Internationally, a veil of silence has fallen over the blatant rigging of April’s elections in Nigeria, whose 140 million people are a quarter of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population. During the ‘voting’ and immediately afterwards international observers and journalists extensively wrote about a stolen ‘election’ ‘without credibility’. Example after example was given of the extent and mechanisms of this robbery ranging from falsification of the voters’ register to stolen ballots to made up ‘results’.
The Economist report, Big Men, Big Fraud and Big Trouble (28 April), gave the following account: "On the day of the presidential election money-politics could be seen in action in central Kano, the dusty, dilapidated industrial capital of the north. There, in the local government area of Fagge, the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party of outgoing president Obasanjo] had budgeted 35m naira for political ‘mobilisation’ and the main opposition party, the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (ANPP), 40m naira. In one ward, Fagge A, the PDP, according to one of its operatives, had budgeted 594,000 naira ($4,650) for 21,000 registered voters and 35 ballot boxes. Thus each ‘independent’ presiding officer at the polling station was given 3,000 naira and his clerk 2,000 naira. Each policeman was getting 1,000 naira. That left payments of about 200 naira ($1.57) per voter - whose votes, far from being secret, were inked with a thumb on the ballot in front of party agents. Multiple voters, who will have registered several times with sympathetic election officials, might vote ten times, at a reduced bulk rate of 100 naira - still picking up a tidy 1,000 naira each".
All the major parties were involved in rigging in different parts of the country. But then in May the major international critics fell silent. The Nigerian government was not threatened with any penalties. Government leaders did not have their bank accounts frozen or their ability to travel curtailed. No, it was business as usual as far as the major imperialist powers and the multinationals were concerned. And that is precisely the point. The gang of looters running Nigeria are fine business partners and, so long as they can retain control, imperialism is more than happy to do business with them.
Within Nigeria the election farce has only deepened the bitterness of the masses. Since the end of the last period of military rule in 1999 there has been a massive increase in Nigeria’s income from oil exports - $71.12 billion from 2002-06. But the masses have seen hardly anything. Last year, the now disgraced World Bank president, Paul Wolfowitz, stated that about $300 billion of its oil wealth had been stolen from Nigeria in the last four decades. (This Day, Lagos, 17 October 2006)
An article in Vanguard, Lagos, summed up the balance sheet since 1999, eight years in which the government has received more revenue from crude oil than all previous governments since crude was discovered in export quantities. Yet, "Power supply remains epileptic, roads are generally in poor condition, and there is still no significant rise in employment". (13 May) Much of Nigeria’s foreign debt has been paid off, there has been a huge rise in Nigeria’s foreign reserves, but: "Unemployment: 28-32%, manufacturing capacity utilisation: 52%; interest rates: 25% to 30%; percent living in poverty from 70% in 1999 to 65% (estimate) in 2007". The only real change has been the boom in mobile phones, with now 38 million subscribers compared with only 500,000 in 1999.
April’s elections are linked to this looting of the oil income. For the elite, elections are called a ‘do-or-die’ affair as they viciously fight to gain positions in the state from which they can loot by stealing or awarding fraudulent contracts. Rivers State, in the heart of Nigeria’s main oil producing region, is an extreme example. In 2006, the state governor’s daily travel budget was $65,000. On top of this, $38.4 million was spent on two helicopters and landing facilities, compared to $21.5 million on health care. The governor also had a very generous budget of $10 million for ‘entertainment, hospitality, gifts and souvenirs for visitors to government house’.
Nigeria’s working masses are aware of this; it was one of the main factors behind the seven general strikes and mass protests that shook the country from 2002-05. But, with the labour leaders unwilling to oust the robber regime, nothing fundamentally changed as these protests did not have the concrete aim of changing the system.
In the run-up to April’s elections, the labour leaders played a similar role, refusing to help create a working-class political challenge to the rival gangs within the ruling elite, despite the fact that previously they had registered the Labour Party. Just before the elections the most prominent union leader, Adams Oshiomhole, announced he would stand as Labour candidate for the governorship of Edo State. Although previously calling on Oshiomhole to run as a workers’ candidate for the presidency, the DSM (Democratic Socialist Movement - CWI, Nigeria) said that this would be a partial step forward. Then Oshiomhole announced he would stand for the Action Congress, a capitalist opposition party. This cut off any prospect of the Labour Party becoming a focal point for workers’ opposition, something that was reinforced when a succession of capitalist politicians joined Labour immediately after losing nomination competitions in their previous parties.
Since the so-called elections the Nigerian trade unions have, at last, started to move into action, but in a very hesitant manner. The union leaders are not clear what they are calling for. Sometimes they argue for completely new elections, sometimes for a partial rerun, and they do not yet propose any action that could prevent a repeat of the rigging. Now LASCO (the Labour and Civil Society Coalition), an alliance of trade unions, political and civil rights groups, has called a ‘stay at home’ protest against the election rigging and to demand, among other points, a 15% wage rise and payment of wage arrears to federal workers. This is scheduled to take place on 28-29 May, the day before and the day of the inauguration of the new president, Yar’Adua.
The huge anger that exists among the Nigerian working masses and poor could give a mass content to these protests and show their hatred of the rulers who rob the country of its wealth and democratic rights. But for many workers and youth the key question will be, what is the alternative? Do they want to risk their lives simply to see one gang of looters replaced by a rival one?
The DSM, an important part of LASCO, has long been striving to build support for its position that "to utilise the inexhaustible natural and human resources possessed by the country to better the lot of the vast majority of its people, there is an absolute necessity to end the political rule of capitalist exploiters and all shades of political usurpers once and for all. Only a truly workers’ and poor peasants’ government built on a democratic socialist foundation can lay a basis for actualisation of this goal…
"Previous movements revealed the working masses’ preparedness and determination to change their political and economic lot for the better. Most unfortunately however, a truly masses’ political platform, programme and strategy was always missing. In order to break the vicious cycle of mass misery and political repression permanently ravaging the masses, the DSM advocates the immediate creation/formation of an independent mass working people’s party that is scientifically equipped with programmes and strategies of a socialist revolution to dislodge capitalist elements from power".
"Nonetheless, the DSM will work to help make the two-day mass action fixed for May 28 and 29 a great success. We therefore call on all working class elements and youths to mobilise at their workplaces, neighbourhood and communities for peaceful mass protest, rallies and all other legitimate acts of civil disobedience in order to ensure a resounding success of the proposed two-day mass actions. At the same time, we argue that this struggle is seen as a preparation for the next steps, including a general strike, necessary to win genuine democratic rights, chase out the looters and break with this rotten system". (DSM leaflet, 21 May)
Even if Yar’Adua comes into office on 29 May, his four-year term is not guaranteed. The country is in turmoil with rising anger everywhere and a growing insurgency in the oil producing areas. This is in a situation where between 1999 and 2004 an estimated 10,000 Nigerians died and one million became internal refugees due to communal clashes and state repression. In Plateau State, over 200,000 fled fighting between February and March 2004. The key issue is whether the workers’ movement can use its power and potential support to show a way out. Without such a liberation a grim future awaits.