Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Labour Party Crisis

DSM Calls for Conference of Trade Unions, Left Organisations and Socialists to Discuss the Building of a Genuine Mass Working People’s Party

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the current move by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to reclaim the Labour Party, so long as it is a genuine attempt to build a democratic working class party. The fact is that, for nearly two decades, the party formed by the NLC has been effectively abandoned and left in the hands of a series of political merchants and charlatans who treat it as a mere “cash and carry” merchandise for self-enrichment. Therefore, we support every legitimate step and action to reclaim the Labour Party from these impostors.

However, it is not enough for the Board of Trustees of the Labour Party who have proclaimed the takeover of the control of the party to assure “all stakeholders” that they are “committed to reclaiming and repositioning the Labour Party as the vehicle for the socio-political emancipation of our dear country, her working people and populace.” It is also important that how to achieve this is clearly spelt out and open to debate in the labour movement.

“Sincere and Patriotic Politicians” with Neo-Liberal Capitalist Programme

In the course of the ongoing faceoff with the Julius Abure leadership of the LP, the NLC Political Commission and BOT have been using some nice phrases that are on the surface appealing. However, it does not appear the lesson of why the party has, at no time in its existence, represented the aspiration and interest of working people and the poor has been learned. For instance, the NLC Political Commission states that “the Labour Party must be fully recovered and repositioned as a political vehicle for the benefit of sincere and patriotic politicians who are committed to making genuine impact in the lives of ordinary Nigerians” (Statement issued on March 18, 2024. The emphasis is ours).

In other words, the NLC is out to recover the party from Abure and hand it over to “sincere and patriotic politicians”. The question is who are those “sincere and patriotic politicians” who do not subscribe to the neo-liberal capitalist programme which is largely responsible for “decades of governance failure”, which the NLC also talks about in the said statement. Or does the NLC leadership believe that it is possible to make “genuine impact in the lives of ordinary Nigerians” on the basis of pro-capitalist policies.

The fact is that since 2007 when it began to participate in elections, the LP has been supporting or accommodating different sections of the capitalist elite with its longstanding ruinous anti-poor neo-liberal programme even in violation of its official limited social democratic reform programme, under the guise of being labour-friendly, sincere or patriotic. But to truly reposition the party “as the vehicle for the socio-political emancipation of our dear country, her working people and populace”, this approach, which the NLC Political Commission describes as “ideological approach to political leadership”, purportedly “anchored on integrity and Solidarity”, and wants to sustain, has to be done away with.

We hold that integrity as an attribute of any “sincere and patriotic politician” promoting the neo-liberal capitalist programme is akin to the moral of the character in a popular quote from Leo Tolstoy’s What Then Must We Do?: “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.” Neither there can be solidarity from such a politician with workers and the poor masses because by its logic and nature, the neo-liberal programme undermines their interests and conditions. In other words, no pro-capitalist politicians can be trusted to promote and protect the interests of workers, youths and the poor.

Peter Obi

It is the same flawed “ideological approach” together with political opportunism that prompted the BOT to describe Peter Obi as the leader of the party. No doubt, Labour Party owes its impressive performance in the 2023 general elections to Obi joining the party. Seen by sections of young and middle-class people as a frugal manager of resources, Obi was able to attract the support of a good number of Nigerians many of whom are genuinely looking for an alternative outside the leading establishment parties like APC and PDP. However, the leader of a party should be an embodiment of its philosophy and programme. Unless the Labour Party has officially adopted neo-liberal programme, it is a misnomer and opportunistic to adorn Obi with the garb of the Party leader. Being purportedly frugal is not enough, what is most important is the economic programme and philosophy. For instance, it is the same neo-liberal programme especially fuel subsidy removal and devaluation of the naira stridently advocated by Obi and currently implemented by the Bola Tinubu government which is largely responsible for the ongoing devastating economic hardship and cost of living crisis. Yes, it is true that Obi says he would have done it differently but whichever way the fuel subsidy was removed it means a massive cut in living standards despite the talk that it was only the looters who would suffer.

Besides, it is instructive to state that under a capitalist government, ‘frugal’ management can also serve as a banner for unleashing serious pro-capitalist attacks including austerity measures on the working people and youth. For instance, we recall that as the Governor of Anambra State, public hospitals and the state university were shut down for 13 months and 6 months respectively because Obi refused to agree to better working conditions and remuneration for doctors and lecturers. Yet this did not stop the same Obi from endorsing the reckless expenditure of N160 million to buy a car for each of the current national legislators.

In any case, despite being patronized by the NLC and the Abure-led faction of the Labour Party which has gifted him the presidential ticket of the party for 2027, Obi has indicated that he may dump the party. In his words, “We promised to build Nigeria; we did not promise to build a New Labour Party ….. We will try to change them [LP], if we can’t, we will leave them; we will not die with them” ( Obi on his Verified X space, hosted by Parallel Facts, 29 March 2024). Truly, it does not do good to Obi’s image to openly associate with Abure leadership which is dogged by serious scandal and allegations of monumental corruption. Besides, Obi sees the party as a rented vehicle for his presidential ambition, and if it becomes dented, he is prepared to hire another vehicle. In any case, if the NLC and BOT truly want to rebuild and reposition the Labour Party as a genuine working people’s party, it is not likely for Obi and others like him to remain in the party.

Special Conference

Against the backdrop of the foregoing, as a step towards the rebuilding of the Labour Party as a true party of the working people, we reiterate our consistent call on the leadership of the NLC, also the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and now the BOT of the party to convene a special conference that includes trade unions, socialist and left organisations, left coalitions like JAF, CORE, TPAMP ASCAB, etc. and LP leaders. This is with a view of agreeing on programme as well as organisational and political methods of building a working people’s political party. We hold that such a conference should agree that for the Labour Party to become a genuine working people’s party, it must be based on a fighting working people’s programme and its affairs run democratically by the working people.

This means that its officers, party candidates and public representatives must not subscribe to neo-liberal capitalist programmes which attacks the conditions of the working people, youth and the poor. Indeed, we will argue at the conference for a socialist programme that includes nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic management and control by working people. This is more important because even the party’s official social democratic programme, while it is not a barrier to socialists and genuine change-seeking elements working in the party, has serious limitations that make it vulnerable to a takeover by rotten pro-capitalist elements. This is because it promotes a utopian idea that the socio-economic and political interests of the working people and the poor can be harmonized with those of a section of capitalist exploiters who are seen or presented as being friendly or sincere.

The conference should also agree that the party must not preserve its ticket for money bags but make it possible for workers or any ordinary person who is willing to also vie for it. It is good that NLC President Joe Ajaero has already spoken to this effect when commenting on the Labour Party crisis. “Any Nigerian that wants to belong to the Labour Party is free. The reason we formed the Labour Party is that Nigerian workers under the minimum wage cannot buy form and contest elections under any of the political parties, be it APC or PDP” (Daily Independent, March 31, 2024). However, this must not be mere speechifying. This is because despite being antithetical to the objective of forming the LP as alluded to by Ajaero, it is not on record that the NLC had previously ever openly condemned the monetization of the party tickets something which has come into practice since 2007 including in the 2023 general elections and recently, the nomination for the party governorship candidate in Edo. Indeed at the time this monetization of elections to all party positions was introduced some trade union officials held posts within the Labour Party and were not seen to oppose this step.

Therefore, there must be a concrete commitment from the NLC to end the money-bag politics in the Labour Party. Truly, the practice of charging nomination fees, let alone a very outrageous fee, as a condition to stand as a candidate in party or public elections is alien to the tradition of a workers’ party. For instance, in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), formed by the DSM and others, as well as in the National Conscience Party (NCP) under the late Gani Fawehinmi, all nomination forms were obtained free of charge.

We hold that the argument that running an election is expensive usually used as the basis for charging fee is not tenable for a party that is supposed to be party of the working-class people. The affairs of such a party, including participation in elections should be financed from members’ subscriptions, grants from trade unions, donations from public officials elected on the platform of the party and being paid jumbo salaries and allowances, donations from the public and sympathizers, etc. This means that such a conference has to seriously discuss and come up with a programme of action on how to consciously orientate the party to workers and ordinary people at workplaces and communities, something which has not been seriously or sincerely done by the NLC or the party leadership since the formation of the party. Indeed, the effort by a group of socialists, including members of the DSM and trade union activists, between 2008 and 2011 to join the party and build a mass base for it, especially in Lagos. was frustrated by the party leadership including some professed socialists. This was a factor in the DSM initiating the formation of the SPN. Building a mass base for the party means that the LP and also the NLC leadership have to be clearly and consistently against neo-liberal programmes and support the daily struggles of working people and youth against different capitalist attacks on conditions in order to win their political and financial support.

Also, as a source of funds for the party and as a means of living on similar conditions as their electors, we will argue in such a conference that the elected and public officers from the party must receive the average salary of skilled workers in addition to incidental allowances and donate the rest of their official remuneration to the party and the struggles of working people and youth. However, as a corollary to this, there must be democratic accountability and transparency in the management of finances of the party.

NLC Betrayal

The recent conduct and attitude of leadership of the NLC by continuously maintaining a distressing silence on its next step three weeks after the expiration of its February 29 two week ultimatum to the FG over the cost-of-living crisis, in addition to past betrayals by the NLC, is a serious obstacle to winning the support of the working people in its faceoff with LP leadership. This is especially because this action or inaction of the NLC leadership sadly served as a break to the mass movement which had been rapidly building up across the country against mass hunger, high inflation and anti-poor policies inflicted by the Tinubu government, before its call for a two-day nationwide mass protest. Indeed, the protest was held only on February 27 and suspended for Day Two, February 28, when it had shown indication to grow much bigger. No doubt, the action of the NLC leadership has seriously demoralized the working people and youth and could adversely affect mass mobilisation in a future struggle called by the Labour.

This continued silence of the NLC may be either as a result of capitulation to the neo-liberal programme or confusion arising from the lack of a clear-cut alternative to the neo-liberal programme. We note that the NLC appears to accept the subsidy removal and only calls for palliatives, indicating it is not offering a serious alternative programme to the government and supporters of subsidy removal like Obi or the PDP. This further underscores the need for a serious debate within the Labour Party and the labour movement in general on what is the best socio-economic and political philosophy and programme required to advance the interest of workers and other oppressed, build a better society and guarantee a decent quality of life for the vast majority.

Genuine Working People’s Party

By and large, for us in the DSM reclaiming the Labour Party can only make meaning if such an effort sets it on the path of transformation into a true party of workers, youth and the poor that is prepared to struggle and built on a socialist programme. Also, while it is desirable to reclaim the Labour Party from the hold of the corrupt elements for whom it is a bread and butter, and we are committed to joining such an effort, there is no guarantee that this will be achieved. However, for us, nothing is sacrosanct about this Labour Party which has no workers’ base. What is important is to build a mass working people’s party either by reclaiming and repositioning the Labour Party or launching a new party. Whichever road is taken the task remains that working people need their own corruption-free and democratically run party which fights to end capitalism and for a socialist future.

Peluola Adewale

National Organising Secretary

For the DSM