2015 ELECTION POSTPONEMENT: A DISTURBING SIGN OF INCREASED MILITARY’S ROLE IN NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY
2015 ELECTION POSTPONEMENT: A DISTURBING SIGN OF INCREASED MILITARY’S ROLE IN NIGERIA’S DEMOCRACY
A Warning to the Working and Toiling Masses to Be Prepared for a Possible Truncation of Civil Rule
By HT Soweto
Member, National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
Despite the overwhelming popular desire for change, the unfortunate fact is that whenever the 2015 general elections hold, the outcome will not lead to fundamental improvement in the conditions of the working class, youth and poor masses. This is because of the absence of a mass working class political alternative that offers real change, and the fact that the leading political parties and candidates contending for various elective positions are simply different sides of the same capitalist coin.
Nevertheless, socialists, activists and the entire labour movement must without equivocation condemn last Saturday’s announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of the postponement of the 2015 general elections consisting of the Presidential/National Assembly elections and the Governorship/State legislative assembly elections. From the originally scheduled dates of Saturday, February 14 and Saturday February 28, 2015, the respective elections are now expected to hold on Saturday 28 March 2015 and 11 April 2015.
In condemning the poll shift, we do not invest any illusion in the ability of the impending elections to avert the disaster threatening the country. Rather we defend the right to free and fair democratic elections which are being threatened by the scheming and manipulations of the discredited and unpopular capitalist government of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Given the widespread suspicion that this is an attempt to manipulate the constitution to prolong the life of a regime that already fears possible defeat in election resting on claims made by the Military tops to the effect that they could not guarantee security during the elections; this postponement represents a real threat to democratic rights. There is every reason to fear that this may be just one act in a sinister process aided, consciously or unconsciously, by a desperate President Jonathan and the sections of capitalist ruling elites around him that may lead inexorably to military usurpation of political power once again. Already a close aide to President Jonathan reportedly tweeted recently to general uproar that they would rather see the military take power than for President Jonathan’s major contender, Muhammadu Buhari to win the election.
The announcement for election postponement came after weeks of high wired scheming by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the presidency aimed at forcing a postponement first by accusing INEC of unpreparedness and later on claiming insecurity as an excuse. On Thursday 5 February 2015, as the Council of States met to consider postponement, a group led by President Jonathan’s kinsman, Chief Edwin Clark, organized a press conference where calls were made for the resignation of INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. All this occurred in the shadows of persistent calls by a section of the ruling elite for an Interim National Government (ING) to be set up in the immediate period until it is guaranteed that election can hold without violence.
According to the INEC Chairman, the electoral body was “substantially ready” for the conduct of elections as originally scheduled but for the service chiefs who had claimed not to be in a position to provide security for electoral officials and materials. According to Jega, “Last Wednesday, which was a day before the Council of State meeting, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) wrote a letter to the commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four Northeast states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections. This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday where the NSA and all the Armed Services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the Security Services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the Northeast; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the Police and other agencies during elections” (Premium Times February 7, 2015).
Consequently, “No matter the extent of INEC’s preparedness, therefore, if the security of personnel, voters, election observers and election materials cannot be guaranteed, the life of innocent young men and women as well the prospects of free, fair, credible and peaceful elections would be greatly jeopardized”.
It should be stressed that the claim of the INEC that it was ready for the election ahead of the originally scheduled date of February 14 was not correct given the evidence on the ground. Before the election was postponed, about 20 million electors had not got their permanent voter cards (PVC). There was also report that the ad hoc staff that would have been used for the conduct of the elections had not been properly trained. Therefore, if the elections had gone ahead as originally scheduled they would have been hardly credible and fair.
SHIFTING THE GOAL POST
But the official reason given for the election postponement is laughable. It is only a convenient excuse to possibly prolong the life of a discredited government. For 6 years, the President Jonathan’s government and the military failed to deal with the insurgency. This is together with its failure in all other facets of live be it education, health, electricity, road infrastructure, job creation and the management of the economy. Instead, during this period Boko Haram operations grew to such a monstrous extent that about 20 local governments in three states of the Northeast are now firmly in their control while some 13,000 lives have been lost and over 1.5 million internally displaced. Over 200 girls abducted by the insurgents since last year are yet to be found more than 300 days after and despite the deployment of security personnel, drones and other war equipment by imperialist countries like the United States etc., to assist the Nigerian military. Now the same government that has failed so woefully is requesting six (6) weeks to accomplish what it could not do in six (6) years.
First and foremost, Socialists contend that just for the reason adduced above, the working masses must condemn the postponement of the elections. This is because the government’s failure to rein in Boko Haram is one of the most embarrassing features of President Jonathan’s presidency for which many would like to kick him out of power. Indeed the electioneering campaign has been dominated by debate over the Boko Haram insurgency. Therefore if election is conducted today and President Jonathan is defeated, it would not just be because of his failure in curbing corruption and delivering the so-called dividends of civil rule. Boko Haram will be one of the major factors that will determine how many people would vote. Therefore asking that elections be postponed so that the government can now try to deal with an insurgency it left to thrive for more than six years and for which it might lose its re-election is as vexatious as an attempt by a referee to shift the goal post in the middle of a football match.
Secondly, it is not at all certain that a government that failed to curb an insurgency for six years would be able to accomplish much in six weeks. It is true that a multinational force of 8, 700 soldiers contributed by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger is being hastily put together, with the support of the African Union (AU), to deal with the insurgency. However, this will not necessarily detract from the fact that one of the major undoing of the government in the war against insurgency is low morale in the rank of the army as a result of poor equipment, wages and allowances as well as anger over abandonment of dead and wounded soldiers and their relatives. There is also anger at perceived corruption of the military top brass as well as the undemocratic top-down command structure of the army which treats rank and file soldiers on the frontline as guinea pigs rather than active participants in decision making as to questions of strategies, tactics etc. This combined with the complete lack of enthusiasm by the general populace in a capitalist government that has failed to equitably distribute the enormous wealth of Nigeria to improve the living standards of the mass majority has led to a general feeling among the ranks of soldiers that no purpose is served if they lose their lives in the war.
THE SCEPTRE OF MILITARY COUP
Therefore, there is the frightening possibility that after six weeks and in spite of the best efforts of the multinational force, the Boko Haram insurgency would still be far from over such that the question of elections holding would be a foregone conclusion. If this happens, then Nigeria would be placed on the brink of a very major disaster. To be sure, INEC would still have constitutional right to reschedule the date after the six weeks elapses. The elections must be held not later than 30 days before May 29 which is the expiration of the term of office of the President Jonathan, most state governors and all members of the national and state assemblies. In other words, the INEC still has the grace until April 29 to conclude the conduct of all elections.
However, if elections become impossible after six-weeks of a major multinational military offensive against Boko Haram, it would most likely mean that the insurgency has further escalated. In this case, section 135(3) of the constitution can then be “legitimately” but questionably invoked by the government to prolong its lifespan through some form of an Interim Government renewable every six months. Section 135 (3) reads: “If the Federation is at war in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved and the President considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly may by resolution extend the period of four years mentioned in subsection (2) of this section from time to time, but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time”. However if this happens, Nigeria would be entering into a period of chronic instability and prolonged crises. The first and only time that Nigeria had an interim Government under Chief Ernest Shonekan between 26, August, 1993 and November 1993, it was no more than a brief interregnum between one military regime and the next as the then Late General Sanni Abacha Junta merely took power in a palace coup.
In the current scenario under examination, an Interim Government would most likely be headed by President Jonathan – a figure already popularly detested. We make bold to say that such an Interim Government would have no point of support among the masses and would be extremely short-lived. It can either be toppled by a revolutionary uprising of the working masses or lead to yet another military usurpation of power, possibly behind a civilian smokescreen. The first option is certainly the most desirable, but would depend on how struggles unfold and which policies they are based upon. However and unfortunately, in the absence of a far-sighted leadership of the labour movement that can unite the working masses, youth and poor to, in the event of the above, forcefully put an end to the government through general strikes and nationwide mass protests, a mass movement may result in the calling of new elections. But with the current parties, elections on their own would not be a solution, as without a clear working class voice the danger would be that the aftermath of an Interim Government would be greater ethnic and religious tensions. This would be an even greater danger if there are no mass movements. The formation of an Interim Government could provoke a breakout of ethnic and religious crises leading to the possibility of the military taking over in an open coup at one point or the other with all the consequences that entails.
Thirdly, even if we contemplate the possibility of a military crushing of Boko Haram, this will not fundamentally bring lasting peace to the Northeast or any part of the country. We will not fail to continually stress that Boko Haram insurgency is a product of the unresolved National Question as well as perceived injustice in the distribution of the Nation’s enormous wealth which has served to make billionaires out of a tiny circle of ruling elites from all the ethnic groups and nationalities in Nigeria while making misery of the life of the vast majority of the working class, youth and poor masses in all parts of the country. Little surprise that Boko Haram’s army of destruction is primarily made up of thousands of alienated youths of the North otherwise known as almajiri who had been denied education, job and practically the right to live and had been existing on the margins of society. Therefore, even if militarily crushed, it would only be a temporary reprieve. For as long as the capitalist system that engenders mass poverty in the midst of abundance exists, Nigeria will never be free from ethno-religious crises, instability and insurgency.
However the timing of this military operation especially at the point when the regime has lost all credibility will only further reinforce the cynicism of the public and the feeling that this government is desperate to improve its image before allowing an election to hold. So therefore if for instance, the multinational force is able to contain Boko Haram within the space of 6-weeks, it may not improve Jonathan’s chances in the election. Instead it might reinforce the belief that President Jonathan had deliberately neglected the war on terror or willingly prosecuted it haphazardly because it affects a section of the country, the North, whose ruling elite believes it is now their turn to rule Nigeria as a result of a zoning formula of the ruling PDP and also a zone with little or no electoral support for him.
In the unfolding scenario, the bourgeois opposition of the All Progressive Congress (APC) will prove incapable of defending democratic rights not to talk of liberating the working and toiling masses from the perennial crisis of mass poverty in the midst of abundance engendered by capitalism. The fact is that the APC or its presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari does not genuinely represent the interests and aspiration of the working masses. This perhaps explains while responding to the election postponement Buhari and APC called for “calm” and “restraint” in order to hide their inability to mobilize a genuine nationwide mass protest against the postponement of the election.
But the reality is that what is vital and urgently needed now to ensure that the new rescheduled dates for the elections are sacrosanct is the mass mobilization of the people in peaceful and organized mass demonstration nationwide to sound a warning to the government not to toy with the idea of an Interim Government and any military adventurer not to dare think of taking power. Faced with a government that is increasingly employing the military to prop itself up, only the mass mobilization of the working people and youth can begin to compel the government to reconsider whatever sinister agenda it has.
What the APC appears to be banking on is the support it has now garnered from imperialism, notably the United States government. Notable officials of the US government have expressed favorable opinion towards Buhari and there is an obvious shift in the Western media against President Jonathan. There may be an expectation among Buhari’s supporters that somehow imperialism can put pressure on the government. Unfortunately going by its own recent experiences in Iraq and the Middle East, there is little imperialism can do in terms of directly intervening in the domestic affairs of sovereign Nations. Only the independent actions of the working and poor masses can force the government out.
Here we must stress that events are beginning to share some similarity, although not entirely, with the annulment of the June 12 general elections by the Ibrahim Babangida Junta and the same manner the bourgeois opposition led by the acclaimed winner of the election M.K.O Abiola also appealed for calm. Even when the masses hit the street in protest and demonstration in the days following the annulment, Abiola went on record to have denounced the protesters instead putting his faith in imperialism to install him in power. It took Abiola a whole year to declare himself as President in the famous Epetedo declaration in 1994 but by this time it was already too late. He was simply arrested and clamped in prison from which he never returned. Eventually it was the strikes, mass protests and demonstrations undertaken by the working masses and youth and their organizations that succeeded in forcing out the military junta in 1999, not the economic sanctions of imperialist countries.
Fear of the masses embarking on protests and demonstrations even for demands that will benefit the bourgeois opposition is a general characteristic of bourgeois opposition not just in Nigeria but everywhere. And the reason is simple. The bourgeois often instinctively fears that if it is put in power on the basis of the struggle of the masses, it would have to be subjected to the will and interest of those same masses in terms of government policies throughout its tenure. This would mean that such a government could be compelled to act against the interest of capitalism by taking far reaching measures to develop society through social programs of free education, health, increasing the minimum wage, massive investment in job creation, reversing privatization etc.
THE ROLE OF IMPERIALISM
Suffice to stress that in supporting Buhari, the United States and other imperialist countries are merely supporting a wing of the ruling elite that has the most chance to win and sustain the capitalist system; and not necessarily because they disagree with President Jonathan’s economic and political policies of the last six years. Recall that during the controversy over late President Yar’ Adua’s health and subsequently in the 2011 general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan was equally the beautiful bride of imperialism. Perhaps, more than any other regimes, President Jonathan has been a loyal servant of imperialism both in terms of domestic and foreign policies. President Goodluck Jonathan went farther than past regimes in fulfilling the fundamental demands of imperialism for neo-liberal policies in terms of wholesale privatization of electricity and other key sectors of the economy. Under Jonathan’s presidency the effort to further hand over the oil industry to private interests and multinational oil companies through the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) received further boost. This is together with his regime’s relentless effort to ply former Niger Delta militants with all kinds of handouts, contracts and largesse in order to keep peace in the region so that oil exploration and export by oil companies can go on unhindered.
In terms of foreign policy, Jonathan pandered to the interests of imperialism. In opposition to countries like South Africa, President Jonathan supported the imperialist invasion of Libya and the toppling of Gaddafi. It is a sort of punishment for President Jonathan’s slavish tie to imperialist interests that the fall of Gaddafi’s regime led to the flow of arms and mercenaries to Africa and consequently to the sophistication of Boko Haram and the deterioration of the insurgency. So naturally, he should have been the favored candidates of imperialism once more. However imperialism always places the interest of capitalism above any other. Therefore faced with the possibility of Jonathan’s defeat, it is no surprise that imperialism has switched side to Buhari whom they see as the “least awful” but yet still capable of being loyal to the interest of capitalism.
ONLY THE WORKING CLASS AND POOR MASSES CAN SAVE NIGERIA
Therefore in the fight to defend democratic rights the working class and poor masses will have to rely on their own strength alone. The issue has gone beyond the narrow electoral interests of Buhari and the APC. The issue now is about defending the right to election and preventing the prolongation of the lifespan of the President Jonathan’s government beyond May 29, 2015 through manipulation of the constitution and the pretext of the war against insurgency.
The DSM and SPN hereby call on the labour movement to openly condemn the postponement of the election and call for a one-day nationwide mass protest to warn against any attempt to truncate the current civil rule. But this must be linked to an economic and social programme for change as well as the working class defence of democratic rights so it can use them in its struggle, and without promoting the illusion in Buhari. Without this approach the working masses may not see the point of defending elections whose result does not bring meaningful improvement. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) must particularly use the protest to unite the working masses across ethnic and religious divides especially given the acutely charged ethno-religious fault lines as a result of the capitalist politicians (from both the PDP and APC) relentless poking at these open sores throughout the period of the electioneering campaign.
Sadly, we must point out again that at whatever time election holds, the working class and poor masses have no fundamental thing to gain despite the anti-corruption garb put on Buhari. This is because, at the end of the day, both Buhari and Jonathan subscribe to the same neo-liberal system of capitalism which is the fundamental cause of Nigeria’s backwardness and mass poverty. Even one of the major mouthpieces of world capitalism, The Economist, described Buhari as “the least awful”! This confirms what we have repeatedly emphasized that this election is nothing but a choice between six and half a dozen. Therefore the palpable yearning of the mass of the working people and youth for change, which is clearly manifested in this election, will be grossly disappointed regardless of who wins.
For the working masses to be at a vantage point politically to effect real and thoroughgoing change in Nigeria’s political and economic system, there is the urgent need for the labour movement to form and build a new mass workers political party that is committed to the ideas of socialism as a counterweight to the ideas of capitalism embraced by all the mainstream political parties. Such a party could cut across the ethnic and religious divides that many of the existing parties exploit. It is to promote the agitation for an alternative political party of the working masses that the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) spearheaded the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). Unfortunately INEC refused to register the party despite meeting all requirements prescribed by the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended) which is why we are unable to participate and offer a real credible socialist alternative in this election.
While we are still in court challenging INEC’s undemocratic refusal of our application for registration, the urgency of a mass working class political alternative, especially in the unfolding perilous situation in Nigeria, must not be delayed any longer. The labour movement leading the entire working class, youth and poor masses of Nigeria have an historical responsibility to rise to the occasion of providing a clear way forward otherwise Nigeria will soon be plunged into nightmare.