Labour Party: an open letter to the NLC Political Commission

Labour Party: an open letter to the NLC Political Commission


  1. I wish to commend the attention being given to a party of labour by Congress at this juncture, and the efforts of your Commission towards a reclaiming of the Labour Party, itself now mired in crisis;
  2. The meeting of your Commission, from what I informally gathered over the weekend, could initiate far-reaching steps. Not surprisingly, different views are being proposed on how best to approach the matter. Quite relatedly, different narratives of how we got to where we are now are rife – most of these, however, serve instrumentalist interpretations with little concern for facts or the truth;
  3. It is quite important to have a perspective of the Labour Party’s trajectory of development, grounded in the founding principles of the working-class movement. This would enable us draw lessons which could help guide the steps needed for building the party envisaged by Congress, and which rank and file workers yearn for;
  4. The end of military rule in 1999 marked an opening up of the democratic space, despite the limitations of the post-military regime. With the proscription order of the Abacha junta lifted, NLC organised its 7th National Delegates Conference in January 1999, commencing what was dubbed “a new beginning”. There was an agenda-setting process to define the contents of this new beginning;
  5. One of the mechanisms initiated for this process was the Civil Society-Labour Prodemocracy Network (CSPN). It held three meetings between 2000 and 2001. Its most significant resolution was for organised labour to provide leadership for the establishment of a Working People’s Party, which would involve the radical civil society movement. A Steering Committee for the proposed party was constituted, led by Comrade Ali Chiroma, and a manifesto drafting committee, as well;
  6. Even at that time, there were leading figures in the trade unions who disparaged the very idea of a unions-driven party project. Some of these threw in their lot with other efforts at party building by “progressive professionals” such as the People’s Liberation Party, taunting the CSPN and its resolution for a WPP;
  7. Ironically, when the NLC at its Bauchi NEC meeting in 2002 formally resolved on the party formation question, it was those who were against trade unions leading a party formation process (by then it had become clear that parties like the PLP were leading nowhere, really) on one hand, and those who for different reasons were keen on having the unions serve as midwife for a party, but with radical civil society (i.e. the socialist left) shut out of it, who were more influential in the NEC. They were to serve as the founding fathers of what was then called the Party for Social Democracy (PSD);
  8. This resulted in a chasm within the budding political relationship between the NLC and the radical civil society movement. The latter felt betrayed, as the CSPN process was unceremoniously ended, without any notice to our civil society partners. Meanwhile, within the NLC, a policy on “Labour and Politics” was formulated and adopted by the 8th NDC in February 2003[1];
  9. The policy was quite explicit on what the “primary goal of workers’ involvement in politics, as an organised group” ought to be. This is “to promote the radical restructuring of the unequal economic relations through deliberate actions aimed at changing the production system”. With the focus of such a party being “to raise working class consciousness” it was to forge alliances with other exploited and oppressed segments of the pauperised majority of Nigerians, on the basis of a socialist programme;
  10. But, the Labour Party (as it would be called from its Founding Convention held on February 28, 2004) came up with a social-democratic programme to the right of the NLC policy, in the elusive search for the progressive entrepreneurs and intellectuals that were to be courted at all costs. This did not dampen the enthusiasm of rank and file workers. Between December 2002 when the PSD was registered[2] and its Founding Convention fourteen months later, over 200,000 workers took up membership across the country;
  11. Dan Nwuanyanwu, the smooth-talking former president of NUBIFIE emerged as National Chairman at the Founding Convention. As he had time and again mentioned, his coming on board was because he ran into Adams Oshiomhole, the then NLC President at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, where the latter convinced him to come over and take the position. What is often left unsaid could very well be that Adams believed that Dan could be instrumental in getting moneybags into the party to finance its activities, including Adams’ bid for the governorship of Edo state;
  12. When Dan’s proposition to bring in “some people with money” whom he knew was rebuffed at the first National Working Committee meeting, barely two weeks after the Founding Convention, he refused to call another meeting for over a year. I literally had to write to him and the National Secretary, threatening to summon other members of the NWC to Abuja subsequent to which we would invoke the constitutional provision that a third of the NWC could summon a meeting, if the right thing was not immediately done. This worked, but a downturn had commenced in the life of the party;
  13. In a number of states (mostly in the north) where there used to be vibrant party life at the branches, bringing together working-class activists, enthusiasm was dampened by the absence of a functioning centre for almost two years. In Lagos where civil society activists wanted to make an inroad into the party, some leading party members did everything possible to frustrate this. Adams lost faith in the possibility of Dan securing him a war chest for his gubernatorial ambitions and started looking elsewhere. A concomitant consequence of this was his stunted commitment to building the LP, helping to define a gulf between the NLC and LP;
  14. However, whilst Dan on his part was successful in presenting the party as an “electoral platform” for members of the establishment who lost out in the traditional parties of the bosses to contest in the 2007 elections. The diamond in this diadem of cash-for-platform was brought in, not by Dan, but by the former NUPENG General Secretary, Chief Joseph Akinlaja. This was Dr Olusegun Mimiko;
  15. With Mimiko’s emergence as Governor of Ondo state in 2009, and the continued distance of the movement from the party, the stage was set for the consolidation of the party’s right wing. In the period leading to the 2007 elections, the entry of strange bedfellows as electoral contestants on the party’s platform had also resulted in some changes within the party’s organisation. Gradually, ties to the trade union bureaucracy, not to talk yet of the rank and file, were whittled down. This process was taken to new heights in the process leading to the 2nd National Convention in 2009;
  16. The December 12, 2009 Convention was a watershed in several ways that were not clear to most people at the time. It was an opportunity to reclaim the party which was frittered away by NLC. The Festus Iyayi-report for reorganisation had just been wrapped up, and radical elements within and outside the trade unions had also built up a Campaign for a Mass-based Labour Party. Instead of building on the leverage this scenario presented, the NLC secretariat merely assured all of a “Special Convention” to be held sometime in an undefined future, to decide the fate of the party. But, Dan grasped the moment much better, with the authority (and material support) of Governor Mimiko, and the bulk of delegates on his side, he passed a constitution which vested near absolute powers in the office of the Chairman. He also expanded the NWC, populating it with an absolute majority of those that would ensure his will subsists;
  17. This might have set the stage for the five years that ended with the 3rd National Convention of October 11, 2014. But, we must also state that, Dan did not and could not have gotten away with running the party as a second eleven team for the bosses’ side without the acquiescence, if not outright collaboration of a number of ex-trade unionists and ex-socialists that were on that NWC who now scream blue murder. On several occasions, I was shocked to find myself in a minority of one, even on issues that one would have considered as straight forward as opposition to an LP support for Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in 2011 or against humungous amounts being charged for party members to pay as nomination fees before they could run for party offices. For now, I would want to skip a lot that went on and get straight to the melodramatic “split” of October 2014
  18. The dominant narrative has been that the October 11, 2014 National Convention held at Akure was illegal, or at least illegitimate and the “factional” leadership that came out of it lacking any authority because it had been disowned by the NLC and TUC which constituted a Caretake Committee. Central to this argument is the perspective that the Convention was sponsored by the PDP (since Governor Mimiko crossed over to the PDP 9 days earlier). But, however convincing it might seem, this narrative is factually incorrect. And this distortion presents a problem for drawing the correct lessons from what actually transpired. Dr Mimiko’s “cross-carpeting” was actually a case of thunder and lightning rendering a helping hand to an already installed bomb. Shortly before Mimiko announced his decamping, Joe Ajaero had issued a statement calling for postponement of the Convention[3]. He claimed to speak as Chairman of the Political Commission. But the Commission never met to arrive at this decision. In fact, Ajaero was at the time in the United States, and acted on the basis of discussions with a few individuals, on the possible outcomes of the Convention;
  19. Meanwhile, it is instructive that the National Executive Council which summoned Convention was the first ever that the Presidents and General Secretaries of both the NLC and TUC took part in[4]. One of the arguments raised in the Ajaero statement was that the NEC fixed the Convention for October 4 and the NWC unilaterally moved the date to October 11. But this amounts to playing smart without being clever by taking that decision out of context. It was after the NEC meeting that it was realised that October 4 would fall on the Eid al-Adha;
  20. On the eve of the Convention, NLC and TUC called a meeting where the position was taken to boycott the Convention. Subsequently it constituted a Caretaker Committee. The same Dan Nwuanyanwu that had refused to hand over the LP certificate for nine years after the NLC NEC requested it be deposited in a safe within Labour House, and who had said unprintable things about the trade unions in relation to the LP suddenly appeared at Labour House with the certificate, after he had fallen out with Alhaji AA Salam, the Chair elected at Akure. This was just a scene, within the first act of a drama of the absurd regarding the way forward;
  21. At the October 10, 2014 meeting, I pointed out that after years of complacency, any opportunity to reclaim the LP might have been lost, as boycotting the Convention would in itself be ineffectual. Had the Caretaker Committee that was set up (and which I was nominally a member of) was ready to work as a fighting platform, it could have served as an alternative pole around which a new party of labour could be built. But three years on, and it has shown itself incapable of playing that role, to say the very least;
  22. It is largely because there is crisis within the Labour Party, that an opportunity might be presenting itself to organised labour for “reclaiming” the party it established and (almost?) lost. But, this opportunity must be handled with caution and deep thinking that brings the lessons learnt from the 15-year experience of the current LP to bear within the broader context of past histories of working-class party-building in Nigeria, and the abundant possibilities for a working-class party which actually represents and is peopled by working-class people, as we can see with the Corbyn moment in Britain, for example. It is in this light that I have brought up highlights of the route we took to where we are now, and that I now turn to recommendations, which I hereby submit for your kind attention:
  1. We have to go back to the founding principles resolved upon by NLC as the basis for party-formation, i.e. the NLC Labour and Politics Policy. This is an extant resolution of the Congress-in-session. The fact that this has been put in abeyance all these years is itself a flouting of the principles of internal democracy;
  2. If, as it seems clear now, the pathway forward by Congress’ perspective is to reclaim the LP, there is definitely need for a Special Convention which will bring “all parties” together. All parties in this sense would be inclusive of not only the three different strands of interests/factions that could be attributable to the Labour Party as it were. The broad spectrum of pro-working people parties and radical civil society organisations should be involved in a process that could bring about the new Labour Party, or by whatsoever name called, at such a Convention;
  3. The deepening collaboration between NLC and TUC since the early 2000s, including on LP should be consolidated upon. An important aspect of this could be re-constituting the Political Commissions of both centres into one Labour Political Commission. This would not be something new, in the pre-June 12 period, the Labour Political Commission included NLC and SESCAN[5] as well as radical intelligentsia (which both centres’ commissions usually include, separately);
  4. Commencement, as soon as possible, of mass rank and file mobilisation into the party, at the grassroots of workplaces and communities. The possibilities of setting up newspaper(s) and community radio(s) of the (emerging new or “reclaimed”) party could be considered. And party schools (which could draw from the NLC Schools experiences) as well could be constituted;
  5. The goals of a party of labour as eloquently presented by the Policy document cannot be met through electoralism. If we get our acts right, the party of labour has what it takes for a good showing at the polls in 2019 and beyond. But, that in itself will not lead to fundamental change or working-class people’s self-emancipation. Extra-electoral politics of demonstrations, and other forms of mass action and mass education are of utmost importance for building the party as much as for attaining its primary objective. Taking forward the set goal of creatively building the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) should be done concurrently with that of building the labour party for our time, by NLC and TUC;
  6. And finally, it is important for Congress to take a stance of NEVER AGAIN would we allow the rains that beat us the way they did with PSD/LP beat us again. Breathing life into that stance requires learning from what had traversed, and quite importantly being ready to seize the bull by the horns and go forward by returning to our founding principles on Labour and Politics.

In summing up, I would also want to appeal to the Political Commission that offsetting the 8 months salaries backlogs of LP staffers (which amount to N4.4m) should be an important item on the agenda of this important meeting. Beyond LP and politics, as trade unions, we have to eschew any semblance of this cancerous new “normal” of non-salaries payment within our ranks, even as we could take a much more vociferous position against the bosses doing this across the states.

Thank you for your kind attention.

In solidarity,

Baba Aye


[1] See NLC (2003) Nigeria Labour Congress Policy Document, pp: 37-41

[2] Quite unfortunately, PSD stood arms akimbo whilst parties like the NCP, DA & PRP took the Nigerian state to court in a legal-political battle to open up the party registration process.

[4] Constitutionally, both the NLC and TUC’s Presidents and General Secretaries at the national level (with State Chairpersons and State Secretaries at the state level) are members of the Executive Council, they rarely participate. TUC was even more visible with its president often represented by the FCT Chair of the TUC at NEC meetings. The TUC President was represented at the said NEC meeting by the immediate past TUC President, while the other three leading officers were physically present.

[5] precursor of the TUC



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