By Oke Ogunde in Lagos    
Thursday, 15 March 2007

Undoubtedly, one of the interesting developments in the ongoing transition programme towards the April 2007 general election in Nigeria is the entrance of the Labour Party into the Nigerian electoral scene, after its previous aloofness in the last general election in 2003. This should be particularly interesting to the numerous supporters of the Workers' Alternative, since the paper has been a forerunner in the campaign for a mass-based Labour Party, with a socialist programme, resting on the Trade Unions, since the first issue of the paper in 1998.

Much as this entrance into the electoral plane by the Labour Party might sound interesting, it is however far from being the desired genuine mass-based political platform of the working class and the poor masses in Nigeria. The Party as presently constituted has a deformed characterization in its membership and leadership-cum-class appeal.

To make things worse, the initial euphoria generated among the working masses when Adam Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, declared for the governorship seat in Edo State on the platform of the Labour Party soon died down when he decamped from the Party to the Abubakar Atiku-led Action Congress (AC) as its Governorship candidate in Edo State. Although, it need be noted that the response would have been more thunderous across the country if it has been a declaration for the presidency on the platform of the Labour Party.
The Labour Party in history

In order to understand the ongoing development in the Labour Party, particularly why it has been taken over by notable members of the ruling class and erstwhile government officials, an excursion into the historical emergence of the Party is necessary.

Over the years, the Labour Party in Nigeria, as originally constituted, has undergone different kinds of transmutation even before any serious take-off from the ground.

Ordinarily, it could rightly be assumed that a Labour Party is expected to be the traditional Party of the working class and the other poor masses in society, where workers and other oppressed classes in society are very active in the running and the inner life of the Party. But this is clearly not to be the case with the present Labour Party in Nigeria, which was initially formed by some bureaucrats from the top hierarchy of the labour movement in Nigeria some six years ago, when it was then known as the Party for Social Democracy.

When, in 2001, the Party for Social Democracy (PSD) was formed as a breakaway portion of the yet to be launched Working Peoples Party (which was then being facilitated by collectives of left radicals in academia, human rights activists and some Labour bureaucrats) the real intentions or the agenda of the founders of the PSD were not so clear initially.

However, it soon became clear that their intention was very distant from building a mass-based political platform that will genuinely represent the aspiration of the workers and other oppressed layers in Nigeria as per guaranteeing a better society for the masses.

At the outset of the PSD, which also shared the same headquarter as the NLC, it was mainly put in the cooler without any serous membership drive by its initiators, who were largely in the upper echelons of the Nigeria Labour Congress. An exposure of the bankruptcy of the facilitators of the then PSD was their attitude during the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Parties' registration exercise in 2001/02. The attitude of these individuals was to play the so-called politics of registration, which was basically to play along with the incredulous demands/requirements of the INEC for formal party registration, which was quite an unnecessary impediment put in place to deny official recognition for more political parties, apart from the then existing PDP, ANPP and AD.

Unfortunately, no official registration was accorded the PSD in spite of all the tricks utilized by its leaders during the allotted period by the INEC for the parties' registration exercise. But for the spirited legal battle led by Chief Gani Fawehinmi of the National Conscience Party and some other political parties, who opted to challenge the INEC guidelines for Parties' registration in the Law court, the situation we have today with about 50 new political parties now in place may not have been the case.

Gani and co were able to expose the undemocratic nature and inconsistency of the requirements of the INEC in the light of 1999 constitutional guidelines, and coupled with the then prevailing public mood, the court overruled the INEC bogus requirements for party registration. Based on this development the INEC was compelled to register all the aspiring political parties, including those that did not opt for court action like the then PSD. This was the situation in late 2002, before the 2003 general election.

Interestingly, and rather unfortunately, this formal registration of the PSD by the INEC led to everything but serious activity on the part of the leadership of the party and those of its facilitators in the NLC and co. Rather than seize the new opportunity to officially and openly launch the Party and showing clearly its official trade union backing, they opted to put the PSD in the cooler during the 2003 general election.

As a matter of fact, as a prelude to the 2003 elections, a number of the labour bureaucrats showed their real opportunism by openly declaring for the different political parties of the ruling class at all levels of governance. For example, Adam Oshiomhole, the then President of the NLC, actually declared his solidarity for the ruling PDP with his presence at the official PDP presidential declaration of General Olusegun Obasanjo towards his re-election bid in 2003; this was in spite of the numerous anti-worker policies of the Obasanjo regime. The situation was not different in nearly all the States in the federation where the labour leaders at state level played active roles in the campaign to install the various state governors and their bourgeois governments.

The above exposition represents the situation with the PSD before its name was officially changed to the Labour Party after the 2003 general election. Even then, in spite of the change of name and repeated criticism in the previous editorials of the Workers' Alternative, no fundamental change occurred in the attitudes of the leadership of the party with regards to mobilizing the workers in the workplaces into the party and also making the party relevant to the aspirations of the working masses.

Notwithstanding the fact that the link between the party and the NLC was not so easy to hide, the leadership of the Labour Party never put forward a programme of mobilizing the organized workers and the poor layers in society en masse for membership. It would seem that the Labour Party leadership largely is sitting down and waiting for when to sell the party to the highest bidders among the capitalist politicians in the run up to the 2007 general elections.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the story would have been different if the NLC leadership, together with other sections of organized labour such as the TUC and CFTU leadership, had braced up behind the Labour Party by openly declaring for the Labour Party and by so doing encouraging their affiliated Trade Unions and their members to embrace the party and see it as a pragmatic political option to the present miseries represented by the various parties of the ruling class and their governments at the federal and state levels.

Certainly, if the above had taken place, the situation today would have definitely surpassed what was the case in 1989 when the NLC declared for the then Nigeria Labour Party, before the IBB regime eventually truncated the whole transition process. For that short period of about four months that it existed, the then Nigeria Labour Party was seen by the advanced worker activists as the party of the working class and other oppressed layers in society and the prospect for the party was evidently clear judging by the enthusiastic following it generated among the conscious layers of the working class and the other oppressed in society.

If the prospect for a Labour Party was so clear in 1989, it would have been many times the case in this present period if the NLC and Co. had openly embraced the Labour Party and mobilized the ranks and file of the working masses into the party. This becomes clearer, bearing in mind the authority which the NLC and its collaborators had acquired in the last seven years as a fighting organ (in spite of the self-censoring nature of the various struggles led by its leaders) of the Nigerian poor masses against the policies of the regime, with particular reference to the many strike actions the NLC led against the increment in the prices of petroleum products in the past period.

Imagine the scenario and the appeal it would have generated if Adam Oshiomhole, the then President of the NLC, with other Union leaders had declared for The Labour Party and openly lead a nationwide political campaign towards wrestling power from the present crop of corrupt and political bandits in the various pro-establishment political parties (i.e. PDP, AC, ANPP, DPP, APGA etc) and as personified by individuals like Obasanjo, Atiku, Buhari, Tinubu, Ya Aradua etc. Particularly if the fulcrum of the campaign were a clear-cut pro-worker and pro-poor people agenda of eradicating poverty through genuine state intervention through the socialization of the wealth of the all country starting with the nationalization of the keys sectors of the economy. This scenario would no doubt have generated a genuine pull for the multitude of ordinary and change-seeking individuals behind the banner of the Labour Party nationally.
The Present characterisation of the Labour Party

On the contrary, the situation at hand is a clear opposite of that expected. The way events have developed is that the real opportunism of the likes of Adam Oshiomhole has been exposed. Instead of Adams leading the Labour Party nationally, he opted to run for the Governorship of his home state (Edo State, one of the states in the Niger Delta), using the Labour Party as a springboard to launch his personal ambition, by initially posing as its flag bearer in Edo State before dumping the Labour Party for the Atiku-Abubakar-led Action Congress.

The above, notwithstanding the fact that on many occasions in the past, Oshiomhole had made many critical statements against Atiku as an unprincipled and corrupt politician who cannot lead Nigeria in the right direction. Nevertheless he prefers hiding under Atiku's banner than flying the untainted banner of an independent political platform of the working class and oppressed masses, which the Labour Party would have clearly represented.

In a similar vein, the situation we have at hand with regards to the situation with and in the Labour Party today is a far cry from the flow of perspective outlined above and as we had previously enumerated in the other editions of this paper. Unfortunately, this would not have been the case, if the labour leadership had taken up the historical task of building a mass-based trade union centred political party with a socialist programme, which could successfully take power from the present capitalist governments at various level of governance.

The Labour Party presently is not peopled by the workers in any appreciable quantity and the leadership from all the evidence is not serious about a genuine mobilization of the workers and the poor masses into its ranks. Instead, the bureaucrats in the Labour Party rely largely on the disgruntled coming from the ranks of the establishment political parties (AC, PDP, ANPP etc) to generate its supporters and aspirants.

It does not really matter to them if these unprincipled runaway aspirants from the various anti-worker parties like the PDP and AC were formerly in the same governments who had on many occasions shown their contempt for the working masses. Incidentally, these were the experiences in most states where the Labour Party will be contesting the elections. The cases of Lagos and Ondo states is particularly noticeable.

In Ondo state, where the Labour Party was clearly not on the ground, before the PDP primary elections when its candidates for the April 2007 general elections were selected; all the PDP aspirants who were schemed out during the elections decamped en masse into the Labour Party. And these include the former Secretary to the PDP Government in Ondo State and past Minister for Housing in the PDP federal government, Dr Olusegun Mimiko who has now been selected as the Labour Party Governorship candidate in Ondo State; the former State Chairman of PDP, who is now the Deputy Governorship candidate for the Labour Party in the State as well as the immediate Sate Secretary of the PDP in the State, Mr Kulere, who is now a Senatorial candidate for the Labour Party in Ondo State.

The case of Lagos State is also another political irony, where the incumbent Deputy Governor in the Lagos State AC Government, Mr Femi Pedro has emerged as the Lagos State Governorship candidate for the Labour Party after losing out in the Primary elections for the selection of AC governorship candidate for Lagos. Pedro, a former Managing Director of one of the new generation of banks that prides itself in super-exploitation of the banking staff definitely has noting in common in his political reckoning with the outlined Labour Party programme of socialism. And of course, throughout his stay as the deputy governor in Lagos State, the workers in the state never had it good. Notwithstanding this situation, he is flying the flag of the Labour Party having dumped the AC, the same party that Adams Oshiomhole abandoned the Labour Party for.
The Future of the Labour Party

It needs to be said that what is known presently as the Labour Party is a far cry from what is expected from a mass-based Workers' Party. Workers are largely not present in its membership and the Trade Union affiliations are not openly acknowledged.

However, the situation can be changed for the better in the future if workers moved into the party en masse to take it over from the present opportunist leadership and their various bourgeois politicians (ex-PDP, AC etc). This is the only path to regenerating the party for the larger interest of the Nigerian working class and the other poor layers in society.