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Time For A Working People’s Alternative

Being A Statement Issued By The Democratic Socialist Movement (Dsm) On The Occasion Of One Year Of Civil Rule In Nigeria On 29th May, 2000.

 

May 29th, 2000 marks exactly a year when the civilian regime headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo came to power signalling the beginning of the "Fourth Republic". For over one decade, the Nigerian working masses waged relentless and protracted battles that eventually forced the military out of power on 29th May, 1999. This time last year there was huge expectation among the masses that civil rule will bring substantial improvements in their lives.

 

Naturally the first anniversary is an appropriate time to ask for what have changed in the well being of the working people of Nigeria. To what extent has the various policies and programmes of the different governments addressed the multifarious political, social and economic problems facing the nation? Where is Nigeria going as a country?

ECONOMY AND LIVING CONDITIONS

 

One of the basic criteria for assessing the performance of a government is the state of the economy and the material well being of the citizens.

 

And on this point, the Obasanjo government at the federal level and the various state governments have failed in the past one year to substantially improve both the state of the economy and the living standards of the working masses.

 

To develop an economy, a country must have a solid manufacturing base. It is investment in manufacturing industry that creates new wealth that can lead to economic revival. In Nigeria’s case, the manufacturing base is very weak right from the ‘80s and it has continued in the past one year to be in a state of stagnation and decay.

 

PRIVATISATION AND COMMERCIALISATION

 

The kernel of the economic policy of the regimes of Obasanjo and the various state governments is privatisation and commercialisation of the key sectors of the economy such as the refineries, cement companies, and strategic public utilities like NEPA, NITEL, NIPOST, water corporations, etc. Like their military predecessors, privatisation is presented by the civilian regimes as the magic formula that will cure the ills afflicting public corporations. At the federal level alone, about 60 major public enterprises are slated for privatisation. Already, two of the country’s cement industries - WAPCO and Ashaka Cement were recently sold to United Kingdom-based multinational Blue Circle Industries while the Benue Cement Company has just been sold to the multi-billionaire business mogul, Aliyu Dangote

 

There is no doubt that these public utilities are synonymous with inefficiency, corruption and nepotism. But the truth of the matter is that the Nigerian capitalist ruling class is responsible for the bankruptcy of these same enterprises through stealing and looting. They only turn round to say that only by selling to themselves public assets entrusted to them by society can these corporations be saved. At the same time, they are not proposing these corporations to be sold to them at ‘market’ rate but at very cheap prices far less than the amounts originally invested in them. For instance, Babangida regime sold public assets acquired for N23b (at a time when the naira was almost at par with the pound sterling) for about N5b (when the a pound sterling exchanged for N60).

 

Like the previous privatisation exercises, the present one being implemented by the Obasanjo regime, when it fully unfolds, will wreck havoc on the living standards of the working masses with the attendant retrenchment of workers and increase of prices and tariffs. An estimate puts the number of workers at NITEL and NEPA that would be retrenched in the event of privatisation at 50%. Maritime workers of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) on 22nd May, 2000 staged an anti-ports privatisation protest before the visiting members of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) led by Ahmed El-Rufai, who were in Lagos on a "fact-finding" mission about the running and the management of NPA. It is reported that port privatisation will lead to the loss of over 60,000 jobs in the maritime industry.

 

EDUCATION AND SOCIAL AMENITIES

 

In the education sector, the minister of education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, recently issued a directive on behalf of the Federal Government to the newly inaugurated governing councils of federal universities ordering them to introduce tuition and other fees. This education commercialisation policy if implemented is going to put the education of hundreds of thousands of undergraduates and school leavers in jeopardy. Yet the same education minister revealed some days later that a sum of N50 billion has been found missing from the accounts of the Education Trust Fund. If this huge amount which has been looted by members of the ruling class had been invested in the education sector, it would have made some difference. But instead, the Obasanjo regime , like its military precedessors, is determined to put greater burden on poor parents and students. The DSM calls on the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the local unions and trade unions to map concrete programme of actions to fight against this latest attempt to further commercialise higher education and take it out of the reach of the children of the working class.

 

Up till now, none of the governments whether at the federal, state or local levels has been able to implement any serious measure to solve the enormous socio-economic problems of mass poverty, housing shortage, mass unemployment, epileptic electricity supply and the decay in education and health sectors, to cite a few examples. At the rate they are going, none of the problems in these sectors will be resolved in the next one hundred years, that is if there is still a country that is called Nigeria by then.

 

MASS UNEMPLOYMENT

 

The much-publicised so-called Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) of the Obasanjo regime targeted to create more employment as a solution to mass unemployment in reality is nothing to write home about. The programme is targeted to create 200,000 jobs nationally with the monthly salary of N3,500 for non-graduates and N5,000 for graduates. Also in Lagos State, the Tinubu administration has made a lot of publicity over the 2,000 graduates offered jobs in the state civil service. But in a country where the number of the unemployed runs into millions, and millions of graduates and school leavers join the labour market annually, these so-called poverty alleviation and job creation programmes are mere cosmetic measures. In addition, the PAP jobs are low paid and temporary in nature.

 

The failure of the new civilian administrations to undertake measures that radically uplift the living conditions of the masses should not be a surprise at all. It is because all the new administrations are committed to the same pro-rich neo-liberal capitalist programmes which were commenced in the 80s under pressure from the IMF, World Bank and other imperialist institutions and which not only had failed to resuscitate the economy but had in fact contributed enormously in the further impoverishment of the working masses. It is therefore illusory to expect these regimes to implement any concrete programme that can radically tackle the stupendous problems facing the masses in the area of jobs, poor wages, housing, health maternal and child mortality rates, education, etc. Based on the regime’s neo-liberal capitalist approach, getting access to the basic necessities of life will continue to evade the majority of the impoverished working masses.

 

CORRUPTION

 

General Obasanjo has repeatedly declared that fighting corruption is a major programme of the new administration. Throughout his campaigns and since May 1999 when he assumed power; he has let no one be in doubt that his regime intends to take special measures to tackle the cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabric of the economy and society. Within few days in power, an anti-corruption bill was sent to the National Assembly. Between them and now, some billions of naira have reportedly been recovered from the public fund looted by officials, acolytes and members of the family of the late military head of state, General Sani Abacha. Choice landed properties worth billions of naira had been seized from the former minister of Federal Capital Territory, Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Useni.

 

But the hollowness of the anti-corruption crusade can be seen in the fact that up till today none of the highly placed, corrupt civilians and military officials has been put on trial. A graphic example is General Ibrahim Babangida who presided over one of the most reckless looting sprees Nigeria had witnessed and who continues to live undisturbed in his 50-bedroom palace at Minna without being asked to come and give account of his stewardship. Instead, he, and all living past military and civilian heads of state have been rewarded with appointments as chancellors of some federal universities by the Obasanjo administration!

 

Despite the propaganda and posturing of the regime, the anti-corruption crusade is doomed to fail on the basis of the present neo-colonial capitalist system. For instance, bribery and corruption among poorly paid police officers and civil servants have continued. The looting of the public treasury by government officials and politicians has continued unabated though now it is being done "officially" or "legally". This should not be surprising. Virtually all the leading members of the new civilian regimes and political party leaders are the same erstwhile military apologists and economic looters of past administrations.

 

The National Assembly has mostly graphically demonstrated what corruption-free society means under Obasanjo’s regime. In the year 2000 budget alone the Nigerian taxpayer will be paying N1.5b to insure 109 senators for this year along with N130 million educational endowment funds for their children. The senate president, his deputy and 13 principal officers are insured for N15m, N10m, and N6m respectively. Should a distinguished senator die, his family receives N100,000 for transportation of his corpse, N150,000 for caskets and N1,000,000 for other burial expenses. If for any reason a senator is not allowed to complete his tenure, whether he is recalled or impeached, he collects N5m as a compensation. N225.5m is also provided for a sport club at their quarters, N30m is for their children’s school, N84.5m information equipment and N559.5m for their medical centre. Apart from N1.57b spent last year on the purchase of Peugeot cars, N1.656b is earmarked for additional purchase of vehicles for this year. There is provision of two bullet-proof limousines, one each for the senate president and speaker, at the rate of N25m each. They are also entitled to a 4WD Jeep at the rate of N7m each.

 

All these are apart from the scandalous N3.5m and N2.5m taken by each member of the senate and House of Representatives as furniture allowance and the N15,000 daily sitting allowance.

 

Based on the huge public condemnation that greeted the legislators’ financial recklessness, a reduction was made through a deal with their executive counterparts. According to Wednesday, May 24th, 2000 edition of The Guardian newspaper, the National Assembly has reviewed the above proposal down by N50 billion but with increment in the financial provisions for the executive arm. It was just a "paddy-paddy" arrangement, as Fela would say, between the executive and the National Assembly as against their argument that it was done to "move the nation forward". In essence, the masses have got nothing to gain.

 

The same official corruption could be seen among other executive and legislative officials at state levels who continue to live luxurious life styles clearly beyond their salaries. For example, recently, the Osun State Government, which has been crying loud that it could not afford to pay the new minimum wage, approved N1 million as furniture allowance for each of the 26 members of the state House of Assembly.

 

It is therefore clear that the anti-corruption crusade is just a window dressing. All these very few examples show that the capitalist politicians are, as usual, only in power to fend for their selfish interests. The welfare of the working masses is the least in their thinking.

 

MINIMUM WAGE

 

At this year May Day celebration, Obasanjo announced N5,500 and N7,500 as new minimum wage for state and federal government workers respectively. If you compare this paltry new official minimum wage with the high cost of living in the country it will be clearly seen that it is still a slave wage and grossly inadequate to take care of workers and their dependants.

 

As far back as five years, DSM has started flagging up the campaign for N20,000 minimum wage for the working people. This N20,000 did not just fell from the sky. It was arrived at taking into consideration the extreme high cost of living in the country, which has escalated since the introduction of the capitalist "free market" Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) by the Babangida’s regime in 1986. With massive devaluation of naira, the income of most workers are just grossly inadequate to guarantee basic needs of life such as feeding, housing, transportation, clothing, children education, etc. Coupled with the policy of privatisation and commercialisation, which has resulted to mass retrenchment, the number of dependants has been on the increase.

 

Ohindase Aliyu, the president-general of the Senior Staff Consultative Association of Nigeria (SESCAN), the nation’s organ of senior level employees in the private sector, recently correctly observed that the N7,500 minimum wage is grossly inadequate and incapable of alleviating poverty and curbing corruption in the country. According to him, the new wage falls short of prescribed N24,000 based on United Nations recommendation - which is calculated on $1 daily per person at the exchange rate of $1 to N100.

 

How poorly paid are Nigerian workers can be seen by a comparison of the exchange rate of the naira. In 1981, the monthly minimum wage was N125 and the exchange rate was of $1 to N0.5656. At the current market exchange rate of N100 to $1, the naira equivalent of the 1981 minimum wage will therefore be N22,100 today.

 

We have always mentioned that contrary to the argument of the ruling class, and their spokesperson that increase in workers wage will cause inflation or not payable, it causes no inflation and its payable based on the income and resources at Nigerian disposal. If an individual steals N60b from government treasury, it will not cause inflation but if same money were to be used for workers wage in order to guarantee some basic necessities of life, they start raising all sorts of foolish arguments to justify why workers should not be well paid. Money estimated for just 109 senators could pay N20,000 minimum wage for half of Nigerian civil servants at state levels.

 

ETHNIC/RELIGIOUS STRIFE

 

Another major feature of the past one year has been the escalation of ethnic and religious crises. Thousands of people have been killed in Ife/Modakeke with property worth billions of naira lost between last year and this year alone while violent mayhem had taken place also in Warri, Aguleri/Umuleri, Kano, Shagamu, Ajegunle, Ilaje, Ketu, Akala in Mushin, amongst other places. By now over 2000 people must have been massacred in Kaduna alone since clashes started in the city in February, ostensibly over the attempt by the state government to introduce the Islamic shariah law. Over 300 people were killed in Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Port Harcourt, etc, primarily in retaliation for the Kaduna massacre.

 

The upsurge of these ethnic and religious strife has been fuelled basically by the failure of the civilian regimes to improve the conditions of lives of the people in the past one year and the use of ethnicity and religion for political ends by the different sections of the capitalist ruling class. For instance, in Niger Delta, North, South West, East and other places, millions of youth are unemployed. Due to the absence of a pan-Nigerian independent political organisation of the working people that could chart the right way forward for the country, the frustration, disenchantment and anger of the youth and the masses are being diverted to sectarian but futile ethnic and religious causes.

 

In recognition of the sensitivity and volatility of religion in a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, the post independent constitutions including the present 1999 constitution forbid the adoption of any religion as a state religion at any level of government (see section 10, chapter 2 of 1999 constitution). However, the Nigerian capitalist ruling class, because of their own selfish political and material calculations has never adhered to this constitutional provision and this has continued to breed suspicion and allegation of state’s bias for particular religions. Mosques and churches are built right within the premises of State Houses. Recently, Obasanjo himself commissioned a church right inside the premises of Aso Rock! How else could one explain the billions of naira spent yearly by all levels of government to promote religious causes and the sending of delegations on holy pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem? In essence, the sharia advocates were only trying to take the concept of state support for religion to its logical conclusions.

 

DSM therefore advocates total separation of religion from the state. Religious societies must not have any connection with the government. Hence, an end must be put to the government sponsorship of religious pilgrimages and the use of public funds for the building of mosques and churches. The working people and youth should not allow religion and ethnicity to be used to divide their ranks by deceitful and self-seeking members of the capitalist elite who are masquerading as religious puritans or political liberators or both. Instead, we should all fight in unison against various attacks unleashed by the capitalist ruling class on us through privatisation, commercialisation, liberalisation, poverty wages, etc. which have made life unbearable for the working masses and the youth.

 

A WORKING PEOPLE’S ALTERNATIVE NEEDED NOW!

In short, the past one year has confirmed that we need more than civil rule to solve the socio-economic crisis facing Nigeria. Equally it shows that there is no way forward for the country on the basis of the present neo-colonial capitalist order.

 

Only an independent mass workers party with a socialist programme of common ownership of our collective wealth and democratic control and management of every aspect of the economy and society can possess the political interest and capacity to implement pro-working people policies that can eliminate mass poverty and save Nigeria on a lasting basis from ethnic and religious conflicts and a return to military dictatorship. Only a workers’ and poor peasants’ government formed by such a party can guarantee decent living standards and working conditions and eradicate the poverty, mass unemployment, homelessness and ignorance which lead to mass frustration, confusion and desperation that compel people to take to ethnic and religious bigotry, petty stealing, armed robbery, prostitution, drug abuse and other social problems.

 

DSM therefore believes that the principal historic and strategic challenge facing labour and youth activists in Nigeria today is the formation of such an independent mass working peoples political party whose central goal will be fighting against the various vicious capitalist attacks on the rights of the working people and against ethnic and religious diversion through implementation of a socialist programme that will unite all the oppressed nationally.

 

We therefore urgently call on the NLC leadership, trade unionists and pro-labour socialists to summon a conference of labour and youth activists to formulate working people’s position on this issue and to begin the process of the formation of such a working people’s political party.

 

However, the emergence of such a political party will not be based on government permit. No capitalist government will willingly allow the formation of such a serious party. In fact, the ruling class will do everything to frustrate all efforts to create such a political party. They may for this reason retain the undemocratic conditionalities of registering political parties as it was the case in the last political transition programme when INEC (the government electoral agency) rolled out undemocratic conditionalities which are only to ensure that only the pro-rich capitalist parties can stand in elections. It is therefore not going to be an easy task.

 

FOR A GENUINE MULTI-PARTY DEMOCRACY

 

Workers and youth should therefore be prepared to fight against the undemocratic principle and practice of registering parties. We must make it abundantly clear that the government has no reason whatsoever to restrict the number of political parties that will participate in elections. Workers and youth must therefore fight for a genuine multiparty democracy and against party registration policy and other policies which either directly or indirectly forbid workers from taking part in partisan politics or standing as candidates in elections.

 

We should fight for the democratic approach that is practised in most parts of the world which allows as many parties as possible and leave the existence of such parties to the electorate to decide at the polls. In South Africa for instance, as many as 42 political parties with diverse objectives and manifestoes contested election.

 

Contrary to the false propaganda of the Nigerian ruling class, there is nothing wrong in a political party formed for the sake of advocating the interest of a particular social group. Examples of such cases abound all over the world. The now openly pro-capitalist New Labour Party which is the governing party in Britain today was formed by the British working class. There is a Christian party in Israel and a nationalist party in Canada that has been championing the independence of the Quebec region from Canada. An environmental party is part of the present bourgeois coalition government in Germany.

 

However, the formation of a workers party is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s political history. The most recent example was the Nigeria Labour Party (NLC) formed in 1989 during the Babangida transition programme. But the major shortcoming of the earlier attempts had been the lack of correct revolutionary socialist programme and perspectives. The erstwhile workers’ parties were dominated mainly by intellectuals and labour bureaucrats. Because of the leaders’ lack of confidence in the ability of the working class to change society, no serious consistent efforts were made to involve rank and file workers in the activities of the parties.

 

But these weaknesses can be corrected. By basing itself on a socialist programme, by fighting energetically for the interests of the working class, students, petty traders, artisans, the unemployed, etc, and by ensuring rank-and-file democratic control of its affairs, millions of the working people and youth will be attracted into its ranks. By this approach it will become the most powerful political force and will radically transform the Nigerian society.

 

DEMAND FOR SNC

 

Amidst the aforementioned problems confronting the working people and the youth, the demand for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) is being re-echoed by many individuals and organisations as the panacea to all the country’s problems.

 

While DSM support the slogan of SNC, we insist that the body should be democratically elected and composed on the basis of numerical strength of the various social groups such as workers, farmers, students, professionals, traders, rank and file policemen and soldiers, ethnic nationalities, etc.

 

Again, while we support SNC as stated above and the right to self-determination of the various ethnic groups which make up Nigeria, it is erroneous to think that these are automatic solutions to the numerous problems facing the country. It is like kind of false perspectives that were pushed under the military rule that once we got rid of military, everything will follow its natural sequence and therefore it is an automatic solution to our problems. While SNC, like civil rule, may open up a relatively more democratic environment, socialists, labour and youth activists must understand that unless the neo-colonial capitalist system is upturned by the working people and replaced by a socio-economic arrangement where the commanding sectors of economy are nationalised and put under the democratic control and management of the working people themselves, a SNC, "true federalism", confederation, secession and other forms of political restructuring being advocated will not relieve the masses of poverty and misery or bail the country out of its hydra-headed economic, social and political crises.

 

CONCLUSION

 

In summary, as the country marks one year of civil rule, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) urges the working people to struggle to actualise the following demands and programmes:

 

  • Immediate reinstatement of Anthony Fasayo, Moneyin Babalola, Olamide Olatunji and all expelled and rusticated student activists.

  • Immediate release of the Niamey Five and other remaining political detainees and convicts.

  • Trial of those responsible for human rights abuses during military rule. Compensation for the victims.

  • Immediate repeal of all undemocratic and anti-labour laws.

  • Scrapping of the State Security Service (SSS) and all repressive state bodies.

  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly. Full freedom and independence for trade unions and student bodies without any interference from the state or the management.

  • While supporting the idea of a united Nigeria on the basis of social justice and equal rights, at the same time, a recognition of the right to self-determination of all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria including their right to secede if that is the wish of the majority.

  • A genuine multi-party democracy with the right of every individual and group to organise political parties without registration by the government. The right to stand for elections as independent candidates.

  • An independent mass working people’s political party with a socialist programme to provide an alternative to the existing capitalist parties.

  • Convocation of a democratically-elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC) comprising elected representatives of social groups such as workers, peasant farmers, traders, rank-and-file of the armed forces and police, professionals and ethnic nationalities according to their numerical strength to deliberate and decide on the way forward for the country and draw up a new constitution.

  • Free education at all levels

  • Free medical care for all

  • Provision of decent and affordable public housing

  • Provision of welfare benefits for the unemployed, the sick and the elderly

  • A monthly minimum wage of N20,000 with periodic increases to match the rate of inflation.

  • Opposition to retrenchment. A job for every unemployed person.

  • Abolition of SAP. An end to anti-poor capitalist/imperialist policies of privatisation and commercialisation, retrenchment of workers etc.

  • Public ownership of the country’s vast resources and wealth under the democratic management and control of the working people.

  • Democratic management and control of public companies and parastatals by committees comprising elected representatives of workers, consumers, trade unions, NLC and the government.

  • A massive public works programme to build roads, houses, railways, schools and hospitals and to generate employment.

  • Repudiation of the fictitious foreign debt combined with appeals for fraternal support to the working classes of the imperialist nations.

  • Open declaration of assets by public officials with the right of the public to investigate and initiate prosecution of officials found to have illegally acquired assets in excess of their legal income.

  • Confiscation as public assets without compensation, of all wealth acquired through corruption by the military elite and their civilian counterparts.

  • Democratic management of all public departments, agencies and companies. Management committees to comprise elected representatives of workers and the government with right of immediate recall of the elected by the electors if found wanting.

  • Democratically elected public tribunals comprising elected representatives of workers, peasant farmers, students, professionals and the government to determine cases of corruption.

  • A workers’ and poor peasants’ government based on a socialist programme

  • A socialist federation of Africa as a step towards a world socialist federation to put an end to hunger, poverty, war and environmental destruction.

SEGUN SANGO (signed)

General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

 

28th May, 2000.