QUEST FOR WORKING CLASS POLITICAL PARTY: Mass Campaign Needed To Win Genuine and Democratic Electora
QUEST FOR WORKING CLASS POLITICAL PARTY: Mass Campaign Needed To Win Genuine and Democratic Electoral Process
By Ayo Ademiluyi
Most people will readily agree that Nigerian working masses need a political party of their own. This does not come as a surprise as none of the registered political parties (PDP, ACN, CPC, ANPP, APGA etc.) represent the true interest of the mass of workers, youth and poor masses. Even when Labour leaders like Adams Oshiomhole stand for one of these parties they do not fundamentally change the party’s character.
As the general strike and mass struggle in January demonstrates, all these political parties subscribe to the same neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of privatization which has created devastation in the living standards of the people.
The mass majority of workers and poor in Nigeria desire genuine change but unfortunately there is no registered political party that represents that. To provide a political vehicle with which the working masses can wrest political power from the looters and bandits in power, the DSM as well as several activists in the labour movement has been involved for years now in a campaign for the formation of a mass workers political party. However given the current undemocratic electoral framework in Nigeria, poor and working masses are literally shut out from politics.
As the experience of the legal and political battle the National Conscience Party (NCP) fought before it could be registered shows, unless there is a decisive struggle to break the barriers against party registration and heavy monetization of the electoral process, the chances of a party of the poor and working masses being able to satisfy the litany of undemocratic requirements is very slim indeed.
A brief examination of some of the electoral laws suffices to show how remotely far from a democracy Nigeria is. According to section 222 of Nigeria’s constitution, a person shall not be eligible to be registered as a member of political association seeking to be registered as a political party if he/she:
(i) is a member of the public service of the federation or of a state as defined by the Constitution
(ii) is a member of the armed forces of the federation or of the Nigeria Police Force or security and paramilitary organs of the government.
The implication of this is that a section of organized working class as well as police men and soldiers who bear the brunt of vicious political decisions of the ruling elite cannot chose to join a political party of their choice. But they have the right to vote! Is that not strange? You have the right to vote but you do not have the right to join a political party. This is the democracy of the rich against the poor!
They pretend this is to keep the state “neutral”, but in reality it is aimed at keeping ruling class control over the state machine and trying to prevent radical parties, especially a socialist one, campaigning amongst rank and file public sector workers or security personnel.
It is part of a systematic mass disenfranchisement to keep the different sections of the capitalist elite and their parties in power. Aside many undemocratic and unconstitutional provisions in the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the 1999 Constitution itself is full of many undemocratic provisions which impose cumbersome and undemocratic conditions that political associations must satisfy before they are registered as parties.
While preventing workers from joining a political party, there are more undemocratic prescriptions meant to make it impossible or difficult to form and register a political party devoted to defending the interests of the masses. According to section 222 to 224 of the 1999 constitution as amended and the electoral act 2011, the following are the conditions for party registration:
(I) Names, signatures, thumbprints, dates of joining, residential addresses of registered voters in at least 24 states of the federation and FCT who are members of the association and do not belong to any other political party or any other political association.
(ii) The address of its headquarters at Abuja and the addresses of its offices, list of its staff, list of its operational equipment and furniture in at least 24 states of the federation.
(iii) A provision that the members or other governing bodies and administrative personnel at the national level reflect the federal character principle of the Constitution of the Federal Republic;
The implication of these conditions is that only capitalist elements that are in possession of looted funds will be able to register a political party in Nigeria. This explains while none of the registered political parties represents the true interests of the masses.
More often than not these parties by the logic of the provisions of the electoral acts are mere vehicles to propel people to power in order to satisfy their own selfish interests. It could not have been otherwise because the electoral laws invest in the process a cash-and-carry mentality. For instance, the electoral laws do not want political parties to start small and gradually, through the acceptance of their program, grow to become a national party. So to register a political party, you must have the sponsorship of moneybag politicians who can fund the process. This is the implication of these electoral conditions.
Meanwhile this goes contrary to the experience in other parts of the world. In some countries there are political parties that for years remain at local level from which they build their positions gradually until they become a national party. For instance, 24 states of 36 states of the federation in which a party seeking registration must have registered members is a huge two thirds. For a genuine party of the people, this is a herculean task. But for capitalist elements, this is no problem because all they have to do is to hand out cash to mobilize people and just like that, registered voters will be manufactured out of thin air.
The same goes for the condition that the parties’ headquarters must be located in Abuja as well as 24 states federation. Meanwhile to rent or buy a building in Abuja (the showpiece Federal Capital) as a party’s national headquarter will require several millions of Naira. This is no big deal for money bag politicians but for worker activists and left groups struggling to build a political alternative, this is a big hurdle.
FALSE SENSE OF UNITY
Section 223 (1) (b) requires officers of a party to reflect federal character and other parties “in name, symbol or logo must not contain any ethnic or religious connotation or give the appearance that the activities of an association are confined to a part of the geographical area of Nigeria” (Section 222(e)).
Why can’t parties be formed for the purpose of struggle for self-determination as otherwise purported by Section 222 of the Constitution? In Canada, the main Quebec separatist party (Parti quÃ©bÃ©cois) was formed to champion the independence of the French speaking Quebec from Canada and it is the second largest party in Quebec plus there are several Quebec separatists in the federal parliament. While socialists stand for the building of a working peoples’ party and the separation of the state from religion we do not oppose, should they wish it, religious groups forming parties. In India, the BJP, currently the second largest, preaches Hinduism. Rather than attempt to suppress ethnic and religious differences, they must be accepted as realities of a plural society and they should be freely expressed. It should be left for the electorate to accept or reject the parties on the basis of their program and orientation. We socialists will however campaign and agitate among the working people with a program, policies and strategies that unites the working masses irrespective of religious and ethnic divide, using that to pose an alternative to the right wing bourgeois political parties whose politics is divisive and anti-poor.
This section of the electoral laws is based on the notion that by completely suppressing people from organizing political parties along religious or ethnic lines, Nigeria’s unity can be guaranteed. This is only a false sense of unity as the daily ethno-religious violence shows. The best way to undermine religious fundamentalism and sectarian violence is for Nigeria’s resources to be used to guarantee improvement in people’s living standards while also granting all ethnic nationalities the democratic rights to freely decide whether to separate or remain in one Nigeria.
Socialists defend the values of multi-party democracy which allows everyone to express his or her own political opinion up to the extent of forming a political party. Unfortunately as Nigeria shows, the capitalists – the very authors of “multi-party democracy” â€“ do not believe in it when it does not help their interest.
Socialists believe that people must be given the full freedom to register a political party even if the party will only be visible in their own local government or wards alone. We also believe in individual candidacy and the rights of workers in public and private sector as well as members of the police and armed forces to join and play active roles in political parties of their choice.
WE CAN SURMOUNT THE ODDS
This plethora of electoral restrictions has made many activists to conclude that it is impossible to successfully register and build a party of workers and poor. Some even say if such a party is registered at all, it cannot win because of the heavy monetization of the electoral process.
But this is not true. While it is going to be difficult yet it is possible and inevitable. Without a party that defends the workers and poor, Nigeria will continue for a long time in this vicious cycle of one anti-poor government after another.
However, for a workers’ party to beat these undemocratic restrictions, activists must be prepared to campaign vigorously among the working masses against these undemocratic electoral laws and demand their immediate repeal. This would take building mass pressure in form of pickets, court actions and protest rallies to raise mass awareness and fight for these aims. All this would have to unfold alongside building the workers party itself by calling for membership and unfurling its political and economic manifesto among workers, youth and poor masses.