What now after the elections?
What now after the elections?
Lagos DSM members meeting
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement based in Lagos held an aggregate meeting on Saturday May 21, 2011 to review the economic and socio-political situation in the country after the 2011 general election. The meeting also discussed international relations and world economy, especially the mass movements in North Africa/Middle East and the post recession austerity onslaught on working people in Western countries.
Segun Sango introduced the discussion on the Nigerian situation by first debunking the fallacy of a peaceful and credible conduct of 2011 election. The 2011 polls were adjudged as the most credible exercise since the advent of civil rule in the country by both domestic and international observers. Truly, unlike 2007 there was virtually no violence at the polling booth, at least none caught on TV camera, as television stations streamed live the conduct of the election nationwide. Though, off camera, there were reports of ballot snatching and stuffing, it was not as brazen as obtained in 2007. Hence, the widely held belief that the election was peaceful, free and fair. “Seeing is believing”, goes a saying.
It is however a malady to deem the elections which recorded the killing of about 1,000 people as being peaceful. The announcement of Jonathan as the winner was trailed by a violent protest in the northern part of the country and resultant killing and destruction of properties. Besides, in the pre-election period, there were several reports of political killing across the country.
It is also fraudulent to adjudge the election where there was widespread bribing of electoral officials and the electorate in “cash and kind” as free and fair. For instance in Lagos, a customized telephone recharge card bearing the face of Fashola, the state governor and ACN candidate, was widely distributed to the electorate.
Besides, most of those vying for one post or another were imposed by godfathers or are moneybags who bought party tickets. None of the political parties organized credible, free and fair primaries to elect their flag bearers for the general election. Indeed, the leadership of ACN, a self-acclaimed progressive party, unashamedly openly defended the imposition of candidates. Many of the godfathers had their sons, daughters, wives, concubines, etc., who did not pass through electoral process in the party standing in the general election. In order to remove any legal obstacle to the brazen imposition every aspirant was made to sign a post-dated letter of withdrawal of candidature should the party want him/her to step down for an anointed candidate even though he/she had won the primary election.
The fact there was no meaningful protest against imposition of candidates shows that ordinary people do not see fundamental difference among most individuals seeking to hold political office. Besides, there was no difference among the political parties in term of programme and orientation. This explains why politicians easily cross from one party to contest in another. He/she could go back to his/her original party after the election whether winning or not. The governorship candidates of the ACN in Oyo and Ogun came from other parties to contest on the platform of the party. Both actually contested 2007 election on the platform of ANPP.
Indeed, at the polls there were no candidates whose personalities or programme represented the aspirations and yearnings of the working people across the country. The Labour Party (LP), which was formed by the NLC and had potential of becoming a working peoples’ political alternative, was another platform for the anti-poor politicians at the last election. Working people are annihilated from occupying leadership position in the party or vying for political office on its platform as a result of heavy monetization of the politics of the party. The LP did not organize a single primary throughout the country; its tickets were issued on the basis of “cash and carry”. Interestingly, the LP charged as much as the PDP for its tickets. Hence, across the country it was the hated and anti-poor politicians, who mostly lost out in power games within the main pro-establishment parties, that emerged as candidates of the Labour Party.
The most prominent feature of 2011 election was its heightening of the unresolved nationality question in the country. This also accounts for the outbreak of violent protest in the north. The result map of the presidential election shows a graphic division of the country into two. Jonathan won in the south and Christian-dominated areas of the north, while Buhari was victorious in most of the north. The ethnic and religious consideration largely determined the voting pattern in the presidential election and not the party or programme of the two major contenders. This explains why Jonathan swept the polls in the south but his party, the PDP, did not win a single governorship election in the south western states, and indeed lost most of legislative seats previously held there. In a similar fashion Buhari’s party, while winning the presidential polls in 16 northern states, could only win the governorship election in just one state.
It is instructive to stress that, in addition to the nationality question; the protests in the north also had an element of venting of anger against the corrupt politicians and institutions in the region. This explains why it was not only the properties of the southerners that were destroyed, but also the palaces of emirs, the secretariat of PDP and residences of PDP stalwarts including the Vice President Namadi Sambo. Despite the long years of the ruling elite of the northern extraction holding political power in the country, that part of Nigeria is the least developed and has the highest concentration of the poor. Most of the northern youth who protested the result of the presidential election had reposed hopes in Muhammadu Buhari, who is seen as not being as corrupt as other past leaders, as the man who could turn around their living conditions.
The 2011 election was said to be one of the most expensive in Africa. This has meant that politicians will have to recoup their investment in the election by freeing public resources for looting through more and more capitalist neo-liberal attacks on the working people. Apart from dipping hands in public coffers to prosecute the election, President Jonathan and governors also got donation from corporate bodies and individuals. These entities have to be paid back. This is one of the logics behind adoption of Public Private Partnership (PPP) as only means of social and economic development by governments at all level. However as both the Lekki-Epe Road project and Bus Rapid Transit in Lagos, and other examples elsewhere in the country, have illustrated PPP has proved to be a means of making available public resources for private super profit.
Already, President Jonathan has been talking of PPP not only to fill the huge infrastructural gap but also to provide social programmes like education. There is plan to privatise the government-owned secondary schools across the country. Nigerians will start paying much higher electricity tariffs in June, the very first month of the fresh term of Jonathan. The outrageously high tariff is said to be imperative to woo private investors into the electricity sector in the country. Though Nigeria has huge resources and natural endowment to provide cheap electricity, the ruling elite are primitive and parasitic. They are not interested in production to make profit but in governance though public resources for self-enrichment. Even though the president has admitted that most of the privatized public companies are presently in much worse conditions than when under public ownership, he still holds privatization as the magic wand to turn around the economy.
Unfortunately, Labour has failed to put forward viable political and economic alternatives. Indeed, various labour leaders and unions pitched their tents with different candidates at both state and federal levels. The Nigeria Union of Teachers openly endorsed President Jonathan while NLC and TUC only strived to provide level playing ground for different sections of the thieving ruling elite by serving as election observers. No genuine effort was made to present working people political alternative. Besides, as Labour does not currently have an economic program that fundamentally opposed to capitalist neo-liberal program and PPP, hence there was no urge or seriousness for a working people political alternative.
Many youth and working people were active in the election out of genuine determination to ensure that Nigeria conducted an election within the realm of decency and decorum. This effort was not driven by an ideological persuasion. Some of these elements could become disillusioned as the neo-liberal attacks unleashed by the products of the “free and fair” elections become harsher and unbearable. Some of them could come into conclusion that while it is desirable to have a credible election, it takes more than that to move society forward. It is imperative to have a working peoples’ political alternative to win political power with aim of running governance and economy to guarantee adequate provision of social needs such as education, health care, decent jobs, decent housing, infrastructure, etc and ensure the meaningful development of society. However, to pave way for such conclusion it could require consistent propaganda work and intervention in the day-to-day struggles of working people by socialists, left forces and working class organisations.
The members of DSM, therefore, have to be prepared to play roles in the various struggles of the working people against monumental attacks in the coming period. We will have to continue to mount pressure on the leadership of Labour to be responsible and provide leadership in the struggles that could breakout in different sectors. Recently ASUU has given indication of another round of strike as a result of failure of the government to implement agreement on funding of university education. There is minimum wage struggle that is imminent across the country. Already, there is indication that the ACN governments in Oyo and Ogun will not implement agreement the outgoing PDP governments have signed with workers. The Ekiti state governor was among the first politicians to voice opposition to the new national minimum wage. We should call on labour leadership to commence the mass mobilization of workers and the public against the possible failure or refusal of most state governors to implement the new minimum wage. The demand must always include that no worker must lose his or her jobs on account of the minimum wage and that the minimum wage should be subject to regular increase in line with the rate of inflation.
The new minimum wage as implemented in Lagos appears to have some elements of subterfuge and fraud. Most workers have been made to forfeit some existing allowances in order to enjoy a new pay package based on new minimum wage. The details are still misty. For our propaganda and intervention on the subject, we need facts and figures. Therefore, our comrades working in the public sector have been given the task of unravelling the riddle.
It was agreed that it is imperative for DSM comrades to deepen our work in communities and workplaces and therefore well position ourselves among the working people in order to enhance the profile and building of the organization and the propagation of our ideas and programme. This has become more important as we have resolved to seek to register our own political party with INEC. The importance of DSM comrades having a party able to stand in elections was reiterated. If faced with the similar situation as obtained in 2011 election, where there was no political formation with which to intervene as we did with the NCP in 2003; our party would be useful to reach out to working people with socialist candidates and alternative.
It should be however re-emphasized that registering our own party does not foreclose our campaign for the formation of a fighting, mass working peoples’ political alternative armed with a socialist programme and method. We have to continue with our call on the leadership of labour and pro-masses’ organizations in this regards and seek to be active in the formation of such party. Besides, it should be stressed that having our own party does not mean that we have got the ultimate instrument to fix all the problems of working people politically and economically.
Lanre Arogundade introduced the discussion on international developments. He started by highlighting the post recession economic crisis in Europe and the United States. The rating of President Obama was low as a result of the economic situation that is fraught with public debts, budget deficits and high unemployment. It was the state assassination of Osama Bin Laden that changed the opinion polls and catapulted the ratings of Obama, at least for the time being.
Across the Europe it is austerity measures and neo-liberal attacks that dominate much of the economy as the ruling class strive to pay the public debt incurred from bailing out the big capitalists. Even where the economy has grown, like in Germany, real wages are being held down by a combination of low pay rises and inflation.
But workers and youths have not stood helplessly in the face of the attacks to make them pay for fraud and failure of capitalism. Britain has witnessed some of its biggest student movements and the largest mass workers’ demonstration in its history when over 500,000 protested in London on March 26. Greece is a country almost on a permanent mass protest. Getting inspiration from Middle East/North Africa, thousands of Spanish youths have recently camped for days in squares in Madrid and throughout the country protesting against unemployment and neo-liberal attacks. In February tens of thousands of workers in Wisconsin in US took to streets for workers to protest the attacks on their trade unions by the state government.
It is unfortunate that none of these movements have, as yet, led to formation of new mass workers party, run on a socialist program, that could have directed the mass angers to take over power, end capitalist neo-liberal attacks and ultimately defeat capitalism. But these are the first steps of protest.
The wave of mass movement that has gripped the Middle East and North Africa has not abated. Having claimed two autocrats, Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia, the movement has now attracted more vociferous repression from the leaders of Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya.
Already, the situation in Libya worsened by the intervention of world imperialist powers has degenerated to a civil war. Most of the youths that started the struggle have been relegated to the background while the former allies of Gaddafi have now taken over the initiative. The slogan of “no to imperialist intervention” has been replaced with hope in the imperialists for victory. The leaders in the West like Sarkozy of France and Cameron of Britain who have become highly unpopular at home as a result of neo-liberal attacks saw the situation in Libya as a means to boost their prospect in elections in their respective countries. While they claimed the intervention in Libya is to protect civilians, they have turned blind eye to similar repression of protests in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. Indeed, there was no condemnation of Saudi Arabia who moved tanks and troops to crush protesters in Bahrain.
Libya has the largest oil reserve in Africa. This factor no doubt accounts for the interest of imperialist powers in Libya. Gaddafi had apparently long prevented crazy exploitation of the oil resources of the country. Though in recent years before the Arab uprising, he had started opening up the economy with increasing oil contracts with oil multinationals and the privatization of some key sectors, his eccentricity has meant that he was not trusted to completely hand over the economy for exploitation. When the going was good Sarkozy, now the self-acclaimed “saviour” of Benghazi, and other western leaders visited Libya in order to strengthen tie with Gaddafi. Even Obama administration previously withdrew its ambassador to Libya because of his uncomplimentary remark on Gaddafi could endanger the American relationship with Gaddafi.
For all the revolutionary movements including Egypt and Tunisia where they have been able to topple dictators, the absence of revolutionary party of the working class schooled in socialist ideas and methods is one fundamental limitation of the Arab uprising. If this kind of party had been present in these events, it would have been possible to link the demands of the masses for democracy with the ultimate need to smash capitalism and transform society along socialist lines. It would have prevented the situation in Tunisia and Egypt where another sections of ruling elite or remnants of old regime are the beneficiaries of the movement in the sense that they in government. In Libya the movement would not have degenerated into civil war or created opportunity for imperialist power to exploit.
International Financial Appeal
In order to help the activity of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries N32, 200 was raised out of which a sum of N6, 400 was collected right at the meeting. Comrades promised to redeem the pledges by month end. Comrades present at the meeting were inspired by the movements in North Africa and Middle East and appreciated the work of CWI there, especially the inroads into Tunisia and Egypt, as it could increase our strenghtn in Africa and swell the forces of CWI. It was resolved that the DSM Secretariat should get other comrades who were not at the meeting to contribute to the appeal.