Nigerian 2003 elections: Workers need their own party to put an end to this sham "democracy"

Nothing good will come to the working people of Nigeria from the recent elections. None of the main candidates stand for the interests of the workers, the peasants, the urban poor, the unemployed, the students of Nigeria. They represent different cliques within the Nigerian ruling class.

Nothing good will come to the working people of Nigeria from the recent elections. According to official figures Olusegun Obasanjo (of the PDP), the outgoing president, was re-elected with 24,456,140 votes or 61.94%. Runner up was General Mohammadu Buhari (of the ANPP) who obtained 12,710,022 or 32.19%. Third place went to Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu with 1,297,445 votes or 3.29%.

None of these candidates stand for the interests of the workers, the peasants, the urban poor, the unemployed, the students of Nigeria. They represent different cliques within the Nigerian ruling class. All of them are involved in looting the resources of the country to their own benefit.

So how do we explain the fact that the three of them got over 97% of the votes cast in the presidential elections? The first thing we have to say is that the population of Nigeria is close to 130 million. About 70 million are of voting age. Of these only about 40 million actually voted. Of course, that is if we are to believe the official voting figures, as many observers have reported that there was blatant vote rigging and ballot box stuffing. In all probability, the majority of Nigerians didn’t bother to vote.

But, more importantly, there was hardly any policy difference between any of the major candidates taking part in the elections. They all stand for the interests of big business. That explains why there was a very strong ethnic orientation to the voting. For instance Buhari and his ANPP made gains in the predominantly Hausa-Fulani population in the north, while Ojukwu gained most of his votes in areas where the Igbo population is sizeable. A strong ethnic element was also behind Obasanjo’s victory. He is a South Western Yoruba.

Outright buying of votes

Another important factor was the outright buying of votes. All these big business parties spent billions of Naira to literally buy support for their parties. The PDP being the party of government obviously had more resources available to carry out this operation.

According to observers, from the European Union and the United States, there were serious irregularities in at least 13 states (Delta, Edo, Enugu, Anambra, Rivers, Imo, Cross River, Bayelsa, Katsina, Benue, Kogi, Plateau and Nasarawa). That means that in over a third of the states the vote was not a true expression of the wishes of the Nigerian people. We can quite confidently say that rigging probably took place all over Nigeria, to one degree or another.

In some cases the rigging was more blatant with armed gangs turning up at polling stations demanding the ballot boxes be handed over to them. In one case an armed gang forced the electoral commissioner to declare the loser as the winner! These were all gangs in the pay of one or other of the major parties contending the elections.

The situation in Rivers was emblematic. The turnout was in fact quite low. Because of the violence in the area earlier on in April, many voters stayed at home out of fear that they could be attacked. In the Woji Ward 6 of the 628 registered voters only 113 bothered to turn out, and of these 61 voted for the PDP. Observers and monitors all over Rivers State revealed a similar picture. However, when it came to announcing the official results on April 20, the electoral commissioner brazenly declared that no fewer than 2,172,682 voters (of the registered 2,255,297 registered voters) had turned out for the gubernatorial elections. And the PDP candidate, Peter Odili, had won with 2,098,692 which would be 96.54%. The incredible situation is that the ANPP candidate, Awusu, was declared as having received only 44,746 votes, but he himself pointed out that the registered ANPP members in the state are over 100,000. This kind of thing must have also happened in many other states.

In this case it was the PDP that was clearly involved in falsifying the results. Bit the other major parties were doing the same where they had control. The ANPP used rigging and buying of votes in its northern strongholds. The same also applies to the AD in Lagos, where governor Tinubu was accused of bribing electoral officers to falsify the results, and guarantee the only state gubernatorial victory of the AD.

Even the British journal, The Economist, was forced to admit that, "The elections were dirty, and sporadically violent. Big bundles of cash were handed out during party primaries, and smaller ones were handed out in the streets during the campaign. In parts of the south-east, most voters were too frightened to vote, because of battles between rival militias, but the ruling party nonetheless won huge majorities in supposed turn-outs of over 90%." (The Economist, April 26, 2003)

Up for re-election were also the governors of the 36 states that make up Nigeria. The PDP strengthened its grip here as well, winning 28 states. The ANPP won seven seats and the AD only one. This compares to the previous situation where the PDP controlled 21 states, the ANPP nine and the AD six.

Apart from these three main parties, there were another 27 parties that stood, but between them they only managed to garner a total of six per cent. There had been some resistance last year to allowing these parties to register. In the previous elections back in 1999 only three parties had been allowed to register, all handpicked and set up by the outgoing military. Thus, although the media in the West made a lot of noise about "democracy" in Nigeria, in reality it was not genuine multi-party democracy. Also the rules and regulations governing the registration of parties are so cumbersome with so many requirements that have to be met that many groups who would like to stand cannot, even now with the widening of the number of parties that have been registered. In reality Nigerian "democracy" is only for those rich enough to stand candidates nationally, and with enough money to be able to bribe and corrupt people into voting for them. This is the only kind of "democracy" that Nigerian capitalism can offer the masses!

PDP now has a crushing majority

The PDP has also strengthened its grip on the two parliamentary chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. In the Senate the situation is now the following: PDP 72 seats, ANPP 28 seats, AD 5 seats. IN the House of Representatives its is: PDP 198 seats, ANPP 83 seats, AD 30 seats, APGA 2 seats, NDP 2 seats, PRP 1 seat.

Thus at all levels the PDP has a crushing majority. This has led one bourgeois Nigerian journal to talk of "The One-Party Leviathan". In fact the parliamentary majority that the PDP now enjoys, at least in theory, would give it the power to do almost anything it wants. Considering how powerful the PDP has become, in the tradition of corrupt Nigerian bourgeois politics, some of those elected on the lists of the other parties may well decide that their wallets are safer if they cross the floor and join the leading party. This means that the so-called opposition in the Senate and House of Representatives is very weak.

Some bourgeois commentators in Nigeria have commented favourably on this situation. The new set up is supposed to guarantee peace and stability and thus make Nigeria "investment friendly". Also they are expecting Obasanjo to push ahead now with further privatisations. In his first term (1999-2003) he managed to privatise a lot of small state and para-statal companies, but failed to get rid of the big ones like NEPA (electricity) and NITEL (telephones). One of the arguments used to explain this is that Obasanjo feared losing popularity and thus did not push fully for the programme of privatisations that the IMF, World Bank and the major western powers were pushing for. But according to the Nigerian constitution after two terms in office a President cannot stand again. Therefore as he has "nothing to lose" he could now push for full implementation of this programme.

Wealthy Nigerians are already licking their lips at the idea that they might be able to buy up some of these companies on the cheap. One example is Mallam Tijjani Abdullahi (Director of Infrastructure and Networks, Bureau of Public Enterprises) who announced in New York, shortly after the elections, that a public offer of up to 20 per cent of the Federal Government’s 51 per cent equity in NITEL could be made as early as this month.

The problem is, however, that so far the government had failed to privatise the big state companies, not because it did not want to sell, but because it couldn’t find any buyers! The government wanted to privatise but in spite of the cheapness of the deals they were offering, the cost of restructuring these companies and the volatile political environment meant that foreign investors were not keen to get involved. One Nigerian economist, Doyin Salami, of the Lagos Business School, has suggested that the only way of attracting buyers would be to offer them the company name and its assets and leave the debts of these companies in the hands of the government. That amounts to practically giving them away!

But that would fail to provide the government with the hard cash it needs to alleviate the debt burden (of over $30bn) of Nigeria and to finance the budget. Last year the government was hoping to privatise NITEL and make $1.3bn out of the sale, but it fell through. The hoped for privatisation of NITEL was an essential plank in last year’s budget. The other was the promised recovery of $1.2bn that the Abacha family (the family of the dictator who died in 1998) had stashed away in foreign banks. This also fell through. Suddenly $2.5bn were missing from the state accounts and a serious fiscal crisis ensued. So serious was the crisis that parliament tried to impeach Obasanjo, but of course they failed, and now he is in an even stronger position than before.

No real stability

However, the Nigerian and foreign observers who are shouting about "stability", "investment", etc. Are going to have some surprises. Stability cannot be achieved arithmetically at the ballot box. Most Nigerians did not freely vote for Obasanjo. And, more importantly, they did not vote for what he is about to do.

Two thirds of Nigerians live on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy is a mere 51 years! Seventy per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. There is immense wealth concentrated in the hands of the few while the masses go hungry. The top ten per cent of the population consume 41% of the wealth of the country, while the bottom ten percent has to make do with a mere 2%!

The government has been trying to prettify the situation. One of the governments’ economic advisers recently announced that everything is improving, inflation is down, productivity up, etc. But this is so much wishful thinking. And statistics cannot hide the fact that people on the ground can see that things are getting worse. The prices of basic foodstuffs (rice, beans, garri, yam, cassava and other basic foods that make up the diet of Nigerian workers and peasants) are going up, and you don’t need a government statement to work it out, just go down to any of the markets in the major Nigerian cities.

A N3,800 bag of rice in January now costs N4,000. A large bag of beans that was priced at N2,000 in January now sells for N4,000. A four-litre can of vegetable oil which was N450 in January, has now gone up to N550. The same is true of other products such as melon and pepper. A typical comment was that of one Nigerian housewife, who said that even if it is not possible to build houses or buy cars, people "should, at least, be able to feed."

On the industrial front things are no better. In the first quarter of this year there was actually a decline in productivity. This is according to a report of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The reason for this is the atrocious condition of most of Nigeria’s infrastructure. Power supplies are never guaranteed. Power cuts are a common event. In the early part of the year one power station (Egbin Thermal Station) was shut down. There is an ongoing shortage of fuel (in spite of Nigeria being the fifth oil producer in the world!). This is because the refineries are in a state of collapse and so Nigeria has to import refined oil.

The transport system is also in a state of collapse. The railways, which were once an important means of transport, have all but collapsed. Thanks to this people and goods have to be transported by road, but many of the roads are barely usable after years of neglect.

The daily life of most Nigerian workers and peasants is hell on Earth! For them democracy can only have a meaning if it provides food, shelter, a job, an education for their children, and some hope that the future will be better than today. But what has happened since this so-called "democracy" was introduced has been a general worsening of the conditions of millions of Nigerians. And worse is yet to come with the PDP and Obasanjo now entrenched in power. The Western backers of Obasanjo will push him to go further. They want more privatisation, more increases in the price of fuel, further reductions in food subsidies, etc.

Already, under Obasanjo something like 10,000 people have been killed in ethnic clashes, as one impoverished group is incited against another. Behind all these clashes there are of course the local elites, using these conflicts to their own benefit. That also explains the strong ethnic content of the voting patterns in these recent elections. If this situation continues the national question can gather momentum in Nigeria and we can expect more and bigger such clashes.

Need for a workers’ party

However, there is one group in Nigerian society that did not stand in these elections, and that is Nigerian labour. The workers and poor of Nigeria cannot tolerate this situation much longer. New movements of the working class are inevitable. Far from stability what Nigeria is facing is further turmoil and conflict.

The unfortunate things is that the workers of Nigeria do not have their own party and that is the tragedy of the situation. In the past few years the Nigerian workers have shown their willingness to struggle. There has been an unprecedented level of strike activity, including three general strikes. This shows that there is big potential for a workers’ party to emerge.

In these elections among the myriad of parties that stood there were two that could be in anyway described as being close to the workers and poor, the NCP (National Conscience Party) and the PSD (Party for Social Democracy).

The NCP is led by Gani Fawehinmi, a lawyer known for his defence of human rights. He stood as the NCP’s presidential candidate and got only 161,333 votes or 0.41%. The bulk of these were cast in Lagos, where the party received 104,245 votes. The NCP has what is called a "Ten-Care programme":

Employment care, Food care, Health care, Housing care, Education care, Water care, Electricity care, Transportation care, Telecommunications care and Security care. It also has a reputation of being opposed to privatisation. Because of this it has a certain popularity among some of the more advanced workers and youth. Its programme, however, is not socialist and it proposes to carry out its programme within the limits of the capitalist system. This means that it cannot really solve the problems facing the workers and it is a long way from becoming a mass party.

The PSD on the other hand hardly made any impact at all, gathering a very small number of votes. The PSD was launched by some trade union leaders, but it never received the backing of the NLC (Nigerian Labour Congress), the leadership of which continued to back Obasanjo in the elections. The union leaders had no intention of making the PSD a success. They never really campaigned for it or pushed for workers to join it. Thus it was stillborn.

What the workers of Nigeria need is their own party. This can come from the NLC. It has happened before when in the 1980s the NLC launched the Labour Party. That party attracted thousands of workers and youth and started to move very much to the left, especially in places like Lagos. That may very well explain why the leaders of the NLC do not want to launch such a party again. In the conditions that exist today in Nigeria, such a party would attract huge numbers of workers and would thus come under enormous pressure to solve the problems facing the workers. The ranks of such a party would inevitably look to genuine socialist ideas and programme. So for now the leaders of the NLC are happy to support Obasanjo and to support his privatisation programme.

What this means is that genuine socialists in Nigeria need to campaign within the trade unions for the NLC to launch a workers’ party. Given the nature of the present leaders of the NLC, only a mass movement from below will push them to launch a genuine workers’ party with a mass base. Those socialists in the NCP who wish to offer the workers a way out of the present impasse could play a role in this if they organised to campaign among the workers and poor, and in particular among the ranks of the unions, for such a party.

Only a party with the massive backing of the NLC could really take on the bourgeois parties that are now running Nigeria, and thus put an end to the electoral farce that the Nigerians have to suffer at every election. If the workers and peasants of Nigeria were offered a genuine workers’ party, based on a socialist programme of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, under workers’ control and management, then we would see the beginning of a new process, that of the awakening of the Nigerian masses to the tasks of the socialist transformation of their country.

One way or another the toiling masses of Nigeria will find the road to independent working class politics. The role of the Marxists is to intervene in this process and offer the advanced workers and youth a perspective and programme. Once the movement of the Nigerian masses links up with the genuine ideas of Marxism, then no force on Earth will be able to stop it.