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Labourer into a Labour Party? Mba o!!!

By Kole Omotoso
18 October 2020   |   2:56 am
Maybe those who create the Labour Party in Nigeria never bothered to study the history of the Labour Parties in Britain, in France, in Germany and in the Netherlands.

Maybe those who create the Labour Party in Nigeria never bothered to study the history of the Labour Parties in Britain, in France, in Germany and in the Netherlands. If they did, they would have learnt that the Labour parties in these countries were made up of the mergers of groups with similar ideological positions and similar ideological thinking.

In Nigeria, radical thinking individuals tend to think they could organise laborers into a Labour Party! It was the only reason why a former General Secretary of the Labour Party equated the numerical strength of trade unions calling for the national strike of unions needed to form a Labour Party of Nigeria.

Dr. Jeremiah Olatunji Otegbeye founded the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria in 1963. He was born in Ilaro western Nigeria in 1925 where he died in 2009. He attended Government College, Ibadan between 1942 and 1947. In1948, he went to the University College, Ibadan to study medicine. He completed his medical studies in London. It was while in London that he began to take part in student politics through the Nigerian Youth Congress and the West African Students Union. He formed his party in 1963 and continued his participation in politics in Nigeria. Within the Nigerian Labour movement, individuals prospered and moved on to the successful propertied class and forgot about the Labour movement. It is on this ambivalent group that Nigerian radical thinkers want to found a Labour Party.

True Labour parties in different parts of Britain, France and other parts of Europe, who had depended on the merging of different shades of radical political colours, pretended that they could depend on ideologues alone to sustain their Labour parties. They ignored the members of the Labour movement and tried to depend on the middle-class ideologues to sustain the party. It would seem that both the ideologies and the membership of the labouring movements must be cultivated with assiduity to make a successful Labour Party. A bird flies on two wings. It can hardly fly on one wing.

During the two years, I spent at King’s College, Lagos, 1962 and 1963, the greatest influence on my life, outside of the school, was the Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria of Dr. Tunji Otegbeye. Out of their office at Ebute Metta they sent out lecturers to secondary schools in Lagos. Through our pompously named Thinkers’ Group (!!!) we received lecturers and books from their library. We could borrow new titles as long as we could show some signs that we had read the one we borrowed the week before. I remember that the first book I borrowed and read from cover to cover was a biography of Joseph Stalin (1878 – 1953), leader of the Soviet Union after Vladimir Lenin (1870 – 1924). Of great interest in their honour now and into the future is that their interest was not to chalk up great numbers for their political party. They were interested in educating us about our world. Their party was a great educator. Whence cometh another?

By the way, the thinkers’ group did not contact radical political parties alone. The group and Mr. Miner, who, I think, was in charge of the group, took interest in anything new, in societal development. This was how a number of us spent the Easter of 1962, or 1963, at the unique community of Aiyetoro, which is the site of Wole Soyinka’s second novel Season of Anomy published in 1973. Revisiting the community in 2014, at the request of some students to whom I had spoken to glowingly of the community, at that time, only tears could greet what my eyes encountered.

The first attempt to form a radical, progressive political party was Dr. Tunji Otegbeye’s Socialist Workers and Farmers Party of Nigeria. Like all things good the Nigerian elite leadership used it and dumped it.

During the Civil war from 1967 to 1970, the traditional sellers of arms to Nigeria, Great Britain, refused to sell arms to Nigeria. Using Dr. Tunji Otegbeye’s contact, Nigeria got the needed arms to prosecute the war from the Soviet Union. Anyone interested in the rest of the story must read the three-volume autobiography of Dr. Tunji Otegbeye: A Humble Beginning, The Turbulent Decade and The Tempest.

The second attempt to found a Labour Party in Nigeria was in 2002 when the Labour Party was founded by the Nigerian Labour Congress. Until Dr. Olusegun Mimiko used its platform to run for the governorship position in Ondo State in 2007 elections, the Labour Party had no substantial representative in the political firmament of Nigeria. Unfortunately, Dr. Mimiko left the Labour Party before the end of his second term as governor of Ondo State. What the Labour Party could have become under him must be left to the realm of speculation. When next Dr. Mimiko was going to run for office, the Labour Party was no longer available to him and his followers. This must be the origin of ZLP. My immediate response to the name was YLP(?)

In the recently conducted governorship election in the State, the ZLP was the third party after the APC the ruling party in the state and the PDP. In the outcome of the election, the party polled third.

There had been talking of persuading the PDP to join together with ZLP for the purposes of the election. Both parties refused. For those who thought that the combined strength of the PDP and the ZLP would have beaten the APC, the numbers don’t add up: ZLP scored 69,127 votes, the PDP scored 195,791 while the APC scored 292,830 votes to win and confirm a second term for the incumbent governor. The question we still need to ask ourselves is whether or not we need a third party or that we need a Labour Party? My answer is that we do not need a third party like the lookalike APC and PDP which is like having two left legs. Rather, we could do with two parties, one a little to the left and the other a little to the right. Anyone who wants to be different can be Independent!

All around the world the Labour parties are being demonised as pro-to-communist parties to be avoided by democracies. Only ideologues along with youthful labourers would do to sustain a Labour Party.

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