Decisive Action By Labour Needed Now!

On April 14, 2007, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a federal government agency, conducted Governorship and State Assembly elections across Nigeria. The conduct of the elections in most states of the federation totally failed to meet the basic requirement of an election, never mind a free and fair election. Against this background, it is absolutely essential that action is taken to defend, extend democratic rights and to drive the election thieves and all looters from power.

Millions of Nigerians have been scandalised by the crude violation of their voting rights. More millions are angry at this latest example of the contempt with which the elite treat the masses. The mounting anger is not simply the result of a stolen election, but anger at the ruling class who have stolen the country’s wealth and the huge oil income that has left the masses in poverty. This rigged election could become the focal point of opposition to the elite involving both those who wanted to vote and those who thought it was a waste of time. Even if the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gang manages to stay in office, theirs will be a weak government with no popular legitimacy.

The crudity of the election rigging was breathtaking. In many states across the country, particularly in the South-South and South-East, no elections actually took place. In Anambra State for instance, four hours after the elections ought to have started, Emeka Anene, a member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) based in Awka, the state capital, sent in this text message: “There is no election here in Anambra. There is mass apathy as a result of absence of Ngige’s picture on the ballot paper, no election materials, etc”. Ngige is a former governor of the state who was one of the top contenders brazenly and illegally disqualified to pave way for the PDP candidate.

Three days later, Human Right Watch, a US based NGO, put on the Internet its own report on the Saturday election in the South-East and the South-South zone in the country. With respect to Anambra State, they reported, “In Anambra State, the polls were similarly disastrous. Human Rights Watch visited 10 polling stations in rural areas across the Anambra Central and Anambra South senatorial zones. In most cases, polling stations visited by Human Rights Watch simply did not open at all, with no officials and no voting materials present. Human Rights Watch spoke to three women at 5.p.m in Nwafor Uruagu Primary School in Nnewi, Anambra South, who had been there since morning waiting to vote. “INEC will have to fix another date for us”, they said. Observers with the Catholic Church’s Justice, Development and Peace Commission showed Human Rights Watch hundreds of observation reports from Anambra North and Anambra Central senatorial zones recording no votes cast at all.

“In Awka town in Anambra State, Human Rights Watch witnessed several polling stations open around noon, but because of widespread controversy surrounding the lack of result sheets to record results and voters registers at some polling stations, many voters refused to participate and only a handful of ballots was cast. One INEC officials in Awka town told Human Rights Watch: “I am ready to do my job, but I do not have the appropriate materials. The register they gave me only has two names on it. It’s not my fault”. The INEC official concerned explained that more than 100 people had been registered at that place”.

Notwithstanding the above-stated facts, INEC went ahead to declare Andy Uba, the PDP governorship candidate as the “winner”, with a total vote of 1.9 million! Meanwhile, the total number of registered voters in the state is 1.8million. Having realised the absurdity of its action, the Commission, without any sense of shame or explanation, consequently reduced Uba’s vote to 1.09 million.

The elections in most other states followed similar sinister pattern to that of Anambra as illustrated above. In Edo, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo and Osun States, partial voting was allowed in a few areas while stealing of ballot boxes and organised violence dominated the events in these States. Predictably, working according to its predetermined agenda, INEC went ahead to award victories to the PDP candidates in all these states, notwithstanding the visible overwhelming rejection of the PDP ruling governments in these states by the working masses across the board.

The elections in the Northern part of the country more or less followed the same gory pattern stated above. Against this background, the mass protests and sometime, angry violent reactions that have greeted the brazen electoral robbery executed by INEC on April 14, 2007 unmistakably and truly reflect the real feeling and total rejection of the farce called elections by the suffering working masses across the country. Twenty one people have been officially reported to have been killed in the elections related matter but in reality, over fifty people have lost their lives.

Elections in opposition controlled states

On the surface, the elections in Lagos, Abia, Borno, Kano and Zamfara States where opposition candidates emerged winners appeared to contradict the position that April 14 election was largely a stage managed farce. However, a critical evaluation of what happened in these states shows very clearly that the opposition “victories” was essentially “same of the same”.

Most of these states have one thing in common. The opposition parties have been in power for the past 8 years and thus have all the needed capacity to match bribery for bribery, corruption for corruption, thuggery for thuggery, and fat purse for expensive propaganda, via billboards, newspapers, radio and television adverts.

To a large extent, this factor was responsible for the ability of the opposition parties in the above states to prevent INEC from perpetrating an unchallenged electoral fraud, which it carried out in other states of the country. Of course, Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State together with the Action Congress (AC) leaders and those supporting them may want to create the false impression that the AC victory in Lagos State was because AC represents light as opposed to darkness represented by PDP. There is no iota of truth in this claim.

In the past 8 years, the Lagos State Government has realized tens of billions of Naira through federal allocations and internally generated revenue. Sadly however, beyond expensive and unprecedented propaganda about government achievements and non-achievements, there has been very little positive to show for this in terms of provision of key social infrastructures like functional road networks, water, decent healthcare and functional educational opportunities for the overwhelming population of Lagos State.

This, in fact, was underlined by the fact that just about 1.4 million out of over 4.2 million registered voters participated in the farce called elections in this state. Lagos State, being the most economically and politically developed part of the country, always harbours the largest concentration of media and electoral monitors, a phenomenon, which often does not always permit the kind of crude electoral manipulations often perpetrated in the remote areas of the country.

Overall, the overwhelming majority of Lagosians who, in fact, had been at the centre of mass opposition through general strikes and protests against the anti-poor policies of the PDP could not have voted for Musiliu Obanikoro, the PDP governorship candidate, who, in addition, has a repulsive public image and is only slightly less hated than President Obasanjo. It is all these factors that combined to give victory to Babatunde Fashola, the AC governorship candidate who also had benefits of resting on a political machine, which has extensive structures for political settlement and corruption across the states. Here, it is interesting to stress the fact that the opposition parties in the states under their control equally use the state INEC to impose their own supporters in power by any means possible. Therefore, all these factors must be fully taken into consideration when labour and civil societies are debating slogans and strategy to be adopted to fight the ruling class over the economic and political robbery, which has characterised its rule in Nigeria.

Present consensus

Right now, there is overwhelming unanimity among the working masses and even most sections of the capitalist ruling class, nationally and internationally, that the April 14 governorship and state assembly elections were essentially an organised fraud.

Quite naturally, many bourgeois opposition parties and their spokespersons, together with the spokespersons of big imperialist countries like the US, have either totally rejected the elections or expressed serious reservations about the conduct of these elections. Towards this end, various proposals and demands have been made, many of which do not fully capture the full significance of the electoral robbery perpetrated by INEC on April 14. However, due to their self-serving characteristics, many of the bourgeois opposition politicians currently threatening hell fire and brimstone over PDP and INEC’s electoral robbery cannot be relied upon in future.

Therefore, we in the DSM strongly advocate that the labouring masses and their organisations like the trade unions, LASCO (Labour and Civil Societies Coalition), student bodies, market women and traders associations and all progressive pro-masses’ forces should come up immediately with a coherent plan and strategy for mass action to reverse this latest electoral robbery and defend democratic rights.

Workers and young people have already realised the central role that the working class needs to play in this struggle against election fraud and corruption through their spontaneous mass protests. Therefore, labour leaders must not seek to hide under the fact that the issue involved is mainly partisan politics. As long as we continue to tolerate a government that came to power via massive riggings, then we will continue to have government that revels in anti-people policies and massive corruption.

What happened was not an accident

Here, it is important to stress that the April 14 electoral robbery was the outcome of the overall political situation, which preceded the so-called elections themselves. There was a very bitter, acrimonious, murderous, intra-class struggle for political power between different sections of the ruling class across the country. During this period, many prominent politicians were assassinated for political reasons aside from subversion of the rules and structures to strike personal blows against rivals for political power.

To start with, President Obasanjo started to wage a very protracted and expensive battle to remain as President beyond May 29, 2007 date stipulated under the 1999 constitution. When that failed, he resorted to a fake anti-corruption crusade through which individual rivals, mostly corrupt politicians, were being exposed with a view to ensure that these elements would not pose any challenge to the President and his PDP elements.

On top of this, there is INEC, which is an open tool for the ruling party. This Commission spent over a year trying to impose electronic voter registration despite widespread opposition of people in society and even political parties. The body tried in vain to convince Nigerians that this mode of registration would make multiple voting and rigging a thing of past.

It took about six months to conduct a so-called registration exercise, which at the end of the day was never displayed for voters as required by law to verify their names and equally locate their voting centres before the polling day. At the end of the day, many prospective voters were unable to locate their voting centres and as such, could not vote in the elections.

Worse of all, INEC constantly acted more like the official spokespersons of the PDP and President Obasanjo as opposed to a non-partisan body expected to organise free and fair elections. A few instances here illustrate this point. Whenever the presidency and or the PDP said that somebody should not be allowed to contest elections, the following day, INEC always came out with an illogical reasoning for why such a person should be disqualified.

In Imo State, Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, who came first in the PDP primary, was substituted with a person who came 14th in the same exercise. But when the Supreme Court ruled that he should be reinstated as the PDP candidate immediately, the President Obasanjo led-PDP instantly pronounced Ararume expelled. Immediately after, INEC Chief, Prof. Maurice Iwu, started to say that Ararume could no longer run because he had been expelled by his party. But because Ararume’s name was already on the ballot paper, it was not practically possible to exclude him from the elections. Then, apparently because it feared that he might win, the Commission cancelled the governorship elections in the state on the strength of electoral irregularities even though it okayed the votes for the State Assembly elections, which were cast the same day and put in the same ballot boxes in which the vote for the governorship candidates were kept!

Working class strategy needed

Therefore, to achieve any meaningful result from the developing mass protest and angry mood against the April 14 electoral robbery, there is the need for a distinct working class slogans and strategy. The DSM calls for:

  • Cancellation of the April 14 farce elections.
  • Immediate dissolution of INEC.
  • Immediate calling together of a democratically elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC) dominated by the representatives of the working masses, that will have all powers to organise new elections based on a truly democratic constitution freely adopted by the vast majority of people themselves to replace the current 1999 constitution imposed by the military.

Under the military’s 1999 constitution, the composition of INEC or state electoral commissions is almost left to the whims and caprices of the ruling party at central and state levels. Consequently, in order to have a truly independent and democratically composed electoral commission, the present constitution will have to be jettisoned.

But here precisely lies the crux of the matter. Unless the working masses, in an organised manner, come to the centre stage of governance, the ruling class will try to block or neutralise any truly democratic constitution that threatens their unjust rule. To defeat the opposition of the ruling elite, and behind them imperialism, the working masses will have to consciously organise to take power so as to put in place a workers’ and poor peasants’ government, which is capable of meeting the basic needs of all and thereby eliminates the basis for the current “do or die” electoral contests between rival gangs of the elite. The electoral bodies, nationally and locally, that will conduct election into the SNC must be made up of a majority of elected representatives of mass organisations, along with political parties, all whom must be subjected to instant recall, the moment the bodies they are representing no longer have confidence in their representation.

As opposed to the call for an “interim government of national unity” or any other nomenclature, which is based on handpicked elements regardless of their background, the DSM calls for working class control in all governments, ministries, parastatals, ventures, foreign politics, bilateral relations and major trade investments pending a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), whose elections must be conducted within the shortest period of time, confirming the assumption of power by a workers’ and poor peasants’ government.

This is important to prevent a situation where unscrupulous elements will use the intervening period without a legitimate government to help themselves at the expense of the nation and to commit the country into unfavourable deals. This is why the DSM calls for the organised working class bodies and professionals, through elected representatives in every relevant government institution, to immediately take direct control of things into their own hands and collectively elect regional and national political leaderships to function until a genuinely democratically elected national body can meet.

Fundamental change can be achieved

The above-outlined demands envisage a situation where fundamental change occurs against the current anti-poor economic and political dispensation. But this is entirely possible to achieve with the right focus and determination.

Quite naturally, those who merely want to replace the current set of looters with another layer will regard the above perspective as utopia or a daydream. Some within the labour movement and civil society may argue that the current struggle must be confined within the framework of “rule of law” as circumscribed by the military’s 1999 constitution.

Many opposition figures will shout to high heavens the fraud, which characterised the April 14 election. But for short sighted and opportunistic calculations, they will still nurse the illusion that the April 21, 2007 Presidential and National Assembly elections will be any fairer. Most of these elements in the opposition parties should be expected, very soon, to reach out to the so-called winners so as to be compensated/accommodated in the treasury looting that will inevitably follow their assumption of office.

There will be those who reject mass actions or refuse to give adequate political and material support for mass actions while giving preference to expensive and protracted litigation which, more often than not, leaves power in the hands of the hated incumbents who stole their mandate in the first instance. Therefore, labour ought to have its own independent working class alternatives, not built on expectations of what bourgeois opposition politicians and parties like those in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), AC, All Peoples Party (APP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), etc may do or will not do. Indeed most of them, including most of those career politicians who recently joined the Labour Party, cannot be trusted.

In contrast, the DSM calls on the trade unions, LASCO, etc, to name a day or days of action with peaceful mass protests, rallies, industrial strikes, etc, across the country as the next step. The goal must be set right from the beginning to mobilise to end the rule by all usurpers at all levels of governance. The mass action we are calling for are not the type that would be cancelled simply because the powers that be have granted one paltry concession or the other. The kind of mass action being called for has, of necessity, to include all basic demands pertaining to decent living conditions and real democratic rights for the general masses.

But, at the same time, the experience of the struggles after the declaration of the June 12 1993 elections as null and void, is that mass mobilisations are not enough on their own, the mass movement needs a strategy that can bring victory. Last year, there were mass protests in Mexico against the rigging of their presidential election but the government simply waited for tiredness to set in. This means that a mass movement needs to have a conscious strategy to build and organise majority support, especially by showing that it aims for a fundamental change in society not simply exchanging one gang of looters for another.

As often stated by the DSM, two basic conditions are required to guarantee maximum success in permanently purging rottenness and misery from Nigeria.

One, the organised labour movement has to adopt an unambiguous socialist revolutionary outlook, setting the goal of establishing a democratic workers’ and peasants’ government. Such a government would be able to implement a new socio-economic arrangement wherein the resources of nature and overall wealth of the society will be practically used to cater for the needs of all in sharp contradistinction to the prevailing unjust arrangement where a few wallow in stupendous opulence at the expense of permanent mass misery of the overwhelming majority in society. If such a government is not created, any SNC would, ultimately, disappoint the hopes and aspirations of working people.

Two, it is imperative that a truly conscious mass working peoples’ party, which primarily bases its membership, supports and policy control on the working masses, be immediately built across the nooks and crannies of the country. Suffice to stress, it is only this kind of party that will be capable of putting forward a political and social alternative and help create action/struggle committees without which proper and effective working class struggle, either for economic or political ends, cannot be waged. This is especially true given the ruthless and corrupt ruling class which, in league with imperialism, has been lording it over Nigeria since flag independence.

We are bold to say that this is the only way to avert the bourgeoning religious and sectarian barbarism which presently threaten to totally plunge the country into a permanent nightmare The stakes are no doubt very high, but so also is the prospect of victory if we dare to struggle.

Committee for a workers' International publications

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