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Returning to 1998: By Jaye Gaskia

Jaye Gaskia

Recently during the Social Action organised National Pro-Democracy Summit in conjunction with CISLAC & AFRICMIL, the question of 1998 and what transpired was raised again.

Let us be clear, I am in agreement that the year 1998 was historically decisive and laid the foundation for the 4th Republic inaugurated a year later.

The August 1998 Election Convention of the Democratic Alternative (DA), a foremost pro democracy movement of that period, was a significant turning point.

I was there, I plaid a significant role, and over the years since then, hagiographs have been trying to rewrite the history of that process, and one thing they all seem to be agreed upon, is their revisionist account of what happened and the role of Jaye Gaskia.

So after two decades, after several publicly stated insinuations, including even the publication of a book, I have resolved to address this issue.

I intend within this month to write an article on this, but let me state clearly here that 1998 was about our response to the transition program of the new Abubakar Abdulsalam regime. The contending positions were basically: whether to participate in the transition program more or less without preconditions, or whether to insist that the regime should convene a (Sovereign) National Conference to chart the path to the future.

I was part of the leadership of the current that pushed for a National conference to set the parameters for the transition.

At the DA convention in Portharcourt in August 1998, which we hosted, our position, which was a collective position of a movement and its allies was in the majority. Hence the attempts by the DA national leadership, which was in the minority, and controlled by a different tendential platform to sabotage the convention.

Because it was an election convention, the two contending platforms also had two separate electoral slates.

As the leader of our tendential platform I headed our electoral slate to contest the Presidency of DA.
But all through, and in the course of the ensuing negotiations, we were also prepared to concede the presidency of the DA to the other platform, provided the then General Secretary of DA would be fielded by that platform for the DA presidency, in which case I would step down and instead contest for the position of General Secretary.

And even though this consensus position was agreed to by the delegation of the other platform led by the then General Secretary, it was eventually rejected by his platform when he reported back to them.
Haven failed to block the accreditation of State chapter delegates from formerly inaugurated chapters of the Da, and finding themselves in the minority at the convention; this tendential bloc, a minority at the convention, and after the dissolution of NEC and election of Convention Chairman decided to stage a walkout, which they did.

And like they had done on previous occasions when they had lost the majority, as with a previous NANS convention, they went ahead to precipitate a deliberate split of the organisation.
Let us be clear, this convention was not about whether to engage politically or not, but about the strategy for that engagement. It also pitted two diametrically opposed strategies of organising – on the one hand was the strategy of open organising among the masses and enabling of Democratic competition among kindred political groupings; on the other hand was the strategy of secretive, and authoritarian organising.

The tragedy of 1998 was that because of the orchestrated split neither tendency had the capacity to fully implement their respective contending strategies.

Unfortunately even today, there are some from our platform, who for personal and individual existential reasons have been prepared to recant their role without taking responsibility for their actions.
I take full responsibility for mine. However regardless of who was right or wrong in 1998, it is obvious that the most significant challenge is our continuing inability to work together, to disagree and yet agree around a common minimum and work together.

Alas for many then as it is even now, ideological comrades cannot disagree, Socialism is monolithic, and there can be no room for healthy contestation of ideas and platforms within the same broad ideological movement.

The ridiculousness of this is manifested in the fact that even today, in 2019, people continue to hold grudges about 1998, and refuse to work together on the challenges of today.

The real question is this; if we disagreed on the approaches to address the challenges of 1998, does that permanently exclude the possibility of an agreement on how to address the challenges of 2019?

This is the essential difference between adherence to theory as a guide to action, and theory as a theocratic dogma.

Compliments of the season.

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Abdulrahman Obaje
Abdulrahman Obaje
Prince Abdulrahman Obaje is a Media and ICT Consultant, Journalist, online marketer, social media strategist, Mathematician and Computer Scientist based in Abuja, Nigeria. He is the Founder and the Publisher of The Informavores!. You can reach me on +234 908 6937 780 or send i-witness report directly to me on news@informavores.com.ng.

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