Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
A WORKING CLASS SOLUTION NEEDED
Unless a pan-Nigerian working peoples party with sufficient strength and spread across the country come to power and implement consistent beneficial socio-economic programmes and policies in favour of the entire masses of all nationalities and religious groups, Nigeria in the medium time might descend into an insoluble ethno-religious conflagrations that would make similar phenomenon in Africa and elsewhere look like children's plays.
But it is not just the nationality/religious conflict that is troubling Nigeria. Every aspect of the socio-economic fabrics of the country is suffering from one insoluble crisis or another. Every serious analyst, whether capitalist or socialist, agrees that the economy constitutes the main stay of any given society.
Within a period of three years, the Obasanjo regime increased fuel prices three times. On each occasion, the government had promised that the new increase would help it to build a prosperous economy predicated on the foundation of solid and functional social infrastructures and services. But like on all previous occasions, when this anti-growth/anti-poor policy has been forced down the masses' throats, it is always the opposite that happened.
Right now, inflation has jumped up from 10% in May to 14% at the end of June. According to Babajide Komolafe and Adaobi Okafor, Vanguard's correspondents, in their story published on August 29, 2003, this effective cut in wages, was a "reflection of the sharp increases in the prices of goods and services occasioned by the increase in pump prices of petroleum products". While wages had not been increased as promised by the government, it has on the other hand imposed a 54% increment on fuel prices. When prices of goods and services go up, the already inadequate wage is thus rendered more useless. Ultimately, the overall economy becomes more endangered. Owing to general increase in the prices of goods and services and the consequent reduction of the real purchasing capacity of the wage earners and the poor, companies are therefore put in a situation where their goods and services cannot be profitably sold and consumed by the working masses. So what to do? Hike the prices and/or reduce your "over head" cost, an euphemism for retrenchment of workers. This is the kind of nightmare which engulfs the masses each time a neo-liberal capitalist measure such as hike in fuel prices is implemented.
But to Obasanjo and his capitalist classmates, the prevailing socio-economic nightmare is the only real world they have to offer the masses. It is sad, but this is the bitter truth. The latest increment in fuel prices provoked a nation-wide general strike and revolts led by the Nigerian Labour Congress, which effectively lasted for 9 days. About 15 persons across the country were killed by the Obasanjo controlled police in their conducts to crush the peoples revolts by force, at all cost. Hundreds of billion naira worth of revenues and man-hour work losses were recorded in the economy. When the latest increment was implemented, government claimed that this step was needed to make petroleum products available at more or less uniform rates across the country. The reality, as usual, is the opposite. In many parts of the country, with the exception of a few cities like Abuja, Lagos, etc, where the official price of N34 is obtainable, prices of fuel have in fact jumped up geometrically, from the pre-increment black market rates.
The UNESCO recommends that a minimum of 26% of a country's budget be always devoted to the education sector. In the best spirit of neo-liberalism, the Obasanjo regime in year 2003 budget put education vote at 1.8%. 1.2 million youths sat for the year 2003 university entrance examination conducted by JAMB. All together however, the entire public universities in the country, which presently account for over 99% of the total population of university students, does not have the capacity to accommodate 200,000. There is virtually no sector of the economy or society that works as it is supposed to do. Instead of initiating bold public programmes to develop a network of transportation and communication which can give more meaning to living and the needed fillip to the economic growth in general, the Obasanjo regime has almost concluded plans to sell public institutions such as NITEL, NEPA, Railways, etc to private individuals/corporations whose primary motive, in producing any good or rendering any service, will be profit maximisation.
There is an unmitigated decay in the health sector, sports, culture, etc. Most government officials from the highest to the lowest, from civil to military bureaucracy revel in corruption and reckless abuse of positions. Every social sector of the country is engulfed in insoluble rot.
Daily, top government officials across the country increasingly continue to conduct themselves more as army of occupation than a supposedly elected set of people. On August 30, 2003, a former Assistant Inspector General of Police, Riwanu Babatunde Akiolu was officially coronated as the 21st Oba of Lagos, the economic and financial centre of Nigeria. Expectedly, the event was honoured by several top government officials, led by the vice president, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, amongst other important dignitaries.
Thus, the personal presence of the vice-president at the event underlined the importance which the government attached to the coronation. However, more importantly, for the working masses, the barbaric conducts of the security details which came with Atiku underline the increasing reckless and dictatorial tendency of the current set of civilian rulers at central and state levels.
According to Lekan Fadeyi, The Guardian's reporter who covered the coronation, "it was amidst loud drumming and wild celebration that the retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, lawyer and now traditional ruler was ushered into the terrace by the Eyo Adimu masquerade dressed in their colourful regalia. However, the pomp and pageantry was soon dampened by the activities of the overzealous security operatives, allegedly from the retinue of the vice president Atiku Abubakar, who visited brutality on a hapless journalist at the ceremony. "In the process of preventing journalists from doing their job, a photo journalist with the Daily Independent newspaper was beaten to coma. In fact, he had been given up for dead when his almost lifeless body was removed from the scene. He was only revived at the hospital. Trouble started when the photographer, Akintunde Akinleye along with his colleagues, struggled to take photographs of the vice president. His camera's flash was broken by one of the mobile policemen. Another security detail then began to hit him with the butt of his gun. Other security operatives at the scene soon joined in the beating of Akinleye.........
"The other journalists covering the event protested to Lagos state's Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dele Alake whose snappy response however infuriated the journalists the more........The commissioner was alleged to have told journalists who threatened to leave the venue in protest not to bother to come back to either the venue of the reception or their beats at Alausa".
The quotations are self-explanatory in themselves but it will be useful if certain features of these are nonetheless underlined. One, the kind of abuse of office narrated above is very rampant amongst top government officials nowadays. Whenever the president, for instance, visits any part of the country, the usual practice of the security operatives is to close several roads to public users for hours, in addition to reign of naked brutality that is characteristically unleashed on the masses on such occasions.
Two, it is a practice that cuts across tribes and professions. It also cuts across governments and parties. Recently, the AD government in Lagos state, used an armoured tank led mobile police invasion and occupation of Ojota Motor Park. In the process, the invading forces looted, raped, burgled and at the end of the day arrested and or detained about 250-300 persons and vehicles respectively. In this regard, the contemptuous attitude of the Lagos State Commissioner for Strategy and Information, Mr. Dele Alake, himself a journalist of long years standing towards the acts of proved brutality by the security operatives on a hapless journalist and members of the public only go to sharply underlines the man-eats-man system which capitalism is fast becoming. Nigeria indeed is at a cross road, perching precariously on the precipe of an unmitigated socio-economic cum political disaster.
In the immediate, medium and long terms, the working masses of Nigeria face an unending socio-economic crisis of an unimaginable proportions. Only by ending capitalism and the institution of a genuine workers and peasants government, under the leadership of the working class, and which is guided by an internationalist socialist strategies and tactics, can avert the certain socio-political disasters and calamities which lie ahead. On the good side, the working class appears to possess the capacity to accomplish the above stated task. On three occasions in the past three years, President Obasanjo's regime had, against popular outcry, increased, astronomically the prices of petroleum products. One each occasion, the working masses had replied with monster general strikes and protests led by the NLC. In all instances, these strikes and protests were so successful that virtually all government and business activities were paralysed while they lasted.
Such was the degree of support and participation enjoyed amongst the masses by these strikes and protests that NLC leaders could not only easily and justifiably have asked for the resignation of the government. These opportunities could also have been used to pose the need to overthrow the rotten and inherently anti-poor capitalist system and its replacement by an alternative working class socio-economic arrangement, a democratic socialist order. The massive response to these strikes showed the potential of the working class to change society for the better as well as exposing the strategic and indispensable role of the working class in capitalist production. The strikes, like any indefinite general strikes, posed the question: which class runs the country? But such a critical situation cannot last for too long; it is either the working class goes ahead to take power and control over the economy and society or the capitalist ruling class will regain full control sooner or later. It is mainly because the NLC leaders support or have no alternative to capitalism that the working people have been missing opportunities to transform society.
Rather than do and spearhead the formation of a truly pan-Nigerian working peoples party which seeks to consciously organise into a political movement all layers of the masses across the country that have been fighting ceaselessly the neo-liberal policies of capitalism for years, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC has set for itself the impossible agenda of making capitalism work better in the interests of the masses.
In an exclusive interview published in The News edition of July 28, 2003, Oshiomhole had amongst other things stated: "I keep my mandate in focus. My mandate is to argue with this government if they do something wrong that offends my constituency and to protest against them if they don't listen to us, like what we have just done...... I do not think to bring down a government in order to take over. I seek to defeat a bad policy...... I am just being faithful to my mandate, to my job. I don't hate Obasanjo, I don't plot against government but I argue against bad policies, I fight against bad policies.......What Nigerians workers expect of me is to use my skill to negotiate, persuade and to obtain concession, and to do that, you must have a working relationship with the authorities, whether private employer or government".
There are several things that are wrong and false about this obviously pragmatic philosophy. In the first instance, it is wrong to juxtapose the defeat of a bad policy to the defeat of the government implementing bad policies. Both ideally should go pari-pasu, lest the government go back to bad policies (as is the case with the Obasanjo government) or be allowed to leave legacies of bad policies. Two, the working masses were not just expecting the labour leaders to just argue or fight the government over bad policies, they want a permanent defeat of bad policies and also bad governments behind these bad policies. Thirdly, the experience of the labour movement and that of its leaders including Oshiomhole himself, in the past four years flatly contradicted this "don't rock the boat", middle of the road perspective.
While the NLC leaders live under the false illusion that it can secure sufficient concessions from the capitalist ruling class for the working class, the capitalist class in turn had continued to steadily clawback the little concessions that were forced out of its hands in the past. After lots of agitations, the current civilian rulers in year 2000 agreed to a new minimum wage to workers in both private and public sectors. Giving the excuse of lack of money to implement the new wages, employers in private and public sectors carried out massive retrenchment exercises, while those lucky to retain their jobs have become permanent hostages of irregular payment of salaries. For pensioners, life have never been more horrible due to irregular or unpaid pension allowances.
Meanwhile, the wage increment was carried out against the background of a comprehensive neo-liberalisation, commercialisation, etc, all which severally and collectively only go to increase the cost of food, housing, health care, education, telecommunications and transportation, etc for individual worker and this effectively reducing their standard of living or purchasing power. Even where formal concessions are granted by reducing fuel prices from previous announcement, this more often than none has turned out to be nothing more than a paper victory. In consequence of the recent titanic strike/protest led by the NLC leadership, the Obasanjo government was forced to reduce the official price of petrol from N40 to N34 and diesel and kerosene from N38 to N32 respectively. But apart form Lagos, Abuja and a few other cities occasionally there is no place where these product are sold at official prices. A litre of petrol, diesel and kerosene goes for between N80 to N100 in different parts of the country.
In the above cited interview, Oshiomhole himself argued that there is no justification for the recent increase in fuel prices. Hear him: "We ask the question, why import? We spend so much in maintaining the refineries, yet they are not working and he (the president-Ed) is not known to have revoked any of the contracts for the maintenance of the refineries. I don't think Nigerians have heard of anybody being fined on account of inefficiency or fraud or incompetence. Yet, every now and then, we hear so so refineries have tripped off, you put billions of naira into it and before you know it, you hear again that so so refinery has blown off. There is always excuse, yet these directors give themselves long service awards. "If you know their take home, the salaries of those directors can pay 20 Permanent Secretaries. Nobody has seen any evidence of an angry government, yet you come back to the common man on the street to generate more money to put in the hands of incompetent lot......If Nigerians know the facts, they will stone those PPPRA, led by Rasheed Gbadamosi and those in NNPC or anybody who has hand in fixing of the N40 price, because it was a rip-off of the Nigerian people".
Tragically, there is no end in sight of this vicious circle. Right now, the regime is gearing up once again to increase the prices of fuel. What all this shows and which the Oshiomhole's led NLC is yet to accept is that this rotten, neo-colonial capitalism is not redeemable. To effect a substantial improvement in the economy and the living standard of the working masses, a clean revolutionary break with the prevailing unjust capitalist economy and polity is an imperative.
In place of the current situation, where increasingly the commanding heights of the economy are being converted into private properties and estates and profit maximisation constitute the primary motive of production, the working class need to fight to build a society where the overall resources of nature and the acquired human technological heritage are competitively owned and democratically managed by the working people, and where resources and production will be mobilised primarily to satisfy the needs of all as opposed to the prevailing system that truly caters for the interests of a few. This, if it should be stressed, is the only realistic economic strategy through which "bad policies" can be permanently defeated. The creation of a viable pan-Nigerian working peoples political party is a necessity if the era of governments with perpetual "bad policies" is to be brought to an end. Only this kind of party can command the respect and loyalty of the masses of the different nationalities that make up Nigeria.
The current set of labour leaders lack consistent and comprehensive alternatives to the various neo-liberal capitalist policies. Of course, the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, at times do make radical criticism of some government policies and the operators of the capitalist system, as the statement quoted above shows. Even the NLC leaders under Adams have called three general strikes within a period of four years against fuel price hike. But all these criticisms ad actions are done in such ways that the capitalist system, the root of anti-poor policies, is not challenged. At best of times, they themselves only canvass neo-Keynesian, state capitalist policies which had been practised with disastrous consequences in the past. In several respects, the current labour leadership does not have any independent political options and platform of its own. For instance, certain top trade union leaders got a pro-labour party called Party for Social Democracy (PSD) registered before the April/May 2003 general elections. Since then and up till date, nothing has been done to practically build this party, as an organisation seeking to win political power with a view to implement pro-workers policies. Also, the current labour leaders, just like the leadership of the NCP, completely lack any discernable position on the nationality crisis.
At the best, they believe that once a materially beneficial programme can be implemented for the working masses across the country, the prevailing gargantuan problems/agitations arising from the nationality conflicts will either evaporate or case to be a major phenomenon. This to say the least is a very simplistic approach. In any case, the perennial nationality crisis/conflicts have so much poisoned relations between the different nationality/religious groups that make up Nigeria to such an extent that only a genuine working class party with bold and sensitive policies and commitment to right of self-determination including right of secession, can be in a position to build a formidable pan-Nigerian working class party at this point in time. This will include the defence of the rights of ethnic or religious minorities in any new state. Labour and the NCP, as we in the DSM always advocated, can openly propose a united socialist Nigeria to the different nationalities that make up Nigeria. This, we argue, is a more effective way of defeating capitalism in the different and all parts of the country instead of an approach which pitches severally the different nationalities against local and formidable foreign capitalism in their inevitable struggles for economic and political self-determination.
Nonetheless, such a party must unconditionally be prepared to boldly inscribe on its banner the right of nations to self-determinations. Unless this is done, such a working peoples party may find itself lined up behind the capitalist class in the futile and unjust war to keep Nigeria one at all cost.
To be in a position to build this kind of party, the current working class organisations have to be transformed not just with respect to their economic and political outlook and attitudes but also very importantly, in the manner and ways by which these organisations are run on a daily basis. Everything including policies, how these policies are decided, their implementation, the financial and other organisational activities, wages and remunerations, etc of all working class/youths organisations must have to be put under scrupulous and constant democratic control and management of the working masses themselves.
This is the only way to set the working masses on the path of sure victory against capitalist exploitation and political oppressions/manipulations. If the labour leaders recognise the historical task before it today and act accordingly, victory can be achieved sooner than later, if not, the socio-political agonies of the working masses will become prolonged.
Right now, the closest thing to a pan-Nigerian working peoples party is the NCP. During the April/May, 2003 general elections, NCP had the most comprehensive anti-capitalist policies of all the left parties. The party's national chairman and presidential candidate, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, is one political leader that enjoys considerable degree of sympathy, amongst the masses, across the country, as a poor people's defender and fighter against corruption and general abuse of power. Thus despite coming so late and with little or no resources into electoral contests, against the background of massive official riggings and manipulations, the party easily emerged as the most debated, the most popular of the newly registered parties. Very often during the campaign and thereafter, NCP activists are told that their party is a party of the future.
There is therefore the possibility of building the NCP as a viable pan-Nigerian working peoples party. But this is not automatic. There are enormous challenges which have to be met before this desirable goal can be attained. Presently, the NCP does not have the national and organisational spread of the labour movement. And given the indispensable role which the working class has been playing and which it will still have to play in the unfolding struggles against imperialist/capitalist exploitations and oppressions, the NCP leadership at all levels must begin to consciously build the party amongst and around workers and mass organisations at all levels across the country.
It should be emphasised, however, that success in this regard can only be achieved if the party is built not merely as an electoral machine. The party must be built as a platform of struggle for workers and all the exploited and oppressed masses across the country, in or out of office, during or after elections. It must be built as a party that constantly fight for all economic and political rights of the masses and the right to self-determination. The party has to be built as a working masses weapon to conduct daily struggles for better wages, better and affordable social needs and services, full employment, full democratic and political freedoms, etc, for individuals and associations within society.
If the party is built as a mere electoral machine, that is if the party only functions or attempt to function properly at elections times, then it can never sufficiently muster enough support amongst the masses needed to defeat the always rich and powerful capitalist parties and candidates at elections times. The party, in its constant focus and daily activities, must always show that it is unreservedly committed to the economic and political emancipation of the masses. Only a party that conducts itself in this manner can at elections times command the mass following and support of the masses across the nationalities and country, similar to those experienced during the three general strikes/protests that were called and led by the Oshiomhole's led NLC when the PDP central government increased fuel prices.
During the last elections, the NCP presidential candidate, Chief Gani amongst other things pledged to implement the following programmes:
- "Reduction in cost of funds, i.e. Reduction in bank lending rates from the current rate of 32% to a single digit interest rate with a view to promoting economic activities and make Nigerians active participants in the economic growth of the country. Within the first 3 months of NCP's Federal Government, interest rate will not exceed 9%. There will also be a 3-year moratorium on loans to enterprises employing 2000 workers and above. Such loans will be guaranteed by Government.
- Industrial production, enhance employment of labour and purchasing power of the masses, a social security system, which includes payment of a minimum living wage, unemployment benefit, care of the disabled, pensioners and the aged pursuant to S.16(2)(d) of the 1999 Constitution, shall be established.
- Stability in economic planning. The naira exchange rate against other foreign currencies shall be pegged and shall not exceed 10 Naira to 1 US Dollar.
- Re-nationalisation of privatised enterprises in the commanding sectors of the economy and for social services to the masses of our people while encouraging competitive private sector participation pursuant to Sections 16(1) and 16(2) of the Constitution.
- Active protection of local industries through prevention of unfair trade practices militating against the growth of local enterprises, including indiscriminate dumping of foreign goods.
- Abolition of corruption in public office. Towards this end, corrupt past political leaders and key public office holders from January 15, 1966 to May 2003, shall be investigated and punished as a deterrent measure, pursuant to S.15(5) of the 1999 Constitution. The loot recovered will fund part of the NCP 10-Care programme."
Undoubtedly, the above-enumerated programe is a radical departure from the open, neo-liberal polieis of privatisation, deregulation and commercialisation being propagated and implemented by all the capitalist parties. However, there is no way this programme can be successfully implemented within the framework of capitalism, especially its neo-colonial variety in Nigeria and in an era of deepening imperialist rapacious dominance of the global capitalist economy.
In addition, it falls short of a socialist programme. A socialist economic agenda will not only pledge to re-nationalise privatised enterprises in the commanding heights of the economy and social services, it will unreservedly advocate the nationalisation of the entire commanding heights of the economy including banks, insurance, financial institutions, etc. And against the background at the debacle that caused the collapse of the nationalised but bureaucratically controlled and run economies of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, etc, and against the background of monumental corruption and mismanagement which characterises public enterprises in Nigeria's history, a genuine socialist policy of nationalisation today will be made with the concomitant demand for total working class control and management of any nationalised enterprises and economy.
Notwithstanding these caveats, the above stated six-point NCP programme is sufficient enough to bring the beast out of the global capitalist forces. Any attempt by any government within the framework of capitalist economic network that attempts to carry out these kind of radical measures will not only face the risks of economic sabotage but also the risks of being removed from power, by force, if necessary by the capitalists nationally and internationally!
The only successful way to fight imperialism and capitalism is to adopt a comprehensive anti-capitalist, socialist economic and political measures. Suffice to note, only a workers and poor peasants government, which consciously cultivates and receives the active support and solidarity of the broad-layers of the world working masses can successfully implement anti-capitalist, socialist measures within the prevailing global capitalist order in a dependent capitalist country like Nigeria.
Therefore, any attempt by an NCP government that operates within overall capitalist order to implement these kind of radical programmes aimed at improving the living standard of the working masses will come against stiff and ceaseless opposition of the capitalist forces, internationally and nationally. Such a government will be confronted with a stark choice remain within the confines of capitalism and by so doing betray the interests of the masses or in order to uphold the interest of the masses adopt a full rounded socialist perspectives. The latter is the only correct beneficial option for the working masses. This is the option that members of the DSM has been advocating since NCP's founding. This is the option that the DSM members will pursue in the coming period, with respect to the NCP or any other similar mass body.
Presently, despite all overwhelming advantages on its side, the Oshiomhole led NLC has refused to take overt steps to form or join the building of a genuine pan-Nigerian working peoples party ready to fight to capture political power from capitalist elites in order to install a truly working peoples government. If however, tomorrow, under the impacts of greater socio-economic convulsions, there emerged a trade unions-created or backed mass party, members of the DSM will be in the forefront of those that would be urging co-operation, collaboration and merger where possible between such a party and the NCP in the overall interests of the working masses.
Appendix: General Strike Against Fuel Price Rises The Lesson For The Working Masses