THE BETRAYAL THEN AND THE BETRAYAL NOW: GRAVE DIGGERS OF THE JANUARY UPRISING!
BY JAYE GASKIA
Let us begin with a quote from The Communist manifesto written in 1845 by Marx & Engels.
“A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism. All the powers of Old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar; Metternich and Guizot; French radicals and German police spies. Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not in turn hurled back the branding reproach against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? Two things result from this fact;
1. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.
2. It is high time that communists should openly in the face of the whole world, publish their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of communism with a manifesto of the party itself.” – Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto’.
Now let us paraphrase this quote for the purpose of the theme of this write up;
“A spectre is haunting the Nigeria Ruling Class, the spectre of The January Uprising. All the powers and factions of Nigeria ruling class and other social forces have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Presidency and the Governor’s Forum; PDP and the opposition parties; [Ultra-Left] Pseudo radicals and law enforcement agencies and state spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as seeking to use the January Uprising to bring down the government by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not in turn hurled back the branding reproach against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? Two things result from this fact;
1. The January Uprising is already acknowledged by all the Ruling class factions, powers and other significant social forces to be itself a power.
2. It is hightime that the makers and inheritors of the January Uprising and its legacy should openly in the face of the whole world, publish their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of the January Uprising with a manifesto of the party itself.”
IN LIEU OF AN INTRODUCTION:
This paper is written as a second installment to the paper on ‘Ultra left pseudo radicalism’ in what may become a series on the subject rather than a single paper as the opening paragraph of the first installment may have suggested.
Now let me begin with a confession. As a central participant in virtually all the aspects and processes of the January Uprising, I have been struggling with how to approach and deal with the subject of the betrayal of the Uprising, even though I had written in passing on the issue in the past. Now one year on, and in the wake of the way and manner that those who assumed leadership of the Uprising then, have distanced themselves from its legacy and its commemoration now; it has become pertinent that the issue be addressed head-on.
I say this because the subject of the betrayal of the uprising is as much an historical fact as is the occurrence of the uprising itself. There was indeed a popular mass participatory uprising of the Nigerian citizens, drawing in millions, who took different levels of synchronized, if not coordinated action across the length and breadth of this country, in over 55 cities and towns, in January of 2012! This is an historical fact!
But it is also an historical fact that in the way and manner through which the uprising was abruptly and surreptiously truncated and cut short, there unraveled a historic betrayal of the Uprising in the minds and consciousness of the overwhelming majority of the millions of Nigerians who took part in the uprising; as well as with respect to the aims, and evolving aims of the uprising! This is also another historical fact, as real as the first.
However, it is not enough to acknowledge these facts, it is critically important that we understand and properly situate the context of these facts in order that we may draw the correct lessons to avoid the pitfalls of the uprising last time.
This is what I intend to try to deal with in this write up. In the immediate aftermath of the January Uprising, I had written a reflection on the uprising; and I had urged then that everyone else who took part in the uprising should share their reflections. In that same vein, I am urging everyone else for the sake of historical accuracy and clarity, in the interest of the struggle to transform our country, to write on their experiences and share their reflections on the uprising.
Let us now race through a series of very important preliminary issues as we trace a trajectory back to the issue of betrayal.
THE WHY OF THE JANUARY UPRISING:
Why did the January Uprising occur? What triggered it? And what factors prepared and subsequently helped to shape its unfolding? It is important to once again emphasise that the trigger of the Uprising was the January 1st announcement that in an unprecedented manner jerked up the price of PMS in the name of implementing the policy of total removal of subsidy on the product. If that was the immediate cause or trigger, the remote and root causes of the uprising are to be found in the unprecedented levels of poverty [69% of the population]; the unprecedented levels of unemployment, homelessness and consequent alienation of the overwhelming majority of the citizens.
These devastating condition of existence of the majority of citizens, made possible by increasingly unprecedented levels of treasury looting and impunity by the ruling class, was compounded by the immediate impact of the hardship caused by the hike in fuel price.
Thus was the Uprising conceived and midwifed. Thus were the circumstances that led to the unfolding of the most significant, most widespread and popular intervention of the masses in the governance of our country since amalgamation. Historical and Ruthless class exploitation and repression was responsible for the conception, incubation/gestation and birth of the January Uprising.
THE HOW OF THE UPRISING – A TIMELINE?
The January 1st jerking up of the price of PMS precipitated unprecedented anger. This anger exploded by the 2nd of January into the first spontaneous wave of resistance. The Uprising was undergoing it birth pangs, the country was in labour!
By the 3rd of January, heeding a call issued since December 2011 by JAF and UAD for a January 3rd 2012 demonstration, the first wave of conscious protests began to unfold across the country from Lagos, through Ilorin, Kano, Lokoja, Laffia etc. The uprising, still a protest, suffered its first martyrdom in Ilorin on this day [03/01/12]. The birth pangs of the uprising deepened, the labour became pronounced!
On the 5th of January in Abuja, the expanded National Executive Committees [NECs] of the NLC and TUC met in emergency session in response to the rapidly unfolding movement.
Expanded because it was open to and included the acknowledged representatives of the traditional allies of the labour movement, the civil society/citizens’ coalitions – UAD & JAF; in essence an expanded meeting of the leadership of the Labour Civil Society Coalition [LASCO]. The NECs resolved to join the protest and declare a nationwide general strike accompanied by nationwide mass protests from the 9th of January. And thus gathered the first meeting of the medical team, the midwives of the uprising, in the first appraisal of the prolonged labour of the expectant mother.
By the 6th of January, Kano had declared a freedom square and taken the decision to actually stage an overnight occupation of the square! On that same day, hired and paid agents of the regime had mobilised a crowd of hungry youths and elderly women to ‘Occupy’ Labour House and demand that the nationwide general strike and mass protests be called off!
The crowd of hired regime supporters, who were filmed sharing money [1,000 to 3,000 Naira per person depending on criteria unknown to observers] was engaged with! Their demands were received, they were enlightened on the necessity for the action; and after complaining about the new and unaffordable high cost of transportation and pure water, they dispersed, querying their supervisors and demanding for increased payment.
By now given the long and pronounced labour of the expectant mother, every stakeholder had become very anxious. Thus it was that the House Of Representatives hurriedly recalled its members from recess and convened an emergency session on the 8th, during which they passed a resolution asking all parties to return to status quo ante belum, that is for government to suspend the price increase, while the labour civil society coalition will also suspend its planned general strike and mass protests. This was then to be followed by a structured negotiation process to resolve all critical issues. HOR even went ahead to constitute an ad-hoc committee to mediate the negotiation. But while the labour civil society coalition accepted this resolution, and urged a simultaneous announcement of the decisions by both sides; the FGN flatly rejected the resolution.
Thus was the stage set for the January 9th, the commencement of the nationwide general strike, and the nationwide phase of the mass protests; and in essence the birth of the January Uprising! The significance of January 9th lies in the fact that it marked the day that the organised working class intervened decisively in the movement and transformed a growing and intensifying protest movement into the unprecedented nationwide mass uprising now known to history as the January Uprising! From that moment on, the uprising became a force on its own, a power in itself, putting fear in the minds of the ruling class and its non ruling class elite allies. The Uprising became a process that must be stopped at all cost before it led to the overthrow of not just the regime, but also ominously the class power of the ruling class as whole.
A significant number of moves and processes were set in motion; the labour civil society coalition’s leadership, which had become the acknowledged leadership of the Uprising was approached for negotiations. The leadership of the coalition hurriedly constituted a joint team for the talks, with only one mandate: total reversal of price followed by negotiations.
By 12th of January, the talks were deadlocked. The labour civil society coalition was urged to recall its NECs. The coalition obliged and reconvened the NECs for sat 14th of January. The reconvened NECs re-affirmed the earlier mandate and even disciplined state leaderships that had breached the earlier mandate. The joint team returned to the state house with the re-affirmed mandate: Immediate total reversal of price to N65 per liter, followed by a 90 day period of all inclusive and all embracing negotiation to resolve all the critical issues in the sector: deregulation, corruption, criminality, connivance and collaboration of state institutions and their personnel, a strategic framework backed with resources to achieve self sufficiency in domestic refining of crude etc. The FGN accused the coalition of not having shifted ground, and of allowing the uprising to be hijacked, and of being bent on regime change. Subtle threats were issued.
The government insisted it will accept this demand for total reversal and a period of negotiation, only if the labour civil society coalition would be willing to agree to an increase in price and a return to the policy of January 1st from April 1st! The coalition rejected this conditionality; what was the essence of the 90 day negotiation period going to be, if we were to agree from the very beginning that regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, we were in support of a return to the price regime of January 1st? The negotiations became hopelessly deadlocked and inspite of all the attempts to prolong it, it had to break up. There was a lot of anxiety on the part of state representatives on what would happen next and on how the coalition was going to communicate the deadlock to the people who were anxiously waiting for the outcome of the talks.
The delegation walked out into the coldness of the early hours of Sunday 15th, confronted by very expectant media. The long faces won by the delegates were sufficient to communicate the deadlock; the terse statements by spokespersons, confirmed the worst fears. The nation was highly expectant of what the new week would bring if the deadlock were to persist and the uprising was to continue into its second week.
Sunday 15th passed suffused in high levels of expectations as well as intrigues. The coalition’s delegation, the acknowledged leaders of the Uprising were recalled/summoned back to Aso Villa. The delegation went, but by then it had become divided.
It is the events of this day, 15th of January 2012 into the morning of Monday 16th of January, that underlies the second historical fact, the betrayal of the Uprising.
By the early hours of 16th January, labour had issued a statement calling off the mass protests; it went on later in the day to address the press and also call off the General strike. It’s civil society allies and coalition partners reacted in fury. UAD and JAF issued statements denouncing the action, insisting it was unilateral. A press conference was addressed by civil society in Abuja, almost immediately after the joint NLC-TUC press conference also in Abuja, denouncing labour’s unilateral action and rejecting the call off. The coalition had also become divided! We will return to these claims and counter claims later.
THE WHAT [SIGNIFICANCE] OF THE UPRISING:
There is no need to belabor the significance of the Uprising here. It can be summed up in the phrase that Nigerians achieved in the course of the uprising in 10 days much more than had been achieved by their inept ruling class in the previous 10 decades of nationhood, with respect to national unity, and radical transformational aspirations!
What is more in the aftermath of the uprising and its betrayal, we unleashed an unprecedented scale of exposure of corruption, treasury looting and impunity; while millions of Nigerians regained/gained the confidence to continuously interrogate and scrutinize leadership and the direction of governance. Thus it was that the regime and the ruling class were kept on their toes all through 2012.
THE UNFINISHED BUSINESS OF THE JANUARY UPRISING:
Now that our uprising has led to the exposure of the mind boggling scale and scope of treasury looting, state piracy, and impunity throughout 2012; it is important that we actually as citizens ensure that treasury looters are apprehended, prosecuted and punished; looted funds recovered, and the aiders and abettors in government are similarly exposed and treated.
It is inconceivable to think that this scale of criminality can be taking place, not just with the subsidy regime, but also with oil theft, without the active connivance and protection of very senior personnel of state agencies [including security agencies], as well as very highly placed politicians and political office holders [elected and appointed]. Those too must be exposed and punished. Until they are exposed and punished, the big fishes on the business side of the ongoing criminality would continue to be protected while the small fries will only be harassed!
CLASSES AND THE LEFT IN THE UPRISING:
The January Uprising was in every sense a very concentrated expression of the class struggle in society. It pitched in broad terms, the exploiting ruling class and its class factions and fractions against the exploited and subordinate classes made poor by the policies, actions and inactions of the ruling class. This broad class unity on both sides of the divide is quite significant, and should be emphasised.
For example although the so-called opposition parties rejected the price increase and made public pronouncements in support of the uprising; and although some opposition politicians flocked to the various terrains of the uprising, and spoke on those platforms; nevertheless the real representatives of the opposition parties in the negotiations were as adamant as the ruling party on rejecting the demand of the movement.
The governor’s forum, the FEC, and the NASS constituted the Government side of the talks, and they spoke with one voice and in unity. And although some governors from opposition parties spoke against the policy and supported the demands of the uprising in public, their representatives [from the same parties] on the delegation of the Governor’s forum to the talks spoke in private, quite the opposite and were in unison with the FEC on the issues. And in other instances while some of the opposition governors were making public statements against the FGN policy, their political appointees were in actual fact pushing the case of the Federal Government at forums called to discuss the issue!
The left on the other hand provided a significant proportion of the leadership of the labour civil society coalition. And although they were united in the necessity to resist the policy, there existed no uniform clarity on how to carry on in the face of the initial obstinacy of the Government. So much so that even if the government obstinacy had continued, the uprising had entered the critical second week, and a revolutionary situation [similar to the Arab Spring] had been precipitated; this would have happened without the strategic leadership of the left and the coalition; and not because of it. The scale of the weight and burden of the new scenario would very likely have also fractured the coalition. It was not prepared for this scenario as a coalition; and as a coalition it feared such a scenario evolving as much as the ruling class feared it. In this the bulk of the leadership of the coalition was in agreement with the ruling class and its leadership in government.
THE BETRAYAL THEN AND NOW:
And now we return to the subject of the betrayal of the revolution. Several issues need to be clarified. Regardless of how those who took the fateful decisions of 15th/16th January 2012 felt and still feel about the decision; regardless of whatever justifications they had; the fact remains that the Uprising was truncated, abruptly called off, and thereby betrayed!
And it also matters little to the question of whether a betrayal occurred or not, whether that betrayal was largely driven and oiled by coercion, inducement or a combination of both! That is in addition to the coincidence of interests between a majority of the leaders of the uprising and the ruling class led by the government. So, a betrayal of the interests of the Uprising and of the popular masses in the uprising did indeed occur.
And while the civil society component of the coalition’s leadership had persistently insisted that it was not consulted on that final day, and that Labour’s decision was unilateral, and had continued to consistently denounce it; the labour leadership had also been very persistent in its own claim that the leadership of its civil society allies were indeed consulted and were part of that decision.
Now this is the historical riddle that must be solved. It does seem that the participation of one half of the civil society leadership in the last meeting at Aso Villa and its contribution to the subsequent meeting of the coalition after the collapse of the talks again on that fateful day is responsible for labour’s claim, and if this scenario is true, then a justifiable claim, that this was not a unilateral decision of the labour segment of the coalition. If indeed this scenario is proved to be correct, then it does mean that one half of the civil society leadership was privy to the decision, without consultation and or agreement with the other half of the leadership of the civil society component of the coalition.
Why is such a clarification important and necessary? Not because it will remove or obliterate the fact of betrayal, but because it will shed light on the circumstances under which the actions which underlay the betrayal then were undertaken.
Furthermore it will also perhaps help to explain the root of the repeat betrayal of the Uprising, its significance, and its legacy, one year after the uprising by ¾ [three-quarters] of the leadership of the coalition which assumed historic leadership of the uprising in 2012.
For how can we explain the rigorous and firm silence and seeming dismissal and contrived lack of understanding of the significance of the uprising by a majority of its acclaimed leaders just one year down the line?
For let there be no doubt about it, The January Uprising has once again in 2013, one year after the original event, been betrayed by a majority of the leadership thrown up by the Uprising in 2012; and which even then in 2012 had betrayed it! This is also an historical fact, a third historical fact in the saga of the January Uprising.
By the act of their seeming conspiratorial silence in the course of the anniversary week of the January Uprising, the leadership of the January Uprising, and the bulk of the left, have contributed and are contributing decisively to the Ruling Class desire to obliterate the memory, significance and legacy of that Uprising for popular revolutionary social transformation of our society!
Here-in lies the tragedy of the January Uprising; in its abandonment by the leadership of social forces which stood to gain the most from its success; as well as in the truncated [which is now being consolidated upon] trajectory of its impending outcome in 2012.
IN LIEU OF A CONCLUSION:
Why has it become necessary to focus on the betrayal of the uprising, and its continuing betrayal? Because without understanding that betrayal, the root and immediate cause of it; we would not be able to avoid similar pitfalls in future.
By Jaye Gaskia
United Action for Democracy