Open Letter to trade union and labour leaders
There is continuing groundswell opposition to the blatant rigging of last month’s Nigerian elections. However, so far, this has not been translated into protests, partly because many Nigerians correctly see the main opposition politicians as simply being members of rival gangs of robbers. But, on 12 May, the main trade union federation, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), called for a "two-day, sit-at-home mass protest before 29 May" to demand "in many states and parts of the country, the results should have been cancelled and fresh elections conducted".
It still has to be seen how seriously the NLC leaders carry out this call. In the recent past, the NLC at the last minute backed away from challenging the government. In November 2004, a general strike was called off at the last minute, and in September 2005 nationwide mass protest rallies were not used as a springboard for serious struggle.
The day before the NLC leaders met to make the new appeal for protests, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – the CWI in Nigeria) issued the following Open Letter.
The farce called 2007 general elections: Why labour should lead mass resistance
An Open Letter to Trade Union and LASCO leaders
Nigeria is at a crossroads! Right now, even if temporarily, absurdity has triumphed over reality. Millions know that the April 2007 so-called general elections were a fraud. However they are unsure what can be done to win back their democratic rights. To safeguard the masses’ interests, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) demands that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), etc, should urgently name a DAY OR DAYS OF ACTION with peaceful mass protests, rallies, industrial strikes, etc, across the country as the next step.
The goal must be set right from the beginning to mobilise to defend democratic rights, organise a genuinely democratic dispensation that ends the rule by all usurpers at all levels of governance. The mass actions we are calling for are not the type that would be cancelled simply because the powers that be have granted one paltry concession or the other. We would further argue that the kind of mass action being called for has to, of necessity, include all basic demands pertaining to decent living conditions and real democratic rights for the general masses that can only be permanently secured by a workers’ and peasants’ government beginning the socialist transformation of Nigeria.
An embarrassing paradox
Courtesy of a relatively steady and high price of crude oil internationally, Nigeria in the past 8 years has been able to earn hundreds of trillions of naira as revenue from oil exportation alone. Unfortunately, however, only a tiny proportion of politicians in the corridor of power and their local and foreign capitalist contractors have mostly benefited from this oil boom. Apart from the fact that most of the incomes generated from crude oil sales were looted by top politicians and government officials, the so-called Fourth Republic has also simultaneously unleashed an unprecedented anti-poor, pro-rich neo-liberal economic policy on the entire working masses.
Under a dubious package called "economic reform", the most profitable public ventures and country’s resources are being legally converted into the private properties of a few individuals and capitalist corporations in the name of privatization. Pari-pasu, governments in the same period, across the country, have virtually stopped adequate spending on vital social needs like housing, healthcare, pension, education, provision of pipe-borne water, etc. According to the United Nations Human Development Reports for 2006, over 70% Nigerians presently live below poverty line i.e. live on less than N140 per day.
On a very positive side, however, the working masses have not merely and meekly accepted the needless suffering and misery ravaging their lives as a result of the anti-poor policies and the gargantuan corruption of the ruling parties across the country. On seven different occasions between 2000 and 2005 the working masses across the country staged general strikes/mass protests against President Obasanjo’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled government, especially over its anti-poor, anti-economic growth policy of incessant fuel price hikes. Suffice to stress, severally and collectively, these general strikes/mass protests on each occasion left the government suspended mid-air! Unfortunately, because the main leaders of these general strikes/mass protests failed to draw the necessary conclusion that the working masses’ struggles in this respect demands a complete removal of the Obasanjo’s government and its anti-poor policies once and for all, the widely hated Obasanjo government was always able to remain in power in the wake of those struggles.
Mistaking the lack of vision and determination of the top labour and civil society leaders as a sign of his own political strength and acceptability President Obasanjo, in the wake of these general strikes, launched a direct bid to remain as a President beyond May 29, 2007, as provided by the 1999 constitution, sometime in October 2005. Most unfortunately again, the labour and civil society leaders, who had led the afore-mentioned struggles against Obasanjo government, failed and or refused to come up with an independent working peoples’ political platform both to fight Obasanjo’s greedy, self-serving bid and in fact struggle to capture political power with a goal of ending governance of looters and political usurpers at all levels. Nonetheless, 80% of the working masses across the country in all the opinion polls conducted by the media, resoundingly rejected Obasanjo’s "third-term bid".
The farce called 2007 General Elections
Against the above background therefore, the landslide "victory" in April’s so-called elections by the PDP controlled governments is to say the least, very unreal. But if the "victory" claimed by PDP is unreal and the cacophonic outcry of the main opposition parties like the ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party) and AC (Action Congress) that the PDP’s "victory" is nothing but a brazen electoral robbery is real, why then are the masses, mostly across the country, not up in arms to fight the said electoral robbery? Another question: how do we explain the "victory" of some opposition parties like the ANPP, AC, PPA (Progressive Peoples Alliance), etc in the few states and seats where they were declared "winners"? Most importantly, how should the working masses respond to the circumstances and outcome of the 2007 general elections?
To be sure, the PDP’s landslide electoral "victory" is politically and factually unreal. The working masses that have mostly spent the past eight years fighting and rejecting the PDP government could not have suddenly turned around to vote to retain the widely hated party in power and in a "landslide" manner at that!
Virtually, almost all those that monitored the so-called 2007 general elections, locally and internationally, have denounced the entire exercise as a gargantuan fraud. In most places across the country, no any election ever took place, even in the few places where one form of voting or another took place, invariably; the results eventually announced were mostly radically different from what actually obtained. In this regard, the PDP’s "victory" is mostly based on outright electoral robbery, but this is not the same thing as saying that the millions of votes falsely claimed by the PDP were actually cast for the opposition parties.
Overall, the entire exercise was underlined by mass apathy across the country. For instance, Lagos, which is said to have 4.2 million, registered voters recorded only about 1.2 million voters as having participated in the April 14 state general election. The April 21 Presidential and National Assembly elections attracted even worse voters’ turn-out. In fact, the opposition parties themselves were able to win in the few states and places awarded to them by INEC, primarily because of their capacity in those places to match PDP and INEC’s bribery for bribery, thuggery for thuggery and manipulation for manipulation.
In its April 26, 2007 edition, The Economist, a London based imperialist journal in an editorial titled, "Big men, Big fraud and Big trouble", made the following unflattering revelation about Nigeria so-called 2007 general elections: "On the day of the presidential election money-politics could be seen in action in central Kano, the dusty, dilapidated industrial capital of the north. There, in the local government area of Fagge, the PDP had budgeted 35m naira for political "mobilization" and the main opposition party, the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (ANPP), 40m naira. In one ward, Fagge A, the PDP, according to one of its operatives, had budgeted 594,000 naira ($4,650) for 21,000 registered voters and 35 ballot boxes. Thus each "independent" presiding officer at the polling station was given 3,000 naira and his clerk 2,000 naira. Each policeman was getting 1,000 naira. That left payments of about 200 naira ($1.57) per voter – whose votes, far from being secret, were inked with a thumb on the ballot in front of party agents. Multiple voters, who will have registered several times with sympathetic election officials, might vote ten times, at a reduced bulk rate of 100 naira – still picking up a tidy 1,000 naira each".
The brutal reality arising from these circumstances is that, while the masses justifiably loathe and detest the electoral robbery perpetrated by the PDP, they are at the same time mostly not in the least enthused by what the main opposition parties represent. In the past 8 years, the main opposition parties like ANPP and AC have at several times been in control of governments in several states across the country. Most unfortunately, however, these parties have totally failed to produce a positive example in any state under their control as an example of what the masses should expect if voted to power at central level. Their strategy has been primarily based on a false approach of fighting the PDP money for money, thuggery for thuggery; an approach which in fact tilts the balance of terror in favour of the PDP which has control of greater public funds and state apparatus of coercion and manipulation.
Quite correctly, these opposition parties have denounced the especially partisan character of the President Obasanjo’s cronies nicknamed as INEC members. But most significantly, these elements have equally ignored the fact or kept silent over the fact that they equally enjoy and practice the same electoral arbitrariness, which President Obasanjo government enjoys at central level, in the states under their own political control. This, it should be stressed, constitutes the basis of the prevailing absurdity where electoral robbers parade themselves as "victors" and people seem to be indifferent and helpless.
How should the masses respond?
Given, the gargantuan fraud which mostly characterised the elections in issue, and notwithstanding the odious self-serving nature of the bourgeois opposition elements, the DSM urges strongly that working masses should spear-head the fight for outright and unconditional rejection of the farce tagged 2007 general elections. Happily, most significant organizations of the working masses like the NLC, TUC, and JAF (Joint Action Forum) have severally and collectively denounced the entire exercise as a gargantuan farce. Quite correctly too, the main opposition parties and their candidates have equally rejected the outcome of the so-called elections. There is, therefore, no any difficulty in demanding the cancellation of the entire exercise as well as the necessity to fight against the beneficiaries of the electoral farce. However, it is important to note from the beginning that the issue of how to fight back and what to fight for are not as simple as they may appear on the surface.
For instance, many of the bourgeois opposition parties would not be prepared to support cancellation of the elections in the few places where they were awarded "victories", because they would not be prepared to support the protracted struggle needed to fully democratize the polity. Two, even in the states "won" by the PDP, where they may be prepared to back the slogan of cancellation, they would only be doing so within the framework of the military imposed 1999 Constitution, which makes the composition of INEC at national and state levels the exclusive prerogative of those in power.
But, does this mean that the masses should not fight the electoral robbery perpetrated in the name of 2007 elections? Our answer is capital NO. Above all, the point must always be borne in mind that it is the working masses’ welfare and living standards that will severely suffer as a result of the most expensive electoral campaigns and blatant frauds perpetrated by the PDP ruling party and the main opposition parties across the country. Right now, a wrong precedent is being reinforced, namely that all what a party needs is stolen funds and capacity to manipulate state apparatus to win political power, never the masses’ acceptability.
Therefore, in fighting the current electoral robbery, the labour movement and the masses must from the beginning make it clear that their goal is to enable the working masses win political power with a view to end the rule of all looters and usurpers once and for all. So, while the labouring masses fight for cancellation and re-run of the elections, this it must do, not on the basis of the military imposed 1999 Constitution. But rather, on the basis of a revolutionary demand for the immediate institution of a democratically elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC), which will have full powers to run the country pending the time a truly peoples democratic constitution, which will not leave the composition of the electoral body at the state or national level to the whims and caprices of incumbent power holders is put in place.
Quite legitimately, questions have been raised as to what would be the role of the Obasanjo government in this scenario and that which body or government will conduct the election into the SNC itself. To the first aspect of this question, our position is that the Nigerian masses have at variously times rejected the Obasanjo government and as such, it is the duty of trade unions, mass organizations and youth leaders to immediately embark on protracted mass actions to chase out this regime of looters and impostors. We oppose the call for an "interim government of national unity" or any other nomenclature, which is based on handpicked elements regardless of their background. In the place of this PDP government, we call for a provisional revolutionary government made up of elected representatives of working masses and technocrats in both private and public sectors across the country. It is the government formed on this basis that will conduct the election to envisage SNC across the country.
Yes, the DSM concedes that the kind of perspective being advanced can only be actualized through revolutionary mass struggles of the working masses across the country. Abinitio, we will be arguing that the proposed mass struggles against the ruling class’s current electoral robbery must, in order to succeed, be all encompassing. It must not be waged primarily to make one person become president or a governor. It must of necessity contain economic demands aimed at improving the masses living standard in all spheres of life. Its express goal must be that the capitalist class, whose rule has only been able to create permanent misery in the midst of abundance, be terminated once and for all. Against the prevailing unjust order, the working masses need a workers’ and poor peoples’ government which will be committed to the use of societal wealth for the benefit of all.
Expectedly, pro-capitalist elements will regard this as utopia. Opportunistic elements in mass organizations will decry it for not being "pragmatic" enough to stop the inauguration of Yar’Adua’s presidency come May 29, 2007. Nonetheless, working class activists and youths have to keep on drumming the fact in all mass organisations that, unless the kind of revolutionary programme being advocated is embraced by the working masses, future elections will be conducted in similar bizarre manner like that of the 2007.
Ipso facto, a cardinal aim of the proposed struggle against the latest electoral robbery must be the fashioning out of an independent working peoples’ political party, which is prepared to fight in its own name and on its own demands with a view to win political power against all layers of the capitalist class in government and or opposition. Such a party would have to be completely different from the Labour Party that was used by careerist elements like Pedro (the former Lagos Deputy Governor who joined the LP after losing the AC’s nomination) in Lagos and also guard against being subverted by opportunists as has unfortunately happened to the NCP. Of course, fighting on the basis and terms dictated by the main bourgeois opposition will only make this just struggle ineffective. As usual, such approach will only lead to catastrophic defeat for masses interests and aspirations when most bourgeois opposition politicians, inevitably seek material and political accommodation with their so-called rivals and "victors".
On the other hand, failure and or refusal by the masses and their organizations to rise up today to stoutly fight the latest electoral robbery will only leave the thieving capitalist class in power to carry out worse electoral robbery come 2011 or thereafter. Labour must now call for the establishment of democratic action/struggle committees that can unite the mass of working people and poor while giving focus and direction to their anger and be the basis for effective struggle.