Nigeria: After the defeat of “third term” agenda: What way forward for the masses ?

More than 80 % of the population oppose continuation of President Obasanjo’s rule

On Wednesday May 16, 2006, the senate arm of the National Assembly threw out, in its entirety, a bill seeking 116 amendments/alterations to the military imposed 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.

The most topical and controversial clause of the proposed alterations sought a three-term maximum of 4 years each for the President and the Governors as opposed to a two-term of 4 years each prescribed by the 1999 Constitution. If this bill had sailed through, President Olusegun Obasanjo, and many of the incumbent state governors across the country, would have been given constitutional pretext to remain in power beyond May 2007 to continue to perpetuate their essentially anti-poor, corrupt rule.Before the debate of this bill commenced at the National Assembly, many media organisations, across the country, conducted several opinion polls on the issue of whether Obasanjo should be allowed to remain president beyond May 2007.

Severally and collectively, these polls returned an emphatic CAPITAL NO! In all the geographical areas of the country, an average of 80% of all those polled opposed the idea of an Obasanjo’s continuation in power beyond May 2007. The reason behind this is obvious. The past seven years of Obasanjo’s government has practically devalued, debased all the key elements of decent living for the vast majority of the working people and youth across the country. Therefore, the very suggestion of the idea that Obasanjo should remain in power instantly and unequivocally brought to the minds of the overwhelming majority of the people, an era of unmitigated, brutal, anti-masses policies, unprecedented corruption, electoral manipulations, political repression, etc.

Against this background, the defeat of Obasanjo and his fellow third term plotters certainly deserves celebration by the ordinary people. If for nothing else, at least, a known anti-people’s president has been checkmated from perpetuating himself in power. The defeat of Obasanjo and his supporters/backers on this issue becomes specially remarkable because it has once again sustained the legend that no Nigerian leader can successfully perpetuate himself in power against peoples’ acceptance. In a sense, this reinforces the saying that political sovereignty ultimately belongs to the people!

And for understandable reasons, the media has been awash, in the aftermath of the defeat of the third-term plot, with lavish stories, reports and editorials about the laudable roles played by certain prominent politicians, dignitaries and especially the National Assembly in "killing" the third-term plot. Elements that had only just recently been part and parcel of Obasanjo’s government anti-poor, reign of terror, have now remarkably, re-emerged as "democrats". What does this portend for the masses? There can be no doubt that the media and the National Assembly played crucial roles in defeating Obasanjo and his supporters on this issue. But does this necessarily mean that these two veritable bourgeois institutions opposed the third-term plot for the same reasons as the 80% of the people across the country? The main imperialist countries hailed the National Assembly’s decision on this issue as victory for democracy. What kind of democracy do these elements have in mind?

Masses reject Obasanjo’s anti-poor policies

For the vast majority of the ordinary people across the country, President Obasanjo is synonymous with socio-economic disaster. Here, it is important to stress that the seven nationwide general strikes and mass protests led by the labour movement during the past seven years of Nigeria’s so-called civil rule, more accurately summed up the true feelings of the masses on the desirability of the Obasanjo’s presidency, ever before the commencement of the "third term" debate. Indeed, if not for the fact that labour and civil society leaders were too timid to come up with necessary political and economic alternatives to press home, to logical conclusions, the opportunities offered by these struggles, the Obasanjo government would long ago have been buried, not to talk of it being around to plot its perpetuation in power! However, sections of the elites, across the country, who opposed the "third-term" agenda largely did so, so that one of their own "sons of the soil" could, on the basis of a rotational formula, become president in 2007 or at a later date. In sharp contrast, the masses opposition to the continuation of Obasanjo’s dispensation was never based on ethno-religious-constitutional premises. The highest opposition, 86%, to Obasanjo’s "third-term" agenda actually came from Southwest Nigeria, amongst his own kiths and kins!

On the contrary, the issues often raised in the media and by bourgeois politicians, in and outside the National Assembly, were very radically different from those that propelled masses opposition. Some of these elements opposed the continuation of Obasanjo’s presidency beyond May 2007 because such was seen as a ploy for presidency not to "rotate" to their own region or zone! Some opposed because they felt that it was "immoral" for President Obasanjo to amend the constitution primarily to perpetuate himself in power. The most favorite saying of this group was that "you cannot change the rule midway in a game"! Here, it should be stressed that many from within the National Assembly itself are scheming to become governors of their own respective states – because, next to presidency, that is where the real money and prestige lie! Someone like the Vice President Abubakar Atiku, opposed because Obasanjo’s personal ambition, exhibited through the third-term plot, represented a breach of the (off the scene) agreement apparently struck between the duo. That after 8 years in power, he, Atiku, would take over from President Obasanjo! Yet, many of the bourgeois, anti-third termists, were simply those who lost out in the political power game within the Obasanjo’s government and its prop, the PDP political machine. Yet, some like the governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye, opposed because of fear that Obasanjo would stop at nothing to politically liquidate him if he remains in power.

Ruling class try to save their own skin

For instance, all the state governments and its so-called Houses of Assembly in the South West excluding only Lagos State gave cacophonic support to the third-term agenda, partly because it would ensure the perpetuation of their own "son of the soil" in power! On the other side of the spectrum were the governments and State Houses of Assembly from the other zones, who for similar self-serving goal, opposed the elongation of Obasanjo’s presidency simply because it would either prevent or prolong the time when their own "son of the soil" could become president!

Both camps unreservedly support capitalism and its ferocious neo-liberal reforms. Both sides do not fight over the act of converting what belongs to all into an exclusive property of a few in the name of privatisation and trade liberalisation! The disagreement is always on which person or persons should be in direct control of this organised economic fraud and political racketeering! Both camps, including the anti-third termists of the AD and ANPP, at states and national levels are deep soaked in an ocean of irredeemable material corruption and electoral manipulations. Notwithstanding their supposed opposition to the third-term agenda, Atiku, one of the most prominent anti-third term advocates, recently, in a letter to Obasanjo, asking for the latter’s political support in his bid to become president, described Obasanjo as an "exemplary leader", who has rescued Nigeria from the rule of the locusts! Senator Uche Chukwumerije, the arrow-head of the opposition to the third-term agenda in the National Assembly, just last year, in an interview with the Guardian, stated that what he liked most about President Obasanjo was his "healthy contempt for public opinion"! In the wake of the widespread protest which greeted the PDP rigged victory in the 2003 general elections, Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, who would today want us to believe that he is politically different from Obasanjo, had amongst other things stated: "The most urgent need of the hour is to rally round the president……We must accelerate the pace of privatisation. We must intensify the liberalisation and opening up of the country……..Let this task unites us irrespective of the party affiliation or political disposition." (Nigerian Tribune, May 27, 2003, p.2). Show me your role model, I will instantly know the kind of person you are!

The role of the media and fears of imperialism

The media role in killing the third-term plot should also be critically examined. As a peculiar institution of civil society, the media has many of its functionaries living amongst the people and for this reason is always in a better position to know what their true feelings are on diverse issues. Thus, their general support for the struggle against the third-term agenda was partly to ventilate the masses opinion, but most especially tailored to protect the status quo from being unnecessarily overheated by the vaunting ambition of one person! Naturally, the media saw no major contradiction in promoting elements who, on all key economic and political issues, share views with Obasanjo except on the vexing issue of "third-term agenda"!

Sections of imperialism understand the enormous potential power of this movement. This was one of the reasons why the US government opposed the "third term" agenda. Washington feared that Obasanjo staying in office could provoke mass upheavals, as well as exacerbating ethnic tensions and worsen the almost intractable global energy crisis. For instance, in February 2006 John Negroponte, the overall head of the US intelligence services, warned that a third term for Obasanjo could threaten to unleash "major turmoil and conflict" and "could lead to disruption of oil supplies, secessionist moves by regional governments and major refugee flows and instability elsewhere in west Africa" (Financial Times (London), February 21, 2006)

Against this background, it is therefore certain, as the day follows the night, that any government formed by these bourgeois anti-third-termers, in post Obasanjo’s era will essentially continue with the prevailing anti-poor policies and corruption. How can the masses avert this obvious disaster?

What way forward?

In order to secure a permanent decent living standard for the vast majority of the working masses and youths, there is a necessity to make a clean, revolutionary break with the current elitist economic and political order. The current economic and political system is fundamentally and deliberately tailored to keep the masses in perpetual poverty and political bondage so that the few capitalist individuals and corporations can continue to wallow in needless, stupendous wealth.

For instance, the past seven years of Obasanjo’s government, has benefited from an unprecedented rise in incomes from crude oil exports. However, because of the regime’s capitalist, neo-liberal policy of not spending adequate money on essential peoples needs like provision of full employment, standard health care, education, electricity, portable water, roads, communications, etc, most of the revenues being generated are only routinely stolen by top government officials, at all levels, and their capitalist backers, through awards of fake or highly over-inflated contracts. In the name of privatisation, public properties and assets are being farmed out to cronies, most of whom in all probabilities, are using looted public funds to acquire public properties! Today’s politics have become so monetised such that only plain crooks and or those backed by them can hope to emerge "victorious" in the big time gerrymandering and blatant frauds usually presented as elections. Therefore, for as long as this state of affair prevails, only the likes of President Obasanjo and or his worse versions will always emerge "leaders".

The only way to stop this "monkey dey work, baboon dey chop" economy and polity is by bringing into being a workers’ and poor peoples’ government in place of the present unjust economic dispensation where a tiny layer controls and maintains a stranglehold on the economy. Such a government will have to operate a system wherein the commanding heights of the economy, including finance and the resources of nature, are commonly owned and democratically controlled and run by the working people themselves so that the society can be planned in such a way that the necessary needs of all can be met. Moreover, such government will have to put in place a polity where every key official whether in government, legislature, judiciary, armed forces, etc, will be elected and practically subject to re-call by their electors. Very importantly, all such elected officials must only earn the average wage and perks enjoyed by the generality of the people in society. Under the present dispensation, the official minimum wage is N5,500 while the so-called elected representatives of the people earn millions of naira annually, apart from the stupendous earnings from their daily racketeering that goes for governance.

And as we in the DSM often argue, these ends are not only necessary, they are equally attainable. All that is needed is for the working class, together with poor peasants and the generality of the urban poor, to get organised politically, with a view to take political power from the hands of the self-serving, capitalist elements, currently ruining the lots of the masses. Quite expectedly, the beneficiaries of the prevailing unjust order will argue that there is no any other viable alternative to the current dispensation. These elements quite often, though erroneously like to present the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucratic, nationalised economy of the former Soviet Union, etc, as the irrefutable proof of the failure of socialism as an alternative model of social development.

Expectedly too, quislings of capital and or disillusioned Marxists and progressives may on their own argue that even if our analysis is persuasive, 2007 general elections is too close for what at best will be seen as an "ultra leftist" agenda and that now is the time for "pragmatic", "minimum" agenda. Some of these elements would, as usual, argue that the masses are too poor and as such too ignorant to appreciate the need to fight for a working people’s government. Put differently, some of these elements are often heard arguing that the forces of the capitalist status quo, at the moment, are too formidable for the weak forces of working class led revolution to contemplate its overthrow.

There is one universal fact that runs through all of these arguments. Severally and collectively, all of them would like us to ignore or forget that about seven nationwide general strikes and mass protests had rocked this government over its anti-poor policies in the past seven years. That whenever these general strikes/protests took place, government authority/popularity amongst masses always dropped to lowest ebb, while that of labour often rose to the sky, even amongst layers of the middle class elements!

On a far smaller scale, the NCP, a mere fraction of the radical forces, in 2003 contested with all the big bourgeois parties for political power. Despite the limited financial resources at the party’s disposal and the unwholesome manipulations of the state apparatuses by all the ruling parties, to win the elections at all cost, it was still possible for the poor but committed, pro-masses, socialist candidates like Lanre Arogundade to score tens of thousands of votes in Lagos State – a phenomenon which no doubt gave real frights to the dinosaurs that controlled the AD and PDP, its bourgeois rival.

Therefore, if a new mass working peoples party made up of LASCO, NCP, Labour Party, PRP, NAP, UAD, DSM, CDHR, etc should adopt a united front approach towards the 2007 general elections, then, it is not ruled out that the masses suffering can be brought to a quicker end. This of course is based on the assumption that the platform will come up with a clear-cut, alternative economic and political policies, which directly address the needs of the masses. Secondly, the platform, right from the beginning would have to face the reality that it can only win political power through struggles and struggles alone, and never on the basis of appeals to the rational and or democratic conduct of the capitalist exploiters and oppressors.

Pointedly, what this means is that the afore-mentioned/outlined forces cannot merely gang up as a political party for the 2007 general elections, simply on the basis of their previous reputation/association with the masses, and automatically hope to defeat the forces of the status quo. No, real life never works this way. What a new mass working peoples political platform needs to do today are two-fold. One, it must immediately put in place a programme of action to ensure that come 2007, there is a working peoples’ political party and candidates ready to do battle with all the ruling parties. If this does not happen, the masses, most certainly will largely be apathetic to the entire electoral processes. Two, it must immediately today come up with a programme of action which directly address masses needs, in areas of living minimum wage, decent education and health care for all, stable electricity and affordable portable water, etc, not merely as a manifesto to implement if voted to power but as an action plan for immediate struggle and implementation.

All that is required is for labour and civil society groups, together with pro-masses forces like NCP, to give ultimatum to the powers that be to henceforth use the stupendous revenues accruing to Nigeria on masses needs and for them to stop their mass pillaging of the treasury. New minimum wage to match the rate of inflation without retrenchment must be demanded. Living wage paid as and when due to all pensioners must equally be demanded! Substantial and adequate funding of public schools, health sector, water, electricity, roads and communications in general must be demanded. Jobs for all those that can work and adequate living social security for all the unemployed must also be demanded. The period before the expiration of the given ultimatum must be exclusively devoted to mass mobilisation of the masses for a day or days of action in the expected failure of the powers that be to meet the stated demands.

If built on a proper grassroot mobilisation, with action committees formed and controlled by rank and file workers, students and ordinary people in their respective communities, the kind of struggle approach being recommended can in fact lead to the political defeat of the oppressors class before the 2007 general elections. Even if the political heat generated by the struggles over these enumerated demands are not strong enough to bring down the unjust capitalist ruling class before or during the 2007 general elections, it will certainly be enough to make a political party based on the needs of the masses to be strong enough as a government in waiting. If the labour and civil society leaders take this road, everything is possible, if not, a variation of the current capitalist locusts will succeed Obasanjo’s government come May 2007 and suffice to stress, this will only deepen the economic and political deprivations of the masses across the country.

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June 2006