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25 January 2005

Obasanjo's "National Political Reform Conference":

A CYNICAL AGENDA DESIGNED TO PERPETUATE MASS EXPLOITATION AND OPPRESSION

To douse and rubbish the age long clamour for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, a demand that reflects the mass dissatisfaction with Nigeria's current state and relations between its diverse nationalities and religious groups, the Obasanjo regime has concocted a very big and expensive farce called "The National Political Reform Conference".

EXPENSIVE FARCE

Towards this end, a 400 member body which will be exclusively composed by nominated and appointed individuals has been announced. President Obasanjo alone has the power to single-handedly nominate 50 members into this farcical body. The rest will be made up of individuals nominated by the Obasanjo's government itself in conspiracy with other big players in the economic and political field. The rest members are expected to be picked from the manufacturing sector, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the disabled groups.

Labour which in actual fact represents the power house and backbone of any society is even conspicuously left out of the sectors to be represented at the huge joke being called National Confab. Although, a kite of 3 months tenure has been flown, the ultimate person to determine the actual duration of the National Conference is President Obasanjo himself. In other words, an extension of tenure may be considered if the "delegates" are of good behaviour. At the end of the day, and logically too, whatever decisions are reached by this appointed and hand picked body are expected to be submitted to the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly for implementation in their capacity as the lawmakers under the 1999 constitution!

We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) state categorically that nothing good will ever come out of this exercise. The whole exercise is an outright fraud; a diversion and a crude assault on the democratic rights of Nigerians vis-à-vis their rights to determine their own economic and political affairs. Sitting side by side with the so-called elected National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, Obasanjo's puppet National Conference will be nothing but a very expensive huge joke. As it is, only opportunists, political careerists and self-seekers will seek participation in this futile venture called National Conference. Most of the appointed toadies will be made up of financially bankrupt individuals who are just eager to have an opportunity to a share out of the so-called National cake especially now that stable, high oil price has meant there is even more cash to loot from. Their major pre-occupations, as on previous similar occasions, after inauguration will be their salaries, emoluments, tenure and other several related self-serving ends. Of course, many of them will also hope to use this platform as a launching pad into the main stream of political arena as 2007 inches nearer.

The main assignment of this puppet body being called National Political Reform Conference will be the review of the 1999 constitution and deliberation on other contending issues concerning the Nigerian state. First and foremost, it should be pointed out that this same Obasanjo government has inaugurated several bodies and panels to review the 1999 constitution and also on other related economic and political matters. Suffice to note, none of these bodies has yielded any positive fruits. The Oputa Panel - the commission which investigated the abuses of rights under military dictatorship - conducted an expensive nation-wide public proceedings. Up till today, government has refused to even publish its findings let alone implementing any of its decisions.

But to rob insult upon injury, it is the same set of visionless and ruinous politicians that dominate the ruling parties at the central and state levels for the past 6 years that will have the ultimate say on the deliberations of even this puppet body. And then the mother of all insult, the very contentious arrangements which currently form the basis of the country's geo-political structure represents the central criterion used to determine representation at the Obasanjo's puppet National Conference.

For instance, no special representation or provision is made for expression of views of the people in the Niger Delta - a region where the country generates its almost 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily, translating to over 95% of Nigeria's foreign exchange earning. Oil exploration by multinationals in this area has made farming and fishing, the major occupation of the people in the region impossible with all social amenities in state of disrepair. More than any part of Nigeria, right from 1966 the people of the region have been clamouring for self determination, Sovereign National Conference etc which has led to imprisonment of the likes of Adaka Boro and killings of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others by Nigerian state.

Again, Lagos State has the largest population. By virtue of this fact, and being the de-facto economic backbone of the country, the state in certain respects, has loads of problems peculiar to its peculiar features. Yet, in the ponderous and dogmatic attitude of Nigerian leaders and elites towards issues, the Obasanjo's elitist government has decided to give Lagos State same number of delegates with states that have far less population and social demands and problems. And of course, the very issue of whether Nigeria should be or not and if so, on what terms should this existence be based upon, which if the truth must be told, is largely accountable for the cacophonic demand for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference has been decreed as a no- go area. So much for the touted political reforms! In addition to this, the increasing evidence of how the 2003 elections were rigged is an irrefutable proof that the Obasanjo government lacks necessary democratic credentials to organise any genuine national conference.

We consequently warn all genuine representatives of the people in the labour movement, students, associations, professional bodies, civil society groups, etc not to have anything to do with this obvious charade and farce, called National Political Reform Conference. We instead demand that labour should spear-head a mass campaign against this wasteful and fraudulent adventure.

Of course, opportunists and position seekers, as usual, will not be short of rationalization on why the Obasanjo government's puppet show should be supported. Many of these elements will argue that if the entire farce is boycotted, an opportunity to influence the processes in the interest of the masses will be missed. In countering this fake, pragmatic approach, reference should always be made to the military transition programme that brought about the current reprehensible civil rule, the Abacha Junta's so-called Constitutional Conference, etc. At the time, similar arguments like these were used to rationalize collaboration with the erstwhile military dictators under the pretext that genuine democratic transition will be commenced once the military vacates power. They participated in the military transition programme and elections without knowing or seeing 1999 constitution, which the civil rule would be built on, until when the military vacated power on May 29, 1999. Genuine working class activists and youths should reject this short sighted approach.

In sharp contrast, we in the DSM at the time urged that the working masses should fight with independent economic and political programmes different from the self-serving options being put forward by the various layers of the capitalist ruling class, including its so-called progressive faction, as represented by the AD leadership. We said categorically that nothing beneficial will substantially come the ways of the masses on the basis of the Abubakar military junta's transition programme. Six years after, all our worst fears have been frightfully confirmed. Today, the entire country's economy and the living standard of the vast majority of the working people are at its worst levels ever. The Abacha junta's so called Constitutional Conference is another disastrous example of self-seeking, opportunistic pragmatic strategy. Many prominent capitalist politicians/elements in and out of corridors of power, including top traditional rulers, like the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, gave several spurious reasons why the Abacha junta's constitutional puppet show should be supported. Those of us in the DSM and others that advocated total rejection and boycott of this farcical show were branded as "idealists", "paper theoreticians", etc who knew little or nothing about "real politicking". As usual, in this kind of project, loads of money that could have been used to better the lots of the suffering working masses were wasted on the charade.

Today, it is on record that nothing positive and tangible has come out of that farcical exercise. In fact, the purported and arbitrary division of the country into six geo-political zones, which was trumpeted as the greatest political gain of the Abacha junta's farcical constitutional conference, is tragically one of the main slogans still being agitated for today by the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) elements.

The basic political lesson thought by these experiences, and other similar ones, is that no meaningful and beneficial political and economic restructuring in the interest of the working masses can be undertaken and or voluntarily carried out and or implemented by capitalist governments, whether military and or civilian. Any serious political platform that wants a radical political and or economic change in the interest of the working masses will have to mobilize to fight, to the end, the capitalist politicians and their unjust system. In this respect, a conscious class confrontation, express and total rejection of all forms of collaboration with everything bourgeois is the most effective and reliable strategy to bring permanent political and economic respite to the working people.

Therefore, to suggest participation in the current puppet show being called National Political Reforms Conference under the pretext of moving the country forward will be nothing but an exercise in grand illusion and or deception. In either or both cases, the long suffering Nigerian masses should be spared.

SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE (SNC) IS NOT A COMMUNIQUE EVENT

For the avoidance of doubt, the mass of the working people across the country that may have sympathy or support the idea of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) are doing so in the expectation that the process and outcome of such a conference will produce a radical beneficial change in the living standard and political rights enjoyable by citizens. However, on the basis of the current political and economic dispensation, this, first and foremost, will require the removal and replacement of the current pro-rich anti-poor, capitalist government headed by President Obasanjo by a government of the working people primarily ruling in the interest of the working masses.

And through series of nation-wide general strikes and stay-at-homes actions, the Nigerian working masses have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the Obasanjo government together with its anti-poor economic and political programmes is totally unacceptable to them. What is missing at the moment is a determined labour and pro-labour leadership with the necessary revolutionary alternatives and organizations to actualize the masses' aspirations in this respect. The recent general strike and protests led by LASCO are also graphic illustrations of the fact that the masses are prepared to struggle for a radical transformation of the unjust and crumbling edifice called the Nigerian state.

Unfortunately however, the kind of issues and modus operandi of the Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO) led by Chief Enahoro, Professor Wole Soyinka and others, are sure guarantee that this body can never sufficiently arouse the passion of the vast majority of the working people in support of its own version of the National Conference. To a people yearning for firm leadership to fight for food, basic accommodation, functional and affordable healthcare and education, stable and affordable water, electricity, telecommunications, transportations, etc, the people in PRONACO simply offer abstract programmes and concepts like "true federalism", "revenue formula based on principles of derivation", "regional autonomy" and other similar vague and elitist political demands/jargons.

To complete the parody, the PRONACO people, just like their counterparts in government, believe that an assembly dominated by nationalist groups like Afenifere, Ohaneze, Arewa group, etc will be expected to pick the respective delegates representing their own arbitrarily recognised nationality groups. To most leaders of PRONACO, the greatest problems facing the country amongst others are: 1. more resources should be given to the regions' governments instead of it being given to the central government. 2. Presidency and other top political and executive posts be rotated or shared on the basis of "true federalism" by capitalist elements across the country. 3. State police should be permitted so that ruling parties at state level can have maximum power of coercion to deal with their own opponents and mostly, the masses, whenever they are perceived to be stepping out of bounds.

On the basis of this elitist orientation and approach, PRONACO can never attract the needed support of the masses. And for as long as this situation remains, no serious minded people, within the government and among the people will ever attach any serious importance to the body or its positions on any issue.

As opposed to the farcical, puppet body being called National Political Reform Conference, PRONACO has threatened to convoke its own Sovereign National Conference if the Obasanjo government fails to call one. This is a very bold and courageous stance. However, on the basis of the current balance of political forces vis-à-vis the level of active support of the working masses and youth which PRONACO has or does not has, any purported Sovereign National Conference called by PRONACO or any other similar bodies can at best be nothing more than a communiqué event. This is because in the absence of actual political power to implement its own decisions, it means that whatever decisions or proposals it may have, will at the end of the day have to be submitted to the powers that be for implementation and or ratification. In our own opinion, this is not what the working masses desire or deserve.

OUR STAND

As part of the process of achieving total emancipation from capitalist exploitation and political oppression, we in the DSM support and advocate the convocation of a truly democratically elected Sovereign National Conference. In the kind of SNC which we advocate, all delegates will have to be elected while their electors will have the simple and democratic right of recall of these elected delegates whenever they are perceived not to be serving the interest of those that elected them. The delegates themselves have to be elected from real social groups such as workers, peasant farmers, market women, students, professional bodies, the minorities, rank and file members of the armed forces based on their numerical strength within society. When elected, these delegates must only be paid the average earnings of those they are representing. This approach, it should be stressed, is radically different from that which simply divides the country into a given number of abstract geographical constituencies as it is the practice right now which invariably always ensures that only the very rich and those supported by the rich can get elected in any election. Therefore, it is not sufficient to simply ask that delegates to the SNC be elected as have been demanded by PRONACO. The circumstances of their elections and the real interests of those that these delegates represent are the decisive factors that will determine how much real gains can be made by the working masses from the activities of such conference. There must not be no-go-area on any issue whether economic, political, cultural, religious, etc concerning Nigeria. The decisions and recommendations of a genuine democratically elected Sovereign National Conference can only be altered and/or by the working people themselves through their mass organisations and through democratic referendum.

In other words, the agenda of a truly democratically elected Sovereign National Conference must not just be confined to political restructuring as being advocated by both the Obasanjo government and the PRONACO elements. A genuine and beneficial Sovereign National Conference must have full powers to discuss and decide on everything pertaining to Nigeria including economic, political nationality and religious issues. Recently, a World Bank body gave revealing information to the effect that only 1% of the Nigerian population is consuming 80% of all the country's national wealth. Unfortunately however, even the PRONACO elements that want the masses to see them as radically different from the elements within the Obasanjo government do not consider this central economic fact relating to the lives of the vast majority of the working people, across the country, as important enough to be included in the agenda of their own version of the Sovereign National Conference. To the PRONACO elements, once more political powers and monetary resources are given to the regional/nationality power blocs every problem afflicting the masses will either disappear or become drastically reduced.

In reality however, this is a baseless and fallacious assumption. Right now, all sections of the ruling parties across the country are wholly enmeshed in an unmitigated corruption. In sharp contrast, the vast majority of all the working people and youths in all the states without exception are enmeshed in deeper poverty. All the ruling parties including AD and ANPP engage in huge financial, electoral and political manipulations to get re-elected into offices. All the functionaries of the ruling parties including AD and ANPP daily revel in reckless financial brigandage. For instance, in The Punch of December 31, 2004, a two full page coloured advert were placed in The Punch by so-called two local council chairmen in Ikorodu area, wasting tax payers' money to congratulate Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, for having mooted an "idea" to construct a dual carriage, paved road, somewhere in Ikorodu area.

Most likely, same adverts were placed in other national newspapers. With these kinds of self-serving elements, giving more resources to a region, a state, local government, etc can never automatically translate into an improved quality living for the vast majority of the working people.

THE WAY FORWARD

However, the mere fact that the Obasanjo regime has been compelled to set up a puppet national conference body, in itself is an indirect admission of the failure of the prevailing socio-economic dispensation. Similarly, the threats by elements within PRONACO to call a separate Sovereign National Conference, different from that of Obasanjo puppet assembly is also a graphic illustration of how deep these crises have become. Unfortunately however, none of these two sides of a coin is capable of bringing permanent succour to the working people against perennial misery and oppression in the face of limitless resources and freedom.

What the masses need today which is lacking is a fighting pan-Nigerian working peoples’ political platform which is determined to wrestle total economic and political powers from the self-serving ruinous capitalist elements. In every key economic and political issue, the capitalist ruling class, both before and after independence have only revealed an absolute incapacity to develop the potential resources of the society to the fullest possible level, give decent and stable living condition for the working people and run a genuinely democratic polity.

These premises must be the starting point of any group that claims to be for the masses or speak for the masses. Bluntly put, any political group that wants to be seen as different from the ruling capitalist politicians across the country must be prepared to team up with the working masses to make a direct bid for political power with a view to remove all the self-serving politicians at federal and state levels from power. Such a political group has to unequivocally come out, not just verbally but in concrete terms, including mass struggles against the prevailing pro-rich, anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation, deregulation, liberalisation and commercialisation of essential good and services. Such a political group has to expressly be seen to be committed to an alternative socio-economic agenda in which the resources of nature and the accumulated wealth and production techniques of society is commonly owned, centrally planned but democratically run and controlled by the working people with a view to guarantee the basic needs like food, housing, education, healthcare, telecommunication and transportation, jobs, etc for everybody, as opposed to the prevailing individualistic and self-serving capitalist system where, at any time, only a tiny proportion of the population, have super abundance, while the majority permanently and helplessly wallow in an unrelenting mass misery in the midst of super and inexhaustible abundance.

But as we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have always stated, only a workers and poor peasant government, built on a socialist foundation, can ever be interested and capable of implementing this kind of necessary agenda. To therefore take a decisive step in this direction, we once again call upon the trade union leaders and all pro-labour activists and socialists, to as a matter of urgency take immediate, practical steps to convey a conference of all pro-labour groups, unions, associations and other forces, with a goal of forging LASCO with all other mass organisations of the working people including pro-masses parties like the National Conscience Party, etc into an alternative mass working peoples party different in orientation and approach from all the existing capitalist, pro-rich, pro-imperialist parties, in and outside government, at federal and state levels. Right from the beginning, the revolutionary transformation of the prevailing unjust economic and political arrangements must be boldly placed in the frontline of the party's agenda. While all pro-rich parties place primary emphasis on their endorsement and acceptability by the rich and powerful elements within the society including traditional rulers and big time Christian and Islamic clerics, a genuine working class political platform will of necessity have to be primarily built on the rank and file members of the working masses and around the poor and youths in their different walks of life. All the bourgeois pro-rich ruling parties preach democracy, but in actual fact, practice autocracy and repression. A genuine mass working class political platform in Nigeria's present situation will only seriously kick off the ground and flourish, if built on a principle of genuine democracy in which the aspirations and decisions of the rank and file members will be the rule and not the exceptions.

We in the DSM are bold to assert that a political platform built on the basis of the above outlined perspectives can, especially in the face of the prevailing and unrelenting socio-economic crisis, rapidly grow in number and strength, amongst the working people, across the country, to such an extent that an end could be brought to the prevailing unjust order represented by the Obasanjo PDP's capitalist government, together with those of their partners-in-crime in the ANPP and the AD, even sooner, than the year 2007 through revolutionary mass actions, when another general election is expected to hold. In any event, given the deep hatred which the masses across the country have for all the thieving capitalist and elitist governments, the masses' tradition of struggles and their state of combativity, shown in general strike after general strike, such a political platform, can within a short period of time assume a force that cannot be ignored or easily toyed with. Right now the Obasanjo's capitalist government, due to the incoherence of idea and indecisive fighting stamina of the main trade unions and labour leaders, holds the perspective that it can get away with any assault on the living standard and political rights of the masses and that, at worst, the labour movement will only shout and this for a while! With a leadership imbue with revolutionary vision and working class determination, the current unfavourable political situation vis-à-vis the struggle against anti-poor economic and political agenda can be rapidly altered in favour of the working people.

IT IS EITHER SOCIALISM OR TOTAL DISASTER

The series of general strikes that have taken place against the Obasanjo government are the irrefutable proofs that the masses are yearning for a clean break with the present rot. If however, despite these general strikes and protests, the Obasanjo government has been able to retain power and in consequence is able to continue with its anti-poor economic and political agenda, the primary blame should go to labour leaders who have always, against the grain of fact and logic, confined themselves to an half measure struggle and isolated demands instead of using these general strikes and protests as part of the processes to effect the total transformation of the current unjust capitalist, economic and political dispensation. The DSM struggles for a fighting labour leadership that will act, not just speak militant words.

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the working people feel daily assaulted mentally, physically and politically as a result of the series of massive corruption and political rascalism which presently dominate the features of the Nigerian polity. There is also no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the working people would want decent living conditions for themselves and their children instead of seeing them being sentenced permanently to a world of crimes, drug pushing, fraud, prostitution, mindless sectarian violence, etc. However, without a revolutionary socialist transformation of the country, all of these negative socio-economic political, cultural, sectarian factors, which presently dominate the features of the Nigerian society, will become more aggravated, in the short and long-term periods, regardless of which individual capitalist politicians and sections of the capitalist class which control, the main levers of the economic and political power. Therefore, the building of a labour spear-headed platform of struggle for revolutionary transformation of society along socialist line constitutes the only sure way to avert the kind of unimaginable economic and political catastrophe that lie ahead of Nigeria and its long suffering working masses.