We are now in an election year. Politics on all sides of the divide have the February 2019 general elections in view. The bosses’ parties are fashioning strategies to make them appear as champions of the working-masses, so that they can win our votes, by hook or crook. However, these strategies do not and cannot include their sacrificing the power of their class to continue exploiting and oppressing us. For the first time since reinstatement of civilian rule in 1999, several radical and not so radical forces have also joined the fray presenting themselves as alternatives of real change to working-class people and youth.
Now, more than ever, there is a serious need for workers and youth to have a clearer idea of the unfolding political situation, beyond how this is presented by those who merely want to use us. With such understanding, we can better appreciate the historical tasks before us, and the necessary tactics for us to bring to bear in participating in the elections, in ways and manners that strengthen us in the overarching struggle against the bosses, for changing society, by emancipating ourselves from the ruling class’ shackles.
We are indeed on the cusp of history. Elections have been triggering moments for upheavals and turning points in Nigeria since the first republic. The current moment might be one which takes the nation far beyond the question of who occupies Aso Rock from 29 May 2019. As change-seeking workers, youths, activists, we need to be clear on where we are coming from and the steps we must take in struggle.
The current republic emerged from six years of revolution and counter-revolution, after the annulment of the June 12 presidential election. Despite insisting on his mandate and dying in prison on 7 July 1998, Chief MKO Abiola who everyone knows won the election, realised that there was more that bound him together with the military generals that annulled his elections than with the working masses and youth who risked life, limb and liberty to actualise June 12.
They were all members of the ruling class of millionaires and billionaires. But, the momentum of the June 12 movement swept many supposedly progressive bosses into the camp of the popular struggle. General Sani Abacha’s insistence on succeeding himself in that period of turmoil was a problem to the bosses locally and globally. After all efforts to ensure a peaceful resolution of the crisis within the ruling class, so that a full-fledged revolutionary situation would not emerge failed, both Abacha and Abiola died mysteriously. The rest as the saying goes, is now history.
When the so-called fourth republic was to be established in 1999, there was a consensus amongst the ruling class that someone from the south west which Abiola hailed from was to be the president. There was equally a consensus to ensure no radical party would have the opportunity to be on the ballot. Three parties of the bosses were registered and two representatives of that class, both of whom were Yoruba contested. Obasanjo emerged as president.
A number of radical parties led by the National Conscience Party challenged the limited electoral-political space in court. They won in 2002. The space was broadened. But none of these parties which contested in 2003 or thereinafter made any significant electoral impact.
The bosses managed to maintain some form of consensus, including on rotation of the presidency and other juicy offices on ethno-regional basis (thus also helping to cement their ideology of “tribalism”, essential for mobilising working-class people around politics that help to divide us) for a short while. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was their main vehicle for doing this, being the first lasting pan-Nigerian bosses’ party.
With the merger of three other smaller bosses’ parties (and a faction of one), who controlled power in some states across different regions in 2013, the All Progressives Congress emerged as an opposition party with national spread. This was a necessary factor for the defeat of PDP two years later. But it was not sufficient.
The crucial factor in APC’s victory was the mass anger in the land, which was directed against PDP as the party ruling on behalf of the bosses’ class as a whole. This popular rage and quest for change was demonstrated in all its glory during the January 2012 Uprising, which shook the country to its very foundations in the few weeks it lasted.
APC was the beneficiary of working-class people and youth struggle against the dysfunctional capitalist system. The January 2012 movement was part of that hour of global revolutionary upsurge which birthed the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa region, the los indignados movement in Spain, the Syriza moment in Greece and so on and so forth.
The global economic (and general) crisis of capitalism has not abated. Neither has the quest and rising of change-seeking working-class people and youth. The way forward towards defeating the bosses and their system has never been, and indeed cannot be straight forward. From victories and defeats, the working-class and youth are learning. They are getting to better understand the true character of the system we are fighting to overthrow. They are equally learning how great their own strength could be, when they build and how to better fight through the ballot box and beyond it, towards change the world.
It is in this context that we have seen the rise of movements around Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn’s emergence as Labour party chair in Britain. This is the broad context of the 2018 general elections in Nigeria.
The reality of APC and PDP
It could be said that Nigeria has become the proverbial case of “one week, one trouble”. And these troubles, more than anything, reflect the inability of the ruling class to take Nigeria forward. There was so much hope in several quarters that Muhammadu Buhari and the APC would make a difference. But that has not been the case.
On each of the three-cardinal campaign promises of the Buhari/APC government (fighting corruption, ensuring national security and revamping the economy), it has failed. In a “Buharimeter National Survey” recently organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development, 57% of respondents rated the fight against corruption poorly, only 21% of respondents felt any appreciable impact has been made on security. On the economy, 67% described the government as a failure (as against 39% in a similar survey last year).
Only diehard Buhari adherents, including the government’s propaganda machine, would not agree that this reflects the true state of affairs under the APC regime.
A report by the Brookings Institution in June revealed that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor people in the world. This is despite the fact that India which is the second most populous country has almost seven times the number of people in Nigeria living in it. Poverty has been reducing in India which now has 73 million extremely poor people, but Nigeria has 87million. Worse still, under the watch of the APC, every single minute of every single day, six people are thrown into this abyss of extreme poverty.
However, the economy has been growing – but only in the interest of the same class of bosses who have always benefited from economic growth. But, public sector workers in 27 states are owed salaries, the new national minimum wage being negotiated is definitely not going to be a living wage, yet the governors have said they will not pay it.
Regarding security, working-class people have not fared any better than with the economy. According to the United States Council on Foreign Affairs (which Nigerian bosses are usually very pleased to kowtow to) 19,890 people have been killed in several documented attacks, since Muhammadu Buhari assumed office as president. This does not absolve the earlier PDP government as there are 53,595 documented cases of such killings since 2011.
The difference however is that the APC government promised to make such state of insecurity which poor working-class people bear the brunt of, a thing of the past. But, the reverse has been the case. There have been even more killings per year since it came to power. Boko Haram which it once claimed to have technically defeated continues its reign of terror, while roving bandits and supposed herders have turned states such as Benue, Plateau and Zamfara into killing fields.
It is not only that the government has failed in curbing insecurity, it has also contributed significantly to the killings of poor working people and youth. Hundreds of Shi’ites were killed in Kaduna state and Biafran agitators in south eastern Nigeria. Meanwhile, rank and file soldiers at the fore of the government’s military campaign against the insurgency in the north east are either unpaid or underpaid and ill-equipped, resulting in protests by police officers and soldiers, thrice so far, in that region.
The anti-corruption claims of the APC government would have been extremely laughable but for the tragic fact that it is funds that could have been used to better the lots of the 87 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty that the politicians and their cronies are stealing. There is absolutely no difference between APC and PDP in terms of such looting of the treasury. Nothing shows this like the ease with which some PDP stalwarts’ crossover to the APC, just as some from APC also cross over to PDP.
It is not surprising that Nigeria has gone down from the 136th to the 148th position in the global perception of corruption index covering 180 countries. Not only has corruption been rife as much under APC as under PDP, things have gone from bad to worse, as the party tries to amass a war chest of money for the 2019 elections.
Indeed, the major cause of in-fighting amongst the bosses’ class in general and within the APC in particular is the sharing formula of the proceeds of ill-gotten wealth from the national treasury. The senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki gave inkling of this when he “decamped” from APC back to the PDP, with the confession that he had not been carried along in distribution of “juicy” positions.
However, the tatters of APC’s clothes cannot help PDP sew new clothes of credibility. The emperor that the bosses’ class as a whole is, now walks naked. This is not to say there is now absolutely no illusion in APC/Buhari. A sizeable number of working-class people still hold on to some hope in Buhari and his party, for several reasons. One of these is that “if not Buhari, who else could it be?”
In its 16-year rule, the PDP showed itself for what it is, a band of brigands without the slightest clue of how to make life better for the immense majority of the population. PDP realises this and has tried to shore up its credentials so to speak by forming a Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), which includes radical parties, with origins in the popular classes.
The working-class and radical alternatives
PDP and 38 other parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding forming CUPP in the first week of July. While the coalition is presented as an alliance of equals and PDP claims it is meant to “protect Nigeria’s democracy”, the fact of the matter is that it is a contrived platform by PDP to try bolster the credibility it lacks.
Two of the parties in the CUPP were the two parties of defiance formed in 1994 as fighting platforms for the liberation of working-class people and youth. These are, Democratic Alternative and National Conscience Party. Most of the other parties lack any history of concern for workers and youth, and some were even mere fronts of PDP in the first place.
There was heated debate in the NCP over such alliance with the PDP, which goes against the traditions of the party. But, those against the CUPP and its MoU were in the minority, as the party’s decision-making organs voted overwhelmingly for the CUPP of political poison.
Excuses were given by the party’s leadership, including the obvious fact that NCP cannot go it alone in the struggle for the liberation of working-class people. But, as the founding National General Secretary of NCP, Comrade Femi Aborisade stated in a presentation at the NCP Lagos branch symposium on 28 July, “any alliance with either the PDP or the APC is a betrayal of the masses”.
The left wing within the party has an arduous task, if the party is to be reclaimed from the backward ideas of electoralism and opportunism that are now dominant in it.
A labour party with the backing of the trade union movement would have been invaluable at a moment such as this. But such chances were frittered away over the last four years when NLC and TUC initiated a faction in the Labour Party, which has been taken over by careerists and apologists of the status quo.
The argument of SWL has been the need for the trade unions to form a new party. But, this was not done and no serious effort at “reclaiming” the existing party was made, despite rhetoric. A rabidly opportunist former chairman of the Labour Party had a clearer focus in this regard, even if for less than honourable reasons. His Zenith Labour Party is one of the newly registered parties. This of course is not to represent workers but to provide another money-making electoral channel using the name “labour”.
Amongst the 23 newly registered parties, the African Action Congress does stand out for its commitment to electoral politics as part of building a fighting movement, to “take it back”. Its radical-reformist politics has seen youth in their hundreds of thousands flocking under its banner. It however still has to sink roots into the working-class movement and promote the flourishing of ideological clarity in its ranks, with radical political education.
In lieu of conclusion
Working-class activists and youth have to take up the gauntlet of struggle and see the march towards 2019 as much more than just one towards a general election. This must be part of efforts towards building a mass revolutionary movement from below.
No quarter should be given to the parties of the bosses. Nor should the tasks at hand be seen simply as one of “youth” versus the old breed. The dividing line is between the rich few, the bosses and the immense majority of the population, working-class people and youth.
The likelihood of events spiralling out of control for the ruling class is very high. They are failing to be able to rule us as usual and the working masses are discontent, and not ready to continue living the life of emptiness that has been our lot under APC as much as PDP.
We must be alert and ready to seize the moment, forging unity in struggle based on clarity and seeing the whole picture in each phase of its unveiling.
Workers and youth, unite and fight!