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Nigeria's battle for a mass workers' party
Over the weekend of 1-2 March, 74 people were killed in a terror bombing by Boko Haram insurgents in Africa's most populous country, Nigeria.
Naomi Byron here reviews a new book that sheds light on Nigeria's history of struggle and on what is needed to bring an end to terror and poverty there.
The Socialist Party's sister organisation in Nigeria, the Democratic Socialist Movement, has published a brilliant book on the struggle for a mass workers' party.
It is an object lesson in how to fight for workers' representation and a socialist alternative.
The book 'DSM and the Struggle for a Working People's Political Alternative' republishes articles, manifestoes and leaflets written over 26 years.
Opening with an impassioned call for a party of labour in 1987, it shows how this demand was applied through all the twists and turns of dictatorship, through repeated fake "transitions to democracy", annulled elections, civilian rule, mass pauperisation, nine general strikes and trade union leaders who cannot be trusted.
It covers the many false starts toward a workers' party in Nigeria:
- The launch of a Labour Party in 1989 which was banned by the military dictatorship a few months later and the many false "transitions to democracy" organised by the military including the 12 June 1993 election, immediately annulled because the "wrong" party had won (both were set up by the military).
- The launch in 1994 of the National Conscience Party (NCP) under military rule and the long fight for registration; its extraordinary success in the 2003 general election and subsequent takeover of the party by careerist politicians.
- Ex-Nigeria Labour Congress (equivalent to the TUC in Britain) leader Adams Oshiomhole's successful campaign to become governor of Edo State.
- The takeover of the Labour Party (launched in 2004) by moneybags, pro-rich politicians.
Highlights include the Nigerian comrades' approach to the National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2003 and 2007 elections.
The NCP was never a socialist party, but its pro-masses and pro-struggle credentials were established from the beginning by its founder, radical human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi.
The NCP, with the DSM's active participation, particularly in Lagos state, led the campaign to force the regime to allow registration of political parties.
The mass support won by its record of struggle and its slogan "abolition of poverty" was reflected in the 2003 general election.
Despite only winning registration in December 2002, four months before the election, the NCP came fifth nationally and third in Lagos state.
Lanre Arogundade, DSM member and NCP candidate won 77,000 votes (9.4%) in the senatorial election in Lagos West, coming third out of 20 parties.
These were the official results - the real vote before ballot rigging, intimidation and violence, would have been far more (for Lanre's manifesto, see pp149-153).
Yet in the 2007 elections the DSM called for a boycott. DSM member Lanre Arogundade, who was democratically selected as NCP candidate for governor in Lagos, was subsequently replaced by an unknown candidate from the USA who wasn't even a member of the NCP, by the national leadership who had been taken over by careerist pro-capitalist elements.
This imposed candidate was accepted by the Nigerian state, desperate to halt the success of working class and socialist forces in the NCP - hence the boycott, which was widely supported.
Another highlight is the section (pp375-404) taking up what Adams Oshiomhole should do as governor of Edo state.
For example, to deal with the House of Assembly blocking his education reforms the DSM proposed that Oshiomhole should 'set up a working people assembly which could through mass action compel the pro-capitalist, anti-poor assembly to approve pro-masses programme... [the assembly should] decide the next steps on how to implement the proposed reforms and recall any member of the State House of Assembly who goes against programmes aimed at improving the lives of poor working people in the state.'
Reading the book brings enormous respect for the capacity for struggle of the Nigerian masses who have fought time and time again to change Nigeria for the better.
Support for socialist ideas was so strong in the mid-1980s that a "Political Bureau" established by the Babangida dictatorship to consult the population on the way forward for the country, in its 1987 report actually recommended (among other things) that "Nigeria should adopt a socialist socio-economic system"!
For easy reference the text is divided into five chapters: the Labour Party; the National Conscience Party; Anti Military and Civil Rules Struggle; Adams Oshiomhole; and the Socialist Party of Nigeria.
For those not yet familiar with the twists and turns of the Nigerian struggle, the introduction and forward explain these well.
This book shows that only mass action and a socialist programme, led by Nigeria's powerful working class, can fundamentally abolish poverty and want.
It aims to help theoretically arm a new generation for the battle to build a new mass workers' party in Nigeria.
The Socialist Party Nigeria was launched in 2012 and faces a battle to be registered by June 2014, for the 2015 elections.
You can follow the progress of the Socialist Party Nigeria, and the Democratic Socialist Movement, online:
DSM and the Struggle for a Working Peoples' Political Alternative
Ediited by Segun Sango
DSM and the struggle for a working people's political alternative. A Democratic Socialist Movement (Nigeria) book. Special offer for readers of the Socialist.: £10 per copy or 3 for £25.
Available from Socialist Books
PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD
020 8988 8789
Please make cheques payable to Socialist Books
In The Socialist 5 March 2014:
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