The key issue is what choices are on offer? What do the different parties stand for and do any of them represent the interests of the working class, poor and those who oppose the corrupt ruling class?
Both Prof. Attahiru Jega, the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) Chairman and President Goodluck Jonathan have repeatedly continued to make pledges that the 2011 general elections will be truly free and fair. Even the advanced capitalist countries, the principal beneficiaries of the iniquitous capitalist system foisted on Nigeria and on all other underdeveloped countries are openly expressing sentiments that the world would wish to see a more transparent and peaceful elections come 2011. In his first public media interactions, the new United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Terence McCulley had summed up the imperialist countries’ sentiment in this regard when he stated that: “I hope the process in 2011 will be better and will respect the will of the Nigerian people”. We consequently posed the big question: Will the 2011 general elections in Nigeria be more “transparent” and “respect the will of the Nigerian people” any better than the farcical exercise called the 2007 general elections?
Bourgeois analysts would straight-away answer this poser with an unqualified sense of optimism. They would readily point out the radical background of the current Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) Chairman whom is widely regarded as a respectable activist (Former President of the left wing Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), who will not allow anybody to use INEC to manipulate and/or rig elections. Unlike former President Obasanjo who openly declared the 2007 general elections as a “do or die affair”, President Jonathan in his several speeches and visits to state governments across the country has repeatedly made promises that his government will ensure a free and fair elections, come 2011, where the votes will truly count. Unfortunately however, when the entire major issues, logistical and political, pertaining to the 2011 elections are scientifically evaluated, the ordinary Nigerians across the country should be prepared for a harder living conditions and greater assault on their democratic rights in the post-election period, irrespective of the party or combination of parties that emerge as winners of the exercise at central or state levels.
ANOTHER ERA OF SHAMBOLIC AND SELF-SERVING ELECTIONS
Without a successful amendment of the 1999 constitution, a new elected government at the federal and state levels must come to be by May 29, 2011. This strictly means that the INEC must be prepared to do all that is necessary to organise the general elections across the country latest by the end of April, 2011. As we write, INEC has tentatively fixed an unspecified date in January, 2011 to begin the conduct of a new voters’ register which is regarded as a minimum condition for a truly free and fair elections, especially against the background of serious questions over the credibility and accuracy of the current voters’ register compiled by the INEC during the tenure of the highly discredited chairmanship of Prof. Maurice Iwu. This practically means that INEC will have only about two to three months to conduct a new voters’ register where at least about eighty of the estimated one hundred and forty million Nigerians will be registered. Up till now, the Electoral Act and the ongoing constitutional amendment that are expected to form the legal basis of the elections are yet to be finalised! When you take into consideration the usual post-election protests/disputes and the processes required to sort this out legally, then it should be clear to all class-conscious working class and youth elements that the 2011 elections cannot but be another rush-rush affair, a shambolic exercise!
But for the working masses of Nigeria, the issue goes beyond credible voters register for a democratic vote. The key issue is what choices are on offer? What do the different parties stand for and do any of them represent the interests of the working class, poor and those who oppose the corrupt ruling class?
Both the ruling PDP and all the opposition ruling parties severally and collectively subscribe to and defend anti-poor policies in all their economic programmes and policies. Instead of fashioning out programmes and policies which can make the stupendous human and natural resources which Nigeria possess with a view to guarantee decent living conditions for everybody, all the ruling parties at federal and state levels are in the forefront of the advocacy and implementation of anti-poor policies that would only worsen the living conditions of the ordinary Nigerians across the country. This is why the PDP, ANPP, ACN, APGA and even the only Labour Party-controlled government of Ondo state are championing neo-liberal, pro-rich capitalist policies of privatisation, deregulation, commercialisation etc. Presently across the country, irrespective of the political party in power, the state or the conditions of key infrastructures such as roads, electricity, and water including indispensable social services such as health care, housing and education are in worst possible shapes. Despite these deplorable conditions, all the ruling parties are still committed to the implementation of policies that will only put more money in the pockets of capitalist elements and corporations.
This is why all these ruling parties are religiously advocating the so-called “Private and Public Partnership” concept as the best way to develop Nigeria’s prostrate economy and industries. Under this dubious concept, the embarrassing deficit in good motorable roads is to be balanced when private profiteers are allowed to build and collect tolls to recover their investments on roads built. Apart from the fact that based on practical experience, this approach has shown that it can only be applied to a few potentially profitable routes, the actual cost and time to society is unquantifiable. Under the prevailing pro-rich, pro-capitalist ideology favoured by all the ruling parties, every essential aspect of living such as decent housing, health care, education, job opportunities, good roads, air and water ways are things that should only be enjoyed by those who have enough money. This is the central reason why all the ruling parties across the country are agreed that education, health care, electricity, water etc. must be totally privatised for the benefit of profit merchants.
Quite predictably, the major bourgeois ruling parties and their self-serving aspirants have only concentrated on divisive issues such as “zoning”, “federal character”, “North/South”, “Christian/Muslim” dichotomy and all other issues that are totally unconnected with the key issue of how to effect an appreciable living condition for the ordinary masses whether in the oil rich Niger Delta and across Nigeria in general.
Sadly, the pro-rich, pro-capitalist ethos which presently constitute the cornerstone of the ruling parties’ policies on the economy and key social spheres have now been openly entrenched in political affairs and electoral processes. Presently, both the Electoral Act and the leadership of all the ruling political parties have prescribed various huge sums, the so-called “Nomination Fees”, for anybody aspiring for party and elective posts. Practically, this means that only moneybags and or those being sponsored by moneybags can reasonably hope to have the chance to play frontline roles in the forthcoming elections. Suffice to note, an election wherein only the highest bidders within the various ruling parties contests can never give rise to an exercise that will be truly “transparent” and or reflect the real “will” of the ordinary Nigerians. Furthermore, the real reason why many would-be candidates are prepared to personally pay “Nomination Fees” is that they hope to recoup their elections costs by looting if they are able to get into office. Therefore, the ordinary masses must squarely face the fact that the 2011 general elections has already been rigged against themselves even before the commencement of the actual exercise.
CAN A MEGA COALITION OF OPPOSITION PARTIES SAVE THE DAY?
There are those who argue that only a mega coalition of the opposition parties can successfully wrestle power from the PDP and thus stop the rot that presently dominates the country’s economic and political landscape. Unfortunately however, this seemingly attractive proposition could only be true if this so-called opposition parties are fundamentally different in their programmes and conducts from the detestable and incorrigibly anti-poor PDP which they hope to replace. Presently, there is loud talk of major opposition parties coming together in order to present a united and coordinated political alternative to the PDP.
This however must be noted is not a new development in Nigeria’s politics. In the first and second republics respectively, the opposition parties formed what were called United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) and Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA). Under the current civilian dispensation, there have been high talks of forming a mega coalition of opposition parties to dislodge the PDP from power. However, to the extent that most elements within these so-called opposition parties are always indistinguishable from the party in power which they wish to replace, a phenomenon which does reduces their opposition to the self-serving calculation of being the persons to inherit the prevailing unjust economic and political order. To that extent, these opposition parties have always been unable to proffer a formidable opposition platform to the party in power when the chips are down.
Therefore, as in previous era, the current desire to form a mega opposition party against the PDP come 2011 election may eventually crash on the well known altar of personal ambitions of individuals wanting to become presidents, governors, senators, reps. and state assemblies’ members, local government chairmen etc. especially now, given the outrageously jumbo salaries and allowances, aside other privileges and opportunities to loot public wealth and treasury, which political office holders enjoy.
ANY HOPE FOR THE MASSES?
On the basis of the prevailing political configurations, 2011 general elections will as usual be nothing more than a contest for political power between the different sections of the thieving capitalist ruling elites. Notwithstanding the repeated pledges of free and fair election being made by Jega and Jonathan, the outcome of the elections under the given situation will most certainly favour the rich and those presently controlling political power using combination of money and state apparatuses.
Only a genuine working class programme and perspective of utilising the country’s human and natural resources in a planned and democratic manner could have provided a political platform which can truly bring forth an enthusiastic support and heroic sacrifices by the ordinary masses that can successfully defeat the self-serving capitalist politicians of all the ruling political parties come 2011 elections. Unfortunately however, the vast majority of the leaders of the trade unions and the Labour Party formed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are presently not thinking or working to provide such a working class alternative both economically and politically. Instead of striving to build the Labour Party as the political voice of the working masses, its main leaders are doing every thing possible to build it like just another bourgeois party.
The Labour Party lacks any clear-cut economic and political programme that is radically different from that of the major capitalist ruling parties like the PDP, ANPP, ACN etc. Ondo, the only state governed by the party equally advocates and subscribes to the same neo-liberal, pro-capitalist policies such as privatisation and deregulation of the key sectors of the economy. Today, to aspire to become President or Governor under the ruling PDP, an aspirant is expected to pay to the party a non-refundable sum of N10million and N5million respectively. Very embarrassingly, it is on record that these outrageous fees was first adopted by the leadership of the Labour Party, and PDP in fact only copied the Labour Party in this respect. So instead of the Labour Party developing as a platform for the working class and oppressed masses in general, it is rapidly becoming another bourgeois party, a phenomenon which may make the party unable to actually take off let alone being able to truly serve the economic and political interests of the ordinary masses in the coming elections.
The main trade union leaders unfortunately do not offer a genuine working class alternative to the economic and political rots of capitalism. Politically, this is being done through a perspective that strives to make the labour movement an umpire seeking to achieve free and fair electoral contest between the different layers of capitalist gangsters! Instead of striving to build an independent working class political party that will form a workers and poor people’s government which would through public ownership of the commanding heights of the country’s economy and their democratic control and management by the elected committee of workers, poor peasants and youths, as a basis of guaranteeing economic and political needs of everybody and not just the few capitalist and middle class elements as under the prevailing unjust order, most of the current labour leaders hold the fallacious perspective that the real interest of the labouring masses can be attained without overturning this unjust system.
For instance, prominent leaders of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) do believe that an economic haven/oasis that would sufficiently meet the economic needs of the workers can be created through direct economic projects of the trade unions. This is the impression being created by central leaders of the two trade union federations which presently exist as they negotiate billions of naira loans to set up labour-run transport services.
Peter Esele, the TUC President-General recently attempted to provide a kind of theoretical justification for what is no more than an attempt to effectively integrate the workers’ movement into capitalism by arguing that working class needs can be met through the creation of non-profit-driven or “pro-labour” enterprises within the overall framework of capitalist economy! Hear him “I don’t belong to the school of thought that Labour should be neutral because I believe that it is by participation that we can influence the country in the way it should go. Labour must not be neutral; we must have a position on all issues and one way you can drive this is that we must have the financial muscle. So, if we all sit down in one room and engage in perpetual criticisms; not in position to proffer solution; bring in new ideas; I don’t think that I want to belong to such a movement” (Source: The Guardian, November 5, 2010)
Yes, we members of the DSM unconditionally agree with Esele that “Labour must not be neutral…must have position on all issues”, whether economic or political that have potentials of affecting workers’ interest positively or negatively. This is why since our inception; we had always canvassed public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy including banks and their democratic management and control by the working class people and ordinary elements in society. However, this revolutionary strategy must be radically distinguished from Esele’s conception of providing “financial muscle” to the unions, a phenomenon which would only deepen the prevailing bureaucratic strangulation of the trade union movement with the development of unions that largely rely on its businesses and not the check-off dues of its members thus undermining the power of rank and file workers to exercise control on trade union leaders.
CHALLENGES FACING THE MASSES
On the basis of the above outlined premises, the working masses and the poor can only expect the deepening of their sufferings and oppressions in the aftermath of the 2011 elections. However, the capitalist and exploiters must not rejoice too much over the political weakness of the leaders of the trade unions and that of the labour party which presently tend to reinforce the false perspective that there is no viable alternative to the present capitalist rot and the concomitant failure of capitalist politicians. The good side of the present political situation must not also be forgotten or under-emphasised.
Despite lack of general and a coherent leadership by the top labour leaders, there is a new tradition of struggle and resistance developing among sections of the working class. Education workers in all tertiary institutions in the south-east zone of the country and Lagos state in the south-west including Rivers state in the south-south are currently on an indefinite strike running up to months in some areas for better conditions of service and better funding of public education. For some times now, unions in the electricity sector have been leading agitations against the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and adequate funding of the sector. Medical workers in many states of the federation are either on strike or seriously agitating for better funding of public hospitals and improved conditions of service for all layers of medical workers. While history does not repeat itself exactly, it should not be forgotten that just two months after the farcical 2007 “elections” there was a mighty, widely supported general strike which, unfortunately, did not secure its demands because the labour leaders made a rotten compromise.
What is however sorely missing is a unified struggle and campaign involving workers in both private and public sectors, at both federal and state levels and a coherent national leadership within the trade unions and in form of a truly working class political party that can give this uncoordinated working class resistance the appropriate vision and strength. All things being equal, the NLC and TUC leaderships have agreed to organise a three-day warning strike from Wednesday November 10 to Friday November 12, 2010 over the refusal of the President Jonathan’s government to implement the paltry new minimum wage of N18,000 negotiated with government representatives at both federal and state levels.
This is a long over-due step in the right direction. We in the DSM had always argued that only mass actions and not mere “industrial relations tactics” can compel the ruling elites of all the different political parties to implement policies that can improve the living standard of the ordinary people. Unfortunately however, the top hierarchy of the labour movement does not yet appear to accept the fact that mass struggle is a necessity and not something to “scare” and or “intimidate” the ruling class. Hear John Odah, the General Secretary of NLC: “We suspect that President Jonathan is being pressurised by state governors not to accede to the new national minimum wage. President Jonathan has a date with history. He can either side with the downtrodden workers and have his name written in gold in the minds of Nigerians or side with the governors and miss the golden opportunity to be idolised by Nigerian Workers” (The Nation, November 7, 2010).
Instead of a futile perspective, which apparently seeks to pitch one section of the capitalist looters against another, the DSM strongly advocates mass mobilisations and struggles including demonstrations and strikes, where and when necessary, with a central focus of building a mass working class political party that can permanently win power from capitalist looters and thereafter begin to build a truly democratic socialist society wherein societal resources are truly used to cater for the needs of all and not just a tiny minority as under the prevailing unjust capitalist disorder.