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Labour, NGOs strategise for dividends of democracy

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By Funmi Komolafe

FOR over a decade, the office of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung has been a rallying point for non-governmental organizations. FES assignment in Nigeria has been essentially about promoting and sustaining democracy and this it has done by working with non-governmental organizations, the media, trade unions, women and other civil society groups.

It was therefore not surprising  when  a similar programme was organized to bid farewell to the former resident representative, Mr. Thomas Mattig and welcome Mrs. Seija Sturies, the first female resident representative of the FES in Nigeria.

HAVING invested so much  to assist Nigeria have a stable democracy and sustain it, it was no surprise to many that the topic discussed was “Nigeria’s Progressive Movement: How to deliver the promises of democracy”. Though, the programme was held at the Lagos office of FES, participants came in  from outside Lagos to share their thoughts with discussants. They include Professor Abubakar Momoh of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, Ojo,  Ms. Nma Odi , Executive Director of  BAOBAB and Dr. Sylvester Odion , lecturer, Political Science Department, Lagos State University, Ojo.

*From left: Mrs. Remi Ihejirika,FES official; former FES rep, Mr. Thomas Mattig,  the new rep, Mrs.Seija Sturies and Professor Abubakar Momoh of LASU
*From left: Mrs. Remi Ihejirika,FES official; former FES rep, Mr. Thomas Mattig, the new rep, Mrs.Seija Sturies and Professor Abubakar Momoh of LASU

Mr . Thomas Mattig, outgoing resident representative of FES,  set the tone for the discussion. He reminded participants that in about  three years and six months that he has been in Nigeria, FES  focused on governance, trade unions in the work place and as political actors. However, he and his organization are concerned about   Nigeria’s progressive movement and  how to deliver on the promises of democracy.

Progressives and the peoples’ expectations :

For, Ms. Nma Odi, she believes, “we are in civil rule  rather than a democracy”, because in her opinion, “ the tenets of  democracy are not there”.  She said  Nigerians expect  “quality education, quality welfare,  safety of life and property,” and all of these we don’t have.

Dr. Sylvester Odion believes there is confusion about who a progressive is. To  him, “a progressive movement can exist at the level of an idea, an organization and practical action for the majority of the people”.

Professor Abubakar Momoh defines a progressive: “ A progressive does not have to be a leftist but one who shares the virtues of uplifting and empowerment of the people. He must ascribe to certain values and ideas that must be popular and empower the people”.

He said unlike the Second Republic when progressives in all the parties worked together irrespective of party affiliation, “today, we have progressive individuals but the progressive platform has been decimated.” Professor Momoh, a leftist, said, the left was decimated during the military regime of General Babangida  as “ the struggles against the Structural Adjustment Programme made people very vulnerable. It impoverished people, so, key leftist elements were dragged into government.”

He expressed regrets that  “commitment to group has been subordinated to individuals”.  He said organized labour had been tamed since 1988 when the military forcefully took it over while the proliferation of Non- Governmental Organisations  with questionable funds had further divided the left.

In his words, “NGOism is the worst thing to happen to Nigeria”. Momoh said  “what we have is not democracy because we have no means of holding anybody accountable. Culture of impunity is the order of the day. No politicial class but political elite.” He agreed with Odion that politicians of the First and Second Republics had a vision for Nigeria.

How to get politicians to deliver on the promises of democracy: Nma Odi: “There is the need to build a movement and sustain it so we can have democracy dividends. A coalition has to make them deliver hence the need for a progressive. The civil society has to work together.

She asked rhetorically: “Where did we get it wrong  that we were unable to work together? She said the civil society groups were better when there were fewer NGOs; no progressive youths anymore”. Dr. Sylvester Odion agreed, saying “during the military dictatorship, its was the National Association of Nigerian Students ( NANS) that engaged the establishment and the status quo in Nigeria” but he too lamented that NANS has been compromised and now there are several factions. Odion believes existing political parties are “mere nomenclatures.‘ In his words, “ state governors are lording it over all parties,  the parties have no agenda, no internal democracy in all the parties hence, the goal of transformation is not possible”.

The way out :  Nma Odi suggested that “we need to work together sincerely to remind the government to deliver on the social contract with the people”.

Dr. Odion said “ we need to build organizations and  build cadres for us to reap the dividends of democracy.

Citing the Brazilian example of Da Silva Lula,  Professor Momoh said we need to build organizations. “In Nigeria , we  believe we can use any platform to get power. He dismissed the planned merger of opposition  political parties  saying, the politicians are “political nomads “  moving from one party to another only for the purpose of seeking power.

He warned “ if the opposition plays by  the rules of the PDP, they can never capture power.

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