Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Fiercely critical of the Nigerian political and business classes' perpetual money-grabbing and disenfranchising of ordinary Nigerians, Kola Ibrahim makes the case for Nigeria's Labour Party to develop into a 'mega-party' representative of the country's majority.

As workers in Nigeria celebrate this year’s Workers’ Day, the political challenges before the working and poor people are today more vital than ever before. That the capitalist political class has severely and collectively plundered the huge resources of the nation, while poor people go hungry, is nothing new. For the past almost 11 years of civil rule, workers have fought tooth-and-nail to gain a better living, but every workers' demand in this regard is met with stiff opposition from the capitalist ruling class at all levels. While the Nigerian government was forced to concede that it has not implemented the teachers’ salary scale (TSS) in many states of the federation, the demand of the workers for a substantial wage increase from the meagre N5,500 (Naira – about US$37) a month to N52,200 (about US$234) is stubbornly opposed by all tiers of government.

Yet despite the unprecedented monetary resources that have been accrued in the nation’s purse since 1999, nothing fundamental has improved in the living standards of the average Nigerian, just as the country itself is in seeming absolute infrastructural collapse. The hundreds of billions being sunk into road construction, power generation and funding education have found mysterious routes back to the private accounts of money-bag politicians and businessmen. Despite a plethora of anti-graft agencies (the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission), the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Special Anti-Fraud Unit and the judiciary), pervasive corruption still remains the way of life of politicians and big business. Aside all this are the continued attacks on the working and poor people, the latest of which is the deregulation of the oil industry and, more importantly, the deregulation of fuel pricing.

Commendably, Nigerian workers and the oppressed have waged countless battles against malfeasance and attacks on their living conditions. But the more they fight a policy, the more anti-poor policies are launched against them. In this milieu, the question then arises of why workers will allow looters, anti-poor politicians and bankrupt public officers into power in the first place. Nigerian workers, with their social, organisational and numerical strength, can change the political landscape in the interest of the poor people if their mass organisations (trade unions and their leaderships) are prepared to build a working-class political platform that will challenge the bankrupt capitalist political class. Events have shown that when Nigerian workers and the poor enter the arena of struggle or politics, the atmosphere will definitely change. This is clearly shown by the power of general strikes organised by workers, where even the busiest roads are turned into football pitches. This shows the popularity and the strength Nigerian workers enjoy among the oppressed; if only this is turned into a vital asset to unseat anti-poor politicians and the system they represent.

However, as a result of the absence of a working-class political party, various sections of the capitalist political class, who have been sidelined from the centre of resource control, coupled with some big business-funded NGOs (non-governmental organisations), have turned this into an opportunity to pose as an alternative. In a practical sense, there is fundamentally no difference between the ruling PDP (People's Democratic Party) and the opposition parties. Take Lagos State for instance, where the opposition AC (Action Congress) is in control, education has been commercialised, the health infrastructure is comatose and roads are still in a deplorable condition. The so-called mega-city project of Fashola has meant the destruction of the livelihoods of several poor artisans and petty traders without an alternative means of survival. The party itself is controlled by a few money-bags. Thus, such a party cannot be the alternative structure needed by the working and poor people to liberate themselves from the stranglehold of poverty and misery.

This brings us to the question of the Labour Party, which was founded by trade union leaders. This party, as the name suggests, is supposed to be the party of the working and poor people. But the trade union leadership, aside from handing the party over to some traditional politicians, has refused to mobilise the forces of the workers to build the party as a genuine working-class political platform, with clearly different economic and social programmes. This has made the party attractive to many money-bag politicians, who have failed to achieve their goals in other corrupt political parties. The implication of this is that the Labour Party is gradually losing its pristine outlook. The same labour leadership that is failing to build the Labour Party is conveniently involved in a ‘strategic partnership’ with the government that is attacking the welfare interests of workers and poor people.

In fact, many capitalist parties, having seen the enormous strength that a Labour Party can pull in the coming period, have started romancing the party with an idea of electoral collaboration or mega-party project. This is unfortunate as the Labour Party itself is a mega-party by orientation, if built in this line. What the Labour Party needs today is a summit of the labour movement, pro-labour organisations (especially in LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition)), the students’ movement and socialist movements, where the task of building a viable, politically strong Labour Party will be charted out and work will start in earnest as the 2011 elections fast approach. We need to build a Labour Party that will be completely different in its form of party organisation and working. We need a Labour Party that will be democratically controlled and funded by rank-and-file members through a genuine internal democracy. This can only make sense when workers, youth, students, artisans, peasants and the unemployed join the party en masse. This can be achieved easily if the central labour unions (the NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) and the TUC (Trade Union Congress)) and other trade unions mobilise their members to the party.

More importantly, in order for the party to truly stand as a strong opposition to other anti-worker, anti-poor capitalist political parties – including those claiming to be in the opposition – it needs to stand for economic and political policies that will be different from other parties. These include standing against all anti-poor policies comprising the privatisation of public enterprise and utilities; the commercialisation of social services like education, health and roads; the deregulation of the oil industry; and the retrenchment and casualisation of workers, among others.

On the contrary, the party must stand for the re-nationalisation of all privatised public enterprises and utilities, massively develop them and put all public enterprises and utilities under the democratic control and management of workers, community (where they operate) and consumers, as a deterrent against the mismanagement of these enterprises. This means that managers and officials of the enterprises, corporation and utility firms will come from the democratic decisions of workers and communities and will be subject to recall if found incapable or unworthy. Furthermore, the party will stand for massive funding and development of social services like free and quality education at all levels, free health services at the point of use, massive and integrated road construction, and massive public and cheap housing programmes, among others. With this millions of youths will be gainfully employed while the economy will expand.

The party must adopt a working-class and democratic means of running the party. This means that the party officials, either within the party or in government, will earn the average salary of a skilled worker, and will be subject to recall if found going against the party principle and manifestos. Furthermore, a public office holder under the Labour Party platform will publish his or her assets to the public regularly.

The party, from the grassroots to the national level, will serve as a platform of struggle for workers, youth, students and the oppressed people, against all anti-poor policies of government. This means that the Labour Party in local government will agitate against and lead struggles around the lack of infrastructure, joblessness and the mismanagement of funds at the local level, while doing the same for state and national structures of the party.

The party must be built in workplaces, schools, villages and communities.

It is these kinds of programmes that can make the Labour Party become the real alternative and mega-party of the majority of Nigerians who are living in abject penury, despite the enormous wealth of the country. This is the only way to build a movement against the rigging of election, because a genuine mass party of workers and poor people can hardly be rigged. The reason rigging is prevalent today is because workers and poor people have been ostracised from a political role.

This is calling to working-class activists and labour leaders to move towards building the Labour Party as a true labourers’ party by mobilising workers, peasants, artisans, okada riders, petty traders, youth and students to the party. We must collectively ensure that the party is not handed over to money-bag politicians. We call on the NLC, the TUC and other trade unions to build the Labour Party as a workers’ party. This is the only way to prevent anti-poor politicians from ruling us again.


* Kola Ibrahim is an activist based at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Enuwa, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.