For Nigerian Leftists currently studying or re-studying Nigerian politics, the month of July 2018 has offered fresh and interesting materials. But for me and some close comrades, what has so far happened this month further clarifies—not by any means solved—several existing problems that may here be grouped into four tasks.
They are: constructing a unified organisation of the Nigerian Left; drafting a people’s manifesto; inserting into Nigeria’s electoral politics (as organised groups); and seeking electoral and non-electoral alliances. To these four tasks we may now add a fifth: Re-examining the concept of people’s revolution—as a complement to “people’s manifesto”.
The significant political events, which we may call the “July events”, include the emergence of two rebel groups in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on alliance between more than 30 political formations, including the rebellious APC groups, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP); the political reconciliation of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo with the leadership of PDP, but falling short of his formally re-joining the party; the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State in which class power and state power were clearly and effectively demonstrated; high dramas in the “politics of separations and combinations” and visible deployment of Nigerian state apparatuses in functional political struggles.
Of the listed “July events” the most significant from the point of view of the Nigerian Left are, or should be, those that relate to the reality of the state, class power and state power. These are connected subjects which, in their combination, remain one of the strongest dividing lines between Marxists, non-Marxists and anti-Marxists—since the days of Karl Marx.
To illustrate this point, let me put my own position in the matter as mildly as I can: Any Nigerian Leftist who does not grasp or who dismisses the reality and meaning of class power and state power and is talking of “political alliance” or “political infiltration” is simply discussing the manner of her/his full absorption into the ruling class political formations. The group to which that Leftist belongs should, through education, prevent that tendency from taking root.
I now recall the last quarter of 1983: shortly before, during or shortly after that year’s general election. The Nigeria Police assumed extra-police powers and introduced such fascistic methods of maintaining “law and order” that Professor Wole Soyinka, in extreme anger, told the Inspector-General of Police, Sunday Adewusi: “You are not God!” And, if I remember correctly, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi wrote an angry article in The Guardian: titled “Deputy President Adewusi”. It was also at that time, in response to the virtual take-over of the country by the Nigeria Police, that some young Leftists again raised the question of “armed struggle” and actually got the backing of some older, but radical patriots from the four corners of Nigeria and from the centre. Again, the Leftists were advised to suspend or postpone this move by respected veteran politicians. Ironically, a couple of weeks later, on 30 December 1983, the Nigerian army brought the Second Republic to a close.
Every regime in Nigeria since independence in 1960 has provided several “high tide” instances to the Left for appreciating the reality and meaning of class power and state power. All history teaches that whether in alliance with, or in opposition to the ruling class political formations, you must be conscious of that awesome instrument that distinguishes power from office and the state from the government. In certain political situations, the ruling class may share office with the Left or even concede high-sounding formal positions in government. But there is always a red line!
The political instability manifesting in combinations and separations—which are continuing and will continue until the last day of the 2019 general elections—teaches the Nigerian Left several other lessons, including, in particular, the following: Only a strong revolutionary organisation of the Left can wade into the current pre-election political scene and not dissolve or be irredeemably discredited. This is because—to put the point clearly and concretely—significant factors in this political instability include money (plenty of it); what money can buy; promises of positions; blackmail; ideological co-optation; ethnic and religious manipulation; threats and force. These are ultimate weapons, which the Nigerian ruling class and the Nigerian state can, and do, deploy with no morality and sometimes, with impunity.
If what the world saw in the July 2018 governorship election in Ekiti State—including open purchase of votes for amounts ranging from five to ten thousand naira (US $ 20 to US $ 40) per vote—was a statement of the current state of electoral politics in Nigeria, the Nigerian Left may be faced with three options: to join “them”, or do battle with “them”, or dialectically do both. What will be absurd and juvenile is to go into the contest like aliens from another planet. This position, this separation of “them” from “us”, is categorical and is not directed, in particular, at the ruling class party to which an activist Leftist may now belong or for which she or he has “sympathy”. And it is without prejudice to future alliances.
It will be justifiably tempting for a young or idealistic Leftist, on the basis of the “July events” alone, to propose the stepping-down of the question of alliance between Leftist and non-Leftist (especially ruling class) formations from the immediate agenda of the Nigerian Left. Faced with such a proposition, I will first try to abstain from voting. But if I am compelled to take a position I will vote for the proposition. However, after the vote, I shall propose that one of the dangers is that the proposition—as formulated—may lead to a harder attitude to Leftists currently “trapped” in the machines of leading ruling class formations. There will be no problem with the generality of current Leftist “sympathisers” and “supporters” of non-Leftist formations. This is because, faced with credible and viable revolutionary alternatives, the masses and their shop-floor leaders will begin to review their choices.
If I succeed with my restraining, but non-substantive proposition, I shall then propose, substantively, that the Left should retain its agenda—in which the question of alliances features prominently—but should stick to the priorities that put the questions of organisation and manifesto in the fore.
In an election, a participating party’s manifesto is expected to state clearly and concretely what the party and its candidates would do if elected into office. To that extent any Nigerian Leftist reviewing the “July events” will discover that the dominant parties and leading candidates in the Ekiti governorship election knew that manifestoes would play little or no role in deciding the result. And with the manner the questions before the nation have now been sharply posed, giving little room for equivocation, one may predict that the dominant parties and their candidates will have no real manifestos to offer in the 2019 general elections. This makes the production of the Nigerian Left’s manifesto—the People’s Manifesto—an important and urgent task.
A Nigerian people’s manifesto, as I have defined it in this series on the Nigerian Left is “the Nigerian Left’s public declaration of its agenda plus a Nigerian people’s charter of demands.” The manifesto can thus be used for elections (as a platform) and for general popular struggle. It should be a clear and concrete statement— entertaining no equivocation on any of the key questions now before the nation. If, on the platform of a people’s manifesto, the Nigerian Left comes to power as a dominant organised force either in an alliance or in a broad movement, that victory may be called a people’s revolution. And it will be seen to be so. This proposition will be taken up later.
* Edwin Madunagu, mathematician and journalist, writes from Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria.