Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

CALL FOR PARTY DE-REGISTRATION: An Elitist Conspiracy Against Working People and Democratic Rights

CALL FOR PARTY DE-REGISTRATION: An Elitist Conspiracy Against Working People and Democratic Rights

By Wole Olubanji Engels

The 2019 general election left several issues in its trail. Nigerian politicians perfected the art of vote-buying and fomented violence to force cancellation of votes where they had little assurances of victory; INEC embarrassed the country, shifted polls in the dead of the night based on untenable excuses; the actual polls recorded the least voters’ turn out since 1999’s return to civil rule. The capitalist press and their mob of editors cherry-picked the issues. From their written opinions, no issue emerged from the general election more urgent than the sheer number of political parties that contested it an urgent issue voted by the capitalist media ahead of vote-buying, electoral violence and other stocks-in-trade of the two dominant political parties APC and PDP.

The hues and cries in the media concerning party deregistration are not just products of a mediocre media they are also products of a desperate agitation by the elites to safeguard their hold on power. In the face of a passive rejection, characterised by a historic low voters’ turn, clearing off potential competitors for power would provide the common people no option than to tolerate their oppressive elites. Writing for The Guardian (UK), Remi Adekoya ruminated over the 65% absent voters and noted alarmingly that “(d)emocracy has failed in Nigeria when voters no longer care who wins” (The Guardian of March 1, 2019). It would appear as if the Nigerian elites got the message, and unable to abandon neoliberal policies, decided to eliminate potential competitors for power.

Socialists and working people in Nigeria have political lessons to draw from the unfolding plots of the ruling class regarding party deregistration. First and foremost is the fact that law protects, before every other, the interests of the ruling class. Karl Marx and Engels put it better in their famous Communist Manifesto (1848) that: “(t)he executive (democracy) of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” What’s more: the mainstream media are pens and mikes in the hands of the bourgeoisie.

The narrative of party deregistration did not start after the 2019 general election. The Attahiru Jega-led INEC in 2012 deregistered 28 political parties. At the time, INEC capitalised on a 2010 amendment to the Electoral Act that empowered it to deregister parties that did not win a ward-minimum. The parties concerned sued separately in two suits, and won at the appeal courts. The appeal courts declared INEC’s power to deregister as unconstitutional. It was an attempt to circumvent the Appeal Court’s ruling that led the National Assembly to smuggle an amendment into the 1999 constitution, which now constitutionally empowers INEC to deregister their competitors for power.

The media is slanting the call for deregistration of parties as a crusade for efficient party politics and electoral system. But the media reported with tongues in cheeks, and cherry-picked the provisions of the 1999 constitution that suited this hatchet job. The report of Vanguard Newspaper on the matter is a handy case-study. The civil rights activist, Femi Falana, had in an opinion piece written for Vanguard generally condemned the failure of INEC to exercise its powers of control over the practices and manifestoes of political parties. Femi Falana wrote: “With respect to registered political parties INEC must fully comply with section 225(2) of the Constitution by sanctioning them if they fail to submit a detailed annual statement and analysis of their sources of funds and assets. This will go a long way to check the monetization and brazen manipulation of the democratic process by political godfathers. More importantly, INEC should henceforth exercise its powers under Section 224 of the Constitution by ensuring that the programmes as well as the aims and objects of every political party conform with the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution.”

Falana of course complained about the “proliferation of political parties”, but also as part of an insinuation that some of these parties are in fact subsidiaries of the dominant parties. And he cited the events leading to the general election where “some of the registered political parties shamelessly abandoned their presidential candidates and adopted Mohammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidates of the All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party respectively in the recently concluded general elections.” However Vanguard newspaper parsed the statements of Falana into several electronic versions, while emphasising deregistration even more than compliance with Chapter II of the Constitution. This is the media in the hand of the elites, slanting reports to blur the fundamental issue of anti-people programmes of the dominant parties.

Socialists cannot agree with Falana that winning election, even at ward level, should be a criterion for registration or deregistration of political parties. Femi Falana himself mentioned the extent of monetisation of the electoral space, and the helplessness of INEC in the face of this brazenness. Parties have to start somewhere, and parties genuinely representing working people and the poor will not have the backing of the super-rich, they will have to build from below. Beside this, the dominant parties that are veterans of electoral victory do not have manifestoes that conform with the provisions of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution. It is this Chapter II of the constitution that mandated free education, anti-monopoly and equal opportunity as objectives of governance, and consequently as the principle of party formation and activities. But apparently the media and their political sponsors choose the fraudulent electoral victories obtainable through cash and violence as more important than free education, anti-monopoly approach to distribution of wealth, and even payments of benefits to the physically challenged as enshrined in the Chapter Two of the Constitution. This underscores the class character of the 2017 alteration, and mob-like agitation for deregistration of parties among the editors and their outlets.

In Nigeria today, the deep purse of the party is one factor that influences electoral victory, before programmes and manifestoes. And the politicians who have spent decades stealing from the public treasury would have no qualms in making money a criterion for holding political offices, which is the implication of the fraudulent 2017 alteration to the constitution. This will augur well with the politicians, and their billionaire-naira empire; but it would effectively block the chance of the emergence of a party of the working class from honest beginnings, campaigning on programmes for free education, job creation rather than stealing big and buying off dissent.

The fact too must be reckoned with that some political parties are subsidiary parties of the big ones, and serve the purpose of corrupting the political process than enriching it. But we cannot say that because some categories of food rot too quickly, then all food in this category should be wiped out of existence. Evolving efficient party system that truly serves the interest of democracy is unachievable under a system of class exploitation. Even in the advanced capitalist countries, elections are often dominated by pro-rich parties through money politics and their hold on the media and other institutions. Except minor reforms, this will continue to be so until the capitalism will be uprooted through a mass revolutionary uprising of the working and toiling people. In preparing for this, we need to defend the existence of political parties but also deepen the campaign for the leadership of trade unions and pro-masses organisations to activate the formation of a mass working people party on a socialist program capable of wresting from the thieving ruling elite. It also means that people organise in political parties like the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) that is campaigning both to defend and extend, the limited democratic rights that Nigerians have and to build support for programmes that would upset the elites’ hold on power, and rebuild the country’s economy for the benefit of the vast majority.