President Yar’adua’s Era: A new dawn for the masses?
POLITICAL ORIENTAITON FOR LABOUR IN THE POST 2007 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Nigeria’s 2007 general election has been roundly and justifiably condemned as the most farcical exercise ever conducted in Nigeria and internationally in the name of elections. The entire exercise was dominated by brazen, large scale financial and electoral manipulation by the ruling parties across the country. Such was the depth and scale of riggings which characterised the so-called elections that even the imperialist backers of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist elites temporarily withheld open fraternisation with Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was declared president from these highly rigged elections.
Quite naturally, this massive riggings prompted many people, including domestic and international observers to call for the cancellation and a re-run of the entire exercise. While we in the DSM had equally called for the cancellation of the entire exercise, we did this within the framework of a perspective of the labouring masses building their own formidable political party to represent their own interests. In fact, because of the absence of such a party, in the period before the elections, we had made the following statements:
“Most regrettably however, as things stand today, it is these same set of gangsters in the PDP, ANPP and AD/AC who have been ruining the country and its people, at all levels of government, for the past eight years, that will emerge “winners” of the forthcoming general elections. We in the DSM foresaw this looming disaster and in order to forestall it, we had several times advocated that the main trade union and civil society leaders should convoke a special conference of the trade unions, poor masses, students, youths, market women, etc, with a view to provide a viable political platform for the effective representation of the masses interests both during the 2007 general elections and always.
“But here, we would like to stress that this proposition was not just a theoretical possibility. Prior to the forthcoming elections, the working masses, across the country had staged 7 general strikes and mass protests against the Obasanjo government, over its widely hated anti-poor, neo-liberal policies. Suffice to stress, each of these strikes/protests, while they lasted, had shook the regime to its foundations, while governance and society in all essential aspects remained paralyzed. When President Obasanjo wanted to amend the constitution so that he can remain in power beyond May 2007, over 80% of the masses across the country vehemently opposed his dastardly idea.
“So, if the main trade union and civil society leaders who officially led the above stated general strikes/mass protests had taken bold steps to build a distinctly working masses party with an emphatic agenda aimed at eradicating mass misery in the midst of abundance, it should have been entirely possible to create a political platform of the masses which would have been strong enough to dislodge from power the eternally self-serving capitalist politicians, come the April 2007 general elections or at the least, build a political platform of the working masses that will strong enough to checkmate the ruling class from freely implementing anti-poor, socio-economic policies in the wake of the 2007 general elections. Very unfortunately, this approach of the DSM was either totally ignored or not acceptably to most labour and top civil society leaders. Instead, most labour and so-called human right leaders decided to seek solutions to masses problems within the existing capitalist parties”. (Socialist Democracy, March/April, 2007)
Here, the point should be stressed that the election was so massively rigged because it was purely a contest between the different layers of capitalist looters. Secondly, the very absence of a genuine political opposition from the labouring masses also underlines why the various sections of the ruling class in power across the country have been able to continue with their anti-poor policies of treasury looting. As we write, there are several elections petitions pending before various Tribunals, challenging the result of the farce called 2007 general elections. Within the framework of bourgeois rule of law, most of these petitions will end up being dismissed. Even in the most favourable situation where some of these petitions succeed, either by declaring the petitioners winners or by ordering new elections, in the absence of a formidable party representing the interest of the masses, the winners would most certainly be elements from the capitalist oppressors and looters. Therefore, just as before the elections, the greatest task before the working masses today remains the creation/development of an independent political party representing the real interest of the labouring masses.
Unfortunately however, the labour leaders across board appear to have learnt nothing positive from the tumultuous political experience of the recent period. Quite correctly, the NLC and TUC leaders at the time denounced the farce called 2007 general elections. They, in fact, went beyond denunciation and called for the cancellation and a re-run of the entire exercise.
But without offering any cogent reason, these leaders have shifted positions and they are now presently craving for a “strategic partnership” with the same politicians they had hitherto rightly accused of stealing power. Today, the NLC leaders have also accepted membership of a so-called Electoral Reform Committee, entirely handpicked by President Yar’Adua, ostensibly to lay a basis for credible elections in the future. Although the Labour Party (a party formed by some trade union activists) has been in existence since before both the 2003 and 2007 general elections, the main trade union leaders up till date have failed to come up with any coherent policy/any programme of action on how to make this party a major player in the political arena. Both in the 2003 and 2007 general elections, the trade union leaders did not make any significant effort to run candidates and asked those supporting the series of general strikes mentioned before to vote for them.
In the period before the 2007 elections, leaders of the Labour Party were telling the whole world that their party would not contest the general elections because their strategy was to bid for power from the grassroot level i.e. the local councils. However, this seemingly well calculated strategy proved to be false as the same leaders opened their doors for bourgeois politicians like Femi Pedro, Dr. Segun Mimiko, etc, who had failed to secure the governorship tickets of big parties like the AC, PDP, ANPP, to run on the party’s platform. Today, local council elections are knocking, yet nothing is being heard from the Labour Party. Thus, instead of developing an alternative working class platform, strong enough to wrestle power from capitalist looters, most labour leaders are busy pursuing the diversionary and futile politics of hoping to fight corruption and electoral robbery within the framework of capitalist politicking.
THE NCP EXPERIENCE
Although, they don’t normally express it openly, most labour leaders hold the opinion that it is not possible to build a formidable party of the working masses and poor. Two excuses are usually given as the reason why such a party cannot be successfully built and these are lack of sufficient funds and the legendary fraudulent electoral history of Nigeria’s ruling elites. However, the emergence of the National Conscience Party (NCP) and its performance in the 2003 general elections has clearly indicated that these two admittedly major obstacles can be surmounted under certain circumstances.
Suffice to note, the NCP was launched in October 1994, during the period of mass struggle against the annulment of June 12 1993 presidential elections won by MKO Abiola, by the widely known and respected social and human right activist Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Thus, based on Gani’s reputation as a defender of the masses and what is just in general, plus the open betrayal of all the layers of the capitalist politicians including the so-called progressives within the Social Democratic Party (SDP, the military sponsored party which presented Abiola as its presidential candidate), many change-seeking elements among the masses and the poor in general rallied round to build the NCP as an alternative political platform to all the bourgeois parties. To be sure, the party most of the time lacked necessary sufficient funds to conduct its affairs. This is no thanks to the fact that those who have sufficient means (including middle class elements) that could have provided material resources for the party studiously avoided it like a plague.
Just like the 2007 general elections, the 2003 general elections was largely manipulated financially and politically by the PDP, ANPP and the AD (the predecessor of today’s AC) in their respective areas of control, of course with the balance heavily tilted in favour of the PDP, which controlled the central government and majority of the states. But despite this gigantic obstacle, the NCP received hundreds of thousands of votes across the country. In Lagos State where members of the DSM were in the party leadership, the party came third overall in the elections after the AD/AC and PDP which operated a no hold bar over their spending in order to capture power at all costs.
Here, it should be mentioned that precisely because of its financial handicap and its limited political and organizational outreach, the party have to do without adequate polling agents and canvassers in most constituencies and polling booths. In the given situation only votes which the big ruling parties could not conveniently steal because of the uncompromising role of the NCP activists at local levels were eventually officially recorded for the party. However, such was the level of political enthusiasm which the NCP’s modest electoral successes elicited that many layers of the masses were looking forward for the party to become stronger by the time of 2007 general elections. Here, it is pertinent to recall that the NCP only finally secured clearance to field candidates for the April 2003 general elections in February 2003! So, quite naturally, the expectation was that the NCP was going to build on its modest achievement and this time around, with the benefit of having a four-year period to prepare for the 2007 general elections. Unfortunately however, the political fortune of the NCP in general started to decline in the aftermath of the 2003 general elections.
As was noted before, the 2003 general elections were massively rigged by the ruling capitalist parties in the same manner the 2007 general elections were rigged. This state of affairs naturally provoked different reactions in the country as regards the issue of free and fair elections and its implications for the acquisition of power in a constitutional democratic manner. The present political cul-de-sac in which the NCP has been pushed actually arose from the fall out of the 2003 general elections.
Soon three main groups reactions developed within the NCP leadership in reaction to the highly manipulated 2003 general elections.
The first group consists of exceptional party leaders and builders like Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, etc, who decided to take backstage in the building of NCP largely because they could not see how the masses can win against the bourgeois politicians who would always use looted public funds and their control of state apparatus to always manipulate every elections. This school of thought feels that given the level of suffering being undergone by the masses, coupled with Gani’s reputation as a man of the masses, the masses should have overwhelmingly voted NCP and/or resisted the electoral robbers that put themselves in power.
The second group was represented and led by the DSM members, especially through its leadership of the party in Lagos State. To this group, the achievement recorded by the party in the 2003 general elections, given all the obstacles faced by the party, was a no mean achievement. Instead of becoming despondent, this group urged that appropriate lessons be drawn from the entire exercise with a view to prepare for the 2007 general elections. Principally, this group stressed the importance and necessity of the party having good reputation among the masses. It explained that the relative favourable reception of the masses towards the NCP, despite the fact that it was registered very very late and had little or no money bags in its ranks, was largely based on the reputation and activities of the party’s then National Chairman, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who is seen by the wide layers of the masses as their defender. In addition, this group also stressed that while Gani’s good name could open political doors to the hearts of people that have become justifiably suspicious of anything to do with politics, the building of corresponding political structures and development of cadres committed to the emancipation of the working masses from capitalist induced poverty in all nooks and crannies of the country constitutes the only real framework through which mass support for a popular leader like Chief Gani Fawehinmi can be translated into political power.
In the activities before the 2003 general elections, NCP campaigns and particularly those in which Gani personally participated always received widespread support among the working masses and the poor in general. However, only areas where the party had structures controlled by committed activists was this political goodwill translated into any worthwhile electoral successes. Consequently, this second group had urged the party to prioritise its future activities on the development of a more coherent pro-people, anti-capitalist programmes as well as creation and spreading of real party structures to as many places as possible.
The third group, which eventually emerged dominant in the party leadership, is made up of those elements which drew an entirely incorrect conclusion from the whole political process. To this group, there is no bright future along the road of building the party as a mass radical/revolutionary entity. To this group, the modest electoral successes recorded by the party did not offer the prospect of future growth for the party but rather, has only provided the reason while the NCP should move closer to other bourgeois parties in opposition as the most viable way to dislodge the ruling PDP from power.
So, right from the beginning, the further development of the NCP political structure and profile was never in the priority list of this group. The right wing’s national strength in the party was based upon many of them being members of the NCP’s NEC only because of INEC’s requirement that representatives from two-thirds of the federal states must be in a registered party’s NEC. Most of right wing NEC members had no viable NCP structures in their states and consequently represented no one but themselves. With the benefit of hind-sight, this rightwing group headed by Dr. Osagie Obayuwana, the party’s current National Chairman, decided to rein in the party leadership in Lagos State in order to support the capitalist AD/AC ruling Lagos State. This was done under the guise of the AD/AC being described as progressive compare with PDP. When this opportunistic orientation was rejected by the DSM/Lagos NCP leadership, Obayuwana’s group finally and fully launched a ceaseless struggle to liquidate the party in Lagos State and the Southwest where the party has started to show real prospect for growth and development.
By the time of 2007 general elections, this rightwing leadership had succeeded in virtually snuffing out the light of activity in most states where the NCP used to exist. In Lagos State, it imposed a non-party member as the party’s governorship candidate to replace Lanre Arogundade, democratically chosen by the NCP Lagos State congress to run as its governorship candidate. In the highly rigged 2003 general elections, Lanre scored over 77,000 votes running as Lagos West Senatorial candidate for NCP. At the national level, this rightwing leadership in a treacherous manner, openly supported and called on people to vote for the ANPP presidential candidate, General Mohammed Buhari. Meanwhile, in the 2003 general elections, Chief Gani Fawehinmi scored over 160,000 votes, running as NCP presidential candidate, while the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos State in person of Lateef Abassi scored over 150,000 votes. Against this background, the DSM/Lagos NCP leadership decided, in protest, to withdraw it candidates for the 2007 general elections in Lagos State. And quite tellingly, the governorship candidate imposed by the rightwing NCP leadership only scored a miserable 580 votes. Taking this and many other conducts and damaging activities of this rightwing leadership into account, vis-Å•-vis the political integrity and future of the NCP, the DSM and the Lagos NCP decided to leave the party in July, 2007.
This relatively lengthy narration of the NCP experience has been given in order to highlight certain basic political points:
(1) The NCP experience has clearly shown that a genuine pro-masses’ mass party can be successfully built around genuine radical/revolutionary programme and leadership, notwithstanding the great obstacles which a lack of sufficient fund by the masses as well as ruling class misuse of political power and state institutions would always present. In other words, if the NCP which lacked labour’s reputation and outreach among the working masses and youths could make the kind of impact it made in the 2003 general elections, then, a trade union organised and backed political platform, if built on a coherent working class programme and methods, would by far achieve much more successes.
(2) The NCP experience has equally shown that the masses can never be taken for granted. When the party was seen to be carrying out mass activities to better the lot of the masses, politically and economically, it received an encouraging and warm response from the masses. However, when its new rightwing leadership decided to use NCP credibility to reinforce the same bourgeois forces against which the party was formed in the first instance, it received a very humiliating result in the 2007 general elections. What this of course shows is that a working masses party will only continue to enjoy mass support when it stays committed to masses interest and not by seeking an opportunistic and an impossible “strategic partnership” with masses exploiters and oppressors.
(3) We wish to underline the point that the political demise of the NCP as a party through which the masses can struggle for a fundamental change from the prevailing capitalist misery and oppression has actually compounded the present political situation for the entire working masses. It has made the current situation much more worse than the pre-2007 general elections. In the 2003 general elections hundreds of thousands of working class elements and youth, who had become politically conscious enough to recognise the fact that the PDP, ANPP, AD/AC, etc, represent the different sides of the exploiters and looters class, voted for NCP. The mindless destruction of the NCP by the rightwing elements in the period before the 2007 general elections robbed these layers and millions of others, the choice of a credible alternative. Plainly put therefore, the working masses are politically worse off today than in the recent years.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR A GENUINE MASS WORKING PEOPLES’ PARTY
Once again the point must be stressed that the DSM members and others did not feel happy to quit the NCP, a party which they had laboured to build since its inception in 1994 as a political platform of the oppressed. However, as painful as this decision was, it was considered as the best logical decision to take in the given circumstances. Nonetheless, the issue of what next political step would be taken by those quitting the NCP became a major issue during the political discussions which preceded this decision. This was also was the major issue raised by the media practitioners that came to cover the public announcement of the pull out. Then, we had raised the perspective of building a campaign for a genuine Mass Working Peoples’ Party. As we explained, this was based on the fact that none of the existing political parties fully represent our ideas of what a genuine party of the masses should be.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to, at this stage, recall the fact that the DSM, right from its founding conference in 1987, had always called for the formation of a mass Labour Party, especially one which is built on a socialist foundations. Now a Labour Party exists as a registered organisation that can run candidates in elections, but it is not a campaigning organisation. As a matter of fact, the Labour Party itself has done little or nothing before and since we quit the NCP that could easily make it attractive to change-seeking working class elements and youth as the party to join. Again, this fact has further underlined the political correctness of the decision to launch the campaign for a genuine Mass Working Peoples’ Party. Yes, there exists a Labour Party formed and led by trade union activists, who in fact have led many tumultuous general strikes and mass protests. But these strikes and struggles were not given the necessary political orientation particularly because labour leaders have refused to lead struggles with the perspective of the masses capturing political power with a view to implement policies that would best served their own interests. One result of this is that the Labour Party, for all practical purposes and intents, has remained an empty political shell.
Faced with this situation, the perspective of a campaign for a genuine Mass Working Peoples Party retains all its validity, even up till the present moment. However, this on its own, would not fully fill the political vacuum created in the wake of the NCP’s liquidation by the rightwing elements as well as the virtual dormancy of the Labour Party. Hundreds of thousands of working class people, who already have become politically more mature beyond the politics of bourgeois deception being practiced by the AD/AC, ANP, etc, have now become politically disenfranchised with the virtual collapse of the NCP and being faced with a Labour Party that totally lacks any coherent programme of activity. If the campaign for a genuine mass working peoples’ party gathers sufficient tempo and momentum, some of these elements will be able to play a frontal role in the struggle to create such a party. However for most of these layers and millions of other working class people seeking a way out of the perpetual misrule of the capitalist politicians, the idea of a campaign body like the one being raised will sound nice but at the same time, will be seen as an inadequate political response needed to dislodge capitalist parties from power.
Already sections of the advanced layers, including some labour leaders, are asking whether we should not take a decision to join the Labour Party, notwithstanding its identified political limitations. Arguments have been canvassed in this respect that the campaign for a genuine mass working peoples’ party can be better canvassed within the Labour Party rather than outside of it. It has been further argued that the efforts that will be used in trying to build a new working peoples’ party be concentrated in the struggle to build the Labour Party as a genuine party of the labouring masses and youths. We therefore pose the question: What prospects exist for the transformation of the Labour Party in this direction?
PERSPECTIVE FOR THE LABOUR PARTY
Despite current cheerless political profile of the Labour Party, we in the DSM at this stage wish to urge the advanced layers of the working class, including all those forced to quit the NCP as a result of the rightwing degeneration of that party, to immediately join the Labour Party with a view to building it as a truly working class party.
Yes, we concede that this proposition can be faulted for several reasons. One, despite the mass revulsion, which the vast majority of the working masses have towards the ruling/thieving capitalist parties, the Labour Party leadership has woefully failed to proffer an alternative political programme of action that could harness the masses rejection of these odious parties behind its own political organization. Both in its pronouncements and conducts, the vast majority of labour leaders within the Labour Party and the trade unions have so far failed to come forward with a concrete programme of action directed towards turning the party into a viable political platform that can challenge the thieving capitalist elite for political power. Due to the legendary pro-capitalist outlook of most labour leaders, there is in fact a strong feeling that the top trade union and labour party leaders would never consciously take steps to build the Labour Party as a true political platform of the working masses. In fact, there is an equal deep feeling that most of the current crop of labour leaders would viciously fight anybody struggling to build the Labour Party as a mass fighting political platform of the oppressed.
Frankly speaking therefore, the proposal, urging socialists and all advance layers of the working class movement to move into the Labour Party with a view to build it as a genuine mass working peoples party may not seem attractive to longstanding activists. But we believe that, at this moment, this can provides a concrete starting point for the campaign for a genuine mass working peoples’ party. Socialists in the Labour Party would concretely propose steps both to build the Party and give it a socialist programme that can answer the needs of working people.
Of course, the question could be raised as to why we had not made this proposal since the formation of the Labour Party? To this poser, a straight and short answer is that there existed in the NCP a better political platform which then held far more political attraction to working class elements in general and the advance layer of activists in particular. Therefore, if the NCP had not lost its political orientation which made it popular among the masses, there would have been no sense in asking socialists and labour activists to move en-mass to Labour Party in the manner being recommended.
Now we are in a new situation where the NCP’s collapse and the enormous national respect and following that “Labour” , meaning fundamentally the trade unions, has opened the way to the possibility that the Labour Party could become a focal point of attraction for change seeking elements, especially in the runup to future elections.
Thus, the proposal that socialists and labour activists should now move en-masse into the Labour Party with a view to transform it into a fighting platform is based on the analysis of the way in which the class struggle may develop in the coming period. Because of its largely pro-capitalist outlook, most labour leaders can never be expected to consciously take steps to build the Labour Party into a viable anti-capitalist, fighting party of the oppressed. No, this will never be the case. In fact, their conscious craving for a “strategic partnership” with the ruling capitalist government also means that very little principled and purposeful defensive struggles for an improved living standard can be expected from these elements. However, despite and in spite of the short sighted policies being pursued by labour leaders, the coming period will nonetheless be a period of storming class struggles. Presently, because the thieving capitalist class is not facing any serious principled resistance by the working class movement, President Yar’Adua, who was brazenly and openly rigged into power is being deceptively presented as the person that would solve Nigeria’s intractable socio-economic crisis.
However, sooner than later, the vast majority of people will rapidly draw the conclusion that President Yar’Adua’s dispensation is just a mere continuation of the relentless exploitation and oppression in the midst of plenty of the masses. When this happens, there would develop a renewed mood of anger and struggle. In that kind of situation, there is bound to be both conscious and unconscious efforts by the working masses to extend their struggles to political arena through instinctive strive to put in power a government that is genuinely committed to guarantee their own interest. On their part, most labour leaders, as a result of the certain fierce hostility of the masses towards all the capitalist parties, may not be able to maintain their present open romance and collaboration with bourgeois politicians. In that kind of situation, there is bound to be some half-hearted measures on their part to develop the Labour Party just so to put themselves in a position to arrest masses radicalization from going beyond bourgeois reformism.
Therefore if the socialists and the advance layers of working masses today move into the Labour Party and properly rooted themselves within the party’s rank and file and the masses in general, then there will be bright prospects of making serious political gains from such ensuing mass radicalization. Such activity would not simply be within the present very small Labour party membership but simultaneously be amongst the broad working masses and youth. In this sense there would be no contradiction between being in the Labour Party and the campaign for a genuine Mass Working Peoples’ Party. Socialists would be arguing both for the need for such a party and for the Labour Party to become the fighting mass socialist party Nigeria needs.
At the same time being already active within the Labour Party would put socialists in an advantageous position to combat the certain reactionary influence and pressure which pro-capitalist labour leaders inevitably would bring to bear on the labour movement. Socialists, while not hiding their policies, would work alongside non-socialists who seriously wish to build a mass, active Labour Party. Socialists will argue for the Labour Party to be a democratic party involving all change seeking elements within the trade unions and LASCO. We will also warn against those labour leaders who would seek to use a growing Labour Party simply as a bargaining chip to secure deals with capitalist politicians.
Currently Edo and Ondo States are an exception as far as the Labour Party is concerned with considerable mass support existing for its defeated governorship candidates. In Edo Adams Oshiomhole is fundamentally seen as a radical labour leader, notwithstanding the fact that he ran under the capitalist AC. In Ondo Olusegun Mimiko who, unable to secure the PDP’s ticket, ran on Labour Party’s platform and is seen by significant layers of the masses there as far being a better politician than Olusegun Agagu, the PDP’s incumbent governor,