NO TO AUSTERITY MEASURES!
The Nigerian economy is in crisis. Working people have started to feel its pangs. Devaluation of the naira by 25% in a month has pushed prices of most commodities sky high. But, this bad situation is set to get worse with the unfolding implementation of austerity measures as oil prices tumble.
The main beneficiaries of the country’s wealth have been the rich bosses. When oil prices were high, they made trillions of naira. But for poor working people, suffering has been our lot.
Falling oil prices
From a high of $115 in July 2014, the price of a barrel of oil has fallen to less than $50. Oil is the main source of energy for industries across the world. Global industrial output decreased, due to the economic crisis. This led to decline in the demand for oil.
Apart from the drop in demand, a major reason for the declining price of oil globally, is the turn to Shale oil, particularly in the United States. This reduced its current need for imported petroleum. For example, since July 2014, USA which used to be the largest recipient of crude oil from Nigeria has not imported a single barrel from the country.
Is corruption the problem?
Most Nigerians would argue that corruption is the number one problem in Nigeria. Based on this, they would say, we could have enough for everybody to be well catered for, if we eliminate or at least curb corruption. There would thus be no need for austerity measures. This line of argument is only partially true.
Corruption is rife. Over $440bn that could have been used for the betterment of the lives of millions of Nigerians has been stolen by politicians since independence. But, corruption is a symptom of capitalism in general. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and other advanced capitalist countries corruption is equally endemic. It might not always be as obvious as it is in economically backward countries like Nigeria, but capitalism naturally breeds corruption. The primary cause of economic crises in Nigeria and across the world is not corruption, but the exploitative nature of capitalist production. Crises are inherent in the capitalist economy, both globally and nationally.
Understanding the Federal Government’s response
The Federal Government is confounded by the unfolding crisis. It has acknowledged that the economy is in trouble. To increase revenue by removing the so-called fuel “subsidy” on the eve of elections would be suicidal. It has thus focused on expanding tax revenue. Taxes on luxury goods such as private jets, yachts and champagne will be increased. Working class activists support this. The rich must be made to pay more taxes.
Tax evasion by the bosses and their companies also has to be curtailed. As Dr Ozo-Eson the General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress points out: “most of the very rich people in the country are not paying tax; there must be a scheme to get them to pay adequate tax”. SWL equally demands the immediate stoppage of tax holidays for “foreign investors”, including in the Export Processing Zone. Research has shown that tax breaks do not necessarily lead to increased investment. It is thus a source of revenue loss.
Further, those earning a living wage or less should not be taxed. It is the norm in several countries, including some in Africa like Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. The taxation of extremely poor people is inhumane to say the very least.
The working class and austerity measures
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have spoken out against anti-working people austerity measures. Trade unions including NCSU, ASCSN & MHWUN as well made it clear that they will resist anti-workers’ austerity. SWL joins the unions in condemning the government’s austerity measures against the working masses.
We are all living witnesses to how austerity measures have worsened the lives of workers in Europe, particularly Greece, Spain and Portugal. The International Monetary Fund was central to the introduction of these attacks against the workers. And already, the IMF has thrown its support behind the introduction of austerity measures in Nigeria.
The working class must not wait until the austerity measures are fully unfolded. The National Assembly has postponed its ratification of the 2015 budget until after the general elections. This is because of its unpopular contents. “Public servants” emoluments have been scaled down, indicating likely retrenchment or wages reduction.
The minimum wage is supposed to be reviewed (upwards) this year, based on the provisions of the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act. But with the 2015 budget as it is, by March when the budget is due to become operational, irrespective of which party wins the general elections, we should expect resistance by the bosses against increasing the minimum wage.
The trade unions, must not relent in calling for review that will make the minimum wage a living wage. N52,500 demanded by NLC & TUC as national minimum wage in 2010, before settling for the paltry N18,000, must be insisted upon.
We say NO to anti-working people austerity measures. As the growth that did not benefit us starts to enter reverse, the poor masses must not be made to bear the costs of the bosses’ greed. This is the time to start mobilizing for a fight back. United and determined, we will win!
The time to fight is now!
build an alternative to austerity
by Lai Brown
It is so unfortunate that workers who create the social wealth hardly benefit from it. It is the ruling elites, the 1% who own the means of production that are feeding fat on the fruits of the labour of the 99%. The state: government, police, courts etc represent the interests of these elites, against the poor working people. This situation is not divinely created; it can be changed. There have been earlier systems of exploitation, before the current system of capitalism, such as slavery and feudalism. When they got to the point where they could not lead to further social progress, they were overthrown through the struggles of poor working people.
Virtually every sector of the capitalist system is either rotten or rotting, and no amount of reforms or worse still privatisation or austerity measures will change anything. Infact, these neoliberal measures will worsen an already bad situation, turning our lives into social and economic horrors. It is the experience all over the world. Capitalism is not working. From poor health sector, underfunding and privatising of public education, to insecurity of workers and properties.
Each and every sector of the economy is down; even the petroleum sector that generates the bulk of the income available locally is now in a state of crisis. But the few rich who gain most of this wealth are not affected by this crisis. They still have much more than they need. But workers remain badly paid, there are no jobs for the youth, poverty continues its rampage, the government’s economic policy has obviously failed, the pension scheme still leaves a lot to be desired, even for the few who manage to benefit from it at all. The undemocratic electoral process, and Jonathan’s “transformation agenda” is a big laugh. All these are results of the failed capitalist system and hence must be smashed or, as Marx posited, it will result “in the common ruin” of our society. Nuclear weapons, ‘war on terror’, climate change and global warming, are fundamental pointers to this. To save our world, we need a fundamental social change and the time is now.
To make this change we need a mass based workers party with socialist perspectives and action. This is why we support the current efforts to reclaim the Labour Party and to build the National Conscience Party. What is seriously needed is a pursuance of the ideological ideals of the Labour movement on politics. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in its Labour and Politics Policy of 2003 clearly pointed out that the agenda of a party of workers has to be “unambiguously socialist”, to be meaningful. Socialist activists must learn to work rootedly within the working class, learning from the workers, while aspiring to serve their class as its “memory bank”. Trade unionists are also urged to fight beyond the “collective bargaining” power and know that workers power is the only one capable of leading societal emancipation.
The era when the workers create wealth for the 1% to get 90% of the wealth have to change, this era of class society has to be replaced with an egalitarian society. But this change will not come on its own, we have to organise with socialist workers organizations committed to the self-emancipation of the working class. What is most desirous is to smash this barbaric system and build on its ruins a working peoples’ democracy. We must not fail to push for this when next we seize the streets and workplaces, as we did during the January Uprising 2012.
We call on all workers and youth to join us in the Socialist Workers League – or to join similar organisations that can work together against austerity and for socialism. We need to meet regularly to educate ourselves and so arm ourselves with the possible alternatives to the current economic and political system. We need to sell our publications, especially Socialist Worker, so that other workers and youth can learn about our views.
SWL commends TUC and NLC for their clear demands in the wake of the fall of oil price and naira devaluation for the reduction of fuel pump prices and workers wage increment. We must encourage the trade unions and other workers organisations to take effective steps to fight against austerity and for a fairer society. The war against austerity foreshadows another moment! Workers and youth… unite and fight
Austerity for whom?
by Drew Povey
Clearly the government and the wider economy are still heavily dependant upon oil revenues. So the 50% drop in the international price of oil over the last six months, is significant. However, the real question is who should pay the price for this change?
Did the working class and the mass of poor people really gain the benefits when the price of oil was well over $100 a barrel in the three years of 2011 to 2013? No!
Indeed the government demanded a massive hike in the price of fuel and, despite the magnificent protests in January 2012, still managed to increase the price by around 50%. So when the oil price rises the government demands that we pay the price through increased fuel prices. When the oil price drops the government also argues that the mass of poor people should still pay – through proposed austerity measures!
The fluctuations in the international price of oil are part of the normal workings of the capitalist system. The rich benefit hugely from this system, Aliko Dangote, for example, the richest person in Nigeria and Africa is also richer than anyone in Britain.
Other indicators are the prices on the Nigerian Stock exchange. Prices are now significantly higher than they were when the global slow-down started in 2008, although they have dropped slightly in the last 12 months. These are an indication of the profits the bosses expect to gain in the future. So they expect to do reasonable well – they hope that the government will make the working masse pay for their crisis, just as the government bailed out the banks in 2008.
The international price of oil has reduced by around 50% in the last six months, but the government does not expect this fall to continue. The benchmark oil price for the 2015 Federal budget was agreed at $65 – that is only 16% less than the price last year of $78. By setting this benchmark figure, the government is admitting that austerity is not necessary.
This could easily be made up for by reducing corruption, oil theft and bunkering (the former Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, claimed that $20bn in oil revenue had not been accounted for over the previous 19 months, the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said it was only $12billion!) Much of this money will probably disappear during the current elections.
Further collective action and strikes led by the trade unions could ensure that the rich pay for their crisis. There are many ways that government spending could reduce without hurting the mass of poor people or making workers suffer.
Salaries and allowances for the National Assembly, ministers and special assistants should be cut by half – they would still be the joint highest paid in the world, along with their colleagues in Kenya! In contrast, the government has suggested that the minimum wage should be removed from the exclusive list so that any state could set a lower minimum wage – when what we need is a significant increase after five years of price increases including fuel and the effects of the recent devaluation of the Naira.
We also call for the stoppage of official foreign trips by public servants and political office holders and the retrenchment of special and other political advisers. We call for the ending of all first class air travel by public servants and drastic reduction of the convoys that go with all political leaders when they travel around our towns and cities.
We support the proposed Luxury Goods Tax on private jets, yachts, Champagne and a list of other luxuries. Income and corporation tax should be made more progressive – rather than reducing the highest rates from 25% to 24% as happened in 2012. Similarly, the highest rates for Company Income Tax could be returned to the rates of 40% (1961) from the current rate of only 30%. In contrast, VAT should be abolished as this affects the rich much less. The June 2007 General Strike stopped the proposed doubling of the rate of VAT from the current rate of 5% – the government is suggesting this increase will be re-introduced unless we stop them again.
The government should be trying to boost the economy so we support the call for:
- an increase in the minimum wage across Nigeria – which has not been increased for five years
- further reduction of fuel price to reflect the reduction in global prices
- regularisation of employment schemes so all public servants are paid proper wages for permanent jobs
Debts likely to rise
by Isaac Botti
The World Bank/IMF declared Nigeria a middle-income country in 2014. According to the World Bank Country Director, Ms Francoise Marei-Nelly, this decision was based on the reduction in poverty rate per capital in the country from 64.2% to 62.6% as well as improved revenue and GDP per capita which stood at $2,800 in August. Earlier in April, the Nigeria economy was rebased with GDP raised to $522bn, placing Nigeria’s economy ahead of South Africa’s economy and 26th in the world.
But behind these fantastic figures lies a reality of worsening deprivation for poor people, particularly youth. Youth unemployment rates stood at 54%, amounting to 34.5 million jobless young women and men. This was in spite of the 1.6 million jobs the current administration claimed it created in 2013.
The World Bank’s positioning of Nigeria from a low income level to a middle level income allows the bosses to borrow more extensively from the World Bank. The country’s current debt profile of $10bn from $3bn in 2006 is thus likely to increase with the sharp decline in oil earnings resulting in adverse consequences for the future.
Borrowing cannot solve the systemic problems of capitalism. It would merely amount to postponing the evil day. Working class activists should resist any such attempt at further mortgaging our future.
We Are All Baga
by Baba Aye
The fishing community of Baga, Borno state, was under siege by militants of Boko Haram, for a week at the beginning of January. Amnesty International described the ensuing bloodbath as the “deadliest massacre” by the sect, estimating that some 2,000 persons were killed. President Jonathan, who condemned the “dastardly terrorist attack” against Charlie Hebdon cartoonists within hours of the tragic event in Paris, did not say a word about this tragedy.
Baga and its environs have become ghost towns in the aftermath of the assault. The Prime Minister of Chad said that 2,500 Nigerians and 500 Chadians fleeing from Baga have sought refuge in the country. Subsequently Boko Haram fighters launched attacks into Chad but were repelled.
The response of the Federal Government and its cronies has been offensively insensitive. It started with lies and denials. For a week, the Defence Headquarters said it could not confirm the number of casualties. Subsequently, the army spokesperson stated that the total number of people killed in the bloodbath, including soldiers was “just” 150. He then attempted to wipe the slate of blood of the soldiers from 2013, with the current massacre. According to him, this “confirms” that insurgents, and not soldiers, were responsible for the 2013 massacre, which the army previously denied ever happening.
This is the second massacre in Baga. On April 16, 2013, Boko Haram fighters killed a soldier during a shootout in the town which had to a great extent come under the sect’s control by 2012. The soldiers reinforced, returning en masse with armoured personnel carriers. Survivors reported that for several days, they shot indiscriminately and torched all houses in sight. The town was then locked down, with journalists and activists denied access to verify what actually happened.
The army claimed then that “only” 6 civilians were killed, while soldiers killed 30 Boko Haram militants. It also denied that houses were razed to the ground. But satellite images showed that over 2,000 houses were burnt down. Verifiable evidence also confirmed that not less than 200 civilians were killed.
The 2013 Baga massacre set the stage for the declaration of a state of emergency in the three north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, a few weeks later. But the spate of carnage in the north east (and other parts of the north) only worsened. More people have been killed in the past 20 months than those killed in the four years preceding emergency rule. By August 2012, Boko Haram declared Gwoza a caliphate, seizing swathes of territory in the north-east. The sect now controls 70% of the landmass of Borno
A military solution appears utopian, not the least because of collaboration between sections of the ruling class and the sect. The low morale of ill-equipped and underpaid rank and file soldiers also contributes to the cul-de-sac of this option. Instead of addressing their legitimate fears which have led to desertions and protests, the state has sentenced 87 soldiers to death, for mutiny. The question for working people, particularly those trapped in the warzone of the north-east remains, “what is to be done?”
The Civilian JTF (CJTF) gives an idea of the answer. The state (governments, army and other security agencies) cannot be relied upon to salvage the situation. On the contrary, it is part of the problem, utilising institutional terror against non-militant residents and the Boko Haram Jihadists alike. The security services have killed as many of the nearly 20,000 people who have lost their lives in the war as has Boko Haram, according to credible reports from both local and international NGOs.
The CJTF’s armed resistance has to a very great extent routed Boko Haram from Maiduguri. Similar groups have played central roles in pitched battles which reclaimed some of the towns that had been seized by the sect. But the CJTF is just a shadow of the armed independent self-activity of the working masses required in the region, for two related reasons.
First is its class composition. It is made up largely of unemployed lumpen area youths. Second is its relationship with the state. While it was formed independently in April 2013, its name would suggest some sense of affiliation to the state’s Joint Task Force which has now been disbanded and replaced with the army’s 7th Division. The CJTF’s leadership presently reports to the General Officer Commanding the 7th Division. Quite contentious is the employment of CJTF militants by state governments’ agencies, such as the Borno State Youth Empowerment Scheme (BOYES).
The missing link is leadership by the organised working class. The trade unions need to be more actively involved in the resistance. There are legitimate fears by union leaders at both state council and shop floor levels that this could make working class activists targets of the sect. But already, hundreds of union members are known to have been killed. Several unionists have taken commendable actions in the ongoing multifaceted struggle.
We must not give up. With our collective power, we can change the dynamics of the war in that region. The trade union leadership nationally needs to take decisive steps, not only to inspire working class activists in the region, but because the tragedy of war in the north east is a tragedy for the working people as a whole. An injury to one is definitely an injury to all.
Apart from condemnation of the different attacks by Boko Haram and support for military action against it on several occasions, the trade unions do not appear to have a robust position on the war, and the tasks for the working class nationally and in the zone in combating the twin terrorisms of Boko Haram and the Nigerian state. The forthcoming national delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress presents an opportunity to address these issues.
We cannot allow the Baga massacre to end up as just another statistic. The bosses are too concerned with their election campaigns to be much bothered by the massacre, as President Jonathan’s silence loudly tells us. Working class and civil society activists and other well-meaning citizens, in Nigeria and beyond the shores of this land must lend their voices, limbs and heads to defeating the twin terrors gripping the poor masses in the north east. We must stand up now, against the pillage and plunder, murders and massacres, for #we are all Baga.
Looming post electoral violence?
by Nat Escheon & Lionel Akpoyivo
As the General Elections draw closer, the momentum is again gradually building towards a possible outbreak of post-electoral violence which often erupts with the announcement of presidential and gubernatorial polls results. Already as campaigns heat up, over 30 lives have been lost in clashes between supporters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) in Rivers, Katsina, Lagos, Oyo and Bauchi states amongst others.
As usual, the bosses’ parties are giving the illusion of making life better for the masses without changing the existing exploitative system, inspiring different sections of poor people to line up behind them and kill each other. The fact that working people accept the present social order as unchangeable is a major obstacle to our self-emancipation. This is largely due to the ideological and political shortcomings of workers’ organisations that should provide clear class positions to the mass of workers.
The spate of privatisation and other anti-poor policies have also further impoverished the workers. Many participate as clients of parties rather than as free citizens because of “stomach infrastructure”. But they never bargain for the violence that desperate politicians stir up when they lose as was the case both in 2007 and 2011.
Now the situation looks drearier with the daily attacks of insurgents particularly in the north east. Workers are also already feeling the negative impact of the government’s austerity measures, which are a direct result of the global fall in oil price and the failure of the government to protect workers. Moreover, the capitalists and their technocrats managing our economy have increased the prices of almost all the public utilities like electricity and water. Tenement rate, tax and interest rate are equally being increased to afflict the working people.
Mass frustration and elite politicians’ desperation comprise a dangerous recipe for crisis before, during and after the general elections. It was just a day after the “Abuja peace accord” by all the parties to ensure peace that President Jonathan’s convoy was attacked in Katsina. Earlier attacks against APC members also took place in Rivers.
The emerging scenario points at a situation in which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Professor Attahiru Jega may not be able to act as an impartial umpire that will not surrender to incumbency manipulation. The All Progressive Congress (APC) has accused INEC of foul play with the Personal Voters Card (PVC). It is also not 100% clear yet that the elections will not be postponed as suggested by the National Security Adviser, which will worsen tensions.
It is not the meetings of the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry with President Jonathan and General Buhari that will guarantee peace based on justice. Indeed, the United States’ is stability for its business interests to thrive and not the lives of poor Nigerians, so long as law and order can prevail in the final analysis.
Again the lives of millions of working people hang in the balance as the bosses’ parties dig their trenches. What role can workers and their trade unions play to checkmate our being used as cannon fodder during possible post-electoral violence in the absence of a clear leadership?
Past political violence indicates that monies used to purchase arms and pay mercenaries to unleash chaos could have been used to generate employment for a significant number of youths. But the bosses are not concerned with bettering our. They only care for their personal and class interests.
Socialist Workers League calls on trade unions and radical civil society organisations to start mobilising the youth against being used as political thugs. More importantly we have to dissuade working people from fighting behind one set of oppressors against workers on the “other side”. We must raise a call for independent action of workers and other poor people, including our forming a workers government since we constitute the majority in the country.
WORKPLACE AND UNIONS:
NLC holds 11th delegates conference
by Segun Ogun
The 11th National Delegates Conference of Nigeria Labour Congress takes place on February 8-11, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. It is coming up at a trying time for the working class. Privatization, casualisation and public sector reforms have led to job losses and decline in membership of unions. The paltry minimum wage won four years ago also requires urgent review.
The Conference presents an opportunity for Congress’ affiliates to strategize on how best to combat these challenges besetting workers, and build NLC as a trade union federation which can give leadership (with TUC) to the struggles of the working people.
There are about 30 motions presented by a dozen of the affiliates for resolutions to guide Congress in the coming period. These include motions on: mainstreaming youth; increasing women participation; building a Labour College; deepening Congress’ education programme; establishing an autonomous research institute; campaigning against privatization; pensions; mergers and restructuring of trade unions; employment creation; fighting casualisation; occupational safety and health; strengthening relations with civil society, and; organizing in the informal economy.
Most of these motions are well thought out and if adopted and implemented would help build a fighting NLC. But past experiences of implementation of NDC resolutions in recent times are nothing to write home about.
A lot depends on the leadership that emerges from the Conference. There are 17 offices to be filled in the National Administrative Council. Most of the offices are returned unopposed. Unfortunately, despite the subsisting gender policy of Congress, only one of the nominees is female.
The main office in contention is that of President. There are three tested candidates for this; Ayuba Wabba, President of the health workers’ union, Joe Ajaero, General Secretary of the electricity employees’ union and Achese Igwe, President of the oil workers’ union. Whoever emerges will have the huge task, along with other members of NAC, of leading NLC to defend workers’ rights in a period of austerity.
At this point in time, there is a crucial need for unity for the struggles ahead. SWL is thus bothered by allegations that private sector unions have been “betrayed” by public sector unions, regarding some alleged convention of rotating the presidency of Congress between both “sectors”.
It is doubtful from the history of the NLC if such a convention ever existed. Besides, the lines between public and private “sectors” are being blurred under the current neoliberal regime of capitalism. Several public sector unions now organize “private sector” workers delivering public services, while a number of private sector unions equally represent employees in commercialized publicly-owned enterprises.
It is heartwarming that some affiliates that stayed away from Congress after the acrimonious 10th delegates’ conference are now back. SWL appeals to all unions’ leaderships to sheath the sword and work together, while calling on the secretariat of Congress to stick to the rules and ensure a level playing ground for all contestants.
The challenge beyond the conference is building rank and file workers’ power in the workplaces and communities. This is where the self-emancipation of the working class lies. Socialist Workers League’s activists within the unions shall vigorously pursue this, towards defeating the bosses and building a better society.
13 states owing salaries
federal ministries and agencies also culpable
by Lionel Akpoyivo
Workers in 13 states, and several federal ministries, departments and agencies had a very bleak Christmas. They were not paid their salaries for December. In Benue, Plateau and Osun states, workers have not been paid for three to eight months. Nigeria Labour Congress condemned this totally abominable deprivation of workers and directed its councils in those three states to issue strike ultimatums to the governments.
The Association of Senior Civil Servants and Nigeria Civil Service Union have both protested against salary delays in several federal ministries, including defence, science and technology, education and labour. Local branches of both unions have formed Joint Action Committees. Rank and file members are rooting for strike action to press home their demand for the immediate payment of salary backlogs.
Meanwhile, in Ondo state the Joint Negotiating Council (Trade Union Side) organised a two-day warning strike in December. According to the JNC Chair, Comrade Sunday Adeleye, this was to protest against non-payment of three months salary arrears of public servants.
Despite denials by government officials, there is a strong possibility that dwindling revenue of the federal government is responsible for the federal government’s inability to pay salary as when due. This portends of job cuts and further downsizing, especially since the 2015 budgetary provision for wages is much less than that for 2014. There is also cause to believe that some of the state governments involved are setting aside these monies or interests accruing from them for corrupt spending during the elections.
Meanwhile Comrade Adbulwahed Omar, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress has called on Nigerian workers to “massively reject” governors owing wages at the polls, saying that: “Any State governor, who cannot pay workers their salaries, as and when due, has no moral justification for taking his own salary and allowances”.
Unfortunately, none of the three worst culprits will be running for governorship on February 21, so voting them out does not arise. More importantly, what real alternatives exist for working people in the 2015 elections? None! The 13 culpable states include those that are PDP-ruled and those that are APC-ruled.
The different parties of the bosses represent essentially the same agenda; the continued exploitation of the working class. Without a working people’s party with an agenda for the poor’s self-emancipation, we will only replace one set of oppressors with another. Reclaiming the Labour Party to be such a spear in the workers’ hands is futile at this point.
To curtail such utter contempt for workers and their families like the 13 states have done, and fight to win a better society, the time is now for NLC and TUC to initiate the building of a working people’s party rooted in the masses, with a socialist programme as resolved on in the NLC policy on politics.
JUSUN strike rocks judiciary
by Kunle Wizeman Ajayi
The national strike of Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) which started on January 4 shut down courts across the country. JUSUN wants financial autonomy of the judiciary. It secured a court judgment on January 13, last year for this constitutionally enshrined provision to be respected by state governors. The union also went on strike in July over the demand, suspending it when reassured the court judgment would be respected by states governments.
Socialist Worker spoke to Comrade Marwan Mustapha Adamu, the JUSUN President before the strike was called off in federal high courts on January 25. He said the union remains committed to the struggle since it affects the prompt payment of workers’ wages. The strike continues in state high courts until concrete action is taken in line with a Memorandum of Understanding reached on the issue, earlier.
Meanwhile the JUSUN Edo state council is fighting for the payment of its members July 2014 salaries. Speaking with Socialist Worker at the JUSUN secretariat, Comrade Uyi Ogieriakhi, the state chairperson said members have not “gotten their July salaries as a result of participating in a nation-wide strike.” The state government invoked the draconian “no work, no pay” clause against JUSUN members, despite the “no victimisation” article of an agreement reached when the strike was called off.
SWL expresses its solidarity with judiciary workers all over the country. We call on the Edo state government to respect Labour rights and the subsisting agreement by paying Edo judiciary workers their July salaries without delay.
JOHESU strike: health workers win!
by Yusuf Lawal
The indefinite national strike of the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) ended with victory, after 63 long days. Health workers in all federal health institutions downed tools on December 1, 2013. On December 15, health workers at the secondary (general hospitals) and primary (health centres) level joined, shutting down the health sector.
JOHESU’s demand for the umpteenth time was for the May 10, 2012 Collective Agreement reached, with the Federal Ministry of Health regarding allowances, retirement age; promotion of qualified health professionals from CONHESS 14 to 15, implementation of the 2008 Health Sector Job Evaluation Report and the skipping of CONHESS 10, amongst others, to be respected.
The five unions making up JOHESU (MHWUN, NANNM, NASU, SSAUTHRIAI and NUAMP) went on strike twice in 2013. Each time, the Federal Ministry of Labour intervened. The minister of labour persuaded the unions to allow the National Industrial Court to adjudicate after the first strike. The Court ruled that the Collective Agreement had to be respected by the Federal Ministry of Health. But this was to no avail.
Socialist Worker pointed out that “the bosses cannot be trusted” after a 2-week ultimatum in May 2013 was called off. This was when local strikes in the sector were spreading like wildfire in different states, as SW reported. Rank and file anger triggered the nationwide strike that has crippled the health sector.
After two months, the Federal Government caved in! Government officials are more concerned with their self-serving quests for office than the lives being lost with public health institutions shut down. JOHESU organised demonstrations across the country in the third week of January. When a “national sensitization rally” was scheduled for January 28 the presidency appealed for it to be called off, promising to pay attention to JOHESU demands. A mass meeting was held instead. SWL members attended and produced a leaflet calling on working people and youth the strike.
President Jonathan met with JOHESU leaders on February 1 and acceded to their demands at last, out of fear that the strike was bad for his electoral campaigns. JOHESU did not leave it at that. It insisted on an immediate meeting after that with the federal ministry of health where concrete modalities for implementation and the non-victimization for the strike were agreed upon
In an interview with Socialist Worker during the strike, Comrade Yusuf Badmus, the JOHESU National Secretary said “JOHESU is as firm as ever and will not succumb to any intimidation from government or any group of persons. All members of JOHESU wherever they are must be steadfast. Our struggle continues. Our rights will not be mortgaged.” Indeed, this strike and its victory show that it is through steadfast struggle that workers can win!
Health workers must however not relent. It is not over until it is all over. JOHESU has to be on its toes to ensure that once again, government does not renege. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Workers power is the bedrock of sustained triumph.
NAFDAC: workers are restive
Workers in NAFDAC might be back on strike soon. For two weeks in November, they downed tools under the aegis of MHWUN. Their demands had components that could be resolved internally such as: gradual stoppage of productivity bonus; conversion of HND holders with additional qualifications to officers and implementation of the skipping of CONRAISS 10. There were also those requiring the intervention of the National Salaries Wages and Income Commission (NSWIC), mainly appropriate weighting of job specific allowance.
The strike was suspended after agreement was reached that all the issues at stake would be favourably addressed. All the internal issues except the skipping of CONRAISS 10 have subsequently been thus resolved. But the NSWIC has been foot dragging regarding the proper weighting of job specific allowance, resulting in a loss of almost N70,000 in the salaries of some members.
Speaking with Socialist Worker, the branch chairman, Comrade Ibrahim Isah said the workers made it clear that “if there is any breach of the agreement, the strike would be resumed”. NSWIC requested for just 10 days to take necessary actions. It is now two months after.
The partial success won by the workers with the November strike shows the might of workers’ power. Management’s dithering is an expression of how the bosses always try to ensure that we do not fully get what is due to us as workers. But, as Comrade Attah said “based on the agreement we reached, the allowances must be restored and skipping must be fully reinstated or the strike will be recommenced.” This shows the fighting spirit we need to win. SWL members will support NAFDAC workers and join them on the picket lines if management still refuses to fully implement the November agreement.
Electricity workers protest
Electricity workers protested at the headquarters of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), in the second week of January. They were demanding the full payment of thousands of NUEE members that are yet to be paid their severance allowance 16 months after the unbundling of PHCN. They also bemoaned the non-payment of death benefits owed families of their late colleagues. The union has vowed to continue its protest until the allowances are fully paid.
MHWUN organises workshops for women
Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) organised a series of Women Leadership Development Workshops, for its State Women Committee members. The workshops which together had over 200 women participating were held in two phases. The first was for State Women Committees from the three northern zones at Lokoja on January 5-8. The second took place at Enugu on January 12-15 and was for State Women Committees in the three southern geo-political zones.
The theme of the workshops was Building Women, Building the Union. This underscores the importance of women as active union members. Noting that women are still not adequately represented in leadership structures of the union, participants discussed extensively on the need for the ideological and political education of women, and affirmative action.
The struggle of working women for gender equity is part and parcel of the struggle of the working class for its self-emancipation. Women workers have much more in common with working men that they ever could have with women who are bosses. This includes the exploitation and oppression of working people generally, by the rich and their governments.
But male trade unionists, socialists and civil society activists should always bear in mind that male domination is not merely something out there. We have to consciously combat all forms of oppression and discrimination against women (patriarchy) in our organisations. As one of the slogans at the Enugu workshop stated; “women and men united make the union strong!”
Women trade unionists develop demands for politicians
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) Women’s Committee in Edo State has agreed a series of eight key demands to be put to aspiring politicians in the coming elections.
They argue that women make up at least half of the electorate, so women could decide whether politicians are successful or not in the elections. They will vote for politicians who support their demands and monitor action. Many of these demands will also benefit male workers who should support them.
Women are not properly represented in senior public sector posts or elected positions. In Edo State, for example, all the 18 chairs of local government areas are men. At the Federal level, there are only seven female Senators and 19 women in the House of Representatives.
Crèche and kindergarten facilities are needed for the children of workers. Children disturb the office environment and it can be dangerous for them if they are brought to work.
Women are concerned about rape and sexual harassment which they suffer. Politicians should make a clear statement that they support women workers taking action on this issue. Teachers, in particular, need to be clear that sexual harassment is always unacceptable.
Women expect politicians to promise to build more primary schools and employ more teachers to ensure that all children (especially girls) are able to attend good, public primary schools. Only about a third of children attend public schools, a third go to private schools and the final third do not attend school.
Many women do not have access to adequate arrangements for family planning. As a result, they are having more children than they would ideally like. This may have a detrimental effect on their health and careers.
Free health care is essential for the well being of all workers and their families. Politicians should promise to ensure that health insurance covers; family planning, cancer screening and the costs of drugs for HIV positive workers.
Politicians should promise to ensure that the constitutional right of all workers to be active members of trade unions of their choice within their work jurisdiction is respected in practice. This should include all workers in; the civil service, parastatals and employment schemes including temporary and part-time staff.
Finally, gender insensitive language sends an important signal about government policies towards women. Such terms as ‘headmaster’ or ‘chairman’ tend to exclude women and so should be changed to “headteacher” and “chairperson”.
These demands are to be provided at a public gathering on 29th January 2015 in Benin City. Other trade union branches should develop and promote similar demands.
AFRICAN LIBERATION FIGHTERS:
Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti (1900-1978)
by Drew Povey
Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the daughter of a returned slave who was Yoruba. She had Christian colonial education. The racism, sexism and economic violence of British occupation of Nigeria radicalised her.
The British used indirect rule and appointed some traditional leaders as “Warrant Chiefs” to collect taxes. By the late 1940s, the burden of taxation was becoming unbearable. A ‘flat tax’ was imposed on all people, including women, aged 16 and older. Like current day VAT it placed a greater burden of taxation on the poor.
Ransome-Kuti was the head teacher of the Abeokuta Grammar School. From this position, she organized the Abeokuta Ladies’ Club in 1944. In 1946 the organization was renamed Abeokuta Women’s Union – uniting 20,000 working class, local market, and middle class women. This was designed to challenge both colonial rule and the dominance of men in public life (patriarchy). Two hundred thousand women joined the AWU’s protests. It eventually led to the abolition of the flat tax by the colonial government.
From the initial demands for an end to the taxation regime, the confidence and demands of the Abeokuta Women’s Union grew. They developed proposals to replace the flat rate tax on women with taxation on expatriate companies, investment in local initiatives and infrastructure including transportation, sanitation and education and the abolition of the Sole Native Authority and its replacement with a representative form of government, including women.
The Abeokuta Women’s Union was a well organised and disciplined organisation. It organised mass against the tax. The response from the authorities was brutal as tear gas was deployed and beatings were administered. Ransome-Kuti ran training sessions on how to deal with this threat, teaching women how to protect themselves from the effects of tear gas.
The protesters employed all manner of tactics, such as abusive songs, jeers, sham funerals for the king and chiefs, taunting parodies of the Oro (male-only masquerade ritual) chants, unclad protests and physical assaults. They laid siege on the palace of the Alake (traditional ruler) for 24 hours, repeating their protest for a further 48 hours when their conditions were not fulfilled within a week. Thousands of women stripped and stood outside the palace in full view of the king, demanding his dethronement. They removed their clothes, a traditional means of expressing removal of their respect for the Alake and cursing him. They then chased him out of the house, condemning him to exile.
Ransome-Kuti was included in the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons delegation to London in 1947. While in London, she joined the Women’s International Democratic Federation. She became the leader of the Women’s wing of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons in the Western region. She was subsequently associated with Maoist political leanings.
In her later years Kuti embraced the Yoruba heritage and worked to give pride back to the colonised, insisting that children at her school were registered using their African, names. She abandoned her Western style of dress, favoured by middle class women in the late 1940s, adopting the traditional wrapped cloth of Yoruba. In the early 1970s, when Fela, her iconoclastic son rejected “Ransome” as being a European name, adopting “Anikulapo” (the one with death in her/his pouch), she rejoiced and also changed her name.
Married to Rev Israel Ransome-Kuti, the pioneer president of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Funmilayo bore a daughter, Oludotun and four sons. One died shortly after birth, all three who survived carried on her legacy of political activism. Olikoye, became an AIDS activist speaking out for those abandoned to the ravages of the disease; Fela, became a musician writing songs inspiring a generation of protestors and Beko was a leading human rights activist.
In 1978 angered by Fela’s criticism of the military as “zombies” who intimidated ordinary Nigerians while allowing corruption and the exploitation of communities to go unchecked, General Obasanjo stormed Kalakuta Republic, an anti-establishment commune of Fela and his followers where Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti lived. She was thrown from a window and spent eight weeks in a coma before passing away. In defiance, her coffin was carried to the Dodan Barracks in Lagos, General Olusegun Obasanjo’s residence together with a new song, written by Fela, “Coffin for Head of State”.
Neoliberalism worsens youth unemployment
by Oladepo Kazeem Adebowale
The poor masses had so much hope and expectation when civil rule was restored in 1999. It was assumed that, with democracy, people would be free to choose their leaders and hold these accountable for fast tracking development and improving the general living conditions of poor people. This expectation was based on the abundance of human and natural resources. However, the reality on ground today has shown that this expectation is yet to be realized, as a result of the neoliberal policies of the Nigerian state and the capitalist system which it is a part of. The response is a growing sense of gloom and anger among the masses, most especially, the unemployed youths.
Neoliberalism refers to the desire to intensify and expand the free market by increasing the number, frequency, repeatability and formalization of transactions. The ultimate goal of neoliberalism is a universe where every action of every person is considered as some market transaction or the other. Subsidies, such as with fuel and protection of workers are critiqued for distorting the market.
Neoliberalism seeks to transfer control of state owned enterprises and public services to the private sector. In short, the neoliberal government sees the nation as primarily a business firm. Its main policy features include the rule of the market, cutting public expenditures for social services, deregulation, privatization and eliminating the concept of public goods.
The adoption of neoliberal economic policies started with the introduction of the structural adjustment programme (SAP) in 1986. The government had mortgaged the country’s future to the international financial institutions. By the end of 1980s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were able to order the Government to downsize the civil service and public sector. So it reduced the public sector workforce by 40% in less than two years. This retrenchment continued in recent times with the public sector reforms that started in 2005. Youths have been particularly hard hit. As a result of the neoliberal policies they often cannot find jobs or have temporary jobs that are vulnerable to economic shocks.
Youth unemployment is very prevalent with about half the youth not having proper jobs. Anti-social activities such as political thuggery, militancy, restiveness and other social vices are evident among the jobless youths. According to the National Bureau of Statistics the national unemployment rates increased from less than 15% in 2000, to nearly 23% by 2012. The rate for youth unemployment is estimated to be around 50%.
These unemployed youths, in their quest to survive, often become willing tools in the hands of disgruntled politicians who use them for violent political activities. Mobilisation of youths to perpetuate ethno-religious clashes has been well documented. In the aftermath of the 2011 elections for example, this led to mayhem which claimed over five hundred lives, especially in states like Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Katsina and Gombe (including nine Youth Corps Members on national assignment) and displaced over fifteen thousand persons in the Northern parts of Nigeria.
Capitalist governments have always failed to foster equal distribution of resources and promote equity. Reforms they have granted are because we struggle. Whichever party forms the next government we need to demand that it provides well paid jobs for all our youths. These need to be permanent jobs paid at the official Civil Service rates, not just casual jobs as is massive in Edo, Imo, Kogi, Lagos, Osun, Oyo and most other states, including the Federal government.
UNIBEN students protest demolition
By Bright Humanist
The Students Union of University of Benin organised a series of protests against the Edo state government early in January. This was after the government demolished some buildings in GRA Benin, which had been used by the university since inception in the 1970s.
It was learnt that the university management had appealed against an earlier judgment in favour of Uniben. It also secured an injunction for the status quo to be maintained until the court of appeal’s ruling. But the state government went ahead to demolished the buildings, sparking an uproar. Management, staff and students of the University of Benin all condemned it. Students protested, in the course of which one of the Edo state-owned metropolitan buses called “Comrade Buses” was burnt.
We in the Socialist Youth League (SYL) stand by and will always be at the forefront of struggles of students. We however condemn the burning of a “comrade bus”. It is poor working people that use these buses to commute and who are thus deprived. We also frown at the distance between the students’ union leadership which initiated the protest and rank and file students, even during the demonstration. Union leaders were nowhere to be found to give leadership in the immediate aftermath of action.
We equally condemn the state government’s use of thugs led by one Kabaka, against students and staff, in strong terms. This is similar to how NLC state leaders were wounded by thugs in December 2013, when they protested to the state secretariat. This trend is shameful from a government led by a former president of the NLC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. It goes to show that our emancipation as working people and youth cannot be from above by some leaders, but from below, through our independent struggle
SYL is committed to the building of an independent Students Union in Uniben. The current students’ leadership has repeatedly demonstrated that it is a puppet of management. It has ignored several welfare issues of concern to rank and file students. Meanwhile, the call for action against the demolition even when most students were away on holidays was basically because of management’s prompting.
To have an independent students’ union, the Director of Students Affairs should should no longer be the Students’ Electoral Officer determining who stands for elections, thereby ensuring that anti-establishment students are not allowed to contest.
In conclusion, we condemn Governor Oshiomhole’s forceful demolition of the GRA buildings while we also condemn the unnecessary violence and destruction of the “comrade Bus”. We stand for the right of students to protest, but burning the bus only deprived working people who used to use it.
We urge UNIBEN students to take over our union from opportunists and stooges of management and struggle for quality education, and living standards in our hostels.
“#We are not Charlie”
by Baba Aye
Almost 4million people marched in several cities and towns across France on Sunday 11th January. This “unity rally” was a response to the recent killing of 17 persons in Paris. 41 heads of states and governments led a multitude of 1.6million people in Paris. Demonstrations also took place in several cities like London, Montreal, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin.
The initial call for mass demonstrations was made by the trade unions. The French state latched onto the mood of outrage. “I am Charlie” and “liberté!” were popular slogans expressing this defiance against the killings, and in support of Charlie Hebdo magazine. Socialist Workers League equally condemns the killings and attacks on free speech. There are important issues that we must however not lose sight of, and for which we must boldly say “we are not Charlie”.
The magazine’s satire over the last four decades has targeted several political and religious institutions and personages. Some of these were progressive, talking truth to power. But in a context where Moslems are stereotyped as terrorists irrespective of their political leanings, Charlie’s caricature of Moslems was not just an expression of free speech. It helped to deepen racist ideology, as most French Moslems are dark skinned immigrants, mainly from former French colonies like Algeria and Tunisia.
They face greater poverty and are more likely to run afoul of the law, just like blacks in the United States. As the Washington Post pointed out seven years ago, while Moslems make up less than 10% of the population, almost 70% of prison inmates are Moslems. And this is just a tip of the iceberg. Moslems in France, as in the US, are more likely to face: ethnic profiling; discrimination in securing housing; police brutality; and physical assaults than other citizens who are white Christians or free thinkers.
This dire situation they face is enough to breed hostility against the system. And the imperialist wars of Western countries like France help direct this anger into the channels of recruitment by militant Islamist groups. For example, one of the Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo killings was radicalised by the dehumanizing torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib by American soldiers.
However, misguided terror tactics only play into the hands of the bosses. They will always try to use such painful tragedies to present a false picture that “we are one” bound by the fight against terror. George Bush played up these sentiments after 9/11 and Goodluck Jonathan “is doing it”.
But the world leaders’ lamentations are merely crocodile tears. Most of the heads of states that marched, supposedly for free speech and against terrorism “harass, detain and torture journalists”, according to CNN. They hide behind the veil of official secrecy when it suits them. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden remain on the wanted list of USA because they democratised free speech!
We must not allow ourselves to be divided by the condemnable acts of terror of a few, on the basis of any ideology. When the rightwing Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 fellow Norwegians on July 22, 2011, it was not considered as attacks by a Christian. The activities of Jihadists do not represent what Moslems or migrants stand for. Working class activists must stand up against such stereotyping.
Within two days of the Paris killings; grenades were thrown at a mosque; a restaurant associated with a mosque was bombed; gunshots were fired at another mosque; and a pig’s head and innards were placed at the front of an Islamic centre in Corsica with a note which read “next time it will be one of your heads”.
This evil wind that does working people no good is not blowing only in France. In Germany, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) has been organising mass demonstrations every Monday since October, 2014. They are calling for limits to immigration, particularly of Moslems. PEGIDA and its like are hammering on the Paris attacks to justify their racist demands. But, huge anti-PEGIDA demonstrations are also taking place, insisting that “people are just people”.
Governments and rightwing movements may continue to use the excuse of seemingly senseless terror by militants to substantiate racist and anti-immigrant demands. Working people must stand firm against such divisive tactics.
The bosses, their capitalist system and the wars they fight to defend their interests are at the root of both the economic crisis and terrorism. We must unite in struggle to bring this exploitative system to an end. Our battle cry must be we are human and thus deserve freedom, from want and from killings both in attacks by individuals and wars organised by governments.
Greece: SYRIZA victory is historic
SYRIZA’s victory in Greece places an anti-capitalist party at the helm of governance in Europe for the first time. It represents rejection of austerity measures and will inspire similar turns to the radical left in forthcoming elections across Europe.
This moment is however one full of contradictions. SYRIZA won 139 seats out of 300. To form government it has allied with the populist-nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) party which is anti-immigrants. This alliance might promote illusion in reforms through negotiations with the EU on Greece’s debts.
More radical parties like ANTARSYA (and the Communist Party of Greece) are calling for outright cancellation of the odious debts and Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. They also remind the workers that it is not enough to win at the polls; they have to fight to overthrow capitalism, and fight to inspire socialist revolution internationally. They also had marginal increase in their votes.
The fascist Golden Dawn party equally increased its percentage of the votes, pointing at sharp struggles ahead between forces for progress and those of reaction. The military which ruled Greece for the bosses from the end of World War II to 1974 might also be waiting in the wings, as they did against the radical Allende government in 1973 Chile.
There can be no lasting middle road in Greece. This is the time to intensify the building of popular working people’s power from below, include within the army’s rank and file. Activists across the world must support the revolutionary process unfolding in Greece, and mobilise working people to defeat the bosses everywhere.
Burkinabe revolution: a turning point
Last year’s popular uprising in Burkina Faso has brought a new lease of life to politics. Once again, national leaders show some commitment to reducing inequality. For example, lawmakers accepted to slash their salaries by half! This makes many to recall the charismatic Captain Thomas Sankara, the progressive Head of State overthrown and killed by his deputy Blaise Campaore who then ruled for 27 years.
In the early 1980s, President Sankara was a beacon of hope against the increased inequality and insecurity structural adjustment introduced across Africa. He aimed to eliminate corruption, avert famine, and make education and health real priorities launching the most ambitious program for social and economic change ever attempted in Africa.
However, he also banned the free press and trade unions when he felt they came in the way of his progressive reforms. Despite establishing some organs of popular power at the grassroots, his radical regime was a revolution from above.
Blaise Compaoré overthrew the Sankara regime which he had been a part of in 1987. In the beginning of the 1990s international geopolitics pushed his government to start the transition to multi-party democracy and a free market economy. Burkina Faso became one of the World Bank and IMF’s best pupils, but is still one of the poorest countries in the world (181th out of 187 countries in the 2013 UN Human Development Index) with 46% of the population struggling to exist beneath the poverty line. Inequality also increased, with one in ten Burkinabe owning half of the countries riches.
This was the context in which Compaoré’s attempt at self-perpetuation again, through a constitutional amendment sparked nationwide mass protests which forced him to resign and go on exile.
The Burkinabe revolution shows that if we dare to struggle we dare to win. It has already given hope to workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, who are now protesting against plans by Joseph Kabila to extend his 14 years in the presidency.
Shell pays for oil spill in Bodo
by Nnamdi Ikeagu
The major oil company, Shell reached an out of court settlement to pay £55m (N15.7bn) to the 15,600 fishermen of Bodo community, Rivers state. This was in a bid by Shell to avoid a full trial after three years of pre-trial legal tussles.
There had been two oil spills on the Bodo creek in 2008/2009. Shell claimed that only 4,144 barrels leaked. This was a blatant lie as further evidence confirmed. It was around 600,000 barrels.
The creek, rivers and streams in the area have been severely polluted. This resulted in the destruction of the ecosystem and the livelihoods of the fishing population. From the settlement, each member of the community is to receive about N600,000 and the balance is to be used for building schools and hospitals for the community.
But, as Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) notes, this “can hardly purchase a good fishing boat and equipment necessary to return to the fishing business that the people know best”. He also observed that the Goi community whose waters were also polluted by the incident have been abandoned to their own fate.
Amnesty International described the settlement as an “important victory for the victims of corporate negligence”. But negligence is just part of a bigger picture. The international oil companies are concerned simply with production for profit as with other capitalist firms. Where they can get away with not strictly following procedures they do. And whenever there are operational failures, we see the machinery of the bosses moving in to cover up with lies and distortion of their folly. This is what Shell attempted to do at first.
This victory is welcomed by the Socialist Workers League. We also call for action to be taken to remedy the situation with the Goi. Poor working people and their allies must explore every avenue, including courts, to seek justice. But our ultimate strength lies in our solidarity. And the mist important victory we will win is power from the bosses, through our revolution from below.
The presidential election and the working class
- Does General Buhari represent change?
- Neither PDP nor APC stands for workers
by Baba Aye
This presidential election is the most keenly contested in the country’s history. Central to this is the rising popularity of General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB), candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), perceived by many as representing change. Even a number of trade unionists, civil society activists and socialists are openly campaigning for the GMB ticket. Is this “spectre of Buharism” as change justifiable? Why is there so much “hope” in his candidacy? What does the election portend for the working class?
APC and electoral politics in Nigeria
The Peoples Democratic Party has been in power at the centre since the civilian rule was reinstated in 1999. On one hand, mass discontent against its anti-people’s policies and inability to tackle the war in the north-east has rendered it very unpopular. On the other hand, APC presents a new dimension to the bosses’ politics; an opposition party with national spread. In contrast, during the first two republics, each of the main parties of the bosses had a region as its “catchment area”.
These are some of the reasons why the APC Imo state governor, Rochas Okorocha observed that, this is the best shot an opposition party has ever had to seize power nationally. He further added that if this opportunity is lost, it might never present itself again. APC is thus throwing in everything at its disposal to ensure victory. PDP is equally fighting tooth and nail. This is the context of the storm in a teacup over General Buhari’s secondary school certificate.
APC claims it stands for the masses. But in practice, there is little or no difference between the policies of PDP-ruled states and those ruled by APC: they are all anti-poor. APC states have raised tertiary school fees and in Osun state, for example, the APC government has not paid workers salaries for three months.
APC’s electoral platform is based on the “strongman” philosophy and not the self-emancipation of the working people. The party’s leader, Senator Bola Tinubu repeatedly justified the need for electing Muhammadu Buhari at this moment of crisis on his credentials as a military General.
The contradictory figure of Buhari
General Muhammadu Buhari contested thrice before. He lost on each occasion, while winning the majority of the votes in the northern region, particularly from the poor talakawas. He is reputed to be very disciplined and incorruptible. If elected, he promises to: defeat Boko Haram, stamp out corruption and reduce unemployment. These are all issues of concern for the working masses and have further endeared him to many.
Ironically “proof” of his ability to deliver on all counts, to his supporters, is the record of the military junta he led between 1983 and 1985. After overthrowing the 2nd republic, it jailed politicians, instituted a War Against Indiscipline and defended the naira. But it also: repressed mass democratic organizations and professional bodies like the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA); gagged the press with the notorious Decree 4; passed Decree 2 with which allowed indiscriminate detention of perceived enemies of the state; and despite its “discipline”, allowed the Emir of Gwandu’s 58 suitcases full of money to pass through customs.
Many of his supporters acknowledge these shortcomings of his record, but see him as the lesser evil. His strongman visage is also courted as being necessary to eradicate the triple evils he identified. But, these are largely beyond his capacity or that of any other person elected as president. There are material roots for the problems which can be solved only with the overthrow of capitalism by the working class’ self-emancipatory struggle.
Defeat Boko Haram today and ten Boko Harams by whatever name would arise. Jihadist ideology thrives on the pauperization and the (real or perceived) oppression of millions in the region whom the Jihadists appeal to and replenish their numbers with.
Corruption could be minimized in general, but it plays such a central role in the cycle of permanent primitive accumulation by the bosses and their dispensation of patronage that it cannot be wiped out, by a party of capitalists.
It is impossible to significantly address the problem of unemployment when the capitalist system is in crisis, particularly for parties of the bosses. The Nigerian government is broke. Victory for Gen. Buhari will not change that.
Prospects for the working class
Beyond the demonstrated bankruptcy of PDP and the expanded scope of influence and resources for a capitalist opposition party which APC represents, a major reason for the rising profile of General Buhari is the absence of an alternative platform of the working class. The Labour Party is split. The NLC/TUC-backed Caretaker Committee is not recognized by INEC. The party’s National Working Committee elected in October continues with business as usual, being no different from other parties of the bosses.
Of the 14 parties fielding presidential candidates, Socialist Workers League supports the National Conscience Party (NCP) and Engineer Martin Onovo, its flag bearer. NCP has a history of struggle for the working masses and a radical programme for the abolition of poverty. Comrade Fisayo Makanju Abe of the SWL is contesting for Federal Capital Territory Senate seat and SWL members are active within the party as well as with the Labour Party.
Elections present opportunities for revolutionary activists to reach out to broader circles of the working people with ideas and programmes for our self-emancipation. Without a mass movement behind them, working class activists cannot win electoral victories. But, we can win more workers to the ideas of struggle for a better society and challenge the ideas of the bosses’ parties which they defend the status quo with.
As things stand, if the country is not thrown into a state of chaos due to contestation of the elections results, either President Jonathan of the PDP or General Buhari of the APC will be sworn in as President on May 29. But, neither represents the working people. The crisis state of the economy is such that whichever of them it is, the working masses will face harder times, due to falling state revenue. An APC government might temporarily pursue some pseudo-progressive policies to justify “change”, but this will not last long.
The struggle for change which entails the betterment of the lives of workers and the popular classes of poor people in the urban centres and rural areas will not be resolved by the February polls. It will take the form of strikes, mass protests and other forms of demonstrations.
Activists in the trade unions, communities and radical civil society organizations have to be at the trenches with the working class, patiently explaining the linkages between the different forms of our exploitation and oppression, as being the capitalist system, and fighting to overthrow this and build a socialist society where we can use our collective power to guarantee a better life for all.
This requires a mass party of the working class with a socialist programme as recognized by the NLC policy on politics. Delegates at the NLC Conference must argue for the building of such a party rooted in the workplace and communities to lead our political struggle for self-emancipation in the aftermath of the bosses’ presidential elections.