Nigeria: Jonathan’s Acting Presidency- Labour Must stop sowing illusions!

For a general strike and mass protest to defeat deregulation! For a fighting working peoples’ political alternative now!

Worse still, like those suffering from deep memory loss, attempts are now being made to separate Jonathan from the failure and corruption of Yar’Adua’s government. Just like its counterpart in the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the leadership of the NLC has meanwhile given an undeserving political endorsement of Jonathan’s presidency.

The TUC, for instance, as reported by the Vanguard newspaper on 15 February, has called on the Acting President to "wake up to the realities on ground and initiate action on such burning national issues such as poor power supply, irregularities in fuel distribution, poor infrastructure and the need for the provision of world class health facilities, capable of handling various cases such as the ones that have brought us to this point." To achieve what it called “effective governance”, the TUC called on Jonathan to choose his own ministers. In its words, "The last minor shake-up is not all that we expect. The present ministers have failed the nation. We also demand a probe into the activities of the various ministries and agencies during the period this whole episode was being played out, to determine how money and other budgetary provisions were spent."

New acting President, Goodluck Jonathan

From the news reports, the NLC at its CWC meeting on 12 February 2010 raised many important issues, including the Niger Delta, the minimum wage, bank workers’ sackings, the Jos crisis, power, petroleum product availability and electoral reform. What was conspicuously absent in the issues raised by the NLC, just like the TUC, was the deregulation of the oil sector, the central thrust of the Yar’Adua government’s policy, which has forced Labour to embark on a series of mass protests across the country.

It is politically criminal for Labour to sow illusions among the working masses that the country sees in Jonathan a messiah, someone who has been a part and parcel of the neo-liberal agenda of the Yar’Adua government, which has continued to unleash excruciating suffering and poignant agonies on the ordinary masses.

Among other things, the NLC has asked Jonathan to intervene to ensure the implementation of key recommendations of the ‘Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Panel’ report and the passage of the electoral reform bill before the National Assembly which, they hope, will guarantee credible elections.

Of course, it is desirable to have a credible election, but in the given situation that would be tantamount to preparing a level playing ground only for different sections of the thieving ruling elites, if the Labour Party is not built as a fighting working class political alternative that could take political power in the interest of the poor working masses.

Rather than making futile calls on Jonathan and other capitalist politicians to implement pro-poor policies, the NLC and TUC must begin process of creating a truly working peoples’ political party or energetically work to build the Labour Party as a such a party, that could take power from the self-serving capitalist elements and harness Nigeria’s human and natural resources for the benefit of all.

Already, there is a huge groundswell of disaffection and opposition to the capitalist elite’s misrule and corruption. What is missing and, which only Labour is in a position to provide, is a comprehensive programme of economic and political demands, predicated on a clear strategy of bringing into being a genuine working peoples’ government. Once the programme of action and the leadership’s determination to pursue this to its most logical conclusion is assured, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI in Nigeria) is confident that the overwhelming majority of working people across the country will massively and rapidly rally around the labour movement, to save the country and its long-suffering people from capitalist economic and political ruin.

While Labour has been silent on deregulation, the Acting President has reaffirmed his commitment to unleash the excruciating, anti-poor policy of deregulation on ordinary people.

In fact, after a meeting of the Economic Management Team and Presidential Committee on Deregulation, presided over by Jonathan, the Minister of Finance, Mansur Muhtar, revealed that all those who spoke at meeting (of course that should include Jonathan) fully underscored "the desirability and indeed the necessity of deregulation in this sector as a means of achieving efficiency and ensuring adequate supply, as well as removing the subsidy burden" (Guardian, February 16, 2010). He also disclosed that Labour has accepted in principle the need to commence the deregulation exercise, but that it must be done in stages while the issues would continue to be discussed by the parties until a consensus is reached (This Day, 16 February 2010). Unfortunately, the half-hearted and contradictory approach of Labour to the issue of deregulation appears to confirm the claims of the government. This is apparently why Labour, in its agenda, clearly avoided mentioning deregulation like the plague.

Labour needs to reassure ordinary Nigerians of its unflinching commitment to struggle to defeat deregulation. To start with, a fresh ultimatum needs to be given to the government; to stop all plans to deregulate the petroleum sector and, at the same time, guarantee the availability of petroleum products at current prices. At the same time, Labour must press for the immediate implementation of a N52, 200 minimum wage (approximately $350) and firmly resist retrenchment. If the ultimatum does not compel the government to meet the demands, there should be a 48-hour warning general strike and mass protests as a first step to fight for these demands.

Labour leaders need to use the period of the short ultimatum being advocated by the DSM to send out signals to all rank and file labour activists and people in the society to prepare for struggle. Specifically, Labour must prioritise and champion the formation of struggle committees, within the industrial unions, communities, schools and workplaces. These struggle committees must set themselves the task of mobilising, organising and educating the masses, to achieve set goals. Labour must, once again, be prepared to resume mass protests/rallies and industrial action where necessary, to ensure that its demands and objectives are achieved. The DSM will, alongside others, strive to implement these policies and help build within Labour a leadership that is not only prepared to struggle but also to change society.

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February 2010