Even by the standards of Nigeria’s previous elections this April’s state and national elections were a complete farce.
Right from the outset, the current ruling clique were determined that their faction would retain control of the Nigerian state and thereby maintain their ability to loot the country’s massive oil and gas revenue.
The rigging began last year with the preparation of the so-called Voters Register. Widespread fraud was reported as the Register was compiled. The chairperson of the electoral commission, INEC, said in October 2006 that it expected to register 98 million voters, but in the end only 61 million names were registered and many of those were false! The Voters Register was meant to be displayed in February so that people could check that their names were on and see which voting station they had been allocated to, but in most areas this did not happen.
Simultaneously INEC was used by the government to hinder the preparations of opposition parties, whether by using accusations of corruption as a justification for removing candidates or simply replacing candidates. This is what happened in Lagos State where INEC replaced Lanre Arogundade, a member of the Democratic socialist Movement (DSM, CWI in Nigeria) who had been elected as the National Conscience Party’s (NCP) candidate for State Governor, with a candidate who was not an NCP member and actually lives in the US!
Rigging in full motion
By the time it came to the voting in the April 14 state and April 21 national elections, the rigging machine was in full motion. From across Nigeria came reports of millions denied the right to vote, shortages of ballot papers, ballot papers filled in before the election, voters being openly bribed, and polling stations that opened late or not at all. Usually the officially declared results were works of fiction.
While most of this rigging was done by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the states run by opposition parties they used exactly the same methods to retain their local grip.
Although turnout was low, in some areas there were protests at the rigging, particularly shortages of ballot papers, but these were met by sharp repression from the state and armed gangs. The European Union’s election observers reported that 200 had been killed around these elections which they generally described as “not credible”.
The BBC’s Africa editor summarised the situation when he wrote that “there may be real anger in Nigeria but there is resignation as well - people know the risks of protesting. Many in Nigeria feel disconnected to the political process, not least because traditionally Nigerian presidents or their governments do little for the people. It is seen as a game among the elite. The fact is this kind of election was no surprise, though perhaps the sheer incompetence, clumsiness and openness of the rigging made people more angry than usual. This flawed election was a symptom of Nigeria’s political system - a system driven by money - and the prize was control of the country’s huge oil wealth. With so much at stake, so much invested in candidates, no-one wanted to take the chance of losing.”
However, despite the fear of repression and the working masses’ understanding that all the main rival candidates represented different bands of looters and oppressors, this election has opened up a new and potentially unstable period in Nigeria. If and when the new president, Umaru Yar’Adua, takes office he will lead a weak government with no popular legitimacy.
Significantly while western governments have criticised the elections they are not calling for their cancellation. Imperialism, fearing popular movements, wants “stability” in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest country with a quarter of the continent’s population and the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. So Washington in effect tells the Nigerian people that they have to accept a rigged election in the interests of stability.
The tragedy in this election was that there was no voice for the mass of Nigerians, especially workers and the urban and rural poor. There was no party that represented them or that had not effectively being bought by one of the big robber gangs.
This may mean that there is no immediate response to this stolen election, but it does not mean a long period of stability.
The price of oil has risen from under $20 a barrel in 1999, when civilian rule was restored, to over $60 now. But Nigerian working people have seen nothing from this current oil boom. Indeed what they have seen is the country’s wealth being stolen. Already between 2000 and 2005 the country was swept by repeated waves of protests and general strikes. Unfortunately these did not result in fundamental change because the trade union leaders were not willing to confront the ruling elite.
The open rigging of April’s elections means that the question of democratic rights will join the vital economic and social issues in the front rank of working peoples’ demands.
The Democratic Socialist Movement played an important role in the protests between 2000 and 2005 and is today calling on the trade union and opposition leaders to call national protests not just against the election rigging but to “end the rule by all usurpers at all levels of governance”. This, the DSM argues, requires the “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.”
This is why the DSM is not only calling for cancellation of April’s elections but for the building of a working peoples’ alternative, a mass force that can break the looters’ grip and begin socialist planning to use Nigeria’s huge resources in the interests of the overwhelming majority of its population.
For more information look at the DSM’s website:
In order to donate much needed funds for the DSM’s campaign against the rigging of this election see: Urgent appeal to support socialist campaign against election rigging