Debate as class struggle – Part 2
The bureau started its work by identifying 30 issues including the philosophy of government; a viable, popular and genuinely democratic political system; the economy; state and religion; women; labour; youth; local government; traditional rulership; federalism and revenue allocation; creation of states; the armed forces; the bureaucracy; among others.
In identifying these 30 issues for the national political debate, the bureau was convinced that “they form the bedrock of the political culture of Nigeria’’ and that ‘’discussion and analysis of them should provide a basis for fashioning a comprehensive political model for the country.”
Hundreds of debates, seminars, discussions, symposia and conferences were organised around the issues. Individuals and groups also submitted memoranda.
Later, the 30 issues were further “distilled” into about 250 direct and concrete questions which were put to the rural populations during the eight-month country-wide working tours undertaken by members of the bureau in groups of three and two. I was included in the tours of all the present geopolitical zones except the Southwest.
During these tours I knew the country – Nigeria – and its peoples more than ever before, and I waged the class struggle beyond the mandate of the bureau. But my groups experienced no internal conflicts over my vigorous pursuit of the mass line.
Many mass organisations including the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS), Women in Nigeria (WIN), the Historical Society of Nigeria, the Nigerian Political Science Association and the Nigerian Economic Society organised seminars and sent memoranda to the bureau. Hundreds of papers were officially commissioned; many groups, including traditional rulers, were interviewed.
The national debate attracted about 43,000 contributions. But the number of contributors must have run in millions. For instance, the NLC with a membership of five million, submitted only one memorandum. Furthermore, several hundreds of the contributions were summaries of well-attended debates and seminars. The public debate lasted from Friday, February 3, 1986 to September 30, 1986.
The Bureau, thereafter, withdrew from public glare and started the preparation of its report. It was in the course of this preparation that my disagreements with my colleagues came to a head. It should, however, be noted here that by the time we formally withdrew from the public sphere copies of all the contributions as well as the materials generated in the debate, and therefore needed for our report, were virtually with every member who was interested. And I was interested.
I may here indicate the nature and directions of the decisive disagreements. They may be separated into seven: One: The bureau’s conception of itself: Was it an agency of government or an independent commission? Two: Flowing from the above, how close should the bureau be to the government? Three: What should be our relationship with the press and, hence, the public?
Four: Should the official records of our proceedings be mere “summaries” or should they include the internal debates that showed how we moved dialectically to certain important decisions? Five: How should we enhance our credibility in the eyes of the nation during this exercise? More concretely: should we close our eyes and ears to what was happening in the country even as the nation debated? Should we appropriate the prejudices of the Nigerian state towards popular-democratic organisations such as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS)?
Six: Should the “recommendation” part of our report be precise or nebulous? Should we provide the state with an “interim report” with which it could “run away” or ask the regime to wait for a single final report? Seven: There was a permanent fight over language and concepts: “masses” versus “grassroots”; “ruling class” versus “elites”, etc. The question of whether the concept of “state” should feature in our engagement with the public took us such a long time to resolve with a compromise!
On Wednesday, December 17, 1986, the fundamental ideological disagreements between me on the one hand and the “integrationist” faction of the Bureau, on the other, exploded for the fourth and last time: the Political Bureau, in a plenary session, passed a resolution (with one abstention, namely, Sani Zahradeen, and one objection, namely, myself) excluding me from further participation in the work of the Bureau – on the grounds that I had leaked its decisions to the press and had refused to abide by collectively agreed mode of work. I protested and appealed, through a letter, to the President, who appointed us, to reverse the illegal action of my colleagues. Although no direct response came from the President, his chief press secretary, Chief Duro Onabule, told newspaper reporters attached to the State House that the President would not intervene in the crisis – which he called an “internal affair” of the Bureau.
The public and the press intervened massively – criticizing my removal; but the President still did not intervene. The Guardian was in the mood to support a legal challenge if I chose that option. Initially, I considered the option. But, then there was a problem: The Guardian which had stood by me preferred Chief F. R. A. William as counsel; but, for obvious reasons, I wanted Chief Gani Fawehinmi. I weighed the politics of the matter and decided to drop the legal option.
On Monday, January 5, 1987, I forced myself into the plenary meeting of the bureau in Victoria Island, Lagos. I dared my colleagues to order my arrest. They did not. I left the venue, never to return. When on Friday, March 27, 1987, the Bureau (now with 15 members) submitted a report to the Federal Government, I decided to compile, or rather collate, my own report. This came out in three volumes: Recommendations; Internal Debate; and Documents.
As is well known the report submitted by the other members of the Bureau came out with the recommendation of socialism. That conclusion was clear before my illegal expulsion in December 1986.
There was no way they could have come out with anything else. I was satisfied that the bureau’s recommendation was a product of the class struggle generated and waged in the country and in the Political Bureau! In addition it recommended executive presidential system, two-party system, three-tier federalism, secularity of the state, a range of fundamental human rights, socio-economic rights, some elements of popular power and the rule of law, among other things. As is also well known, the government, in its White Paper of June 27, 1987, threw out the Political Bureau’s socialism.
My conclusion was also socialism. But not an “utopian” socialism or a petty-bourgeois socialism, but a form of socialism which is not only economic and social but also political.
My position was, and still is, that a “non-political” socialism is utopian socialism because it denies itself the means of self-realisation, namely political power. But having said this, I must confirm that I would have signed the official Report if I had not been excluded from the final phases of our collective work.
The following strategic formulation was already agreed upon before I left the Bureau: “We therefore recommend that Nigeria should adopt a socialist socio-economic system in which the state shall be committed to the nationalization and socialization of the commanding heights of the national economy.”
The method used by the bureau to arrive at the verdict of socialism was questioned by cynics and reactionaries alike. I can only say here that no one who has read the report can fail to appreciate the scientifically tested method used.
The late Comrade Professor Eskor Toyo, who read the Political Bureau’s report and also listened to me, said later in an article: “The Political Bureau recommended socialism not because they were overwhelmed by field evidence. Their verdict was unanimous because, in the light of what they actually heard from the people, no other verdict could be given.
The bureau had the good sense of not asking the people the abstract question of whether they wanted socialism, capitalism, liberalism, fascism, welfarism or anarchism. I learnt that the bureau proceeded concretely and put the alternatives in concrete terms according to the actual contents of the systems with respect to the lives of people.” I agreed.
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