Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa: resist with international working class solidarity!

an anti-xenophobia rally in Durban, South Africa
The attacks on migrants from sister African countries in South Africa in March and April, which claimed not less than 7 lives with over a thousand rendered homeless, reflect the deepening crisis of capitalism and how this takes various shapes, including mobilisation along identity lines to divide the ranks of working people of all lands. The fact that such outbursts of xenophobia, has become recurrent with 67 persons killed in similar attacks 7 years ago, makes it even more worrisome and calls for deep reflections on what is to be done by working class activists. Several groups and governments have condemned this misguided rage of the dispossessed on the streets of the KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, Johannesburg provinces. In several Nigerian cities, protesters have marched to the South African High Commission and multinational corporations such as DSTV, MTN and Shoprite demanding an end to the rampage and prosecution of its perpetrators, failing which South African multinationals will be picketed. 

Condemning the attacks, the Nigeria Labour Congress pointed out that: “the Government of South Africa should be held responsible for the ongoing xenophobic attacks.” The United Front which encompasses revolutionary and radical working class forces in South Africa reiterated this position when it stated that: “substantial responsibility for this dangerous trend must be laid at the door of the ANC, and its compulsive habit of blaming its failures on unnamed ‘foreign elements’”.

It is important for us to understand the roots of xenophobic tendencies in the country; the social forces behind it; the position of the South African working class, and; what is to be done to defeat xenophobia.

The attacks are borne out of frustration by millions of poor South Africans who live in penury on one hand and lethal identity politics by sections of the country’s ruling class who attempt to divert anger against the local bosses that benefit from the exploitative system of capitalism. South Africa has the 8th highest unemployment rate globally, despite being one of the 20 largest economies in the world.  A quarter of those actively seeking jobs are unemployed. Many more have actually given up all hope of getting jobs. Thus, almost half of the country’s workforce is unemployed. With the defeat of apartheid in 1994, there were high hopes that the lot of the poor would become better. The contrary was the case and the situation has worsened with the worldwide economic crisis of capitalism.

With increasing job losses in the formal sector, millions of unemployed try to eke a living in the informal economy, where immigrants are predominantly employed as artisans, small shopkeepers and vendors. With one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, a few rich including both black (many with ties to the ANC) and white bosses have become richer while the pauperisation of the poor worsens. But, these rich and powerful people in government, as kings and business men/women point at the “foreigners” whom the poor see every day in their communities as the culprits, who have stolen their jobs and businesses.

The South African government has issued lacklustre statements condemning the attacks. The police have subsequently arrested 307 persons on charges related to xenophobia, including the destruction and looting of “foreigners’” shops, while President Jacob Zuma set up a Ministerial Task Team to “help stabilise the situation” and spread an anti-xenophobic message. But the main resistance against xenophobia has been the mobilisation from below by working class and radical civil society activists in Peoples Marches Against Xenophobia.

The South African working class has a rich heritage of struggle forged in the crucible of resistance against apartheid. In this period, a “tripartite alliance” was established between COSATU, ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), constituting the driving force of the liberation movement. But the transition from apartheid went along with a transition to neoliberal ideology by the ANC. The SACP and COSATU have essentially kept justifying ANC’s anti-poor policies and programmes, despite a few spineless criticisms. But, the post-apartheid polarisation of wealth and poverty has continuously driven the working masses to the barricades time and again, making South Africa the “global capital” of protests. From 2008, it has witnessed more strikes and demonstrations than any other country. In this context, it was a matter of time before trade unions and socialist activists that genuinely stand for the self-emancipation of the working class broke away from the alliance. This was eventually spearheaded by the largest union in the country, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), in 2013.

The United Front initiated by NUMSA has been the consistent voice against the recent xenophobic rage. While Sdumo Dlamini, the COSATU President denied that what happened was xenophobia because it targeted only “African foreign nationals”, the United Front boldly spoke out as way back as January when the first signs of this tragedy reared its head, saying “The United Front is outraged by the recent outbreak of violence in Soweto and elsewhere, especially against other Africans. We must act now before it spreads further. These explosions of xenophobia are not new and will overwhelm us if we do not act decisively.” Activists of the United Front have also been at the fore of the organizing counter-demonstrations in April.

Independent anti-xenophobic action from below has included South Africans organising to defend immigrants in townships and communities such as; Katlehong, Makause and Thembelihle. But in some neighbourhoods, particularly in Durban, immigrants are equally organising their own self-defence. There is dire need for joint self-defence committees of both locals and immigrants to fight xenophobia and attacks by lumpen elements high on its intoxication. Beyond fighting the current wave of xenophobia, such unity of working people from all lands is central to the strategy of defeating degenerate capitalism, which is the soil for the growth of xenophobia, racism, “tribalism”, and all forms of identity politics that aim at dividing the ranks of the working class.

Capitalism is inherently crisis-ridden. Its logic of development makes a few rich richer and the 99% poorer. It is also irrational, driven by production for profit and not primarily the fulfilment of human needs. Overthrowing this inhumane system and establishing socialism; rooted in solidarity and cooperation is a necessity which only the working class united in struggle can win. But the bosses will not give up without a fight. Socialist activists in the unions, civil society movement and communities must wage ceaseless ideological and political struggle against them and win over broader circles of the poor masses to the working class worldview for socialism. 


This requires organisation and campaigns within different countries and internationally. Never before has the need for building an alternative to the tripartite alliance in South Africa been so urgent. And in our different countries, we should have no illusion that ANC, COSATU, SACP or the directors of Shoprite, MTN and co will end xenophobia. The arduous task falls on the shoulders of the fighting working class, as the period of intensified struggle which started with the Marikana massacre deepens in South Africa. Amandla! Ngawethu!

Change and the Left in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects for the Labour Movement





                          





"...for there can be no socialist change and therefore no real freedom and democracy where there is not a large body of Marxists” – Eskor Toyo[1]
  
Introduction
A wind of change blew across Nigeria in the month of March, laden with problems and prospects for the working class, as contentious elections took place in the trade unions and the general polity. The emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the first opposition candidate to won a presidential election in the country at the end of the month was heralded all over the world as a new dawn for politics in Africa. This was particularly so as President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat before the formal declaration of results. APC also swept some 60% of the federal parliamentary seats and now controls a majority of the 36 states of the federation, after the April 11 governorship and state legislative houses elections.

Earlier in the middle of the month, a new leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was voted in, with Comrade Ayuba Wabba of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) as President. The 11th NLC National Delegates Conference had commenced on February 9, but entered a temporary stalemate during voting, three days later. Delegates of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) violently disrupted the process when casting their votes, alleging electoral malfeasance. The reconvened session of the Conference where Comrade Ayuba was elected lasted almost two days, under the klieg lights. It was roundly declared as being transparent by labour veterans, civil society activists and leaders of the international trade union movement that observed it, as well as by millions of Nigerian workers who watched it on television. Nonetheless, Comrade Joe Ajaero of the electricity workers’ union who lost in the race for president of Congress and other members of his line up still alleged irregularities and went ahead to declare a splinter NLC.

The wind of change which these elections signify is blowing at a trying time for the Nigerian state: it is near insolvent and still at war with Boko Haram. The fall in oil prices at the world market has been disastrous for the rentier state, which depends on oil for 95% of its foreign earnings. Several federal ministries and half of the 36 states of the federation owe workers backlogs of two to five months salaries. While cheekily denying that the government is broke, the Minister of Finance Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala unrolled a regime of austerity which commenced in January, albeit not full steam, obviously because of the government’s electoral pursuit for re-election whih has now failed. And despite gains made in reclaiming swathes of territories back from Boko Haram, the war in the north east is far from being over. The sect has reverted back to its earlier strategy of suicide missions and indiscriminate killings after which it melts away to reappear. 

This context buoyed the mass support for General Buhari in a people roused to the possibilities of its power by the January 2012 anti-fuel price hike revolts. It might as well be his undoing, as great expectations await satiation. It is of the utmost importance for activists to grasp what all these means for the working class and the left. This requires a perspective that enunciates the historical context of the current moment, in its evolution and the problems and prospects for building workers’ power.     

Historical overview of the left, organised labour and politics in Nigeria
Organised labour has always been central to the politics of mass resistance. This, to a great extent has involved the catalytic role of revolutionary and radical groups within the working class movement. It has however been near impossible to translate the episodic spurts of such politics from below (involving strikes and mass street protest), from fighting against the power of the ruling class to fighting for power. There are two major intertwined reasons for this. One is false hope in an elusive progressive national bourgeoisie. The other has been the failure thus far in establishing a pan-Nigerian mass workers party, with a socialist programme.

In the beginning: 1940-1969
The 1940s was a turning point, marking the beginning of anti-colonial struggle. Trades unions which began to flourish only after 1938, 50years after the first union combinations were recorded in the country, established their first federation in 1942; the Trade Union Congress. Two years later, TUC representatives attended the formation of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons by the emergent middle class nationalists. NCNC brought together a diverse array of: the students’ movement; neighbourhood political groups, and; ethno-linguistic mutual aid associations, amongst others, as a united front to struggle for Self-Government and an end to British colonial domination.

The following year, a 37-day General Strike marked a watershed of workers’ power and the struggle for Independence, deepening the collaboration of the trade union movement with the middle class nationalists. Attempts by some working class activists who had been part of the leadership of this strike from below[2] such as F.O Coker to establish an independent labour party were rebuffed, even by leading trade unionists like Michael Imoudu, the Labour Leader “Number One”, called upon to lead the party. Under the influence of the nationalists, they called for unity with the middle class NCNC.

The response of the British colonialist to the resurgence of popular resistance that the strike signified was the 1945 Richards constitution, which enthroned regionalism. This was with the intent of stealing the winds of struggle from below, from the sails of pan-Nigerian nationalism. It was not unsuccessful. It signalled the beginning of ethno-regional mobilisation by different sections of the then emerging local ruling class, as they sought to win and keep political power. As the petite-bourgeois turned inwards to primordial platforms and sentiments, the labour movement became of far less importance as a “partner”.

The 1951 Macpherson constitution entrenched regionalism and with it, the middle class’ promotion of identity politics along ethnic lines, particularly as the constitutional process made it clear that the British where ready to leave sooner than later, without the kind of monumental upheaval from below that it would have needed organised labour to adequately pursue. The trade union movement itself had become factionalised. Initially in 1948, this was along the lines of those who supported continued affiliation to the NCNC. Subsequently it took on the lines of “communists” and “moderates”, with the split of the pro-Western International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) from what had become a pro-Moscow Word Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

There was a moment of unity in 1950 with the formation of the (first) Nigeria Labour Congress on May 26. The influence of the WFTU and particularly the ICFTU was as then not yet felt and with this, the division at the international level had not yet impacted on the Nigerian trade union movement. It was the split of 1948 that was healed. The NLC also provided what was probably the most glorious moment of the trade union movement’s venturing into partisan politics. It forged a united front of parties which included the NCNC and ran for elections in Lagos, winning 18 seats, of which 4 were won by radical trade unionists. This was however that bright moment of twilight which led to a night on the margins for radical in the labour movement that lasted a decade.

A stratum of youth who had been active in the labour movement (and the radical nationalist Zikist Movement) in the 1940s became the nucleus of a turn to Marxism in the 1950s. These included; Nduka Eze, Gogo Chu Nzeribe, Mayirue Kolagbodi, Eskor Toyo and Baba Omojola. They would become involved for decades in the labour movement, particularly the trade union centres with roots in socialist traditions. They also played central roles severally, in a number of failed efforts to form Left parties such as the Convention Peoples Party, Nigeria Peoples Party, United Working Peoples Party (seen by many as a radical extension of the Action Group) and the Nigerian Communist Party between 1949 and the advent of Independence on October 1, 1960.

These parties were miniscule groups of revolutionary intellectuals, a number of who had ties with the working class movement, but which were formed outside of the mass pulse of the working class itself. They were also based mainly in Lagos and to a limited extent in some cities within the Western and Eastern regions, in the south of the country. The two major parties in the south in the wake of Independence (NCNC in the East and AG in the West) had a sizeable number of Leftists. They both laid claim to some veneer of commitment to “non-communist” socialism, demonstrating the influence of radical views despite the weaknesses of the socialist movement. The NCNC committed itself to “pragmatic socialism”, while the social-democratic Action Group (at its 1962 Jos Conference) declared for “democratic socialism”.

Leftist parties based on a populist appeal to peasants and the “pueblo” or talakawas in Hausa, flourished in the Northern region, despite the conservative leviathan that the dominant Northern Peoples Congress was. The most significant of these was the Northern Elements Progressives Union (NEPU) with a strong base in Kano on the platform of its “anti-feudalist” Sawaba (Freedom) Decalaration, with which it was committed to establishing a “people-oriented” state. In the North East was the Borno Youth Movement and in the far North West, the Zamfara Commoners Front. Despite the relative weaknesses of the socialist Left, the colonial state witch hunted “communists”. Private sector employers did same and in some instances refused to negotiate with unions like Nduka Eze’s UNAMAG because they were controlled by “communists”. The British also supported the NPC’s attacks against radicals who had ties with “communists” in the south.

Dawn of Independence: 1960-1966
The sharp contradictions of neo-colonial Nigeria on the heels of Independence appeared to present greater opportunities for Left politics rooted in the working masses, including the formation of a mass-based workers party. This was despite the continuation of continued anti-Communist scare by the new indigenous bourgeoisie. The first step in this direction was establishing the Nigeria Youth Congress in 1960. The NYC rose to national prominence when it led a series of protests against the killing of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo to the embassies of the United States and Belgium, in Lagos. In August 1963, NYC and the Nigeria Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which aspired to be a centre of “revolutionary trade unions”, midwived the formation of the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party (SWAFP). This Marxist-Leninist party has been the largest and most significant party with an explicitly socialist programme in the country’s history, thus far.

SWAFP claimed it had about 20,000 members, while pro-CIA sources put this at just 1,000. This author would safely place the actual figures at about 5,000 based on interviews with some SWAFP veterans, years back. A study in the 1960s by Robert Melson, an American journalist also established that there were at least a thousand Marxists as union executives from the shop-floor to the national level, particularly in affiliates of NTUC. Most of these were most likely SWAFP members. The party also published Advance a weekly newspaper, with support from Moscow.

The roots of SWAFP’s popularity within the working class, however, lies more in the mood of mass disenchantment with the bosses, with worsening living conditions, rampant elite corruption and a series of intra-ruling class conflict which de-legitimised whatever hegemony the bosses had clobbered together with primordial cement holding the blocks of post-colonial hope. This had thrown up sharp working class resistance with a flurry of strikes by the 300,000 workers organised in unions, climaxing in the 2-week general strike of about 800,000 workers, in June 1964. On the heels of the general strike, a festering feud in SWAFP resulted in a split, with the formation of the Nigeria Labour Party led by Michael Imoudu in August 1964. Eskor Toyo, Mayirue Kolagbodi, Baba Omojola and Ola Oni, were its leading lights.

The showing of SWAFP during the parliamentary elections in December 1964 and March 1965 (in some regions and constituencies, due to a boycott in 1964) was not as impressive as its activists had imagined. SWAFP contested in the Western, Eastern and Mid-Western regions all in the south; while in the Northern region where it was weak, it supported the Northern Progressive Front. It had 1,530 of the 1,437, 429 votes cast in the Western region and 676 of the 410, 841 from the Mid-Western region in December 1964. And in March 1965, it received 18,141 of the 1, 549, 659 votes cast in the Eastern Region elections, where it had its best showing in Enugu, the regional headquarters with 540 votes cast for it, out of 14,765.    

The Left could not mobilise the working class to win an alternative pathway out of the morass of flag Independence. Its attempt to rouse the trade unions into a political strike in 1964, as part of the boycott by the United Progressive Grand Alliance of the NCNC, AG and other opposition parties, failed abysmally. But the internal contradictions of the First Republic did it in. A gale of violence, election boycotts and palpable tension followed the 1964/65 elections as re-alignments of different sections of the ruling class threw up alliances and coalitions that went for each other’s jugular. On January 15, 1966, the Republic was overthrown by radical middle-level officers, a sizeable number of whom, quite incidentally, were Igbos[3]. Their coup was defeated before it was consummated and a seemingly synchronized drama of the macabre played itself out with the Senate President handing over power to the most senior military officer General Aguiyi Ironsi, to maintain law and order.

Six months later, after a pogrom of the Igbos and the condemnation of Ironsi’s proposed panacea of a unitary government as nothing but a veiled attempt to establish Igbo hegemony, by highly placed Northern politicians and even such populist activists as Mallam Aminu Kano, the leader of NEPU, a counter coup by army officers of Northern extraction set the stage for a 30-month civil war in which over 2 million people were killed.

Civil War and the first military interregnum: 1966-1975
The different factions of the Left gave cautious “patriotic” support to the military, after the 1966 coups because of its routing of anti-people civilian bosses! The Left’s response to the Civil War was equally largely based on “patriotism”, thus splitting most socialists along the lines of the ethno-regional identities behind which the different sections of the ruling class sent working people to the killing fields of a fratricidal war. Of those within the territories of the federation, it was mainly those from the NLP which by then had dissolved that maintained a clearly working class position that the ruling class on both sides should be held responsible for the war, calling for a workers’ alternative. On the Biafran side, a Biafran Communist Party was formed which supported the secessionist government’s war bid, collaborating with the Biafran government in developing its propaganda machinery. The Four Year National Development Plan after the war (1970-74) was also welcomed as a step in the right direction towards the National Democratic Revolution.

The trade unions expanded in size, with (and at a higher rate than) the increased number of workers employed in both the public and private sectors (by threefold between 1955 and 1968). Trade dispute decrees made strikes illegal in the late 1960s, being deemed inimical to the war efforts by the state. But there were still a number of strike actions, most of these being from below. After the war, there was an avalanche of strike actions for enhanced wages and improved working conditions which saw to the formation of the United Coordinating Committee of Central Labour Organisations. This was the background to the “Udoji Award” of 1974 which trebled the take home pay of workers in the public sector, leading subsequently to near commensurate increases for those in the private sector as well.

The gap between Left influence on the working class between the south and the north of the country continued into the early 1970s. NTUC[4] which claimed no less than 250,000 members in not less than 209 affiliates had regional offices in every major city in the south, but only in Kaduna in the north. And this was less integrated into the NTUC traditions, being the only one which never sold either the NTUC or SWAFP newspapers.

Infighting within SWAFP (along the lines of those rooted in NTUC, arrayed with Wahab Goodluck, Ibidapo Fatogun and S.U. Bassey and the ex-NYC cadres of Tunji Otegbeye and Kunle Oyero) also hindered its growth as effectively a semi-underground party, at a time it faced attacks from the state, including the detention of two of its key leaders[5] for fifteen months in 1971/72. All political parties had been dissolved after the first coup. The NLP had itself self-dissolved. Some of its members, worked with the state as officials of the All Africa Peace and Solidarity Organisation, serving as radical faces the state’s gradual turn to Africa as the “centrepiece” of its foreign policy. Others, like Baba Omojola, Ola Oni and Eskor Toyo remained steadfast in their commitment to a critique of the system and organising to change it.

Their efforts in this direction crystallised in the Movement for a Progressive Nigeria that initiated the call for a series of All-Nigeria Socialist Conference sin 1977 and 1978 when the ban on partisan politics thawed and was then lifted towards the reinstatement of a Republic in 1979. The ivory towers also became once more, a fortress for the Left, particularly those of the ex-NLP traditions such as Ola Oni who helped form the Nigerian Academy of Arts, Science and Technology established by Ola On and his disciples, which published the 1974 Nigerian People’s Manifesto. The Academy contributed significantly to a radicalisation of the university teachers union resulting in its first strike in 1973, as part of the strike wave of that moment. The same year, Oni also helped found the Patriotic Youth Movement, as a network of radical and revolutionary students’ unionists’ organisations and cells, across the country.

There are a few important issues to note during this period of “Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation”, regarding the expansion of socialist ideas and organisations in the academia. First, while there were only four universities in the 1960s, the state, awash with petro-dollars built about a dozen new (“second generation”) universities in the ‘70s. Study groups sprung up across campuses, with periodicals such as The Vanguard, Ife Dialogue, Nsukka Scope, Struggle, Forward, and Theory and Practice. Second, there was a renewed upsurge of nationalism, in the wake of the defeat of secessionism in the East, this blended with a flourishing of Pan-African ideas in support of the struggles in Rhodesia and the Portuguese colonies. Third, the state relaxed its explicitly anti-communist rhetoric considering the support it got from Russia and the East bloc during the Civil War, tolerating the flurry of “Friendship and Cultural Associations” with Cuba, Bulgaria, Soviet Union etc. Fouth, social inequality grew apace with the increase in national wealth from the oil boom. Indigenisation decrees helped to make it clearer that the enemy was very much native, within the context of the turn to Underdevelopment Theory as the dominant paradigm of the Left’s analysis. 

Towards reinstating the republic; repression, incorporation and resistance: 1975-1980
Meanwhile, in the trade union movement, there was a growing mood for unity. Joint struggles had forged ties between shop stewards as well as regional organisers and national leaders. During the burial of S.O. Oduleye the leader of one of the four national trade union centres at Apena cemetery on September 21, 1973, an agreement was reached for them to come together as one central labour organisation. Subsequent to this, a Steering Committee was constituted; the name “Nigeria Labour Congress” which was a throwback to the first attempt at forging unity in 1950 was adopted. The Moscow-aligned NTUC, the Peking-oriented Labour Unity Front, the ICFTU-affiliated United Labour Congress of Nigeria, and the World Federation of Labour-related Nigeria Workers’ Council dissolved to form the NLC on December 18-19, 1975.

In the period leading to the inauguration of the (2nd) NLC, the “Agege deal” was struck, regarding slating for leadership, in an attempt to get as many leaders of the four centres on board. This resulted in an over 100-person national executive body! But even this was not enough to get everybody satisfied. Those who felt short changed (and they were from all the centres) constituted themselves into a body of “democrats” demanding the jettisoning of the “Agege deal” and a probe of the finances of the four centres.

Unfortunately, some rapport had been established between segments of the Left and the Federal Military Government, particularly that of the General Murtala Mohammed-led junta. This was borne out of illusions in “military vanguardism”. The Murtala Mohammed regime had stood up to the United Kingdom and United States, dismissing Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic shuttles on whom to support in the raging wars in Mozambique and particularly Angola. The government also deployed resources to the anti-apartheid cause in South Africa, making Nigeria a frontline state despite being in West Africa. British Petroleum was nationalised and became African Petroleum. It was within this context that the “democrats” (particularly those on the Left amongst them) felt comfortable to get the listening ear of the state.

They however lost sight of the fact that the primary concern of the state is always the defence of the interests of the ruling class. A radical, strong and united trade union movement does not fit into such body of interests. On December 4, 1975, just two weeks before the slated date for the inauguration of the NLC, the Federal Military Government issued its “New Labour Policy”. The thrust of this was that it would foist “guided democracy” on the trade unions, representing “limited intervention”. Several delegates that came for the inauguration were arrested on arrival. The Conference went on all the same. But, General Henry Adefowope, the Federal Commissioner of Labour who represented the state at the opening ceremony read out a riot act: the state would look into the affairs of organised labour and reorganise it.

A few months later, just before General Mohammed was assassinated in a failed coup d’état, on Friday, February 13, 1976, the Justice Duro Adebiyi Panel of Inquiry into the affairs of the four labour centres was constituted. Different levels of financial malfeasance were established against leading unionists in each of these. Eleven leading labour leaders, being the cream of the trade unions across board were banned for life from taking part in trade union activities as a result of the Panel’s report. On February 28, 1978, the inaugural conference of the (3rd) NLC was held at Ibadan. The state did all it could, as part of its incoporationist strategy to get a candidate that would be more pliable to the ruling class elected, but this was to no avail. Comrade Hassan Adebayo Hassan, a protégé of Wahab Goodluck who had been President of the PWD workers’ union affiliate of NTUC won.

While it lost its attempt at curtailing the might of social movements from below before handing over power to the civilian wing of the ruling class, through co-optation, the Federal Military Government managed to secure the same ends with the studentry, through repression. The National Union of Nigerian Students was banned in April 1978, after a massive wave of lecture boycotts and demonstrations, protesting cuts in the funding of tertiary schools. The task of maintaining a national network of the students’ movement fell on the PYMN which formed a loose National Organisation of Nigerian Students. 

Towards legitimising the republic it was trying to reinstate though, there were further efforts at incorporating the Left in drafting the republic’s constitution. It was in this light that two leading radical historians were included, as individuals in the 50-man Constitution Drafting Committee; Dr Segun Osoba from University of Ife and Dr Bala Usman Yusuf from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. They came up with a Minority Report which was not even submitted to the Constituent Assembly when summoned. But they succeeded in including social and economic rights to; education, good health, housing and employment in the constitution, as State Objectives, in the main report. The state however still chopped off its pound of flesh: these were made non-justiciable. Those clauses have remained elements of subsequent constitutions, albeit still remaining non-justiciable.

This contradictory context set the stage for the 1977/78 1st and 2nd All-Nigeria Socialist Conferences, meant to forge unity of the Left for popular struggle in the then forthcoming bourgeois democratic era. In this regard, it was not at all successful. There were two trends at the Conference. On one hand were those who, resting on a two stage theory opined that the country was on the verge of a National Democratic Revolution and socialists had to ally with the progressive national bourgeoisie. At the fore of this was S.G. Ikoku who had been the General Secretary of the Action Group. On the other hand was the dominant view, which called for an independent party of the working class that would be involved in, but not limited to electioneering politics.

While still standing by the NDR thesis it averred that the different sections of the bourgeoisie had in 17 years of Independence demonstrated the inability of the bourgeoisie as a whole to provide leadership for the NDR. Ikoku and his acolytes walked out of the conference. But despite the congruity of perspectives, the Conference was not successful in its aim: uniting the revolutionary Left in a socialist party. In the aftermath of the Conferences, two parties emerged; the Socialist Working People’s Party (SWPP), with roots in the SWAFP traditions and the Socialist Party of Workers, Farmers and Youth, which later became known simply as the Socialist Workers Party, colloquially, its leading lights were from the NLP formation.

Organised labour and the left in the 2nd republic: 1979-1983
However, the military government introduced the registration of parties as a prerequisite for partisan engagement. It registered only five parties: the Unity Party of Nigeria (a reincarnation of the AG), the National Party of Nigeria (a new improved pan-Nigerian version of the NPC), the Nigeria People’s Party (not unlike the NCNC), the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (a breakaway from the NPP during its formative stage) and the Peoples Redemption Party (a rebirth of NEPU). The two Marxist-Leninist parties were shut out and operated in the 1980s as clandestine bodies.

Entryism was pursued, mainly by the SWP for a brief period when it entered the UPN. A number of non-aligned socialists like Ebenezer Babatope also threw in their lot with the UPN. Mallam Aminu Kano’s PRP was however the party of choice for most Leftists who in practice took up the tactic of entryism despite winning the case against it at Zaria in 1977, after the Marxist-Leninist parties were not registered, albeit for different reasons. These included Michael Imoudu, Eskor Toyo and Eddie and Bene Madunagu. The party won control of two states in the north before splintering as its rightwing won influence. It was the faction that maintained the electoral umpire’s recognition for the 1983 elections.

As a whole, the electoral politics of the Second Republic was in so many ways like that of the First, repackaged and worse. The old tales of corruption, electoral malfeasance and violence, took on added vengeance. Religion-as-politics had also been added to the earlier gamut of ethno-regional identity politics of the 1960s. As in 1966, the military stepped in again on December 31, 1983 in the wake of the August 1983 disputed elections where the ruling NPN claimed a “landslide” victory.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, now surreptitiously led by the SWPP[6] raised the tempo of struggle against austerity measures introduced by the NPN government with its Economic Stabilization Act of 1981. It had earlier issued the Workers Charter of Demands in February 1980. One of the key demands of the charter was for the institutionalisation of national minimum wage legislation. Congress also specifically demanded a N3000 minimum wage, based on a cost of living analysis. After barely two days of a general strike in May 1981 the federal government reached a compromise with the unions. A N150 minimum wage was signed. The rising profile of organised labour as the leading social force against austerity, and a lodestone for change-seeking elements in the country gave the state a serious cause for concern. It decided to take the battle back into the ranks of the trade union movement.

In 1981 when the 2nd National Delegates Conference held in Kano, a new body of “democrats” different from that of 1975/76 emerged in open collaborators with the state. After Hassan Summonu defeated David Ojeli who had been his deputy in 1978-81, Ojeli and his caucus (most of whom had been active in the ULCN), constituted a “Committee of Democratic Trade Unions” (CDTU), as a first step to breaking away from the NLC. This was similar to earlier strategies of forming new trade union centres. In the run up to the 2nd NDC, this caucus had continuously ranted against the radicalism of Summonu and the “progressives”. This was after an earlier attempt to balkanize NLC through a bill sponsored by Senators Ibrahim Dimis and Mahmud Waziri in the National Assembly had equally failed. It became obvious to the “democrats” that breaking away would make them near irrelevant in the scheme of things. So, they and their puppeteers decided to sit-in and bid their time.

The students’ movement equally rose from the ashes of proscription, forming the National Association of Nigerian Students in June 1980. Socialist traditions once again took on added steam on the campuses. Collaboration between radical lecturers and students was rife in consolidating on the old movement traditions and in building new forms of “mass democratic organisations”. One of the emergent “mass democratic organisations” at this point in time was the Women In Nigeria (WIN), formed at ABU Zaria in the early 1980s, by both students and lecturers. It represented the introduction of radical feminism into the repertoire of Left politics.

The dominant work of the Left in this context, generally speaking, was not surprisingly outside that of partisan politics. In fact, the republic was described as “fascistic” after its mowing down of over 300 peasants who resisted the building of a dam by an Italian firm in Bakolori, Sokoto state (where President Shehu Shagari also hailed from). Combined with the deadly operations of the anti-riot Mobile Police Force it formed (otherwise known as “kill and go”) and the attack on the livelihoods of the working masses, there was a general feeling on the Left of a need to re-organise on the demands for democratic rights, despite being under a civilian regime.

This led to the formation of an Alliance for Democratic Rights, which brought together the NLC, NANS, WIN and other organisations and activists in what was then considered as the “mass democratic organisations” movement. It was meant to be a broad platform of struggle that would challenge a bourgeois democratic regime that showed the very limitations of the bosses’ democracy with an agenda of popular democracy expressed as a body of democratic rights.

The second military interregnum and a diarchy: 1983-1993
ADR was still at its formative stage when the military struck in 1983. Strangely enough though, it was then disbanded. This was ostensibly due to security concerns as the military regime banned all forms of politicking. There is however basis to belief that military vanguardist illusion in several quarters of the Left as demonstrated by the support they initially gave to the Generals Muhamadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon-led junta’s agenda of nationalism, patriotism and discipline. This was despite the junta’s rabid attacks on democratic rights.

The Nigeria Medical Association and Nigeria Bar Association were suppressed. NANS was banned after students demonstrated against the removal of meal subsidies as part of a regime of sharp cuts to the funding of public education. Decrees 2 and 4 became new faces of a merciless dictatorship. The former allowed for detention without trial or even any reason whatsoever provided for such, while the former allowed for journalists to be arrested for publishing anything the powers that be considered to be in bad taste. Politicians active in the 2nd republic were jailed indiscriminately as being corrupt. A “War Against Indiscipline” was waged relentlessly against Nigerians with soldiers whipping persons that did not join the queue at bus stops and civil servants being made to frog jump if they arrived to the office late, even if this was by five minutes. Nigerians danced on the streets when the Buhari junta was overthrown.

General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who was Chief of Army Staff under Buhari led a palace coup on August 27, 1986 and became the first military “president” of the federation. The story of Nigeria cannot be told without this “evil genius” as he once described himself, occupying a significant albeit despicable place. 

His twin programmes of economic and political liberalisation set the context for the evolution of the labour movement. These, were part and parcel of a global process of what is often described as the Washington Consensus. At the heart of his economic programme was the Structural Adjustment Programme and his political programme was an ever unending political transition programme with what the radical president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun described as having a “hidden agenda”. But “IBB” as Babangida is generally called did not unravel his intent without recourse to decoy. But decoys these were, which showed where the working masses stood on both cardinal points. But these helped document the view from below, for pposterity.

The Buhari regime had turned down an IMF loan due to its conditionalities. IBB organised a national debate supposedly to decide on collecting loans from the IMF with attendant conditions, or not. The response was a resounding NO. He however did much more than that with SAP which he introduced and falsely described as being “home grown”. He also set up a “Political Bureau” which organised a national debate on the political direction Nigerians would want for the country. The answer was simple from across the country: SOCIALISM. The Bureau’s report was suppressed and Newswatch shutdown for publishing it as news scoop.

It was not long before the junta bared its fangs. It had lifted the ban on NANS and even invited it into the Political Bureau. But the association was proscribed again in May 1986 after a wave of student protests rocked the country following the killing “only five students” on the 25th in ABU, as the then Vice Chancellor and now a leading official of the Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi put it. NLC leaders were arrested after they declared a strike in solidarity with the students for June 4. The state did not stop at this. Through Vice Chancellors in some of the most militant universities, violent confraternities that used to be at each other’s throats were forged into neo-fascist alliances to attack students, and break demonstrations. The sharpest example of this was the “Operation Zero Option” at the University of Nigeria Nsukka which issued out a contract for the heads of leading students’ leaders who had escaped arrest and consequent jailing in 1986-88.

Beyond solidarity with students and other groups which faced repression under the regime, the trade unions were roused to confrontation with the state when in the public sector, wages were frozen and an embargo placed on employment. A critique of SAP was also sustained through publications like the pamphlet titled Nigeria is Not for Sale. With this background, the state prepared grounds for proscribing NLC by funding a faction led by Takai Shamang of the electricity workers union NUEE, which was a major union within the so-called Committee of Democratic Trade Unions formed in 1981 or as they were simply called by then, the “democrats”[7].

It organised a parallel National Delegates Conference when it became clear that it was defeated by Ali Chiroma of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, who was seeking a second term in office. With the pretext that NLC was divided and this posed a danger to national security, the state immediately banned Congress. Soldiers and anti-riot police took over the Labour house in Lagos before its elected officers could return from the National Delegates Conference in Benin, and put a sole administrator in charge. He ran Congress for some months.

When the NDC would be reconvened at the end of the year, the “great compromise of 1988” was reached. The “progressives” and “democrats” decided to sheath their swords in the hope that this would ensure that NLC would never be proscribed again. Essentially this meant surrender by the Left within the unions. It also signified the beginning of the end for the SWAFP-SWPP tendency of Marxism-Leninism that the duo of Ibidapo Fatogun and Wahab Omorilewa Goodluck (“IF & WOG”) had with S.U.Bassey and other activists built for decades as the dominant Left influence within the trade union movement. The rise and fall of perestroika and the deaths of first WOG on the eve of the Yanayev coup, after a long drawn illness and then IF a few months later marked the eventual end, more or less, of what started with the 1988 compromise. A handful of the disciples they left still consider themselves as heirs of a Communist Party of Nigeria (COMPON). But sadly enough, despite the selflessness and commitment of these men, COMPON has no followership beyond the dozen veterans that constitute it.

But during this same period, re-alignments within the broad left and the emergence of new trends marked the setting for what is today the mosaic of radical and revolutionary groups and tendencies. The Socialist Congress of Nigeria (SCON) was formed in Sokoto, with several collectives that had been very active across campuses as individual study groups which interacted pooling together mainly radical lecturers, student activists and revolutionary-minded professionals. Barely weeks after, the Working People’s Liberation Movement was also formed, this time in Ilorin. WPLM or simply PLM as it would later be called equally included a number of student activists but less university teachers. It however could also claim a surer foothold, even if still tenuous as well, in the working class movement. The following year, it merged with groups like Eskor Toyo’s Directorate for Mass Literacy and Ola Oni’s Labour Education Research Centre, as well as Baba Omojola, to form the Socialist Revolutionary Vanguard (SRV). SRV could thus in a sense be considered as a re-invigorated continuation of the NLP (-SWP) traditions.

Trotskyism also had a rebirth, represented by the founding conference of the Labour Militant supporters in 1987. A Trotsyist group had been established in the country in the 1950s by a few Nigerians who had been active in Healy’s Socialist Labour League as students in the United Kingdom. Its half hearted turn to arms after the 1964 general strike had been its death knell. Baba Omojola had also worked closely with Earnest Mandel whilst studying at LSE often describing himself as a Trotsyist[8], but never attempted to build a Trotsyist group in the country. It was young disciples of Ola On drawn mainly from the Polytechnic Ibadan and Unife[9] that took up the daunting task. These included Muyiwa Oshikoya, Kunle Bakare, Femi Aborisade, Lanre Arogundade, Rotimi Ewebiyi Segun Sango and Remi Ogunlana.

As orthodox Trotskyism found its feet International Socialism around the ideas of Tony Cliff of the Socialist Workers Party in the United Kingdom also won a few adherents. The centre of its influence was at the College of Education Ila-Oragun in the old Oyo State, with activists organised as the Awareness Movement led by Comrade Ranti. It published a cyclostyled periodical Small Axe, which was probably inspired by Cliff’s view that: “better to be a sharp small axe than a big blunt one”[10].

By the end of the decade, Anarchism as well had a foothold in the University of Nigeria Nsukka where the Awareness League was formed. It claimed to organise thousands of members in its publications, but as I pointed out to a number of Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalist friends outside Nigeria, this was definitely not true. It however did have some very brilliant thinkers which included the iconoclastic fine artist Olu Oguibe and its leader Sam Mbah, who died recently.

While the Left had been at the fore of struggle for human rights, it had not been itself a central element of socialists’ narrative, being corollary to the arguably more fundamental issue of overthrowing the system. It is thus not strange that it was liberal activists who initiated the turn to human rights politics, with the formation of the Civil Liberties Organisation in October 1987 by a trio of lawyers: Olisa Agbakoba, Clement Nwankwo and Mike Ozekhome. The Left however latched onto this opening. Most of the staffers of the CLO were socialists. Two years later, the “Free Femi Aborisade Committee”[11]was transformed into the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights.

The earliest rumblings of what would become mighty waves of struggle in the Niger Delta could also be traced to this period. This came in the form of the establishment of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. As with the human rights movement, its initiators were liberal democrats, keen on making the system better and not overthrowing it. But later, the Left would seize control of the movement in the Niger Delta only to lose it to buccaneering adventurers. But that was to come much later.

The different twists and turns of the political transition programme was a central element in determining the Left response to the military regime. When it called for party formations in 1989, socialists including Eskor Toyo and Ola Oni mobilised around the country for the formation of a labour party. The NLC organised a symposium at Calabar in May where the issue was roundly discussed. Bola Ige was there representing the Peoples Salvation Party formed by social-democrats as an inheritor of sorts of the Action Group. Very much like S.G. Ikoku at the 1st All-Nigeria Socialist Conference 12 years earlier, he urged workers to embrace the liberal bourgeoisie, rather than form a workers’ party due to the challenges of electoral politics which includes funding and “structures”. Eventually, this approach was turned down and the Nigeria Labour Party was formed. On the sidelines of the symposium, a short lived All-Nigeria Socialist Alliance was equally formed.

This was the first time that the trade union movement as a whole was forming a political party and this was in truth and indeed a pan-Nigerian party. When the state would assess the parties formed, NLP was adjudged as being one of the two most organised with presence across the length and breadth of the country. But it all came to nought. The military government decreed the 13 provisionally registered parties and set up the “a little to the right” National Republican Party and the “a little to the left” Social Democratic Party. Fractions of the Left and the trade unions threw in their lots with the SDP, warts and all. ANSA which was supposed to have coordinated Left intervention within the NLP and beyond atrophied.

But continued manoeuvrings of the IBB junta regarding the transition programme and the continued attacks on the civil and economic rights of the working masses heightened disillusionment in the junta’s rule and threw up scenes of mass resistance from below. The watershed of this before 1993 was the anti-SAP revolt of 1989 (which inspired the formation of the May 31st Movement). Coming shortly after the riots of May 1988 against increase in the pump price of petroleum products (which would later become perennial: increment and mass resistance), the different Left currents and liberals who were being further radicalised by the turns of events were convinced of the need for unity to better wage a struggle against military dictatorship.

This resulted in the formation of the Campaign for Democracy in November 1991. All the left groups[12], WIN, MOSOP, NANS and some state councils of the NLC participated in the CD’s founding Conference. The politics of CD was informed not only by the antics of IBB, but as well by the changing situation globally. This was at a time that “communism” had collapsed and the wind of Sovereign National Conferences was blowing the narrative of democratisation across Africa. The three cardinal tasks CD thus set itself were: forcing the military to abdicate; establishing a “mass-based” provisional government, which would convoke; a Sovereign National Conference. Twice though, CD would declare its intent to convoke the SNC itself, on behalf of the people; in October 1992 and February 1993. On both occasions, this was just mere hot air as it did not have the mass followership to be able to even begin to take concrete steps towards carrying out these declarations. Things changed after the June 12, 1993 presidential election was annulled.

The June 12 years of revolution and counter-revolution: 1993-99
The “June 12 struggle” could be said to have changed Nigeria. Before the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Campaign for Democracy had called for a boycott. However it was only in Ogoni land that MOSOP with its mass followership ensured a boycott. But once the election was annulled the Left, through CD gave leadership to the mass upsurge of resistance. It was if you will, the country’s “National Democratic Revolution”, illustrating the illusion which such stagiest approach to social change amounts to in practice. It set the context for what the contents of the Fourth Republic turned out to be, and thus deserves in depth analysis for understanding the current situation.

1993-1994: Heady Days of Uprising
On Saturday June 12, 1993, 14,293,396 Nigerians cast their votes, in a bid to peacefully send the soldiers back to the barracks. Polls collated from the polling units indicated that the SDP had 8,341,309 votes (58.36%) while the NRC scored 5,952,087 (41.64%) votes. The SDP candidate was MKO Abiola, while that of the NRC was Bashir Tofa. Eleven days after, with an unsigned and undated statement circulated by Nduka Irabor (Chief Press Secretary to the Vice-President and ex-victim of Decree No 4!), the elections were annulled. The grounds for this had been prepared even before the elections, when the nefarious Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for a Better Nigeria had “secured” a judgment from Justice Bassey Ikpeme’s court at 9.30pm on June 10, to stop the elections. Justice Dahiru Saleh subsequently also declared the election a nullity.

The FG latched on to this contrived situation to claim that “no responsible or responsive government will watch its judiciary built on sound and solid foundation to be tarnished by the insatiable political desire of a few” It also alleged the “offer and acceptance of money and other forms of inducement” against officials of NEC. The junta believed that it could get away with the annulment as it had with the earlier aborted bus-stops on the road of its transition. This however was one moving of the goalposts during a match, too many; all hell was let loose as the masses unleashed their pent-up anger against the military overlords.

The revolutionary upsurge of the masses started on July 5, though there had earlier been several spontaneous outbursts after the annulment. On that day, over one million Nigerians heeded the clarion call of Campaign for Democracy for a protest march to Abiola’s house. There are two important issues to point out with regards to this historical day, in the June 12 revolution. One, CD was expecting at most ten thousand people for the march (it had initially wanted to settle for a candlelight night!) The second crucial point to note is that MKO at first refused to address the masses -his personal assistants said: “baba is tired and sleeping, he would not like to be disturbed”- this was despite the fact that he was informed well ahead of time. It was much later that we would know why he was tired and sleeping; MKO had just gotten back from an overnight meeting with Babangida, trying to resolve their differences.

What was the stand of organized labour at this critical hour in the country’s history? NLC had given full support to the SDP bid. On June 10, the Labour Political Commission had issued a directive stating: “For the avoidance of doubt, the National Labour Political Commission restates that Labour ‘s support for the SDP is not in question and still stands . Therefore, all workers are expected to vote the party’s presidential candidate at the forthcoming presidential election”. The CWC met on June 28, but was divided on the extent of action organized labour was to take against the annulment. This led to Unilag students sacking the NLC secretariat at Yaba and the abduction of its Head of Information department, Malam Salisu Mohammed, when they could not get the President, Paschal Bafyau. Its NEC meeting of July 14 & 15 at Port Harcourt, asked the FGN to roll back its annulment and call on the Electoral Commission‘s Chair Humphrey Nwosu, to announce the results.

When in August the military junta announced that it would set-up an Interim National Government (with the active connivance of the leadership of the SDP) and increase the pump price of petrol from 70 kobo to 7 naira, NLC summoned another NEC meeting, this time at Enugu. Congress re-affirmed its earlier position, but with the rider that the junta could hand over to the Senate President on August 27, if it chose not to de-annul the elections, rather than hand over to an ING that had no place in the 1989 constitution.

The IBB junta remained adamant until as the fires of revolution it had unwittingly stoked consumed it: ignominiously “stepping aside” on August 26, amidst civil disobedience championed by CD. The Central Working Committee of Congress met on August 27. In its communiqué it noted that: “changes in the administration of the country have not led to a return to constitutionalism”. It further observed that the ING “comprising principal actors of the Transition Council” could hardly move the nation forward, based on the failure of the council to meet its set objectives of; “revamping the economy; improving the wellbeing of Nigerians and; successfully concluding the transition programme”. It thus directed Nigerians “to stay at home with effect from Saturday, 28th August 1993 until further notice” stating that “the action is on the twin issue of democracy…and the 971.43 percent increase in the price of petrol”.

The ING sent a presidential jet to pick 23 labour leaders for a negotiation on the strike, at Abuja. It had been resolved upon that the delegation led by the Mr Bafyau would report back to CWC in Lagos before a decision would be taken. This it did, but the views of most members of the delegation was upheld by the CWC- in- session and to the dismay of working people, youths and the poor who sought socio-political change and hung their fate on organized labour, the strike was called-off. The rationale was the beggarly-philosophy of collective bargaining that since one of the two demands presented (that on fuel price hike, which turned out to be a trick!) had been partially met; a compromise could be reached with the powers that be. Oil workers however refused to return to work. Thus while NLC had ordered for work-resumption, there were no vehicles (since there was no fuel in the petrol stations) to take workers to work. CD activists also continued agitation and mobilization in the neighborhoods. At this point in time, the working people began losing confidence in their traditional organizations, paving the way for the rise of pro-democratic groups to the fore of June 12, revolution.

Meanwhile, MKO who had earlier asserted that: “August 27, 1993, shall be the terminal date of military dictatorship in Nigeria. Nigerians through their democratic decision of June 12, 1993, expect me to assume the reins of government. I fully intend to keep that date with history”, had sneaked out of the country like a thief in the night for what would be a 53-day sojourn with the imperialist masters in London and the United State of North America, before his assumed “date with history”! The drama was however just unfolding.

As with every revolution, practice melted the dross of “theory”, struggles on the battlefield were spurred and spurred struggles on method and strategy. Alliances, tactical and strategic, progressive and profane, were made and were broken. One of such more profane alliances during the June 12 revolution was that between radical elements of pro-democracy and supposedly “progressive” bourgeois democrats in the SDP on one hand and Abacha on the other; paving the way to power for the later.

The officials of SDP (in partnership with its “a little to the right” sister; NRC), earlier sold their victory at the polls for a pot of porridge, when they took part in the negotiations for the ING which people like Olusegun Obasanjo facilitated. After Abiola returned from his sojourn on September 24 he headed for the Lagos High Court seeking an order that Decree 61 which created the ING was “null and void” and that based on DN 58 and “provisions of transition to civil rule (political programme) Act Cap 443 laws of Federation of Nigeria, 1990” he was the rightful person to “lawfully exercise executive powers of the Federation under the 1989 constitution”. At the same time he was busy having discussions with Abacha on the need for a coup by the General to bring him to power. Mind you, Abiola was not new to coups; he was reported to have given financial and political support to the earlier Buhari/Idiagbon & Babangida coups.

On November 10, despite all attempts at arm-twisting her, Justice Dolapo Akinsanya ruled that the ING was illegal. Immediately there was an upsurge of mass action. Lagos state higher institutions’ students moved to MKO Abiola crescent, but the June 12 custodian told them to go back to their schools and study for their exams. On November 17, Shonekan, head of the illegal ING was forced to resign at gun-point and thus did his “child of circumstance” regime come to an inglorious end in very curious circumstances. Its attempt at increasing petroleum products prices had stoked up fires of a General strike and mass action that made its exit very convenient. Abacha came to power with the full support of Abiola and sections of the Left. Bola Ige pointed out that they drafted the maiden speech he was to read. From day one however, it was obvious to anyone who chose to see that Abacha was no June 12 man. In his eventual maiden speech, he proscribed the National and State Houses of Assembly & the two political parties. After describing his “Provisional Ruling Council” as a “child of necessity” he threatened to deal ruthlessly with anyone who dared it. Yet the June 12 apostles still flocked into his cabinet. “Progressive” bourgeois politicians such as Jerry Gana, Jakande, Babatope, Onagoruwa Ayu, Rimi & Kingibe who had been Abiola’s running mate graced the PRC like cursed ornaments.

The June 12 crowd woke up to the realization of Abacha’s gambit by the beginning of 1994 and formed the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which gave a May 31st deadline for the Assemblies to be reinstituted. A lot of myth has been woven about NADECO and its fighting for democracy in Nigeria. Most of its leaders “fought” from foreign lands, for fear of their lives while working people and socialist activists confronted the tanks and guns of the military, dying for a victory that NADECO would claim and share the spoils of. It was in this period that Democratic Alternative was formed on June 4, 1994, as a party in defiance of the government. It was to be modeled on the lines of development of the ANC. The National Conscience, formed in March also emerged as a party of defiance on October 1, when it became the National Conscience Party.

These developments reflected sharp divisions in the Left which included the splintering of most groups including; SCON, SRV and LM. The February 4, 1994 Convention of CD was an eye opener to the events taking place within the revolutionary groups, particularly SCON which had turned out as the dominant force in the coalition that CD was. Condemning the collaboration with Abiola and co in bringing about the emergence of Abacha, Chima Ubani, as the General Secretary of CD led a walkout of what effectively became SCON II and other groups which as well were against support for any so-called “national bourgeoisie”. These constituted the core of the realignment that DA was.

The split in the Trostkyist LM was more nuanced. A minority which described itself as the Labour Militant-Marxist Bloc (LM-MB[13]) stood against any form of “critical support” for the SDP’s MKO Abiola. The alternative it proposed was one of “Neither MKO or IBB”. This was identical to the position of the M31M, leading to an alliance of sorts being established on November 21-23, 1993. This was the Campaign for Democracy. The nomenclature was proposed by the M31M flowing from the “Campaign for Workers’ Democracy” which it had committed itself to in 1991 but could not pursue practically due to the limitations of its numbers. 

The remaining chapter of the heady days of 1993-94, could be tied to the tragi-comic Epetedo declaration when on June11, Abiola declared himself President over a phantom “Government of National Unity”, went into hiding to reappear eleven days later and go back to his house where within hours he was arrested and taken to prison where he eventually died four years and fifteen days later. This ignited a series of mass actions that were to mark the end of that first phase of the June 12, revolution. Students seized the Radio Station in Delta State, broadcasting revolutionary songs and their “seizure” of power. Oil workers of both NUPENG & PENGASSAN paralyzed the country with a 72-day strike & CD mobilized a series of “sit-at-home” civil disobedience actions. Abacha quelled the mass actions jackboots, guns, and tanks, arrested Kokori and Dabibi, the oil workers leaders & his Constitutional Conference farce continued its work. NLC, ASUU & NASU were also banned as the counter-revolution barred its fangs, crippling labour to pave way for its consolidation. The counter-revolution it seemed, had at last taken the initiative from the myriad forces of the revolution.

1995-1996: Counter-revolution consolidates
1994 was the real beginning of Abacha’s despotic rule on behalf of the counter-revolution. The honeymoon at the conception of this “child of necessity” for capitalist reaction to assert itself was over. Having clipped organized labour’s wings with the banning of Congress, the oil workers unions and unions in the restless education sector, there was no need for a soothsayer to show the pro-democracy movement that the “heady days of rebellion” were probably fading out. The more successful “sit-at-home” “strikes” which CD and its affiliates mobilized for, either coincided with, or were during workers’ strikes. The campuses, garrisons for the youthful foot soldiers of the revolution, were also shut. But all these were not enough for Abacha to consolidate the strangle-hold of reaction on the upsurge of struggle for change. There were two key features that were to be prominent as devilish tactics, for the rest of his regime that began taking shape in 1994. These were; the use of death squads and the use of filthy lucre i.e. hard cash.

Probably the first attempted assassination was on August 26, when six gunmen riddled Gani Fawehinmi’s chambers with bullets resulting in two of his security guards sustaining serious injuries. That same year, Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate fled the country. An attempt was made on his life the following year in Washington D.C by Abacha’s goons. Rewane and Kudirat were not lucky as Abacha waxed strong in ‘95/96. They were killed on October 2, 1995 & June 4, 1996 respectively.

Abacha’s regime infiltrated the students’ movement with money injecting it with a terrible cash-related disease which till today it has not yet gotten over. The split of NANS on July 22, 1996 was however as well aided, even if unwittingly, by the in-fighting between progressive forces in the Association. The split within CD had played itself out somewhat in the aftermath of the May 7-8, 1994 Convention of NANS. While the PYMN coalition of Marxist-Leninist groups lost out completely, the old CWA had presence in the leadership and this led to support from the DA. NCP equally supported the NANS leadership that emerged. This mosaic of support however fell apart by 1995.

The main fish for Abacha’s cash bait were anyway, outside the campus. They were to be found in the: “five leprous fingers of the same hand” –CNC, DPN, GDM, NCPN & UNCP- described as political parties, that were all to later endorse Abacha as their “consensus” presidential candidate; collectives of vagabonds who called themselves youths -NYO, NACYN & YEAA- and vowed that there would be “no work, no sleep, no school” until Abacha made explicit his esoteric disclosure of interest to “contest” made to the Washington Post and become Nigeria’s life president; various palaces of Emirs, Obas, Igwes and the whole lot of relics of feudal lordship who should cover their faces in shame since history has shown their “divine revelations” of Abacha’s “ordained” role as president of Nigeria  for many decades to come, to be a lie; studios of dozens of musicians who waxed albums and gyrated like there would be no tomorrow at the 2-million man rally  for Abacha, and; a host of other minions, carpetbaggers, braggarts and never-do-wells that sold their senses and balls for a piece of cake.

The main source of the monies thrown around was of course, the oil wealth of Nigeria. Between 1995 and 1998 Abacha’s petroleum Trust Fund rolled in over N320 billion while oil-producing communities were repressed and Saro-wiwa was judicially murdered in November, 1995. There were also contracts and sundry means of making money circulate if that was needed for Abacha to succeed himself. This included minting money!       

The press suffered extensively during this period. Not only were several press houses shut down, imitation copies of the more radical newspapers and magazines were printed to confuse the masses. Several of the progressive magazines went underground and guerrilla journalism was invented in Nigeria by the likes of Tell and The News.  Dozens of journalists were arrested and detained, while Bagauda Kaltho was tortured and murdered.

Such were just some of the ruthless and bestial ways in which the counter-revolution re-asserted itself, consolidating reaction on the blood, liberty and sensibilities of Nigerians. It was within this context that a turn to ethno-nationalist politics was made by many segments on the Left. This started in the South West were sentiments of “marginsalisation” by Hausa-Fulani hegemony was deemed to have become manifest with the annulment of the June 12 election that a Yoruba had won.

The formation of the O’odua Youth Movement in September 1994 was largely a project of youth within the SRV. The following August, the O’odua Peoples Congress was formed as well. An ex-Trotsyist whilst studying in London, and later the presidential candidate of the 1989 NLP, Dr Frederick Fasheun emerged as its leader. It became the face of militant Yoruba nationalism from below attracting hundreds of thousands of young men and women to the banner of an ethnically-defined straggle for self-determination. Leftist youths in the Niger Delta also established the Pan-Niger Delta Resistance Congress better known as the Chikoko Movement. The state’s killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa despite his approach of non-violent struggle killed any confidence in unarmed civil disobedience. The emergence of a rash of ethnic militias without ties to the Left in the creeks and rivers equally made it near imperative for PNDC to commit itself to “armed struggle” if need be. But it never acquired the resources to pursue this path, in this period.

The vice-grip of reaction was priced open by struggle beyond those for ethno-nationalist self-determination, between and against the ruling class. It however was a critical element of the Pandora box, not the least in the minds of the bourgeoisie and the imperial overlords in Washington and London as the next phase unfolded.


1997-1998/99: A new balance of forces and the “resolution” formula
While the Nigeria Labour Congress remained banned, 1997 opened with workers agitations. The industrial unions wanted Congress unbanned and strikes swept through the shop floor, albeit on economic issues. Meanwhile the Abachaists were growing louder with their well-oiled calls for the dark-goggled god to finally take possession of Nigeria. All this was tonic for the pro-democratic movement to re-group and re-awaken their June 12 struggle. CD by now had become a caricature of what it used to be. Split in two and seemingly bereft of life and focus, a new body had to be formed to play its role in the last act of June 12, drama. And on May 17, 1998, United Action for Democracy was formed at Ilaje-Bariga in Lagos.

In April 1998, the five registered parties held their Conventions. Not surprisingly, all but one[14] adopted General Sani Abacha as their presidential candidate. This set the country ablaze. UAD seized the gauntlet by organising an opposition “5-million man rally” in Lagos against the Louis Farakhan-inspired “2-million man rally” for Abacha, in Abuja, which drew about 300 persons in March, most of whom were cudgeled by anti-riot police[15].  The Congress of Progressive Youths, which had been formed by the May 31st Movement took up the gauntlet; on May Day it organized a riotous demonstration in Ibadan. The military administrator subsequently held Ola Oni, Lam Adesina and Bola Ige as “prisoners of war”, two weeks after the sustained riots. Some 200 scholars led by Prof Attahiru Jega a former President of the Academic Staff of Universities Union also lent their voices to the call against Abacha’s transformation into a civilian president.

These were times when the heady days of the beginning of the revolution were being relieved. But this was to be just for a while. The ruling class was not going to allow the movement from below to assert itself as the alternative to Abacha. 18 bourgeois politicians from the northern states constituted themselves as the G-18 and making it clear that Abacha did not speak for the Northern elite, they demanded his resignation. Other leading elite politicians and leaders joined them to constitute the Group of 34, reiterating the same demand.

It needs no saying that the growing unrest was affecting American and European business interests in Nigeria. Even the global economy as a whole was being threatened as ethnic militant groups’ activities in the waterways and creeks of the Niger Delta were crippling oil supplies. What was the solution they arrived at? This appears to have been the mysterious deaths of both MKO Abiola and Sani Abacha on June 8 and July 7, 1998 respectively. General Abdulsalam Abubakar, Abacha’s defense chief, took over the reins of power, looted the country’s external reserves and organized a transition to civil rule in 11 months.

The Fourth Republic and the Current Situation
The Fourth Republic as it is called is the longest stretch of the bourgeoisie’s rule through its civilian arm. This was for quite a number of reasons, and not just because the military became more genteel or that the civilian politicians had learnt lessons from the past. First, the international situation which helped foster Bonapartist-capitalism in the neo-colonial world had changed. The liberal market ideology of “globalism” required an ideology of “freedom”. Civilian rule thus became the norm. Second, despite its faults, and they are legion, PDP did succeed where earlier bourgeois parties had failed; building a genuinely pan-Nigerian party of the bosses. 

But while, first through the PDP and now the APC which poses as a harbinger of change in the polity, the ruling class has been able to forge pan-Nigerian party formations of significance, the same has not been the case for the labour movement. Despite the fact that the past 16 years have been filled with monumental battles led by organized labour and deepening uncertainty and insecurity with the war between the Federal Government and Boko Haram being the most vivid illustration of these, the Left has not been able to bring emancipator politics to bear as praxis on a significant scale.

The efforts of the Nigeria Labour Congress (and Trade Union Congress) to build the Labour Party have thus far not been successful. The party has been extensively criticized for being an option of last resort for different sections of the ruling class (particularly the PDP) when elections approach, rather than being a party of the working people. Several groups on the Left have equally tried to build socialist parties, especially since the January 2012 anti-fuel price hike revolts. They have also not been successful.

This last section of the essay attempts to put these in perspective at this moment of “change”, and on that basis project the challenges and possibilities ahead for emancipatory politics that could enthrone “system change”.

Reinstatement of the Republic and the Politics of Registration
The lifting of a ban on politics in 1998 was received with mixed feelings on the Left. The National Conscience Party and Mayists in the Democratic Alternative were against participation in the transition, observing that the military had proven it could not be trusted. This actually led to a split in the DA at its Pending Motel Convention of August 21-23, 1998 at Port Harcourt. SCON II and elements from the SRV that dominated its leadership walked away from the Convention. M31M which had the bulk of delegates stayed back and declared the new DA into a (short-lived) Peoples Democratic Liberation Party (PDLP).

DA eventually paid the mandatory N100,000 registration fee, but was not registered as it failed to pass the first stage for registration i.e. national spread. The re-organised PRP went further. By reviving old contacts in other regions of the country, it managed to establish a semblance of national spread and got a provisional registration with which it contested in December 1998 local government elections. But like the Democratic Advance Party[16] and the Movement for Democracy and Justice[17] which were also left-inclined parties, it failed to muster the minimal 10% of votes cast in at least 24 of the 36 states required for it to become fully registered and thus able to contest in the state and federal elections.

Only two parties actually met the set prerequisite. These were the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which had evolved from the G-34 and the All Peoples Party (APP[18]). The constitutions of both had been drawn by largely by Bola Ige, representing the Awoist Yoruba section of the ruling class. This section moved out of the APP as well, claiming that it was filled with “Abacha men” and formed the Alliance for Democracy. Like the AG and UPN before it, it was basically a party of the Yoruba extraction of the ruling class and failed to win much support beyond the South Western region at the December 1998 local elections.

There was however an unwritten consensus within the working class for “power shift” to the Yoruba South West where MKO Abiola had hailed from, to pacify the ethno-nationalist upheaval rocking the region. It was impossible in this context not to register the supposed Awoist party. General Olusegun Obasanjo who was not the candidate of the Yoruba elite, though of that ethnic stock, won through the support enjoyed by PDP in the other regions.

The politics of registration was challenged in the law court by the NCP, DA and PRP amongst other parties and a legal victory was won in 2002, liberalizing the conditions for registration as a party. But ever since, no Left party has had any significant showing in elections (2003; 2007; 2011 and 2015).

The Labour Party and the Working Class
The 7th National Delegates Conference of NLC brought in Adams Oshiomhole as president in January 1999, with the slogan of “a new beginning” for organized labour. Towards fulfilling this promise, an agenda-setting process was set in motion by 2000. Amongst other aspects of NLC’s work, it considered the relations between Labour and Politics. This resulted in the adoption of a policy which was explicit that: there was the need to establish a workers’ party, and; the party would have to be based on a socialist perspective.

This policy which was adopted by the 8th Conference in 2003 after it had formed a Labour Party was to a great extent informed by discourse in the Civil Society-Labour Prodemocracy Network which NLC established with radical civil society groups. The Network held three meetings in 2000-2001 where it was resolved that a party by the name Working People’s Party would be established with a socialist programme. A few powerful members of the NLC’s National Executive Council who had actually made it clear that they belonged to the People’s Liberation Party led by Ezekiel Izuogo (which eventually fizzled out) while the Network’s meetings were going on, felt uncomfortable with the involvement of far left groups in the process and truncated it.

Instead of a socialist Working People’s Party, they pushed for and convinced the NEC to adopt the formation of a Party for Social Democracy. Under a barrage of criticism that even the party’s name did not signify it as a workers’ party, its name was changed to Labour Party at its Founding Convention on February 28, 2004. It aimed to woo, progressive elements within the ruling class and patriotic professionals. The past 13 years experience, in which the party has to a great extent become a dumping ground for the bosses who have lost in their own traditional parties, however show just how futile the “social-democratic” pursuit of the party has been.

The flip side of the party structure’s opening the doors perennially to bourgeois politicians seeking “a platform” is the ambiguous relationship organized labour has forged in different ways over time with the party. Adams Oshiomhole appeared to lay some premium on the party. But with the benefit of hindsight he just used it as a ladder to fulfill his political ambition of becoming governor of Edo state. He contested on the platform of the Action Congress in the 2007 elections based on an understanding with the Labour Party[19]. He however jettisoned LP and stuck with ACN which was the backbone of the APC merger, in a sense. Leftists in the NLC secretariat at its earlier stage felt ostracized because the NEC had ruled that no appointed staff could be an official of the party. Very few ever took up party cards as members.

After the exit of Oshiomhole, matters moved from bad to worse. The political will required to build a workers’ party was absent in the trade unions’ national leadership. At the states level, the trade union bureaucracy also did not help matters. It was not an unusual thing to have NLC officials being more disposed to the party in government than LP. Rank and file union leaders had more faith in the party at its inception. Ironically, there was also renewed interest in joining the party by workers across the country, after the Dr. Segun Mimiko who would abandon the party seven years later, was returned as governor of Ondo state in 2009.
The party ran candidates for the general elections, winning seats in the National Assembly. It is however most likely that these legislators would not protect the interests of the working class. During the January 2012 general strike and mass protests against the hike in the pump price of petrol for example, LP members of parliament voted against the a reversal, against the popular demand which NLC gave leadership to.

The Left, Protest and Power
The pro-democracy movement won respect for the protest politics of the Left, as radical Civil Society Organisations. But this also saw to a flourishing of the components of the civil society movement, broadly speaking, which could now be segmented into: liberal reformist; moderate left reformist, and; radical Left reformist. Within the radical Left reformist formations arrayed into two coalitions: the United Action for Democracy and the Joint Action Front, are diverse groups and tendencies of the revolutionary Left and other groups including nationalists, liberation theologians and human rights campaigners.

There have been two efforts at forging a united front of the socialist Left. The first was the Nigeria Socialist Alliance which emerged from the 3rd All-Nigeria Socialist Conference held on February 21-23, 2003. All socialist groups except the Democratic Socialist Movement participated at the Conference. The second was the All-Nigeria Socialist Alliance initiated on October 28, 2008, through the efforts of the Abuja Socialist Collective that the old Socialist Workers Movement had fostered. Both efforts came to naught. After ANSA atrophied into an annual (and at times biennial) forum for discussions, Eskor Toyo seized the gauntlet of trying to form a revolutionary socialist party in August 2010.

The fact that this was not preceded by discussions with other groups, it was perceived by many leading socialists as one of the megalomaniac designs of the brilliant and selfless doyen. In February 2011, socialists across tendencies in Benin City, under the platform of the Edo Future Group initiated a process that culminated in the formation of a Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), which is meant to bid for power electorally and as well beyond the polls.

In the aftermath of the January 2012 general strike and mass protests, there have been two attempts at establishing Left parties as more or less projects of particular tendencies. These were inspired by the empowering watershed that the uprising was, bringing in a new generation into popular struggle and reinforcing the confidence of those who had witnessed defeats of mass struggles a generation back. Democratic Party for Socialist Reconstruction was a short lived idea of the Protest to Power Movement of a handful of persons. The Socialist Party of Nigeria initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement is an effort of the probably 300 members’ strong CWI affiliate, which has sought registration with the electoral umpire and is likely to have this effected in the next few months after defeating its unjust non-registration in court.

National Conscience Party was the only Left party that contested in the 2015 general elections. It won 24,455 out of the 28,587,564 total valid votes cast in the presidential election. It did not fare any better in the other elections. The Peoples Redemption Party (like the Labour Party) had supported President Goodluck Jonathan. Balarabe Musa, its National Chairman said this amounted to “making a difficult but necessary and patriotic choice”. In his words, while President Jonathan had “a track record of undeniable and monumental ineptitude, corrupt administration and political visionlessness”, Buhari, in his view is “an arrogant, self-righteous fascist”.

It is noteworthy though, to point out that, there was massive support for the candidacy of General Muhammadu Buhari, within the working class, if the rousing applause he got at the 11th NLC National Delegates Conference is anything to go by. Quite a number of socialists equally supported him describing “Buharism” as some form of “socialism”. And after his victory, revolutionary socialists of the Power to Protest Movement went as far as to describe this “Historic and Momentous” moment, as the closing chapter of a bourgeois democratic revolution that started with the January Uprising.

The fundamental reason for these views and support from Left quarters and the working class can be found in the persistent inability of socialists and the leadership of the labour movement to constitute the latent might of the working class into a force that not only challenges power episodically, but that bids for power in its own name, with a strategic programme.

An Era of Turmoil and Austerity
General Muhammadu Buhari’s support which has brought about victory after four[20] earlier attempts is borne out of two issues related to that of the demonstrated shortcomings of the Left and organised labour. First is the failure of President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. But, while the “GEJ” government is often characterized as being incompetent, lacking vision and corrupt, he is probably the president who has delivered the most in terms of infrastructural development of the country. This is not in any way to glorify the Jonathan administration, but it is a statement of fact that no one has empirically debunked the president’s oft stated assertion that he has been the most effective president in terms of “delivery”, in the country’s history. In this author’s view, it rather shows the exact limitation of whatever at any time happens to be the best capitalism can guarantee, for the economic, political and spiritual fulfilment of the working people.

Second is the promise that the General offers with a simple message: enhanced employment; ending corruption, and; defeating Boko Haram. These could be considered as encapsulating his economic, political and national programme.
Considering the fact that APC has been in government across more than a dozen states in the recent past, it would have been expected that the alternatives the party now touts would have been demonstrated in these. But that is not the case. Where they have expanded employment, these have been on casual basis with very poor pay. Most of the APC state do not pay the miserly N18,000 (about $90) monthly minimum wage. They all supported the increase in pump price in 2012 and in fact, the ex-labour leader and APC Governor of Edo State, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole tried his very best to convince the trade unions that the increment was apt. Corruption equally stinks to the high heavens in APC states, no less than in PDP states.

It could however be argued, with the mystique of Buhari, that the example of APC states should not be the standard for projecting what to expect from an APC Federal Government, with “the peoples’ General “ as president. We could however turn inkling from his campaign and the attempt at theorizing by Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinunbu, the APC leader. Buhari’s own view is actually very simplistic. He intends to ensure much more employment through the boosting of agriculture. We need not delay ourselves here with asking just how a concentration on agriculture has anywhere been a plank for industrialisation, not to talk of social change.

The APC’s Asiwaju Tinunbu’s view is apparently more nuanced. He argues that: “to speak of austerity is to further enrich the affluent while casting the average Nigerian into greater hardship and deeper socio-economic depression”. We could not agree more. No right thinking person would also not support the APC’s intent to “create a Social Welfare Program of at least Five Thousand Naira (N5000) that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens upon the demonstration of children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunisation to help promote family stability”, as stated in its manifesto.

To do these, Tinunbu propounds a de-coupling of the naira from the dollar and then ascertaining and achieving “the level of Naira expenditure needed to expand the economy and create jobs without causing inflation to rise to dangerous levels”. This of course is “because the Federal Government has the sovereign power to issue our national currency”, so therefore, we could “use our currency sovereignty to spur economic activity”.

This seemingly sophisticated parody of neo-Keynesianism is actually no less simplistic in its essence than the farmland and pastoralist perspective of the president-elect. It forgets too critical protrusions of reality. In the general sense, is the international nature of capitalism and capitalist development, particularly for a grossly under-industrialised country like Nigeria. Printing al the naira in the world would not tilt the country’s balance of payment into the black. And particularly at the moment; the state is broke. Long queues have pockmarked filling stations off and on for several months now. They have been there for weeks before the presidential election. The reason for this is that “subsidy” payments could not be made and promissory notes of the government to banks were not heeded as the banks are very much aware that the state is broke.

It would not be the first time that a party promising heaven and earth gets to government and declares that it met an empty treasury. President Shehu Shagari said the same thing in 1979 and already General Buhari has twice in one week stated that Nigerians should not expect miracles. It is likely that Buhari and the APC looking back at the wind of change that just brought them to power might try to bring about positive changes, particularly at the centre. And indeed, they could do this to some extent, especially during the honeymoon period of a few months after May 29. But the brick wall of an economic downturn nationally and globally is likely to turn hope into disillusionment, sooner or later.

But perhaps, with the strongman visage of “the people’s General”, he might maintain the crest of support that has brought him to power by defeating the Boko Haram sect? We must not lose sight of the wood for the trees. Boko Haram is more of a symptom than the disease. While some Left trends have argued that Boko Haram is nothing but a squad of (sections of) the ruling class’ foot soldiers gone amuck, we have maintained that it is a phenomenon borne out of poverty and disillusionment within the context of the specific nature of the national question in Nigeria. Crush Boko Haram today and a dozen Boko Harams by whatsoever name would arise. Beyond Boko Haram, but being basically a secular expression of the same phenomenon is the possible resurgence of militancy in the Niger delta.

May 29 will not represent an end to the tumultuous period we are in and the myriad of resistance, albeit largely inchoate to the dominant order, which APC no less than PDP represents. On the contrary, we are likely to see a deepening of the current situation and confrontation of the APC-led state by the people, before 2019.

In lieu of a conclusion
The current period is indeed an historic moment in the annals of Nigeria, though the future remains fuzzy in so many ways. But while there are no maps to guide the working class in its struggle for self-emancipation, we have the compass of theory and history. Never before has the need for a working people’s party been as sharp as today. And never before now has the possibility been so palpable. Such a party would be at the barricades with the workers, artisans, peasants, and the poor in general in their struggles for better lives, from now. This would stand the party in good stead for contestation in 2019, but it must see its work beyond electoral cycles.

We hasten to stress here that elections are quite important. But, if elections in general could allow the working class to vote the bourgeoisie out of power, they would, as someone once argued not be allowed by the ruling class. Working class parties can thus not simply be electoral machines like the parties of the bosses in Nigeria. They must be the political fighting organs of the working class. When small sects partake as parties in elections, eulogising themselves over a few thousands or tens of thousands of votes they win, it is not bad in itself. But it erodes confidence in the Left as anything but marginal parties.

At this juncture, we cannot but look at the Labour Party and the NLC. Last year a National Caretaker Committee was constituted by Congress as a splinter from the mainstream of the party. The reason ostensibly was because of the mainstream section’s organising a National Convention after Governor Mimiko abandoned the party. This is actually not true. A press statement had earlier been issued by Joe Ajaero as Chairman of the NLC Political Bureau, without any prior discussion of the Bureau calling for a boycott of the Akure Convention fixed by the National Executive Council of the party at which the NLC leadership was present, before Mimiko jumped ship.

The Caretaker Committee however merely hangs in the air or precisely in the hand of a troika. There is the need to re-build the LP beyond NLC serving as crutches for the personal ambitions of a few old men, on either sides of the divide. The new leadership of Congress has a genuine commitment to building a fighting LP. Steps in this direction include an all-inclusive Conference of all Left parties, groups and activists towards re-establishing the bonds between the Left and the workers’ party and the possible merger or establishment of a united front with left-oriented parties.

Before the 11th National Delegates Conference, most groups on the Left were more disposed to the candidacy of Joe Ajaero. The struggles of the electricity workers which they had been part of, mainly in Lagos, is at least partly responsible for this, and their analyses of even after the Conference have been coloured by their earlier disposition. This does not help matters in building bridges between the socialist Left and organised labour. Apart from the fact that their belief is not in any way correct, it is an established fact that the Conference was largely free and fair. And rather interestingly as well, the Restoration Group has rebuffed all attempts at reconciliation. Activists in the labour movement should join the shop stewards of the unions that make up this group (who are still active in the NLC State Councils) to call on their national leadership to come back to the fold of Congress, towards ensuring unity in the movement.

The battles ahead require concerted efforts. A strong and united working class movement with the active presence of the Left in this movement is of the utmost essence to bring about social change, in the coming period.

Abuja
April 14, 2015



[1] Toyo, E., 1964, Crisis in the Nigerian Youth Congress, Nigeria Labour Party Publications, Lagos

[2] The leadership of the trade unions that had mobilised for the strike tried to convince the workers to trust in their negotiation skills for winning the allowance, to no avail. They all then resigned en masse, but this did not stop the strike momentum surging forward.
[3] There appears to be evidence though that the coupists intention was to release Chief Obafemi Awolow of the social-democratic Action Group party which held sway in the Yoruba Western region, but who had been imprisoned at the time for treason, and make him Head of State in a Government of National Unity.
[4] The official recognition given to the ICFTU-affiliated ULCN by the state did contribute to the uphill task which organising was for NTUC activists despite the generous financial assistance the federation received from Moscow and the East bloc.
[5] Wahab Goodluck and S. U. Bassey
[6] The headquarters of the SWPP and the NLC were both on Olajuwon Street in Yaba, Lagos. I remember anecdotes from several older comrades about meetings in Labour House being delayed for “directives” to arrive from the SWPP’s leadership gathered two blocks away.
[7] Interestingly, after the 1978 merger all other unions took to addressing members/activists as “comrades”. But from its ICFTU roots, NUEE found it difficult to jettison the title “brother” and “sister”, eventually settling for “brocom” and “siscom”.
[8] a picture of Trotsky was for many years prominently placed in his study
[9] The then University of Ife, was renamed Obafemi Awolow University after the death in 1987 of “Awo”, whose Action Group government in the Western Region built the university or “Great Ife” as it is fondly called.
[10] I had the opportunity of interviewing Ranti who was then working with the Nigeria Civil Service Union in Ibadan, in 1992. Unfortunately the scripts of that interview were lost during the days of working underground at the height of the June 12 struggle. I always assumed though that the name of the periodical came from Bob Marley, until July 2014, when in a discussion with Alex Callinicos, he pointed at the valid possibility of the inspiration being from Cliff’s paraphrased view, here. In 1990, Kunle Adegoke brought literature (particularly State Capitalism in Russia) from the by then defunct group’s library which had been kept by his elder brothers that had been members of AM to us at the University of Ilorin, at an embryonic stage of the May 31st Movement. This turned our politics into the traditions of International Socialism.
[11] Femi Aborisade was the founding editor of Labour Militant, and is now a leading member of the Socialist Workers League. He has been unjustly detained several times and at the time in question was locked up for the radical views published in LM.
[12] Most of them participating through “front” organisations.
[13] the majoritarians preferred to refer to it as the LM-Menshevik Bloc
[14] This was the Grassroots Democratic Movement led by a former Inspector General of Police, Mr. M.D. Yusuf and in which a number of Leftists had pitched their tents as a radical alternative.
[15] After the success of UAD as a bold popular alternative, NCP which had stayed off UAD along with the CDHR largely dominated by SCON 1 went ahead to form yet another “united front”: the Joint Action Council of Nigeria (JACON)
[16] This was re-packaging of the National Advance Party of the 2nd republic, led by Dr. Tunji Braithwaite. It reverted back to NAP and was registered for the 2003 elections.
[17] A new name for the M.D. Yusuf-led GDM that rejected the order for Abacha to be adopted by the “five leprous fingers”
[18] It later became the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) one of the three parties that merged to form the APC
[19] The questionable argument then was that LP lacked the war chest needed for a successful election, but he would return to LP after winning.
[20] Most reports point at the fact that “GMB” had contested thrice earlier. But is often forgotten that he tried to win the ticket of ANPP in 1999, but was schemed out by the party leadership that had struck a deal with the Alliance for Democracy to field its candidate, Chief Olu Falae.