By Salihu Moh. Lukman
Gov. Olusegun Mimiko
Following the meeting of the National Executive Committee of Labour Party of April 11, both the National Chairman of the Party, Chief Dan Nwanyawu and Governor Olusegun Mimiko were quoted to have dismissed the current merger negotiations involving ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led APGA. Their position was informed by the claim that it is a merger of personalities with the aim of grabbing power. In particular, Dr. Mimiko further argued that “Labour Party remains the only true progressive party in Nigeria committed to working for the people of Nigeria.”
Ordinarily, these claims should just be ignored. But given the danger that such attitudes have produced political situations with devastating consequences for Nigeria, it is important that some clarifications are made with the objective of contextualising the place of Labour Party and its leadership. For many, including some of the leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), it is clear that Labour Party as it is today is just one of the INEC registered political parties. Its relations to NLC is limited to the name and its leaders being once leaders of NLC affiliates.
Labour Party share the same ACN, ANPP, CPC, etc. accusation of lack of any clear ideological orientation and perhaps not different from PDP. In some ways, given the conduct of the Dan Nwanyawu leadership of the party, it is closer to PDP. This can be established by the fact that Gov. Mimiko himself was a member of PDP and in fact only went to Labour Party to contest 2007 elections after PDP denied him the ticket. Some accounts by PDP members alleged that Gov. Mimiko even obtained permission from Gen. Obasanjo before he joined Labour Party. In other words, Mimiko’s move to the Labour Party was sanctioned by PDP leader, Gen. Obasanjo.
The truth is, it will only be convenient to describe Labour Party and its leadership as progressive. With respect to ideology, given that Labour Party endorsed President Jonathan Goodluck for 2011 elections, its ideology is closer to PDP. This closeness manifested very clearly even in the communique issued by the party after its last NEC meeting when both Chief Nwanyawu and Dr. Mimiko commended President Goodluck Jonathan for the achievements recorded in the elections in Edo and Ondo States.
The party has every right to its choice of identity and manoeuvring to use such identity to promote itself and gain electoral advantage. There is absolutely no problem for anyone to be able to manoeuvre his/her way to political reckoning using such political identity. In fact, it is the capacity to so manoeuvre that often defines politics. Success or otherwise should always be moderated with some minimum capacity to evaluate and come up with clear road map. In so many respect, this is where the Labour Party leadership and Gov. Mimiko appear to be completely inebriated and unable to define a future beyond what they have today.
Largely because of this factor, they define the term ‘progressive’ and ‘ideology’ with reference to their personality. They celebrate their capacity to grab power in small Ondo State but despise any other group of persons working to ‘grab’ power at whatever level. For anyone conversant with the political history of Nigerian trade unions and especially how the current Labour Party came about will not be surprising.
The truth is that Labour Party as it is today is a product of retrogressive manipulation of a process involving broad section of Nigerian groups and individuals commonly regarded as progressives. This has historical origin with NLC leaders driving the process mainly because of their leadership role in mobilising Nigerians to contest against repressive and oppressive government policies. Although, NLC as it is today, can be argued to be created in 1975, both during the colonial and post colonial history of Nigeria, retrogressive manipulation of processes involving other Nigerian groups has been a recurring feature. In virtually all cases, the outcome is the same – the emergence of a political structure that ends up serving the ruling establishment/party.
In 1989, during the attempted third republic, based on Babangida’s subversive generosity, the NLC under the leadership of Late Comrade Pascal Bafyau attempted to register Labour Party. Then radical groups in the country, which include left groups, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), women groups, etc. were involved. Uncomfortable with the positions of virtually all the radical groups regarding the need to adopt socialism as the ideological position of the party, the Pascal Bafyau NLC leadership blocked all the groups and ensured that the party programme did not adopt anything socialist.
The 1989 reality led to situations whereby following the refusal of the Babangida administration to register any of the political associations that applied for registration, including the Bafyau initiated labour party and the subsequent creation by government of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC), labour leaders went to both parties. Thanks to Pascal Bafyau’s good (subversive) relations with the Babangida government, Alh. A. A. Salam, National Secretary of today’s Labour Party was made the National Secretary of Babangida’s NRC with Chief Tom Ikimi as the National Chairman of the NRC.
At the same time, both Pascal Bafyau and Comrade S. O. Z. Ejiofoh were to play influential roles in SDP with Comrade Bafyau later aspiring to emerge as the running mate to Chief M. K. O. Abiola. This unprincipled positions of some NLC leaders stirred up internal opposition within the organisation with Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, then Deputy President of NLC leading the opposition to NLC participation in the Babangida transition programme. Alh. A. A. Salam, as National Secretary of NRC was to lead open media campaigns against Comrade Adams between 1990 and 1992.
Like during the attempted 3rd Republic, between 2000 and 2002, under the leadership of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, NLC launched national consultations with groups aimed at strengthening democracy. All human rights, pro-democracy, students, women, professional groups such as Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), etc. were consulted. In addition to these groups, attempts was made to consult some politicians regarded as progressives. It was clear during the consultations, that there are groups like NBA and NMA that are not interested in being part of a political party. Among human rights and pro-democracy groups, there are also groups that are only interested in policy engagement to strengthen democratic structures in the country. As a result, a two-track approach was agreed. The first is for the NLC to work with all interested progressive groups and individuals to form a working class party with socialist ideology. The second is to work with all groups in the country to develop initiatives aimed at strengthening democracy.
At the end, both the two initiatives were muscled out of existence presumably on account of lack of interest by the Comrade Adams leadership. Lack of interest could be justified by allegations about idealism against the John Odah led NLC Secretariat staff. On account of such allegations, around February 2002, at the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of NLC at Bauchi, Comrade Adams’ leadership decided to establish a Political Committee with Comrade S. O. Z. Ejiofoh as Chairman and Alh. A. A. Salam as Secretary to drive the process of Labour engagement with politics to the exclusion of any Secretariat staff. This was the exact approach of 1989 under Comrade Bafyau when the NLC just before the Calabar Political Conference decided that Secretariat staff should not be part of it.
This was the situation when in August 2002, the NLC NEC decided to register Party for Social Democracy (PSD). Comrade S. O. Z. Ejiofoh was made the interim Chairman of the party and Alh. Salam interim Secretary. The two veterans continued as National Chairman and National Secretary of PSD. Around 2005, the party changed its name to Labour Party and based on consultations between NLC leadership (mainly Comrade Adams), Comrade Ejiofoh was to hand over to Comrade Dan Nwanyawu. The main argument was that Comrade Ejiofoh’s leadership style was making the party unattractive to politicians and Comrade Dan Nwanyawu will assist to bring money into the party.
So what therefore can anyone cite based on the history of the Labour Party to qualify it as progressive? It is possible this is the wrong account. Perhaps, Chief Dan Nwanyawu, Alh. A. A. Salam and the leaders of the Labour Party will narrate their own account, which can confirm the progressive credentials of the party. If the post 2005 history of the party is anything to go by, the party leadership is progressive to the extent that it succeeded in recruiting Dr. Mimiko into the party, which enabled Chief Dan Nwanyawu to successfully mobilise some resources and assist the party to rent ‘befitting’ National Secretariat. To that extent, it can be argued that Chief Dan Nwanyawu was able to deliver on the expectation of mobilising resources.
However, is this what being progressive is all about? Perhaps, Chief Dan Nwanyawu is a leading radical committed to the welfare of ordinary citizens. The best way to estimate that would be with reference to the personal history of Chief Dan Nwanyawu. He was an employee of Union Bank of Nigeria and emerged as the President of National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employee (NUBIFIE) in 1989. Some of his record in the union indicated that his first action as President was to sack the Financial Controller of the union, Mr. Remi Owolabi and replaced him with his Brother Mr. Dave Nwanyawu. He was alleged to defraud the account of the union through NUBIFIE Travel and Tours and the purchase of Shepilo Estate. Chief Dan Nwanyawu lost his position as President of NUBIFIE on accounts of these allegations in 1992.
These are some of the high points in Chief Nwanyawu’s ‘progressive’ credentials. Perhaps, Dr. Mimiko and Alh. Salam would have far more progressive credentials. To be fair to Dr. Mimiko, there are accounts that described him as a social democrat. His political journey started from his young student days and was to join Alliance for Democracy (AD) and became the Ondo State Commissioner for Health between 1999 an October 2002. He joined PDP in 2002 and became the Secretary to Ondo State Government between May 2003 and July 2005 when he was appointed Minister of Housing and Urban Development by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a post he held till December 2006 when he resigned to contest for the Ondo State 2007 gubernatorial elections, first under the PDP but later under the Labour Party. In the case of Alh. A. A. Salam, he makes no pretence about being progressive. He was part of the group in NLC with affiliations to right wing ideological claims referred to as democrats. It was partly on account of his right-wing ideological disposition that Comrade Pascal Bafyau as President of NLC recommended him to the Babangida administration to serve as National Secretary of NRC.
There is hardly any discerning ideological or progressive imprint in any of the accounts of these leaders of Labour Party. It will be false to associate Chief Dan Nwanyawu and Alh. A. A. Salam with the term progressive, if at all it is a reference to people who commits themselves to the improvement of citizens’ welfare. One of the known attribute of people who commits themselves to citizens` welfare is selflessness. Records of both Chief Nwanyawu and Alh. A. A. Salam as trade union leaders disqualify them from this category.
A second attribute of a progressive is that they are very consistent fighters and often opposed to establishment. With government symbolising establishment, especially given authoritarian and undemocratic governments, progressives are almost always antagonistic to government. As a result, progressives are related to some non-governmental organisations. There is nothing in the profile of Dr. Mimiko to suggest any relations with non-governmental organisation. Virtually, everything about him is linked to one government or the other. In so many ways, it can be argued that Dr. Mimiko is a creation of government. It is therefore a fallacy to consider him as progressive.
The sad issue is not the claim of Chief Dan Nwanyawu and Dr. Mimiko to being progressive or persons with any ideology. It is the traumatising display of scandalously fraudulent arrogance aimed simply at self glorification with no political aspiration, except if the aspiration is limited to controlling Ondo State. Could the aspiration be to merge with PDP? In which case, the challenge before Labour Party and its leadership will be to link its claim of being progressive and its ideology to its plans and not distract itself with attempts to justify why it is not joining the ACN, ANPP, CPC and Okorocha-led merger negotiations.
A question that must be raised in relations to Labour Party and its leadership is where does Comrade Adams stand in all these? Is he still a member of the Labour Party? It will be recalled that Comrade Adams contested 2007 elections based on some alliance between AC and Labour Party. What happened to that alliance? Is there still an alliance? If there is, what is going to happen to the alliance after the emergence of APC? Will it be terminated? If the alliance is no longer there now, what led to its termination? In summary, what is the post merger political outlook of Comrade Adams? How will this outlook be in relation to PDP/Labour Party alliance/relationship? These are questions both Comrade Adams and Labour Party need to answer and the answers will help Nigerians appreciate better their ideological positions.