A Political Party of the Working Class is Born
By Hassan Taiwo Soweto
National Youth Leader
"Today we are beginning a new chapter in the history of Nigeria; a chapter that will be dominated by the political struggle of the working masses to take power and begin to take control of the destiny of this Nation in the interest of the vast majority"
With this Segun Sango, the National Chairperson of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), presented the welcome address that captured the essence of the party’s inaugural convention - a gathering of nearly 60 trade unionists, workers, youths, students and community activists. Some delegates from the far North, East and South south who had to travel over 8 hours on the road had arrived on the eve of the convention.
The inaugural convention of the SPN was held on Saturday 16 November 2013 at the Women Development Centre (WDC) Agege Lagos. The SPN was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) last year.
Comrade Peluola Adewale while declaring open the convention announced to rousing applause the victory of DSM's sister organisation Socialist Alternative Kshama Sawant incredible victory against a Democrat incumbent in the council elections in Seattle, United States. DSM and Socialist Alternative which are both affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). For days Nigerian comrades had monitored the vote counting with bated breath up till Friday November 15 when Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin conceded defeat. If socialist ideas could win in the belly of the beast, the citadel of capitalism, why not here? And of course in 2003, DSM Lanre Arogundade contesting on the platform of the National Conscience Party (NCP) for Lagos West Senatorial seat won over 77,000 votes in an election dominated by vote buying and rigging by the then ruling Alliance for Democracy (AD) now re-christened All Progressive Congress (APC).
This was followed by a welcome address by Comrade Segun Sango. According to him, "14 years after civil rule, the high expectations of millions of Nigerians for real positive change in their lives have been shattered by the politicians of PDP, APC, LP and other elite politicians in the other capitalist parties. Not only has there been no substantial improvement in the lives of the working masses, in some respect the situation has become worse. Tens of millions of Nigerians still live without access to good food, housing, roads, water, electricity, education and healthcare. Thousands of workers have been retrenched from their jobs. Despite Nigeria's abundant wealth, over 112 million Nigerians out of a population of about 170 million are too poor to afford the basic standard of living of good shelter, nutritious food and good quality education.
|Segun Sango, SPN National Chairperson|
Perhaps the most serious aspect of Nigeria's problems is the poor and hopeless condition of the youth. Today unemployment has become a permanent feature of the life of our youth despite alleged impressive economic growth. The latest, July 2013, population estimate is that Nigeria has 175.5 million inhabitants. Of these 76.8 million (43.8%) are under 14 years old. When you add the 33.6 million 15 to 24 year olds, 63.1% of Nigeria's current population is under 25 years old. But capitalism cannot offer these youth a real future".
According to him, since 1986 when Labour Militant, the forerunner of the DSM came into existence as a distinct Trotskyite group, we had inscribed on our banner the demand for a political party of the working class. Between then and now, we have seen two attempts by the working class to build a party of their own betrayed and/or shipwrecked by the bureaucratic labour leaders with pro-capitalist outlook who have little or no faith in the ability of the working masses to salvage Nigeria. First time in 1989, large crowds of workers, youth and poor masses welcomed the formation of the Nigerian Labour Party only for the Babangida military junta to dissolve all political parties in favour of just two - The NRC and the SDP. The tragedy of the story was that instead of the labour movement resisting this undemocratic step of the regime, they acquiesced meekly.
|Simeon Abraham from Rivers State|
The second and current attempt was 2005 when the Labour Party was formed out of the rump of the Party for Social Democracy (PSD) which had been registered in 2002 by the Adams Oshiomhole-led leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). But not only did Adams Oshiomhole himself abandon the party for the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) - now APC, today the labour leaders have abandoned the LP for moneybag politicians such that the party has no working class membership.
These were the historical betrayals of the labour leadership, including the hijack by a rightwing and pro-capitalist leadership of the NCP where we worked and helped build, which has made the DSM to begin the SPN initiative. While we have not abandoned our agitation for a mass working peoples’ party we hold strongly that now even a small party can set a striking example, something that is imperative especially at present when there is no party that represents the interests of working class people.
There were not a few people, the ruling elite and unfortunately some self-acclaimed left, who felt the SPN initiative would not succeed. The success of the inaugural convention is a clear and bold rebuttal of these elements. As Segun Sango pointed out: "For a long time, the capitalists and their apologists relying on the undemocratic and pro-rich provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act which ensure that only looters and moneybag politicians can form political parties, have made it impossible for the working masses to have a true political representation...However today and despite the huge difficulties, we are demonstrating that we can meet the constitutional provisions for the formation of a new political party as stipulated under the 1999 Constitution".
|Alfred Adegoke from Osun State|
A Minute Silence for Prof. Festus Iyayi
The SPN is a party that supports all struggles of the working masses to improve their conditions. Thus at the convention, the party demonstrated its solidarity with the struggle of University lecturers for a better public University system. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on a nationwide strike for over four months to demand better funding of the education sector and the improvement in University lecturer's working conditions. The demands of the union which has dominated public discussion for over four months now has exposed the contradiction of a profit-first capitalist system which gives less priority to the social services like public education, health care etc. In the midst of the strike, a leading ASUU leader and former president of the union, Prof Festus Iyayi, died in an auto crash caused by the convoy of the Kogi State Governor Idris Wada. In solidarity with the struggle of ASUU, the convention observed a minute silence in memory of Iyayi.
Mass Misery in the Midst of Abundance
After the welcome address, Dr. Sola Olorunyomi (the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities Human Right Committee) gave an interesting lecture on the topic: "Mass misery in the midst of plenty - the role of working class organisations". He started his lecture with the following words "Today, I am extremely privileged ... I Consider it a rare privilege to be here". Olorunyomi emphasized the importance of a working class political alternative. However according to him, while participation in election is okay, it does not mean that the electoral road is the only road to overthrow capitalist rule. "I do feel the party of the people must seek open democratic processes to move society forward but in the final analysis it is the ruling class that will help people determine how they will take power. Whether they will take power or not is not in doubt". This is obviously right.
|Dr Sola Olorunyomi, Guest Lecturer|
However as the DSM argues, an alternative political party of the working class is needed at all time whether for electoral contest to try to win power or whether for mass mobilisation to take power. A political party of the working class existing with clear ideas of how a new society based on cooperation and solidarity would be built is essential to ensure that when the masses move onto the stage of history, the goal is clear. This is unlike the developments in Egypt and Tunisia today where the struggle of the working masses for socio-economic change has not achieved desired result because of the movement was instinctively led by masses without the benefit of a clear cut working class socialist vision and method of how to permanently win the struggle against the capitalist and military controllers of these societies.
The Boko Haram insurgency in the North East is a particularly serious issue which shows how the terrible economic conditions is forcing a layer, especially disaffected youths, to take desperate measures trying to seek solution. Olorunyomi declared: "You can't defeat Boko Haram with a standing army. It is not doable! It is not possible! What can defeat Boko Haram is the people!".
Talking about the need for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), Olorunyomi came very close to DSM's articulation of an SNC dominated by the representatives of the working masses. "I have absolutely no problem in an ethnic formation. What I do have problem with is the government claiming to want to have a National Conference and bring only the bourgeois section of all ethnic groups". Olorunyomi declared there is an alternative mode of development to the profit-first ideology of capitalism. "So if we say for instance all the children in the land will be educated; so be it! Then we work out how the economy will cope with it". Contrary to this, under capitalism, the economy is made to cope not for the needs of the people but the profit of a few. This is why we have Nigeria's economy growing yet there are no jobs. The result is over 112 million poor Nigerians despite the abundance of human and natural resources required to make life better for all.
Ultimately, we have to "fall back on the energy of the masses through a new non-alienating state structure that will change the nature of property relation and ownership structure. And I say this can't be done by a bourgeois party. I think this can be done only by a Socialist party". Olorunyomi submitted. Obviously by this he meant the coming to power of a working masses government armed with socialist policies which is exactly what the SPN is gearing up to do.
|Catechist Ambrose Sunny from Abia State|
Despite the little time available, a lively discussion ensued after Dr. Olorunyomi's speech. About eight delegates made fantastic contributions. All stressed the importance of the building of the SPN as a working class political alternative. According to leading DSM member and SPN delegate from Oyo State comrade Adewale Barshar, the SPN should build its root among the working masses in the work places and communities. "we should organise programs with people in the communities. Many people may not come to us immediately today, but the masses will come to us when we have persevered; when they see that we are true and genuine".
In her contribution, Ms. Sodiya (a one-time member of the National Conscience Party) expressed her happiness at the steps being taken in building SPN. She went down memory lane describing her experiences in the NCP and how for a brief period, NCP provided a platform for radical youths, workers and masses to fight for change. The SPN has to be built like this. She ended her contribution by charging the delegates to be steadfast. "Do you want change and are you going to be part of that change! Please search your mind and redouble your commitment to the struggle".
A Political Party like no Other
Comrade Lanre Arogundade (member of the DSM Executive Committee and one-time Senatorial Candidate of the National Conscience Party) while summing up the lecture further explained that the SPN is no place for careerists. Rather the SPN is a party that operates on the principle of workers representatives on a workers' wage. "This is a party where if you are going to stand for election, you are not going to be earning all these fantastic jumbo salaries that Senators and other political office holders earn otherwise we are not going to be different from bourgeois parties. So we are going to do what we did in the NCP and even much more better by saying those who are elected on the platform of the SPN will earn not more than the wages of those they represent while the remainder of their salaries and allowances will be donated to the party and to the labour and social movements to aid the struggles of workers, youths and the masses in the communities".
|Lanre Arogundade, Member of DSM's NEC|
While further explaining how the SPN should be built as a political party distinct from the pro-rich parties of the capitalist parties, Lanre Arogundade said that "the SPN will seek to be the party of all working class elements whether you are a worker, unemployed, traders, youth, market women, peasants etc. SPN is a party they offer a pro-people's alternative to the ruinous neo-liberal policies of privatisation being implemented by the ruling parties of the PDP and APC. SPN stands for public ownership and democratic control of the economy to benefit the majority. In addition SPN will stand in solidarity and actively participate in the struggles of workers, youth and masses when they are on strikes protests, demonstrations and pickets".
Arogundade added, "When we say there is no opposition in Nigeria, it’s because other than lip-service, we have not seen any of the bourgeois political parties that is for example ready to march on the streets with ASUU. The SPN will be and should be that kind of political party".
No Place for Moneybags!
At the end of the lecture, an SPN building fund was launched. A sum of N15, 915 was collected while the sum of N85, 000 was raised in pledges. Hitherto, the activities of the SPN have been financed by the special struggle fund raised from comrades and supporters by DSM which has generated till date N823, 500.
While the main capitalist parties of the PDP and ACN are financed by moneybag politicians who are looting society's resources, the SPN relies on the political support of the working people and masses. As Segun Sango proudly announced to the convention, "In getting to where we are today, we have never sought or accepted a single donation from any moneybag politician or member of the capitalist ruling elite. Rather, we have relied heavily on the financial donation from workers, youth, students, masses and our supporters across the country. This is how we shall continue to build the SPN. The SPN must continue to be a political party owned, controlled and funded by workers, masses and the youth".
A Huge Accomplishment
The mood at the convention was very optimistic. There was the feeling that now we are starting on a clear road which can enable us to successfully meet the conditionalities stipulated for registration of a new political party under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. Gathered at the convention were delegates from all the six geo-political zones of the country; an incredible achievement for a small socialist organisation. They represented the broad spectrum of the oppressed: workers, youth, students and masses.
This incredible accomplishment is a political success for the DSM which has been waging a political struggle for a working class political representation since its inception. This does not mean that all NEC members are DSM members but that we are able to recruit members for the SPN on the basis of the socialist ideas championed by the DSM since 1986 is a graphic testimony that the entirety of the Nigerian working masses regardless of geo-political zones, ethnic group or religion are yearning for change from prevailing capitalist misrule.
While the comrades and activities of the DSM (the initiator of the SPN) only extend to four zones of the country in terms of branches and membership, the SPN initiative enabled us to reach out to working class people and change-seekers across all the six geo-political zones of the country including places we previously had no member or activities. This includes the Boko Haram-ravaged Northeast region of the country where a coordinated campaign of bombing and killings is being conducted by Boko Haram and the forces of the state under the guise of fighting Boko Haram. Between last year and now, the interim national leadership of the party crisis-crossed the length and breadth of the country to mobilise support for the party. In the run-up to the Convention, zonal meetings were organised in all the zones including Abuja except the Northeast due to the prevailing security situation in the case of the former and, and SouthWest where we already functional chapters and active members of the party. The challenge of resources means that interim leadership had to prioritize other areas hitherto with little or no presence.
|DSM Stand at the Convention|
Of course this by no means meant every member elected into the NEC were able to make it to the convention. A few could not. However, the party made sure that all those who were elected into the NEC but could not, for different reasons include distance, lack of money to pay for transport and other circumstances, make it to the convention sent written confirmation of their consent to be elected into the NEC and these were read to the convention.
After the plenary session was concluded, the convention went straight into election which was conducted by the Convention Committee comprising Comrades Peluola Adewale, Victor Osakwe and Mary George. A 30-member NEC was elected with Segun Sango as the National Chairperson, Chinedu Bosah as National Secretary and Bashir Tanko as National Treasurer. See here the full list of names of elected NEC members of the party
Immediately after the election of the NEC the party Manifesto and Constitution were adopted with minor amendments.
With the convention where a 30-member National Executive Committee (NEC) representing the six geo-political zones of the country was elected, the last hurdle in the race to meet the onerous requirements of the constitution has been crossed. The other is the location of the party headquarter in Abuja and that has been accomplished with the securing of an office apartment at 42 Adetokunbo Ademola Street Wuse II Abuja. The next step now is to submit an application to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
|Some of the elected NEC Members|
After a refreshing lunch, delegates began their journey back to their different states and zones imbued with a new inspiration and confidence to continue the building of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a political party of the workers, youth and the masses. If the party does not depart from its policies and methods as stated in its manifesto, the prospect for its growth is bright.
"The ruling class or their representatives have no place in our party. Resting on the working and toiling masses, the SPN shall build a movement to liberate Nigeria from the oppressive capitalist elite ruining the country. We shall mobilise support for and intervene in the daily struggle of all the sections of the working people for improvement and against all forms of capitalist attacks. We will give solidarity to all workers and oppressed in Africa, and elsewhere in the world, and actively support their struggles for liberation from capitalism". With these words Segun Sango clearly delineated the SPN as a political party without equal in principle and method at present in Nigeria.