2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS: A FARCE IN THE OFFING
Only a government of Workers and Poor Formed on a Socialist Programme can Guarantee the Reconstruction of Society in the Interests of Working People
By Abbey Trotsky
Barring any last-minute changes, the 2023 general elections will be taking place against the background of economic, political and social crisis currently bedeviling the country and an obvious absence of a mass working people political party that could have served as a rallying point for workers, youth and poor. Going by this background, and the huge amounts demanded by parties for nomination and ‘Expression of Interest’ forms, it means the election will only be dominated by pro-capitalist politicians and their political parties. This will mean the continuation of the multifaceted economic hardship, social tension and other crisis of capitalism the mass of the working people are going through at this present time.
Suffice to stress however that, given the instability and crisis Nigeria faces, it is not at all 100% certain the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Last minute postponement or suspension is possible. Alongside this is the possibility of a military coup or a form of Interim Government. Nonetheless, the task expected of the labour movement particularly the leadership of trade unions centers, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) is to commence the process of organizing and mobilizing the Nigeria working people in preparation for a formidable resistance against the inevitable post 2023 election economic nightmare and linked to the formation of a pro-working people political party armed with a socialist programme to conquer political power and begin to reconstruct the society in the interest of workers, youth and poor.
DEEPENED NIGHTMARE IN THE MIDST OF HOPE
Despite several reports of exit of the Nigeria economy from recession and the economic growth of 3.6% in 2021 including a steady decline in inflation from the height of 18.12% to 15.99%, the working people face serious economic hardship with the price of staple food including prices of gas and other basic necessities rising above 50 percent in the last one year.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), over 45 percent of the population which is equivalent to 90 million people currently live in poverty. This is against the figure of 43.1 million Nigerians who were reported to be in poverty in 2015 when the Buhari-led government came to power. Unemployment has also risen from 27.1% it used to be in 2015 to 33.3% with 42% of youth unemployment. Besides, most Nigerians lack access to basic infrastructure and amenities like electricity, safe and drinking water, improved sanitation let alone good hospitals, roads etc.
The ongoing industrial action embarked upon by all workers’ unions across Nigeria’s public universities and the threat of strike by academic staff across Nigeria’s public polytechnics are just a manifestation of the crisis of chronic underfunding of public education.
Despite all of the initial promises made by Muhammadu Buhari and illusion invested in him being a General and former Military Head of State, the activities of the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram/ ISWAP insurgents in the North East are still well pronounced. Banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, herders/farmer conflict, ritual killings and armed robbery including separatist violence especially in the South East have become regular occurrences across the country. Boko Haram insurgency in the North East alone has claimed over 350,000 lives with over 2.4million being displaced. Between January and June, 2021, bandits have killed over 952 people while over a thousand were kidnapped though expected to be released if they are able to pay ransom. The tragic attack on the March 28, 2022 by terrorists on a Kaduna-bound 950 capacity train which had many Nigerians killed, injured or kidnapped is an indication of a deteriorating nature of insecurity across the country.
Violent conflict between herdsmen and farmers which obviously has its root in the diminishing resources like water and land has degenerated to Fulani banditry. It has resulted in nothing less than 19,000 lives lost, millions of the working people driven away from their sources of livelihoods with more than two million currently stranded in internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Alongside the crisis of insecurity is the unresolved national question. This has worsened substantially especially in the last 7 years of the Buhari-led Federal government. There has been a renewed agitation in the last four years of the Buhari-led government for separation, Biafra state in South East and Oduduwa Republic in the South West of the country respectively.
The repressive response of the government to all of these agitations has led to an emergence of different armed groups often dubbed as ‘unknown gunmen’ particularly in the South Eastern part of the country. The situation in the South East today is so volatile and unpredictable such that IPOB and ESN initially leading this agitation seem not to be in firm control any longer. The weekly sit at home order often enforced every Monday, initially declared by IPOB as a means of campaigning for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, has continued to be enforced long after IPOB has officially dissociated itself from the sit at home order and its attendant horrendous atrocities, intimidation and killings of innocent citizens.
NO HOPE IN PRO-CAPITALIST POLITICIANS AND THEIR POLITICAL PARTIES
The build up to the 2023 general election have clearly shown that the elections will definitely be dominated by All Progressive Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their pro-capitalist candidates.
A good number of the political parties approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to participate in the election, including the misnamed Labour Party, have either been in power one time or the other since the inception of civil rule in 1999 or subscribed to the ruinous capitalist policies of privatization, deregulation and commercialization of social services like public education. This shows that a government formed by any of these political parties will be out to implement and defend all of the above stated ruinous capitalist policies which have been proven to be the root cause of the multifaceted socio-economic crisis bedeviling the working people and the country at large. Also radical candidates like Omoyele Sowore who has declared to run again for President in the 2023 general elections, face even greater hurdles than in 2019. At the moment Sowore’s party the African Action Congress (AAC) has been hijacked by a rightwing faction which has the blessing of INEC. This further complicates the situation.
Notwithstanding, it must be stated that, the chances that the 2023 election will be dominated by pro-capitalist politicians and their political parties is something which is partly encouraged by the role of the Nigerian capitalist state and its institutions like Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the judiciary and the failure of labour movement to proffer a working class political alternative.
ABSENCE OF WORKING CLASS ALTERNATIVE
The failure of the leadership of the labour movement, particularly the leadership of the two main trade union centres, NLC and TUC, to facilitate the building of a working people’s political alternative with a Socialist programme ahead of the 2023 has no doubt constituted a major reason why the mass of the working people will be denied a credible electoral representation in the said coming election.
Although, the NLC once initiated in 2002 the formation of a party, the Party for Social Democracy, which later became the Labour party, this was without any genuine and conscious effort to build and develop it as a true fighting democratically run political party of the working people. So, the party over the years has become a trashcan for individuals that fail to win nomination within the big capitalist parties like PDP, APC APGA amongst others. This was how Olusegun Mimiko, the former governor of Ondo State, who was rejected in the PDP was able to maneuver to become the Governor under Labour Party banner without any improvement in both the living and working conditions of mass of the working people across the state. Mimiko later abandoned the LP after the expiration of his tenure as the Governor of Ondo State and today he is back in the PDP.
NLC AND TUC POLITICAL CONFERENCES
Since then, the NLC and its national leadership have not been able to reclaim the Labour Party or build a fresh independent political party of the working people. All the moves claimed to have been made appear to be mere grandstanding! The most notable of these were the two separate political conferences organized by the leadership of NLC and TUC earlier this year. Barely a month after these conferences, the TUC announced the formation and inauguration of political commission at the geopolitical zones, state and local government areas with a directive to all its members to go and take up from their respective wards the membership form of Labour Party. The NLC in a similar vein, also announced that it has developed a worker’s charter of demands with a plan to mobilize its members to vote during the 2023 election for any political party and politicians that subscribed to the charter.
The TUC in its own communique correctly highlights options expected to be undertaken by the labour movement to include: establishing and building an independent working class party, formation of an electoral alliance with pro-labour political parties and consistent with the centrality of class struggle, socialist ideology and thorough-going movement-based socialist transformation. The TUC conference also encouraged a need for the TUC and NLC to work together for a joint charter of demands, something which the NLC conference held a week earlier had already claimed to have developed without the involvement of rank-and-file workers.
The proposal for a joint charter of demands of the NLC and TUC for Nigeria workers is a welcome one, however, the process for its formation must be made open and democratic so as to accommodate and incorporate the concern and aspiration of mass of Nigeria workers. Again, the charter of demands must not be conceived as a bargaining chip in re negotiations with different careerist pro-capitalist politicians. This is because none of the pro-capitalist politicians and government controlled by them will ever be willing to facilitate the implementation of a charter of demands that genuinely represents the overall interest of workers.
As a matter of fact, the continuous refusal of the successive federal governments to honor the agreement first signed with ASUU in 1992 is a clear testimony to the fact that no section of the pro-capitalist politician can be trusted when it comes to the implementation of programme and policies that are capable of bringing significant improvement to the lives of the working people. The 2019 minimum wage of N30, 000 backed by the law of the land, is yet to be fully implemented across the country since its approval over three years ago.
Given this background, it is obvious that the workers charter of demand can only fulfill a positive role if it is conceived as a document that articulates and highlights yearnings and aspirations of working people and youths and used to commence the mobilization of workers and youths in preparation for a mass struggle and resistance for better conditions and against anti-poor capitalist policies that are inevitable after the 2023 elections.
CAN THE LP BE RECLAIMED?
The Labour Party as it is currently constituted is not pro-working people in its activities and organizational structure. Therefore, simply asking workers to join such a party is more or less trying to line the working people behind pro-capitalist politicians towards the actualization of their self-serving interest.
It is true that workers are meant to be owners of Labour Party. However, being the owner means that workers should have the right to be part of the leadership structure and decision making process of the party including standing as a candidate in the election. Presently this is not the situation in the Labour Party and there is no prospect that such can be guaranteed between now and the 2023 general elections by just a mere issuance of directive to workers. Even if workers comply with this directive, something which is not likely, it will mean that they will only be used to usher into power a pro-capitalist politician and party. This is because, going by its antecedent in previous elections, the Labour Party also charges outrageous fees often charge as nomination fees before anyone can be allowed to stand as candidate in the election.
This present configuration of the Labour party which obviously, stems from its current pro-capitalist orientation and the fact that the leadership structure is dominated with pro-capitalist politicians is not something that can be changed between now and the 2023 elections, even if the NLC and TUC leaderships oppose the imposition of outrageous fees for nomination forms and expression of interest. This is because the representatives of both the NLC and TUC constitute a small minority with three persons out of the over 20 members of the Central Working Committee (CWC) that constitutes the leadership structure of the party.
This does not mean that it is impossible to reclaim or revive Labour Party despite its current configuration. As a matter of fact, Socialists would welcome a genuine move and effort to reclaim, revive and rebuild the Labour Party as a democratically run campaigning party. Furthermore, we recognize the centrality of workers and their movement into the party as a crucial ingredient of achieving this. However, the motive and programme upon which working people are encouraged to join the Labour Party cannot also be underemphasized. Currently, the programme of Labour Party, subscribes to pro-capitalist and anti-people policies like deregulation, privatization including commercialization of social services like education and health.
If a party like Labour Party is known for the implementation of all of these anti-people policies which contribute to the condition of mass misery and penury faced by mass of the population this is not what is needed. Given its association with anti-poor politicians and parties, Labour Party is not at present attractive to workers, youths and poor no matter the level of the directive. There is also the fact that, at present, there is widespread mistrust in the labour movement specifically at in the leadership of both the NLC and TUC owing to their several betrayals of the working people. It is in the light of this, socialist argue that to reclaim Labour Party, goes beyond just a mere issuance of directive by labour leaders and the motive must not be to just to replace a pro-capitalist government with another.
The starting point for this kind of political programme will require the labour leaders and the Labour Party itself to openly declare an opposition to pro-capitalist policies including privatization, deregulation among others. The recent call by the NLC for the reversal of the privatization of the power sector and rejection of deregulation policy in the oil sector must be matched with a practical commitment to commence the process of organizing and mobilizing the Nigeria working people in a determined struggle and resistance. This will prove that this new pronouncement is not just a mere deceit or hot hair given that just as recent as September 2020, the same labour leadership openly announced its support for the policy of deregulation. Besides, a serious struggle by the leadership of labour against all the neo-liberal policies and their economic consequences like hike in pump price, electricity tariff, cost of living which have condemned mass majority of the Nigeria working people into the condition of poverty and misery will go a long way to restore the confidence in the labour movement and its leadership
Also importantly, it is only this kind of political programme with capacity to encourage and mobilize mass support and trust of the working people that can guarantee the reclaim of Labour Party that will be based on a fighting program for adequate protection of the working people and with a view to take over political power and utilized the abundant human and natural resources at the disposal of the country for the reconstruction of the society in the interest of workers, youth and poor.
The recent judgement of the Supreme Court which upheld the deregistration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) means that the party will no longer be legally recognized to participate in the electoral process including the 2023 general elections. The SPN was formed in 2012, even though it was not registered until 2018, with a view to demonstrate by force of example what a working people’s party could do and build itself by recruiting members and working with other organised forces to create a genuine mass party of labour. However, this court judgment is never an end of the road for the SPN. The party shall continue to campaign against undemocratic electoral space including a call for the abrogation of the section 255A recently smuggled into the Constitution which empowered INEC to draconianly deregister parties including SPN based on a fraudulent ground of poor performance in an election like the 2019 elections which were characterized by vote buying, massive rigging and other forms of electoral manipulation and malpractices.
Given the fact that the SPN was never formed right from its inception as a mere electoral platform but a party of struggle, so, SPN will continue to intervene in the daily struggle of working people, youths and poor in workplaces, schools, communities and against anti-people capitalist policies nationally. At the same time, the SPN shall continue to work with other left forces like the People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M) to midwife a working-class political alternative that will be based on a socialist programme in order to mobilize and organise the working people to end capitalist-induced condition of mass poverty in the midst of abundance.