A new, positive development in the struggle for a genuine multi-party democracy in the country took place on Friday, 26th July, 2002, when the Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja, declared as unconstitutional, illegal, null and void the guidelines used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the last registration of political parties exercise.

The court, in its ruling on the appeal filed by 5 political parties, including the National Conscience Party (NCP), which INEC had refused registration, ruled that INEC and the National Assembly has no power to set additional criteria for the registration of parties outside what is provided in sections 222 and 223 of the 1999 constitution. Vindicating the standpoint of NCP and pro-democracy activists, the judges declared that once a political association meets the provisions of this section, such an association automatically becomes a political party, "

capable of sponsoring candidates and canvassing for votes in any constitutionally recognised elective office throughout Nigeria".

Expectedly, the judgement has been welcomed by NCP, labour and pro-democracy activists. It has boosted the morale of NCP members in particular and change-seeking Nigerians in general who are sick of the present anti-poor policies and misrule of the ruling elites. Undoubtedly, the ruling represents a step forward in the struggle for the enthronement of a truly multi-party political system in the country. We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on INEC to immediately obey the court decision and accord recognition to NCP and other political parties and to respect their right to present candidates for all subsequent elections.

But INEC has announced that it would challenge the Court of Appeal judgment at the Supreme Court. According to INEC’s national commissioner in charge of publicity, Okpo Sam Okpo, " for now there are six registered parties in the country, but when we go on appeal and the Supreme Court rules otherwise, then we will act based on the new development" (The Guardian, 30th July, 2002).

This decision, once again, betrays the evil determination of the leadership of INEC to rob the Nigerian masses of their democratic right to belong to and vote for political parties of their choice. It shows that while the Appeal Court judgement is a step forward, the struggle is far from being totally won. Therefore, we call on the NCP in particular to continue to organise mass political actions to compel INEC to recognise the right of NCP and other associations to function as political parties.

What can we do?

The party members and activists should not allow the antics of the ruling class and INEC to dampen their morale or reduce their commitment towards the building of the party. We need to understand that the attainment of a genuine multi-party democracy in particular and the emancipation of the working masses in general will be a product of a protracted struggle. Historically and world-wide the struggle for the liberation of the masses has never been a simple and easy task as the capitalist oppressors and the beneficiaries of the present unjust capitalist order will do everything possible to defend the system and hang on to power by hook or crook. But with persistence, perseverance and correct policies and tactics, the working masses and their party will ultimately triumph.

This is the lesson to be learnt from the experience of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, for instance. Founded in 1912 to fight for black majority rule, the ANC was banned for many decades by the white minority capitalist ruling class. On its part, the ANC even boycotted several undemocratic, kangaroo elections organised by the apartheid regime. But when the regime was eventually compelled by mass struggles to organise the first one person-one vote election in South Africa’s history in 1994, the ANC won an overwhelming majority. Suffice to say that the degeneration of the ANC leadership and their embrace of capitalism makes it necessary for the South African masses to build a new working people’s party.

In Russia, the victorious October 1917 socialist revolution would not have been possible without the correct programme and the several years of patient preparations, propaganda, agitation and organisation by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin.

Against the background of the above analysis, what steps must now be taken by NCP activists to actualise the recognition of the party’s right to exist and contest elections? What kind of programmes and activities would make the NCP to realise its goal of becoming a party of the working masses and achieving its objective of abolition of poverty?

First and foremost, the NCP must continue to organise political actions to challenge the INEC and ruling class conspiracy not to register it. Mass protests, picketing and rallies should be organised in many parts of the country by the party. There must be production and circulation of thousands of posters and leaflets. These activities should be aimed at exposing to the masses the ruling class conspiracy and fraud behind the so-called party registration exercise. Also, the party will explain the need to continue to struggle until a genuine multi-party democracy which recognises the right of groups and individuals to belong to political parties and contest elections without registration by the government or any of its agencies such as INEC is achieved. In addition, there should be freedom for independent candidates to stand in elections.

Secondly, through these activities, the party must continue to recruit change-seeking workers and youth into its ranks and continue to put up party structures at all levels: wards, local governments, states, national, campuses, communities, etc.

A party of struggle

However, this will not be possible unless the NCP continues to be organised as a party of struggles, whether or not it is allowed to contest election at any point in time by the powers-that-be. In other words, the party must be prepared at all times to organise and lead mass struggles against capitalist attacks on the living and working conditions of the masses and for the provision of water, electricity, food, education, healthcare, transportation and telecommunication and other basic necessities of life. The party must continue to oppose and mobilise against the anti-poor programmes such as privatisation of public wealth, commercialisation of social services, and retrenchment of workers being implemented by all the money-bag parties. In short, whether registered or not, the party must continue to make itself relevant to the attainment of the rights, aspirations and yearnings of the masses.

Socialist programme

But most importantly, the NCP members and activists need to understand that in order to satisfy the need of the masses for economic prosperity, political freedom and social security on a lasting basis, the party must be built on an anti-capitalist, socialist ideology. Its goal should be the coming to power of a workers’ and poor peasants’ government that will make the abundant resources of society truly available for the use of the entire society and not only to further enrich a wealthy few.

This type of government will put the commanding sectors of the economy such as petroleum, mineral resources, manufacturing, banking and finance, and all the big multinational and local companies under public ownership with democratic control and management by the working people. It is only this democratic socialist arrangement that will make it possible to launch a massive programme for food production, housing construction, free and qualitative education and medicare, full employment, telephones, and create a basis for the eradication of mass poverty, crimes, corruption, prostitution, ethnic and religious conflicts, and political instability which have continued to ravage the country despite the end of military dictatorship

The 1999 constitution and party registration

However, while the provisions contained in the 1999 constitution on party registration are relatively more democratic than those in constitutions imposed by earlier military regimes, labour and youth activists must demand that INEC conforms to them, we still need to recognise that they still fall short of what are required in a truly genuine multi-party democracy.

Among the undemocratic conditions for party registration which are in the 1999 constitution are (i) that party secretariat to be located at the federal capital city (ii) that party executives must come from two-thirds of the states of the federation and (iii) that religious or ethnic parties are forbidden. With these draconian rules, parties which enjoy local support or has members in only some parts of the country cannot stand candidates even in a local government election. A group like the DSM is not eligible to contest election in those areas in which it already has influence due to the fact that it cannot yet satisfy the two-third condition concerning members of the national executive. An organisation like MOSOP with enormous support among the Ogonis cannot field candidates for local, state and national elections even in Ogoniland due to this absurd two-third conditionality. This shows how restrictive, undemocratic and unrepresentative the present constitution is.

As socialists, we in the DSM are opposed to ethnic and religious politics. However, it is undemocratic to deprive those who believe in voting for either a Christian or Islamic, Arewa, Oodua or Ijaw party the right to so do. It is not by force or decree, but through persuasion and education, that the masses should be made to realise that their interests and aspirations cannot be genuinely served by political parties with parochial and sectarian religious or ethnic agenda.

The restrictive and undemocratic character of these sections concerning party registration in the 1999 constitution imposed by the military underscore the need for a democratically-elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC). This conference should be dominated by elected representatives of the working people as its composition should be according to the numerical strength of the various social groups in the country. It will among other things, decide on the way forward for the country and agree on a new constitution.

However, while an SNC may represent a step forward from the present military-imposed arrangement, the working masses and labour activists will need to use it as a stepping stone towards a workers’ and poor farmers’ government that will implement a socialist and anti-capitalist programme. It is only this type of government that can guarantee lasting improvements in the political rights and economic and social conditions of the masses.

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