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February 23, 2006

BEKO RANSOME-KUTI: A SOCIALIST PORTRAIT

By Segun Sango, General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

Coming less than six months after the untimely death of Chima Ubani, a steadfast labour and working class fighter, Beko Ransome-Kuti's death at this point in time represents a double tragedy for all those struggling for permanent improvement in working masses' living standard and political freedom. Unlike Chima, Beko was not from socialist background and neither did he ever profess to be a socialist. In fact, those who knew him closely will readily attest to his constant, derisive attitude towards socialism, as an alternative to capitalism, whose failings he spent all his active political life combating. For socialists therefore, Beko's uniqueness lies in the fact that he had the courage and enough sense of responsibility to practically follow up and defend his convictions throughout his active political life.

 

TRADITION

 

I should like to state from the onset that drawing a political portrait of a personality as complex as Beko is not a simple, straightforward task. This task is even made more risky by the contemporary bourgeois wisdom/etiquette which strongly insists that no evil or vice be ever said of a dead person. Hiding under this dubious tradition, many elements who detested Beko and viciously combated him politically in life can now be seen falling on top of one another to emerge as his mourners-in-chief and political associates. They hope to exploit his standing for themselves. Nonetheless, I'm greatly motivated to do this portrait precisely because Beko himself was, as far as I knew him, a no respecter of voodoo tradition: a personality who never suffered fools gladly.

 

PERSONALITY AND POLITICS

 

First and foremost, Beko was a quintessential Kuti. Within the context of a society dominated by mass poverty and illiteracy, the Kuti's clan, starting from Reverend Israel Ransome-Kuti, the father, Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the mother and their three (now dead) sons, Olikoye, Fela and Beko could be rightfully said to have been born with silver spoons in their hands at birth. But unlike other equally privileged families, the Kutis were set apart for two major outstanding features. Severally and collectively, these Kutis were renowned for their Spartan, non-excessive materialistic attitudes towards life. Secondly, all the aforementioned Kutis without exception, in varying degrees devoted most of their adult lives to the struggle for the betterment of the down trodden masses. Of course, Fela emerged as the most rounded revolutionary partisan soldier for the masses' emancipation within this outstanding clan.

Beko was a very serious minded person who brought clinical seriousness into everything he did. Despite the habit of most Nigerians, including activists, coming very late to meetings, hiding under the pernicious syndrome called "African time", Beko was one person you could always count on to keep a fixed appointment as and when stated. He was a thorough person who always insisted on record keeping and accountability even when the sum involved was not that much plus the fact that it was spent on an obvious cause. Here, one should say that this point can only be stated in favour of a few of the many calling themselves activists and human rights crusaders.

Amongst his contemporary, Beko was a team player per excellence. I have had the privilege of participating at meetings where the generally agreed proposition did not tally with his own view point and yet, whenever, in his capacity as chairperson, he was asked to make public representation of the meeting's decision, he always did so with unsurpassable freshness and candour without ever betraying any sense of personal frustration. Of course, I did not make the above point to give the false impression that Beko was not capable of giving a determined fight whenever he had a good cause to so do. But in this context, the point should be made that every fighter will not be a fighter without the capacity to give a determined fight for a serious cause.

Quite naturally, Beko had his own fair share of such hard, determined fights especially against comrades-in-arms and even with members of his own immediate family. The most memorable of such fights was the disagreement over the best strategy to propel the June 12 struggle which led Chima Ubani and others to split from the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in 1994, the spirited fight between himself and Femi Falana and others over the control of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and most recently, the fight which pitied him against Chief Anthony Enahoro and others over the control of PRONACO. For possibly more than two decades and up till his death, Beko was publicly known never to be in good terms with his niece and nephew, Yeni and Femi, the children of his immediate elder brother, Fela. However, one most remarkable feature of Beko was also his ability to work passionately and sincerely with erstwhile estranged comrades-in-arms whenever new circumstances rendered past disagreements irrelevant to the immediate struggle for better life. This explains how he was able to subsequently have cordial and functional political relationship with Chima Ubani, both within LASCO and on the JAF Executive, notwithstanding the bitter acrimonious character of their previous collaboration and disagreement.

 

IDEOLOGY

 

In his lifetime, Beko was not known as an ideologue of a particular system of governance or philosophy. However, a critical analysis of his comments and political activities clearly underline the fact that he belonged to the school of thought that believes that capitalism, if properly managed, can guarantee the basic means of lives for the vast majority of the people. Hence, his tireless and tenacious efforts in supporting all concrete material and political struggles, which he believed could improve conditions of life in general. But I should stress that Beko was not alone in this respect. In fact, many of the prominent contemporary radical activists in Nigeria today hold similar viewpoint. What therefore set Beko apart from his peers and colleagues-in-thoughts in this respect was his decision to commit what is called in socialist parlance, 'class suicide', by abandoning his promising medical carrier and instead became a "full-time" fighter dedicated to the betterment of life under capitalism.

On many occasions, this writer had sought to impress it, from a socialist stand point, on Beko that the capitalist system is not repairable. Invariably, Beko had always retorted by impressing it on me that 'socialism' (in actual fact, Stalinism) has equally failed. Giving his increasing disillusionment with the failure of life under capitalism, a Beko could easily have become a socialist but for the destructive effects of the bureaucratic rule of the Stalinists of the usurpers and adulterers of the genuine 1917 working class socialist revolution in Russia. In effects, all the monstrosities and crimes of the Stalinist gangsters were regards as the natural features of socialism. Quite naturally when that edifice of fraud collapsed, in East Germany, former Soviet Union and other places, etc, capitalist ideologues expectedly went to town to proclaim the superiority of their system over socialism.

Within this milieu, change seekers from among the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois background like Beko naturally felt justified to stick with capitalism while those of them with conscience only seek change in the management of the system!

In truth however, the capitalist system, most especially in backward countries like Nigeria, will never be able now to guarantee the basic infrastructures necessary to ensure steady economic growth and the working people's living standard. First and foremost, the overall economic and political life of the country is permanently under the stranglehold of the imperialist capitalist countries whose sole "business interests", "aids", "loans", "investments", "bilateral relations", "private investment initiative", etc were always invariably directed to one goal to make super profits not only at the expense of their global competitors/rivals but most especially at the expense of the economic and political well-being of the working masses of the dominated country.

This explains why Nigeria today is virtually a failed country. Over 70% live in absolute poverty. Today, only the relatively well-to-do have access to necessary health and education services. Key infrastructures needed for economic growth such as functional and affordable means of transportation, communications, water, electricity, etc are virtually non-existent or can only be guaranteed by a few at a very prohibitive cost. Against the background of permanent massive unemployment, the vast majority of the working peoples' children have been forced to take one form of crime or social vice in their unending desperate search to live. Sadly, this nightmare is bound to prolong under capitalism.

Right now, just about 1% consumes 80% of all generated revenue. As the neo-liberal, capitalist policy of liberalisation and privatisation deepens, this 1% will most likely see its share of the "national cake" grow above 80%. Today, only the very rich or those backed by the very rich can hope to be in public or political office. Today, without weighty godfathers, you cannot hope to win elections, let alone stay in power. In this light, the third-term debate is a serious diversion and or deception. This is because unless there emerges a powerful working masses' political platform with conscious pro-poor, anti-capitalist socialist economic and political agenda, there will be no fundamental change. Such a platform would have to be prepared to readily combat the current economic and political powers that be on day-to-day basis with the central goal of removing these self-serving politicians form power so as to be able to put in place a workers' and poor peasants' government which will be prepared to use societal wealth and resources to meet the needs of all and not just a tiny few as under capitalism.

Right now, most, if not all the politicians within the ruling AD, ANPP, and PDP actively support privatisation as the central plank of economic and social development. Their philosophy is that government has no business in business! Hence, all governments' properties, including those built by the colonial governments are being converted to private properties of a few in government or those favoured by those in government. Oil, the mainstay of Nigeria's economy, is, in theory, owned by the public. In reality, it is one sector firmly under the strangled control of imperialism and their local backers in government. From exploration to processing and marketing, it is the various multinational oil corporations that hold sway in this sector while their local backers merely collect and mostly pocket the stipends paid by these cartels as taxes to the country.

Given this situation, the issue of whether President Olusegun Obasanjo continue as president after May 2007 or not becomes inconsequential if his replacement comes from among the same ruinous capitalist class. To forestall this deplorable prognosis requires nothing short of political and economic revolution - a complete system change.

 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

Towards the end of his life, Beko had certainly become more disillusioned with the failure of the system. This much was reflected in his support for more working class radical struggles a significant departure from petty bourgeois tradition. As chairman of Joint Action Forum (JAF), Beko endorsed last August, 2005, JAF's proclamation/manifesto calling for regime and system change i.e. an immediate end to Obasanjo's regime and its pro-rich, anti-poor policies.

Summing up the political situation shortly before his demise, Beko had, amongst other things, stated: "the people must realise that things will not change on their own. The kind of people we have in power today are very ruthless people who care less about the ordinary citizen. Unless we are prepared to fight and fight real hard, they would one day wipe all of us completely out from the shores of this land". (The Guardian, Sunday February 12, 2006 page 7).

This is a very direct task which needs hardly any amplification. Except to add that large layers of the working masses had already drawn similar conclusion. This, it should be stressed was largely responsible for the seven general strikes/protests that have taken place against the Obasanjo's civilian misrule, in the past six and a half years.

Unfortunately however, the working masses' readiness to fight and fight hard has not met with needed vision and vigour from the labour leadership in general. Instead of seeking to utilise masses general revolts against the system to organise to remove from power the Obasanjo regime and its gamut of pro-rich, anti-poor policies, most of the time, most labour leaders merely use these struggles to bargain for accommodation within the system. Even their method of leading concrete struggles is ever tailored to arouse the sympathy of the oppressors, instead of consistent mass mobilisation of the oppressed masses themselves. Where millions of leaflets are required, a few thousands would be produced and these, most of the time, belatedly. Last September 2005, trade union leaders under LASCO embarked on countrywide protest rallies demanding the reversal of the latest increase in the prices of petroleum products. Vowing to fight to secure the reversal of these increments even if it had to embark on general strike/protest, tens of thousands across the country rallied to the banner of LASCO. In addition, LASCO equally promised to take steps to search for political solution to the economic crisis.

Sadly to note, all these good decisions have, at least for now, been abandoned by most LASCO leaders. And it should be stressed that, all these negative features only tend to demoralise people from taking the road of mass struggle in favour of futile, individualistic escape from the unending nightmare which capitalism has turned life to for the vast majority of mankind.

How do we end this deplorable situation? Labour should boldly demand a reversal of an arrangement where only 1% consumes 80% of generated revenue and instead, fight for a regime where the main societal wealth and resources are used, democratically, for the benefit of all. With well organised mass struggles, on day-to-day basis, in or out of power, on the basis of the immediate and long term economic and political needs of the masses, the labour movement can rapidly become an unbeatable political force capable of bringing about an economic and political regime which will truly represent the genuine interests of the masses. This, in my opinion, is the most fitting way to preserve the memory of a change seeker like Beko and millions of the oppressed masses yearning for an end to their perpetual misery in the midst of plentitude. Fighters must take the positive example of Beko's determination to struggle and marry it with the socialist policies that are needed to liberate working people.