20th Anniversary of June 12
20th Anniversary of June 12
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. About 14 million Nigerians participated in the election, organized by the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida. Bashorun MKO Abiola, a capitalist multi-millionaire, turned politician, won on the platform of one of the two parties created and imposed on the country by the regime.
This action provoked mass struggles against the military government, which despite these, did not restore the mandate as the then ruling elite were afraid that the popular forces propelling Abiola into power might compel him to take radical measures against the system upon coming to power.
Supporters of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated in the struggle to restore the mandate but on the basis of demands against the continuation of military rule, for democratic rights, for the convocation of a sovereign national conference composed of and dominated by representatives of the working peoples across the nationalities, labour and youth groups, market women etc. to decide upon the country’s future and for a workers’ and farmers’ government that would lead the transformation of the country on the basis of a socialist plan that put the wealth of the society under the ownership and democratic management of the working masses.
The struggles to implement June 12 and against the military regime were a key milestone in the struggle for civil rule in Nigeria. So today it is now usual for everyone – from politicians to civil society activists – will be engaged in one activity or the other to mark this anniversary. Interestingly, about 5 states being ruled by the opposition ACN have declared a public holiday even though May 29 is the officially recognised democracy day. Unfortunately as with many great events in history, June 12 is another historic struggle of the labouring masses whose remembrance sections of the ruling elites are now jostling to identify with in order to water down its significance.
For many of the working masses and youths, the June 12 election was an opportunity to oust despotic and corrupt military rule and usher in a democratic dispensation that would deliver much needed socio-economic justice. The annulment of the election provoked such a massive movement of the working masses, urban and rural poor, involving far more than actually voted, that the seemingly impregnable Babangida military regime had to hurriedly resign. Between 1993 and 1998, the battle repeatedly raged on the streets from Lagos to the East and the North.
However despite the heroism of the youths and poor masses, the betrayal of the leadership of the trade union centre (Nigeria Labour Congress) meant that the organised working class was not able to play a central leading role in the struggle. The leadership of the struggle thereby fell on civil society organisations â€“ who were dominated by petty bourgeois elements and so-called progressive sections of the civilian bourgeoisie who could not fully represent the class interests of the Nigerian working class and poor. As a result, the poor masses and youths while fighting hard to chase out the military could not formulate an independent plan or programme on the type of civilian democratic government that should replace the military.
As the DSM argued then, while supporting the call for the de-annulment of June 12 and the return of MKO Abiola’s mandate, the only post-military government that could meet the desires of the working masses, poor and youth for a better life was a democratic socialist government formed by the working masses themselves. For this to happen, we called for the building of a working class and poor masses’ political party that could defend the class interest of the labouring masses in the anti-military struggle as well as under a post-military MKO Abiola-led capitalist government.
Unfortunately no section of the labour movement and only a few within the civil society movement were prepared to support this strategy which meant that at the critical stage of the struggle, the initiative was left in the hands of the civilian bourgeois elements who were merely tagging along the June 12 struggle for their own selfish desire to rule Nigeria. This limitation was fundamental to the outcome of the struggle eventually in 1999 when the military bowed out. Instead of the workers and poor taking charge of Nigeria, 1999 ushered in a democracy of looters in civilian garbs including many erstwhile friends of the military, retired military generals and dubious “heroes” of democracy who played absolutely no serious role in the struggle.
Frank Kokori, the leader of NUPENG who led a prolonged strike of petroleum workers during the June 12 struggle confirmed as much in an interview yesterday (June 9, 2013) in The Nation newspaper titled: “June 12 Fighters Have Lost Out”.
He said, “Nigerians who were in their comfort zones are those ruling you today. The capitalist bourgeoisies took advantage of the freedom and lunched themselves to power. They could not come out to do things that we did. And unfortunately for us in this part of the world, when the political whistle was blown to start political activities they in their comfort zones who hobnobbed with the military to launch themselves to power. They had made corrupt and stupendous wealth; they now have the money to throw around because the people are so poor. The people were easily manipulated by them. The civil society that went into the struggle was not even as organised as people thought. They were not organised to take over the governance and when the whistle was blown they were in disarray. The bourgeoisies who were more organised took over governance”.
Today 20 years on, almost all the hope and aspirations of June 12 have vanished. All the parties in power (including the opposition parties like ACN supposedly formed by the “heroes” of June 12 struggle) are carrying out vicious neo-liberal austerity policies, corruption and looting on such a scale never witnessed under the military. There is so much disillusionment in government and politicians today such that a few are even beginning to contemplate “military rule” again as a possible solution. This feeling is not just being voiced among some youth, but also among some from the older generation who should still remember the horrors of military despotism.
It is a sign of the current confusion in consciousness that a former despotic military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, is being promoted by a section of the opposition as the “change Nigeria needs” and this is gaining echo among a section of youth.
The fact that more and more, the so-called civilian democratic government now rely directly on the military to maintain law and order as we saw last year in the struggle against fuel subsidy removal and presently in the so-called war on terrorism in the North, continues to create the impression that only the military could guarantee stability. Nigeria today is by all means under a civilian dictatorship led by civilian President Jonathan wielding militaristic powers. The most basic democratic rights are being trampled with impunity! But any military intervention will not fundamentally solve the problems, under the current framework neo-liberal economic policies; hence the need for the working masses to work towards taking over power in their own interests.
But as anger continues to build against the neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of the government and the capitalist system, more movement bigger in scale and depth than the June 12 struggle are bound to break out. Last year’s movement against fuel subsidy removal is a pointer to this. But for a new wave of mass struggles to succeed, activists and socialists must learn the most important lesson of the June 12 struggle should be that an independent political party of the working masses is urgently needed. This is why the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) is building the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN).
The statement below published on the 10th anniversary of June 12 is being republished (slightly edited) to again bring home especially to the new generation now active in struggle the real lessons of June 12.
LESSONS OF JUNE 12
By Lanre Arogundade
Commemorative events have again been held to mark the anniversary of the June 12 1993 presidential election that was subsequently annulled by the then military dictatorship headed by General Ibrahim Babangida.
Unlike previous occasions, however, this year’s 10th anniversary was largely a seminar affair, confined as it was to hotels and other cozy environments, where different shades of so-called activists, delivered speeches. Some of these speakers actually collaborated with the military to embrace the transition programme that was hurriedly put together after the cancellation of the election even while claiming to stand by the June 12 mandate. The Campaign for Democracy (CD), a human rights group that played a leading role in the June struggle in 1993 did call a rally, but rank and file workers, youths, students and the unemployed, poorly attended it.
The working class majority could as well have been protesting the fact that their role in the struggle to actualise the June 12 mandate is often downplayed while class collaborators and others who enjoyed life in exile are often recognised or deified as the heroes of democracy by the capitalist media.
Bourgeois historians of June 12 for example hardly mention the prolonged strike embarked upon by the petroleum workers with the major demand being the recognition of the June 12 election and the swearing in of Chief MKO Abiola as president. The then leaders of the petroleum workers, including Frank Kokori and Wariebe Agamene, were detained for several months while their families were terrorised. The rank and file was not spared the military regime’s brutalisation. And several workers, students, youths and the unemployed were killed on the streets of Lagos and other places on the orders of the rampaging military regimes of first General Babangida and General Sani Abacha.
Yet, it was the militant strikes, street protests, rallies, stay-at-homes, etc, in which socialists organised around the DSM actively participated that invariably compelled the military to organise the transition program that led to the return of civil rule in 1999. A major lesson here is that without the working class majority playing a central and leading role in the struggles of the urban and rural poor as well as the youths and the unemployed, only very limited concessions could be won from the capitalists class.
As it happened in 1999, the military government fashioned transition program only led to the emergence of three capitalist parties PDP, APP (now ANPP), AD (now ACN) that have jointly, between 1999 and now, further compounded the problems of the working class and youth through the imposition of such capitalist anti-poor policies as privatisation/commercialisation of public utilities, education, increase in the price of fuel, retrenchment of workers, etc.
FREE AND FAIR?
Though it is often said that June 12 remains the freest and fairest elections in Nigeria’s history, this fact must be put within proper perspective and historical context. First, the idea of an election being free and fair is not just a question of whether or not votes were manipulated. It is also a function of whether the process and rules are open and democratic enough to have allowed all segments of society especially the working class to participate through independent political organisations of their own. In that context, the Babangida transition was manipulated in such a way that the working masses had imposed on them two capitalist parties, SDP and NRC, that were in reality two sides of the same coin. The names, manifestoes, offices, funds and what have you of the parties all came from the military regime.
The major fear that gripped the ruling class in not allowing Bashorun MKO Abiola to become President was because of the popular movement that later built around the June 12 mandate and one that they feared could compel him to take populist measures like halting, delaying or reversing some of the neo-liberal policies like privatisation, commercialisation, etc. Beyond this, it was very unlikely that an Abiola capitalist government could have fundamentally threatened capitalism or allowed the democratic control and management of the economy by the working class.
But given the mass movement that built around the June 12 struggle, it was difficult for Abiola to surrender the mandate. He held on to it and was killed while still being detained by the military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar. His courage and heroism stood him out and for long would be revered as a symbol of democratic struggle in Nigeria.
Ten years after, the Nigerian ruling classes have been unable to organise an election better than that of June 12. The massive rigging that characterised the 2003 elections was worse than that of 1999 and has caused questions to be asked as to whether a revolutionary change of society can come through elections.
For socialists, however, elections are but a means to an end and not an end in itself. Even where a working class political organisation or the one it supports like the National Conscience Party (NCP), comes into power, it must of necessity quickly take measures against the capitalists, primarily through nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers democratic management and control in order to free the resources necessary to carry out fundamental reforms in the areas of job creation, payment of living wages to match the rate of inflation, education, healthcare, provision of infrastructure etc. This will go along with a class appeal to the working class allies, locally peasants and farmers, youths and the unemployed and the international working class, to defend the government against attacks and sabotage by local capitalists and their foreign imperialist backers who, though, are in the minority, appropriate or pocket the largest share of the wealth produced by the working class majority.
The process of such a political organisation coming into power would require the mobilisation and support of the organisations of the working masses and youths such as labour, the trade unions, the students unions etc. That is why socialists and working class and youth activists must link the struggle for reforms with the struggle to transform such groups as Nigeria Labour Congress, the industrial unions, the National Association of Nigerian Students etc into fighting revolutionary organisations that are armed with socialist programmes and perspectives.