Below is the first part of the lead presentation by Comrade Femi Falana (SAN) at the Public Lecture to mark the 80th Birthday of Comrade (Professor) Omotoye Olorode in a celebration anchored by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD). The programme, which held in Abuja on Thursday, April 29, 2021, was chaired by Prof Attahiru Jega, former ASUU President and former INEC Chairman, under the theme which is the title of the presentation.

COMRADES,  friends, fellow compatriots, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here to celebrate one of our very best; one of the best our continent can offer not just in terms of academic achievements and  intellectualism, but also in clear-headed and consistent political activism and revolutionary practice.

Professor Omotoye Olorode is not just an example in selflessness and sacrifice for the liberation of Nigeria and Africa, but also a study in humility and mentorship of generations. He is one Nigerian that has absolute confidence in the future and the ultimate triumph of our people over backwardness, neo-colonialism and imperialism.

I have been asked by the thoughtful comrades who organised this Commemorative Anniversary Public Lecture to speak on “Labour and the Quest for Nigeria’s Development: Reflections and Prognosis on the way forward.”

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The Compass of Nigeria’s Development
All countries, especially those that emerge from colonialism, are expected like larva, to advance to higher, sustainable stages of growth. This is reflected in progressive changes in all spheres including economic, social, physical and environmental. In this wise, National Development encompasses improvement in the standard of living, health, shelter, education, nutrition, cultural  and social services necessary to make life meaningful.

It is partly in pursuit of these goals that Herbert Macaulay in 1923 formed the first political party in the country, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) followed in 1936 by the Nigeria Youth Movement (NYM).

On Independence Day, Saturday, October 1, 1960, Prime Minster Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said Nigeria attained independence so: “that the building of our nation proceeded at the fastest pace” and for the elected representatives to prove that they are “fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation.” But while most of the leading politicians of the time were merely interested in taking over the reins of power from the colonial masters and continuing in their ways of exploiting the country, the Labour Movement was convinced that the country cannot develop unless it pursues an alternative, people-centred national development agenda. 

It was however the August 26, 1944 formation of the  National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) which brought together the leading anti-colonial nationalists like Macaulay, the student movement led by the  Nigeria Union of Students (NUS)  and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUCN)  which came to define Nigeria and set the agenda for national development.

This move was reinforced by the February I6, I946 formation of the radical Zikist Movement which rejected compromise with the colonialists and insisted on national liberation and a meaningful independence. Its programme centred around “the eviction of British imperialists from the shores of Nigeria and thereafter to chase all European usurpers wherever they may be found, out of Africa.” Many in the Zikist Movement were workers including from the restive work force of the Post and Telecommunications. They had a positive and lasting impact on the labour movement.

On Independence Day, Saturday, October 1, 1960, Prime Minster Abubakar Tafawa Balewa said Nigeria attained independence so: “that the building of our nation proceeded at the fastest pace” and for the elected representatives to prove that they are “fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation.” But while most of the leading politicians of the time were merely interested in taking over the reins of power from the colonial masters and continuing in their ways of exploiting the country, the Labour Movement was convinced that the country cannot develop unless it pursues an alternative, people-centred national development agenda.

Partly to achieve this, radical trade unionists led by Nduka Eze, Secretary General of the Commercial Workers Union and the labour centre, the All Nigeria Trade Union Federation (ANTUF) established a scholarship system under which Nigerian youths were sent to study in Eastern European tertiary institutions.

However, the development agenda of the ruling elites prevailed so the country did not experience the type of rapid development a country like Ghana experienced. There were however, some commendable developmental strides especially in the expansion of education with the three regions establishing their own universities. In this wise, the Western Region led with the introduction of free education and virtually made it mandatory for children of school age to receive education. There were also expansion in housing and social services.

In terms of economic direction, the country continued in that of the former colonial masters except with some flavours of indigenisation. For example, during the period of Self-Government under colonial control, the Industrial Development (Import Duty Relief) Act of 1957; the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act of 1958; and the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidised Goods) Act of 1958 were passed to allow some local economic autonomy.

In 1959, there were debates on the need to nationalise businesses and ensure faster economic development. The year after independence, the debate transformed from the Nigerianisation of the economy to Nationalisation. Under the 1962 National Development Plan (NDP), 14 per cent of public investment went to industrial development.

Eventually, there were fallouts in the prevailing political system leading to violent political clashes, massive electoral fraud and two military coups in 1966. Under the Gowon regime, the Companies Decree of 1968 was promulgated. The aim was to bring local subsidiaries of foreign firms under government control. The end of the quite bloody three-year Civil War in 1970 gave the country an opportunity to rethink its positions and develop a coherent national development plan. This led to the enactment of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion (Indigenisation) Decree in 1972 to ensure local ownership and control of the country’s economy. The law created a category of businesses exclusively reserved for Nigerians and another which foreigners can participate in under specified conditions.

The Charter demanded that development policies: “be directed to the creation of full employment, a fair distribution of income and wealth and satisfaction  of basic needs  for all – food, clothing, shelter, essential public services, adequately remunerated jobs and trade union rights.” It pointed out that: “the laissez-fair formula of development through profit and competition has created growing and unacceptable inequalities. It argued for a reversal of trade liberalisation stressing that: “The mainspring of all development policies should be the broadening of internal markets and conquest of external ones.”

The programme was aimed at ending the stranglehold of imperialism on Nigeria and allowing it some control of its national economy, politics and development. The free-for-all looting had not begun and the country had huge oil income, a declining, but still strong agricultural base and some political conviction built on a Pan Africanist programme. This was so strong that Nigeria could nationalise oil companies and banks doing business with the criminal Apartheid Regime in South Africa. However, seven years after the Indigenisation Decree, there was a return to civil rule and the profligate political elite set about reversing the post-colonial national development policies. This led to the passing of the Economic Stabilisation Acts of 1982 and 1983.

Labour’s Alternative National Development Agenda
The Labour Movement with the trade unions as leading lights had from colonial times articulated patriotic and radical positions on national development. They usually articulated and aggregated mass opinion, and fought for them. When the political class began pursuing a bankrupt national development agenda in 1980, labour came out not just to oppose it, but also to articulate an alternative and progressive national development agenda titled ‘The Workers’ Charter of Demands Prepared and Presented by the Nigeria Labour Congress to the Federal Government of Nigeria.’

The Charter demanded that development policies: “be directed to the creation of full employment, a fair distribution of income and wealth and satisfaction  of basic needs  for all – food, clothing, shelter, essential public services, adequately remunerated jobs and trade union rights.” It pointed out that: “the laissez-fair formula of development through profit and competition has created growing and unacceptable inequalities. It argued for a reversal of trade liberalisation stressing that: “The mainspring of all development policies should be the broadening of internal markets and conquest of external ones.”

Labour’s alternative agenda included:

  1. The establishment of a Tripartite National Commission dealing with provision of employment and basic needs.
  2. Land redistribution to those who work on it and the building of appropriate rural infrastructure particularly water supply, irrigation, housing, access roads, transportation and availability of credit and marketing facilities.
  3. Initiation of large low-cost housing schemes backed with financial credit programmes.
  4. A planned and vast domestic food production along with family planning methods linked to local situations, customs and ways of life.
  5. Increased public sector investment in services aimed at improving the economic and social infrastructure that would be beneficial to the population.
  6. Expansion, rather than contraction of public ownership.
  7. Provision of free education at all levels with objectives linked to the living and working conditions of the populace.
  8. Encouragement and development of apprenticeship, vocational training and skills acquisition.
  9. Promotion and encouragement of Pan-Nigeria associations cutting across ethnic, linguistic, religious and all sectional barriers.
  10. Introduction of a living wage and unemployment benefits.
  11. Indigenisation of the economy and the bringing of the economy under the ownership and control of the workers and the masses.
  12. Abrogation of punitive and restrictive labour laws including the Trade Disputes Essential Services Act.
  13. Freedom of the press including the removal of all forms of interference with the operations of the media, and an
  14. African-centred but non-aligned foreign policy

However, the ruling class did not just reject Labour’s National Development Agenda but also sought to reverse all the gains recorded since independence. In 1982/83, they introduced a liberalisation agenda which sought to mortgage the country’s future to international capital, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. To counter these moves, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) produced and popularised a leaflet titled: ‘Nigeria Not For Sale.’

To be concluded…

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