Democracy means different things to different classes in society. For the rich elites, democracy means that one section of the rich takes over the reins of state power from another or retains it every four or so years. But irrespective of whichever section of these capitalists are in government, as a class, they continue to exploit the majority of the population, comprising working-class people.
For the poor working people, which includes workers in both the formal and informal sectors, peasants, and poor people who earn their living from the sweat of their hard labor, democracy means something different. It means that the poor people rule society and use our collective resources to ensure that food, shelter, clothing, recreation, and the good life is made available to everybody.
In 1999, Nigeria returned to the capitalist democratic rule of civilian elites, after a series of military regimes had ruled for decades on behalf of the capitalist elite as a whole. Despite this return to civilian rule, the Nigerian state has failed to make life better for the poor masses, because those in power now, are essentially the same people that have always been in power. It is still the same class of the rich who have continued to exploit us in agbada as much as in khaki.
While the ruling class under military as well as democratic rule of the capitalists is the same, there is at least some extent of civil and political liberties that could be expected from a civilian capitalist regime as against when the military wing of this class of exploiters is in power.
For example, the military rules by decrees, but civilian governments are supposed to be guided by the rule of law. While this is the capitalist law, it is supposed to respect some freedoms such as freedom of association and expression.
Historically, the capitalists did not simply grant these out of their benevolence. Earlier generations of working people had fought to win these rights. They also fought for social and economic rights. And in Nigeria, socialists in the 1979 Constituent Assembly such as Segun Osoba and Bala Usman advocated for these rights to be included in the constitution, even though they were in a minority as all the representatives of the bosses at the Constituent Assembly stood up against such inclusion.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigerian is simply a rehash of the 1979 constitution. Chapter 2 of the constitution deals with the fundamental objectives and principles of the state. In Section 16(1)b of this chapter, it states that the state will “control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom, and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity”. But what the capitalists are doing with state power is the direct opposite of that.
Over the last two decades of capitalist democratic rule, privatization has been the norm. And what this means is that individual capitalists and their companies have bought up huge chunks of the economy and used the wealth generated to line their own pockets at the detriment of the poor masses.
So, not surprisingly what we have continued to witness has been increasing social inequality and poverty. To make sure that the angry working people cannot resist them, the capitalist “democrats” have also made it a habit to deny us of our fundamental human rights and freedoms such as the right. Tyrannical rule is what we have been faced with, despite our struggle against tyranny in khaki.
Any difference between military and civilian capitalist rule? The Military Coup of 31 December 31 1983 which ousted the civilian government of Shehu Shagari and installed Major General Muhammadu Buhari as the head of state and supreme commander of the Military council signaled yet again a stretch of military rule which lasted sixteen years. The regime claimed that it wanted to purge the country of corruption and indiscipline.
But the key laws it promulgated were aimed at silencing the poor masses, the press, and activists. These draconian laws included Decree No 2 which enabled the junta to jail, anybody, for as long as it wanted and Decree No 4 which allowed it to jail any journalist for publishing whatever the regime found offensive, irrespective of if it were true or not.
The Punch newspaper was closed down three times and its editor and deputy editor. Two journalists with The Guardian were also arrested and detained.
Meanwhile, even though the regime portrayed itself as being anti-corruption and cast in the iron of firm discipline, events showed that this was false. The regime’s stock-in-trade included double standards. A good example is how it allowed the Emir of Gwandu to move out fifty-three suitcases filled with money during the currency change it did in 1984. Another is how General Tunde Idiagbon, the regime’s official No.2 man but actually the power behind the throne went with his underaged on pilgrimage to Mecca in 1985. The country got to know only because their junta was overthrown in a palace coup while he was away.
Military & civilian Rule – little difference
There are a lot of things that show us that there is little difference between military rule and civilian rule, with the same class of oppressors wielding power. One of the immediate things that show that the difference between both forms of government thus far is that between six and half a dozen, is the dominance of the current political landscape by ex-military Generals.
The two longest-serving presidents since 1999 had both ruled the country before as military heads of state. Between them, they have been in power for twelve years and still counting. This is 55% of the period of so-called “democracy”. The longest-serving president of the senate is David Mark who is also a retired General, who served in top positions in two military juntas during the 1990s.
We need a new type of democracy- a working people’s democracy!
It is important to point out that the primary problem is not that a significant number of ex-military top brass have been at the heart of governance since the return to civil rule. Even the civilian capitalists that they have been ruling us together with are no different from the ex-military in agbada.
The mouthpiece of the government today is Lai Mohammed. He is as arrogant and authoritarian as any military person in power could be. He has been behind several laws meant to gag the press. Channels TV and AIT have been fined and in some cases shut down for broadcasting news and views that made the government feel uncomfortable. The government has also pushed for laws that will be used to clamp down on the use of social media. In fact, they have gone ahead to ban the use of Twitter in the country!
But when his party was in opposition, he kept saying all the good things as if they cared for the poor masses. And he used social and traditional media to pass on the APC’s deceptive messages, often with more harsh words than those that they now jail people for using.
Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna has been as ruthless as any military governor could be in deploying soldiers and the police to crackdown on workers’ protest. The point is that no capitalist government will put the concerns of the poor working-class people first.
What we need to do, as working-class people, is to take power from the capitalist class. And we can do this only through struggle. They control the electoral process with money and the power of their state. We can use moments of elections to mobilize, but we will be deceiving ourselves if we think that we can win democratic power from this class of oppressors, simply via elections.
We are much more than them. We comprise 99% of the population. They are barely 1%. But we need to be united and around a revolutionary-democratic program to defeat the capitalist. And we will need to build new organs of democratic power.
This cannot be just a national assembly faraway in Abuja or simply rebranding the states’ houses of assembly as workers’ assemblies. Working-class people’s democracy means the power of the masses, by the masses for the masses, in reshaping society towards abolishing classes. That means that we must democratize every aspect of society from below.
In our workplaces, communities, and campuses, we must organize assemblies that determine how these spaces of our lives must be lived. Those that will serve at state and national levels to ensure coordination of our working people’s republic must be delegates that have been mandated from the assemblies in our workplaces and communities. And we must have the power to recall them whenever they are not properly representing us and not only after four years, irrespective of if they perform or not.
This democracy, which would serve as the political frame for commencing the building of a socialist society is the type of democracy that we, working people and youth need.
by Kelvin Ayemhenre