The implications of the INEC Registration of the PSD, NCP & 22 other parties for the forthcoming Nigerian elections
No doubt, the news of the registration of the 24 political parties for the forthcoming Nigerian elections came as a surprise to many people, considering the fact that days and weeks before the registration, the Obasanjo regime was clearly against any form of registration. The drama preceding the registration confirms this fact.
The various responses to the registration have been very mixed, although we do not have major jubilation on the streets. Meanwhile, the actors behind the new parties have been jubilating and declaring that the registration is a victory first to them, the Nigerian judiciary and then the undefined Nigerian people last. The cry that this is a "victory for democracy" now fills the air.
Some sections of the Nigerian ruling elites in the already registered parties have been forced to show hypocritical support for the registration, although not without revealing their fear for this "liberalization". For instance, the AD while quick to support also declared that it is not scared of 1000 parties. If they are not scared, then why the emphasis on "fear"?
The AD governor of Oyo State, Lam Adeshina, crudely exposed their real position by condemning the registration. The ANPP says it has nothing against the registration in principle but the timing. Many have kept a criminal silence.
There could have been immediate jubilation on the factory floors and streets had workers and the other poor strata of the society known in time that a party of the NLC, Party for Social Democracy (PSD) was also registered. This is thanks to the leadership of the NLC who refused to lead the struggle for multiparty democracy, for this situation.
No doubt, the unfolding developments in Nigeria warrant a very critical analysis. The questions need to be asked: why did the Obasanjo regime register the parties after over three years of the regime's resistance? Has freedom (Uhuru) finally come? Can the registration and the convocation of a sovereign national conference (SNC) solve the crisis facing society? What are the immediate tasks before the Nigerian workers? Can the NCP offer a way out? The list of questions continues to grow.
Why the Registration
No doubt, the registration of the 24 political parties is a victory in all senses, although this cannot yet be said to be equal to full democratic rights. However, it must be noted that what is being granted today could have been won as early as 1999 together with a lot more. Had the leadership of the Nigerian Trade Unions moved to form a Labour Party and struggled for recognition along with full multiparty rights, the then military regime would have had no choice. In addition, after the military regime left, if the leadership of the NLC had put its might behind the struggle for full multiparty rights and set up the workers' party, the Obasanjo regime would have had no choice but to accept.
Various actors including the apologists of Obasanjo have put up different reasons for the registrations. The Judiciary is being hailed as the defender of democracy by upholding the provisions of the constitution. However, we have witnessed and still are witnessing numerous instances where the judiciary has done otherwise.
It is very important to note that before this sudden registration, the Attorney General of the Federation along with the INEC had a different interpretation of the Supreme Court decision on party registration. In essence, the registration of the 24 political parties goes way beyond the judicial angle, and the dubious claims of benevolence on the part of the INEC, etc.
Left to Obasanjo alone, none of the parties would have been registered. Rather, the conditional registration of the parties reflects the enormous crisis brewing within society, the weakness of the Obasanjo regime and the fear of the impending struggles of the Nigeria workers. In addition, behind it is a sinister agenda of sections of the Nigerian ruling class to use this process to undermine their class rivals in their ongoing conflicts and undermine the radical parties/groups like the NCP, DA, PRP, etc. They know quite well that the new parties do not yet pose any immediate electoral threat.
In addition, the registration is conditional. A political party would lose its registration if it does not win in nothing less than 5 percent of the local government councils in Nigeria. With 30 political parties, this is a mathematical impossibility for many of the parties that have registered. If all the parties win 5 percent each its would add up to more than 160 percent!
If the regime had maintained its position, none of the political parties would have had the strength to resist immediately; and this includes the NCP and the PSD, because as yet these parties do not have a mass following. The leadership of labour made matters worse by their criminal silence and refusal to lead the workers for the registration of a worker's party. What has forced the hand of the regime to make this electoral concession is the pressure from below, from the working class and poor in general. It is not due to any clever manoeuvrings of the leadership of any of these parties.
"Obasanjo's INEC" is not the first example of a regime making a 180 degree turn. Past military dictators, archconservatives, etc., had also made desperate multiple somersaults. Those who were known in the past to be opponents of the "sovereign national conference" talk shop have suddenly changed their position.
The registration was not the sole decision of Obasanjo but the product of enormous pressure from the more farsighted sections of the Nigerian ruling class who have an idea of the enormous dangers that lie ahead for them. They can see the anger that is building up among the workers, the youth and the poor of Nigeria.
In 1999, the Nigerian ruling class along with their imperialist bosses had to get rid of Abacha. They in turn quickly organized a highly controlled and rigged transition to civilian rule. All this was with the view of holding back the masses with the bogey of "civilian rule".
However, with more than three years of "civilian rule" hell is now closer to Nigeria and they have no solution. This accounts for why they are looking for other means of holding down the masses, as the situation in Nigeria is going to get very explosive in the coming period.
Economic Time Bomb
The objective situation in Nigeria today can best be described as a big time bomb, ticking away very fast. The crisis of the economy has reached an unprecedented height. According to reports, the year 2002 has been the worst in terms of growth since 1986!
According to Philip Asiodu, a former economic adviser to Obasanjo: "It must be obvious to anyone engaged in any economic activity that the Nigerian economy is in a very bad state. There has been no overall growth and development in the economy this year. GDP growth rate last year barely exceeded the population growth rate. The agricultural crop production may have increased this year by about 5 percent - thanks to abundant and timely rainfall. This has not been due to any significant improvement in extension services, provision of credit, post-harvest storage services, buyer-of-last-resort arrangements, new technology - all of which are critically necessary but on which no progress has been registered these last three years."
Only Obasanjo and his direct agents are saying something favorable about the economy. It is not an exaggeration to say that their jobs depend on saying something dubiously positive. However, they all still make contradictory statements; the position of the special adviser on economic affairs is quite different from that of the Central Bank. The IMF/World Bank, various economic journals, the banks, the MAN, etc, have been very critical and worried.
In spite of high oil prices, the actual income qualitatively diminished in 2002; oil accounts for over 90 percent of foreign income. The current high oil prices internationally are only a temporary phenomenon. The OPEC countries' cutting down of production by about 50 percent attained the current price level, combined with the uncertainties in the Middle East and the cold winter. Nigeria is currently producing about 1.7 million barrels per day but it has the capacity to produce close to 2.5 million barrels per day.
However, all indices point to the fact that this current situation would definitely not last. Even if war were to suddenly break out in the Middle East, the Nigerian economy would still be in a very bad state, in spite of the further rise in oil prices.
This is because another rise would accelerate the further downturn of the global capitalist economy, which is already in a crisis state. In addition, Nigeria is an import dependent country; it also depends on imported refined fuel for the domestic economy, in spite of the fact that it is one of the biggest oil producers.
In essence, whatever short term gain may be made in the process of the temporary increase in the oil price would be lost via its gigantic import bill, heavy capital outflow, corruption, mismanagement, etc. The experience of the windfall of the 1991 Gulf war still lingers on - over $12 billion remain unaccounted for.
Oil prices cannot continue to remain at their current levels forever, even if war breaks out in the Middle East. New fields are being discovered and developed everyday. Production capacity is also constantly being upgraded globally. High prices tempt more production, which would inevitably lead to low prices.
In addition, the USA, Japan, etc have strategic reserves that can be released if the price of oil goes too high. This was what happened in the 1991 Gulf war. In the case of the new war in the gulf, the US is bound to release its reserves; and this is bound to put pressure on the price. The reserves can last for six months.
In the coming periods, oil prices would be very unstable. A war in the Middle East would mean high prices for a period. However, this cannot be sustained due to the long-term effects of a war, the tendency to produce more and the global downturn that Middle East instability would cause. It is anticipated that it could go down to as low as $14.00 per barrel in the long run. This would spell doom for oil dependent Nigeria; without oil, Nigeria would have disintegrated since the 1960s on the basis of capitalism.
The 2003 austerity budget is based on income revenue from oil at the rate of $21 per barrel. However, even at this rate the economy would slide into more crises due to existing liabilities and debts. The domestic economy is already overheating as key sectors are complaining of low sales. Oil props up most sectors of the economy.
At the price of $20 per barrel, a cash flow crisis could develop in the long run. The current desperate attempt by OPEC to cut down production and maintain the current price regime would definitely not work in the long run. OPEC cannot enforce this cut nor can it control the non-OPEC producers who are very eager to supply whatever OPEC removes.
The effects of the global economic crisis have been very devastating and would be even more devastating in the coming periods. The Nigerian economy has been in crisis since the mid-80s. In spite of the over $500 billion made from oil within the past 40 years, there is practically nothing to show for it. There is no real industrial base, basic infrastructure, alternative source of income, developed agricultural sector, etc.
It is important to note that since the inception of the Obasanjo regime there has never been a budget. The regime prepares one and the assembly approves it every time but the regime never follows it through. This is a constant source of conflict. Every time the regime keeps discovers the hopelessness of its budget projections and it is forced to abandon them. The dubious foreign and domestic debts have gone up. All government departments owe salaries; they are defaulting on the funding of the various sectors, except for their pet white elephant projects.
The foreign reserves have gone down significantly; they were over $10 billion at the beginning of the year, they are now about $7 billion. It is bound to go lower. This is because the regime has been blacklisted by many international finance institutions including the IMF & World Bank, due to its default in paying the foreign debt. The regime now resorts to taking money out of the foreign reserves to fund its deficits. The deficit has attained very high levels, and the regime fraudulently covers this up. If this situation goes on, the country is nearing bankruptcy.
According to Obasanjo, the reserves can only sustain six months imports. In an instance where the price of oil goes lower, the regime would have to continue taking from the reserves. A $1 billion foreign exchange request is made every week by the banks in the foreign exchange market; the regime can only provide about $250 million per week.
The regime had to ban 21 banks from foreign exchange transactions due to the speculative activities of these banks, but all the banks are doing this; they are just used as scapegoats. In addition, the regime had to impose some restriction on importation. All these have had little effect. The bulk of the income coming in is lost to crude and massive corruption, mismanagement, legalized stealing by the banks, contractors, etc.
The banks loot resources via the foreign exchange transaction, government accounts and provision of dubious loans. In spite of the cry about "private sector led economy", the government remains the biggest player in the economy. The government accounts for over 90 percent of foreign exchange sold to the banks.
The financial sector is showing signs of overheating and imminent crisis; huge scandals and theft characterize this sector. The stock exchange is heavily overvalued and it has been unstable. The banks have the largest shares on the stock exchange. When it crashes, heads will roll. Already, over N91 billion were lost within the months of September and October.
There is no way they are going to meet up with the anticipated profits. Heavy-duty accounting magic is going on to give the impression that corporations are making big money. There is the case of African Petroleum, AP, a privatized petroleum distribution company, where the new management discovered that a debt of over N25 billion was hidden away from them until they had taken over. Many of the banks are having capitalization problems, in spite of the huge paper profits they declare.
The regime is usually quick to claim that inflation has gone down, although it cannot explain which policy is responsible for this nor can it give concrete facts. It is clear that prices are going down globally due to over capacity; food prices have however been going up. With further devaluation still on the agenda, prices are bound to go up in the coming period.
The boom in the new mobile telecom sector is also showing the early signs of fading out. The GSM telephone in Nigeria is probably the most expensive in the world. The crisis of the Nigerian neo-colonial capitalist economy is showing signs of qualitative degeneration and this is bound to have a very devastating effect on the working masses.
More attacks on Workers
As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the Nigerian ruling elites will get more desperate for an IMF inspired bailout in the coming period, particularly after the elections. This would involve shifting the burden of the systemic crisis they created onto the heads of the poor working masses. This process has always been in place.
The only reasons why they have not yet stepped up this process are their weakness and the coming elections. The regime fears the immediate response of workers to a direct attack to their living standard such as a fuel price increase. However, this is still on the agenda. It continues its attack via other means such as devaluation of the Naira, delays in salary and pension payments, privatization, etc.
The regime has ruled out the new 12.5% increase in the minimum wage and it has prepared an austerity budget. In the private sector, wage cuts have been imposed. This is already operational in the finance and new telecom sectors. There is a massive cut down in funding of various social services, such as education, health care, etc. In addition, a new round of retrenchment and mass layoffs are on the agenda. The ground is already being prepared with the complaint that the wage bill of the government is too high.
Political Time Bomb
According to the Economist in November 2002, "Nigeria's fragile democracy faces a major test in the state, legislative and presidential elections which are due to be held in April 2003. The run-up to the polls so far has been marked by confusion, controversy and violence; thus the prospect of a successful transfer of power from one civilian government to another is not good."
At no point in recent history, had the conflicts within the various sections of the Nigerian ruling class become so enormous. These have become very bloody now. There are conflicts practically everywhere. Within all the three former parties there are enormous battles. Within the various local government councils, State and Federal governments there are conflicts. Within all the "geo-political regions" there are open conflicts, even within companies. From the old northern conservative to the liberals there are conflicts everywhere. Impeachment and counter-impeachment, allegations of corruption, scandals, etc, dominate the airwaves. There are numerous open splits taking place within the parties. Gone are the days when conflicts were covered up in order not to show weakness.
Many have been killed in brutal politically motivated assassinations. Bloody ethnic and religious riots have been sponsored that have claimed thousands of lives. There are ongoing wars in various parts of Nigeria. The death toll and the number of "internally displaced persons" (a nice way of saying refugees) remain on the increase. There are numerous police reports of arms build up round the country. In the contest for access to the state's treasury at whatever level, be it local, state or federal, the Nigerian elites are ready to do anything. This is the bottom line of the various conflicts.
It has nothing to do with defence of the interests of any ethnic group, any religion, any profession, etc. It is all about money and privileges. Their primary assignment while in government is to make money and build up their privileges. The state treasury is a huge reserve. They whip up ethnic and religious sentiments in order to get to power, win concessions, and ultimately divide the working masses. But they know that they are no match for a united and focused working class.
Practically, all incumbent officials are seeking a second four-year term in office, starting from the presidency to the local government councilors. They are being challenged by equally desperate and determined opponents from the various parties, wards, etc.
The registration of more political parties does not cool down the heat nor does it mean that all crude methods would not be put to good use in the coming elections. The 2003 elections can never be genuinely free and fair, although, a lot of uncertainties do surround these elections.
As we have explained since 1999, the essence of the current "civilian rule" was to deceive the working masses that there is going to be change. However, four years later, their lives have changed for the worst. The dividends of democracy continue to elude them. What they see on a daily basis is a very small minority being mysteriously blessed with enormous wealth. The vast majority is getting more disillusioned and frustrated. Uncertainty prevails everywhere.
In spite of the uneasy truce on the impeachment move against Obasanjo, the intra-class conflicts within the ruling class continue in other forms. The stage is set for a desperate power struggle across the board, i.e. from local to federal. Conflicts within the ruling elites are the first signs of revolutionary ferment within society; and Nigeria is not going to be different. The wind first blows the tops of the trees.
The question of whether Obasanjo stays or goes remains unresolved. Some sections of the Nigerian ruling elites are of the opinion that he must leave and they constitute a significant number. This is why numerous crude methods have been employed towards weakening the regime, such as impeachment. The regime has lost all ground in the National Assembly as most members are against it.
British and US imperialism have been silent over this issue, although they can clearly see that the regime is outliving its usefulness in defending their interests. They know quite well that an alternative arrangement must be worked out soon. However, they are all in a big dilemma.
No doubt, 2003 is going to be another historical turning point. It is possible and very likely that Obasanjo, in view of the enormous state resources at his disposal, combined with the immediate lack of an alternative, may return himself as president. This goes the same for the some of the second-term-seeking governors. This does not go for the various assembly members, some governors, etc, in the bad books of the regime.
However, this is all going to be at a huge cost. This is the perfect recipe for more crisis and major instability, as all means and methods possible would be used to achieve this criminal goal. The ethnic and religious cards are going to be played up. Crude rigging and violence will be employed. Trouble has already started with the primaries of the parties.
Unlike in 1999, where the zoning formula could be crudely enforced, the 2003 elections will not obey that rule. The various sections of the ruling class would very likely put up candidates for all positions including the presidency.
In 1999, the most conservative and dominant section of the Nigerian ruling class formed an alliance behind Obasanjo for various criminal reasons. That alliance has since collapsed. Babangida (IBB), the former military dictator, played a major role in that alliance. Right now, he is also playing a devilish role in the anti-Obasanjo alliance.
The relationship between Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku, also cannot be said to be rosy. There are many underground conflicts going on, which on numerous occasions have found their way to the press. Since 1999, Obasanjo has been trying to build his own independent power base, independent from the alliance that brought him to power. In the coming elections he would have to create an ethnic base from himself in southwestern Nigeria. This will inevitably come into conflict with the southwestern liberals in the AD and southwest section of his own caucus.
In essence, 2003 could prove to be the most explosive in Nigeria's history. At all levels, local, state and federal, there are conflicts. Considering the level of poverty and the whipping up of all forms of ethnic and religious poisons, a bloody confrontation is on the agenda.
Whatever is the case, the resultant regimes (from local to federal) that would emerge from the 2003 elections would be much weaker and very unstable. They will not be in a position to solve the numerous problems facing society, rather the programme they will have will be that of the IMF.
The objective situation that is inevitably going to develop in the coming period is bound to force the ruling elites to look for other options for fooling the masses. The option for a government of national unity that would include the representatives of the workers, the radicals, and all wings of the ruling class would be toyed with. A "sovereign national conference", which is nothing but a talk shop, is also on the agenda.
This is not proposed as a way of solving the numerous problems of society. Far from it, it is geared towards deceiving the workers into thinking that there is change while the ruling elites continue to loot from them and lay the basis for more chaos. However, in the longer run, as all options fail and the masses get more disillusioned numerous barbaric options could develop such as a military coup or ethnic civil war.
There have been three general strikes, and numerous other strikes and protests in Nigeria since 1999. Right now, there are numerous strikes going on around the country on various issues, either over unpaid wages or violations of agreements, etc., protests against casualisation, unpaid pensions, killings, etc.
In spite of all the odds, the workers have continued to struggle against the numerous inhuman atrocities committed by the ruling elites. The leadership of the trade unions have played a very reactionary role by undermining these struggles, thereby making it easy for the ruling class. Most of the strikes breaking out are because of pressure from the workers, and the local leaderships have no choice but to lead. However, the struggle is usually undermined by the national leadership who distance themselves from these struggles in most cases. They refuse to organize either national campaigns or even to call for solidarity strikes.
Similar developments occur on the campuses. The NANS (National Association of Nigerian Students0 leadership is very corrupt and pro-state. This accounts for why the regime could get away with so many draconian policies on the campuses.
However, a new wave of industrial struggles is developing in spite of the dishonest role played by the leadership of labour. As the economic crisis continues, the ruling elites will continue to attack the living standards and income of the working masses. This is already provoking strikes. The attacks are bound to be stepped up in the coming period. The ruling elites are losing credibility by the day, as they get more discredited.
The situation in Nigeria compares only with a country in a pre-revolutionary stage. The economic struggles of Nigerian workers are definitely bound to develop into political struggles in the coming periods. This is because workers will draw the conclusion that only by going for power would there be a more meaningful change. Considering the fact that there are now more political parties, workers are bound to turn to a political party that they see as their own and represent their interests.
The PSD and Nigerian workers
The demand for a workers' party resting on the trade unions and with a socialist programme has been our (the Workers’ Alternative) major programmatic demand since the maiden edition of this journal. This demand is featured in all editions of our paper.
The question of a workers' party has been in the air consistently within the Nigerian trade unions for quite a while. Back in 1989, the NLC then set up the Labour Party but it was not registered by the IBB regime.
Since 2000, there have been several meetings organized by the NLC on the question of a labour party. Committees were set up, banners designed, programmes and manifestos drafted, a name was even adopted – the Working Peoples' Party, etc. All this was done at the executive level; the vast majority of the workers were unaware of all this.
The question now is who owns the recently formed Party of Social Democracy, PSD? Can it be regarded as a workers' party? How far can it go? To the extent that the party was set up by the NLC, it is a workers' party. However, it is one thing to set up a party, it is another thing for the party to represent the yearnings and aspirations of the workers. Moreover, it is another thing to mobilize workers into the party.
The leadership of labour consciously distanced itself from the struggle for multipartyism, unlike the NCP. In addition, the NLC leaders have never been too eager to set up a workers' party. This accounts for why they never really mobilized workers into it. They chose the name PSD because they claimed that if it was called a workers'/labour party it would not be registered.
The reason for their action is that they fear that a genuine workers' party would definitely set up a process that would undermine their powers and privileges. As the massive influx of workers into their party would raise many issues, such as democratic management of affairs of the entire union movement. No doubt, had the mass majority of workers known that there was a party they would have joined much earlier and they would have led the struggle for its registration along with full democratic rights.
However, in spite of the intentions of the leadership of labour, Nigerian workers are going to look for a political alternative to the current rotten options posed by the Nigerian ruling elites. The impending struggles of workers and youth along with the crisis of capitalism make this inevitable.
The prospects for the PSD in spite of every thing are would appear to be bright, but a lot depends on the leadership. And this is a big BUT! Right now, the party is empty; it is not yet set up in the factories, campuses, wards, etc. It can definitely not meet up with the requirements for the coming elections but its state could change once the workers begin to move. It has the potential to grow very fast; it could be the party for the future in spite of the intentions of the leadership. Workers and youth activists should therefore try and transform this party into a genuine voice of the workers.
However, it very important to note that the leadership of the trade unions, i.e. the trade union bureaucrats, may consciously try to kill the party before it has even had a chance to breath. The inability of the leadership to mobilize workers into the party is going to be very counter-productive.
In addition, they are considering merging with another party. It must not be forgotten that some trade union leaders are card-carrying members of the PDP and other parties. Obasanjo was even allowed to campaign for the presidency at the last May Day rally! Adams Oshiomhole was present at Obasanjo's formal launching of his presidential campaign. Thus in the absence of a clear alternative from labour, workers may be forced to look elsewhere.
The National Consciousness Party, NCP, is no doubt one of the most radical bourgeois options before the working class and youth in Nigeria. The contributions of the key personality in the leadership of the party, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, to the struggle against military dictatorship and for basic democratic rights is of enormous significance.
No doubt, the struggle for registration of the parties was spearheaded by the NCP. The impressive legal action and arguments went a long way towards exposing the judicial fraud of the 'civilian regime' and the emptiness of the imposed constitution. However, had the regime refused to register the party, the party did not have a mass base to protest or resist, as the NCP is not a mass party.
Had the leadership of the NLC played half the role Gani's NCP has played, there would have been more results. The NLC has much more power because it represents the Nigerian workers. In addition, the ruling elites would have granted not only more concessions but at a much quicker pace.
Because there was no workers’ party and no real lead from the trade union leaders some layers within society see the NCP as an alternative, particularly layers of the youth. This is due to its past role. However, in spite of the seeming radical posture of the party there exist very significant limitations. First, it is not a workers' party, nor does it pretend to rest on the working class. It is a radical bourgeois party with a lot of middle class influence. It claims to be for the abolition of poverty, but nobody can eliminate poverty better than the workers themselves, through their organizations such as the NLC and now their party (if this is allowed to take off).
Internally, the NCP is far from being democratic and it is built around a personality. If that personality goes, the party could collapse. Second, it does not stand for a socialist solution to the crisis of capitalism. Rather it adopts a middle of the road position. It is one thing to be radical; it is another to have a real and workable alternative. In addition, you have to be oriented to the class that can effect change within society.
Without a clear-cut orientation to the working class and a programme of socialist transformation of society, the NCP cannot stand the test of time. It cannot withstand the pressures and influence of the IMF/World Bank or the Nigeria ruling class. It cannot withstand the corrupting influence of capitalist society. Already, the NCP has taken sides with some sections of the Nigerian ruling class on many issues, such as on the national conference talk shop, ethnic chauvinism, impeachment, etc. It does not have a programme of struggle or a clear line of action. This accounts for why it believes absolutely in the courts. Had the leadership of labour played a more relevant role, the NCP would have actually been irrelevant. It can play a role because the trade union leaders are not providing a genuine working class based alternative. Therefore a layer of workers and youth could turn to this party and try and use it as an instrument for change. If they succeed in this then the NCP could take on a more important role. If not it could be absorbed into bourgeois politics.
An old sage one said, "history is a very skillful and merciful teacher" - skillful because it repeats the same old lessons over time, merciful because it repeats the same questions over time! The lesson of history in Nigeria is that neo-colonial capitalism is responsible for the problems of society. It cannot be reformed in any way by the Nigerian ruling class who are the sole beneficiaries and operators of this establishment.
Only the working class in alliance with the other poor strata of society can end it, armed with the programme of the socialist transformation of society.
Forward to a genuine workers’ party with a socialist programme!