Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



By Lanre Arogundade and Segun Sango

This article was also published in four national Nigerian newspapers, the Guardian, Vanguard, Nation and Sun, on Sunday, April 20, 2008.

As a consistent and courageous fighter for the masses whose activism span a vast terrain, there can be no shortage of deserved praises and salutations for Gani on this momentous occasion of his 70th birthday. This especially so, as Gani has managed to reach this milestone despite his failing health, the blame of which however rests squarely on the shoulders of Nigerian military dictatorships and their civilian collaborators who inflicted deep injuries on his health through numerous incarcerations in dungeons, called prisons, across the country.

In more senses than one, Gani is actually a story already told and there is simply no aspect of his renowned activism that would not fill volumes ever since he chose to put his legal services at the disposal of the poor and the oppressed beginning with the Obeya case in 1969. The later, it should be recalled, was a poor driver, whose wife was snatched by a military Governor of the then Benue/Plateau state; and then to rob salt into injury, was illegally detained. Gani would have none of such injustice. He picked the gauntlet, instituted legal action on behalf of Obeya and won.

Obeya’s case invariably turned out to be the tip of the iceberg in the anti-oppression armour of the gadfly. Hence today, Gani is celebrated as a most authentic Senior Advocate of the Masses (as captured in the title conferred on him by the students of the then University of Ife, Ile-Ife), a foremost human rights crusader (indeed winner of the 1993 Bruno Kreisky human rights prize); an unsurpassed pro-poor legal luminary; a prolific publisher of law books (his Nigerian Weekly Law Reports remains an indispensable companion of lawyers and judges); a compassionate humanist; a pro-masses radical politician (as evidenced in the formation of the National Conscience Party) and many more.

In deciding to write this political tribute, our take however, is that Gani’s should not simply be a mere story told or repeated, but an inspirational lesson learnt especially by the working class, the youths, the un-employed, the women and all other oppressed layers of the society. In this sense, the occasion of his 70th birthday needs to be used to highlight the essence of the political life of a man, whose consistency, courage, genuineness of purpose and political sagacity set him poles apart from pseudo-radicals, class collaborators and sidon-lookers who the Nigerian bourgeois press have the proclivity of celebrating as heroes of democracy.

If we harp so much on the imperative of situating Gani’s role in the struggle for democracy within the proper historical context, it is also because we hope it would enrich the on-going debate among change seeking elements on the way forward in the aftermath of the massively rigged 2007 elections, the continued imposition of anti-working class policies like privatization of the commanding heights of the economy and commercialization of health and education and the bizarre looting of the nation’s treasury. Arising from the debate is the question of fighting these injustices, not just as a pro-democracy or civil society exercise but by taking up the challenge of building a real working class alternative political platform.

In the above context therefore, a cursory examination of Gani’s activism would reveal that the over all thrust of his fight against both military and civilian dictatorships was that they represented fundamental aberrations that should not only be rejected and fought, but replaced with a pro-peoples alternative.

The story of his battles against injustice is of course of legendary stuff as few more examples will suffice: facing the bayonets and providing free legal services for leaders and members of the National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) during the anti-education-commercialization Ali-Must-Go struggle in 1978; heading an Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) administrative probe panel over the police killing of four students of the University of Ife in 1981; pursuit of justice over the murder of Dele Giwa through parcel bomb on October 19, 1986 a major outcome of which is the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the right of private prosecution and hosting of an alternative to the anti-poor Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) conference in his chambers that was however disrupted and eventually led to his detention Gashua prisons in the far North by the Babangida military regime.

However, from our own point of view, Gani’s role in spearheading the formation of the NCP in 1994 constitutes his yet most outstanding contributions to the struggle of the ordinary working masses for a permanent decent living and polity.

Firstly, the formation of the NCP was an unprecedented radical phenomenon in the history of political parties in Nigeria. At the time in issue, the military junta as usual, had banned all political parties and all forms of political activities. All the professional politicians who presently hold sway across the country had gone underground, unable to challenge the military’s ban on politics. Even the so-called progressives organized within and around the SDP, the party whose presidential candidate, Chief Moshood Abiola won the June 12 presidential elections had shown their utter incapacity to take on the military over the unjustifiable annulment of the June 12 presidential election.

In fact, most of the members of the party in the South-West, at the beginning were elements who felt let down by the passive resistance/collaboration with the military forces by most leaders of the SDP, the self styled progressives.

But the NCP’s greatness went beyond the prodigious personal courage of its leader, Gani, who was prepared to stake everything, including his wealth and health. From the beginning, the NCP was expressly meant to be a party of the oppressed, the exploited and the cheated. Hence its motto: “Abolition of Poverty”. That was why NCP under Gani led series of mass protests against the Abacha military junta.

In this respect, the struggle against the military also brought out another good side of Gani. Ever before the formation of the NCP, the general media image of Gani was that he couldn’t work with anybody else. However, his active role in the formation and leadership of the Joint Action Committee on Nigeria (JACON) represented a crushing refutation of this decidedly prejudicial portrait. Gani led the formation of the NCP because he came to the conclusion that none of the sections of the professional capitalist class across the country, including the so-called progressives in the West, could measure up economically and politically to the needs and aspirations of the masses. Yet, he combined in JACON with the leadership of AFENIFERE, NADECO, etc, to fight military atrocities.

Of course, as someone who characteristically does not suffer fools gladly, Gani unceremoniously resigned his chairmanship of JACON when he realised that most of JACON leaders and their fellow travellers in the so-called civil society were prepared to participate, in the most unprincipled manner, in the Abubakar junta’s transition programme. That Gani’s judgment was right in this regard was to be subsequently confirmed by the despicable role played in the National Assembly by the elected representatives of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the off-shoot of AFENIFERE, NADECO, etc. Together with the out rightly pro-military and rightwing elements within the All Peoples Party (APP) (now ANPP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the AD legislators passed an Electoral Act specifically to deny official recognition to the NCP and other pro-masses parties to function as political parties. It took titanic legal battles fought by Gani and supplemented by mass protests by NCP activists before the Supreme Court eventually gave nod to the NCP to run candidates in elections.

Looking back and despite and in spite of time and financial constraints, the NCP ran a glorious campaign and equally got promising results where it was organized and active. Despite the massive frauds and manipulations, which characterized the 2003 general elections, the party’s presidential candidate in the person of Gani came fifth while in Lagos State, the party’s governorship candidate came third. In fact, many change-seekers used to urge NCP activists to persevere, as they believed the party was a party of the future.

Unfortunately however, by the time of 2007 general elections, the NCP had virtually ceased to be of any political reckoning. Two factors were responsible for this deplorable turn of fortune for the NCP. One, some of its best leaders including Gani himself decided to take a back stage in the building of the party largely because they felt too disappointed with the sheer fraud and brigandage exhibited by the ruling class under the guise of conducting elections. There was also the frustration felt as a result of the perception that the suffering masses did not do enough to defend their interest against the rapacity of the ruling class.

Suffice to note, the practical exit of people like Gani from NCP enabled an ambitious rightwing clique to gain supremacy of the party leadership at the national level. In place of genuinely committed radical elements building the party at grass-root level which was the main feature of NCP under Gani’s leadership, a new rightwing leaders led by Dr. Osagie Obayuwana consolidated their hold on power through conscious promotion and elevation of careerists who are totally incapable of building the party at grass-root level. For most of the years when Gani served as the NCP chairman, the party had no stable income in the form of INEC subvention. Today however, despite regular annual grants from INEC, the party has become organisationally and politically weaker. In 2003, the party’s governorship candidate in Lagos State scored over 150,000 votes whereas in 2007, the party imposed a candidate in Lagos State who only scored a shameful 580 votes.

To the class of exploiters and oppressors as well as their lackeys, the failure to build NCP as a formidable party of the masses would be seen as a personal tragedy for Gani. However, this would be nothing but an absolutely false conclusion. This is because it is the general failure to build a genuine masses party that has landed us in today’s no win situation dominated by the ruling and opposition parties that are not distinguishable in any positive sense whatsoever.

While many acclaimed political pundits continue to give the false impression that any good can come out of the ruling PDP, ANPP, AC, etc, Gani had long ago, with the formation of NCP, arrived at a much more superior conclusion that a distinctly pro-masses party and government are needed to bail Nigeria out of its vicious economic and political circles. Even while obviously disappointed with the turn of events within the NCP, Gani has essentially maintained faith with the concept of an all Nigerian working peoples’ party. This was why he gave active support to all the general strikes and mass protests called by the Trade Unions and the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) against Obasanjo’s neo-liberal policies. And it was for this same reason that he made personate calls on Adams Oshiomole, the former NLC President to run for the presidency so that he can provide a political rallying point for the oppressed masses in order to give a viable ideological resistance to all sections of the capitalist class. For Gani, the issue was not whether it was easier to win the governorship of Edo State than the presidency but rather the necessity of crystallising a distinct untainted banner to rally the working masses against their eternal exploiters and oppressors.

However, whichever side of the argument one finds himself or herself on this debate, the blunt truth remains that without a genuine working peoples government coming to power, Nigeria shall unfortunately continue to reel under the misrule of one set of locusts or another parading themselves as leaders. There can be no greater lesson to learn from decades of Gani’s political activism.