Nigeria, 2003 elections: Lessons for the National Conscience Party

On 22nd April, 2003, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the re-election of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a second term. According to the electoral body, Obasanjo polled 24,456,140 votes or 61.94% of the total valid votes to beat into second position retired General Mohammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) who obtained 12,710,022 or 32.19% of the votes. The All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, came third with 1,297,445 or 3.29% of the votes.

The outcome of the National Assembly election held a week before the presidential election as well as the gubernatorial election had revealed similar electoral dominance of the PDP and ANPP. Even the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which was defeated in its south west stronghold still managed to cling to power in Lagos State. In contrast to these pro-rich capitalist parties, the radical, pro-masses National Conscience Party (NCP), whose leader and presidential candidate is Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the renown human rights activist lawyer, garnered 161,333 votes or 0.41% in the presidential election, according to INEC. Aside from this, the party has not won any governorship or National Assembly seat.

However, to us in the DSM, it will be complete erroneous to underestimate the significance of the votes obtained by the NCP or to draw the conclusion that these election results show that the Nigerian society cannot be changed for the better. To learn the correct lessons from the outcome of these elections require a comprehensive evaluation of the background to the elections.

Ethnicity and electoral manipulation

Firstly, the election results have very little or nothing to do with the performance in office of the three leading capitalist parties (PDP, ANPP, AD) since 1999. Had ability to solve the numerous socio-economic and political problems facing the country, particularly the working masses, been the consideration of most voters, all these anti-poor parties would have been resoundingly rejected at the polls. Moreover, none of them articulate any concrete programme during the campaigns on how to take the country out of the woods in the next four years.

Unfortunately, the main decisive factors in the outcome of the election have been ethnicity and massive vote buying and rigging. For example, it was the thinking that President Obasanjo, a Yoruba, should not fail to get a second term that was the major consideration which led to the victory of the PDP in the Yoruba southwest. It was the same parochial and dangerous ethnic consideration that was mainly responsible for the further inroad which Buhari’s ANPP made in the core Hausa-Fulani northern parts of the country, for instance in Kano State. Ojukwu’s APGA also has most of its votes from areas with high concentration of people from the Igbo nationality.

Furthermore, aside from the acts of vote rigging which were perpetrated by all the major parties, these elections have undoubtedly been the most monitised in Nigeria’s history. All the big capitalist parties, with the PDP at the forefront, have spent billions of naira not merely on campaigns but in outright bribery and buying of votes.

Mass-based, grassroot party needed

Only a mass-based, grassroot party with a pro-poor programme and with roots in most communities, streets and villages would have been able to successfully and completely overcome ethnic and religious divisions among the masses and neutralise the effects of vote buying and rigging by the capitalist parties. The NCP is only in the process of becoming such a mass-based grassroot party.

Even then, the tens of thousands of votes obtained by the NCP are quite significant politically and illustrate the potential of the party. In the House of Representatives election for instance, the party got as much as 14% of the votes in the Ifako-Ijaiye federal constituency in Lagos and 9% in the Lagos West senatorial district, to cite just two examples. This is despite the limited manpower and financial resources available to the party which made it impossible for the party to reach out to as many voters and as many communities as necessary. What this proves is that there is a layer of the working masses who not only desire a change from the status quo but who are not swayed by ethnic/religious consideration or monetary inducement. The most important task before the NCP after the elections is to increase the ranks of this thinking and principled layer of the masses.

In order to achieve this objective, the NCP must adopt a strategy for it to be built as a mass, grassroot party with members and structures in every community, every ward, street and home, and with influence among workers, poor peasants, the students, women and other oppressed strata of society. And as we in the DSM has often explained, this can only be achieved by building the party as a mass party of struggle, fighting uncompromisingly for the interests of the downtrodden masses, and organising a mass movement against privatisation and commercialisation, retrenchment of workers, and all other anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist policies. Candidates of the party who might be elected in the coming house of assembly and local council elections must also act as genuine representatives of the party and stand by and defend the party’s pro-masses policies and principles.

In addition, the party must also continue to stand for provision of free, good quality education and healthcare, full employment with decent wages, affordable mass housing, social welfare benefits for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the elderly and other vital programmes that can drastically uplift the deplorable living standards and working conditions of the masses. But in order to implement these laudable programmes and attain its goal of abolishing mass poverty in the midst of potential abundance, the NCP needs to embrace democratic socialist policies based on public ownership of the key sectors of the economy and society’s wealth which are presently monopolised by a tiny minority capitalist elite. These sectors will be subject to the democratic control and management of the working masses and planned to provide for the real needs of the society and not just luxury for a small elite as it is presently the case under the neo-colonial capitalist economy. The goal of the NCP should be to establish a workers’ and poor peasants’ government that will implement this democratic socialist programme and policies.

With their pro-rich, anti-poor policies and orientation, it is inevitable that the PDP, ANPP, AD and all other capitalist parties will fail the masses in the coming years. The determination of the Obasanjo government to increase fuel prices again, the introduction of outrageously high school fees in the education sector, and the commitment of these "victorious " parties to privatisation and commercialisation indicate the further hardship which awaits the masses. Inevitably the masses will look for a way out and seek change. At such period, more layers of the masses can be won as supporters and members of NCP. But it is only by adopting the policies and methods outlined above that the NCP can become the alternative for the majority of the poor working masses irrespective of their ethnic background and religious affiliation.

The DSM believes in the potential of the NCP and we remain committed to its building as a mass working people’s party.

Oppose PDP, ANPP, AD and all the moneybag parties

Build a mass-based, democratic NCP in every community

Build a mass movement for socialist change

Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Nigerian affiliate of the CWI. Lagos, 26th April, 2003

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April 2003