Trade Unions must condemn the outrageous nomination fees, and actively build and fund the Party
On the surface the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Labour Party held on May 5, 2010 in Akure Ondo raises hope of the resolve of the party leadership to reposition it as a working peoples’ party. The party is aptly described in the NEC communiqué as “the vanguard of all working and labouring people of Nigeria” and therefore “must play that role effectively by winning power for the people in the forth-coming elections”. The media news reports were awash with radical speeches made at the meeting. Governor Olusegun Mimiko for instance threw a challenge to the trade unions and labour leaders to participate actively in the party. Good enough, the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress which have already openly adopted the Labour Party as the party of trade unions and workers were ably represented at the meeting. A few days earlier, in his May Day address, the Party’s National Chairman Dan Anyanwu called the Labour Party a socialist political party formed in 2002 by the working people of this country.
But, tragically, all this has appeared as a false dawn. The major resolutions of the meeting brutally negate its positives.
This was most crudely shown in the imposition of so-called “nomination fees” on Party members wishing to stand for office. In an apparent attempt to make the party open to ordinary people the monthly due and registration fee are made a paltry N100 and N50 respectively. But when it comes to Party members standing for the Party executives and public offices huge “nomination fees” have been imposed that have made such offices out of the reach of the ordinary people. In a country where the minimum wage is, at present, N5,500/N7,500 (US$33/50) it will be extremely difficult for an ordinary worker to aspire to contest for any public office, including councillor whose nomination is N50,000 ($333), on the platform of the Party which are supposed to be for workers.
While we have already unfortunately seen “nomination fees” imposed for some Party elections, we have to say that we have not heard of any working people’s party anywhere in the world that has such a system. Frankly it stinks of capitalist politics and should have no place in the workers’ movement. This is not to say that other workers’ parties around the world have been perfect, tragically too many have been ruined by corruption and pro-capitalist policies; but none openly adopted the capitalist market for the running of their own internal elections.
The details of some of the outrageous nomination fees are staggering:
- Ward councillor – N50, 000 ($333)
- Local Government Chairperson – N300, 000 ($2,000)
- House of Representatives – N500, 000 ($3,333)
- Senator – N1million ($6,666)
- Governor – N5million ($33,333)
- President – N10million ($66,666)
For some of party executive positions:
- Ward Chairman N5, 000 ($33)
- Ward Secretary N2, 000 ($13)
- Local Govt. Chairman N15, 000 ($100)
- Local Govt. Secretary N10, 0000 ($66)
- State Chairman N30, 000 ($200)
- State Secretary N20, 000 ($133)
- National Chairman N100, 000 ($666)
- National Secretary N80, 000 ($533)
The leadership tries to justify this outrageous decision with argument that the Party needs resources to run its activities. In its words, “all members of the Party should be reminded that the Labour Party founded on the basis of popular participation has no godfather or financier. That the Party can only be run with funds and donations from members in order not to lose the independence of the Party thereby creating room for it to be hijacked.” This is specious and deceptive.
It is true that a political party needs resources but the way the leadership of the Labour Party is going about it is to effectively disqualify the ordinary working people whom the party national chairman in his May Day speech recognized as those that formed the party, from occupying Party and public offices. The decision is not aimed at achieving “popular participation” but a mass alienation of the working people. It has meant that, if on the basis of cheap membership registration fee and dues it is able to attract huge membership, the vast majority of members could only vote but not be voted for. This is a brutal attack on the fundamental and democratic rights of ordinary workers, and should be resisted by workers, trade unions and socialist activists.
The reality is that with the outrageous nomination fees, the Party has made elective public offices the preserve of the moneybags who alone can raise such huge sums of money to get the Party ticket. This is a negation of the excuse of the NEC that the aim of monetizing the party’s electoral process is to avoid the hijack of the party.
Unlike the impression created by the public speeches at the NEC meeting, the Party leadership has not broken away from its old ways. The old way is the commoditization of party tickets and placing them on the counter for highest bidders, who are mostly the anti-poor politicians who have been outwitted out of the pro-establishment parties as already seen with Andy Uba (Anambra), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Femi Pedro (Lagos).
We call on the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, individual trade unions to vehemently voice against these decisions of the Party leadership to reduce workers and other working people elements to a “supporter club” in the Party that is supposed to be a “vanguard of the working and labouring people”. The Party has reportedly attracted over 400,000 people in Ondo state where the party is in power. This is a positive development only if it represents real Labour Party members and not an attempt by some to gain favour with the ruling party. But from the character and politics of the leadership it is certain that, unless there is a change, even the genuine elements in this multitude will be turned to mere electoral tools.
We hold that financing the Party should not be a problem if the trade union centres are truly interested in building the Party. The NLC and TUC must be both politically and financially committed to the Party. In other words, the Labour Party should rely on political funds of the trade unions as the primary source of its finance, alongside striving to build a mass membership. This however entails that the party, in and out of public office, is prepared to identify with the daily struggle of workers for improvement in their living and working conditions as well as respect of their democratic rights within and outside workplaces. The Party must also support and implement a pro-working people socio-economic programme as against the prevailing anti-poor neo-liberal economic agenda of privatization and deregulation. This will make workers enthusiastic to support the political funds from their trade unions backing the Party. It will also mean that the Party can boast of millions of members whose N100 monthly due can translate into millions of Naira.
Though the NEC resolution that makes it mandatory for members occupying elective positions to contribute 10% of their emolument to the party is a positive step, as socialists we canvass for the political office holders on the platform of the party to earn the salary of a skilled worker in addition to justified allowances and donate the rest to the party and working class movement. We hold that with a working people’s programme and credible candidates, the Party can have a good number of public offices whose monthly dues can constitute a good part of the resources of the Party. This measure will also ensure that the party is not a haven of careerists and political investors.
For the purpose of public elections, Party members should be encouraged to donate to campaign fund. This however means that the candidates have to emerge from a truly democratic and transparent process in order to inspire members to support financially. It also entails a democratic planning of programme and policies of the elected office holders which will make them politically accountable to the Party.
But, it is clear that the leadership of the Labour Party is not prepared to build it as a fighting and campaigning organ that will not make it attractive to the “potential buyers” of party tickets.
The Party’s situation in Lagos, arguably the most important state economically and politically and with the largest concentration of industrial workers, is pathetic. The two-man committee imposed on the state chapter has only allowed a bridled membership registration exercise with conscious alienation of workers and socialists. With just about five months to the general election the Party does not have functional secretariat and viable structures at all levels in the state. There is no conscious effort to mobilize workers to join the Party. All this is in order to allow the existing leadership remain in control and thereby be in charge to sell the lucrative party tickets at the next general election. Indeed, there are speculations that the party is being held down for Babatunde Fashola to return as the Governor of Lagos in case he loses the ticket of his party, the Action Congress, to the self-serving fight between him and his estranged godfather, Bola Tinubu. If they resolve the crisis and Fashola does not come to the Labour Party, there is every indication that either the Party will look for another money bag politician or work for the Action Congress. This is not unprecedented. In 2007 election, the Party ticket in Lagos was sold to Femi Pedro to contest when he lost out in the Action Congress; shortly afterwards Pedro joined the PDP!
It is the word “labour” which connotes opposition to the anti-poor policies, because of the struggles Labour, the trade unions not the Party, has led in the last one decade, and therefore a potential to attract a mass membership that the party leadership uses as the bargaining chip for the money bags. If the trade unions allow the Party to be run in this perfidious and self-destructive way, it cannot realize its huge potential but will end up as another eleven of the anti-poor political parties.
The problem is that the Labour leaders have not truly appreciated the essence of having a working peoples’ party which the Labour Party could be if built as fighting political organ of workers and poor masses. This partly explains why Adams Oshiomhole, a former President of NLC, dumped the Labour Party for a pro-establishment party, the Action Congress, to actualise his ambition as the governor of Edo state. For about two years that he has been in power Oshiomhole has not developed viable structures for the Labour Party, but rather held it down in favour of AC on whose behalf he has openly assumed the role of the chief host of PDP decampees. In Edo the Labour Party has not had democratic leadership since its inception in the state.
Also a serving Deputy President of the NLC, Onikolease Irabor has declared intention to contest as a senator in Edo state at the next general election on the platform of the AC. There is also a report that a number of high ranking trade union leaders are prepared to follow suit. Alas, these are trade union leaders who were parts of the process that led to the decision of NLC to reaffirm its commitment to the LP which it had formed as the party for workers.
Apparently, it is such political opportunism of some main labour leaders which explains why the Labour Party has not been popularized among the rank and file workers let alone asking them to join, in spite of the official position which embraces the Party as a political platform for the workers. But the positive response the call by some socialist activists, including members of DSM, on workers has attracted shows their willingness to join the party.
Therefore, it is unfortunate that right now with what obtains in the Labour Party and the disposition of the labour leaders, there will not be an alternative platform which raises working class issues and demands at the next general elections.
The situation is now becoming urgent. The general elections are only a few months away. If working people are going to have their own alternative to money bag capitalist politicians in 2011 the trade unions leaders must immediately begin to mobilise to transform and build the Labour Party as a working class political alternative. Such a mass, democratic, Labour Party would be able, both in principle and practice, to show that it is capable of wresting political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels and running government and economy on the basis of socialist programme for the benefit of all.