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The National Conference, The January Uprising And The Labour Civil Society Coalition

By Jaye Gaskia

In the last few days the FGN has released its working document for the convening of the National Conference. We now know the government is proposing 492 delegates, of which 46 will be nominated by the President, 108 by governors [that is each governor will nominate 3 delegates], 1 by the FCT [which presumably cannot be nominated without the consent of the president], and another 26 by the Federal Government [as if the President and the FCT are not part of the Federal government]. In total though the number of government nominees is 181.

We also now know that the conference will sit for no more than 3 months, and that the only thing presumably off limits is the unity of Nigeria. And to add to the ambiguity of the government, the conference is to advice the government on how its recommendations might be implemented. In other words, the government is leaving the decision as to whether its recommendations should be processed by the NASS or validated through a open referendum.

There is so much to be said about the way and manner that number of delegates have been allocated to different organisations and constituencies. Nevertheless, my focus today is on the dialectical and unbroken connection between the demands we made during the anti-military struggle, as well as the implicit demands we made during the January Uprising; and the current concession in playing to the gallery by the current regime and dangling the national conference, in this symbolic year of the centenary of the amalgamation.

The same forces which formed the core, the driving and most consistent force of the anti-military and June 12 revalidation struggles, were also central to the January Uprising; in fact by the time of the January Uprising of 2012, they had reached a position, where they were in direct and actual leadership of the uprising.

These alliance of social forces and formations, had come to be known as the Labour Civil Society Coalition, by the time of the January Uprising, and it was as thus that the alliance waged the battles inherent in that uprising. For the avoidance of doubt, and for reasons of historical clarity, these alliance of social forces, these labour civil society coalition, is made up of the two Labour Centres [the NLC and TUC] and two pro-labour citizens’ coalitions [JAF and UAD].

The government, and the entire ruling class [including those of them who became emergency activists and came to plead for podium space during the uprising] recognised that the government and the order over which it was presiding was almost overthrown by the deepening ferment of uprising in January 2012. And somehow in the event of the overthrow, a Sovereign National Conference could very well have been convened by the victorious uprising to fill the vacuum in governance and reorganise society.

Much more than ourselves however, the government and the entire ruling class does recognise and seem to be fully aware of the potency of the power of the mass movement. And this recognition and awareness is now demonstrated in the concessions made to the popular masses and exploited subordinated classes and their organisations, not only with the offer of convening a national conference [cheeky as that offer is], but also in rejecting for all intents and purposes the idea of an ethnic conference, and embracing the position of ordinary Nigerians that we are first and foremost defined by our material condition of existence and not by our ethnicity.

But even more significant is the implicit, if not explicit recognition of the labour civil society coalition. In our recent history, this is the alliance of social forces that has consistently challenged the exploitative misrule of the ruling class, and their treasury looting spree. This was the coalition that coordinated and prepared for the January Uprising, it was the coalition that negotiated on behalf of the Uprising with the Government [the whole government, including state and federal government as well as executive and legislative delegations; with all the major political parties also represented].

To this historic coalition, the current regime has conceded 48 of the 492 delegates positions; 12 to the NLC, 12 to the TUC, and 24 to Civil Society  – that is 12 each to JAF and UAD].

In the first instance although this is a concession to the popular movement, the arrangement and mathematical calculations of delegates made by the FGN is such that Pro-FGN, and therefore Pro-PDP delegates will constitute an overwhelming majority in the conference. Nevertheless, 48 is a significant minority, and if the 48 delegates of the Labour Civil Society Coalition, can conclude within the conference, a broader alliance, much as they did in 2012 during the January Uprising, then the number of pro-people delegates could very well get to up to a third of the conference.

Given that the FGN has also listed several other civil society organisations by name, including NBA, NAWOJ, NUJ, NANS, NYCN, NMA, etc among others, and given that many of these specifically named civil society organisations participated in the January Uprising and coordinated within a broader alliance with the Labour Civil Society Coalition, concluding a pro-people alliance within the conference should not be too difficult a task to undertake.

Two or three explicit facts in the government schedule lead us to make the implicit interpretation that is being made. First, government actually names other civil society organisations by name; second, it went on to now specifically mention a civil society that it allocated 24 delegates to; third, it allocated the same number of delegates, that is 24 delegates, to the combined labour team, as well as to what it referred to as civil society.

We are convinced and persuaded that these 48 delegates were a concession to the labour civil society coalition of the January Uprising [ NLC, TUC, JAF & UAD – each bloc with 12 delegates apiece].

We are not only convinced about this, we also claim this, and insist that one very sure way to actively and proactively engage with the National Conference process is to ensure we have a significant present inside the conference, as well as mount a significant mass mobilisation through mass nationwide rallies outside the conference, and throughout its duration in order to have any chance of realistically influencing its decisions and outcome.

At the very least we can come out with a minority report, with the basic building blocks for a new constitutional order, and around and upon which we can then build a popular mass political party as the real alternative to the parties of the light fingered, gluttonous and inept treasury looting ruling class – ConservaThieves and ProgressThieves alike!

There will be some ultra left radical within civil society who will insist that we should stand aloof from the conference and continue to shout powerlessly from the roof top outside. To them we say, we cannot hope to undertake the task of transforming society with the masses without being present in their most decisive battle fields.

Since hopefully they understand the language of marxism, and the recognise and respect the example revolutionary experience; to them we commend the example of the Bolsheviks in the conservative Russian Duma [assembly] during the period between the 1905 revolution and the first world war. The Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s leadership used the Duma as a revolutionary tribune to promote the cause of revolution and the people.

We are proposing an adaptation of these tactics. Just as the attitude of the Bolsheviks changed to the Duma after the 1905 revolution, our attitude to conferences such as this one ought also to have been transformed by the experience of the January Uprising. Our duty is to seize the space and use the floor of the conference as a revolutionary tribune, a tribune of the people.

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