Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi
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It had to be that the Labour Party would be stretchered into the Banquet Hall of Aso Rock in a body bag, even in a state of coma. It had to be that at the head of that team would be a Medical Doctor to superintend over the final rites of passage for the party he had midwifed into national relevance. It had to be that the death certificate of the Labour Party would have the imprimatur of the Presidency. The rites, of a necessity, had to be at the Presidential Villa.
It is now up to us to make anything of it – Was that a gathering of party members in the Presidency for official business or was it one of government officials paid to serve Nigerians partying and politicking, while they were supposed to be at work? The distinction between governance and politics had long been lost on the occupants of our high offices, so that, in itself, does not count for much. The inappropriateness of the venue must have been lost on the conveners who were so much in haste to conduct a funeral mass, while the patient was still in coma.
It was a simple ceremony, though – The Doctor pronounces the patient dead. He places the cadaver before a coterie of undertakers and pall bearers gathered to help put a benefactor away and welcome the prodigal son back home. He makes a speech and the mourners beam with smiles. Such a ceremony to mark the death of the Labour Party and celebrate the gains of another catch had to be at the ultimate seat of power.
It is safe to assume that the Labour Party has now been quarantined in a morgue of. It has fallen victim to the shenanigans of politicians who sold the founders a lie, bought the party off them and exchanged it for an umbrella. But the unravelling of the party has only been long in coming, it is no surprise. The poison that triggered its implosion lies in the seed that launched it into prominence. It has only taken time for the inevitable to become obvious.
A strange romance between the Labour party, which ought to represent the extreme left of the political spectrum and the PDP, which lies at the extreme right has hardly been hidden. When Comrade Issa Aremu, Deputy Secretary of the party and Vice President of the NLC frantically called Dr Mimiko to order, months back, over his controversial support for the Jang-led group of Governors, some of us chuckled. He sought then to remind Mimiko that the Governor’s conduct was not in line with the ideology of the party, but that was too little, too late. The falcon was no longer listening to the falconer, he should have known.
But truth be told, we never really had a Labour Party. What masqueraded as one was a caricature, cobbled together by strange bedfellows lacking in rudimentary understanding of what such a party should symbolise, with the Nigerian Labour Congress only carrying on as a nominal passenger. Rather than build a movement of workers, artisans, traders, students, intellectuals, farmers and the like, leaders of the Labour party were more at home, frolicking in the dark corridors to hand over the party platform, for a plate of porridge, to all-comers. The figures at the head of the party were seemingly more interested in a platform with which to negotiate for crumbs from the tables of the overlords, rather than building an authentic workers party.
Political jobbers, hustlers and itinerants of varied political persuasions showed up as candidates for the party at different levels. The party for workers had become a haven for mercenaries angling for political power at all cost. Running for office on the platform of the Labour Party began to look more like a routine ‘buying and selling’ business, consummated at the car park of Alaba market. The platform, it would seem, was available to the highest bidder, with no pretence of affinity to any ideology close to the left, but only one founded on convenience and infrastructure of the stomach.
The list of politicians who found accommodation on the Labour Party platform is a rich one. Illustrious Nigerians such as the Ekiti State Governor-elect, Ayodele Fayose, Ifeanyi Uba of Anambra State, Femi Pedro, Timi Alaibe and Senator Andy Uba, were once candidates of the party. The Ogun State chapter of the party was a floating vehicle of convenience for Governor Gbenga Daniel to maintain relevance in the ever-dynamic politics of the state. That is what has become of the Labour Party. It does not even have a functional website.
But the party itself might have continued to wallow in obscurity, but for the fortuitous move by Dr Segun Mimiko to adopt the party platform in the 2007 gubernatorial elections in Ondo State, having been shut out by the PDP. Victory was to come for him, through the instrumentality of the court, in 2008. With that, the Labour Party took on a new life. The Governor became the leader of the party with Dan Nwanyanwu serving as National Chairman. Both men struck a working partnership that suited them both. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Nwanyanwu has chosen this moment to step down as Chairman, with Mimiko having abandoned the boat, mid-stream.
But the tragedy that has befallen the Labour Party is not one for the party alone to bear. Indeed, its looming demise is no accident. It is a deliberate manipulation by the ruling elite to ensure that alternative political platforms do not thrive in Nigeria. The objective is the continuation of same and domination by the oligarchy at the helm of affairs in the country. It does not bode well for the future of Nigeria.
At every point in the historical journey of Nigeria, organised labour has turned up to play a progressive role. It was at the vanguard of the struggle against the colonial powers, with its 52-day strike in 1945, helping, in no small way, to bring about independence for Nigeria in 1960. Even then, the Labour Party that was formed in 1946 fell victim to the shenanigans both within and outside, it died prematurely.
A resurrection came in 1989 in response to the political transition programme of Ibrahim Babangida. The Nigerian Labour Congress, under the leadership of Paschal Bafyau, descended into the political arena. The argument then was that “those who are out to change society for the better, by whatever name they go, must set out consciously and fastidiously to win political power.” It was a valid submission that made sense to some of us. Drunk on idealism, we bought the dream and pounded the streets of Nigeria in its pursuit, before IBB pulled the plug on that dream.
Tragically though, it is difficult to see the current Labour Party as an encapsulation of that dream or desire to change society. The faces that have come to be identified with the party neither echo the dream we had 25 years ago nor resonate with the vision for the future. This Labour Party has nothing in common with that of 1946 or 1989. It does not inspire us into remembering the heroic role played by the organised labour in the fight for the validation of June 12 election and the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria.
That the Labour Party has neither been able to carve a niche for itself in the political space nor successfully engineered the buy-in of workers and intellectuals from the progressive fold that should ordinarily serve as its constituency, speaks a volume. Yet again, the vultures have sucked life out of the bones of another Labour Party; its carcass now lies in state at Wadata Plaza. Though the funeral rites for the Labour Party might have begun, yet the party might only just be in a state of coma. Who knows if there is someone lurking in the shadows looking to hire the flag of the Labour Party for another political adventure? Who knows if we might yet have a Nigerian Labour Party in line with the dream we shared and worked on, day and night in Maiduguri, 25 years ago? Who knows if the Labour Party might yet be the “organisational expression of the Nigerian conscience”, as was once the dream?