But Labour leaders participate in government’s sham ‘conference’

Since the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) leadership called off, at the last minute, an indefinite general strike, planned to start on November 16, last year, the social, economic and political crisis gripping the country has massively deepened. But the NLC’s inability to give direction to the working masses’ anger has led to a temporary downturn in mass struggles. Today the lives of most workers and poor are dominated by the daily struggle to survive.
Now, in an attempt to slightly widen its base of support, and to divert calls for a democratic Sovereign National Conference to debate Nigeria’s future, the Obasanjo government is planning to hold a "Conference" of unelected delegates.
Reflecting a retreat from mass struggle, at the end of January the NLC’s leadership decided, by 17 in favour, with 15 against, and 7 abstaining, to participate in Obasanjo’s meeting. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) issued the following statement on February 8, which was widely reported in the Nigerian media on the following day.
The DSM website (www.socialistnigeria.org) carries other DSM statements on the abandonment of last November’s general strike (for example, ‘Strike suspension: A big blunder’) and more on Obasanjo’s conference (‘A Cynical Agenda Designed to Perpetuate Mass Exploitation and Oppression’). socialistworld.net.

President Obsanajo’s "national dialogue" going nowhere

Obsanajo’s "national dialogue": A journey without destination

Labour and all mass organisations should not in anyway support this obvious farce!

We, in the DSM, were seriously disappointed to hear the decision of the NLC Central Working Committee to participate in the entirely handpicked so-called ‘National Political Reform Conference’ being organised by the unrepentant anti-poor, pro-rich, capitalist government, headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

According to newspapers reports, the NLC’s leadership decision was taken allegedly to enable labour "to articulate its fears and demands inclusion of issues not in the original agenda of the dialogue". This decision, at best, is a grossly mistaken one and, at worst, an open betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the long suffering masses of Nigeria. In a statement issued on January 3, 2005, by Chief Gani Fawehinmi, President Obasanjo’s proposed "National Dialogue" was described thus: "Obasanjo’s confab is a rudely calculated ruse, a devilish bogey and a spurious smokescreen hinged on dictatorial whim and caprice of the President to advance a horrible ambition totally devoid of the nation’s interest and the peoples cause. The entire exercise is a journey without a destination. It is therefore bound to flounder into a motion-less and vision-less objective".

We in the DSM fully associate ourselves with the above quoted statement. And for this, and other reasons stated hereunder, we demand that the NLC leadership reconsider its position by not participating in the fraudulent exercise, which can only be used to divert the attention of the working masses from the necessity of squarely facing up to their economic and political tormentors.

Why the NLC should not participate

Composition

The 400-member body being called the National Political Reform Conference is entirely made up of handpicked, nominated and appointed individuals. This arbitrary composition constitutes a rude and crude violation of the democratic right of the working people to determine their economic and political affairs and aspirations. To show that this was a deliberate design to perpetuate the current mass misery and political repression of working masses, the ruling parties (PDP, ANPP, AD) across the country have jam-packed the proposed "dialogue" with the same set of politicians, traditional rulers, topmost clerics and all sort of political jobbers that have severally and collectively, in the past and now, brought Nigerian to its current prostrate conditions.

Declaring his support for the proposed farcical show being called "National Dialogue", a former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, a man who himself was practically forced out of office by the working masses’ protests and resistance, due to his especially anti-poor and anti-democratic policies, spoke thus: "I didn’t advocate for a Sovereign National Conference, I advocated for National Conference and this has similarity with what I advocated; Sovereign? No! I didn’t say sovereign".

Asked why he has rated the Obasanjo administration very high, General Babangida replied: "You know why? Because, I have been there and I know what the problems are, you may not be able to know because you are not here, so I understand what the administration is doing" (The Guardian, February 6, 2005).

Another prominent backer and promoter of the proposed ’dialogue’ is the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade. We recall that it was this same Ooni of Ife that said that General Babangida’s explanation of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola made "sense". We equally recall that it was the Ooni of Ife that urged the Yoruba capitalist elites to participate in the late General Sanni Abacha junta’s so called "Constitutional Conference" that led to nowhere. As known to everybody, the Ooni of Ife is a prominent backer and promoter of the sitting, anti-poor PDP’s capitalist government headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo. Other prominent backers and members of the proposed ’dialogue’ include self-serving capitalist politicians like Umaru Dikko, Richard Akinjide, Joseph Wayas, Sunday Adewusi, Ike Nwachukwu, Musiliu Smith, Evan Enwerem, Ebenezer Babatope etc. As an old adage says, ‘birds of the same character flock together’, or, if you prefer, you can say ‘show me your friends and I will tell you the type of person that you are’! Against this background, only those who live in fools’ paradise or those that consciously set out to betray the interests of the masses can argue that the Obasanjo’s farcical national dialogue can achieve something beneficial to the masses.

Agenda

The proposed ’National Dialogue’ is dubbed: National Political Reform Conference. This, ordinarily, means that the Obasanjo regime concedes that all is not well with Nigeria. Tragically, however, the central issue of whether Nigeria should exist as corporate entity or not and if so on what terms has been ruled out of deliberation! This is because the regime regards Nigeria as one ’indivisible’ entity. Faced, however, with a barrage of protests over its "no-go-area" order, the regime’s spokespersons have of late started to say that everything can be discussed.

The working masses must not be fooled by this obvious ruse. A regime that wants genuine political reform would not have based representation on the basis of the very unjust and contentious prevailing political parameters. Just imagine every state having equal number of 6 nominees. On the surface, this may appear just. A closer examination of Nigeria’s real situation however shows how absurd this approach is. For instance, Niger Delta region, in many respects, is arguably the least developed part of Nigeria yet, the region alone contributes 95% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. Lagos State has the largest population of any state in Nigeria. In fact, a proper census may actually reveal that the Lagos State population can rival that of about 5 other states put together. Yet, Lagos and each of the states in the Niger Delta region will just have 6 representatives at the proposed conference!

Bluntly put, a national conference built on this kind of fake foundations could never yield genuine political nor economic reforms. It is doubtful as it is whether the kind of conference being organised by the regime can even identify the correct issues troubling Nigeria, talk less of expecting them to come up with the right options. Ultimately, whatever decision taken at the proposed ’National Dialogue’ will, eventually, at best, be tabled before the National Assembly, will only become the basis of running the country if passed into laws in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

As we write this statement, there is no law backing the existence and terms of reference of the proposed ’National Dialogue’. It should, therefore, be very apparent the real motive of the regime for the confab is to divert the attention of the poor working masses from organising and agitating on common issues and problems affecting them like unemployment, mass retrenchment, commercialised education, healthcare etc, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is an attempt by the regime to overcome its isolation by involving new layers of the capitalist class in the looting of the nation’s wealth. This is why the National Assembly members are none too keen on the confab; they fear their own share of the loot will be reduced. But Obasanjo, seeing how isolated his regime is, wants to very, very slightly increase the number of looters and thereby entrench the political hold and economic interest of the whole ruling elite and their imperialist masters.

Therefore, looking at it from any angle, President Obasanjo’s ’National Dialogue’ is nothing but a very expensive, huge joke at the expense of Nigeria and its working people.

We therefore call on the NLC not to have anything to do with this cynical, diversionary exercise.

What should be done?

The true history of the past six years of President Obasanjo’s government has shown beyond any reasonable doubt that no worthwhile, beneficial economic and political gains can accrue to the working masses from any policy of the regime. All aspects of living for the working masses have become worse under Obasanjo’s regime. Electoral frauds and manipulations, massive corruption, political gangsterism etc have emerged as the major features through which the ruling class use to perpetuate itself in power. As now officially confirmed, all the three ruling parties massively rigged the 2003 general elections and subsequent local government elections to maintain their stranglehold on the nation’s economy and polity.

Through seven nationwide general strikes/mass protests, the masses have in no unmistaken terms expressed their total rejection of Obasanjo’ government together with its array of anti-poor policies. Therefore, going to collaborate with this same Obasanjo’s government by the NLC leaders, who are supposed to defend those interests being daily attacked by the regime, will be nothing but an open betrayal and a further elongation of mass poverty and political repression.

We in the DSM consequently reiterate that the NLC leadership should today pull out of the so-called ’National Dialogue’. Labour’s token representation would not be able to make any significant impact on the decisions to be taken or implemented as a result of the so-called ’National Dialogue’. In fact, Labour’s representation was done in bad faith. This is why the TUC (Trade Union Congress) and CFTU (Congress of Free Trade Unions) were not given any representation. Any honest analyst can easily see through this divide and rule tactics. While posing to be the friend of NLC, we should not forget that this same Obasanjo regime has a labour bill seeking to kill genuine fighting trade unionism, pending before the National Assembly.

Therefore, we in the DSM boldly assert that the solution to the socio-economic and political crises cannot be found in the Obasanjo’s national dialogue. Working people have to start breaking away from the pro-capitalist/pro- imperialist socio-economic arrangement of the country with the ultimate agenda of the socialist reconstruction of the society.

What NLC needs to do but which, unfortunately, its leaders are running away from, because of their own pro-capitalist outlook and sentiments, is a practical step to build a broad democratic discussion that will give birth to a coherent policy and strategy. This can bring to power a working people’s government that will implement pro-people policies that can bring permanent decent life for the people. Therefore, against Obasanjo’s fake undemocratic and unrepresentative conference, which the NLC has embraced, we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have called for the "trade union leaders and all pro-labour activists and socialists, to, as a matter of urgency, take immediate, practical steps to convey a conference of all pro-labour groups, unions, associations and other forces, with a goal of forging LASCO with all other mass organisations of the working people, including pro-masses parties like the National Conscience Party, etc into an alternative mass working peoples’ party, different in orientation and approach from all the existing capitalist, pro-rich, pro-imperialist parties, in and outside government, at federal and state levels. Right from the beginning, the revolutionary transformation of the prevailing unjust economic and political arrangements must be boldly placed in the frontline of the party’s agenda." (DSM statement - ‘Obasanjo’s "National Political Reform Conference": A Cynical Agenda Designed to Perpetuate Mass Exploitation and Oppression’, 25 January, 2005).

Anything short of this is mass misery and poverty for the working people.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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