Nigeria: Re-inventing the Labour Party

A paper presented on September 28, 2010 by Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary, at the 21st Annual Education Conference of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria

First and foremost, I wish to thank the National Executive Council (NEC) of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria for inviting me to its 21st Annual Education Conference specifically to speak on how to re-invent the Labour Party.

For me, as the General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), a revolutionary organisation that has been in the fore front of agitations for a truly independent workers party since its inception in 1987, this is a well treasured invitation.

To go back to the topic given to me, "Re Inventing Labour Party", the first question that may come to mind is: Why Labour Party? After all there are about 63 registered political parties in Nigeria today, so why Labour Party? Although, the invitation letter sent to me did not contain further details in this respect. However, a cursory examinations of the theme of this year’s Education Conference: "Industry & Labour Nigeria @ 50: Democracy, Good Governance and Industrial Development" may somehow give some explanations as to why the union has chosen the topic.

More explicitly, my invitation states that: "the conference is aimed at reflecting on Nigeria’s industrial development and implications for labour and economic growth. It will also examine the impact of democratic governance on industries and workers and provide the platform for engaging the critical issues of participation in the electoral process, industrial revival and improved welfare for workers". Even if merely based on the above-quoted passage, the choice of a Labour Party as a topical issue of discussion for a labour gathering of this quality and quantity becomes very obvious. This is because there can be no serious talk of industrial development outside the role being played by the labouring masses.

NIGERIA @ 50

This conference is taking place roughly about 72 hours away from the 50th Independence Anniversary of Nigeria from British colonialism. Already, the Federal Government has earmarked billions of naira to celebrate Nigeria’s so-called Golden Jubilee. Equally, state governments and array of corporate bodies will equally lavish billions of naira on adverts and other sorts of wasteful expenditures purportedly celebrating Nigeria’s 50 years as a so-called independent country. However, a quick reflections on the potential prospects which Nigeria’s nation and its industry had 50 years ago and compared with the present will strikingly point to the fact that a new socio-economic transformation is urgently required to salvage the country’s industrial development from total stagnation and destruction.

For instance, the textile industry gives a graphic example of the kind of industrial desertification that has enveloped the country as global capitalism strengthens its stranglehold on the economics of neo-colonial and under-developed countries like Nigeria. Up till late 1980s, there were over 250 textile companies directly employing over 800,000 workers between themselves, with a further over one million others who earned their living through trading and other related businesses within the sector. Unfortunately however, by 2007 only about 30 companies, mostly operating below their installed capacity, employing less than 30,000 workers remained in business. It should be added that it is this kind of economic devastation that prevails in several otherwise buoyant industrial and agricultural sectors.

"Between 1985 and 2004, inequality in Nigeria" according to the UNDP Human Development Reports for the years 2008 and 2009, "worsened from 0.43% to 0.49%, placing the country among those with the highest inequality levels in the world. Many studies have shown that despite its vast resources, Nigeria ranks among the most unequal countries in the world. The poverty problem in the country is partly a feature of high inequality which manifests in highly unequal income distribution and differentia access to basic infrastructure, education, training and job opportunities".

Despite its abundant human and natural resources, Nigeria is ranked 158th in the world Human Development index out of 182 countries surveyed. Although, Nigeria constitutes roughly 2% of the world population, the country tragically accounts for 11% of maternal death and 12% of the world’s under-5 mortality rates respectively. According to another UN survey, 92% of Nigerians live on less than $2 per day. Not surprisingly, the lifespan of most Nigerians have sharply declined with 49 years and 59 years estimated for men and women respectively.

Evidently, on the basis of the above narrated facts, the capitalist ruling class have completely demonstrated its utter failure and absolute bankruptcies vis-à-vis using Nigeria’s abundant human and natural resources to guarantee sustainable industrial development as well as economic growth commensurable to Nigeria’s potentials. From this must be drawn the conclusion that "democratic governance", "industrial revival and improved welfare for workers" will remain a pipe-dream as long as the economy and the political affairs of society is left in the hands of self-centred capitalists, with their profit first agenda.

VIVA LABOUR PARTY

Arguing for the necessity for a Labour Party, 23 years ago, Labour Militant, the forerunner of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in its maiden edition of November, 1987 has among other things canvassed the following perspective: "For the needs and interests of the working masses to be satisfied, the labour movement has to organise for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist society based on nationalisation of the major means of production under the democratic management and control of the working people. Without the overthrow of capitalism, it is difficult to imagine the nightmarish experience that lies ahead for the mass of the people.

"We take the stand-point that the task of socialist transformation of society is the responsibility of the working class which will lead the other oppressed strata (poor peasants, petty traders, artisans, students, etc) in the struggle to change society. From the foregoing, there arises the urgent need for an independent workers’ party based on socialist policies to be established at the initiative of the unions under the umbrella of the NLC, as a weapon to support the industrial struggles of the working class and its goal of capturing political power. This does not mean that the NLC or the unions will cease to exist as trade unions".

In the interval between the period when the above-quoted prognosis was made and now, two major attempts have been made by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to midwife a Labour Party. The first was the formation of the short-lived Nigerian Labour Party (NLP) under the Babangida military junta while the second was the offshoot of the Party of Social Democracy, now renamed Labour Party, formed by the NLC during the current civilian dispensation. Overall, these attempts reflect the first instinctive manifestation of the labouring masses to build an own independent political party with which it can defend its own interest against the rapacious and insatiable greed of the capitalist rulers across the world.

THE LABOUR PARTY TODAY

However, the actual reality of the present day Labour Party is something that is far removed from the above outlined prognosis. First and foremost, there has never been a systematic and vigorous campaigns by trade union and party leaders that the party must be actively built, peopled and supported by rand and file workers, students, poor artisans and the peasant masses in general. In 2007, its foremost trade unionist member/patron in person of Adams Oshiomhole, former president of the NLC, after initially declaring to run as Edo State Governor on the platform of the Party, later deserted to Action Congress, one of major capitalist opposition parties. As I speak, one of the current National Deputy Presidents of the NLC in person of Onikolease Irabor has declared his ambition to contest the Edo Central Senatorial seat not on the platform of Labour Party, but again on the platform of the capitalist Action Congress!

Simultaneously, the Party leadership seems to have perfected the art of recruiting failed capitalist politicians as its standard bearers. Today, odious capitalist politicians from the ruling PDP like Andy Uba in Anambra State, Ayo Fayose in Ekiti State and a host of several others like them across the country have become prominent public face of the Labour Party. As I write, genuine socialists and pro-labour activists are being prevented from joining the Party in Lagos State, the industrial heartbeat of Nigeria. In fact, as things stand today, the Labour Party will not be able to provide a veritable platform through which genuine working class interest can be propagated come the 2011 general elections. For this reason, I absolutely agree with the organisers of the programme that there is an urgent need to re-invent the Labour Party, to transform it into a platform that can truly serve the political needs of the labouring masses.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE

First and foremost, the entire Labour leaders (both trade unions and Labour Party) need to squarely face the reality that the capitalist way of doing things can never make the country and its long-suffering people to attain their fullest potentials and that for this to be achieved, they have to adopt a democratic, collective socialist principle and method which primarily seek to use the word resources for all its people and not just for a tiny proportion of capitalist rich few.

How for instance, can we address the problem posed by the prevailing, chronic industrial decline? Should the working masses place hopes on the capitalist bailout to address the issue of revival of the textile industry in particular? Against the background of the colossal decline of the textile industry, any measure that seems to have the prospect of revival of activity in the set up should ordinarily be supported. Unfortunately however, the capitalist bailout package currently being outlined for the textile and other sectors of the industry are such that would woefully fail to engender the revival of the sector.

To start with, just throwing money at the textile sector without addressing the other critical issues of infrastructural facilities such as functional roads and rail system, uninterrupted electricity, favourable credit facilities, a population with sufficient purchasing power, etc. will be like an attempt to stop a ravaging bush with spittles. In addition, handing over billions of dearly needed public funds to an unaccountable, profit-first, private business men and women may not necessarily lead to additional investment in the industry. In fact, going by the international experience, the large chunk of government bail out fund as was the case of banks in US, UK, and other places may end up being shared by the top management cadres in form of bonuses and sundry allowances.

NO SOLUTIONS THROUGH CAPITALIST MEASURES

It is also false to believe that the present deplorable state of infrastructures and social needs like healthcare and education can be adequately addressed by the Private Public Partnership (PPP) philosophy. Under the principle of Private Public Partnership (PPP), the nation’s airports are being given to profit merchants in the name of "concession". The idea sold to the public is that through this arrangement, the grip of a corrupt state machine would be broken and more revenues can be generated that would make it possible to guarantee necessary infrastructural and logistical developments of our airports. However, according to ThisDay publication of June 10, 2010, only the opposite of what was promised has actually happened: "The concession agreement was meant to boost the revenue of the FAAN. It was believed that private companies partnering with the agency would enhance innovation and transparency and ensure that all the cash points from both aeronautical and non-aeronautical sources would be managed in such a way to increase revenue … Instead of boosting the revenue of the Agency, the concessionaries have left the organization in dire financial strait. (A FAAN source said) ’In the past, FAAN never owed its workers but since these concessionaries took charge of the revenue sources of the authority, we have been finding it difficult to pay workers. Look at the airports, we are no longer maintaining them because the funds are not there. It was planned that we should be getting something on top of what we were generating if these revenue sources were concessioned. But it has become obvious that the FAAN workers were doing better’."

Both President Jonathan and his leading economic advisers have placed the responsibility for necessary development of the infrastructures and utilities on the private sector through their so-called Private Public Partnership agenda. However, it is Lagos State, governed by an opposition political party, the Action Congress (AC), that has already provided a graphic illustration of why this "profit-first" ideology would never lead to necessary and sufficient development for the economy and the improvement of peoples’ living conditions in general. Since 2003 or thereabout, the former Governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu entered into an agreement with a group of private companies to construct a 49 kilometre road from Victoria Island to Epe Town both within Lagos State. Eight years after, only about 6 kilometres of this road has been constructed. But very provocatively, and against the opposition of road users, mostly middle and upper class elites living in that axis of the state, the private companies in charge of the project have already erected three sets of toll gates ostensibly to collect money to offset their expenditure and this may run for the next thirty years or so! Meanwhile, more than over three quarters of all the roads and streets in Lagos State remain in deplorable conditions.

Thus instead of the well-tested but perpetually failed strategy of basing the development of the society and the well-being of its people on the "profit-first" capitalist strategy, a genuine labour/or working class party must be prepared to champion the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and its scrupulous democratic management and control by the working class people as the basis to meet the needs of all and not just a fraction of the society.

For the above fundamental reasons, a re-invented Labour Party has to, as a matter of principle avoid going into coalition with any section of the capitalist class no matter its professed progressive credentials. This is because no matter the degree or sharpness of the differences that may exists between the so-called progressive sections of the capitalist class and the conservative layers at the end of the day, both of them can only be expected to implement policies that will aggravate exploitations and oppressions in the midst of abundance and not to eliminate them.

At a recent public lecture, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) stated that: "In 2009, a senator earned N240m in salaries and allowances, while his House of Representatives counterpart earned N203.76m. In other words, a senator earned about $1.7m and the member of the House earned $1.45m annually. By contrast, a US senator earned $174,000 and in the UK, a parliamentarian earned about 64,000 pounds annually… In 2009, the federal legislature received N102.8bn comprising N11.8bn as salaries and N90.96bn (non-taxable) as allowances. Is the taxpayer getting value for this colossal sum in the current democratic dispensation? Should five percent of Nigeria’s annual budget be spent on 109 senators and 360 House of Representative members? In other words, should 469 Nigerians gulp five percent of our budget leaving the remaining 150 million of us to N1,000 each?" (Punch August 8, 2010).

Also recently, the federal executive council at its meeting of August 11, 2010, approved a whooping sum of N21billion ($154million) to acquire three additional jets to boost the aircraft in the presidential fleets. All the others, holding executive political offices across the country indulge in similar wasteful public expenditure. Under the guise of privatization, most of these elements have used their positions to sell to themselves several publicly owned ventures and houses built for public use from colonial times up till this moment or are in the process of doing so. Most certainly, these layers of people can not be expected to truly believe and or play politics in a free and fair manner without using their ill-gotten wealth and positions to precipitate violence and manipulate the electoral processes.

Therefore, trade union leaders within the NLC and TUC need to frankly realise that their current agitations for a truly free and fair elections, where votes will truly count, come 2011 general elections will remain a mere wishful thinking unless there exists a truly, viable working class political party of the labouring masses that is prepared to work for total social transformation of Nigeria, actively participating in the said elections. Only a socialist workers’ and poor peasant government can create a situation wherein government officials of all categories will only earn the average incomes of skilled working class elements. Without these being the case, the 2011 general elections will, like the previous ones, be conducted by the various sections of the capitalist class seeking to protect their current undeserved opulence and privileges as a "do or die" affair.

To be truly different from the capitalist parties, a re-invented Labour Party has to be a party that is in reality built and democratically controlled by its rank and file members and not just its leaders as is the style in all capitalist parties. Unlike what prevails in all capitalist ruling parties, a re-invented Labour Party will not monetized the right to hold party and elective post. Very embarrassingly, the current leadership of the Labour Party is asking anybody that aspires to be president of the country under its platform to pay a non-refundable fee of N10million just to officially declare his or her interest, the same amount being demanded by the ruling PDP, a haven of exploiters and looters!

Against the background of understandable cynicism with which the masses now react to political parties, a re-invented Labour Party would have to prove that it is not just another electoral apparatus primarily built to capture political power. Consequently, a re-invented Labour Party must at all times, before and during elections, be prepared through mass actions including strikes, demonstrations, rallies, boycotts, etc, show its commitment and readiness to fight for better wages, access by working people to functional education, healthcare, employment, etc, without necessarily waiting for the time it will be elected before it can begin to address these issues. This of course has to be anchored on the framework of a socialist transformation of using the society’s collective resources and endowment for the generality of the people and not just a tiny portion of it as under the prevailing unjust capitalist ruler.

CONCLUSION

According to the timetable recently released by the INEC, the 2011 general elections is expected to take place in January 2011. This practically means that there exist only very limited time for the labouring masses to build a genuine party of its own. For this reasons, a steadfast implementations of the above outlined perspective by socialists and most labour leaders may not be sufficient to build a viable genuine working class party that can wrestle power from the looting capitalist elites come 2011 general elections. However, a concerted and consistent implementation of the kind of perspective outlined above, will certainly unleash a new lease of inspirations and sacrifices on the part of the ordinary Nigerians that can rapidly build the Labour Party into a formidable platform that can give the ruling bourgeois parties a serious run for their money. In any event, such a party will be needed and can come into his own in the aftermath of the general elections as the ruling classes strive to deepen the attacks on the living standard of the ordinary masses so as to protect their own undeserved opulence and privileges.

Once again, I thank you for this special opportunity.

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