democratic management and control of working people. This can only be achieved through a working people's party with a socialist programme forming a workers' and poor peasants' government.

George Weah's Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), both in programme and in leadership, is a far cry from what a genuine working people's socialist party would be like. Nonetheless, the support which the CDC enjoys among the Liberian masses and youth, based, of course, on the false assumption that Weah is one of 'their own', is a graphic illustration of the scope and intensity of the mass support a truly working people's socialist party could muster in the explosive situation that can develop. Today, the organisations of Liberian workers are weak, due to the devastating civil war. But the strike and protests, including roadblocks in Monrovia, by Liberia Telecommunication Corporation (LTC) workers, in April, this year, has shown that Liberian workers still retain the potential of fighting against neo-liberal attacks and of raising political questions.

The combination of the experience of this election, and what is likely to result from the "iron lady's" government, will undoubtedly open possibilities for the ideas of mass struggle and a socialist alternative to gain support.

 

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DSM HOLDS CONGRESS

The 16th National Congress of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October 2005 at the International Press Centre, Ogba, Lagos held at a time when Nigeria is steadily falling into bottomless pit of disasters rampant ritual killings (for supposed wealth and prosperity!), renewed ethnic militia activities, tragic killing of hundreds of people in transport mishaps etc. The resort to myth, superstition and ritual killings in the search for solutions to economic questions of poverty, jobs, security reveals the growing frustration among layers of the poor masses as living conditions become more and more appalling.

In the discussion on Nigeria Perspectives, the Congress noted that despite the huge resources being daily generated, Obasanjo government has continued to attack the poor working people with its neo-liberal policies with no hope of things getting better. More that any previous government before it, this regime has continued to rake in resources. The government, for instance, amasses a minimum sum of $190 million per day from oil sales alone. In the past five years, the government has earned over $100 billion from oil sales and over $13b as excess from crude oil sales in the past one year. Yet, the working masses are faced with various attacks of IMF/World Bank inspired neo-liberal policies such as cut ii social services, incessant fuel hike, deregulation, retrenchment etc from this self-serving, anti-poor, pro-rich Obasanjo government.

Unfortunately, LASCO which has been leading the struggle against the incessant hike in pump price is yet to draw correct and holistic conclusion on the need to fight beyond incessant hike in fuel price. The congress resolved that to end the multi-facets crises befallen the Nigerian working masses, the LASCO leadership must know that forming alternative working masses political party armed with socialist programme the commanding heights of the economic democratically managed and controlled by the working masses, and means of production based on satisfaction of needs of the society and not the profit for few minority with a view of wrestling power from this capitalist ruling class.

The Congress also looked at various developments across the globe: the rise in the movements of the working masses and the poor in Latin America, the Iraqi quagmire, and the global resistance to neo-liberalism by the poor working people among others. It agreed that these developments are further revelations that capitalism offers no solution or a better future to the problems of hunger, illiteracy, joblessness, diseases, wars facing the majority of human race.

The Congress extended its international solidarity to the Venezuelan masses and the poor working people across the globe and resolved to organise and mobilise the Nigerian working class and poor in international solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution and in event of a possible US intervention in Venezuela, as events develop. The Congress was closed with members’ commitment to a rededication to the international struggle for the socialist transformation of Nigeria, Africa and the world, and the consolidation of the solid foundation of a mass revolutionary socialist movement being built in Nigeria, which the DSM represents.

 

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WORLD CUP

Nigeria Failure To Qualify

By Victor Osakwe

It is no news that Nigeria will not be at the World Cup tagged Germany 2006. To many Nigerians, the debate on why we failed to qualify continues to attract a lot of comments especially amongst football lovers who have come to think that it is Nigeria's birthright to always be at the most prestigious football event in the world, having participated in it three times consecutively. On the other hand, there is a school of thought that believes that the new entrants from the African continent will spring up surprises during the World Cup. They cite the example, Senegal, which qualified for the first time for the 2002 edition and went farther than the regulars, viz. Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Morocco. They therefore believe that the fact that new countries like Angola, Ghana, Togo and Cote D'Ivoire will be attending for the first time will produce a better result for the African continents than before. But why did Nigeria fail to qualify? Looking at the results of the qualifying matches, Nigeria and Angola were tied with the same point and Nigeria also had a higher goal difference but according to the head to head rule of FIFA, Angola had the upper hand since they defeated Nigeria in Luanda and pulled a draw with the Super Eagles in Kano.

Many Nigerians believe that Nigeria should have qualified instead of Angola and so they have blamed the coach, the sports ministry, the NFA and the footballers themselves. However, a critical look at Nigeria's qualifications in the past shows that there have always been problems. Nigeria has always managed to qualify after the final matches and after relieving the serving coach of his job and employing another. The government suddenly takes very seriously the need to qualify for the competition instead of adequately planning and preparing from the beginning. This time around, the method failed!

The sports ministry, the NFA, the coach and the footballers themselves are the causes of Nigeria's failure to qualify. The undemocratic and top-down approach (which is a remnant of the military rules) is still prevalent in Nigerian football, the corruption of officials in the ministry, NFA and coaches coupled with the high demands of the Nigerian professional footballers themselves are all the problems afflicting and damaging Nigerian football. Even if we succeed in qualifying for the World Cup and also win the African nations cup many times over and all these problems are not tackled from the roots, we will continue to see our football more in jerks and fits.

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FRESH ATTACKS ON EDUCATION

Tuition Fee, Hostel Privatisation, Post-JAMB Test And Compulsory Student Insurance Scheme

By H.T. Soweto

For the umpteenth time, the irrevocably anti-poor Obasanjo capitalist government has again embarked on new waves of IMF/World Bank inspired attacks capable of pricing education out of the reach of Nigerian students, majority of whom come from poor working class families living in hardship and excruciating poverty. Once again, this latest agenda of government shows, in clear terms, that the pro-rich government of the day is not prepared to improve the lots of students unless it is radically challenged by an organized and popular resistance of Nigerian students nationwide.

The comprehensive policy of the government on education which grows out of its neo-liberal economic policies encapsulated in the NEEDS program has been mindless commercialization of education, privatization of hostels and the handing over of the responsibility for investment in education to profit-seeking private individuals, politicians and corporate bodies. To achieve this, the Obasanjo government has consistently cut public spending on education to a miserable 4.6% of annual budget from about 11% in 1999. This has given the managements of various institutions the excuse to charge obnoxious and prohibitive fees. For instance, the Committee of Chairmen of University Governing Councils, among other things resolved at a meeting some months ago that tuition fee must be introduced formally into public tertiary institutions of learning because of under-funding. But while not denying this obvious fact, it is entirely untenable and callously exploitative to compel students and their poor parents being daily impoverished by the anti-poor economic policies of government to provide required funds needed to run the institutions. Payment of tuition represents the height of exploitation as students are still groaning under the yoke of numerous obnoxious and prohibitive fees existing under different appellations, which the Institution authorities charge at their whims. Check any tertiary institution in the Nation; students pay an average of N10,000 to N60,000 every session as school fees alone aside feeding, accommodation, transport etc. Thus, an introduction of tuition without an improvement in the standard of living, where national minimum wage still stands at a miserable #7,500 per month will compound the already extreme poverty in the nation, stretch the resources of poor toiling parents to the limit and force out of school the children of the very poor. What is required is a free and qualitative education by allotting adequately from the enormous resources of Nigeria to education.

In tandem with this is also the directive by government that henceforth, all institutions must privatize their student hostels. As it is well known, student hostel is one of the crucial sections of the education sector mostly affected by the irresponsibility of successive governments to adequately fund education. Today, overcrowding, poor toilet and bathroom facilities, poor hygiene, collapsing structures and perennial crisis of epileptic electricity and water supply are the prevailing images of contemporary hostels in any public institution across the Nation despite astronomical and daily increases in fees. Unfortunately, this already lopsided situation will worsen if the hostels are taken over by profit-seeking private individuals and corporate bodies who will charge enormous and prohibitive fees while avoiding any massive long term investment in overhauling the hostel facilities in order to expand the rate of their profits. Perfect examples of this scenario abound in the host communities of our institutions where the most shoddy, unventilated and ramshackle accommodation costs a fortune. However, instead of privatizing the hostels or commercializing them extensively as UNILAG and U.I seem to have opted for by charging a whooping sum of N10,000 as in the case of the latter and an outrageous N18,000 in the former, the only effective solution is for government to commit public resources to renovate student hostel facilities in all the tertiary institutions and build more, especially in some non-residential institutions whose students have to seek accommodation among, often times, hostile communities whose rural mode of living cannot accommodate the boisterous way of live of students in general, thereby leading to clashes like the June 17 2005 mayhem in Ago-Iwoye in which some students of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) were heartlessly massacred!

Another issue is the student life insurance scheme, which some Insurance companies in league with managements of tertiary institutions and the fraudulent Hembe-led leadership of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) wish to impose on the generality of Nigerian students. According to a fake congress of NANS, it was agreed that all Nigerian students must start paying #1,000 each along with their school fees to a single insurance company Lead insurance HEIRS Assurance. However, this issue of insurance is merely a means to screen off the age-long neglect of the health sector by successive self-serving government and there is nothing the mass of poor Nigerian students can benefit from insurance except get swindled. The only insurance which can genuinely favour the mass of Nigerian students and the working people in general is for government to provide viable, functional and affordable health policy, renovation of existing hospitals, procurement of drugs and building of more hospitals in villages, communities and schools.

The latest government fraudulent policy on education is the Post-JAMB test agenda. According to the Executive Secretary, National University Commission (NUC) Prof. Peter Okebukola, the need for individual Institution to conduct fresh screening of admission seeking students became necessary as a result of unbridled malpractices, which has marred JAMB examinations and thus, makes its result unreliable for judging the academic proficiency of students. However, going by the report of the Post-JAMB test conducted so far, instead of eradicating the malady of malpractices, the test has only shifted the arena of the fraud closer to the confines of individual institutions. In UNILAG where the screening was conducted, the question paper leaked a day before the examination! Apart from this, it has turned into money making venture for the institutions that charge students enormously for the exam. For instance, UNILAG invited over 46,000 students well above its NUC approved admission quota to do the examination at the rate of N2,000 each, ending up making over N92million. This also obtained in other institutions where it was conducted like FUTA, UNIJOS, DELSU and UNIBEN. While not condemning a genuine attempt to eradicate malpractices, it is nonetheless a fraud to again charge students and their poor parents who have already paid heavily for different examinations which most students had to take up to five times before succeeding. If the NUC and the tertiary Institutions wish to screen candidates, they should be prepared to take responsibility for the finances. Thus, the intervention of government that the examination should go for N1000 each is a shameless endorsement of the daylight robbery of students. Students, their unions and pro-students organisations should demand for an immediate cancellation of the fee attached to the Post-JAMB test and refund of those already collected by different institutions.

However, the germ of malpractice is a product of the desperate conditions created in admission as a result of limited spaces in the Universities in relation to the population of applicants. For instance, in the 2005/2006 admissions, over one million applied for admission but all the 73 Universities (including 23 licensed private ones) could admit is a mere 147,000 - about 15%. According to Prof. Okebukola, in the next five years, students seeking admission will increase to about four million. Unfortunately, only the children of the rich can afford the expensive private institutions thus making the bulk of admission falls on the public tertiary institutions, which have been totally abandoned by government. The public institutions presently are fast nose-diving into the comatose state of public primary and secondary schools. What all these facts have shown is that the country has no reason not to fund education at all levels. Nigeria, as the 8th largest OPEC producer of crude oil is incontrovertibly rich. As of now, Nigeria, according to the Finance Minister, Okonjo Iweala, has made over $12billion as excess profit from the daily sales of crude oil while the nation's external reserve stands at a record height of $29billion and is still increasing. But unfortunately, the Obasanjo government will not use all these resources to fund education because it also benefits from the dislocation of public institutions. Obasanjo himself has a private university of his own called "The Bells". Not only him, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the Igbinedion family and a host of other politicians use resources meant for public purposes to pursue private businesses of their own. At the same time, the Obasanjo government is irrevocably committed to corruption. While education is crumbling due to under funding, the government has disbursed a whooping $12.4billion to Paris Club creditors to settle a fictitious debt deal. And just few weeks ago, the Senate also approved about N40million to buy a bullet-proof car for the Senate president. These are just few instances of the reckless spending; corruption and profligacy of the Obasanjo government while social services like education and health are left to crumble.

Conclusively, it will take a determined, organized and popular struggle of Nigerian students nationwide through demonstrations and protests to fight back the attacks on education. Obviously, the treacherous Hembe-led NANS leadership, going by its pro-government activities, cannot be expected to lead this movement. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), in alliance with progressive students' unions, civil society organizations and individuals should be prepared to spearhead these campaigns. However, the continuous attacks of Obasanjo government on education cannot be divorced from the overall neo-liberal policies of the regime, which has brought untold hardship, poverty and misery on the poor working masses. In actual fact, a lasting solution to the crisis in the education sector cannot be obtained unless the Obasanjo government, together with its anti-poor economic policies, is ousted through a social revolution of the toiling masses. In that wise, we must link our demands and protests with the call for a viable workers political party with alternative pro-masses programmes that will commit the collective resources of the country to providing social services, development of infrastructures, a better working and living conditions etc. this party must be built to wrenching political power from the grip of self serving capitalist politicians. It is only in this context that the struggle of Nigerian students can be crowned in genuine victory.

 

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NIGERIA SOCIAL FORUM

"Another Nigeria Is Possible": Yes, But Only Under Socialism

By Eko John Nicholas

As a follow-up to the first Nigeria Social Forum held in Makurdi in 2004, the Second Nigeria Social Forum (NSF) recently took place in Lagos, with the theme: "Another Nigeria is possible" between 14th to 18th November, 2005 with participants drawn across the country.

BACKGROUND

The Nigeria Social Forum is purely a gathering of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are directly funded by international agencies whose goals are centred on reformist programmes meant to act as palliative measures amidst an increasing attack on working class people by the government arising from the neo-liberal anti-poor capitalist policies as dictated by the IMF and the World Bank. Some of these NGOs are under the control of ex-Stalinists and human rights activists with radical background. They are increasingly conscious of the unabated miseries faced by the working people due to the neo-liberal policies of the government but lack the necessary understanding or political will to bring about a change of system and regime. They have opted for nebulous reformist packages ostensibly to alleviate the suffering of the mass of the working class people of Nigeria within the confines of capitalism. Hence the slogan "Another Nigeria is Possible".

IS ANOTHER NIGERIA POSSIBLE?

Yes, another Nigeria is possible. Having followed closely the week- long events of the Nigeria Social Forum and its agenda, one cannot but agree that the deliberations and resolutions, if carried through, will impact positively on the lives of the working class people of Nigeria. But under the present arrangement, where the Obasanjo led government is head-deep in the implementations of IMF/World Bank induced neo-colonial policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, etc all the lofty objectives set out to achieve at the Nigeria Social Forum for another Nigeria without posing an alternative system are farce.

Is NSF prepared to be part of the movement for change to bring about another Nigeria that will meet our collective yearnings and aspirations? This is very unlikely. The NGOs representatives funded by billionaire capitalists will report back to their various financiers, both foreign and local. It will be ludicrous to expect them to threaten the interest of their funders and the system that profits them. At best, they could, under an amorphous platform, agitate for reforms of some aspect of the polity.

A DAY OF ACTION NEEDED

If NSF is to be seen as a movement prepared to pose alternative, it must be ready to go beyond its talk shops and paper works meant to bring about reforms in the system. Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary and one of the leading speakers on the last day of the forum called on NSF organizers to immediately commence reaching out to the broad layers of the society, mass organisations, Trade unionists, farmers, market women and women, radical political parties and other civil society organisations etc, to formulate a programme of action of building a popular movement which, primarily relies on mass actions to actualise its goals. Accordingly, January 18, 2006 has been scheduled as a day of action to struggle against poverty and the neo-liberal, anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo led capitalist government. Having fixed the date, the organizers should reach out to the labour, pro-labour organisations, human rights groups, youths, students, etc and commence mobilisation for the action plan. More importantly, the movement should, in the long run, be built on popular platform and armed with alternative programmes and ideas to wrestle power from the pro-market ruling parties.

DSM INTERVENTION

Although, the NSF was dominated by NGOs professionals, the intervention of the Democratic Socialist Movement was highly instructive. Segun Sango who was one of the leading speakers at the forum spoke on the themes: "Unemployment, Poverty and Development" and "Alternative Strategies for change". On both occasions, he demanded a break with the capitalist system, which is responsible for poverty and mass miseries through the formation of a broad based working peoples political party built on socialists basis to wrestle power from the present regime. He also demanded a day of action to campaign against the neo-liberal policies of the Obasanjo led PDP government like education privatisation and commercialisation, etc.

The DSM also anchored a roundtable discussion on the theme: "Who Owes Who? The Debt Question". With facts and figures the DSM made it clear that Nigeria and other so-called indebted African countries do not owe in real term, as they have repaid much more than the original loans collected. Besides, Africa is a net exporter of capital to the West arising from the enormous wealth that has been plundered right from the trans-Atlantic slave trade through colonial era to the current epoch of neo-colonialism and the stashing away of the stolen money of the continent. The participants agreed to our positions and adopted our proposed resolution that the NSF should call for outright cancellation of Nigeria and Africa's debt without conditionality attached and the repatriation of the stolen wealth of Africa stashed in foreign banks by the corrupt pro-west leaders.

The members of DSM also attended some other sessions, viz.: "Between Rights and Reforms", "Promoting Gendered Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Economic Policies", "Gender Equality", "Feminism and the Next Generation", "Youth Posing Alternatives for Human Development in Nigeria". In all these panels, our ideas the need for a socialist transformation of the society - was openly canvassed as the only genuine alternative to the present capitalist rot in Nigeria.

Our materials and literature were also displayed with our banner denouncing the ills of capitalism. Materials and literature worth N8,400 were sold at the five day programme. We made new contacts and two individuals were recruited.

The effort of the Nigeria Social Forum is commendable, but there is a need to immediately commence the mobilisation of the different strata of the society for the January 18 day of action. ore importantly, the NSF should reach out to other organisations like DSM, NLC, CFTU, TUC, NANS, NCP, DA and other civil society groups to commence discussion on the formation of a broad left platform, that will crystallise into a mass movement that will overthrow this present capitalist government that means nothing but miseries and poverty for mass of the working class and entrenching socialism with public ownership of the commanding height of the economy under democratic workers management and control for poverty to be made history. Based on this, another Nigeria will be possible.

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PARIS CLUB DEBT DEAL

The Working People Must Resist Re-colonialism

By Peluola Adewale

The Obasanjo's government has concluded arrangement to cough up a huge sum of $12.4bn to the Paris Club of creditor nations. Already $6.4bn has been illegally withdrawn from the treasury without the prior constitutionally mandated approval of the national assembly and paid to an escrow account in Switzerland for onward transfer to the creditors after the rubber stamp of the national assembly is secured. This 12.4bn debt repayment is in addition to $42bn Nigeria has previously paid to the Paris Club for $13.5 billion original loan. Thus, in the final analysis, Nigeria would have paid altogether a sum of $54.4bn to the usurious creditors for $13.5billion debt and the so-called relief of $18bn! Besides, withdrawing $12.4bn in less than six months from a country widely assessed to be in dire need of huge investment to grow constitutes a suffocating deadweight on the economy. As disastrous as what this portends, the economic cost of the Paris Club deal is much more grievous and outrageous.

On Monday October 17 2005, Obasanjo's government officially submitted Nigeria to re-colonisation having signed agreement with IMF to dictate and monitor its economic reform under its Policy Support Instrument (PSI) (Reuter, October 19, 2005). This is the stringent conditionality attached to the deal. The Nigerian working people, urban and rural poor, youths and students must rise to protest against the resolve of this quisling government to plunge the country further into abyss of economic peonage of world imperialism. Rather than bring any succour, the deal will inflict more pain and pang on the already excruciating suffering of the Nigerian masses. Sadly, Obasanjo and his propaganda mills have misinformed Nigerians including labour leadership to take the poison gratefully.

However, Obasanjo himself, whose military dictatorship sowed the seed of debt burden before leaving office in 1979, while trying to pose as a friend of the masses in 1989 bemoaned the characteristic conditionality IMF and World Bank always attach to debt treatment. This was in the wake of the hated Structural Adjustment Programme being implemented by the Babangida military junta. He lamented, "Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, was substituted for concepts like belt-tightening and austerity measures on the basis of de-control and market forces as prescribed by the IMF and the World Bank. This was in a bid to satisfy creditors whose postures seem to be consistently uncompromising, unsympathetic and unmindful of the prevailing political and social situation. For instance, in Nigeria, the implementation of SAP has meant exchange rate of about N0.60 to $1 in 1981 to over N7.50 to $1 in 1989. Other measures like withdrawal of subsidies and privatisation of government companies have been embarked upon. In short term and middle-term, the effect has been mounting unemployment, soaring inflation, poor public transportation, under-utilisation of installed capacities in the industries and agriculture, and a decline in the standard of living" (Newswatch, August 7, 1989)

Although, Obasanjo was revealing the baleful conditions of things under Babangida's regime, he was being instinctively prophetic of his present government. The picture he painted above, no doubt, is gloomy, but the reality that obtains today is much more scary. His government has inflicted the worst of economic hardship on the poor working masses in spite of having amassed fabulous oil and gas revenue more than any other regime in the last three decades. The inequality in wealth distribution is so sharp that the World Bank has to report that 80% of the oil and gas revenue accrue to just 1% of the population while 99% scramble to share out of the remaining 20%. This is why over 70% of Nigerians live below poverty line (i.e. below US$1 a day). Obviously, creditors are actually interested to get their own share from what they called exceptional oil revenue of Nigeria. As at November, this year excess crude oil revenue was put at $13billion while the foreign reserve was $30 billion. Yet, there is nothing to show for the windfall in terms of infrastructure, let alone the social services (education, health care, etc) whose provision the government has almost abandoned.

Obasanjo's government has stated that freed up $1billion that is normally paid annually to the Paris Club will be spent on education, health and infrastructure. This is a blatant deceit designed to drum up support for the death (debt) deal. Last year, the government that adduced $1.8 billion debt repayment to all the categories of creditors as the reason it could not adequately fund education and health care from the budget, shared among the tiers of government an extra sum of $2.9 billion out of excess oil revenue without appropriation and spent nothing out of it on the social services.

The government has brazenly refused to commit public resources to the provision of basic needs of people and rabidly implementing privatisation of government companies, commercialising social services, retrenching workers, etc on the basis of its neo-liberal economic reform, which has been endorsed by the IMF. This so-called economic reform being peddled around as homegrown is more vicious and monstrous than the SAP which Obasanjo then roundly condemned as lacking human face. Yet, the world imperialism wants more commitment of Obasanjo's government to the anti-poor economic programmes. This explains why the conditionality is imposed and the Paris Club will only cancel 33% of the "eligible" debt after the payment of $6.4 billion arrears as against 67% at once and defer the remaining 34% until March next year when the IMF will make its first review of Nigerian economic reform programme under its PSI (Reuter, October 19, 2005).

Nigerians must not submit cheaply to the second slavery which the Obasanjo's government, dominated by pro-imperialist politicians and technocrats, has almost plunged the country into. The perilous deal must be frustrated by putting up spirited popular resistance against anti-people pro-rich neo-liberal policies in all ramifications as we call for outright cancellation of the largely fictitious debt. Even, should all Nigeria's debts be cancelled, it will not automatically mean improvement in the lots of the poor working masses as long as the government that is run on the basis of capitalist neo-liberal philosophy holds sway. This has thrust to the fore the question of political power. Therefore, the struggle against debt enslavement and neo-liberalism is not total without linking it with effort to form a working people's political party that could usher into power workers and poor farmers' government run on socialist programme. Such government will enable public ownership of the commanding heights of economy and main resources of nature firmly placed under democratic management and control of the working people themselves and thus guarantee food, housing, education, health care, electricity, water, decent jobs, etc to the poor masses.

 

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VENEZUELA AND THE BOLIVARIAN REVOLUTION

 

Kola Ibrahim

 

The series of popular revolts against neo-liberalism that have seen the ouster of a number of presidents from Argentina to Bolivia to Ecuador and the massive working people’s struggles that have sustained the radical populist government headed by Hugo Chavez in power Venezuela. The tumultuous events in the Latin America is an indication that history is only about to begin as the masses enter the arena of class struggle.

 

Of all the massive movements in the Latin America, where the richest one tenth of the population controls over 48% of the continent’s income while the poorest ten percent manage 1.6%, that of Venezuela stand out. Like Africa, Latin America’s resources are plundered by imperialism and like Nigeria, Venezuela is a major oil exporter, but unlike Nigeria the current Venezuelan regime is striving to improve the lot of the working masses.

 

The result is that Venezuela is attracting special attention as a radical populist government coming out of the mass struggle attacks the corrupt bourgeois ruling class. For the first time after the collapse of the Stalinist Russia, we are again witnessing a government describing itself as "socialist" as it challenges US imperialism.

 

Evolution of Chavez

 

The neo-liberal policies introduced following the collapse of the 1970’s petro-dollar funded welfare state in the 80’s and early 90’s and the endemic corruption among government officials, had meant infliction of excruciating hardship on Venezuelan masses. Government spending on social services was cut down by 50% within a decade, while purchasing power of workers dropped by two-thirds between 1978 and 1994. Thus, between 1984 and 1995, poverty level rose from 36% to about 70%.

 

These situations led to a great hatred for the corrupt ruling class by the working and toiling masses. The election of Hugo Chavez who offered a radical alternative in 1998 only manifested the potential revolutionary explosion building up in Venezuela.

 

The political support and push of the masses who have undertaken heroic movements have forced Chavez government to move a bit to the left. As the landless farmers occupy the farms and the workers call for nationalisation, Chavez has responded by moving further to the left, pronouncing anti-imperialist and sometimes, socialist slogans to express mass radicalisation taking place in Venezuela.

 

The imposition of tax on multinational and local companies; sanction of over-greedy companies and judicious use of the petro-dollar wealth which hitherto provided cheap wealth for the former ruling elite, has earned Chavez the wrath of the reactionary Venezuelan capitalist class and more importantly, US imperialism which gets 15% of its oil supply from Venezuela.

 

Accordingly, a military coup supported by the US imperialism was organised on April 11, 2002 and ousted Chavez’s government from power. He was however restored into office 47 hours after by a tumultuous mass movement of workers, the poor and the rank and file soldiers. By the end of the same year, a bosses’ lockout was organised by the corrupt capitalist class in the oil companies in reaction to the reorganization of the state oil company’s management. The working people resoluteness foiled this orchestrated sabotage.

 

In 2004, a fraudulent recall referendum was organised by the capitalist class and US imperialism through its agencies – NED, USAID, CIA, in order to oust Chavez in a " more civilized manner". This again was defeated by the mobilisation of the rank and file workers, peasants and the poor who voted overwhelmingly for Chavez, providing him with over 50% of the votes despite massive campaign against his government through the bourgeois controlled media.

 

In all these events, the mass anger against the capitalist class and the US imperialism has been increasing. Yet, Chavez has come out of every attack calling for reconciliation with capitalist class. This poses great dangers, Chavez regularly challenges US imperialism but holds back from a break with capitalism. In this scenario, there are two possibilities: a counter revolution or victory for the masses which could only be possible if commanding heights of economy is nationalised and placed under democratic control and management of the workers and the standing army is replaced by armed people. Half measures are dangerous. The lesson of Allende in Chile in 1973 is instructive. There is an urgent need for a radical transformation and arming people with the best strategies on how to move the revolutionary process forward by their independent actions.

 

Socialism of the 21st Century

 

Chavez has dubbed the current process as socialism of the 21st century, telling people to forget about the old conception of socialism. However, his responses to call for more revolutionary actions have not given a tangible meaning to his so-called socialism in the 21st century.

 

While of course his government has introduced some radical measures that have encroached on capitalist economic interest, those reforms have left capitalism still intact in Venezuela. While his government has nationalised some parts of oil industry and the state paper company - Venepal (now Invepal) - over 60% of the oil economy is still controlled by the capitalists and the multinationals, aside other parts of the economy largely controlled by the capitalist class, thus leaving intact the capitalist exploitation of the masses and the imperialist plunder of the economy with capacity to sabotage the economy.

 

Chavez’s recent state take-over of some 1,149 companies leaves is limited. These are companies whose owners have become bankrupt or nearly bankrupt. The Industry minister has said that nationalisation will only be in extreme cases and that capitalist firms and social production could co-exist. Could this be socialism of the 21st century? The little nationalisation carried out has been a product of workers actions, occupying the companies and calling for nationalisation.

 

Again, the increase in corporate tax, no matter how radical it may look, does not represent a radical break from the norm since the capitalist class will recoup its profit via other means of exploitation of the working class. Moreover, such tax will legalize further exploitation and also sanctify capitalist economic relations. There is a need for a comprehensive plan for complete nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under a democratic control and management of workers in each company, who will organise the economy at local, regional, sectoral and national levels. This should also be replicated on the political arena via a working people democratic participation in the running of the society through election of officers and be placed on average skilled workers salary and subject to recall by assemblies of working people at all levels.

 

Chavez’s government has redistributed some land to the poor farmers, but these are state owned farms. Big farmers who see this policy as encroachment on their private property have killed more than 158 poor farmers in land redistribution related issues. Also, about 13,000 hectares cattle ranch owned by Lord Vestry of UK has been seized by the government but the manner and argument of seizure leaves more holes in the agricultural policies. The reason for the seizure is because the land is unproductive, but there are thousands of big farms owned by pot-bellied farmers which are productive but do not produce what the society need or produce for profit market and not the masses thus making food availability elusive while killing small farmers’ economy and exploiting agricultural workers.

 

For a meaningful land redistribution in favour of the poor farmers, committees of poor farmers and agricultural workers is required to handle this task and formation of defence committee that will defend the policy at local, regional and national level. These committees will then be linked with workers’ defence committee in the factories, which will form the basis for the country’s defence force. A successful expropriation of big farms will lead to encouragement of farmers to form cooperative societies that will develop the agrarian sector. Though, Chavez has encouraged formation of cooperative societies which, in fact, have been the major employer of labour recently, the capitalist mode of running these cooperatives has led to terrible exploitation of the workers, majority of whom work without rights. As a result, many capitalists are masking their companies as cooperatives in order to get state incentive.

 

Chavez has called for the formation of defence councils at local levels that will be integrated to the national army to serve as counter-weight to imperialism. However as they are part of the armed forces and not under democratic mass control there is the danger that they will isolate the masses from direct defence of the revolution, thus giving false impression of a people’s army while laying basis for capitalist triumph at critical period like war or another coup.

 

Generally, the radical government of Chavez has implemented some populist programmes in favour of the masses. The Missione programme in which Cuban doctors are engaged in return for Venezuela’s oil to give free medical attention to Venezuelans has made health services accessible to over 14 million people, majority of whom have never had access to Medicare. Over 300,000 have been lifted from illiteracy while over 2 million more people now go to primary, secondary and tertiary schools. Universities are now open to working class children while 3200 new schools are being built. Also, some goods and foodstuffs are being sold at discount rate of up to 50% for the poor people at government owned supermarkets.

 

All these are laudable achievements if compared to the past corrupt regimes. However, over 60% of the population still lives in poverty, which is evident on the streets of Venezuela. This is because, despite the populist programmes, the major stake of the economy is still in the hands of the capitalist and the multinationals, who control over 50% of the economy. Through this, the normal capital flight and mega exploitation of the working masses are still omnipresent. Until the economy is nationalised and put under democratic control, where the huge wealth will be used for people, it may take eternity before substantial improvement is noticed in people’s lives. This can generate apathy among the masses and create a basis for capitalist triumph.

 

Yes, majority of the reforms are funded from the huge oil wealth generated from high crude oil price, but what happens if oil prices fall? Chavez may be forced to introduce policies to cut state spending which will definitely affect the masses and their consciousness and thus create mass rejection of his programmes and policies; which may move him either to the left or right, depending on the stimulus he responds to. Above all, the activities and the organization of the working masses to carry through a genuine socialist transformation will play major roles in the events unfolding.

 

Imperialism and Internationalism

 

Without doubt, Chavez anti-imperialist rhetoric and little reforms have generated a potent hatred from US imperialism. Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, has labelled Chavez government a major threat to US interests in the Latin America. Venezuela supplies 15% of US oil needs. Therefore, US intervention could not be ruled out. Though a US war is not likely at the moment as such could provoke the continental upheaval in the whole of the Americas. But, another coup or electoral coup, even economic blockade against Chavez could not be ruled out. In fact, US privately agreed with Pat Robertson, a right wing Christian fundamentalist, calling for Chavez’s assassination. The US has also been funding, to the tune of $15million, many pseudo-human right groups and right-wing media to effect Chavez removal by 2007.

 

Chavez has responded by opening economic relations with other Latin American countries and some anti-US regimes like Cuba, Iran etc. He has created a continent-wide television station, established a joint oil business with Caribbean and Latin American countries called Petrocaribe and Petrosur respectively. He has also used oil money to buy Argentinean and Ecuadorian debt in solidarity against imperialism. He has also supplied Cuba with oil and money, replacing to a certain extent the support that Stalinist Russia gave to its ally against US economic sanction.

 

However there is not a consistent foreign policy. For instance, Chavez does not comment on the lack of democratic rights in non-capitalist Cuba, which is monstrous to a genuine socialism. Chavez supported the Ecuadorian government’s clamp-down on workers in two oil producing states who were on strike to press home their demands for the development of the oil producing states and ban on oil multinationals that are implementing anti-labour and anti-environment policies. Chavez responded by giving oil support to the oppressive governments. Also, Chavez is supporting the corrupt Lula’s government in Brazil, which has been figured in huge financial corruption coupled with its neo-liberal and anti-poor policies that have eroded mass support for it. Chavez responded to it as pure opposition propaganda.

 

The implication of Chavez’s foreign policies is that despite his radical words he is not offering the working masses of these countries a way forward. Moreover, in time of economic downturn, Chavez may not be able to sustain his economic relations with theses countries. A genuine working class government will give support, strategic, moral and otherwise to the working class of other countries, calling for their struggle to end capitalist miseries in their countries, including US working class. Such government, while it may have economic relations with other countries, such relations must give priority to the interests of working people in those countries, linking its own working class organisation with others, thus, forming a confederation of workers in Latin America and in the whole of America. This is the best way of ensuring a successful revolutionary movement against imperialism. But, you can not give what you do not have. Chavez himself does not have comprehensive and genuine labour policies despite massive workers’ support for his government.

 

On the other hand, imperialism sees a radical government as a dangerous mole in the international capitalist structure, which if pressurised, could widen and finally collapse the fragile world economic and political "equilibrium". The working class can provoke a socialist revolution in a radicalized country and set the pace for workers of other countries to replicate. Imperialism will therefore not fold its hand on this development. It will employ all available resources in the bid to roll back the wheel of history.

 

It is a matter of time before imperialism suffocates to death a radical government that fails to move toward a socialist transformation that rests on the workers, the poor peasants, and appeal for solidarity of workers of other countries. Unlike US imperialism’s wish to directly oust Chavez, the European imperialist powers, like Spain, are working to contain Chavez and either "moderate" him or cool down the situation over a period of time. This is the policy they previously carried out in the 1980s in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas ruled. The task before the working class organization in Venezuela is to organise itself and assert its leadership on the growing movement and lead the working masses and other oppressed in bringing to being a workers and poor peasants’ government that will also seek solidarity and support from workers of other American countries to put imperialism to check and guide against counter-revolution.

 

Conclusion

 

Events in Venezuela pose a big challenge to the working class of all third world countries in particular and that of the world in general that capitalism can no longer move the society forward. It also shows the enormous strength of the workers when they decide to move to the political arena, given a focused leadership. The workers of Bolivia are now asking for formation of workers assembly at all levels to organise the economy and to lay the basis for their running of the society. Nigerian workers must also see this as a challenge to oppose neo-liberalism of IMF/Obasanjo government. Workers must fight against privatization, commercialization, retrenchment, etc and fight for the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy placed under the democratic control and management of the working people. NLC and other labour organizations should initiate discussion around the formation of a political platform with alternative socialist programmes to wrestle power from the corrupt capitalist class and lay basis for the socialist Nigeria, Africa and the world.

 

 

Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005