Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



“Only socialist revolution can save Nigeria – a country stupendously rich but whose majority of citizens are perpetually poor” – Segun Sango

DSM Lagos aggregate 19 Fenruary 2012

DSM Lagos aggregate 19 Fenruary 2012

On Sunday 19 February 2012, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) held a Lagos aggregate meeting. The purpose was to bring members together and most especially the many potential new members we met in Lagos during the general strike and mass protest in January against fuel price hike.

An inspiring discussion took place on the state of Nigeria and the way forward. Leading the discussion, Segun Sango (DSM General Secretary) pointed out that the last general strike and mass movement in January is a confirmation that the working masses, youth and poor of Nigeria are capable of effecting revolutionary change in Nigeria.

Lanre Arogundade added that the last protest should not just renew our confidence that change is possible; we must also draw useful lessons to ensure that future struggle wins. One crucial lesson of the last general strike is that we need a mass workers’ party to take political power.

This is crucial given the fact that things are going from bad to worse despite the promises of palliatives to ensure that the effects of the partial removal of the so-called subsidy does not harm the people too much. Prices of food items, transportation and other basic goods and services, which shot up in the wake of the fuel price hike, have not yet gone back to their pre-January level. As a matter of fact, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said the country’s inflation rate shot up to 12.6% in January compared with 10.6% in December before the fuel price hike.

As of now the National Assembly’s public probe of the management of subsidy is creating media frenzy; however it only amounts to a circus as there are no reliable indications that government is now prepared to really tackle corruption in the petroleum sector.

This does not come as a surprise. The whole apparatus of government itself is corrupt; capitalism itself is a system of organized corruption. While pretending to probe corruption in the oil sector, members of the National Assembly are at the same time helping themselves to the national cake. Recent revelations shows that 109 Senators will get N1.7 billion per person to buy jeeps. This will be in addition to the expensive and luxurious fleet of vehicles already in the custody of National Assembly members.

All this flies in the face of President Jonathan’s promises to cut back on wasteful government expenses on overhead and also shows how none of the issues (corruption being one of them) that brought the masses out onto the street in January are being addressed.

Segun Sango explained that all these wastage and corruption of the ruling elite is not accidental, it is part of the characteristics of capitalism. Neither is it just a feature of capitalism in Nigeria, it is also a feature of capitalism internationally as we can see in how the greed of big businesses, bankers and politicians is bringing whole economy in Europe to its knees and how workers and youths are being asked to pay for the crisis through brutal austerity policies.

Capitalism is a fundamentally unjust system. There is wealth in society but instead of being used for the betterment of all, it is being cornered by the capitalist in and outside government. New report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that income inequality in Nigeria rose from 0.429 in 2004 to 0.447 in 2010 – an indication of increasing mass impoverishment taking place despite the fabled reports of economic growth.

Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda: What does it Offer?

A staggering 112,519,000 Nigerians live in relative poverty conditions, according to the NBS. This figure represents 69 per cent of the country’s total population estimated to be 163 million. More worrisome is the fact that the poverty rate is rising at a time the GDP growth rate is put at 7.75 per cent. According to the Statistician-General of the NBS, Dr. Yemi Kale, the poverty figure might increase to 71.5 per cent in 2011. Also 23.9% of the working population is unemployed.

These gory features of the economy reflect the bankruptcy of neo-liberal capitalist policies of the past regimes which President Jonathan’s transformation agenda intends to sustain and intensify. The transformation agenda is a package of neo-liberal policies of privatization, deregulation and commercialization aimed to serve the interest of the rich. Under this agenda, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is being unbundled (in reality carved up) to be sold piecemeal to private energy companies to manage. The implication of this is increase in electricity tariff which will further burden the working masses and poor. This is aside thousands of jobs that are going to be lost. Already electricity workers are only counting days before mass sack is announced under the guise of restructuring.

Just last year there was some increase in tariff even though vast majority of the population have no electricity and have to provide electricity for their home and business with generators. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) holds the poor state of electricity supply as the major factor responsible for factory closures, relocation of production lines and hundreds of thousands of job losses in the last one decade.

This year another increase in tariff is being touted by the Federal government as part of conditions for privatization of the public electricity in order to make it profitable for the private sector to invest in it. This alone exposes the whole privatization process as not a bid to improve electricity generation but to make it profitable. When the private energy sharks fully take over, the masses should expect drastic decline in access to electricity as tariff will shoot through the roof.

These same anti-poor and anti-growth policies are being applied to other sectors of the economy. Education and health care are being increasingly commercialized. Comrade Nicholas told the meeting his experience at the public general hospital in Lagos where he had to pay over N30, 000 for just ante natal care for his pregnant wife. In a country where the minimum age is a mere N18, 000 and workers in most state are still being paid below the minimum wage, this story shows what many working class and low-income middle class family go through to access healthcare.

Little wonder most deliveries take place in churches and other unspeakable places because most families cannot afford the high cost of healthcare. The same scenario takes place in the education sector. In higher institutions across the country, fees are being increased up to N100, 000, N200, 000 and in the case of the Lagos State University, N348, 000! It is interesting to note that all political parties including the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are united on these neo-liberal attacks on public education. Indeed public higher institutions in states being governed by the opposition ACN have one of the most expensive fees.

All the political parties are singing the same chorus: there is no alternative way of running society except through neo-liberal policies”. In Lagos state, the ACN-led government sold a whole road, the Lekki-Epe expressway, to private sharks under the guise of Public Private Partnership. This was a road built since the 1980s and all the private company wanted to do was to add one or two lanes along 49 kilometres of the road. Even though only about 6 kilometres has been completed, the company has built a toll gate and planning to build two more! The tolling of a public road has been the subject of mass protest and agitations since last year which were viciously crushed by the government.

Chinedu reported to the meeting another ACN’s Public Private fraud in Lagos: the Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT). This is often presented as a success story of public private partnership but the real truth is to the contrary. Just like the concessioning of the Lekki-Epe expressway, the BRT is merely a cover for the use of public money to set up private businesses for party bigwigs and their private sector friends. OANDO, whose Managing Director Wale Tinubu is nephew to the ACN’s political leader Ahmed Bola Tinubu, is the sole supplier of diesel to the BRT buses even though OANDO sells its diesel at a more expensive price to LAGBUS.

Naturally, this arrangement should be unprofitable for a real company but the reality is that LAGBUS is merely a front to corner the state’s resources for private pockets. Majority of the staff earn an average wage of N25, 000. Bus drivers earn N35, 000 even though they work more than 60 hours a week! Due to mismanagement, many of the buses have broken down thus meaning sack looms soon. The company also has a record of attacking the democratic rights of its workers to join a union while victimization is rife.

But there really is an alternative way of running society that can ensure that society’s resources is used to cater for the interest of the working and poor masses instead of over-fed politicians and big business as we have presently. This alternative way of running society, which Socialists campaign for, is nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy (including the oil sector) under public’s democratic control and management. Socialists say no to all privatization because we believe all society’s resources belongs to the people and they must therefore be collectively owned. This is why we emphasize democratic control and management of nationalized companies as a basis to involve the working and poor masses in the running of the economy and society.

National Question

Another aspect of the state of the Nation which Socialists and the working masses must carefully analyze and understand is the national question. This is more so given the rise of Boko Haram –an Islamist fundamentalist group in the North East – whose violent bombing activities and killings in the last three years threaten to destabilize the country.

Segun Sango pointed out that the seemingly intractable ethno-religious crisis arose out of the fact that Nigeria is made up of heterogeneous tribes which were undemocratically yoked together by the British Colonialists for easy and more profitable exploitation of the country’s resources. No tribe was consulted neither was there any democratic discussion as to whether the different ethnic nationalities wants to come together and on what terms.

Nigeria’s independence was negotiated on the basis of this ethnic and religious division with British imperialism handing power over to a section of the ruling class they believe is more malleable. However the capitalist economic and political outlook of the ruling elites of all the major ethnic nationalities that have formed government in Nigeria since independence meant that instead of abating, the ethnic and religious division and crisis has become aggravated as different ethnic ruling elites grapple for a share of society’s wealth.

It is not for nothing that the North accounts for the highest level of poverty and illiteracy despite the fact that Northern ruling elites ruled Nigeria for decades. The latest National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report shows that the North-West and the North-East had the highest poverty rates in the country in 2010 with 77.7 per cent and 76.3 per cent respectively. Of all the 36 states of the federation, Sokoto has the highest poverty rate (86.4 per cent)!

This is why Socialists constantly argue that without justice in the area of distribution of society’s wealth, there can be no hope of fundamentally resolving the national question. The DSM call for a genuine, democratic and independent Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to be dominated by the elected representatives of the working people, the poor, youth and the different ethnic groups to discuss whether Nigeria should be or not and if yes, under what terms.

However a truly and independent Sovereign National Conference (SNC) raises the question of which government will implement its resolutions. This is certainly not the government of looters who will not mind if this unjust status quo continues because they benefit from it. This raises the need for a workers’ political party that can fight for political power and enthrone a truly democratic workers and poor people’s government that can implement the resolution of the SNC.

Socialists support the right to self-determination. However we point out that separating or dividing Nigeria is not a magic solution to the crisis of underdevelopment, unemployment and poverty which ravages the working masses of the North, West, East, Middle Belt and Niger Delta.

It is not for nothing that governors and politicians in the Niger Delta region where the Nation’s crude oil comes from are found to be among the most corrupt. Despite, the 13% derivative the states in the region get monthly from the Federal government aside monthly allocations, the level of underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and collapse of public infrastructure like education, roads and health is alarming. The ruling elite in the Niger Delta region just corner the money while abandoning the people to a live of drudgery and penury. If these same elements are to govern an independent state of the Niger Delta, not much positive change in the life of the people can be expected. This perspective is equally true for all geo-political zones where the capitalist ruling elites are equally corrupt and anti-poor.

While supporting the right to self-determination, we stress the need for the working masses and poor to fight for a workers and poor people’s government that will not implement neo-liberal policies of privatization but that will use society’s resources in the interest of all. Socialists believe that separation on the basis of capitalism will mean the continuation of the same income inequality and mass poverty amidst plenty. Consequently, Socialists advocate a united Nigeria based on democratic tenets, socio-political justice and socialism.

Labour Leadership

The way and manner the last general strike was called off only further underscore the fact that the current leaders of trade unions do not have an alternative agenda and program to leading the working people in the struggle for political power. The general strike and mass protests that drew tens of millions of Nigerians on to the streets and effectively shutdown the economy for more than a week boldly raised the question of political power. However the Labour leaders were not ideologically and politically prepared for this despite the huge organizational potential of the trade unions in Nigeria. This explains why they were easily blackmailed by the government with the accusation that Labour was working with the opposition to remove Jonathan as president by raising the slogan for regime change.

It is instructive to note that the Labour leadership did not officially raise this slogan. Neither did the opposition political parties nor any of the opposition politicians who played roles in the daily mass at Ojota Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square in Ojota Lagos consciously raise this slogan. Only the DSM and the JAF consciously raised this slogan but matched it with a call for working peoples’ political and economic alternative. JAF called for system change. In our leaflet, banner and paper, we raised the slogan of “Down with Jonathan’s government, for a workers and poor peoples’ government”. However what really scared the ruling elite was that by the third and subsequent days of the strike, the slogan “Jonathan must go” was beginning to get very popular among large layers of protesters in Lagos and across the country. It was very apparent that events were leading to a point that could be dangerous for the regime and ultimately the system.

Hence, the Labour leaders had to come out to specifically dissociate themselves from the call for “regime change” and called off the strike when they could not lead the working people to the next step which is a struggle for political power. Besides, the current Labour leaders are not fundamentally opposed to anti-poor neo-liberal policies of privatization and deregulation, but only at best canvass for them to be given human face. The major missing element of the strike and mass protest like the previous ones was the absence of a mass working peoples’ political party that could have seized the opportunity to provide leadership especially at the moment when the Labour leadership were retreating and aggregate the anger and potential of the mass movement up to the conquest of political power. This is one of the reasons we have consistently called on socialists, workers, artisans and youths to agitate for the formation of a mass workers’ party.

A Mass Party of Workers and Poor

Labour playing a leading role in the formation of such a party is perhaps the best way to quickly provide a strong political alternative that can challenge for power come next election in 2015 and beyond. But this cannot happen without a fighting Labour leadership that appreciates the historic task of the working class to lead the other strata of the oppressed in the struggle for political power. The example of the Labour Party (LP) formed by the NLC but abandoned to careerists and political jobbers shows how little the current Labour leaders appreciate this.

Hence the agitation for a mass working people party must be matched with a campaign in the rank and file of the trade unions for a fighting Labour leadership. This must also be linked with the demand for democratization of the trade unions and the involvement of rank and file workers in the running of the unions and in collectively taking decisions as to how labour should respond to government neo-liberal attacks.

Very crucial is the need to begin the task of building a mass workers’ party. As Segun Sango stressed, while campaigning for the formation of such a mass workers’ party, we must equally try every available opportunity, no matter how small and difficult, to build a socialist political alternative now. This is where the question of the DSM beginning the process of registering a Socialist Party comes in. Of course, the undemocratic electoral laws present myriads of onerous obstacles in the path of registering a genuine party that can fight and represent the political interest of the working masses, youth and poor. But with our determination, we may surmount them.

Unlike in the last two general elections wherein no political alternative existed for the working class and youth, even a small Socialist Party will afford us the opportunity of intervening in elections and putting forward a socialist economic and political program.

According to Lanre Arogundade, an organization like ours is needed to provide a way out for the working masses from the crisis of capitalism in Nigeria. There is therefore the need to redouble our efforts at building the DSM. This includes ensuring that we reach out to all the change-seekers we met during the last general strike and politically struggle to win them over to the cause of socialism. The meeting ended with the raising of N5, 500 fighting fund and N3, 000 in pledge.

H.T Soweto