Nigeria: Supreme Court allows more parties to stand in elections

On Friday, November 8, 2002, the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision dismissed the appeal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against the Federal Court of Appeal judgement of 26th July 2002 which had declared as illegal and unconstitutional the guidelines used by INEC for the registration of political parties.

Supreme Court allows more parties to stand in elections

A major victory for NCP

But Mass Action Needed To Enforce Court Decision

It will be recalled that it was these obnoxious guidelines that INEC used to disqualify the National Conscience Party (NCP) and many other political parties during the last registration exercise. NCP and four of the parties took INEC to court to challenge the guidelines. The Supreme Court ruled, in agreement with the Court of Appeal, that while INEC has the power to publish guidelines, it cannot issue guidelines that violate sections of the 1999 constitution which deal with party registration.

The judgement is no doubt a big victory for the National Conscience Party (NCP) and the other parties which jointly instituted the court case. It is indeed a step forward for the Nigerian working people who for long had been denied an independent political platform and voice of their own by the capitalist ruling class. The major lesson from this victory is that it pays to struggle consistently and persistently, and that if we fight we can win.

However, the Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding, there is still a long way ahead for the poor working masses to win the struggle for unfettered political representation. This is because even the 1999 constitution on which the court ruling was based itself contains many undemocratic, pro-rich conditionalities. These include the requirements that parties must have their national headquarters at the federal capital city and that the members of their national executive committee must come from at least two thirds of the states in the country. These are some conditions which can only be met by moneybag politicians and groups. A political party, such as DSM, which genuinely represents the poor masses, both in membership and programme, could still found it impossible to meet these needless and undemocratic provisions.

Mass actions needed

But in their characteristic undemocratic, anti-poor manner, the ruling class and the Obasanjo regime have begun attempts to undermine this victory by refusing to obey the court decision. Since the day of the judgement, spokespersons of INEC and the Obasanjo have been misinterpreting the court decision to mean that INEC is not under compulsion to register NCP and the other parties now even if they meet the conditions stipulated in the constitution. INEC, they claim, we bring out another set of guidelines which will now be used to conduct another registration exercise at a time convenient to it.

When in July INEC was being widely condemned for appealing against the Court of Appeal judgement, its commissioner in charge of publicity, Mr. Okpo Sam Okpo, pleaded with Nigerians to be patient and wait for the Supreme Court decision which he said the commission would comply with. But with the court ruling in favour of NCP and the other parties, the same Okpo now says that INEC cannot be compelled to register any party!

Also showing that INEC is merely implementing the agenda of the PDP government, the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation, Mr. Kanu Godwin Agabi, has said that there is nothing in the Supreme Court judgement which compels INEC to register the political parties. According to him, "

INEC is at liberty to issue fresh guidelines but they must comply the provisions of the constitution". (The Guardian, 13th November 2002).

This undemocratic and unjust position of INEC and the Obasanjo government must be resoundingly rejected by the working masses. It shows that despite losing at the court, the ruling elite are still determined to continue to deny the masses their democratic right to belong to and vote for political parties of their choice. It once again reveals the desperation of the elite to keep power within the same narrow circle of self-serving pro-rich capitalist politicians while blocking access to any pro-working people party that could satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the masses. Through this, they will be able to continue to impose neo-liberal, anti-poor policies such as privatisation of public assets, commercialisation of social services, non-payment of wages and retrenchment of workers on the working masses while they also continue to loot billions of naira from the public treasury.

The NCP and the other four parties have demanded that all the parties should be registered immediately. According to the NCP’s national chairman, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, "I expect INEC to give us our certificates as a result of the judgement, but I was surprised to hear that INEC was seeking clarification of a judgement that is clear even to a kindergarten"

According to the NCP leader, if INEC should fail to obey the court order, then it will "risk a new round of war". (The Guardian, 13th November 2002).

The refusal or reluctance of INEC to obey the court decision and to deny the political parties the fruits of their well-deserved victory proves once more that political actions are needed to back up the legal action which the parties have taken to secure registration. Therefore, NCP and all the other political parties should commence a programme of mass action immediately to compel INEC to Supreme Court ruling. Leaflets and posters should be produced and circulated and mass rallies, picketing and protests held across the country. The NLC leadership has also correctly spoken in favour of the Supreme Court ruling. But they need to go further, and organise warning strikes to put pressure on INEC and the Obasanjo regime on this issue. Joint, coordinated mass action should be organised by NLC, NCP and the other political parties. All these activities should be used to mobilise the masses and expose the conspiracy of INEC and Obasanjo regime to deny the Nigerians masses their legitimate right in order to continue with anti-poor policies. It only through this mass pressure that Obasanjo and INEC could be compelled to abandon their undemocratic and anti-poor plot.

The Challenges before the NCP

On the other hand, this victory at the Supreme Court also poses a lot of challenges for the NCP. In a sense, this is the real beginning for the building of the party. While the party has a lot of potential support and the national chairman, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, is very popular among the downtrodden working masses, a lot of political and organisational work still needs to be done.

With this favourable court judgement, there is likely to be greater influx of change seeking masses and youths into the party. At the same time, corrupt political careerists who could not compete successfully in other bourgeois political formations like PDP, AD, ANPP, etc, should also be expected to join NCP with a view to use the party to achieve their own selfish ends and to prop up the anti-poor neo-colonial capitalist economic and political structures in the country. In this sense, what programme, policies, strategy and method should the party adopt if it is to achieve its declared goal of abolition of poverty and emancipation of the labouring masses?

First of all, the NCP must continue to be organised as a party of struggles. 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. Through these activities, the party will be making itself relevant to the aspirations of the masses whether or not it is in government. It will be recruiting more and more 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. While not dismissing the importance of elections, of equal, if not greater significance, are struggles, protests and strikes by the working masses to defend their rights and transform society.

Their attitude towards the Supreme Court ruling is a proof that the ruling elite will continue to undermine NCP if the party sticks to its policy to always defend the interest of the masses. If the ruling class or section of it can annul an election won by MKO Abiola, who is one of their members, then, what can they not do to even a registered NCP? That is why the major strategy for building NCP should be as a mass, grassroot, democratic fighting party which will be constantly mobilising and organising the masses to fight for their rights and emancipation.

A 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 as it is the case under the present neo-colonial capitalist system.

This working people’s government should 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.

Lastly, the NCP will only be able to truly reflect and satisfy the aspirations of the masses if it is built as a democratic mass party with control of the affairs of the party by the active rank and file members at all levels. To distinguish the party from all the corrupt capitalist parties and prevent political careerism and corruption, public officials elected on the platform of the party must receive the average wage of a skilled worker.

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November 2002