29 years on, lessons of June 12, 1993, and the 2023 general elections
Time to build a mass workers political alternative
Segun Sango, a veteran fighter for working class rights and against the military dictatorship, died on May 24, 2022. He was one of the first to correctly analysed, from a left perspective and with political clarity, the details of mass movement that followed the annulment of June 12, 1993, elections.
It's been twenty-nine years since the events of June 12 elections, which were marked by mass strikes and protests. Nigerian working masses, civil society groups , trade unions and youth protested against the annulment of the election by the Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime.
Movement against the annulment
June 12 has consequently been declared ‘Democracy Day’ (until 2018 it was May 29), and many awards were given to pro-democracy figures.
Moshood Basorun Abiola, a capitalist politician and close friend of the top military officers, stood as the Presidential Candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and won the elections against Bashiru Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC). The result was not the one the regime was hoping for, so they decided to annul the elections with the excuse of “irregularities”. MKO Abiola was later arrested and detained for fighting to implement the June 12 election results, and later died in detention.
Many Nigerians, especially from the southern part of Nigeria, still want Abiola officially declared winner of the June 12, 1993 election and recognised as a former president. But beyond all of this, the events that followed the annulment of the election changed Nigeria forever. The protests sent a signal to Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida regime that time was up for him. He later stepped aside and handed over power to an interim government headed by Enerst Shonekan. Few months later, another military coup occurred and Sani Abacha came to power with more draconian policies and abuse of human rights. Successive governments since have continued anti poor policies of privatization and commercialization.
As Marxists we had no illusion in Abiola, but events of the past bring back memories of how we can organize and fight back to counter Nigeria’s present socio-economic crisis. We support all struggles of working class in communities, work places and strive to build a formidable union that can defend the interests of the oppressed. But we must also try to put in perspective historic events, because right wing bourgeois historians do not mention the long strikes organised by the petroleum workers. Under the umbrella of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), they went on strike to demand June 12 election results recognition and the swearing in of Abiola as duly elected president. This led to the arrest and detention of the leaders of the petroleum workers, including Frank Kokori and Wariebe Agamene, while their families were terrorized and brutalized by the military. But it was not only the strike leaders. Ordinary people were not spared in the brutal repression of the military regime. Workers, students, youth and the unemployed were killed in the streets of Lagos and other cities across Nigeria under the orders of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and later General Sani Abacha. Press freedom was also persistently and continuously violated with media outlets shut down and many journalists brutalized and jailed. Some people lived to tell the story but many disappeared and until today their whereabouts are unknown.
Nigerian working masses had illusions that the return to civilian rule in the year 1999 would mark the beginning of better life and a rise in living standards, leaving behind the horrific experience of the military dictatorship. But the current civilian regime, apart from the removal of direct military dictatorship and their cohorts, has failed to meet the aspirations and hopes of ordinary working-class people and youth. The limited democratic rights that come with civilian rule have been violently attacked, as successive civilian governments adopt more authoritarian and despotic methods. The reliance on security forces to enforce their rules and anti-people economic policies is more and more evident. Up till now many activists are under attacks and many workers are not allowed to unionize. Peaceful protests are repressed and most time protesters are arrested and detained.
As we write today, Nigeria has been divided and has become a death trap for millions of people. The present Buhari regime hasn’t been able to resolve any of the crises faced by Nigerian capitalism. The rate of inflation has increased from 9% in 2015 to almost 17% in April 2022.
The Buhari regime is a continuation of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) regime, like the GEJ itself was a continuation of the previous capitalist regimes. The huge problems faced by Nigeria today are as a result of a long period of neoliberal and neocolonial policies. The exploitative economic policies of the regime have increased joblessness. As we write, the unemployment rate is at 33 percent. This is definitely one of the reasons why the rate of insecurity is high and kidnapping, banditry, etc are rising fast.
The Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) has been on strike since February because of the government’s refusal to implement their just demands. Other unions have also launched separate industrial actions to press home their demands for better working conditions for their members, University autonomy and increased funding for public universities. The Research Institutions across the country have also been on strike since October 2021.
Security of ordinary people has been compromised by the Nigerian ruling class. Things has moved from bad to worse. About 3,000 civilians were killed by armed bandits in 2021. This is an increase of over 250 percent compared to 2020. Since January 2022, more than 250 people have been killed in attacks by armed bandits in Zamfara State. On April 10, more than 100 people were killed in attacks on several communities in the Kanam Local Government Area of Plateau State. The violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. On June 5, 2022. a Catholic church in Owo, Ondo state was attacked by an unidentified group of armed men who killed about 70 people while scores of people were injured. From South to North, security has collapsed and killings continue unstopped. We have called for community based democratic control security system to end continued mass killings and insecurity.
The government is trying to make excuses of not having funds to meet the demands of the unions and for social programs. These are just lies. Nigeria’s accountant-general Ahmed Idris was arrested recently by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over alleged N80 billion fraud. According to the report, he raked off the funds through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates, like in many other corruption cases. Corruption is endemic in Nigerian capitalism, and it shows that unless we fight for a socialist revolution corruption cannot be eliminated. Nigeria is ranked 154 out of 180 countries on the global Corruption Perception Index.
Just recently, the National Council of State has granted state pardon to former governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States respectively, who are serving terms in jail for corruption.
The governors were among 159 prisoners pardoned by the Council at a meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. Among the beneficiaries are a former military general and minister under the Sani Abacha regime, Tajudeen Olanrewaju, an army lieutenant colonel, Akiyode, who was an aide of former deputy to General Abacha, Oladipo Diya and all the junior officers jailed over the 1990 abortive Gideon Orkar coup. It’s ridiculous that former governors and ministers that looted their state resources and public money while in office were pardoned without even paying back anything. This shows that the regime’s fight against corruption is against only the opposition party’s and perceived enemy of the regime.
There was massive corruption during the primaries of the ruling parties. According to reports, delegates were paid about $5,000 to $35,000 from aspirant to secure their party ticket to be able to stand as party candidate incoming general elections. So far, the former vice president Atiku Abubakar won the People Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket and former governor of Lagos state Bola Tinubu won the ruling of All Progressive Congress (APC) ticket. This serves to show how the regrouping of the ruling class continues despite the growing opposition from below. From the East to the West, from the North to the South, ordinary Nigerians face a lack of basic security and decent living standards. They want to see their wealth spent to improve welfare. But the present political vicious cycle cannot offer that prospect, that’s why we are where we are.
2023 general elections
As we move to the 2023 general elections, the Left is in disarray and not sure of having a candidate or providing a clear alternative. With the deregistration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and other political parties there’s an attempt by the ruling class and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to close the political space for parties that stand with the people.
We follow the events around the victory of Omoyel Sowore as the National Chairman of the Africa Action Congress (AAC). For three years now the state has used an agent, usurper and impostor to take over this party. Omoyele Sowore has won the AAC presidential ticket and now it’s in his hand to show if he is ready to fight against neoliberalism and privatizations in order to win workers to his side. We have argued many times that privatizations are fraudulent, that neoliberal policies destroy the economy and are the reason why we are where we are today. Even the ruling vice president of Nigeria openly agreed that privatization of power sector has failed. As things stand, we will continue to campaign for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and under democratic control of the working people.
There is an effort going on with the aim to reclaim the Labour Party. The Trade Union Congress and the Nigeria Labour Congress have directed their members to join the Labour Party. About 50,000 workers have registered across states. Meanwhile, the Federal Government and the Kogi State Government have directed workers to stay away from politics. Other State Governments are subtly discouraging workers from registering as members of the Labour Party. These are features of a neocolonial state, where workers are seen as just voters, mere commentators and speculators. Workers have the right to belong to political parties and even stand in elections, and we should uphold that basic democratic right.
The Labour Party was formed by trade union leaders and other left forces in 1989. Though it wasn’t registered and wasn’t allowed to participate in 1993 elections. but was later hijacked by reactionary forces. It became a dumping ground for candidates rejected by the bourgeois parties or those who couldn’t clinch the ticket of their parties. While we appreciate the genuine intentions of some on the trade unions and the Left that have joined the Labour Party, we want to note that Peter Obi, a former governor and a capitalist politician, has gotten the LP presidential ticket. He stood under no social democratic programme. There is no doubt that we need to understand that there is some support for Peter Obi in the South East of the country, because some people want to see a president coming from the South. But we have also argued that rotational presidency won’t solve Nigeria’s problems, because the ruling class that Peter Obi, Atiku and their likes belong to remain united against ordinary people.
Radical policies needed
As Marxists, we support radical programs to end the suffering of ordinary people and we're are ready to work with genuine trade union leaders that want to build the Labour Party as true party of ordinary people and workers. But elections will always be a means to an end, not an end in itself. All of the chorus around reclaiming Labour Party must not be around 2023 general elections. We must work towards a united front of all the Left forces, the movements and the trade unions, to prepare for the period after the 2023 general elections. It is certain that more struggles will break out because both the APC and PDP presidential candidates are part of those who destroyed Nigeria through massive looting of public resources. It is also sure that they will all use money inducement, vote buying and gerrymandering to outsmart each other to get power in 2023.
The struggle for political power in a neocolonial country requires mass mobilisation beyond yearly usual events. We need a mass campaign for living wages, democratic control of our resources, to fight against the removal of the minimum wage from exclusive legislative list, we need more resources for health care, education, building houses and road construction through public funds, we need workers control and management of all public works without contractors, and jobs for all the unemployed. This programme, if popularized in a mass campaign in the streets by all the progressive forces, trade unions, human rights activists and socialists will have a mass appeal on workers and youth. Any government that come to power on basis of neo liberalism and capitalism will be worse than the previous ones. We need to use that fact in order to build support for socialist policies. That is why we are committed to building a mass worker political alternative, while we of course do not close our eyes to developments in the Africa Action Congress (AAC) and the Labour Party (LP). We in the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (RSM) are committed to the struggle for a socialist Nigeria in a Socialist Confederation of Africa. Join us in our struggle!