Nigeria: The 2011 General Elections and the Working People

On three different dates, April 9, April 16 and April 26, Nigeria held the general elections to elect politicians that would control power at central and state levels for the next four years.

For a country of about 150 million people, in which over 70% of its citizens live on less than $2.00 per day, a foremost organ of international capitalism, “The Economist”, complained that “the process has been expensive: the government has set a record for public spending on elections of $580million” (April 14, 2011). Another leading organ of international capitalism, the Financial Times of London, on April 28 put the official cost of election at $647million.

However, for most bourgeois commentators, including foreign political leaders in the West and Africa, the 2011 general elections is portrayed as the most “credible, free and fair” electoral contest in Nigeria, most especially since 1999 when the current civilian rule started. If for now, we leave out the massive violent protests which greeted the post April 16 presidential election in certain parts of the country, the preponderant opinions of most politicians, domestic and international observers, together with the overwhelming reports by both print and electronic media, tend to agree that the 2011 general elections were the “most credible, free and fair” elections conducted since the end of military rule in 1999.

Unlike the 2007 general elections, which the then President Olusegun Obasanjo openly declared as a “do or die affair” for the ruling PDP and the then Election Commission (INEC) leadership mostly exhibited a “go to hell” disposition towards voters with visible bias towards the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) and other major ruling parties, this time around the entire electoral processes were preceded by repeated pledges from both President Goodluck Jonathan and Prof. Attahiru Jega, the new electoral commission chairman, that they were committed to organize a credible free and fair elections. Of course, this disposition was largely informed by the general societal revulsion felt towards the 2007 exercise by most Nigerians and even domestic and international observers.

Also noticeable in the latest elections was the remarkable, peaceful and orderly conduct of most voters during the exercise. In fact, during and throughout these elections, the electronic media, most especially beamed pictures of voters across the country queuing up peacefully and in an orderly manner for accreditation and voting exercise, with several on-the-spot interview of voters and electoral officials of how “smoothly” everything has been going on. Unlike in previous elections, voters were consciously urged this time around, by the electoral commission, not only to vote, but also to wait for the counting of the votes before leaving the polling centres. Nevertheless there was officially only a 53.7% turnout in the April 16 presidential vote when just under 39,500,000 ballot papers were cast.

As we write, bourgeois analysts of different persuasions both locally and internationally have continued to pour praise on President Jonathan and the INEC Chairman for having promised and actually conducted credible, transparent, free and fair elections. Notwithstanding this, certain political parties and politicians, most especially within the opposition group, have alleged many irregularities which negatively affected a free and fairness of the entire exercise. As noted before, the outcome of the presidential elections had also witnessed serious violent protests and demonstrations in certain parts of the north of Nigeria, leading to killings of hundreds, burning of churches, mosques, palaces of emirs and politicians suspected to be close to the PDP, the ruling party at the centre since 1999.

THE ELECTIONS: HOW TRULY FREE AND FAIR?

All elections in Nigeria since the 1959 ones before independence have always been hotly disputed by the political parties, especially those in the opposition for not being free and fair. In fact, apart from the 1993 presidential election that was not seriously disputed before it was dictatorially annulled by the military junta headed by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the organisation of the April 2011 general elections will go down in history as significantly “free and fair”. But if these were truly so, why did the days after the presidential election witness such violent protests and rejection in certain part of the country?

To understand this apparent contradiction, the DSM urges that it is necessary to go beyond the conventional, shallow and one sided evaluation of the ongoing political process in the country by the bourgeois strategists and analysts. It is not simply a question of how peaceful a voting day was or whether voting appeared fair. From the start this election, like those held previously, was dominated by moneybags and manipulation by those in power as there was no genuine working peoples’ party to challenge the old gangs. Look at the manoeuvring in all the parties to secure nominations. Look at how some states delivered almost unanimous votes for some candidates. Obviously in some cases, particularly in the south-west, the votes reflected some popular opinion as the PDP was routed, the tragedy is that the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) was able to exploit anti-PDP feelings in order to get re-elected – even though its own policies and conduct in the states where it held power were and are still fundamentally the same as that of the PDP.

Right from the period when the late President Musa Yar’Adua was in power, and since President Jonathan became the de facto leader of the country early last year, the DSM had always in the working class and labour movement urged the working masses to not for a second place hopes on the ability and capacity of the capitalist ruling class to organize truly free, fair, credible and democratic elections. We had always stressed and emphasized the fact that the leadership of virtually all the political parties within the country currently favour the “profit first”, pro-capitalist strategy of socio-economic development and wealth creation.

Unfortunately, the top trade union leaders, despite constant agitations by us in the DSM to build an independent working class political party that is expressly committed to democratically use the abundant human and natural resources of Nigeria to guarantee rapid socio-economic development and decent living standards for all have, so far, rejected this position. In fact, the Labour Party which the Nigeria Labour Congress itself formed in 2002, was abandoned to careerists and pro-capitalist elements who rapidly transformed the party into just another bourgeois party. Thus from the beginning of this election process the working masses were deprived of the opportunity of having a political platform through which those suffering from the capitalist misrule across the country for the past twelve years of so-called democratic governance could have a viable alternative to the different sections of the capitalist class across the country. Inevitably, the pre-election debates within all the political parties were mostly dominated by self-serving issues such as rotational presidency, governorship, senators, etc. Refusing to recognize that the existing capitalist parties across the country are incapable of proffering policies that would truly unite the masses of different nationalities together, the leaderships of the two trade union federations, the NLC and the TUC, merely urged the working masses to act as umpires and election monitors between the different factions of the capitalist elites hustling for power.

In the absence of a truly pan-Nigeria political party, the working masses and the poor were mostly left at the mercy of ethnic and religious jingoists. This explains why majority of presidential voters in the southern part of Nigeria and the middle belt where the influence of Christianity is mostly pronounced voted for Jonathan and the poor masses in mostly Islamic dominated section of the north voted for Gen. Muhammad Buhari, who however is seen by sections of the masses across the country as less corrupt than most other top political leaders that have ruled the country in the past. Soberly, this means that Nigeria’s age-long and unresolved nationality question played a dominant role in determining the consciousness of voters across the country. This of course is a reflection of the absence of a genuine pan-Nigerian working people’s party that could provide a platform through which the masses’ interest could be seriously advocated and voted for in this election.

Another major way through which socialists and working class elements must appraise and expose, within the working class movement, the unanimous but false verdict of bourgeois politicians and their analysts is the issue of how most of the candidates that contested under the major political parties got their mandates. In virtually all the major ruling parties, PDP, ACN, CPC, ANPP and including the LP, most candidates that were eventually allowed to contest under their banners were brazenly and arbitrarily imposed by party leaders. Equally, all of the above-mentioned parties made candidates’ ability to pay outrageous fees officially and unofficially to the party leaders a precondition for the acceptance of their candidatures. Consequently, most of the candidates that contested in the 2011 general elections were mostly moneybags themselves and all those imposed on the parties were done so by moneybags and party leaders. Of course, because of their own self-serving calculations and their commitment to the pro-rich capitalist ideology, bourgeois politicians and their analysts would rather avoid pointing out this undemocratic background of the 2011 general elections as this would immediately detonate the myth that the 2011 general elections is truly “credible, free and fair”.

POST-ELECTION PERIOD

International and domestic observers, including the NLC and TUC, the two main trade union organizations, have publicly lauded the elections as truly free and fair. The DSM asks: How valid are these claims? In the period before the elections, the preponderant propaganda in the capitalist west and their media is that once Nigeria is able to hold a credible, free and fair election, its rapid and rounded economic development is guaranteed, of course with an implied suggestion that the advanced capitalist west will henceforth flood the country with sufficient material and strategic support to fast-drive the nation’s socio-economic development. Against this background, can the working masses now expect their living and social conditions to experience significant and sustainable improvement in the aftermath of this widely applauded elections?

The DSM is bold to say that no significant economic development or improvement in the living condition of the masses should be expected on the basis of the governance of the political parties and elements that have been voted to power through the 2011 general elections. The central reason for this is already being pointed out by some of the serious sections of the capitalist media internationally. “While the electoral system may have improved, the politicians it has returned remain broadly the same attracted to office for the opportunity it provides for personal rather than national wealth creation” Financial Times, (London), April 20, 2011. What the Financial Times means is office holders playing a key part in the looting the country’s massive oil income.

Despite recent talk of economic growth, little has come to the masses. Last February the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, said the industry lost more than 1.8 million jobs between 2002 and 2008, a yearly average of more than 257,000 jobs disappearing. MAN reported that 834 manufacturing companies shut down in 2009. According to MAN “in 2001 2,752,832 people were employed by the Nigerian manufacturing sector. In 2002, the figure rose to 2,841,083. This figure reduced to 1,026,305 in 2008.” The MAN report noted “In the heyday of manufacturing in Nigeria (1978–1980), the national poverty level was 28.17 per cent. With the declining roles of manufacturing, the poverty level gets increasing and it got to a peak of 70.9 per cent in 2006.” In his May Day speech the NLC President repeated the unfortunately well known figures that “over 87% of Nigerians live on less than N184 or $1. 25 a day and life expectancy is only 47 years compared to 60 years in 1960. Youth unemployment which the World Bank report estimates at about 40% in the country is actually as high as 55 – 60% as almost all families are affected.”

When it is added that currently there is a high rate of inflation averaging 13%, 10.3% in urban and 15% in rural areas, it is clear that the working masses and poor have gained little or nothing at all from the current high oil price.

However, like in previous elections, bourgeois politicians across the parties went out of their way to raise hopes and illusions of what they would achieve on the economy and masses’ living standards if voted to power. However, because all the ruling political parties primarily subscribe to the “profit-first” capitalist ideological disposition and being that most of these candidates were sponsored and or imposed by party leaders on the electorate, most of these rosy promises can never be seriously implemented let alone being sustained. In fact, because most of the politicians that got elected have had to spend huge sums of money of their own or those of their sponsors, the working masses should expect these elements to devise more ways and policies through which their “investments” in this respect can be recouped. Already, they have started to point out that the huge sums of money (N91 billion, US$ 590 million, in 2011 alone) being allegedly spent to “subsidize” petroleum products is not sustainable in the long run.

During the recent elections, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) controlled government in Lagos State fearing the political backlash from the electorate temporarily suspended the collection of toll fees on Lagos-Epe expanded expressway being built through the so-called Public Private Partnership (PPP) strategy wherein the capitalist corporations will continue to reap hundreds of billions of naira annually for the next 35 to 40 years. During the same period, the activities of the widely-hated fund-raising machineries of the state government such as Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) were drastically curtailed. Now that the election is over, the masses should expect across the country from most if not all the ruling parties the continuation and or resuscitation of various anti-poor policies.

Notwithstanding that all the ruling parties promised to effect an improvement in the quality and access to education and health care, the working masses must expect to pay more for the education and health care of their children and themselves. For instance, the self-styled progressive ACN government in Lagos State and their mentors would continue to make propaganda that they are converting Lagos State into a megacity but under the prevailing unjust capitalist order, the greater part of the state will continue to be without paved roads while ninety percent of its citizens will continue to lack access to pipe borne water. This is inevitable because instead of using state resources in a planned and democratic manner to cater for the needs of all, the government will continue to give road contracts as patronage for the few capitalist individuals and corporations such that billions of naira that can be used to improve the social infrastructures, provide quality education and health care for the people will continue to build up a few rich who are aspiring to be listed in Forbes Magazine’s list of richest men in the world.

THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE MASSES

Great number of capitalist politicians and analysts have composed a new singsong all chorusing that the 2011 general elections is a “consolidation”/“deepening of democracy” in Nigeria. We in the DSM hasten to immediately warn the masses not to, for a second, believe in this fairy tale. We in fact warn the masses across the country that the entire processes, conduct and result of the elections represents a looming socio-economic disaster for the country and the living standards of the ordinary Nigerians. There is nothing that is spectacularly new in the policies and elements or the pattern of electoral victories. At best, what happened were mere reshuffling and re-configuration of the same pro-rich, corrupt elements and politicians that have been in power in different part of the country for the past 12 years when the current civilian dispensation commenced.

The 2011 general elections will go down as the most monetized election so far in Nigeria’s history. Only candidates sponsored by parties already in power or candidates that have access to looted funds and or supported by the super-rich were able to win elections across the country and across parties. For these reasons, the ruling party at the centre, the PDP, in spite of having little or nothing to positively show for its control of power over the past 12 years and despite huge crude oil money that has accrued to Nigeria during this period, significantly was able to win in most places where the party was already in control of government apparatus and state money. This is also true for the opposition parties as well. The primary reason being that all those who controlled state and public resources spared no avenue to use their positions to procure victory at all cost. During the elections, it was a normal feature for parties in power especially at state levels to litter the society with campaign posters and adverts of their own candidates while the PDP utilized its control of the federal government to place adverts in the media and federal government-controlled public facilities like the airports, etc to promote Jonathan’s presidential ambition.

The victory of the ACN in some Southwest states hitherto controlled by the PDP did not in any sense contradict this assertion. To start with, the states in issue were originally under the control of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), the forerunner of the ACN, immediately after 1999 but were subsequently lost to the PDP due to the combination of their failure to significantly impact on the living standards of the masses and brazen electoral manipulations of the PDP with the active collaboration of then INEC leaderships under Dr. Abel Guobadia and his successor, Prof. Maurice Iwu. However, the masses’ experience under the PDP-controlled state governments in the Southwest during the past eight years was equally woeful and this partly explains why there was a turn by sections of the masses to vote for the ACN in this election as the most viable, or in some cases the only available, political alternative to the PDP.

Even then, the winners of the elections in these states were primarily determined by how much money the candidates and the party had to spend to mobilize and or induce voters to come to vote. For instance, the ACN won most seats in the Southwest in the April 9 National Assembly elections. However, the PDP presidential candidate Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, won on April 16 in most Southwest states with the exception of Osun State where Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the ACN presidential candidate, won.

This was made possible for two related bad reasons. One, the unresolved nationality question troubling Nigeria became pronounced as many people in the Southern and Middle Belt parts of Nigeria were wary of voting for a Muslim candidate of Northern origin whom they feared would only run government to favour Muslims at the expense of Christians who constitute a predominant group in these parts of the country. Based on this fact and coupled with the realization that based on the number of votes cast for the ACN during the National Assembly election, their presidential candidate stood a very little chance of winning the election, the ACN party leaders and financiers deliberately refrained from dishing out money to mobilize voters as they did during the National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly elections. The other major ACN winners like Abiola Ajimobi, Governor-elect of Oyo State; Dr. Chris Ngige, Senator-elect and the former PDP Governor of Anambra State and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the Governor-elect of Ogun State, and other individuals were all former prominent members of the PDP or ANPP. Therefore, there is nothing new or spectacularly different from the characters and elements that have been returned in this election across the country among the different parties that can give a reasonable basis for the masses to expect or assume that things will be better in the coming period.

The rioting that followed the presidential vote was also a warning to the Nigerian working masses. The rioters felt betrayed by the PDP which previously they saw as “defending” the north and now they saw a PDP candidate who, in their eyes, represented the south win the presidency on the basis of southern votes. This feeling of betrayal resulted in the properties of PDP leaders being attacked along with those of southerners and the northern Christian minority. Unless the labour movement can lead united struggles to improve the lot of all working and poor Nigerians then the anger and frustration throughout the country can be diverted into ethnic and religious conflicts.

BREAKING THE VICIOUS CYCLE

Contrary to the false claims of capitalist strategists and analysts that the 2011 general elections represents the “deepening” of Nigeria’s so-called nascent democracy, the outcome of the exercise has produced the results that can only lead to the continuation and consolidation of the vicious cycle facing the country’s economy and its people. Yes, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has regained power in some of the States it lost to the PDP in the past period. Yes, Joshua Dariye, the former kleptomaniac PDP Governor of Plateau State, has now become a Senator under the platform of Labour Party (LP). Nevertheless, on the basis of their commitment to private sector, capitalist driven economic strategy, roundly accepted and being implemented by all the major political parties and candidates, there can be no fundamental improvement in the living conditions of the masses and the economy of the Nation as a whole. For all the noises being made by the ACN, governance at the centre and in all the states being controlled by the opposition political parties will largely remain a propaganda business in the next four years. We have already seen this in Lagos State where the ACN has being in power uninterruptedly for the past 12 years.

The only way to avert this kind of impending socio-economic disaster is for the labour movement to come into the centre of struggle for political power with a view to begin in earnest the central task of transforming/reconstructing Nigeria’s economy and polity in such a way that will benefit the majority and not just the rich few as under the prevailing unjust capitalist dispensation. This must start with the transformation and ideological re-orientation of the labour leadership. Labour needs leaders anchored on a perspective that the current set of politicians and their government across all the ruling parties cannot but attack the basic economic and political interest of the masses so as to guarantee their own unjust privileges and riches. Therefore, the entire labour movement, including the leaders and rank and file activists, must immediately work out a comprehensive, pro-masses’ alternative to the self-serving, pro-rich policies being advocated and implemented by all the ruling capitalist parties.

The labour movement must consciously accept the reality that the masses will only win significant concessions and improvement in their living conditions from the ruling politicians across the parties only if they are prepared to wage relentless and determined mass struggles. Most fundamentally, the labour movement and the rank and file working masses and the oppressed must recognize the necessity of building an independent working class-led political party that is prepared to wage mass struggles in and out of elections period before a fundamental defeat of the present thieving capitalist ruling elites can be permanently attained.

To this end, the DSM members hereby call on the trade union leaders and leaders of the civil society organizations to immediately stop the praise-singing mentality and attitude of seeking to promote one faction of the ruling elite against another faction. We once again demand that a special conference of rank and file activists of the labour movement and leaders and members of the other oppressed groups with a view to draw out a comprehensive, just and democratic socio-economic manifesto and agenda that will ensure that the stupendous human and natural resources with which the country is endowed can begin to be truly used for the benefit of the ordinary Nigerians. This of course would pointedly and immediately require labour to evolve strategies and steps that can reclaim the present Labour Party (LP) which has largely become indistinguishable from the other bourgeois parties either in terms of monetization of its offices and in the kind of elements that are most prominent in the leadership of the party.

At its delegate conference which held in March 2011, the NLC adopted positions that appear that the organization is finally coming to terms with the necessity of building a genuine mass working people party. While this represents some good news, the fact has to be noted that this kind of disposition is not new within the labour movement. However, we in the DSM strongly believe that unless the task of creating a truly working class political party to wrest the economy and polity from the stranglehold of the anti-poor and corrupt capitalist politicians is immediately and seriously commenced, the country called Nigeria and its long-suffering masses will not be able to escape the prevailing vicious cycle of mass want and repression in the face of limitless human and natural resources.

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