The registration of the National Conscience Party (NCP) and twenty-one other political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) represents a major victory for the Nigerian working people in their struggle for democratic rights and decent living conditions.
Registration of NCP – Another victory for working people
Build a mass based, democratic NCP on a socialist programme
To us in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), this decision by INEC to allow NCP and other political parties that were earlier refused registration to stand candidates in subsequent elections will go down in history as one of the decisive victories won by the working people since January 1966 when the military wing of the Nigerian ruling class first seized power and abolish the right to organise political parties and contest elections without having to first get the approval of the government or any of its agencies.
It would be recalled that through the imposition of draconian, undemocratic and unconstitutional guidelines, INEC had refused to register NCP and over twenty other political parties during the last party registration exercise in June 2002. As a result, the NCP and four other parties which INEC refused to register went to court to challenge the outcome of the kangaroo registration exercise. Despite a Court of Appeal ruling on 26th July,2002 declaring most of the guidelines used by INEC as unconstitutional and invalid, the latter still refused to register the political parties. But with the upholding of the Appeal Court ruling by the Supreme Court in its judgement of 8th November, 2002 , it became increasingly more difficult for INEC, the ruling class in general and the Obasanjo administration in particular to manoeuvre and refuse to register these parties, particularly the NCP.
The central lesson which the masses should learn from this decision and the retreat by INEC and Obasanjo regime on this issue is that struggle pays. Without the persistent pressure and agitation by NCP, socialist activists like members of the DSM, pro-democracy activists and a few of the political parties earlier refused registration by INEC, such as the PRP and MDJ, INEC and Obasanjo regime would have succeeded in violating the democratic rights of the Nigerian working people by denying them the freedom to belong to, stand for election on the platform of and vote for political parties of their choice.
Many battles still ahead
But while the registration of NCP undoubtedly represents a big step forward for the working masses, to us in the DSM, it should be seen just as a stage in the struggle of the masses for genuine multi-party democracy and an end to the endless life of mass poverty and capitalist oppression. A lot of huge obstacles still remain to be overcome.
First of all, while the requirements for registration of a political party stipulated in the current 1999 constitution are comparatively more democratic and less restrictive than those in all the past military-imposed constitutions before it, they are nonetheless still far from fully guaranteeing the democratic right to organise political parties. Among the still undemocratic and draconian criteria contained in the 1999 constitution are the section which requires any political party to compulsorily locate its national secretariat at the federal capital city and the provision according to which a party’s national executive committee must have members from two-thirds of the states in the country. These conditions, we are made to believe, is to prevent the proliferation of ethnic and sectarian parties and to ensure that parties have a so-called national outlook.
However, in reality, these preconditions have failed to stop ethnic and sectarian-based politics as could be seen, for instance, from the escalation of ethnic and religious conflicts and political killings during the three years, since 1999 until recently, when the PDP, AD and ANPP were the only recognised political parties. On the contrary, these ridiculous, undemocratic and anti-poor conditionalities only ensure that political organisations that fight for the aspirations and yearnings of the downtrodden masses are prevented from contesting for political power. With these absurd criteria, an organisation like MOSOP cannot stand candidates even for local government elections in Ogoniland, despite the massive support which it used to enjoy among the Ogoni people as a result of the struggles which it led against the exploitation of the oil resources of the area and destruction of its environment by Shell in connivance with the Nigerian capitalist elite. Likewise, a group like the DSM cannot contest even in a ward election despite the support it enjoys among certain layers of the oppressed working people and youth.
Against this background, while welcoming the registration of NCP and the other political parties by INEC, the working masses should still continue to struggle until a genuine multi-party democracy in which all political associations, except fascists, and even independent candidates will be free to bid for elected positions. In this respect, the NCP in particular should include in its programme the repeal of all those undemocratic constitutional provisions and laws which still inhibit full political participation by the working people.
Election rigging and violence
Furthermore, we would like to warn that the fact that the ruling class has been compelled to register NCP and allow it to contest elections does not mean that they would not try other means to prevent the party from capturing power. These methods would include the use of violence against NCP members and activists and the outright rigging of elections. Already, the voters’ registration exercise conducted by INEC in September shows graphically that the various factions of the ruling elite are fully prepared to rig the forthcoming polls. Though INEC claimed to have distributed 70 million voters’ cards during the exercise and the voters’ population is estimated at only 56 million, yet millions of eligible voters could not register due to lack of voters’ cards!
Also in the past three years, hundreds of people have either been killed or injured in violent clashes between the various factions struggling for power and positions within the PDP, AD and ANPP. And if the capitalist ruling elite can resort to such dastardly violence among themselves, then what can they not do to a party like the NCP which they perceive as a threat to the source of their stupendous stolen wealth and privileges. As an extreme measure, they could even conspire to stage a military coup either to prevent an NCP government from taking office after an election victory or to overthrow it if it is already in power.
Grassroot, mass-based and fighting party
The only solution to these very possible brutal and anti-democratic antics of the ruling class and their political parties is for the NCP to be built as a grassroot, mass-based, and democratic party fighting uncompromisingly for the interests of the workers, peasants, youth and the urban and rural poor in general, whether it is elected into office or not. To achieve this and make the working masses to be prepared to defend the party against election riggings, violence and military coups, the NCP should defend the masses and stand consistently against all anti-poor, pro-rich capitalist policies such as privatisation of public assets, commercialisation of social services, retrenchment of workers, non-payment of wages and pensions, violation of democratic rights, repression of ethnic and religious minorities, and discriminations against women.
On the contrary, NCP should fight for the rights of the masses to a living wage, full employment, free and qualitative education and healthcare, welfare benefits for the unemployed, the sick and the elderly, efficient and affordable water, housing, transportation and telecommunications and other basic necessities of life.
But in order to be able to implement the pro-masses policies enumerated above and other laudable programmes which are contained in the party’s 10-care programme, the party will have to stand for the public ownership of the commanding sectors of the Nigerian economy like petroleum, mineral resources, big industries and banks to be managed and controlled democratically by the working people. It must stand for the society to collectively own and the working people in the cities and villages to democratically control the country’s wealth which are presently owned and monopolised by a super-rich minority of local and multi-national capitalists.
Only by this means will an NCP government have the necessary resources to implement the pro-masses policies which have endeared it to the masses and also ensure that these resources are efficiently utilised to provide for the real needs of the overwhelming majority of the people rather stupendous wealth for only a small minority as it is the case in the present neo-colonial capitalist arrangement. In other words, in order to abolish mass poverty, and eradicate hunger, diseases, unemployment, crimes, and ethnic and religious conflicts, an NCP government must be a workers’ and poor peasants’ government based on a democratic, socialist and anti-capitalist programme.
To prevent or minimise election rigging by the ruling class parties in the coming elections, NCP should encourage its members and the working masses to establish democratic grassroot, local election monitoring committees who will be very vigilant and monitor voting in polling centres and the collation of the results. Above all the NCP must educate and organise the masses to be prepared at all times to struggle to defend their votes and rights.
Democratic rank-and-file control
While the registration of NCP is going to attract thousands of change-seeking workers, poor farmers, market traders and the youth to the party, many opportunist and careerist pro-capitalist politicians who cannot compete successfully in the money-bag ruling class parties are also going to join the NCP simply to use it to realise their selfish political ambition.
To ensure that the party does not become simply a vehicle for political careerists, the affairs of the party at all levels must be under the control of rank and file members. All members of the party elected into public offices must be under the control of the party and implement its programme and policies. Also, NCP public office holders must receive the average wage of those they represent. This is the only way to prevent party members who are elected into legislative and executive positions from having a lifestyle far removed from the living conditions of the electorate who elected them into office and thus becoming insensitive and anti-poor like the representatives of the capitalist parties who receive millions of naira from public treasury while the masses exist on poverty incomes.
It is only by having and implementing the programme, policies and methods explained above that the NCP will live up to the expectations of the downtrodden working masses. The supporters of the DSM who are members of the NCP will struggle together with other party members to build the party and ensure that it fulfils the masses’ aspirations.