Time to Build the Masses Alternative!!
On 16 February and 2 March, Nigerians will head for the polls in what is turning out to be probably the most significant general elections in the country for generations. The president and national assembly members will be elected in February, while governors of 30 out of the 36 states and states houses of assembly members will be elected in March.
Several parties of the bosses’ who have made life unbearable for poor working-class people, (particularly APC and PDP) will be on the ballot. This has always been the case. But this time around, the ballots will also include a few parties that stand for struggle to radically change the way society works, so that it can genuinely be, by and in the interest of the working masses. The most prominent of these is the African Action Congress (AAC).
APC: expired but still on the top shelf?
In 2015, APC became the first opposition party to win elections at the federal level in the country. Nigerians were fed up with how life had gone from bad to worse for most of us under PDP. General Muhammadu Buhari who somehow manages to cut the image of an austere, disciplined man was also an excellent choice to make the empty APC slogan of “change” resonate with the sound of promise.
The broad support Buhari/APC had four years ago has dwindled. Increasing rates of poverty, and unemployment have led to disillusionment. The APC and particularly its presidential candidate still has a significant support base. For some of these, APC represents the “lesser evil” to PDP and they cannot envisage any other contending force. For others, APC might be as bad as PDP, but President Buhari is incorruptible in a sea of corruption and so should be supported, no matter what.
These are all baseless assumptions which have been propagated by the APC propaganda machine. President Buhari’s incorruptibility is a myth. Corruption is well and thriving in the family and inner circle of Buhari, despite all his posturing and lies.
While Buhari claimed to have bought his APC presidential candidate ticket of N25million in 2015 only by taking a bank loan, within two years of his presidency, Yussuf Buhari his son bought two power bikes worth N157m each! And more recently, credible allegations have been made that members of his family have shares in several business corporations worth trillions of naira.
None of the core members of his government who was removed for corrupt practices (and in each case due only after public outcry) has been charged to court. These include Lawal Babachir the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation who corruptly pocketed billions of naira from the Boko Haram victims’ funds. To ward off attacks on this score in the thick of campaigns, Vice President Osinbajo claims Babachir would soon be tried, after fifteen months of his forced resignation.
And when Buhari was asked by Kadaria Ahmed on live television about Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano who was caught on camera receiving bribes, and who has faced allegations of embezzlement of $5m President, Mr President’s response was rather dismissive of this grave display of corruption.
The NTA interview also helped confirm what a lot of Nigerians suspect: President Buhari is suffering from senile dementia. His responses to questions were embarrassingly off target making his earlier gaffes such as calling Germany “West Germany” a quarter of a century after the Berlin Wall fell, seem like displays of brilliance. We do sympathise with him. But the APC leadership obviously does not. They are more interested in using him or at least the image of integrity created of him to advance the party’s electoral chances.
APC is not different from PDP. A lot of its leading members at federal, state and LGA levels are former PDP stalwarts (including five out of the six former PDP national chairmen and scores of ex-state chairmen across the country). Officials elected on its platform at all tiers of government have been as corrupt as the PDP officials were and are.
Meanwhile dozens of indicted PDP chieftains who crossed over to APC have had their charges dropped or muted. Indeed, Adams Oshiomhole, the APC national chairmen and former trade union leader was bold enough to say, “once you join the APC, your sins are forgiven”!
Social intervention schemes the APC has designed like N-power, tradernomi and primary school pupils’ feeding are also little better than such schemes as SURE-P. More importantly they also amount to mere crumbs from the tables of the billions and trillions that politicians and private sector employers squeeze out of us.
These schemes (particularly provision for the children feeding) have been used to “empower” party supporters. And some like tradermoni with a broader target have only been recently rolled out as a veiled form of votes buying, with party leaders going to markets to dole out N10,000 as non-collateralized loans to traders.
Politics, parties and alternatives
Elections appear to be opportunities for the people to elect parties based on the alternatives they present. Parties represent interests of classes or sections of classes. Thus, talk of alternatives should itself be scrutinised based on the class interests of parties.
There is no essential alternative between different parties of the same class. But there could be non-essential differences in their programmes, that could be considered as secondary level alternatives. For example, while different parties of capitalists could disagree on how much involvement of the state or the private sector is to be encouraged, none would provide the alternative of abolishing capitalism – the system which exploits workers.
Usually, the parties of the bosses are dominant in the politics of elections. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious is the high cost of electioneering. This is a structural rigging of elections against working-class parties, but one that could be overcome, and indeed has to be overcome without compromising principles, if any significant headway is to be made on the electoral front by working-class and left parties.
But, probably the most important challenge non-capitalist parties (and even some capitalist parties) face is being taken seriously. Now, how many times have you heard a poor friend or family member say s/he will not want to lose vote o! So even though a (radical) party and its candidate(s) could have a pro-poor people manifesto, “they cannot enter”.
For the working-class and left movement’s involvement in electoral politics to be meaningful, we must redefine politics, in a disruptive manner. This goes beyond our saying how a different politics from the usual could be possible to the people. It requires an inspiring platform which forges a critical mass that shows how a new popular approach to politics is built in practice.
The #TakeItBack movement and its Omoyele Sowore candidacy of the African Action Congress is the clearest effort in this direction. It has won the support of tens of thousands of young people in the working-class and professional-middle classes. But, sections of the far left have been at best lukewarm about this movement or outrightly condemn it (whilst in some cases falsely mouthing “critical support”).
The Democratic Socialist Movement, which in 2012 floated the Socialist Party that was eventually registered in January 2018 concedes that “of all the new presidential candidates Sowore is unarguably the most prominent especially among young people seeking an alternative”. But, while it talks of approaching “those who gravitate towards this campaign with class analyses, based on socialist ideas”, the DSM/SPN shies away from joining the united front of left groups in and around the AAC.
The much smaller Campaign for Workers Alternative takes several steps further down the lane of sectarianism and in the most dishonourable way. In a position issued by their masters in London i.e. the International Secretariat of the International Marxist Tendency, Sowore is described as a bourgeois liberal being used by the more far-sighted forces of imperialism to divert the energies of young working-class people away from the “impending revolution”.
Evidence of this, according to Weston and his lackeys include: the liberal democratic character of the AAC manifesto; backing for Sowore’s Sahara Reporters news platform by Ford Foundation (which was stopped in 2015) and Omidyar Network, and; liberal NGOist friends of Sowore for president.
Thus, since “Sowore is basically trying to promote a better kind of capitalism”, the “role of Marxists is to warn of limitations of bourgeois populism”, so that like magic “a genuine mass left alternative is in place that can offer a way out of the nightmare of Nigerian capitalism” once Sowore disappoints the teeming youths and workers constituting his base.
It is bad enough that the IMT gets the whole thing wrong, but even more shameful that its section in Nigeria merely regurgitates the London-based ill-digested limited google search-driven understanding of the phenomenon unfolding under our eyes.
The characterisation of the Take It Back movement (and its relations to the AAC party it was fundamental to founding) is grossly inadequate. But that is not even the most fundamental point.
What is unfolding goes far deeper than Omoyele Sowore. He is a radical-reformist fighter with sterling track record of struggle, as founding president of Congress of Progressive Youth (a coalition of radical and revolutionary youth platforms in the 1990s) and a full-time organiser for Democratic Alternative (one of the two left “parties of defiance” formed in 1994 under military rule). And he has remained consistent as a principled leftist over the years, in several ways.
This is one reason why he has been able to inspire hundreds of thousands of young people, with meeting venues filled to capacity in town hall meetings held across almost all the states of the federation and a few dozens of countries even before the elections started.
But what the IMT fails to point out is that what the #TIB movement is, has not simply been about contesting at the polls. It is being formed as a fighting platform marching at the barricades, protesting for democratic rights.
It also loses sight of the fact that what is at hand goes beyond Sowore as an individual or the amalgam of forces within the AAC. It is about a mass reformist radicalisation, which revolutionary forces could deepen. And this cannot be done by some dozen or so self-righteous revolutionaries hostile preaching from their high horses.
And while the IMT focusses more on funding of Sahara Reporters years back (and not the current campaign), it plays down the fact that, with donations of N5,000 here, N20,000 there, N100,000 by another person etc, the campaign has been able to raise almost N100million! And these are made as transparent as possible via facebook acknowledgments.
The movement of #TIB is moving more and more to the left. There are internal struggles with a party rightwing in AAC ready to uphold the status quo of capitalism, merely with some “decency”, so to speak. But what the movement as a whole seeks is the revolutionary upturn of the exploitative system and as it gets more engaged in mass work, this orientation deepens.
Does the approach of IMT aid what it describes as its aim of winning the layers of radicalised youth? The answer is a definite no. On the contrary, it draws a line.
A sincere approach would see the CWA as part of the united front between the Alliance for a Masses Political Alternative (AMPA) and the Take It Back movement (TIB). The AMPA-TIB coalition represents the correct line for maximising the radicalisation of working-class youth in the AAC, towards and beyond the February/March elections, and towards revolution in Nigeria.