A case for a labor party entryism in Nigeria

Peter Obi's campaign for president points to new possibilities for a politics that represents Nigeria's poor and working classes.

Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash.

First set up as an offshoot of the Party for Social Democracy (PSD) (which was founded in 2001), the Labour Party in Nigeria—renamed in 2004 by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)—has long veered off its initial purpose: to be the vanguard political party for the working class and poor masses in Nigeria. This was expected, given that labor unions in Nigeria had long lost their ideological compass—largely due to violent purges, neo-corporatism, and bureaucratization by the military governments of Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, and Sani Abacha. The fact that the present-day labor party has its roots in labor unions is meaningless, at least for the time being.

Today’s Labour Party is comprised of the senior leadership members of the bureaucratic NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC),—disgruntled career politicians with a high propensity to cross-carpet (decamp or cross the floor to a rival party) when they lose primary elections—and, most recently, senior members of the neoliberal and establishment Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). There is barely any mention of pro-worker interests, nor is there any visible attempt to welcome the Nigerian worker masses. True to its nature as a special purpose vehicle for accessing elected office, the Labour Party in Nigeria is witnessing a once-in-a-generation torrent of youthful fervency largely buoyed by the organizing residue of the #EndSARS movement, as well as by businessman and politician Peter Obi crossing the floor from the PDP to become the Labour Party’s presidential candidate. A particular defining trait of the #EndSARS movement was the hybridization of activism that saw the convergence of offline and online organizing, as with the collaborative contributions of the Nigerian diaspora. This particular trait is showing its face again in the resurgence of the Labour Party in Nigeria, albeit largely buoyed by Obi’s newly founded personality cult.

Peter Obi is obviously a bourgeois capitalist politician who espouses pro-free market ideals—this was most prominent when he was the governor of Anambra state for eight years. It is thought that due to his legendary frugality, lean government posture, and shrewdness with public funds, he represents a glimmer of hope in a public governance space mired by patronage. Thus, the youthful enthusiasm shown towards his candidacy is understandable—in the Nigerian public space, there is an acute scarcity of enticing political options for its youthful and once politically apathetic population.

It is argued that Nigeria’s #EndSARS movement is the first stage of opposition to neoliberalism from the country’s extremely young population. As I have argued elsewhere, the movement was the pragmatic outburst of antiestablishmentarianism in Nigeria’s modern political history—and as such, would need to be organized into a pragmatic political machine for the sole purpose of defending the interests of Nigeria’s workers, poor, and vulnerable. This would enable access to elected public office so as to push for the constitutional reboot of Nigeria in order to meet the collective aspirations of economic liberation of the Nigerian working class. How and where can we channel this newfound political energy?  By recruiting, radicalizing, organizing better, exerting influence among the working class, and thus, being primed for a potential sociopolitical liberationist reboot of Nigeria.

Entryism is a pragmatic political strategy that entails flooding members into a political party or organization with the sole aim of dictating proceedings to further the collective interests of the protagonists. In the context of leftist politics in Nigeria and the Labour Party, entryism would entail taking advantage of the Peter Obi wave to flood the Labour Party and build a truly pro-worker wing that can not only reclaim the party into the leftist fold in the medium term but also radicalize the younger entrants into the party in the short term. I agree that this is opportunism, but the crux of my argument is that just like Leon Trotsky exhorted his French supporters in the summer of 1934, left-leaning Nigerians need to be in a larger political organization where a vast majority are young Nigerian political entrants. This is necessary so as to recruit, radicalize, organize better, exert influence among the working class, and thus be primed for a potential sociopolitical and liberationist reboot of Nigeria.  The latest voter registration figures demonstrate that Nigeria’s massive youth population has a newly found zest for electoral politics. We can capture them in a way that doesn’t expose the glaring weaknesses of the left in Nigeria: numbers in ranks, minuscule factionalization, et al.

There is no obvious unanimity from the Nigerian left as it concerns participating in the 2023 political and electoral process. Still, with a growing political organization like the Labour Party or even the promising but misled African Action Congress (AAC), there is a very good chance of a dedicated leftist core practicing entryism throughout the duration of 2023 electioneering in the much larger Labour Party in Nigeria. Already, there exists The Peoples Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M), a year-old intervention by Nigerian leftists within and outside organized labor. They share my belief in the organizational capacity of united and dedicated workers’ unions as the locus of the needed worker and class struggle in Nigeria—the crux of the thinking behind the formation of the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC). They also share my concern about the left in Nigeria not being left out of the political processes leading to the 2023 general elections. I also applaud TPAP-M’s participation in the recently concluded reconciliation process between the Labour Party and organized labor.

Where I disagree with TPAP-M is their recent exclusivist and purist strategy. TPAP-M wanted a new leftist party, even though time and registration constraints with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would not permit it. Its members, therefore, settled for a united electoral front of the successfully registered leftist parties—i.e., the Labour Party and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). This is also a strategy called for by the Peter Obi wing of the Labour Party, though they urge it for an onward convergence with the populist Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso’s Nigeria National Peoples Party. TPAP-M, meanwhile, felt that with the recent arrival of Obi’s movement into the Labour Party in Nigeria, their efforts at a leftist resurgence would be vitiated; thus, their participation in the resurgence of the Labour Party was now a “distraction.” While I respect this decision of theirs on the grounds of ideological purity, I see their defeatism and ideological purism as being unrealistic within the present sociopolitical context of Nigeria. The left here is far too fractured and enmeshed in theoretical fantasies to be able to organize an ideologically purist political movement that can effect the necessary political interventions toward the collective interests of Nigeria’s workers and impoverished masses. A further factionalization of the Nigerian left would only worsen the glaring weaknesses.

The political work that needs to be done by the left in Nigeria should be informed by the sense of clarity produced by working within the country’s complicated and extremely violent political realities—and the first step toward attaining clarity within the Nigerian sociopolitical context is understanding that although the downtrodden and workers in Nigeria have the numbers and thus, the revolutionary potential, the voices of these workers and the interests of the downtrodden have not been advanced in the mainstream. Thus, this has to change, and this can change.

A variation of entryism that has very good revolutionary potential for the left in Nigeria within the Labour Party is the one that turns Lenin’s idea about party organization—as explored by

György Lukacs in his 1924 study of the unity of Lenin’s thought—on its head. In clear terms, we must practicalize the reversal of the interpretation of Lenin’s idea on vanguard party organization. Lukacs writes, “Every new form of struggle which brings new perils and sacrifices inevitably ‘disorganizes’ an organization ill-prepared for the new form of struggle.” It is the party’s task to pursue its necessary path openly and consciously—above all in relation to itself—so that it may transform itself before the danger of disorganization becomes acute, and by this transformation promote the transformation and advancement of the masses.

The reversal here is that we (the left) are the protagonists of a class/worker struggle that would turn the Peter Obi momentum within the “ill-prepared” Labour Party in Nigeria toward the advancement of the interests of the workers and the downtrodden in Nigeria’s society—rather than the neoliberal interests of the bureaucratic leadership of the party and organized labor. In practical terms, the reverse of the Leninist idea of a new form of struggle that can destabilize a vanguard party can happen through a synergy of purpose toward radicalizing younger entrants into the Labour Party through mass political education, uniting the non-bureaucratic worker union base, and the popularization of mutual aid. This obviously can be broken down into simpler and more actionable bits. What the #EndSARS movement lacked in ideological direction and political engagement can be worked upon within the leftist wing of the Labour Party in Nigeria. Collectively, volunteer efforts to organize mass political education classes for young entrants and older but new party members can help speed up the radicalization process. Organizing youth clubs or pressure groups with leftist political influence within the Labour Party should also be explored.

Doubling down on TPAP-M’s interventions to unite organized labor, especially its non-bureaucratic base, would add more strength in numbers and collective bargaining powers for the left within the new Labour Party. Volunteering efforts and finances to set up mutual aid programs and material support initiatives geared towards the vulnerable in society is another effective organizing tool that can preach the leftist wing of the new Labour Party to the core of Nigeria’s society—its economically maligned poor. All of these interventions should be carried out simultaneously to fast-track entryism in the Labour Party. Thus, I share the belief that a dedicated section of Nigeria’s left can transform an electoral special purpose vehicle like the Labour Party into an ideological machine. In doing so, they can rigorously push for our collective ideological goals, thanks to the fervor of the political movement that Peter Obi is a vessel for, which has definitely been fueled by residues of the #EndSARS movement.

Since the #EndSARS movement is the early revolutionary stage of antiestablishment politics in Nigeria, and since history has repeatedly shown that, during the early stages of a revolutionary torrent, the masses—especially the young generation veering into politics for the first time—turn to mass organizations to try and find a solution to their interests. It makes pragmatic sense to take full advantage of this time-honored political manifestation and collectively help to organize for the solutions that a vast majority of Nigerians are seeking—a total overhaul of the Nigerian state into one that is prosperous, equitable, and just.

Further Reading