2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS:
2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS:
IS NIGERIA ABOUT TO BREAK A 50-YEAR OLD JINX?
Going by what President Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Attahiru Jega, the newly appointed Electoral Commission Chairman have been saying, Nigerians are expected to have truly free and fair elections come 2011 general elections. Hear the President: “When we nominated Prof. Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of INEC, some members of our party came to me asking ‘Jonathan do you really want the PDP to win these elections? They said the nominee is a radical who will not succumb to any pressure. I told them we must work hard and as well present the best candidates because there will be no room for manipulations â€¦ Whoever emerged as winners of the elections at federal and state levels, irrespective of party affiliation, shall be declared”. (Punch, June 25, 2010).
He also said, “I don’t care who becomes the next president of Nigeria, but what I am interested in is for Nigerians to decide through the voting processâ€¦Never again will government fold its arm and watch while a few politicians hire professional election riggers to carry out their criminal activities against the wishes and aspirations of majority of the people”. (The Nation, May 31, 2010). And then Jega: “The elections will surely be better than the 2003 and 2007 elections and in 2015, God willing, we would have one of the best elections in the world â€¦ I did not lobby for this position. I never thought about it but it came on its own, so I have no choice than to put in my best to give Nigeria the best of leadership in the next dispensation”. (Next, July 5, 2010).
By virtue of their positions within the polity and the specific constitutional powers and roles they are expected to play in the 2011 general elections, the above quoted statements of the President and the Electoral Commission Chairman are, on the surface, very pleasing and reassuring. This is especially so, given the fact that Nigeria has never been able to organise credible, free and fair elections in all its post independence history. Nigeria’s elections, including the 1959 general elections conducted by the departing British colonial rulers, are all, indeed, a far cry from what free and fair elections means in most capitalist countries of the world.
As a matter of fact, all of these elections, up till date, with the exception of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by late MKO Abiola, had always been hotly denounced, as the outcome of fraudulent manipulations. The June 12, 1993 election was not so denounced because the masses in general were by then totally tired of the military rule and therefore were not prepared to give any excuse for the truncation of its perpetual transition programme and not because the exercise were truly free and fair as often falsely claimed by bourgeois analysts. In fact, what can be said to be truly free and fair about the elections wherein its military authors created only two political parties, wrote their manifestoes, chose their initial officials, built their offices and where only those permitted by the military ran as candidates and those not favoured were arbitrarily disqualified by radio broadcasts up till the dates of elections and even thereafter?
However, it was the farce called the 2007 general elections, which were roundly denounced by both domestic and international observers that internationally revealed the enormity of the fraud being called elections in Nigeria. Even foremost imperialist countries like the USA, UK and other European countries that are mostly benefiting from capitalist ruler-ship of Nigeria were, for once, forced to openly denounce the said elections fearing its long-term backlash on stability and sustenance of capitalist rule in general. It was these circumstances that forced the foremost beneficiary (the late President Yar’Adua) of this farcical exercise to openly admit that he became president through a highly “flawed” election and then promised to reform the electoral system with a view to ensure that future elections are more credible and acceptable.
Against this background, President Jonathan’s vow to conduct free and fair elections come 2011 is not an original idea. Just like his economic policies and even methods of governance, Jonathan’s commitment in this respect is also an inherited portfolio from the Yar’Adua presidency. However, no one can fail to notice the big difference between the “go to hell”, “do or die” disposition of President Obasanjo at similar period before the 2007 elections and the soothing lullabies coming out of the mouth of President Jonathan at about the same point in time before 2011 elections. Also, in place of a garrulous and an intellectual brigand called Professor Maurice Iwu, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is presently headed by Professor Attahiru Jega, a former leader of the radical Academic Staff Union of Universities, who enjoys a considerable degree of respectability and acceptability among the populace with many freely attesting to his honour and consistency in his leadership of ASUU and in all spheres.
A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
All the major parties without any exception that will be fielding candidates in the 2011 general elections subscribe and in fact operate the pro-rich, anti-poor, capitalist policies currently favoured worldwide by all bourgeois politicians. All these parties believe and operate policies that demand that the major resources of nature and the entire wealth of the country be handed over to a few capitalist corporations and individuals in the name of privatisation. Virtually, all the governments formed by all these parties at both central and state levels advocate and insist that Nigeria’s major roads, airports, seaports, stadia built with public funds and may be later, waterways, etc, be handed over to profit merchants in the name of concessioning. In the name of liberalisation and commercialisation, virtually all leading politicians within these essentially capitalist cartels called parties advocate and carry out cuts in public education, health etc. To one large degree or another, all the ruling parties in Nigeria today unanimously hold the view that the future of Nigeria’s economic prosperity and consequent improved living standard of its people must of necessity, come through further attacks on the economic and political rights of the ordinary Nigerians. Therefore, if the 2011 election holds without a political challenge by a viable and truly committed pro-working masses political party, and only the present ruling capitalist parties that place profit and privilege for a few above the overall consideration for an harmonious economic growth and peoples needs are those fielding candidates, then its outcome, from the beginning, can never bring forth a government that can advance the interest of the masses.
Recently, the National Assembly passed a Bill to amend the 2006 Electoral Act which has been signed into law by President Jonathan. The new Electoral Act has, in this respect, pushed up expenses for presidential election from N500 million to N1 billion, and that of governors from N100 million to N200 million. The law also places the maximum election expenses for National Assembly at N40 million for Senate, N20 million for House of Representatives, provides for N10 million for State Assembly, N10 million for local government chairman and N1 million for councillors. Apparently, the two clauses of the new Electoral Act cited above were intended to achieve some degree of free and fairness in the whole electoral context. However, the political and economic climate dominated as it were by the pro-rich, “profit first” capitalist politicians make this end impossible. In other words, not much political or material benefit can come the way of the working masses and the poor for as long as the process through which candidates emerge at this point in time remains highly monetised within all the ruling political parties.
In addition to the huge sums of money prescribed under the new Electoral Act, all the major ruling parties including the Labour Party (a party that is supposed to represent the political interest of the working masses and the poor) have also prescribed various amounts to be paid within their respective parties for elements intending to hold party or elective positions. Very embarrassingly, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party recently gave an official endorsement to this sheer monetisation and commercialisation of politics when it prescribed the following outrageous sums of money for party members seeking to vie for party posts and elective positions in government. To become party officers, intending candidates must be prepared to pay a non-refundable sums of money to the party leaders: Ward Chairman- N5,000, Ward Secretary- N2,000, Local Govt Chairman- N15,000, Local Govt Secretary- N10,000, State Chairman- N30,000, State Secretary- 20,000, National Chairman- N100,000, National Secretary- N80,000. To vie for an elective position in government, every intending candidate must be prepared to pay the following non-refundable fees at the national secretariat of the party: Ward Councillor- N50,000, Local Govt Chairperson- N300,000, House of Representatives N500,000, Senator N1 million, Governor N5 million, President N10 million.
Here, two quick points should be made. One, that INEC does not have the capacity and, in fact, has never shown the will to find out how much each candidate actually spent in past elections. Two, the various outrageous fees prescribed by the NEC of Labour Party for intending candidates for party posts and elective offices could be peanuts when compared with what are charged by other ruling parties such as the PDP, ACN, APGA, PPA, etc. For a country where well over 80% of its citizens are said to be living on less than $2 per day, a country where there is massive unemployment and where the few that were lucky to have jobs are being grossly underpaid while every individual is expected to fully bear the cost of healthcare, education, electricity etc., of their family members, the total monetisation of politics, as reflected in the Electoral Act and in the internal life of political parties means that from the beginning, the 2011 elections, will as usual, be dominated by political merchants who regard elections as an end in itself and a “do or die” affair.
The appointment of Jega as the new INEC Chairman was certainly a smart move on the part of President Jonathan. As a fallout of the widespread condemnation of the farce called 2007 general elections, the late President Yar’Adua constituted an Electoral Reform Panel headed by the retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais. This 20-member committee totally handpicked by the president, incidentally included Jega, the current INEC Chairman. Eventually, the committee proposed some changes to the Electoral Act which many bourgeois politicians and their analysts, especially those in the opposition together with the so-called international community, believed are the minimal conditions for free and fair elections come 2011. However, government’s white paper presented to the National Assembly for the purpose of passing it into law as the new Electoral Act were without certain provisions contained in the Uwais led electoral panel’s report. Principally, the provision that seeks to remove the power of an incumbent president to choose members of the INEC, including its chairman, and instead gives this function to the National Judicial Council, made up of very senior lawyers, was unceremoniously dumped.
Expectedly, all manner of opposition parties and elements cried afoul and pledged to fight for the total implementation of the Uwais report as the basis of electoral law that would guide the 2011 elections. In fact, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) launched a programme of mass actions which included the collection of 20-million signatories to demand the total adoption of the Uwais Panel’s recommendations as the new Electoral Act. However, the moment Jega was appointed as the INEC chairman, all the grandstanding of the opposition about fighting for the total implementation of the Uwais led Electoral Panel Reports dramatically crumbled. Leading capitalist politicians and top labour leaders no longer regard the Uwais panel report as a necessity for the achievement of credible elections. Jega, a former ASUU president and a leading left wing figure, is now the INEC chairman and all talks of aluta for a truly democratic electoral law seems to have ended. Labour leaders, together with some prominent domestic election monitors have in fact paid visits to Jega to pledge their support.
However, besides Jega’s membership, little or nothing is known about the other handpicked members of the commission. In fact, several members of the commission that played leading roles in the farcical exercise called 2007 elections are still very much around and merely transferred to other states. Happily, the National Assembly has now approved N87 billion for INEC to compile new voters register that is widely seen as a necessary pre-condition for a truly credible election in the country today. Even with this huge sum, there may not be enough time to do a thorough exercise if the recently amended 1999 constitution will govern the 2011 general elections. Against this background, the 2011 general elections should not be expected to be significantly better than Nigeria’s previous elections characterised by chaotic preparations and INEC’s legendry clumsiness.
THE INCUMBENCY FACTOR
In addition to the above outlined factors militating against truly free and fair elections is what is popularly called the “incumbency factor”. Going by precedents, Nigeria has never been able to organise a presidential election where opponents would emerge winners against incumbent office holders. This applies to 2007 where Obasanjo, having failed in his “third term” quest, manoeuvred Yar’Adua in as his own preferred candidate. This of course must not be seen as a peculiar Nigerian factor but rather as a widespread capitalist phenomenon, particularly in backward neo-colonial, societies, where control of state power primarily determines who controls the economy and societal wealth. Nigeria provides a graphic example of where the proverbial “incumbency factor” has been used many times to produce blatantly false and absurd results to the detriment of masses interest.
Class conscious working class elements and youths must however note that this despicable conduct is often primarily informed by the desire of the capitalist ruling class to hold on to their opulence and undeserved privileges. For instance, out of the 161 countries surveyed throughout the world by the United Nations, Nigeria occupies an unenviable 158 position of those with the worst social and living conditions. Paradoxically however, Nigeria’s political office holders earn the highest salaries and allowances even more than those in the USA, UK, etc.
At a recent public lecture, Professor Itse Sagay stated that: “In 2009, a senator earned N240m in salaries and allowances, while his House of Representatives counterpart earned N203.76m. In other words, a senator earned about $1.7m and the member of the House earned $1.45m annually. By contrast, a US senator earned $174,000, and in the UK, a parliamentarian earned about 64,000 pounds, annually â€¦ In 2009, the federal legislature received N102.8bn comprising N11.8bn as salaries and N90.96bn (non-taxable) as allowances. Is the taxpayer getting value for this colossal sum in the current democratic dispensation? Should five per cent of Nigeria’s annual budget be spent on 109 senators and 360 House of Representative members? In other words, should 469 Nigerians gulp five per cent of our budget leaving the remaining 150 million of us to N1,000 each”. (Punch, August 8, 2010).
Regrettably, Professor Sagay did not give figures of the salaries and allowances of members of the executive arm of the government including the president, state governments, local government chairmen, the management cadres of the civil service and parastatals, etc. However, what is certain is that leading officials of the executive arms of government across the country have been severally and collectively costing the public more than the members of the legislature. To give just one example of bourgeois government wasteful expenditure, the federal executive council at its meeting of August 11, 2010, approved a whopping sum of N21 billion ($154 million) to acquire additional 3 jets to boost the aircraft in the presidential fleets. All the others, holding executive political offices across the country, indulge in similar wasteful public expenditure. Under the guise of privatization, most of these elements have used their positions to sell to themselves several houses built for public use from colonial times up till this moment or are in the process of doing so. Most certainly, these layers of people can not be expected to truly believe and or play politics in a free and fair manner without using their ill-gotten wealth and positions to precipitate violence and manipulate the electoral processes.
WILL JONATHAN RUN?
As we write, Jonathan has not officially indicated that he would run for the presidency come 2011. However, all indications suggest that he would do. He has been quietly going about to muster sufficient political support of the capitalist elite within the PDP and other forces in society to achieve this end. For instance, the Vanguard newspaper quoted an unnamed American diplomat on why the US will back Jonathan: “the United States will not go beyond providing technical and logistic support to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to organize a credible and acceptable election but we expect that Nigerians should elect a leader who will, among other things, show commitment to reforms, consistency in policies and stability in the polityâ€¦It is important to elect a leader who has the intellectual capacity to understand the complex global energy demand in the 21st century. This will be a person who could win the confidence of the oil host communities and promote regional security especially in the Gulf of Guinea”. (The Vanguard, August 10, 2010).
This of course is not because the US government has any special personal likeness for Jonathan. Far from it, their self serving support is probably based on two factors. One, Jonathan in the few months he has spent in office has proved beyond doubt that he is a consummate supporter and relentless advocate of all the pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist policies being championed by the ex-presidents Obasanjo and late Yar’Adua. Two, based on the above primary consideration and on the calculation that a Jonathan presidency would at least, for a period, help to calm, arrest and or stem the tide of growing militant insurgency that would ensure that the ruthless exploitation of Niger Delta’s petroleum products goes on unhindered. Given the fact that oil money is the major factor that glues the Nigerian state and its self serving political leaders together, it is most likely that imperialism and the local capitalist elites would one way or the other, foist a Jonathan presidential candidate on Nigeria. Against the above outlined background, the 2011 general elections in Nigeria do not realistically have the chances of being significantly free or fairer than the previous inglorious exercises.
WHAT THE WORKING MASSES NEED TO DO
“I want to use this opportunity to call on credible persons to join the process, because if good persons stay away, bad people will have a field day” (Next, July 5, 2010). The above quoted statement by Jega is doubtlessly a very weighty political advice that if successfully implemented can bring forth substantial political gains for the working masses come 2011 elections. Unfortunately however, as things stands today, with the political space totally dominated by capitalist parties and elements whose central goal for political power is to be able to use that power to directly loot and or convert the country’s major natural resources and wealth into private properties of the few rich, in the name of privatisation and liberalisation, the Nigerian working masses will be reduced to spectators in the forthcoming 2011 elections. Quite logically, these elements and parties, together with their bourgeois government, had already put in place an electoral process, which is highly monetised in order to ensure that only moneybags or their surrogates can emerge “winners” of both intra parties and inter parties elections. Consequently, even if the Jega-led electoral commission refrain from deliberate manipulations of the 2011 elections, as was the case in previous elections, nonetheless, the outcome of the exercise has already been tilted in favour of the rich and those in control of the state political apparatus of coercion and repression long before the elections itself.
It is therefore imperative that the working masses struggle to win political power so as to end the vicious circle of holding elections that will always perpetuate in power, the same despicable capitalist elements that has permanently condemned the vast majority of ordinary Nigerians into a state of abject poverty in the midst of inexhaustible human and material resources. This first and foremost, calls for an urgent action by the entire labour movement, to build its own independent political party that is truly committed to a democratic socialist agenda of using the nation’s abundant human and natural resources to meet the genuine needs of the people and the economy as opposed to the “profit first” ideology favoured by the capitalist elements worldwide. If the Labour Party continues down the road of becoming exactly the same as the other parties, then Labour must be prepared to launch a new party that is, from the very beginning, democratically controlled by its members and not moneybags and opportunist politicians.
Specifically, Labour leaders need to promptly drop their false garbs of “neutrality” which consigns the labour movement to the role of an election bystander. The idea of some individual labour leaders seeking influence within existing parties, especially the ACN, also needs to be seen as a blind alley. Without a party that is expressly committed to better the lots of the masses; without a party that is immediately ready to fight for improved wages, functional and affordable health care, education, jobs opportunities etc., In and out of political office, without this kind of party playing frontal role in the forthcoming 2011 elections, the entire process will probably be greeted by mass apathy. Any enthusiasm will be temporary and followed by bitter disappointment. Only a clean banner advocating socialist policies that would mark a revolutionary change in Nigeria can ensure an enthusiastic participation by the masses in the forthcoming general elections and prevent a situation where victory will automatically go to the highest spender and or those in control of state apparatus of coercion and repression.