Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Article: Engaging With The 2014 National Conference In Nigeria

By Jaye Gaskia


The 2014 National Conference has come and gone as some would say, but is this really the case? Why did we engage with the conference? How did we engage? What did we achieve? And where should the road lead from here?

First it is important to identify and re-emphasise once again the character of this particular conference. On a general note this conference can be described as having come and gone only if it is viewed undialectically, only if it is perceived and understood as an event and not as a process.

Why is such a distinction necessary and significant? As an event, the conference will be seen, analysed, understood, and interpreted merely as the period between March 17th when it was inaugurated and August 21st when the closing ceremony held and its reports were formally handed over to the convening authority, the President. If the conference were to be viewed in this very restrictive manner then it can be said that the conference has come and gone.

However in reality, the 2014 National Conference is merely a phase, a significant phase characterized by concentrated interaction of inter and intra-class interactions and struggle, but nevertheless a phase in the process of the struggle to remake our country in general, and in the process of convening a representative assembly of the classes and strata of our people with sovereign and full constituent powers to initiate a new socio-economic and constitutional order.

In this sense therefore this conference haven occurred in history has a before, a during and an after; in other words, this conference was preceeded and directly influenced by a history of agitations for a [Sovereign] National Conference; it was convened and held in the course of ongoing intensified class struggles for a national conference, a struggle that came to be waged inside the conference; and now after the submission of its report, its deliberations and decisions, the alliances forged and or rebuilt and strengthened on the floor of the conference, as well as the nature and character of the class struggle waged on the floor of the conference, will become part of the dynamics shaping our continued struggle for revolutionary transformation of our country.

I will return to these salient points later, but for now let me return to the issues around why we engaged and how we engaged.

Back in November 2013, at its 9th Convention, the United Action for Democracy [UAD], our historic coalition which was forged in the crucible of the anti-military struggle for popular democracy, haven choses the theme of the national conference for its convention, became the first citizens’ movement to seriously discourse the national conference and to actually adopt a resolution to engage robustly with the National Conference.

The reasons which were identified then were subsequently endorsed by wider cycles within the broader labour and civil society movement and at several subsequent meetings. Those reasons remain true now as they were then even with the benefit of hindsight, and it is important to quickly summarize them.

Essentially we proceeded on the basis of the fact that the conference was being convened by this regime not out of magnanimity of the ruling class or the factions cohering around the presidency, but as a result of a concession to the popular movement by a very highly weakened Presidency, who was desperate to win back some popular goodwill. This president was, and continues to remain one of the most weakened presidency in our history. In particular there was the emergence for the first time in our history of an opposition political party, arising out of a merger and not mere electoral alliances of the main opposition parties. Secondly this new merged opposition party was strong and attractive enough to attract dissidents from the ruling party who promptly decamped from the ruling party to join this new opposition as a bloc. Third, this new opposition party, after the merger and the decampings engendered a situation where the majority of the ruling party was threatened severely for the first time. Fourth, even within what was left of the ruling party still racked in crisis, the President’s faction was in a minority situation within the rump of the ruling party. Fifth, given the increasing and rising scale and scope of mass poverty, mass misery, and growing insecurity, and therefore of the weight of the exploitation and repression placed on the shoulders of the oppressed masses; there was also evolving a renewed intensity in the scale and scope, as well as in the level of coordination of the fight back and popular struggles of the masses against the ruling class in general, and against the regime in particular.

It was the combination and interaction of all of these factors which made the 2014 National Conference specifically an opportunity for engagement by radical forces. Given the foregoing context, and although this was not a Sovereign National Conference, radical forces were historically better and well placed to wrest the maximum concessions possible from a weakened and antagonistically fractitious ruling class through a robust and strategic engagement with the conference as a process.

Added to this combustive mix of factors was also the fact that this conference was being convened in year of the centenary of the historically controversial amalgamation of the country in 1914, and on the eve of a potentially highly contentious general election in 2015.

The first of these secondary factors, is such that it has the potential to make the outcome of the conference something that will remain high up on the front burner of national discourse and ruling class internal wranglings, almost on the same level as the amalgamation a hundred years previously for a very long time to come, if not for the next hundred years. This is a form of historical symbolism that this conference and its outcome will cast on the country and the struggle of class forces for some time into the foreseeable future, simply because it will always be associated with not only the contradictions that led to the amalgamation, but also to the contradictions that have shaped the country since the amalgamation.

The second factor, that around the general election meant that popular forces could seize the opportunity presented by the electoral contestation to advance the struggle using some of the concessions wrested at the conference as a basis for agitation.

Now before we go any further a very short detour to stress the fact once again that a Sovereign National Conference [SNC] can and will be convened only at the height of a popular uprising that has either just taken popular power or that is about to seize power, and has thus been able to compel the current constitutional order fundamentally weakened by the uprising, to convene a conference through which it will be forced to transfer power to the newly victorious revolution. It was for this reason, that some of us right from the anti-military struggle days have consistently defined the SNC as an Insurrectionary Demand and program; and it is why we have always insisted that it can only be convened by a victorious insurrection either in the aftermath of victory or at the tipping point of victory.

Now back to the 2014 National Conference. The conference not only provided labour and civil society to rebuild its coalition and to engage in joint struggle which helped to restore confidence and rebuild trust; it also enabled this coalition to once again construct a broader popular alliance with professional groups for instance, as it did during the January Uprising of 2012.

But beyond these scattered all through the 600 resolutions, and across the 10, 000 pages of documentation are infusions of the popular narrative of our movement as well as of the agitational demands of our people and the popular movement through the decades since independence.

Issues around modernization of agriculture in general and pastoral livelihoods in particular; issues around resolving the crisis of fuel importation and bogus fuel subsidy [the conference essentially adopted a motion moved by the joint labour – civil society delegations, containing the proposals we had made but which was rejected during the January Uprising, as the resolutions of conference]; issues around enactment of a Comprehensive Bill of Rights as  social Charter, and the consequent justiciability of the rights mentioned in Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution; issues around the establishment of a welfare and developmental state, with a social security system; issues around the secularity of the Nigerian state and the prohibition of government sponsorship of religious affairs; issues around ensuring inspite of the antagonism and strong mobilization of the ruling class that the question of a national minimum wage remains on the Exclusive list and remains a national and not state affair; issues around mandatory affirmative action for women [35%], for youths [30%], for PWLDs [5%] running concurrently in elective and appointive political and economic positions; issues around removal of the immunity clause and for a part time legislature; issues around job creation; issues around Resource Democracy; around more devolved powers to states – state police, state courts of appeal, transferring a number of items from the exclusive to the concurrent and residual legislative lists; strengthening Local Government autonomy by criminalising and punishing non existence of democratic Local Government structures etc; etc.

It is true that these are mere resolutions and still need to be implemented; but it is also true that many of our issues have now been forced to be included in significant policy discourse of the ruling class, policy and political discourses that we shall have to continue to intrude in through our popular agitations and campaigns.
Equally important, we were also able to take the revolutionary demands, analysis, agitation and discourse into one of the hallowed chambers of ruling class power. We spoke, we accussed, we exposed, we provided alternative analysis, and we agitated right there in their front, as we would on the barricade, and unlike during other processes they were forced to tolerate our rude intrusions for the 4 months that the actual sittings of conference lasted.

We can if we chose discard the outcome of the conference and proceed in the self-denial that it either did not happen or that it means nothing. We shall only be doing so at our own peril. The ruling class will proceed with the outcome; it will become one of the most contentious policy documents in their intra class struggle for dominance and for exclusive access to the channels that will permit unfettered treasury looting. Some of the future political and economic reforms will be drawn from the report of this conference. The Ruling class factions in the context of their bitter internal struggles may make outward pronouncements rejecting this or that, but they will continue to struggle for implementation of favourable aspect s of the report of the conference.

The ruling class far better than us understands power and its dynamics, and will not only not abandon a contested political space, but will also not discard totally the outcome of that contestation. It is upto us to also engage with the report of this conference, to own the aspects of the report that are both favourable to us and also capable of engendering a crisis that can overturn the current order. It is up to us to take ownership of those aspects and integrate them into our agitational platforms such that we are able to build up the momentum that can enable us to not only force the implementation of the favourable aspects, but also facilitate a weakening of the current order in a manner that can make its popular revolutionary overthrow possible.


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