Not many people may be familiar with the name Jaye Gaskia outside the shores of civil society organisations in the country. But as far as campaigns for the emancipation of the masses are concerned, he is a force to be reckoned with. He has played very vital roles in the organisation and re-organisation of the bodies resulting in the formation of the coalition, United Action for Democracy (UAD) that was actively involved in the botched January 2012 protest against the removal of oil subsidy. He is rhetorical about that protest which he dubbed as ‘‘the ‘Peoples Uprising’ that would have ushered in a new order in the country”. And just as progressive elements are jubilating in the country over the formation and subsequent registration of the opposition merger party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Jaye Gaskiya calls for caution on the part of social activists eager to join the bandwagon, saying neither the merger party nor the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has the capacity to usher in the new order. In this exclusive interview with Sunday ITODO and Owoicho OCHE of our editorial desk, he reminisces his involvement in civil society activities against military dictatorships over the years resulting in the birth of the present republic, the rise of monumental corruption in the new dispensation and the need for an alternative platform to be formed by ‘the people themselves’ to free them from the shackles of bad governance. EXCERPS:
Background and life history
My background? I always get worried when people ask me this question because I don’t know what to say, whether I am to say I hail from Kaduna, or Kwara or Rivers State. This is because I was born in Ilorin, Kwara State in 1966 where my parents come from, but they stayed in Kaduna at the time, and I grew up in Rivers State. Can you see? So I always prefer to be identified with Rivers State where I spent most of my life and had been part and parcel of their struggle. We started the Niger Delta militancy; I was the leader of Democratic Alternative that gave rise to the Niger Delta militancy. We had alliance with OPC, MASSOB, and Middle Belt Progressive Youth Council etc which were all part of the UAD then. I presided over the convention that produced Ganiyu Adams as the National leader of OPC.
Well I had my early education with Bishop Smith Primary School, Ilorin, between 1975 and 1977, Titcombe College, Egbe, Kogi State, 1977-1982, and Mt. Carmel College, Ilorin, from 1982 to 1983. I then proceeded to University Of Ilorin, 1983-1988, where I had my Bachelor of Science degree (Hons.) in Zoology. After my NYSC in 1989 which I served with Methodist Commercial College, Sagamu, Ogun State, where I taught Biology/Integrated Science, I was employed by the Kwara State Ministry of Education as a teacher in the same Biology and Integrated Science between 1989 and 1991. After this I felt the need to move out of the classroom and get involved in something else.
So I went into self employment and established Devine Communications Limited that was engaged in communications consultancy, including printing, screen printing, etc. between 1994 and 1997. However at this time the spirit of humanitarian service was reeling in me so I went into NGO and little did I know I was on the path to indulging fully in the civil society coalition and advocacy functions that I do today.
It started with Environmental Rights Action/Friends of The Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) where I worked as a Field Worker, Head Organization Desk, and Program Manager Democracy Outreach between 1998 and 2004. Part of the functions of these positions included coordinating local communities across the Niger Delta, coordinating ERA’s informal network of collaborating Civil Society Organisations and a program called EarthDay 2000 Nigeria Network. It also included raising awareness about global environmental issues, such as the Environmental Justice Campaign of 2002 t0 2004, organizing monthly ERA Roundtables [ERT’s], and quarterly Environmental Parliaments [EPs]. The ERT’s are a forum for civil society organisations to meet and exchange views, as well as map out common strategies to address and tackle topical issues of immediate and urgent concern locally and nationally.
I also worked with the ACTIONAID INTERNATIONAL (AAI), NIGERIA from 2004 to 2009, and it was my last set of functions on civil society advocacy and campaigning platforms before starting consultancy services. There I held several positions including Program Advisor Conflict and Emergencies, International Emergencies and Conflict Team (IECT) Advisor (West Africa and Global), and Campaigns Manager: Interim Country Director, etc. The work there at the various times entailed design and take off of the ‘Human security in conflict and emergencies program’ of ActionAid International Nigeria, development of strategic framework and program of action for the Human security program, promoting capacity building and mentoring of country program personnel in the thematic program area of human security, facilitating the development of the programme Pan African Network on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in July 2008, building and developing strategic partnerships for the economic justice campaign in Nigeria, and coordination of Oxfam GB integration programs, campaigns and humanitarian activities in Nigeria, etc.
I left Action Aid in 2009 and since December 2010 to date I have been providing consultancy services on conflict transformation, conflict sensitivity programming, protection and peace building, gender mainstreaming and women empowerment frameworks development processes, integration of youth empowerment frameworks into development programs and all the areas of advocacy & campaigning frameworks.
Formation of UAD and struggle for the masses
Hmm, it has been a long and enduring struggle. As I stated earlier, during my teaching and self-employment career, I felt strong desire for humanitarian service, and so I had to break off with the trades to enter into NGO. While in the NGOs, I had a stint with environmental protection, peace and conflict resolution, gender and youth advocacy issues, and so on. This brought me into contact with many old and fledging civil society organisations, especially the Niger Delta volunteer groups, such as the Chikoko Movement, the National Ijaw Youth Council and the National Youth Conference on Constitution Review. The spirit of militancy was so strong and virile in the youths during the military regime of Gen Sani Abacha that we had to also form the Democratic Alternative which gave rise to the Niger Delta militancy. I was the leader then. Like I said earlier, we had alliance with several other militant groups such as OPC, MASSOB, and Middle Belt Progressive Youth Council, etc, which were all part of the UAD then. I presided over the convention that produced Ganiyu Adams as the National leader of OPC.
Along the line we felt the need for a coalition of all the civil society organisations to be formed, including human rights groups, environmental rights and smaller pro-democracy organizations, etc, so as to resist military dictatorships in the country, especially the Abacha regime. That was what gave rise to the UAD. So it was the coalition of anti-military and pro-democracy struggle during the Abacha regime which led to the birth of this present republic that also gave birth to the UAD. The United Action For Democracy (UAD), is therefore a historic political nationwide coalition of citizens’ organisations across our country Nigeria, which has been coordinating people’s struggles to entrench democracy and good governance in the country. We succeeded in entrenching the present democratic dispensation and we organized the January 2012 Uprising that was to resist the removal of fuel subsidy by the present civilian administration. Our aim is to rid this country of the endemic, widespread, pervasive and systemic corruption and impunity in governance perpetrated and perpetuated by the Nigerian ruling elite in the military, in government, in opposition, in civil service and in business!
The UAD was formed in May 1997 by Olisa Agbakoba. We always say that date is historic because it was the day Mobutu Sesse Sekou of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) was overthrown. It’s a coalition of many civil society organisations, 26 pro-democracy groups (not NGOs) to be precise. All founders came from Campaign for Democracy (CD) following the split in their ranks as a result of disagreement that arose on how best to respond to the Abacha’s ‘coup’. While some felt it should be fought with all might and vigour, others wanted it to be tolerated to some extent. So they split and UAD came on stream. The founding General Secretaries were the late Chima Ubani and Dr. Sylvester Oddion. Remember Ubani died in a road crash in 2005 when they (pro-democracy activists) were returning from a rally held in Maiduguri to protest the fuel price increase announced by the then civilian dictatorship of Olusegun Obasanjo.
I was the founding South-South Convener until 2003 when I became the Deputy National Convener under Bamidele Aturu who was the National Convener then, a position I held until 2005. I became the National Convener in August 2011 at the 8th convention. You know we hold our conventions every two years, so we have held eight conventions so far. Another one comes up this year.
Successes or failures, if any
We’ve recorded a lot of successes in our struggle for the emancipation of the masses in this country. Like said, we succeeded in entrenching the present civil rule in the country via our campaigns and protests against military dictatorships. And now that we are in the civil rule and a lot of things are still not right, we continue to struggle. We note that there is a progressive decline in the quality of governance and the management of our polity and collective resources since the 1999 return to civilian rule. So we continue to struggle until all facets of our national life are democratized and good governance is completely instituted in the country. For instance we were a core member of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LACSO – comprising NLC, TUC, UAD & JAF) that coordinated our most recent epochal January Uprising against fuel price increase and removal of subsidy. So we‘ve been an integral component and driving force of the mass social movements and popular struggles in our country.
And now that the 2015 general elections are around the corner, If we must change our destiny, we must begin to organise ourselves now; We therefore call on all ordinary Nigerians to get ourselves readied and be prepared for a strategic return to the barricades, with the aim and goal of reclaiming our humanity, as we take our destinies back into our hands and take back Nigeria! It is our country, let us collectively take it back from these bands of treasury looting gangsters who have turned our country into a giant battle ground as they wage low intensity proxy wars in their quest for exclusive access to pillage our collective wealth; and we must not allow ourselves to be used as canon fodders by the various factions of the ruling class as they battle themselves for the right to repress us and loot our resources!
Well, I don’t want to say that we’ve had any failures, though there might be one or two draw backs in the course of our struggle, noting that we’ve paid some prices in blood, sweat, and limbs of ordinary Nigerian citizens in the course of the struggle. For instance in April 1998 when we went on mass action against the Abacha regime two people were killed and about 20 wounded at the Salami Sports Stadium, Ibadan. And recently during the January Uprising, we lost two persons too. We also lost Ubani and some others. The only failure that I can think of, if any, is the untimely abortion of the January Uprising. But it was a huge success in the sense that it changed the mindset of Nigerians and witnessed the highest multitude of citizens and organisations, including the various Diaspora Occupy Nigeria Movements, coming out to protest in the country. Besides it led to the exposure of the mind boggling scale and scope of treasury looting, state piracy, and impunity of the ruling class and kept silent throughout 2012! Only that we felt there was a betrayal to the effect that it was called off before maturity, leaving a business unfinished!
The January Uprising and the betrayal
When I say ‘betrayal’, it’s actually a rhetorical statement because, I must confess, 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. This I had stated in several write-ups and forums before now. But 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, I have found it even more convincing to tag it so, especially when I take a look at what actually happened. So let’s go down the memory lane first.
The January 1st 2012 jerking up of the price of PMS by the present civilian administration precipitated unprecedented anger in the country. This anger exploded by the 2nd of January into the first spontaneous wave of resistance. 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, Lafia, etc. The uprising, still a protest, suffered its first martyrdom in Ilorin on this day (3rd January). 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 it was 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. 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, but they were however 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 the status quo ante belum, which is for government to suspend the price increase, and the LASCO to suspend its planned general strike and mass protests. This was then to be followed by a structured negotiation process to resolve all critical issues. The House of Representatives even went ahead to constitute an ad-hoc committee to mediate the negotiation. But while the LASCO accepted this resolution, and urged a simultaneous announcement of the decisions by both sides, the government flatly rejected it.
Thus was the stage set for the January 9 commencement of the nationwide general strike, and the nationwide phase of mass protests, and in essence the birth of the January Uprising! The significance of January 9 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 an 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 a whole!
A significant number of moves and processes were set in motion; the LASCO’s leadership, which had become the acknowledged leadership of the Uprising was approached for negotiations. The leadership 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. LASCO was urged to recall its NECs meeting. 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 65 naira 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. But the government accused the coalition of not shifting ground and 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 coalition would be willing to agree to an increase in price and a return to the policy of January 1 from April 1! What a contradiction! The coalition rejected this conditional; 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 1? The negotiations became hopelessly deadlocked and in spite 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 a very expectant media. The long faces worn 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 or summoned back to Aso Villa. The delegation went, but by then it had become divided! It is the event of this day, 15th of January 2012 into the morning of Monday 16th of January, which underlies the 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. Before then, the President had delivered a nation-wide address reducing the increased pump price to 97 naira, not 67 naira as demanded! Labour’s civil society allies and coalition partners reacted in a 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 action. The coalition had also become divided and broken up!
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 or 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.
But there is an unfinished business there: now that the 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 punished! And this brings us back to the subject of ‘betrayal’ of the revolution. Several issues need to be clarified. Regardless of how those who took the fateful decisions of 15th and 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!
None what so ever! This is because I am always satisfied with my aspiration and inspiration in the course of the struggle which is to get something bigger than myself. That is to free the people from the shackles of military dictatorship in the past, which was achieved, and now from monumental corruption, impunity and bad governance, which is ongoing. My drive is to see to the precipitation of a classless society, where there is equitable distribution of the nation’s resources, where the masses are respected and given their due respects as much as the elites are. My drive also comes from the hope of seeing this dream realized one day. So I am happy to be part of the drive towards shaping the history of our people, to accomplish the dreams and to contribute to the development of the people. This is far bigger than any of us, and so I am not tired to push for it.
So long as the views of the people are not respected and acted upon, and so long as the impunity continues, and the rich are getting richer through corrupt enrichment while the poor are getting poorer because of the actions of the ruling class and their collaborators, I shall not be tired and shall continue to be indulged in the struggle!
The hope of the masses come 2015
I have been asked this question a number of times. And yes as 2015 draws nearer and the elections are around the corner, a lot of people have been asking the question: where does the hope of the masses lie; with the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or the merging opposition mega party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). My answer has always been this, that it’s none of them! This because there is no difference between them as the two had been in power for 52 years now, and being recycled either as the ruling party at one stage or opposition at the other. And it is the same people who have been stealing our money all these years! Let us consider this analogy: if you put out four thieves for election, for instance, and we select the best out of them, in the end he is still a thief!! So the future of this country actually lies outside the ruling elites. There is the need for an alternative platform to be formed by the people themselves.
Under their watch, corruption has increased tremendously, so much so that for instance since 2000, roughly 12,000 infrastructure development projects at the combined cost of N7.7tn have been abandoned, with N2.2tn already paid in mobilization fees! Furthermore, in 2011 from the subsidy regime alone, over N1.7tn was lost to corruption. A further $10bn is lost annually to combined crude oil and refined products theft, while according to investigations by Punch Newspapers, in 2 years (June 2010 to June 2012), over N5tn was lost to corruption – that is a public theft rate of over N220bn per month – an amount bigger than the annual budgets of several states, and several federal ministries!
In one of my recent write-ups, I gave ten reasons why we should build an alternative platform to take back Nigeria from the thieving elite and these are some of the points I raised there. Now as stated, the ruling political elites have been in power over the last 52 years, and they have ruled only in their own greedy interests. Under their cumulative watch, they have increased their wealth so much so that they have created multibillionaires amongst themselves at the expense of our collective well being. And the basis of their stupendous wealth and our monumental poverty has been the focused and targeted looting of our collective treasury: the organised, conscious pillaging of our collective wealth!
The result of all this has been increased poverty (which grew from 54% in 2001 to 70% in 2012 – the only country to have increased poverty by half rather than reduce it by half in meeting the MDGs); and increased gap between the rich and the poor. For instance with 115 million people living in poverty, we also boast 15 out of the 40 richest Africans! The ruling elites have destroyed almost everything you can think of as the soul of the nation, example education and health. They have destroyed the education infrastructure, so much so that they now train their own children in expensive private academic institutions in and out of the country. The result of this is that millions of youths are unable to access qualitative education; while they graduate into joblessness. Youth unemployment hovers around the 50% mark. Instead of investing in training and job creation for our youths, they have converted them into their political thugs, and recruited them for their various insurgency projects; while the many others have been forced into a life of crime.
Talk of health; in 52 years rather than improve the quantity and quality of our healthcare delivery system, they have callously turned our hospitals into first consulting clinics with no drugs or equipments, and then finally into mortuaries, with no electricity to even keep the corpses. And while they have denied access to healthcare for tens of millions, they continue to fly abroad for their own medical treatments at public expense even for ailments as ordinary as headaches.
The economy is worse! We are still one of the countries with the highest cost of doing business anywhere on earth! Little wonder that companies are moving their headquarters to Ghana from Nigeria! All they are talking about as growth in GDP without human and infrastructural development is window dressing! A nation of 160 million people; after a cumulative investment in the last 13 years alone of over $30bn, we still generate a little over 4,500 MWs of electricity at peak period, while the transmission capacity is even less than that. What is more? A nation that paid off its external debts barely half a decade ago, has now grown its external debt stock to more than $6bn; while on the other hand criminal enterprises under state protection, cause the nation to lose $10bn annually in combined crude oil, refined products and subsidy theft from the petroleum sector alone!
It is now an understatement to say that the state of insecurity across the country has reached alarming proportions. Nowhere is a safe haven; no part of the country is excluded from the scourge of insecurity; whether it is driven by armed criminal violence or armed insurgencies. To make matters worse, the security apparatus has been undermined by corruption and the privatisation of the public security by the privileged few in power; a further indication of the gradual collapse of the state!
What needs to be done
This is why it is important for active citizens to understand that the salvation of our country cannot and will not come from the current array of the political parties of the ruling elites: neither PDP nor APC is the answer to our developmental challenge; in fact they are central parts of the problem! To achieve our social emancipation as a people and as citizens, and our national liberation as a country, we must look beyond the political platforms and contraptions of the ruling elites; we must be prepared to undertake the herculean task of building our own autonomous, and independent political party platform to challenge the discredited ruling elites, and begin the organisation of a new emancipating and liberating experience of human civilisation in our country.
Let us kick out these charlatans and vagabonds in power; this treacherous, light fingered and thieving ruling political elites! We must undertake the daunting task to build our own mass political party, in order to enable us to take back Nigeria. Agreed this is herculean task because we need finance and capacity. But that is the problem we have in the first place. We had been able to carry out our struggle from square zero in the past; without money, without a big man, etc. So why can’t we do same now? A lot of people say without money or a big man behind us we cannot make it; that is what the big men have made us to believe. But if we can make it in the past, using our zero resources, why can’t we now? This is what I continue to tell my colleagues in the struggle, especially those in the Patriotic Front who are eager to join the merger party (APC).
You see people are looking for short cut to power, thinking it will provide them the opportunity to move quickly and quicker to the Promised Land, but you can’t have it that way; it has a price. The moment you get a sponsor you are bound to dance to his dictates. That is what happened to Adams Oshiomhole (Governor) of Edo State who jumped into ACN instead of building his own political platform, or helping to develop the Labour Party. If he had done that, the LP would have been different by now. If any of these parties could adopt our philosophy it would be better.
So activists should work towards providing an alternative political platform. This is because if that alternative is not there the people will be left with no option than to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea as they have now. This is the time opportunity favours us globally to make the change. All the countries in crisis in Europe have had a taste of this and are moving forward better; Italy, Greece, etc, and even the Arab world. Egypt made a mistake before when they chose Morsi, a staunch man of the Muslim Brotherhood as their leader after dethroning Hosni Mubarak in the popular Uprising. But you can see that they are now trying to correct that mistake by deposing Morsi.
So we urge activists in the country to take a cue from that and form their own party. There have been concerted efforts by various individuals and groups towards this. We have many groups like that such as Nigerian Socialist Party based in Benin, Socialist Party of Nigeria based in Lagos, Democratic Party for Socialist Reconstruction (DPSR) which is my own platform, The Patriotic Front who are moving massively into APC now, and Green Revolution Party, etc. There are other groups too which may not be physically on ground yet but online such as United Socialist Party which is based in the United Kingdom and 20Million Youths for 2015 which exists on facebook. So all these efforts should continue and let’s have a convergence later. Somebody can take the initiative of organising the convergence like Tinubu and Buhari did for APC. The 20Million Youths were rooting for this before the APC merger came on stream. Even if we do not win the elections in 2015 we must have succeeded in registering our imprints. So let the efforts continue.