Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria
Newspaper of the DSM
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 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 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.