The Nigerian judiciary and electoral fraud

Last year's elections in Nigeria saw fraud on a scale never seen before. This has severely undermined the authority of the government in the eyes of the masses, so much so that the judiciary are now overturning some of the results. This has led to illusions that the judiciary is now a friend of democracy and even "revolutionary". Nothing could be further from the truth.

Introduction

We are told that today "democracy rules" in most of the world. Where there were formerly military dictatorships now we have civilian rule, elections, parliamentary democracy and so on. The truth is far more concrete!

In Pakistan Musharraf has gone, and now there is an elected government. But no one should have illusions about the elections being "fair and free". There was blatant rigging, as we reported in Pakistan: PPP confirms blatant fraud in elections and Massive fraud! - An Eyewitness Account. It was clear that imperialism was pushing for a coalition government, and hey presto the results fitted just right.

In Mexico there was electoral fraud on a grand scale in 2006, which led to the massive mobilizations in the Zocalo Square in Mexico City, with up to three million taking part. The masses rightly see the present government as illegitimate.

In Nigeria last year, again there was fraud on a grand scale, in fact on a scale never seen in the past. The leaders of the western powers may fool themselves that there is real democracy in Nigeria or, to put it better they fool the general public that that is so. The masses in Nigeria know full well that the elections were not fair. They know that there was blatant fraud, stealing of ballot boxes, falsification of results, physical threats and even murder.

It seems however that the gangster Nigerian bourgeois have overstepped the mark. Their government is now seen as illegitimate and is therefore very weak. This explains its dithering, zigzagging and total lack of initiative. This is a serious state of affairs for the Nigerian ruling class and its imperialist backers. They need a "strong government" to take on the working people and impose further draconian measures.

How weak the government is can be seen by its reaction to the general strike that gripped Nigeria shortly after the new government came into office. It was forced to back off. What is the usefulness of such a government to the bosses? In the past such a situation would have led to a coup, and that would have been the end of it... for a while, until the pressure of the masses rose once more, forcing the ruling elite to swing back to "democracy" once more.

Today that option is ruled out, for the time being. The masses are aroused, the workers have moved repeatedly and feel that they are strong. Every time they have mobilised against fuel price hikes and other attacks they have demonstrated their power to the ruling class and even more importantly to themselves.

So how can the moral authority of the ruling class be restored? In steps the judiciary! In the recent period many of the politicians who were denied a seat in parliament, or as governor, have been challenging the results in court. And in several cases the judges have indeed overturned the fraudulent results.

This has led to many petit bourgeois liberals and people on the left to shouting about the "revolutionary" nature of the judges. As always the petit bourgeois is very impressionable and fails to see reality. The judges are acting in this manner to re-establish some kind of credibility for the government. They will not overturn every fraudulent result, but just enough to try and establish their democratic credentials, the purpose being to have a "strong government" that can then get on with the business of attacking the working class.

Here we publish an article from a Nigerian Marxist on the question, that will be published in the forthcoming edition of the Workers' Alternative. [Introductory note by Fred Weston].


This month (April 2008) marks one year since the last general elections were held in Nigeria. The April 2007 general elections were roundly described as the worst in the annals of Nigeria; they were widely orchestrated by the media, the various election observers, local and international, and of course the bourgeois opposition political parties.

Notwithstanding the above orchestration, however, to say that the elections were rigged and not free and fair is simply stating the obvious; it was certainly not unexpected and was equally not a new phenomenon in Nigeria.

Elections in Nigeria have always been rigged before, during and after the elections almost without exception. The difference in the April 2007 elections was that it apparently done with the worst impunity.

Elections without an active workers' party

The most unfortunate development of the period under review, however, is that the opportunity provided by the 2007 April elections for a clearly independent political banner of the Nigerian working class and the oppressed masses to emerge and struggle in the political field via participation of a mass-based workers' party in the elections was lost through the intransigency of the Labour leaders.

Although, the labour bureaucracy registered a so-called "Labour Party", this party was really Labour only in name and has nothing close to labour in the composition of its membership. This is apparently the case as there was no clear-cut mobilization of workers by the Labour leaders into the party which they had created in the first instance.

The bureaucracy was only interested in using the party for bargaining with interested sections of the ruling class who are ready to use the Labour Party to achieve opportunistic electoral gains. This was the situation in Ondo, Lagos and some other states in the country where some capitalist politicians (former members of the PDP - the nation's ruling Party and the AC) were fielded as governorship and parliamentary candidates of the Labour Party.

Unfortunately, the opposite was the case with known labour personalities who participated in the elections. The most prominent labour personality, Adam Oshiomhole (former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress - NLC) dumped the Labour Party governorship candidature in Edo State for the candidature of the Action Congress (AC), a party led nationally by Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President to Genera Olusegun Obasanjo. Furthermore, the Labour Party did not contest the election at presidential level where it fielded no candidate; hence, there was no hiding the fact that its leadership was not interested in any serious struggle for power.

The above was the scenario during the general elections. The masses were not mobilized to enter the election with any clear notion of voting on a class basis; it was simply an electioneering period to choose among the thieving members of the ruling class who have plundered Nigeria all this time. It also means that there were no revolutionary interplays during the election. The process simply became an open game for the highest bidders and election violence was at its all-time peak.

From the Governorship/State Assembly elections, the Presidential and then the National Assembly Elections it was the same old story, the same old methods of open snatching of ballot boxes, multiple thumb printing, writing of election results on official record sheets, even before the elections took place, etc. Where resistance was met, the ruling party or the party with the upper hand in terms of coercive ability, resolved to solve it with open violence and killings.

The situation was so embarrassingly bad that major election observers, particularly the local ones, called for outright cancellation of the elections and for an interim government to conduct fresh elections.

The above situation was the prevailing mood of the post-election period and subsequently during the eventual swearing-in of the elected officials. The lack of credibility of the elections was so pervasive that even key beneficiaries, like the new president, Umaru Yar'adua, acknowledged openly that the elections were marred by malpractices here and there, although he thinks, albeit shamelessly, that there was not enough moral ground for him to step down as President for fresh elections to take place. He has since put together the most ferocious defenders (the legal team) of the lies, in the person of the many Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to defend the electoral fraud at the Election Petition Tribunal.

Lack of credibility and intervention of the judiciary

The situation was so particularly bad that the moral authority and the accompanying credibility were glaringly lacking as far as the Yar'adua presidency and other elected officials are concerned. The election had created a weakling regime, highly un-audacious, that is not able to show the required boldness to carry on openly with some of the most unpopular and reactionary "reform" programmes packaged by the IMF/World Bank that were brazenly implemented by the recent Obasanjo regime. The situation is such that, so far, the Yar'adua's presidency has been most inconsistent in policy implementation as it contradicts itself on every issue.

The open thievery in the last elections is nothing new, as we stated above, the only difference being that it appeared to have "got the cup filled". The scenario became so repugnant that the usual credibility and authority expected to be derived from a new election was not bestowed on the new president and other elected officials. And this is putting the whole capitalist rule and order into jeopardy.

Undoubtedly, the prevailing mood among members of the ruling class is that something needs to be done to placate the situation. In the absence of an institution that carries some moral authority and modicum of credibility, like the military in the past, the Nigerian judiciary in a way is now coming to the rescue.

It is not therefore surprising that the judiciary, through the elections tribunals, have here and there intervened to annul some Governorship and Parliamentary elections, including that of the third person in the hierarchy, Senate President David Mark. But do we then call this development a revolutionary process as the petty bourgeois radicals have been claiming, i.e. that the judiciary has "come of age" and is now playing a revolutionary role in this "new order" as the last hope of ordinary people?

Nothing can be further from the truth. The judiciary is not playing any revolutionary role now or ever has done. Its present role is mainly to placate the situation by attempting to put things right while asserting to their fellow class compatriots - the capitalist politicians that "this is too much; if it continues like this, you will put all of us, the ruling class, into serious jeopardy". Hence the attitude of the judiciary generally is to confuse the masses and petty bourgeois layers that democracy is working and that the rule of law is at play.

Affirming the Yar'dua's election

However, there is a limit to this logic, it is bound to come to a point where the pretensions of the judges can go no further and their real role will come to the fore. The upholding of the Yar'dua's presidential elections, in spite of the open rigging and malpractices during the elections, has made things clearer here, at least for now.

Notwithstanding the upholding of the presidential elections, in spite of all the earlier condemnations by discerning observers, by the presidential election tribunal, this will definitely transmute to a credibility bestowed on the Yar' adua's regime to carry on further assaults on the workers and the poor masses. More than ever, the regime remains a suspect, whose intended anti-poor policies will be challenged frontally by the workers without recourse to a "wait and see' attitude."

The role of the military in the past

As mentioned, previous elections had never been quite free and fair in Nigeria and it is not unusual for these processes of electoral fraud and violence to threaten the foundations of Nigerian capitalist society. The fall of the First republic in 1966 via a military coup was the cumulative result of the electoral fraud and its attendant violence in the 1964/65 general elections. The situation soon overwhelmed the military rulers that it later led to ethnic strife and the later civil war in 1967. After the civil war the military continued to rule after the general elections in 1979 when a new civilian administration headed by Alhaji Sheu Shagari was inaugurated.

The Shagari regime lasted for four years, but in the aftermath of the disputed general elections in 1983 another military coup, led by General Mohammed Buhari, took place, bringing the Second Republic to an end in December 1983. Military rule then continued with General Babaginda displacing Buhari via a palace coup in August 1985. The Babaginda regime lasted until August 1993 after the June 12, 1993 annulled Presidential elections crisis.

The crisis of those elections led to Babaginda stepping aside and putting in place the chicken-legged Shonekan-led Interim National Government, which was soon over-thrown by General Sani Abacha. Abacha's rule was the final ruin displayed by the military before he died (or most likely helped to his death) in June 1998. By the time of Abacha's death, the military's moral authority as a corrective institution was tarnished beyond redemption, such that the new regime led by General Abubakar had no room to manoeuvre other than to organize new elections, which were also typically fraught with a lot of anomalies. These elections brought in former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo as the new civilian president in May 1999.

From the aforementioned, it becomes clear why the military with its damaged moral authority as a corrective institution cannot intervene after the flawed April 2007 elections as it would have done in the past during the disputed general elections of the first and second republics. Here lies the class understanding of the actions of the Judges in a number of election petitions that were upheld leading to the annulment of some of the flawed elections or in some cases in the overturning of the previous results in favour of the petitioner. The latter was the case with Adam Oshiomhole, former NLC President, who was recently declared the rightly elected Governor of Edo State, one of the Niger Delta States in South-South Nigeria, after his petition against the rigged election of the incumbent PDP Governor was upheld.

Inherent reactionary role of the judiciary

Contrary to the assertion that the judiciary is the last hope of the people, when the chips are down it has always sided with the rule of capital in Nigeria against the poor masses. A clear example here is the case of the Federal Government of Nigeria versus Nigerian Labour Congress, where the government argued in court that the NLC had no right to call strike action against the increment in the price of petroleum products. Not surprisingly, the judges had held severally at the Federal High Court and at the Appeal Court that the NLC had no such right to call workers out against the increment in petrol prices. This is a clear indication that there is nothing inherently revolutionary in the judiciary now or ever has been. Whatever actions, the judges take now, they are mainly to maintain the present oppressive capitalist rule in Nigeria to the detriment of the poor masses.


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