The political challenges before the working and poor people is more vital today more than ever before. That the capitalist political class has severally and collectively plunder the huge resources of the nation, while the poor people go hungry, is no more news. For the past almost eleven years of civil rule, workers have fought tooth and nail to gain better living but every demand of workers in this regard is met with stiff opposition from the capitalist ruling class at all levels.
While the Teachers’ Salary Scale (TSS) the Nigerian government was forced to concede to has not been fully implemented in many states of the federation, the demand of the workers for substantial wage increase from the meager N5500 (about 37 dollars) a month to N18, 000 (about 120 dollars) is stubbornly opposed by all tiers of government.
Yet, despite unprecedented monetary resources that had accrued to the nation’s purse since 1999, nothing fundamental has improved in the living standards of an average Nigerian, while there is seeming absolute infrastructural collapse. Hundreds of billions being sunk into road construction, power generation, funding education, etc have found their mysterious routes back to the private accounts of moneybag politicians and businessmen. For instance, the $27 billion in the nation’s excess crude account has been pilfered by all the tiers of government, with nothing to show for it. The Niger Delta elites that cry of marginalization can hardly account for hundreds of billions accruing to the states’ coffers. If at all they undertake any tangible project, they are mostly elitist, which are unsustainable, with no link with the economic future of the common man they claim to be representing. Despite plethora of anti-graft agencies (EFCC, ICPC, Code of Conduct Bureau, Special Anti-Fraud Unit, the Judiciary, etc), pervasive corruption still remain the way of live of politicians and big business. Aside all this is the continued attacks on the working and poor people, the latest of which is the deregulation of the oil industry, and more importantly deregulation of the fuel pricing.
Commendably, Nigerian workers and oppressed have wages countless battles against malfeasance and attacks on their living conditions; but the more they fight a policy, the more anti-poor policies launched against them. In this milieu, the question then arise of why workers will allow looters, anti-poor politicians and bankrupt public officers to get to power in the first place. Nigerian workers, with their social, organizational and numerical strength, can change the political landscape in the interest of the poor people if their mass organizations (trade unions and their leaderships) are prepared to build a working class political platform that will challenge the bankrupt capitalist political class. Events have shown that when Nigerian workers and the poor enter the arena of struggle or politics, the atmosphere will definitely change. This is clearly shown by the power of general strikes organized by workers, where even the busiest roads are turned into football pitches. This shows the popularity and the strength Nigerian workers enjoy amongst the oppressed; if only this is turned into a vital asset to unseat anti-poor capitalist politicians and the system they represent.
However, as a result of the absence of a working class political party, various sections of the capitalist politicians, who have been sidelined from centre of resource control, coupled with some big business funded NGO, have turned this into an opportunity to pose as alternative. In practical sense, there is fundamentally no difference between the ruling PDP and the opposition parties. Take Lagos State for instance, where the opposition AC is in control; education has been commercialized, health infrastructure is in comatose while roads are still in their deplorable conditions. The so-called Mega-city project of Fashola has meant destruction of livelihood of several poor artisans and petty traders, without alternative means of survival. The party itself is controlled by a few moneybags. This is a state that collects nothing less than N15 billion monthly as internal revenue – N620 billion in three and half years, but cannot make the state a heaven on earth. But the same government and party will be condemning the federal government of incompetence and waste – the case of kettle calling cooking pot black. Thus, such a party cannot be the alternative structure needed by the working and poor people to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of poverty and misery.
This brings us to the question of the Labour Party, which was founded by trade union leaders in 2003. This party, as the name suggests, is supposed to be the party of the working and poor people. But the trade union leadership, aside handing the party over to some banklrupt, fraudulent and indeed ideologically barren traditional politicians, has refused to mobilize the forces of workers to build the party as a genuine working class political platform, with clearly different economic and social programmes. This has made the party attractive to many moneybag politicians, who have failed to achieve their goals in other corrupt political parties. The implication of this is that the Labour Party has gradually lost its potential pristine outlook, even before it is fully unravelled, with the national leadership of the party openly requesting fior N2 billion from a presidential candidate while completely monetising the party’s tickets from the ward level to the national level. And at the end of it all, it has handed over the party to the ruling party with its fraudulent support for Goodluck Jonathan,. The same labour leadership that fails to build the Labour Party is conveniently having ‘strategic partnership’ with government that is attacking the welfare interests of workers and the poor people.
In fact, many capitalist parties, having seen the enormous strength that a Labour Party can pull in the coming period have romanced the party with an idea of electoral collaboration or Mega-party project. This is unfortunate as the Labour Party itself is a Mega-party by orientation, if built in this line. What the Labour Party need today is a summit of labour movement, pro-labour organizations (especially in LASCO), students’ movement, socialist movements, etc, where the task of building a viable, politically strong Labour Party will be charted out. With the bankrupt ciollapse of the Labour Party politically and ideologically, especially as the 2011 elections are already around which has denied the working people and youth a political platform to chase away the bankrupt capitalist political class, there is the need for the working masses to build their mass organizations such as workers’ unions, students’ movement, youth and community movements, etc as a counterweight against the governments’ onslaught after the elections as most politicians are buying time for their anti-poor policies, as reflected in the double speak of federal and state governments on minimum wage and Lagos State government’s silence on Lekki toll issue and current doctors’ strike. Working class people and youth must start to demand for a democratic, rank-and-fiole controlled, bottom-to-top fighting unions. The working people must as a matter of urgency start to demand for a working people’s party as a political platform of the working people and youth to mobilise the forces of the oppressed in Nigeria to demand for a for a revolutionary government of the working people.
We need to build a workers’ party that will be completely different in its form of party organization and working. We need a workers’ party that will be democratically controlled and funded by rank-and-file members through a genuine internal democracy. This can only make sense when workers, youth, students, artisans, peasants, unemployed, etc join such a party en mass. This can be achieved easily if the cent
ral labour unions (NLC and TUC) and other trade unions mobilize their members to the party.
More importantly, in order for the party to truly stand as strong opposition to other anti-worker, anti-poor capitalist political parties, including those claiming to be in the opposition, it needs to stand for economic and political policies that will be different from other parties. These include that:
1. The party must stand against all anti-poor policies of privatization of public enterprise and utilities, commercialization of social services like education, health and roads, deregulation of oil industry, retrenchment and casualization of workers, among others.
2. On the contrary, the party must stand for re-nationalization of all privatized public enterprises and utilities; massively develop them and put all public enterprises and utilities under the democratic control and management of workers, community (where they operate) and consumers, as a deterrent against mismanagement of these enterprises by big bureaucrats. This means that manager and officials of the enterprises, corporation and utility firms will come from the democratic decisions of workers and communities and will be subject to recall if found incapable or unworthy. Furthermore, the party will stand for massive funding and development of social services like free and quality education at all levels, free health services at the point of use, massive and integrated road construction, massive public and cheap housing programmes, among others. With this millions of youth will be gainfully employed while the economy will be expanded.
3. The party must adopt a working class and democratic means of running the party. This means that the party officials, either within the party or in government will earn an average salary of a skilled worker, and will be subject to recall if found going against the party principle and manifestoes. Furthermore, a public office holder under the working people’s party platform will publish his or her assets to the public regularly.
4. The party from the grassroots to the national level will serve as a platform of struggle for workers, youth, students and the oppressed people, against all anti-poor policies of government. This means that working peoples’party in local government will agitate against and lead struggles lack of infrastructures, joblessness, and mismanagement of funds at local level. The same for state and national structures of the party.
5. The party must be built in workplaces, schools, villages and communities.
It is these kinds of programmes that can make a genuine working peoples’party become the real alternative,. oppositional and mega-party of the majority of Nigerians who are living in abject penury, despite enormous wealth. This is the only way to build movement against rigging of election, because a genuine mass party of workers and poor people can hardly be rigged out. The reason rigging is prevalent today is because workers and poor people have been ostracized from political role.
This is calling on working class activists and labour leaders to move towards building the working peoples’party as a truly labourers’ party by mobilizing workers, peasants, artisans, okada riders, petty traders, youth and students to the party. We must collectively ensure that the party is not handed over to moneybag politicians. We call on NLC, TUC and other trade unions to build a genuine working peoples’party. This is the only way to prevent anti-poor politicians from ruling us again.
Kola Ibrahim (08059399178, [email protected])
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.