Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
1 May 2003
MAY DAY 2003
2003 ELECTIONS RESULTS:
ONLY THE WORKING PEOPLE CAN SALVAGE NIGERIA
The ongoing elections in Nigeria have confirmed, once again, that only the labour movement is capable of uniting the working people across the country and prevent the descent of the country into an ethnic and religious conflagration.
The National Assembly, presidential and governorship elections saw the re-election of the major capitalist parties, the PDP, ANPP and AD in various parts of the country. While President Olusegun Obasanjo has been declared re-elected for a second term, his ruling PDP has increased its National Assembly seats and state governorship positions. While the second biggest capitalist party, the ANPP, lost the presidential election, it still gains control of seven state governments while the AD government of Bola Tinubu has been re-elected in Lagos State.
The only major ray of hope for the working masses in these elections was the significant result achieved by the radical National Conscience Party (NCP) led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the renown human rights activist lawyer. Though the NCP has so far not won any seat, it has had credible and encouraging results in some areas. For instance, despite having limited manpower and financial resources, the party was able to win 9% of the votes in the Lagos West senatorial district while it came third in all the elections held in Lagos state so far. Chief Fawehinmi himself came fifth out of 20 candidates in the presidential election winning 161,333 votes.
However, while the politicians in PDP, ANPP, AD and a few other capitalist parties may be celebrating their so-called victory, the entire elections and its outcome portend grave danger to the survival of civil rule and on the long run the existence of Nigeria. Above all, the result of the elections have prepare the ground for further attacks on the rights and the already deplorable living standard of the working masses by the capitalist politicians in the next four years.
Rather than being a consolidation of democracy, as it is being described by capitalist apologists both within and outside Nigeria, these elections have actually underlined the inherent instability of Nigeria. Firstly, rather than performance in office or party programme, ethnic consideration was the major factor that determined the result of the elections. For example, it was the thinking that Obasanjo, a Yoruba, should get a second term, that led to the victory of Obasanjo's PDP in the Yoruba south west.
It was equally the same parochial consideration that was responsible for the further gains which the ANPP whose presidential candidate is General Mohammadu Buhari, a Hausa-Fulani, made in the core Hausa-Fulani part of north. In the same manner, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, the APGA presidential candidate, received most of his votes from people of the Igbo nationality.
In other words, four years of civil rule has not been able to ameliorate ethnic and religious divisions in the country. On the contrary, ethnic and religious feelings have been on increase. In the past four years alone, over ten thousand people have reportedly been killed in ethnic and religious conflicts.
Secondly, the election have been characterised by massive electoral manipulations, rigging and vote buying. Lacking any serious programme they could sell to the electorate, all the major capitalist parties have spent billions of naira not just on campaigns but in direct and indirect bribery of voters. And though generally peaceful than some previous elections, these elections have been characterised by violence in many areas resulting in killing of scores of people.
ATTACKS ON THE WORKING CLASS
Unless the labour movement leads a fight-back and provide a working class alternative, the re-election of these self-serving capitalist elements can only lead to the continuation if not the acceleration of the numerous attacks on the living standards and democratic rights of workers and youth of the past four years. Already, President Obasanjo has indicated that the prices of fuel are to be increased again, a measure which will lead to more hardship for the working masses. The anti-poor policies of privatisation of public assets, retrenchment of workers, late or non-payment of salaries and pensions, etc, with devastating consequences on workers' job, masses' access to basic social services and living standards will be continued.
In addition, with the billions of naira which the various individuals and factions within the capitalist class have spend on these elections, an exacerbation of looting of public treasury both by the capitalist politicians themselves and their private contractor supporters should be expected. Uplifting the living standards of the masses and improving education, health, housing, roads and other basic necessities will be the last consideration of these capitalist vampires. Under these circumstances, more and more people will become alienated and civil rule will be further discredited. And unless the labour movement unite the working masses by fighting against the capitalist attacks and for improvement in living standards and provide a viable working class alternative to the elite's anti-poor and sectarian policies, an increasing number of the masses will be seeking ethnic religious and other dangerous parochial solutions to their problems. The result will be deepening of ethnic and religious divisions and conflicts which will make the sectarian violence of the past 4 years look like a child's play.
LABOUR NEEDS A NEW ORIENTATION
Only if the trade union movement and the NLC provide an alternative socio-economic alternative and a working class political platform completely different from those of the capitalist parasites can the catastrophe outlined above be averted.
Unfortunately, the NLC leadership have on the whole failed to understand the need for this historical imperative. While it has organised and led some actions against casualisation of workers and fuel price increment and for increase in minimum wage, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC leadership has on the whole been far from being consistent in defending workers' rights. For example, the NLC leadership has failed to fight against the retrenchment of workers in places like Lagos State, Osun State, etc, in the aftermath of the minimum wage increment in year 2000. Also, the labour leaders have not put in place a strategy to fight for civil servants and pensioners across the country who are being owed several months of arrears of salaries. More disturbing is the fact that the NLC leadership have failed to proffer alternative policies to the failed anti-poor programmes of the capitalist elites. For instance, the NLC leadership have been supporting privatisation policy of the government and the NLC president is even a member of the National Council on Privatisation.
Tragically also, instead of building an alternative independent working class political platform, the NLC leadership has largely been giving support to various groups of capitalist politicians. Even the NLC president, Oshiomhole went to the extent of endorsing 10 state governors and calling on workers to vote for them.
The trade union leaders have not equally shown any serious commitment to the building of Party of Social Democracy (PSD), the political party established by some sections of the labour leadership. The party has not organised any campaign on any issue affecting the working people or set up local grassroot structures. Under the guise of concentrating on the building of local structures, the PSD leaders did not field candidates in the recent elections. But party building and electoral contest are not mutually exclusive. In reality by refusing to field candidates, the PSD leaders left workers with no option than to vote for the capitalist politicians.
As workers mark this year's May Day, there is an urgent necessity for the labour movement and the NLC to re-appraise their role and to stop the counter-productive support for pro-capitalist policies and politicians. Workers and labour activists need to chart out an independent working class alternative for the labour movement.
As we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) often explain, Nigeria's huge human and material resources, the abundant fertile land and minerals, etc, are more than enough to guarantee decent living for all through the payment of adequate living wages to workers and the provision of free and qualitative education, free healthcare, cheap and decent housing, full employment and welfare benefits for the unemployed, the sick and the elderly. What makes this impossible and condemns the working masses to perpetual poverty and misery is the capitalist economic, political and social system, the market economy in which the economy and society is run on the basis of profits rather than the genuine needs of society. As a result, the system enriches a small minority at the expense of the larger society; it turns a few into millionaires while condemning millions into a life of poverty and destitution.
What is urgently needed to put an end to this horrific scenario is an alternative socio-economic and political alternative from the labour movement. To satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the working masses on lasting basis, this alternative must be based on an anti-capitalist, socialist ideology and its central aim will be the coming to power of a workers' and poor peasants' government that will make the abundant resources of society truly available for the use of the people and not just for the luxury of a rich few.
This would mean that the trade unions must be prepared to organise and lead mass struggles now against capitalist attacks on the living and working conditions of the working masses and for the provision of water, light, food, education, healthcare, functional transportation and telecommunication systems and other basic necessities. They must also fight against privatisation, commercialisation, retrenchment and for decent living wages and publicly funded and controlled social services.
These struggles should be linked to the building of an independent working people's political party with a democratic, socialist programme. This party will give political backbone to the struggles of the working people as well as champion the formation of a workers' and poor peasants' government. On coming to power, such a government will launch massive programme for food production, housing, schools, hospitals, water dams, electricity, jobs, telephone, etc. The primary and ultimate goal of the government will be the satisfaction of the needs of the masses unlike the present arrangement where the vast majority of humanity is kept in poverty and misery.
In this respect, the labour leaders would need to show more seriousness in building the PSD. If it is to become a genuine mass party of the working people, it must campaign on issues affecting the masses and lead struggles for their rights. It must establish itself among rank and file workers and other oppressed strata in workplaces, schools and inside the communities. It must also have grassroot democratic structures and its policies and programmes of the party must be decided not just by the leaders at the top but democratically by the rank and file members. The party will also have to work out programme for united action with groups like the NCP, NANS, ASUU and other organisations representing the oppressed, working people.
2000 MINIMUM WAGE AGREEMENT:
NLC MUST FIGHT FOR A LIVING WAGE
In May 2000, the Federal Government announced N7,500 and N5,500 new minimum wage for federal and state civil servants respectively. Recognising that the wage increment was inadequate to meet the prevailing high cost of living, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government signed an agreement for 25% and 15% increment for year 2001 and 2002 respectively. In fact, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced this agreement at the year 2000 May Day rally in Lagos.
But on the excuse that the economy was not recording any remarkable improvement and that most state and local governments could not cope with the new wage, the Federal Government appealed to NLC to shift the implementation of the 25% increment planned for year 2001 to 2002. NLC agreed to this shift. During further negotiation, the increment was even reduced to 12˝ %. Yet year 2003 has come and the government still has not effected any wage increase.
In July, 2002, the NLC suspended a one-day warning strike which was planned to protest against the refusal of the government to implement the year 2000 minimum wage agreement. According to the NLC at the end of its Central Working Committee on 9th July, 2002, the strike was suspended to allow for further negotiation with the government. Another planned strike scheduled for early April, 2003 on the same issue was also postponed by the NLC based on the excuse that it did not want to disrupt the elections.
There is even a lot of confusion on the issue. While the NLC leadership claims that an agreement has been reached for a 12˝% increment, President Obasanjo and his lieutenants have been saying that such an agreement does not exist and that the rate of increment will be determined only through further negotiation.
We in the DSM consider the demand of the NLC and Nigerian workers for the implementation of the 2000 agreement as just and necessary and we still call on the NLC to pursue this demand to its logical conclusion.
First and foremost, Federal Government is honour bound to implement this agreement. Its excuse that the economy is not improving is not a reason for the working people to continue to suffer. The opulent and ostentatious lifestyles of political office holders while workers are swimming in the stream of hardship make the Federal Government's argument unacceptable. When they are not paying themselves fabulous and over-bloated salaries and emoluments in terms of furniture, sitting, out of station, etc. allowances, the political office-holders and politicians award and inflate contracts for themselves, multinational corporations like Julius Berger Plc and their local allies. A case in point is the Abuja Stadium project which has been constructed by the Federal Government for the All African Games coming up later this year. This project which was initially billed to cost a sum of N38 billion was scaled upward to N97 billion.
The NLC must argue that the resources of the country is capable of paying for the increment and ensure living wages for workers and decent living for all if the well-being of the working masses forms the pivot of the economic, political and social policies of government.
But unless the NLC gets serious by organising mass actions on this issue, the matter will continue to be treated with levity by the government as it has being doing in the past two years. Against the certain opposition of the capitalist elites, in both public and private sectors, to any increment in workers' wages, labour leaders need to re-enact its tradition of mass awareness and mobilisation through posters, leaflets, lectures, seminars, rallies and demonstrations and strikes. This, to us, is the best way to ensure that the bankrupt anti-poor arguments of the pro-capitalist elements are thoroughly debunked and workers' morale boosted in the process.
Also, the NLC leadership needs to show that it will fight against any retrenchment of workers as a result of any wage increment and also come up with strategies and tactics to combat the evil of irregular payment of workers wages. For instance, the NLC leadership did little or nothing to fight the cause of the tens of thousand of workers sacked and victimised by states like Osun, Oyo, and Lagos etc as a result of workers' agitation for the implementation of the year 2000 minimum wage agreement. As of today, states like Anambra, , Imo, etc are owing workers salaries. Unless all these issues are seriously tackled, labour leaders will find it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm among workers, which is crucial for the successful prosecution of labour's just demand for wage increment.
Finally, the NLC leadership needs to link the struggle for decent wages to a comprehensive anti-capitalist economic and political agenda. The idea of piecemeal attack on symptoms of capitalism while the anti-poor, exploitative system itself is not centrally confronted, is an idea that cannot be sustained on a long-term basis. Experience has shown that even if labour wins the current demand for 12˝% wage increment, the employers of labour characteristically will do everything possible to neutralise this gain in several ways such as hike of prices of goods and services, mass retrenchment, etc.
Therefore, labour leaders need to fashion an economic and political agenda that can serve as alternative to the present anti-poor, capitalist system. In place of the prevailing self-serving system where all the essentials of living are being privatised, labour must fight for an equitable system where the commanding heights of the economy and the resources of society are used for the benefits of all and not just a rich few as is the norm under capitalism. Labour needs to evolve and support an independent political platform which will ensure that the rule of the perpetually corrupt and selfish capitalist politicians are replaced by a government of workers and poor peasants whose central goal will be the satisfaction of the basic needs and aspirations of all. Only this approach can bring appreciable and lasting respite for the working masses economically and politically.