Monday, January 19, 2015

GATHERING OF OMINOUS CLOUDS! THE RICH MOVE FAMILIES ABROAD!! WE ARE ALL BAGA!!!*

As the February 14 elections draw nearer it becomes clearer that there are two classes of Nigerians; the rich who milk the country’s wealth and set it ablaze and the poor whom they see merely as milk cows and cannon fodder. Recent media reports that politicians and bosses of big businesses are moving their families abroad (particularly to the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates) present a grave cause for concern in this direction. It is equally a pointer to the palpable possibility of severe national crisis in the wake of the elections.

United Action for Democracy denounces this flight of the rich whilst they contrive an inflammable conundrum for the poor. UAD equally finds it worrisome that thousands of “non-indigenes” have also had to relocate back to their states and zones of origin out of fear of the possible aftermath of February 14. These are evidently ominous signs. This is the time for working people and their organisations to stand up against the destructive manipulations of the ruling elites.

UAD was forged as the leading pan-Nigeria coalition of radical civil society organisations at a moment like this in 1997, then against military dictatorship. The civilian wing of the ruling class has proven itself to be little more democratic than the military that we fought tooth and nail against to reinstate the republic. Democracy goes beyond the right to vote in one section of the bosses or another. For it to have much meaning to the poor working masses, it must entail the building of popular structures of people’s power, through which workers, farmers, artisans, the urban poor, women, youth and all other strata of the immense majority of the population are central to the running of social life.

None of the leading parties in contention represents this concept of working people’s democracy which the UAD stands for. Their readiness (across party lines) to relocate their families out of harm’s way, while they stoke the embers of a catastrophe also shows their oft trumpeted “patriotism” for the ruse it is. They are not worth dying for.

The total lack of concern for the tragic loss of possibly 2,000 lives in Baga is a reflection of the politicians’ contempt for the lives of poor Nigerians. While President Goodluck Jonathan has remained shamefacedly mute, the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation has merely called for “soothing words of compassion and empathy” for the people of Baga and Borno state, in what appears basically as partisan brickbat.

UAD seeks a more cogent response to the Baga massacre and the war between Boko Haram and the Federal Government. Reports from affiliates and the State Chapter  of the UAD in Borno state indicate that the situation is getting worse by the day. President Jonathan’s silence on the abduction of the Chibok Girls Secondary School pupils during his first visit (and obviously one intended to make electoral gains), since the abduction is for residents of Borno and indeed all well meaning persons a confirmation of the disdain of Nigeria’s “big men” and rulers for the poor.

Enough is definitely enough! Baga represents the prospects poor working people face as the rich gladiators battle for Aso Rock in a few weeks time. We must refuse to be deceived into lining up behind the backs of any of them to kill fellow poor people irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or partisan affiliation. The most cogent response to the drumbeats of war that politicians are beating but will choose not to dance themselves can come only from us; through our independent, united self-activity based as working people.

UAD affiliates and State Chapters across the country have been mandated to work closely with trade unions and other civil society organisations to build this popular response from below, against the machinations of the bosses and politicians. We must have no illusions, dark clouds lie ahead. But if we, the masses, whose labour creates the social wealth, stand united, we will weather the storm and bring to birth a new Nigeria from the ashes of the old. Indeed, a new and better Nigeria is possible!  


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Baba Aye

National Convenor

*being a press statement issued by the United Action for Democracy on January 18, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The tragedy of Baga

soldiers with their jackboots and guns in Baga after the 2013 massacre
The fishing community of Baga by Lake Chad in Borno state was under siege for a week at the beginning of January. Amnesty International described the ensuing bloodbath as the “deadliest massacre” by Boko Haram, estimating that some 2,000 persons were killed. President Jonathan, who condemned the “dastardly terrorist attack” against Charlie Hebdo cartoonists within hours of the tragic event in Paris, did not say a word about this tragedy.

The attacks on Baga and over 16 towns and villages in its Local Government Area started on January 3. The insurgents overran the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) of the Chadian, Nigerien and Nigerian armies. Fleeing soldiers, men, women and children from Baga were pursued into the villages and bushes, killed and buildings set ablaze.

Baga and its environs have become ghost towns in the aftermath of the assault. The dead were left unburied, as “bodies lay strewn” on the streets according to widely circulated eyewitness accounts. About 35,000 people have been displaced. Most of these are now in camps at Maiduguri and Monguno in Borno state, including 3,200 registered by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) just last weekend. Kalzeubet Pahimi Deubet, the Prime Minister of Chad also announced that 2,500 Nigerians and 500 Chadians fleeing from Baga have sought refuge in the country. Subsequently Boko Haram fighters launched attacks into Chad but were repelled.

Not all those trying to escape to Chad made it there alive. Several died as fragile canoes they packed themselves in capsized. Over 500 were trapped on the many “mosquito-infested islands” dotting Lake Chad. Quite a number of the refugees in cramped camps died from starvation, poor shelter and malaria.

The response of the federal government and its cronies has been offensively insensitive. It started with lies. The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh initially denied that the MNJTF’s base had been seized and residents killed. News Express, a conservative paper also reported on January 5 that Boko Haram had been decisively dealt with in the clashes at Baga. And on January 10, Dr. Doyin Okupe, a senior aide of the president described the reported death toll as exaggerated in a tweet.

For a week, the Defence Headquarters said it could not confirm the number of casualties. Subsequently, Brigadier Chris Olukolade the army spokesman stated that the total number of people killed in the bloodbath, including soldiers was “just” 150 persons. It did not stop at that. He attempted to wipe the slate of blood from the guns of soldiers in 2013, with the current massacre. According to him, this “confirms” that insurgents and not soldiers were responsible for the 2013 massacre, which the army denied ever happened.

Baga is in many ways a metaphor of the war in the north east. The lies and hypocrisy of the Nigerian state and Western governments, the equal culpability of the army and Boko Haram in shedding blood of poor working people and signposts of changing moments in this bitter war, are critical examples.

This is the second massacre in Baga. On April 16, 2013, Boko Haram fighters killed a soldier during a shootout in the town which had to a great extent come under the sect’s control by 2012. The soldiers reinforced, returning en masse with armoured personnel carriers. Survivors reported that for several days, they shot indiscriminately and torched all houses in sight (one cannot but recall similar retaliatory massacres in Odi (1999) and Zaki Biam (2001) after irate youths killed security personnel). The town was then locked down, with journalists and activists denied access to verify what actually happened.

The army claimed then that “only” 6 civilians were killed, while soldiers killed 30 Boko Haram militants. It also denied that houses were razed to the ground. But satellite images showed that over 2,000 houses were burnt down. Verifiable evidence also confirmed that not less than 200 civilians were killed. Brigadier General Olukolade described everyone who did not believe the army’s cock and bull story as sympathisers of Boko Haram.

The United States government condemned that massacre and called for the army to respect human rights. These were empty words with which it played to the gallery of global outcry.  The Federal Government also announced that it would conduct what it described as a “full scale investigation” into the “allegation” of massacre. Nothing has come out of this.

The 2013 Baga massacre set the stage for the declaration of a state of emergency in the three north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, on May 14. But the spate of carnage in the north east (and other parts of the north) has worsened with the state of emergency. More people have been killed in the past 20 months than those killed in the 4 years preceding emergency rule. Kidnapping took on added steam. The case of the “Chibok girls” drew international attention before the presidency spoke on it 3 weeks after the abduction. And #BringBackOurGirls campaigners have been harassed and demonized by the government.

By August 2014, partly inspired by ISIS, Boko Haram declared Gwoza a caliphate, seizing swathes of territory in the states under state of emergency. The recent Baga massacre took place in a context where the sect controls 70% of the landmass of Borno encompassing two thirds of the state’s Local Government Areas. It has equally organised prison breaks in places far away from Borno as Kogi in the north central. The Federal Government informed the world that it had reached a ceasefire agreement after secret negotiations with (a faction of) Boko Haram in October. Less than 24 hours after this, the insurgents attacked Maikadiri and Shaffa, in two different Borno state LGAs. This raised fears that the war cannot end through negotiations with the “terrorists”.

But a military solution equally appears utopian, not the least because of collaboration between sections of the ruling class and the sect. The low morale of ill-equipped and underpaid rank and file soldiers also contributes to the cul-de-sac of this option. Instead of addressing their legitimate fears which have led to desertions and protests, the state has sentenced 66 of them to death, for mutiny. The question for working people, particularly those trapped in the warzone of the north east remains, “what is to be done?”

Inkling of the answer to this question can be gleaned in the phenomenon of the Civilian JTF (CJTF). The state (governments, army and other security agencies) cannot be relied upon to salvage the situation. On the contrary, it is part of the problem, utilising institutional terror against non-militant residents and the Boko Haram Jihadists alike. The security services for example killed about as many people as Boko Haram has since the war started, according to credible reports from both local and national NGOs.

The CJTF’s armed resistance has to a very great extent routed Boko Haram from Maiduguri. Similar and aligned groups to it have played central roles in pitched battles were some of the towns seized by the sect were reclaimed, albeit temporarily. But the CJTF cannot but be a shadow of the armed independent self-activity of the working masses in the region required to reclaim its soul, for two related reasons.

First is its class composition. It is made up largely of unemployed lumpen “area” youths. Second is its relationship with the state. While it was formed independently (in the sense of spontaneously) in April 2013, its name would suggest some sense of affiliation to the state’s Joint Task Force which has now been disbanded and replaced with the army’s 7th Infantry Division. The CJTF’s leadership presently reports to the General Officer Commanding the division. Quite contentious as well is the employment of CJTF militants by state governments’ agencies, such as the Borno State Youth Empowerment Scheme (BOYES).

The missing link is leadership by the organised working class. With the stature of the unions in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, a more active involvement of the trade unions in the resistance would help sharpen the class lines of the armed resistance. There are legitimate fears by union leaders at both state council and shop floor levels that this could make working class activists targets of the sect. But already, hundreds of union members are known to have been killed in the line of duty in the zone. particularly teachers and health workers. We cannot allow ourselves to be cowed. Indeed, some of the boldest union leaders I have ever met are in this war torn region. Even in this trying period, several have taken commendable risks in the ongoing multifaceted struggle.

The trade union leadership nationally needs to take much more decisive actions, not only to inspire working class activists in the region but because the tragedy of war in the north east is a tragedy for the working people as a whole. Beyond the fact that the insurgency has spread well beyond the north east whereit rages like wildfire, an injury to one is definitely an injury to all.

Apart from condemnation of attacks by Boko Haram and support for military action against it on several occasions, the trade unions do not appear to have a robust position on the war, which grasps the evolution of the sect and its insurgency, the current and worsening situation in the region, and the tasks for the working class nationally and in the zone in combating the twin terrorisms of Boko Haram and the Nigerian state. The forthcoming national delegates’ conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress presents an opportunity to address this.

We cannot allow the Baga massacre to end up as just some other statistics of the war between Boko Haram and the Federal Government of Nigeria. The bosses are too concerned with their election campaigns to be much bothered by the massacre as President Jonathan’s silence loudly tells us. Working class and civil society activists and other well-meaning citizens, in Nigeria and beyond the shores of this land must lend their voices, limbs and heads to defeating the twin terrors gripping the poor masses in the north east. We must stand up now, against the pillage and plunder, murders and massacres, for #WeAreAllBaga! 

“#I am not Charlie”

Almost 4million people marched in more than 200 cities and towns across France on Sunday 11. This “unity rally” was a response to the recent killing of 20 persons in Paris. 41 heads of states including Francois Hollande of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, David Cameron of Britain, Mahmoud Abbass of Palestine and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel led a multitude of 1.6 people from the Place de la République to the Place de la Nation in Paris. Demonstrations also took place in several cities like London, Montreal, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin.

The initial call for mass demonstrations was made by the trade unions. The French state latched onto it with the aim of appropriating the mood of anguish and defiance from below for “national unity”. “I am Charlie” and “liberte!” were popular slogans expressing this defiance against the despicable murder of the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s editorial board members, in the manifestations across France. One cannot but condemn the killings and attacks on free speech, as an activist. There are important issues that we must however not lose sight of, and for which I must boldly say I am not Charlie.

The magazine’s satire over the last four decades has targeted several political and religious institutions and personages. Some of these were progressive, talking truth to power. But in a context where Moslems are stereotyped as terrorists irrespective of their political leanings, Charlie’s caricature of Moslems was not just an expression of free speech. It helped to deepen racist ideology, as most French Moslems are dark skinned immigrants, mainly from former French colonies like Algeria and Tunisia.

They face greater poverty and are more likely to run afoul of the law, just like blacks in the United States. Thus, as the Washington Post pointed out seven years ago, while Moslems make up less than 10% of the population, almost 70% of prison inmates are Moslems. And this is just a tip of the iceberg. They are more likely to face: ethnic profiling; discrimination in securing housing; police brutality, and; physical assaults than other citizens who are white Christians or free thinkers.

This dire situation they face is enough to breed hostility against the system. And the imperialist wars of Western countries like France help direct this anger into the channels of recruitment by militant Islamist sects. For example, one of the Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo killings was radicalised by the dehumanizing torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib by American soldiers, shown on television.

However, misguided terror tactics only play into the hands of the bosses. They will always try to use such painful tragedies to present a false picture that “we are one” bound by the fight against terror. George Bush played up these sentiments after 9/11 and Goodluck Jonathan “is doing it”.

But the world leaders’ lamentations are merely crocodile tears. Most of the heads of states that marched, supposedly for free speech and against terrorism “harass, detain and torture journalists”, according to CNN. They hide behind the veil of official secrecy when it suits them. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden remain on the wanted list of USA because they democratised free speech!

We must not allow ourselves to be divided by the condemnable acts of terror of a few, on the basis of any ideology. When the rightwing Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 fellow Norwegians on July 22, 2011, it was not considered as attacks by a Christian. The activities of Jihadists do not represent what Moslems or migrants stand for. Working class activists must stand up against such stereotyping.

This is of the utmost importance at this moment. Within two days after the first of the Paris killings; grenades were thrown at a mosque in Le Man; a restaurant associated with a mosque was bombed at Villefranche-sur-Saone; gunshots were fired at another mosque in Port-la-Nouvelle, and; a pig’s head and innards were placed at the front of an Islamic centre in Corsica with a note which read “next time it will be one of your heads”.

This evil wind that does working people no good is not blowing only in France. In the German city of Dresden, a reactionary group called the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), formed by one Lutz Bachmann, a hardened criminal, has been organising mass demonstrations every Monday since October 20, 2014 calling for limits to immigration, particularly of Moslems. It has been growing, with similar platforms being established in other German cities like Leipzig, Darmstadt and Bonn. PEGIDA and its like are hammering on the Paris attacks to justify their racist demands. But, huge anti-PEGIDA demonstrations are also taking place, insisting that “people are just people”.

In France as well, trade unionists and socialist activists, many of who participated in the January 11 manifestations marched under banners of plurality i.e. against demonising Moslems, Islam or immigrants in general. They received resounding support. They will have to argue out the relationship between France’s imperialist intervention and the growth of “home-grown terrorism”. More importantly, in the impending battles that lie ahead, which could dwarf the mass strikes of 2010, all working people irrespective of race, nationality or ethnicity will have to stand together to defeat the bosses. 


In the coming period, governments and rightwing movements will continue to use the excuse of seemingly senseless terror by militants to substantiate racist and anti-immigrant demands. Working people must stand firm against such divisive tactics. The bosses, their capitalist system and the wars they fight to defend their interests are at the root of both the economic crisis and terrorism. We must unite in struggle to bring this exploitative system to an end. Our battle cry must be we are human and thus deserve freedom, from want and from wars.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

NO TO AUSTERITY MEASURES!

President Jonathan and his class of looters, set on making life worse for workers
The Nigerian economy is in crisis and working people have started to feel its pangs with sky rocketing prices of commodities as the naira has been devalued by almost 10%. But, this bad situation is set to get worse with the unfolding implementation of austerity measures. The only way to avoid this impending doom is through struggle. We have to start mobilizing against anti-poor people austerity measures now.
As we organize to fight against the bosses’ putting the burden on poor working people, there are questions we must find answers to. There is abundance of natural resources in Nigeria and our labour creates vast wealth. Why then are we being told that the country is broke? When the price of oil skyrocketed, what was the benefit for the working class, urban poor, and poor farmers? Why is the economy suffering a crisis? Who are those that will bear the brunt of the austerity measures being introduced?
The main beneficiaries of the wealth of Nigeria have been the bosses in government and as business men and women. When oil prices were high, they made billions of dollars and trillions of naira. But for the common people, suffering has been our lot. The minimum wage was fixed at a paltry N18,000, which many states governments and private firms never even cared to pay. The poverty rate increased to 69% in 2010 from 54% in 2004. The number and proportion of the unemployed also increased, particularly amongst youth with 54% of them seeking scarce jobs.
Okonjo-Iweala, a former high-ranking official of the World Bank attempts to answer the question of why the economy is getting distressed. In her view, this is because of over reliance on oil for government revenue. This answer which is inadequate is itself is a condemnation of the federal government in particular and the ruling class in general.

Falling oil prices
From about $107 in July 2014, the price of a barrel of oil fell to $48.9 at the beginning of January, the lowest price in 5 ½ year. While the price has slightly come up to $51 as at our time of writing, this is still far below the $65 bench mark price of the 2015 budget. Further, there is still a great likelihood that the price would continue to fall for several reasons. On one hand, Saudi Arabia continues to pump more oil into the market, with the aim of crashing prices so as to make shale oil production unprofitable. On the other hand, the demand for oil remains dull, due to the global economic crisis.
Oil is the main source of energy for industries across the world. In the wake of the Great Recession, global industrial output decreased, leading to decline in the demand for oil, first by the advanced capitalist countries. Large economies in the Global South like China, India and Brazil, have also slowed down, in recent times. Their requirement of energy for production purposes have thus reduced. From the illusion of such BRICS countries being possible saviours of the world capitalist economy after the United States and Europe went into recession, these Newly Industrialised Countries are themselves in recession or at the verge of it.
Apart from the drop in demand, a major reason for the declining price of oil globally, is the turn to Shale oil, particularly in the United States, reducing its current need for imported petroleum. For example, since July 2014, USA which used to be the largest recipient of crude oil from Nigeria has not imported a single barrel from the country.
Shale oil is a substitute for crude oil, extracted from kerogen-rich rocks at temperatures over 300 degrees Celsius through hydraulic fracking. This has severe negative impact on the environment and activists in a number of countries such as Canada have been mobilising against it. More importantly for the bosses, presently, shale oil makes “economic sense” only when the price of crude oil is high (at least over $50). The falling price of crude oil, has thus led to a decline in the number of contracts for Shale oil extraction.
At this point in time, it is impossible to say just how low the prices of oil will fall, or if there will be some bounce back. But what is almost certain is that the time of over $100 per barrel of crude is gone. This marks an end to the slush of oil money that the Nigerian ruling class has gotten used to feathering their nests with, at the expense of the poor masses.
Is corruption the problem?
Most Nigerians would argue that corruption is the number one problem in Nigeria, and particularly so, in the oil and gas sector of the economy. Based on this, they would say, we could have enough for everybody to be well catered for, if only we could eliminate or at least curb corruption. There would thus be no need for austerity measures. This line of argument is only partially true.
Corruption is rife and not less than $440bn that could have been used for the betterment of the lives of millions of Nigerians has been stolen by politicians since independence. This sleaze is obviously most rampant in the oil sector which is the goose that lays the golden egg. The fuel “subsidy” is a major channel of this fraudulence.
Figures are bandied like abracadabra to siphon money. For example, according to the Federal Government’s statistics, daily consumption of petrol shot up from 30 million litres in 2010 to 60 million litres in 2011! And while N600bn was deemed to have been expended on subsidy in 2010, the figure for 2011 was more than double this. Actually, different representatives of government gave different figures for the 2011 subsidy amount when they were summoned by the National Assembly after the January 2012 anti-fuel price hike revolts. The Minister of Finance said it was N1.3tn and the Minister for Petroleum claimed it was N1.5tn while the Governor of the Central Bank quoted N1.74tn! After jumping to N2.7tn which was about half of the national budget in 2012, N1.2tn was disbursed for “subsidy” in 2013 and again in 2014. 
It is beyond doubt that corruption permeates every strand of the Nigerian economy. It is also correct to argue that we must fight against corruption. But, corruption is a symptom of capitalism in general. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and other advanced capitalist countries corruption is equally endemic. It might not always be as obvious as it is in economically backward countries like Nigeria, but capitalism naturally breeds corruption. The primary cause of economic crises in Nigeria and across the world is not corruption, but the exploitative nature of capitalist production.
Crises are inherent in the capitalist economy, both globally and nationally. These two levels of crises are also interconnected, because capitalism is an international system for the global exploitation of the working class, and natural resources. There is abundant social wealth for the needs of everybody on earth to be met. But the bosses are not concerned about providing for each according to his or her need. Their concern is for ever increasing profit.
It is however impossible for profits to keep increasing. On the contrary, there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall. This is because; the bosses increase productivity by improving the technical means of production, while keeping wages of labour as low as they possibly can, in their quest for making more profit. Abundance leads to crisis as enhanced productivity which is not geared towards fulfilling needs, but rather aimed at exchange for more money results in lowered profit rates as more capitalists latch on the same market.
Thus, the generalisation of enhanced productivity while increasing the volume of profit reduces its rate! And once profit rates fall drastically, they cut down on investment for further production. Improved production which could be used to make life better for all therefore becomes a millstone around the neck of society. This general reality of how capitalism works is at the heart of the global economic crisis, which is yet to abate. And this worldwide crisis is largely at the heart of the collapse of oil prices.


Understanding the Federal Government’s response
The Federal Government is indeed confounded by the unfolding crisis. Its default position of pushing the burden of a quest for recovery onto the backs of the poor masses is constrained by the ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan to get re-elected. But we can learn from what the government did when general elections were not around the corner.

This will not be the first time in recent years that the Federal Government would be on the verge of bankruptcy. The sharp increase in fuel price on January 1, 2012, was as a result of the fact that the government was broke. The coordinating minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala confirmed this on April 12 2012, when she reported that the Excess Crude Account had been depleted from $20bn in 2006 to just $3.6bn by the beginning of 2012.

The current situation is worse and oil is again at the heart of it. It is not just about depletion of “excess” revenue, this time by 31% and the external reserves by over 60%. The sharp and continued fall in the price of oil in the international market is a disaster for the ruling class which is largely dependent on proceeds from (both legal and illegal) crude oil sales.

The Federal Government has acknowledged that the economy is in dire straits. Its immediate response has been to put greater emphasis on raising revenue through taxation. It has been announced that taxes on luxury goods such as private jets, yachts and champagne would be increased. Working class activists cannot but support this. The rich must be made to pay more taxes. This is an element of “tax justice” which several NGOs have been calling for, over the years.
But the tax regime being proposed by the government is not limited to that targeted against the rich. It is as well being proposed that Value Added Tax (VAT) would be increased from 5% to 10%. This means that the price for almost all commodities that we buy in supermarkets for example, would increase. VAT is generally considered as a regressive form of tax because it affects the poor much more than the poor. The federal government was forced to withdraw an earlier attempt to double the VAT in 2007 with a general strike and mass protest.
Socialist Workers League calls for the removal of VAT on non-luxury commodities. We should equally demand a more progressive regime of Personal Income Tax. The reduction of the ceiling for taxes of personal income of the rich from 25% to 24% in 2012 is a step backwards. It should rather be increased to 30%, and the rich must be made to pay. As Dr Ozo-Eson the General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress points out: “most of the very rich people in the country are not paying tax; there must be a scheme to get them to pay adequate tax”.
The taxation of corporate bodies also has to be increased. While Corporate Income Tax was 40% in 1961, it is now just 30%. This should be reversed. Tax holidays granted to so-called “foreign investors”, including in the Export Processing Zones must be stopped, to increase government’s revenue. Research has shown that tax holidays do not necessarily lead to increased investment. It is thus nothing but a source of revenue loss.
Further, those earning a living wage or less should not be taxed. This would not be a new thing as countries, including some in Africa like Zambia, Uganda and Kenya already practice this. The taxation of extremely poor people is inhumane to say the very least.
The working class and austerity measures
Both the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have spoken out against anti-working people austerity measures. A number of trade unions including the Nigeria Civil Service Union have also made it clear that they will resist anti-workers’ austerity. Socialist Workers League joins the trade unions in condemning the government’s austerity measures against the working masses.
We are all living witnesses to how austerity measures have worsened the lives of workers in Europe, particularly Greece, Spain and Portugal. The International Monetary Fund was central to the introduction of these attacks against the workers. And already, the IMF has thrown its support behind the introduction of austerity measures in Nigeria.
The working class must not wait until the austerity measures are fully unfolded. The National Assembly has postponed its ratification of the 2015 budget until after the general elections. This is because of its unpopular contents. There is no provision for increasing the minimum wage, for example. This is despite the fact that the National Minimum Wage is meant to be reviewed in 2015 based on the provisions of the 2011 National Minimum Wage Act.
By March when the budget is due to become operational, irrespective of which party wins the general elections, we should expect resistance by the bosses against increasing the minimum wage. There is also a strong possibility of fuel pump price increases as some members of the ruling class have already started calling for the removal of “subsidy”, due to dwindling revenues of the state. We must resist this. Rather, as countries including Tanzania and Kenya have done, we must fight for the reduction in the pump price of petroleum products, which trade unions have demanded.
This is the time for the trade unions and their allies in the civil society to start mass mobilization on the basis of the following demands:
  • an increase in the minimum wage across Nigeria, which would make it possible for the take home pay of the least paid worker to be a living wage;
  • a cut in the pump price of fuel to reflect the reduction in global prices;
  • no to casualisation, for the regularisation of employment schemes so all workers are paid proper wages for permanent jobs.

We say NO to anti-working people austerity measures. As the growth that did not benefit us starts to enter reverse, the poor masses must not be made to bear the costs of the bosses’ greed. This is the time to start mobilizing for a fight back. United and determined, we will win!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

THE POSITION OF JOHESU ON THE NATIONWIDE STRIKE IN THE HEALTH SECTOR

Being the text of Press Briefing address by the Chairman
Joint Health Sector Union Com. (Dr.) Ayuba P. Wabba, mni
on 16th December, 2014

1.             
Com Ayuba P. Wabba, Chair JOHESU & Com Faniran Vice Chair
  
UPDATE ON MEETINGS BETWEEN JOHESU AND GOVERNMENT
It could be recalled that the Joint Health Sector Unions declared an industrial action on the 12th of November, 2014 as a matter of last resort.  This was due to government’s refusal to fully implement agreements freely entered into by the Federal Government with JOHESU and refusal to implement Judgment of the NICN delivered on July 22, 2013.

We have had two meetings without meaningful progress; but most sadly is the lack of commitment and seriousness on the part of Federal Ministry of Health, during both and also in between meetings.

At the last meeting between the Federal Government and JOHESU on the 19th November, 2014 government requested for 24days to look into all our demands and consequently fixed another meeting for 15th December, 2014.  Disappointingly at the meeting of Monday 15th December, 2014, key officials of Federal Ministry of Health notably the Minister, Permanent Secretary, and Directors were conspicuously absent thereby stalling the meeting.

 THREATS AND INTIMIDATION OF OUR MEMBERS
We are disturbed, that instead of Government showing concern and demonstrating commitment towards bringing an end to the plight of Nigerians and health workers by addressing the issues and restoring Public Health Services, it resorted to acts of intimidation culminating in the directive contained in Circular Ref. DHS/PLC/01/P/130 dated 9th December, 2014.

Furthermore the ignominious use of the police to brutalize our members against all known universal industrial relation norms is condemnable.  If the situation continues it may lead to breakdown of law and order in our health institutions similar to that witnessed in ABUTH and other Hospitals in the 1990s.

3.       HEALTH WORKERS’ RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND COLLECTIVE BARGAINING CANNOT BE WISHED AWAY

The Federal Government of Nigeria is a signatory to the ILO Conventions 87 & 98 which guarantee Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining for Trade Unions and which have both been domesticated in our labour laws.

Further, the Trade Unions Act (2005) is quite explicit and unambiguous in enshrining the respect for disputes of right i.e where and when trade unions embark on industrial action in situations where collective agreements are violated by the employers.

In the light of the foregoing which is objectively verifiable, JOHESU has fulfilled all righteousness and our strike action is both legal and legitimate.  The invocation of “no work, no pay” by the Federal Government is totally flawed and holds no water, whatsoever.

If any party is to be sanctioned here, in line with the laws of the land, it should be the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) for treating collective agreements the FGN freely entered into with JOHESU and which the NICN upheld, with utter disdain and contempt. 
We thus call for respect for our due right to strike based on what is a dispute of right.

4.                 DIRECTIVE FOR TOTAL COMPLIANCE WITH THE ONGOING INDUSTRIAL ACTION

Arising from the obvious tactics of intimidation and brutalization of our members in demanding for their legitimate rights and the obvious exhibition of bias against JOHESU by the Federal Ministry of Health including the refusal of key officers of the Ministry to attend the meeting of December 15, 2014, we are compelled to:

i).     Direct our members to suspend all forms of skeletal and concessional services in all healthcare facilities and ensure TOTAL COMPLIANCE with the strike action.
ii).    As a matter of necessity branch meetings should hold regularly for the enforcement of members’ rights and liberties and to resist any form of brutalization, intimidation and oppression, through all legitimate means.
iii).   Members should gird their loins for a long drawn battle if need be, as we will not turn back until victory is achieved.

Conclusion
We call on all well-meaning Nigerians to call on the Federal Government to live up to its constitutional obligation of respect for the rule of law by implementing the collective agreements reached since 2009 till date.

This is a struggle foisted on us and in as much as we find it painful to prosecute with our sincere concern for common Nigerians, we are left with no choice but to take this path of struggle as we call on the Federal Government to tow the path of honour and justice.


Thank you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

NO TO REMOVAL OF LABOUR FROM EXCLUSIVE LIST! FOR A LIVING WAGE NOW!

Socialist Workers League joins the Nigeria Labour Congress in condemning the National Assembly’s proposed constitutional amendment that would remove Wages from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list. This is a clear attempt to inflict a great blow on the working class. If it is allowed to sail through such draconian amendment would empower state governments that have never hidden their intent to give workers absolutely nothing as wages if only they could, to worsen the paucity of the starvation wages they presently pay.

It is bad enough that a minimum wage of N18,000 was accepted in 2011 as against the N52,500 demand of the trade unions. It is worse that a few states have refused to even pay this pittance of a take home pay that cannot take many a worker home. The worst situation would be that of liberalising the minimum wage regime, supposedly in the name of “decentralisation” and “true federalism”. This is a huge step backwards as the quest for Living Wage is supplanting even mere “minimum” wages. This is to say that minimum wages like the N18,000 pittance are being rejected, and rightly so, by trade unions and the working class as a whole, across the world, including in African countries.

Minimum wages represent a significant reform to curtail the worst of exploitation of the workers’ enslavement by the capitalists, as a reform won through struggle.

We hasten to state that the wage system is itself the most manifest form of the enslavement of the working class by the bosses. “Labour creates wealth” as the NLC’s motto boldly reminds us. But the bosses appropriate the social wealth and present us with meagre amounts as wages. Our ultimate aim thus must be for us, as the primary class of toilers, to change the system by and for us to be emancipated. This is the essence of the lines in Solidarity Forever that “we can bring to birth a new world on the ashes of the old, for the union makes us strong”. This new society, which the workers’ will build on the basis of solidarity and cooperation, is socialism.

In the cause of our struggle for self-emancipation, we have to fight for, win and defend reforms, without having any illusion that socialism can be won through piecemeal reforms. One of such reforms is of course the enactment of the living wage. The bosses will always do all they can to roll back such reforms as that of the National Minimum Wage legislation except we fight to defend such gains. We thus welcome NLC’s position that “We Shall Resist This”. SWL and its members and supporters across the country will join the trade unions, which we are part and parcel of, in this monumental battle.

In furtherance of this struggle, we call on the NLC and TUC to organise a 2-day General Strike immediately, as a warning signal to the bosses and their governments at all levels, that our resistance will be unwavering, if they do not retract their steps on this matter, forthwith. An indefinite strike action would of course be necessary, if the amendment process continues, to ensure that it is scuttled. And we must start now to struggle for a National Minimum Wage that is a living wage. Once again, we should demand a National Minimum Wage of N52,500.00 by 2015, with no going back on this.

It is also pertinent at this juncture which the current situation underlines to stress the pressing need for the working class to build a Labour Party that represents it, within and outside the National and State Houses of Assembly. The bosses might have the wealth from our sweat which they sit on, but “in our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold, greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold”. But for that power to be real we the working people need to build OUR PARTY as the collective bargaining nature of trade unions limits the politics necessary for our struggle to social emancipation.

This is why the Socialist Workers League in conjunction with the FCT Abuja Chapter of the Labour Party is organising a symposium with the theme: Labour Party and the Working Class: Which Way Forward?  by 11.00am on Thursday October 30, at the Labour House Auditorium. We enjoin you to join us   

Baba Aye

National Chairperson
October 24, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

THE “NUMSA MOMENT”; A RENEWAL OF REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS IN SOUTH AFRICA

A Report of the NUMSA International Symposium of Left Parties and Movements, August 7-10, 2014

Comrade Irvine Jim, General Secretary NUMSA, addressing the symposium
INTRODUCTION
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) held an International Symposium of Left Parties and Movements on August 7-10, 2014 with the theme: “Building Our Movement for Socialism: Learning from the Lessons of Others”. The symposium was simultaneously the Module 4 of the NUMSA Marxist-Leninist Political Schools for its 250-cadre Mbuyiselo Ngwenda Brigade (made up of shop stewards and activists in the NUMSA provincial structures), and a milestone within the programme adopted for effecting the December 2013 resolution of the union’s Special Delegates Conference to establish a revolutionary socialist party, forge a united front of revolutionary and radical parties, movements and groups and build a movement for socialism. On the eve of this path-breaking symposium, three NUMSA activists who were leading shop stewards in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province were shot dead. These were: Njabulo Ndebele, secretary of the Isithebe branch, Sibonelo Ntuli, the branch’s deputy secretary (who were both to have been participants at the symposium) and Ntobeko Maphumulo. While bothered by these apparent political assassinations, the NUMSA leadership was not deterred and dedicated the challenge of moving forward to their revolutionary memory. The symposium thus started with a sober mood of defiance, even at a dark hour.

ATTENDANCE
79 persons, parties, unions and groups were invited from 28 countries. 40 of these accepted the invitation. Communist Parties in governments such as in Cuba and Vietnam turned down the invitation to avoid souring relations with ANC, that of China ignored the call, CGT (the French trade union centre with historic ties to the French Communist Party) stated that it was no longer interested in socialist politics and discourse, some parties like Lalit in Mauritania were very busy with forthcoming elections, while some others particularly from southern Europe said they were on (summer) holidays. The French Left Front comrade was turned back at the airport (France had communicated its displeasure to NUMSA on French citizens participating in a subversive meeting). Eventually 27 persons/groups from 17 countries participated. These were from: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China (Hong Kong), Ecuador, Egypt, El-Salvador, Ghana, Germany, Greece (Syriza sent a 7-page position paper which showed intent to be physically present, though absent), India, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

COSATU, NACTU and the affiliates of these two federations were invited as were ANC and SACP as well as other Left groups in South Africa which included: AZAPO, EFF, WASP, DLF, PAC and SOPA. Not surprisingly, ANC, SACP and COSATU turned down the invitation. EFF also issued a public statement that it would not participate because: its leadership had tried to meet with NUMSA for some months, and; it would not share platform with ANC (and SACP). The NUMSA National Treasurer debunked the first reason that NUMSA’s Special Conference had resolved to give priority to internal discussions on the way forward before engaging with other Left groups. And one of the participants during a break-away session wondered why it would be difficult for EFF to share a symposium platform with ANC while it could seat with the party in parliament.

METHODOLOGY
The symposium included blocs of: plenary presentations, panel discussions, breakaway sessions and meetings of the Mbuyi Ngwenda brigade to reflect on the presentations at both plenary and breakaway sessions.

Presentations at the plenary sessions included: a briefing to international guests by the NUMSA General Secretary Irvine Jim, “The State of the South African Revolution and the Significance of the NUMSA Moment”, opening speech by the NUMSA President Andrew Chirwa, “The South African Working Class, the NUMSA Moment and the Importance of Global Solidarity” and a video presentation by Samir Amin on “The Theory and Historical Evolution of Organisational Formations Struggling Against Capitalism”.  There were breakaway sessions to discuss these, particularly that by Samir Amin.  

The central panel discussion was a “tri-continental” discourse on social-economic and political developments with emphasis on the struggles and achievements of “socialist/communist political organisations”. Fred Fuentes of the Socialist Alliance spoke on Latin America, Firoze Manji of the Pan-African Baraza on Africa and Andreas Geunther of Die Linke (standing in for the Left Front’s Christophe Aguiton) on Europe. In 6 groups, participant’s discussed the panel’s inputs and each group presented 3 priority questions/comments to the plenary where further discussions took place.

There were 4 “socialist stations” which were working commissions where international participants provided insight of their experiences to Mbuyi Gwenda brigade cadres and other local participants. These were structured to encompass: current socialist/left parties in governments (Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Uruguay); socialist/left groups that have not formed government but have mass following/energy (Germany, Greece, India, Philippines); where trade unions have established workers/labour parties (Egypt, Nigeria, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, Zambia, Zimbabwe); where there are ongoing “socialist/leftist experiments” but without any party representative of such present at the symposium(Brazil, Peoples Republic of China (Hong Kong), Venezuela).

In socialist stations 1 & 2 where official party officials spoke, there were also “critical voices” from outside the party structures to give alternative views. This was the case in particular with India and Egypt. And in station 4, leadoffs on the Brazilian situation were made by both members of the Landless Peoples Movement MST (a critical ally of the ruling PT) and Conlutas, an alternative trade union federation to the dominant trade union federation allied to the PT, i.e. CUT and with ties to the United Socialist Workers Party of Brazil.

The symposium’s conference documents also included 6 “core reading materials” some of which the MG Brigade cadres had studied in the course of the 3 earlier modules. These were:

·         Samir Amin: “Popular Movements Toward Socialism: Their Unity and Diversity”, in Monthly Review, June 2014
·         Charles Post: “What is Left of Leninism? New European Left Parties in Historical Perspective”, in Leo Panitch, Greg Albio and Vivek Chibber (2013), Socialist Register
·         Ernest Mande: “On Vanguard Parties” Address made at the Marx Centenary Conference – Marxism: The Next Two Decades, March 1983
·         Marta Harnecker: “A New Political Instrument to Build a New Hegemony”, Part 3 of A World to Build: New Paths toward Twenty-first Century Socialism, Monthly Review Press (coming November 2014)
·         Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: “The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organisation of Revolutionaries”, Chapter 4 in What is to Be Done?, 1902
·         Mao Tse Tung: “Part II: The National Democratic Revolution”, in Revolutionary Thought in the 20th Century, 1980




IN LIEU OF A CONCLUSION
The International Symposium was a milestone within the process NUMSA is unfolding towards establishing a revolutionary working class alternative to the class collaborationist politics of the tripartite alliance. The next major step would be a Conference on Socialism, scheduled for March next year. At the closure of the symposium, the union’s president opined that theorization on the way forward, resting on lessons learnt from the symposium and the lived and living experiences of NUMSA and its membership would inform discussions at this forthcoming conference.

There are great possibilities for the unfolding situation which the NUMSA moment reflects. But these go with huge challenges as well. In conclusion, these are considered briefly, below.

The long shadow of the ANC is obviously tainted by the “four legs good, two legs better” metamorphosis of its napoleons, but it still has many a boxer’s loyalty. Drawing further from animal farm, the Marikana massacre clearly revealed the erosion of differences between the faces of the pigs and former white male masters. NUMSA will have the opportunity of this erosion of confidence in what used to be a national liberation movement. But it could be an uphill task in the short-term; particularly with the older generation that still have a nostalgic attachment to ANC. This would most likely include violent fight back by the dying leviathan.

The united front is a critical element of the thrust of the NUMSA moment. Most of the political groups that appear set to forge such with NUMSA are small and with near negligible influence. The challenge of winning the confidence of EFF fighters, to be actively part of such a front-in-practice, at the very least cannot be overemphasized, if it is to be robust, in today’s South Africa, in my view. NUMSA youths would have a central role to play in appealing to the rank and file “fighters” of the EFF through struggles from below in the communities (and even some workplaces).

“What kind of party do we want to build?” is a question that NUMSA will have to answer in theory and practice. The answer will not necessarily be as simple as it is often posed on the Left in general; “vanguard or mass party?” Luckily, so to speak, NUMSA will not be starting (in either theory or practice) from a point of zero. Discussions at the Symposium, the reading materials circulated and the unfolding reality of crises and revolts we are living through provide nuggets of answers.

In my opinion, something to be guarded against is the tilt towards compromising revolutionary programme with the massification of Left parties as they get sucked into the labyrinth of electoral politics. Avoiding the reefs of reformism on one hand and sectarianism on the other can best be rooted in revolutionary programme that posits reforms not as an alternative to revolution, or part of a National Democratic Revolution, but as rungs in building the confidence and power of the working class as it climbs the self-emancpatory ladder of revolution.

NUMSA’s inclusion of service delivery struggles as a trade union, as part and parcel of its moment, in the rejuvenation of the movement for socialism in South Africa points towards a grasp of this, as does its readiness to debate on the concept of the NDR, while still holding firmly to it.

At this point, I cannot but say like Chinua Achebe that “it is morning yet on creation day”. And, the greatest contribution of revolutionaries in different countries globally to the NUMSA moment might not be the theoretical debate we will engage in as it deepens, but to deepening the revolutionary struggle of the working class to overthrow capitalism across the world. For NUMSA though, while it is correctly committed to a process-driven approach at arriving at the goal of building a mass-based revolutionary socialist party, it would have to take the plunge sooner than later, if the party would be participating in the March 2016 local elections in South Africa, as it has hinted.  The dynamics of local elections are quite different from those of national elections where EFF could make a credible showing within just 8months of its establishment. Socialism is the future, and the future starts today.
Abuja, 7th September 2014