A Working People’s Independent Political Alternative Urgently Needed
At the end of voting on April 19th, 2003 in an election that was characterised and marked by large scale electoral fraud, President Olusegun Obasanjo was declared winner, ushering in another four years of Obasanjo presidency. His party, the PDP was also declared as having made substantial gains especially in the erstwhile AD stronghold of the Southwest.
But the results of the election bear no relationship with the reality of the performance of the Obasanjo regime in the last four years. Having come to power in 1999 against the backdrop of the struggle against military dictatorship and against the background of his incarceration by the Abacha junta, many had hoped for a better deal from his regime.
Four years after, however, the lot of the working people is no better, with mass unemployment, poverty, ethnic and religious crisis, decayed and collapsing infrastructure, the perennial fuel crisis, armed robbery, political violence, etc.
Before the elections itself, there had been fears of widespread violence and unrest especially against the backdrop of the widespread violence that characterised intra-party primaries and the politically-motivated killings in various parts of the country. While the level of political violence that attended the elections was somewhat lower than expected, the elections still recorded widespread violence especially in the South-South and South Eastern parts of the country.
But while the violence that attended the elections might have been lower than expected, the rigging and electoral fraud recorded during the elections were unprecedented and of unbelievable magnitude with ballot stuffing, falsification of results, hijacking of electoral materials, declarations of results where no voting took place, intimidation of voters and the connivance of police, military men and electoral commission (INEC) officials to manipulate the results of the election in favour of the ruling paties being the order of the day. The elections equally were undoubtedly the most monetised in the history of elections in Nigeria. The normally taciturn European Union election monitors, in reporting the elections described it as being marred by “…widespread election fraud” which “… undermined the integrity of the electoral process…”
While the spindoctors of the Obasanjo regime are quick to point to the introduction of the Global System for Mobile telecommunications (GSM), the availability of fuel at filling stations, the regular electricity supply, establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the introduction of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme, increases in workers salaries, as major achievements of the Obasanjo government, a closer look however reveals that this so called achievements are nothing but a mirage which have all expired even before the end of Obasanjo's first term in office. The reality is that the so-called achievements pale into insignificance in the face of the grim reality facing the vast majority of Nigerians. For most Nigerians, hunger, poverty, disease, ignorance and squalor remain the order of the day. As statistics reveals, less than 10% of Nigerians have access to the minimum healthcare facilities recommended by WHO, 85.5 million Nigerians are too poor to afford the basic standard of living, good shelter, nutritious food and good education while 69% or 89 million Nigerians are living on less than one dollar a day. Life expectancy at birth is 47 years for males and 52 years for females.
In most parts of the country, paralysing fuel scarcity is the norm rather than the exception with most parts of the country having to rely on the black market for fuel and having to pay over a 100% above the official price. The nation's four refineries with a total installed capacity well over the daily requirement of the country have not been functional despite billions of naira allegedly expended on them over the past four years. Fuel importers with connection at the highest levels of government and fronting for top government officials have constituted themselves into a powerful mafia holding the nation hostage because of the huge profits being made from the importation of refined petroleum products.
In the areas of telecommunication, the three GSM networks could boast of only about an estimated 3 million subscribers out of an estimated population of 120 million Nigerians (160 million according to the Minister of Internal affairs, Dr. Mohammed Shata). For most of the estimated 3 millions subscribers, the price of the services remains very prohibitive, despite the difficulties encountered in even making calls on the networks. The situation in the telecommunication sector is such that a recent study quoted by Peter Foster, a journalist writing in the London Daily Telegraph of April 18, 2003, indicates that “it is easier to get connected in Somalia, a country without a government than in Nigeria”!
Electricity supply is equally not better. Power supply, despite all promises to the contrary and about N350 billion expended on NEPA, has remained erratic and epileptic as ever with about 70% of Nigerians without access to electricity supply at all.
In the education sector, it is the same story of woes. The universities are just reopening after over five months of a strike by the Academic Union (ASUU) for better funding to arrest the decay and rot in the sector. At the primary and post primary segment of the educational sector, things are even worst, with ill-motivated teaching and non-teaching staff being owed backlog of salaries and allowances. Low morale and motivation of the teachers over the years coupled with a complete lack of instructional materials and infrastructures have combined to render education at the primary and post-primary sector comatose.
Despite claims of catering for workers' welfare by increasing workers' salaries, the reality is that apart from the infinitesimal proportion of the working masses the increase covered, the overall effects of the increase have been wiped out by the pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist policies of the government such as increases in the pump price of petroleum products, retrenchment of thousands of workers, and late or non-payment of salaries and pensions.
All over, it is the same story of rot, decay, corruption, disillusionment, disappointment, poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease, squalor and impoverishment for the vast majority of the people. Despite increases in oil revenues which have been hovering at around 25 dollars a barrel for most parts of the last three years away from the 9 dollars a barrel as at May 29, 1999, there has been no fundamental improvement in the lives of the masses. The more money the country makes, the more the sufferings for the people.
With Obasanjo guaranteed another four years in power, will the lot of the masses improve? Will the election of PDP, ANPP and AD at the state level bring an end to economic, social and political crises? The answer to these questions is capital NO! Considering the commitment of the Obasanjo government and all these capitalist parties to further increase in the pump price of petroleum products, privatisation and commercialisation of public utilities and corporations, and the pursuit of IMF/World Bank inspired policies of minimal investment in social services such as roads, education, housing, healthcare etc, the working masses are set undoubtedly for another round of poverty, suffering and pains.
The prospect for every aspect of life looks gloomy, except the working people and vast majority of the masses brace up to defend the further erosion of their standard of living. Already, the regime has revealed its intention to implement anther fuel price increase and to completely deregulate petroleum marketing and pricing. The privatisation of Nigerian Airways, Nigerian Railway Corporation, refineries and NEPA is on top of the agenda of Obasanjo's second term. In the process, tens of thousands of workers will be retrenched and prices of services being rendered by these enterprises will be increased astronomically. Education and other social services like healthcare will be further commercialised as could be seen in the recent wave of sharp increases in school fees in nearly all the country's tertiary institutions of learning.
Therefore, the challenge confronting the working masses is that of building a mass based, grassroot political party armed with a pro-poor programme and with roots in most communities, streets and villages, that can champion the fight against these looming attacks and provide a platform for the defence of the rights and living standards of the working masses. Such a party must stand for the provision of free, quality education, healthcare, full employment with decent wages, affordable mass housing, social welfare benefits for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the elderly and other vital programmes that can drastically uplift the deplorable living standards and working conditions of the masses. Above all, it must be armed with the perspectives and programme of transforming society along socialist lines. To build such a political platform is the most urgent task for labour, trade union and youth activists. The NLC leaders must stop their disastrous romance and collaboration with the PDP and other ruling capitalist parties and take up this challenge of building an independent working class alternative. The National Conscience Party (NCP) must also be built as a grassroot, mass-based, democratic political party with a democratic socialist and anti-capitalist programme and strategy. These are the only ways to stop the rampaging attacks on the working people by the PDP and all the capitalist parties and bring lasting end to the unending economic, social and political crises facing the country.