Dr Femi Aborishade got involved early in labour movement activities through his membership of the Marxist Socialist Youth Movement as a student in the ‘70s at the Polytechnic, Ibadan, where he later became the Secretary-General of the organization. He was the brain behind the production of a Socialist publication called “Progress” which was distributed free.
Aborishade also started the publication of “Labour Militant,” which angered the then military Head of State, General Sani Abacha as he was arrested and detained several times. He later joined forces with the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi to form the National Conscience, a humanitarian body, advocating for socio-economic right.
The organization later transformed into a political party, the National Conscience Party (NCP).
In 2003, he ran for the post of governor of Oyo State on the platform of the NCP. Although he lost, he used the electoral contest mainly to advocate and popularise socialist programmes.
Aborishade, who is also a lawyer in this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, speaks on xenophobia in South Africa, leadership failure in Nigeria, among other national issues, including security challenges, national conference, security summit, and RUGA controversy. Excerpt:
Why do you think the xenophobic attack in South Africa has degenerated to this unbearable level?
I think the major problem is the failure of leadership in both South Africa and Nigeria. The ordinary people have been denied the benefit of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, just as the ordinary people in Nigeria have also been deprived of the benefits of democracy, so it is the failure, the incapacity of the capitalist system that we operate. Capitalism can no longer take us forward, we have reached the dead-end of capitalism, and the system has to change from one that will prioritize needs over the greed of the rulers. The system we are operating today prioritizes the greed of the rulers and de-prioritizes the basic needs of the masses, so it is a change, a paradigm shift in the philosophy of governance. The philosophy of governance must be transformed from one that prioritizes the greed of the rulers to one that makes the needs of the masses to be the primary essence of government. You see, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not different from the ethnicity that is promoted in Nigeria. For example, the Fulanis have been generally demonized. It is the blame that because of this or that ethnic group that it is the reason that we are in problem. We promote ethnic agenda here, which is not different from what we are witnessing in South Africa. It is the system that is incapable of taking society forward.
Let’s take your verdict on the leadership of President Mohammadu Buhari?
I think that from the point of view of the masses this is the worst government we have ever witnessed in the history of Nigeria in terms of unprecedented decay in living standard, unprecedented insecurity, and unprecedented poverty. This government is a total failure and poverty scares us in the face in an unprecedented manner. It is what is responsible for unprecedented insecurity that we are witnessing, in fact, the key problem that we have is leadership problem, the failure of leadership is the core, which has produced unprecedented poverty, unprecedented insecurity in the land.
So, you don’t think leadership is piloting affairs in the right direction?
The political rulers are not providing leadership. Leadership is about problem-solving. The political rulers are vampires, living on the blood of the citizenry. Rather than solving the problem, they compound the problem. This is because they are more interested in conspiring against the welfare of the masses for their self-serving interests. They design programmes and policies to ensure that they monopolise the wealth of society at the expense of the wellbeing of ordinary people. This is the essence of the economic programme of the ruling APC at the level of the Federal Government. The economic programme of the APC is called ERGP – Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The ERGP is predicated on handing over the remaining public assets to the private sector. It is predicated upon the commodification of public goods because it expressly declares that the Federal Government would provide education and health care in partnership with the private sector. That is why the Federal Government is actively planning to concession teaching hospitals. The ERGP assures investors in the electricity subsector that tariffs would be allowed to rise to guarantee profitability, not service. Therefore, the political misrulers (not leaders) are indeed the root cause of the twin problems of poverty and insecurity. The political misrulers are indeed the enemies of the people who pretend to be the saviours of the people.
What will you point as your major worry today about Nigeria?
My worries are twofold. They are the twin problems of unprecedented poverty and unprecedented insecurity. There is a relationship between insecurity and poverty. The more pervasive the poverty, the greater the level of insecurity.
Do you think restructuring Nigeria will bring about political stability?
Restructuring would not solve the socio-economic problems plaguing Nigeria. It is an elitist programme and would only benefit the elite of each of the units into which Nigeria may be balkanized. Restructuring does not speak to the basic needs of the masses. There is political stability of the rulers, even though they freely defect from one party to another like herdsmen looking for greener pastures to serve private interests. Though I do not oppose restructuring if it is a popular demand. But I warn that it would not solve the twin problems of poverty and insecurity, which are fuelling regional, ethnic and religious lines of division. But, it is good to have restructuring so that the masses would draw the inevitable lesson that it is not the solution to the myriads of the problems that abound. If President Buhari did not win election as the president Nigerians would have said he would have made a fantastic president or perhaps the best president the country never had, but now he has been demystified. So, it will also be good to have restructuring so that Nigerians will come to the reality of the fact that it is not the solution to our problem.
Some critics also contend that the problem is in the Constitution… do you share in this view?
The constitution is not the problem. Chapter 2 of the constitution guarantees devoting resources to meet socio-economic rights of the masses such as free education, free medical care, housing for the masses, food for the hungry, employment or unemployment allowance, a national minimum living wage, etc. If Chapter 2 of the current constitution were implemented, the socio-economic problems of poverty and insecurity would be drastically reduced. But the ruling parties are not ready to implement Chapter 2 because they prioritize their greed over the basic needs of the masses.
Does Nigeria need a national conference now or security summit or both?
We neither need a national conference nor security summit. The solutions are clear. Let government implement Chapter 2 of the constitution, which includes payment of a guaranteed national minimum living wage, job creation by the public sector, reversal of sale of public enterprises, fighting corruption and devoting recovered loot to meet the basic needs of the masses rather than using a part of the loot for political corruption such as the vice president distributing cash in the open markets called Tradermoni, but which provides opportunity for much of the money going to the pockets of political jobbers.
What do you suggest as a solution to present spate of insecurity?
Insecurity cannot be solved without solving the problem of poverty which is at the core of the root of insecurity. The uncontrolled insecurity is the ’harvest’ or product of anti-labour and anti-poor policies. Insecurity is a phenomenon that can be explained rationally. The solution does not lie in the militarisation of society. If the resources being pumped into military-focused solutions were used instead for implementing poverty reduction policies in order to provide humanising and enduring jobs, social housing units, free medical care in a revamped health care system used by the president himself, free education used by the children of the ruling class, food for the hungry, a policy of minimum income for the weakest in society, care of the aged, etc…, insurgency and physical insecurity would be massively undermined and reduced in ways better than any military-focused solution could achieve, which the successive governments in Nigeria have been pursuing over the years. In Zamfara State, the governor reportedly held a meeting with known bandits. The bandits were reported to be asking for jobs. That if the government provides jobs, they would stop banditry. The demand by the bandits speaks eloquently to an enduring solution to insecurity. The masses should not allow themselves to be divided along ethnic lines. The Fulanis should not be criminalised on a general note. There are bandits and criminals in every ethnic group and they are products of criminal neglect by successive governments and the looting of the commonwealth by an unconscionable wicked ruling class. Banditry should be condemned regardless of the ethnic background of the bandits because banditry in the North and South is an offspring of the same father and mother – criminal neglect of the welfare of the people. We should not condemn banditry perpetrated by the criminally neglected segments from one ethnic group whilst being mute over bandits with whom we share an ethnic affiliation. Rather, our anger should be directed more at the system that produces banditry and other forms of criminalities. I advocate a socialist future where all human beings co-operate for the common good rather than blaming the poor of other ethnic groups for the socio-economic problems. As revolutionaries have predicted, it is either socialism or descent into barbarism, banditry, kidnapping, ethnic warfare, armed robbery, bloodletting, etc at the levels we have never seen before in human history. That bleak future can be prevented by ensuring that societal wealth is used for the wellbeing of all rather than being monopolized and looted by the ruinous ruling class.