Monday, October 5, 2015


United Action for Democracy condemns the dastardly bombings in suburbs of Abuja on Friday by Boko Haram, and sympathises with family members of the scores of poor people whose lives were cut short in their prime in these attacks. We must however consider this as a clarion call for thinking out of the box. The sloganeering and unsubstantiated claims of the ruling All Progressives Congress that such cowardly acts will not stop the sect’s defeat appear hollow and annoying, considering its posturing on the Boko Haram insurgency, when it was an opposition party.

Over 1,200 Nigerians have been killed by Boko Haram since APC came to power. There is little basis for confidence that many more will not face a similar fate. To present the sect’s tactics of urban guerrilla warfare as something new is equally being disingenuous. On the contrary, this was the norm for Boko Haram until mid-2014 when it was inspired by the territorial expansion of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. And indeed, most of the territories it seized from the Nigerian state had been recovered before the March 28 presidential elections.

Boko Haram members have been arrested in several states to the south of Abuja, according to reports credited to the Department of State Security. This points at the likelihood of an expanding sphere of attacks by the sect, in the coming period. The Abuja bombings might, rather painfully, herald a deepening of the macabre dance of death associated with Boko Haram, and the Federal Government’s campaign against it.

This is the time for citizens to act. It was not the army and other security forces that forced Boko Haram out of Maiduguri. It took the self-organising defensive and offensive actions of the Civilian JTF for respite to be won in the ancient city and neighbouring towns. The Nigerian state’s curtailing of Boko Haram’s reign of terror might not be forthcoming precisely because it prioritises cure for the symptom over that for the ailment. Poverty, unemployment and disillusionment, basic recipes for providing the sect with ready recruits remain rife, as we continue to wait for the campaign promises of the APC to materialise.

Poor working people across the length and breadth of the country must draw inspiration from the Civilian JTF and organise self-defence committees. We must also demand of the government to immediately begin to take action, as it promised whilst in opposition, towards eradicating poverty, illiteracy and social exclusion. Enough is enough!

       Baba Aye
National Convener
Issued: October 4, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015


“Africa Rising” is one of the main catch phrases in International Political Economy, in recent times. It captures the fact that “Nowhere in the world do you get the kind of returns you get in Africa”, as Mr Olabisi Onasanya, the Group CEO of First Bank of Nigeria put it, during the World Economic Forum on Africa, held at Abuja in May 2014. But, in the face of such huge profits for big business, nowhere in the world do we have the kind of poverty that confronts poor working people as in Africa, fostering inequality.

Resources that could be made available for the provision of public services have been drained out of the continent both illicitly and “legally” through unfair taxation systems that multinational corporations exploit to the detriment and often with the support of African states. Within African countries as well, spurred by the tax consensus which the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and other multilateral economic institutions promote, the rich tend to proportionally pay much less than the poor masses, particularly the working class.

There is a dire need for trade unions to challenge this situation and be at the forefront of the struggle for tax justice as a basis for expanding domestic revenue generation. Public Services International and its affiliates have been championing this cause over the last few years across the world. In Africa, there is every need for us to redouble our efforts. We must also establish the linkages between fair taxation and the provision of quality public services.       

Taxation has always existed since the emergence of states, as a means for internally generating revenue within the boundaries of states or colonies that they dominate. In modern democratic states, there are four “Rs” which constitute the basis for taxation’s legitimacy.

Revenue: taxes remain the most predictable means of sustained funding for governance and the provision of public services. This is particularly so for countries that are not resource rich and thus do not have the advantage of high revenue generation through international trade. But it is nonetheless true as well for resource rich countries, not the least from royalties on resources they generate, which is a form of corporate taxation.

Redistribution: taxation, particularly personal income taxes, especially when this is on a progressive/gradated basis is one of the surest instruments for ensuring redistribution of wealth and thus the promotion of social inclusion. It is not accidental that the Nordic countries which are the most equitable societies in the world have robust histories of redistribution through taxation. At the heart of this redistribution is the social wage which is the provision of free public services such as healthcare and education, which is funded with taxation.

Repricing: taxes are also used to curtail market failures arising from externalities and the power of monopolies. Similarly, they could be imposed on such harmful luxury products like cigarettes in the overall interest of the citizenry.

Representation: taxation is considered as the legitimate basis for citizens to hold their governments accountable in a way similar to the right of workers as union members to demand accountability from their elected representatives, on the strength of their membership subscription. This is why the slogan “no taxation without representation” which emerged during the 18th century American war of independence is often used to express the social contract between governments and the citizenry.

There are basically four forms of taxation all of which we must be concerned with in our quest for fair tax as a basis for enhanced domestic revenue that could be ploughed into delivering quality public service for all. These are: personal income tax; corporate income tax; transaction tax (which includes Value Added Tax), and; assets tax (landed and non-landed property).

Personal Income Tax (PIT) is a direct tax, and the most important form of taxation for ensuring wealth redistribution. But this is when it is central to a progressive tax system. Such systems place emphasis on direct taxes i.e. personal income and corporate income taxes. They also establish tax thresholds below which the very poor are not taxed, while gradating the percentage of personal income which is taxed such that high earners pay much more, as their contribution to the social wage for funding social services like education and public health.

In developed countries, personal income tax has been a major instrument for promoting wealth redistribution. It was largely on the back of this thrust that the welfare state was built during the post-World War II era. Despite the ongoing rolling back of the welfare state with austerity measures, PIT still retains a significant position in revenue generated from taxation.

For example, in 2010 PIT was 24% of total tax revenue in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, while in Africa it was just 13.6%. Apart from the preponderance of the informal economy on the continent as earlier noted, tax evasion particularly by the high-flying professionals and the very rich accounts for this sorry state of revenue generation from direct taxation in general.

The main burden of PIT is borne by the workers in the formal sector, particularly those in the public services, through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system, which ensures their taxes are deducted at source. This is definitely not fair.
But beyond the dilemma of ensuring PIT compliance by individuals, huge amounts of revenue are lost to corporations, particularly transnational corporations through tax exemptions, tax evasion and illicit financial flows.

Transaction taxes (including Value added tax – VAT). As part of the neoliberal attacks on the poor by the capitalist class over the last three decades though, a tax consensus has been instituted by the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral economic institutions. This places greater emphasis on indirect taxes such as those on transactions, particularly the Value Added Tax. This places a higher tax incidence on the poor and working people, who proportionally bear a bigger burden through such taxation preference, increasing economic inequality.

A major argument by African governments for supporting this situation is the difficulty in ensuring personal income tax compliance. This is partly due to the large proportion of the informal economy where over three quarters of the economically active population operate. But tax exemptions for non-luxury goods which the poor citizens require from VAT is a possible means of ameliorating the regressive impact of preference for indirect over direct taxation.

Revenue from Corporate Income Taxation (CIT) is in no way commensurate with the “Africa Rising” narrative of stupendous profits being made by some companies, particularly transnational corporations. Indeed, while CIT revenue represented 1.7% of the GDP growth in Africa for 1995-2000, the figure for 2005-2009 was 1.6%.

Discretionary tax incentives and exemptions for transnational corporations by African states in unhealthy competition leading to a “race to the bottom” is a major problem in this regard. This is despite the fact that research has shown that market size and infrastructural development for example are much more important for attracting foreign direct investment than tax breaks and other “incentives”.

Base Erosion and Profit Sharing and Double Taxation treaties often involving the use of tax havens by these companies is the major means they use to avoid paying due taxes to governments in Africa. The enormous amount of corporate taxes avoided through legal methods has created public anger across the globe. In Africa alone tax avoidance cause more money to leave Africa then the total foreign aid inflow; creating the perverse situation where the double the equivalent of total foreign “aid” leaves Africa to enrich foreign multinationals.  

Multinationals go to great lengths to ensure these matters are not discussed publically and create an environment where workers view taxes, such as income tax or VAT, as a burden. PSI activists have to be enlightened on these and join the struggle which the PSI headquarters and several other civil society organisations at the global level and in our different countries are waging to bring a halt to these mechanisms utilised by multinational corporations to undermine the adequate generation of revenue from corporate taxation.

It is important to stress the fact that fair tax is only one side of the struggle we have to wage for a better life for the poor working people, which can only be guaranteed when quality public services are available for all. With fair taxation, we secure improved domestic revenue generation. There is however no assurance that enhanced revenue profile would amount to improvements in the quality, scope and spread of public services delivery in our countries.

We must be part of the Tax Justice Campaign globally and locally. But we must as well be at the fore of campaign for good governance, and better funding of public services. A critical question for us should thus be “how do we do this?”

Taking it from the Tax Justice Campaign: first, as we stated earlier, we all have to be part of the expanding Tax Justice Campaign, continentally and nationally. This is centred around the Tax Justice Network-Africa (TJN-A) which has networks and platforms in several countries and equips us with adequate information and capacity-building opportunities in the pursuit of fair tax. Second, we should draw from the example in Sierra Leone where particular infrastructural development are tied directly to taxes from for example VAT with signboards showing this as proof.

Budget Tracking: PSI affiliates have to be part of the budget tracking processes in our different countries. Our research departments would be of immense use for this and it should be part of the activities of the National Coordinating Committees (NCC). There are several NGOs with expertise on this that we could collaborate with and coalitions as well that we could be active in.

Organising service delivery campaigns: we have to put the crucial role of public services delivery for fostering social inclusion and promoting the all round development of the population at the centre of public discourse. Advocacy and enlightenment activities aimed at this could include: deputations and submission of memorandums to parliament and the government at all tiers of governance, which are knowledge-driven based on research; organising symposiums, seminars, guest lectures and panel discussions on salient issues for improving public services delivery; regular media briefings and issuance of press statements and; protest marches, rallies and other forms of peaceful demonstration.

Anti-corruption and good governance: a good chunk of available revenue in the public coffers tend to be misappropriated or out rightly embezzled in the absence of strong democratic institutions for good governance. To ensure improved revenue from taxation does not end up in private pockets, we must also be concerned with fighting corruption and for good governance, in every way we can.

Fair tax is of the utmost importance for improving the domestic revenue generated of states. This is particularly so in the wake of the global economic crisis and has brought about renewed interest of trade unions and progressive civil society organisations in the struggle for tax justice. The G20 and OECD have also commenced taking steps that could lead to positive changes in the international tax architecture.

This general picture is even direr in Africa due to several reasons. Weak tax systems, tax evasion and illicit financial flows have become black holes where huge amounts of would-have-been revenue disappear. While the Africa Union has set up bodies such as the Thabo Mbeki-led panel on illicit funds flow, the active role of trade unions is needed now more than ever if fair tax is to be enthroned in Africa.

But we cannot be concerned only with tax justice. “Quality public services for all” has always been and must continue to be our battle cry as workers and citizens. The struggle for fair tax is to ensure that there is improved revenue for governments to be able to provide this.

In this two-sided struggle, we will have to work on the platform of the NCCs and in alliances as well as coalitions with several NGOs and other unions on issues of tax justice as well as for democratically expanding the spaces for good governance and against corrupt practices. We must also not lose sight of the systemic nature of the problem. The skewed nature of the reality of taxation as well as rising inequality are characteristic of the capitalist, for-profit essence of modern industrial society. Our ultimate aim must be to change the system, founding the world anew on the basis of solidarity, cooperation and workers’ power.

United and determined, we will win and together build better societies in Africa as part of a better world, which is possible through our collective struggles.

Being a paper presented on Wednesday September 23, to the 12th Public Services Intetrnational (PSI) Africa and Arab Countries Regional Conference (AFRECON), at the Avani Gaborone Hotel & International Conference Centre, Botswana on September 21-25, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015


(Being the text of a media conference addressed by Comrade Baba Aye, National Convener of the United Action for Democracy on Saturday, September 19, 2015, to commemorate the 10th year annivesary of the martyrdom of Chima Ubani & Tunji Oyeleru, at the National Secretariat of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Ikeja Lagos)

Chima Ubani at one of the anti-deregulation rallies, shortly before his death
Sisters and brothers from the Fourth Estate of the Realm, comrades and compatriots, colleagues and friends, I welcome you all to this media conference on behalf of the National Coordinating Committee of the United Action for Democracy. We are here as part of the activities to commemorate a decade of the martyrdom of Chima Ubani and Tunji Oyeleru. Drawing from the inspiration of their lives and deaths, we are charged with raising the banner of working people’s struggle, for a better society, high.
The two patriots died in an auto crash at Potiskum, on their way to Abuja after a rally against deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector at Maiduguri, organised by the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). The rally was part of a series of zonal rallies to mobilise working people against the anti-poor neoliberal policies of the Nigerian state, which started in Lagos.
They were both in the prime of their lives. Tunji was 46years old while Chima was barely 43 years of age. But within the short spans of their lives, they demonstrated excellence in the pursuit of what they stood for.

Tunji Oyeleru: the quintessential photo journalist and patriot
Tunji Oyeleru was deputy photo editor of the Vanguard newspapers. He was an exemplar of artistic rendition of reality with photography and displayed impeccable professionalism as a photo journalist. It was his front page photograph of the Lagos rally that caught the attention of Adams Oshiomhole, the then president of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
Adams made enquiries from journalists on the paper’s labour desk, keen to know who took such a superb photograph. It was the night before the Kano rally that he eventually got across to Tunji. He expressed his desire to have Tunji at Kano to take photographs of the rally the following day, but expressed regrets that NLC might not be able to get him down to Kano on time for the activity. Tunji Oyeleru told him not to worry, promising to be there.
He bought his ticket and was at Kano before the rally started. His lead photo of the rally was equally a masterpiece. From Kano to Maiduguri, he was full of humour as he discussed with labour and civil society leaders. We knew him closely only for those fleeting moments, but came to appreciate him as great person, committed patriot and thorough professional. The pain of his death shortly after that can never leave our hearts.

Chima Ubani: a life of struggle for the working people
Chima Ubani had been one of us for three decades, as a leader in the students, pro-democracy and socialist movements. Born to the family of a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Chima spent most of his conscious life as a rebel in defence of the cause of the oppressed. As a student of crop science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), he first became active as a pan-Africanist, in the reggae movement.
He became president of the students union and a member of the Marxist Students Movement by the mid-80s, at a very trying moment for the radical left on campuses. The National Association of Nigerian Students had been banned and in UNN, the university authority collaborated with neo-fascist confraternity groups organised as “Operation Zero Option” who physically attacked activists.
Ubani was jailed when the military government cracked down on the students’ movement in the aftermath of the Ahmadu Bello University massacre of May 25, 1986. After being released, it took a court order for the university to allow him take his final examinations. But he still graduated at the top of his class.
He took up employment with the Civil Liberties Organisation after school and worked there for the rest of his life, rising to become its Executive Director. But CLO was for Chima, basically a platform for extending radical political work, organising struggle through several forms of united fronts with the aim of achieving “system change”. Ubani was thus pivotal to the formation of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) at Jos in November, 1991. This was to be a united front of radical forces to fight for: overthrowing the military regime; establishing a mass-based provisional government and; convening a Sovereign National Conference. He became the first elected General Secretary of CD.
Chima was at the forefront of CD’s struggle for the actualisation of June 12, in those rebellious days of 1993. He came up with the concept and practice of an “Expanded Secretariat” where a broad array of activists strategized together and organised mass actions under his leadership. He however broke with the CD at the Teachers’ House Convention of February 4, 1994, at Ibadan.
The dominant elements of CD had illusions in the “national bourgeoisie”. And through collaboration with MKO Abiola and his cohorts, they had implicitly supported the November 17, 1993 coup by General Sani Abacha. Their misplaced belief was that Abacha would hand over power to Abiola.
After walking out of the Convention, Chima and other leading members of CD who were firm in upholding the central place of working people’s struggle to defeat military dictatorship as against compromises between civilian and military elements of the ruling class, took the bull by the horns in trying to build a more focused radical front. They initiated discussions with like-minded forces across the country, which led to the formation of the Democratic Alternative (DA), as a radical party of defiance, at Benin City on June 4, 1994. Chima was elected as the General Secretary at this founding convention. DA was modelled along the lines of the pre-1994 African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. Its manifesto, The Liberation Charter was inspired by the ANC’s Freedom Charter. He was its Deputy President when he died.
Chima managed to escape arrest for a long time. More than once, secret police who had come for him were fooled by his slight frame and he would escape before it struck them that he was the larger than life picture they had in their heads. But eventually he got caught in 1995 and spent about a year in detention. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and he was released a year later as a result of international mobilisation for his freedom.
Shortly after this, with General Abacha’s vice-grip becoming more vicious as he successfully crushed most mass democratic organisations resulting in the ebb of popular struggle by 1997, Chima Ubani was once again at the fore of finding practical ways forward, for uniting and revitalizing the popular struggle, through organisation. This eventually took the form of the establishment of the United Action for Democracy (UAD) on May 17, 1997.
UAD brought together different strands of the radical movement significantly those arrayed with the Campaign for Democracy (or rather a faction of it, as it had split in 1995) and those aligned to the DA. Chima Ubani was elected as one of its founding Co-secretaries (the other co-secretary was Sylvester Odione-Akhaine, who was General Secretary of the CD faction that was part of the founding of the UAD).
UAD gave new life to the democratic struggle against military dictatorship. It organised the “5-million man rally” in Yaba, Lagos, to counter the pro-Abacha “2-million man rally” organised by the sycophantic Youths Earnestly Ask Abacha (YEAA) group in Abuja, in 1998. This marked a re-ignition of the anti-military dictatorship struggle.
When the transition to a civilian regime was unfolded, DA resolved to participate in the transition. This led to a split in August 1998 at the Pending Hotel Convention in Port Harcout. Chima was convinced that the Left had to participate in the elections for a new republic, leading to a parting of ways with the majority of young revolutionary activists who were the majority of delegates.
Eventually, DA was not registered to participate in the 1999 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission. It however pursued its case in court along with parties like the National Conscience Party and the Peoples Redemption Party, opening the way for a liberalisation of the space for partisan politics with a court ruling in December 2002.
After the exit of the military, two interlinked issues dominated the focus of Chima’s politics. First was building unity of the socialist Left, the other was forging of closer ties between the revolutionary Left and the trade unions. In pursuit of the first, Chima was the moving spirit behind the summoning of the 3rd All Nigeria Socialist Conference on February 21-23, 2003, at Benin City.
He was elected as one of the two representatives of the Socialist Congress of Nigeria (the other was Festus Iyayi), into the Working Committee of the Nigeria Socialist Alliance (NSA) which the Conference constituted. Chima was unanimously elected within the WC as its Chair. But unfortunately, Chima was too busy with his tasks as Executive Director of CLO and could not provide the required leadership for the NSA. This was central to the atrophy and unsung death of the NSA after just three meetings of the WC.
The last of Chima’s organisational achievements was with regards to the second issue. As a leading civil society activist, Chima was always at the fore of several mass protests called along with general strikes against pump price hikes, starting from 2000. The way and manner the 2003 general strike was called off by the trade unions however led to grave cause for concern within the ranks of the socialist Left which constituted the leadership of the civil society movement.
Very much like what would later happen in a more intensive way in 2012, first the TUC and later the NLC, called off the general strike at a point when it was clear that it was leading to revolutionary openings. Chima Ubani and other radical civil society activists then made it clear to the trade unions that there was the need for the relationship between the radical civil society movement and the trade unions to be more clearly defined organisationally.
This led to the birth of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), as a platform for discussions between the trade unions and civil society groups in planning, executing, and assessing mass actions. There was thus the need for the civil society components within LASCO to have a collective forum as well.
UAD represented the broadest form of a unified civil society coalition. But some groups, which included the faction of CD that had not joined in the formation of UAD (and which was then being led by Beko Ransome-Kuti after he was released from detention in 1998), were not part of it. Chima Ubani initiated discussions with them and this resulted in the formation of the Joint Action Forum as the civil society component of LASCO.
While Beko Ransome-Kuti emerged as the JAF Chair, Chima was unanimously made the General Secretary. It was in this capacity that he was a central figure in the 2005 rallies against neoliberal policies, particularly reflected in the incessant fuel price hikes. This would be his last duty, as death claimed this indefatigable soldier of the working class on the way from Maiduguri
Even in death, Chima’s very essence symbolised the life he lived; one for the working people. He not only died in the active service of the class he lived for. He died on September 21, exactly 30 years to the date that the Apena Declaration for trade union unity was signed by the leaders of the four trade union centres in Nigeria at the time, leading to the birth of the Nigeria Labour Congress.  

In lieu of a conclusion
All his conscious life, Chima waged a struggle to change the system, playing leading roles in different ways, at different times. He was convinced that a better Nigeria, indeed a better world, is possible and can be won only through the working people’s ceaseless struggle. In the course of his life and over the past ten years, we have won several battles.
For example, Nigerians can now have the confidence that our votes will be counted and will count. But this is not enough. Democracy must mean much more than just the franchise right being exercised every four years, despite the importance of this. If democracy is, as we made to believe: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”, it must flow from below.
Councils of representatives must be elected directly in our workplaces and communities. Such representatives, up to the highest level must not earn more than the wages of the average worker, unlike what we have now where public office holders who are supposed to be the servants of the people “earn” millions of naira, while the national minimum wage remains a paltry N18,000 per month. Our representatives must also be fully accountable to us, and the right to democratically recall erring public officers must not be cumbersome.
Chima fought against all policies and programmes that put profit before people. UAD continues to insist that democracy entails putting people before profit. Privatisation, deregulation and cuts in the funding of social services only benefit the rich and powerful. The wealth of our lands and from our toil as working people must be used to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of all citizens. UAD will thus continue to fight against all anti-poor people policies, as Chima did.
We will thus hold the All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to their campaign promises. We want to know when the social protection measures they promised such as conditional cash transfers, massive low cost housing schemes and improvement in public healthcare delivery would commence.
Chima Ubani stood for the unity of organised labour and the civil society movement. UAD activists, state chapters and affiliates will be organising a series of activities in commemoration of the 10th year anniversary of the death of Chima Ubani and Tunji Oyeleru in: Port Harcourt, Lagos, Nsukka, Kano, and Abuja. We use this moment to call out to all pro-working people forces in the civil society movement to work more closely together, for in unity lies our strength. We also call on the NLC and TUC to take up the gauntlet of establishing the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) as the veritable platform of struggle which it has the potential of becoming, with the formation of LASCO chapters at states and communities levels.
Finally, it is regrettable that most of the promises made when Chima and Tunji died regarding the welfare of their families have not been met. We are happy that the NLC under the leadership of Comrade Ayuba Wabba has taken up a firm commitment in this regard. The Nigerian state is culpable of their deaths by default and should bear responsibility for the upkeep of their families. We also have to ensure that the historic roles of these two martyrs of our movement are presented for future generations, to inspire the kind of commitment that drove them in the struggle for system change. A biography of Chima Ubani would thus be published next year by the UAD.
Thank you for listening.

Baba Aye
National Convener