Elections have been taking place in Nigeria, both for Parliament (on 12 April) and for the governorships of its various states and for the Presidency (on 19 April). Both elections, in which the ruling People’s Democratic Party gained an overwhelming majority, were flawed by widespread electoral fraud, as a result of which there have been dark threats from opposition candidates that they were prepared to launch even armed insurrection to challenge the declared results. According to the Guardian of 19 April, Sesun Osoba, the governor of Ogun state, said on a Lagos radio station: “I can tell you that my boys are incensed. They are armed and ready … If anybody tries what they did last Saturday [referring to improprieties in the parliamentary elections], they will meet legitimate force”. And, according to the same Guardian article, Obasanju’s “two main challengers for the Presidency, Muhammadu Buhari and Emeka Ojukwu, have promised ‘mass action’ if they consider themselves cheated” in the Presidential election.
Speaking of the parliamentary election, the Economist of 19-25 April 2003 gave some details of the improprieties that took place:
In Warri, a “smoggy, garbage-choked oil town, … nearly four-fifths of the voters [in one ward] were too frightened to vote. Youths waving submachine guns from their Mercedes drew up outside one polling station and demanded the ballot papers, boxes and result sheets …
“None of this, however, was worse than expected. Warri and its surrounding creeks and swamps are fractious even by Nigerian standards. Ethnic violence is common, especially at elections. Politicians are expected to give jobs to, and spend public money on, members of their own tribe. The Ijaws, the largest tribe around Warri, complain that unfair electoral boundaries prevent them from winning control of local government. Ijaw youths threatened to disrupt the election unless the boundaries were redrawn. They kept their word.
“Last month … a group of Ijaws attacked villages inhabited by the Itsekeri tribe, the relatively well-educated minority who dominate local politics. Itsekeri leaders say that at least 100 people died …”
And further ” …The people were reported killed in a village in Bayelsa, one of the country’s 36 states. Elsewhere several vehicles carrying electoral materials were hijacked. And an assassin’s bullet aimed at a candidate for governor in Enugu state ‘missed him by the whiskers’, according to the Sunday Champion, a local paper.
“Shambolic organisation allowed vote-riggers to do their work undetected. Some cheats held palm kernels over their thumbs to disguise the print, enabling them to register often. …”
In spite of all of this, the Economist nevertheless concluded that “Overall, the voting was popular, peaceful and probably more or less reflected the will of the people.”
The Financial Times too detailed massive election irregularities in an article by Michael Peel on 19 April, ‘Earlier results cast doubt on fairness of landmark poll’:
Referring to the elections in Rivers State (where government office is particularly lucrative as a result of the region’s oil revenues), “The results suggest about 70 per cent of the state’s 2.27 m registered electorate voted, even though most observers say it is unlikely turnout was much more than half that level ..
“In the town of Etche, near Port Harcourt, two people were reported to have died after armed thugs prevented opposition supporters from voting.”
Chinedu Onyejelem in the Irish Times of 18 April (“Incumbent set to win ‘battle of generals”) further points out that “Some parties have also claimed that the ruling party masterminded the disqualification of many of their supporters from voting. Over 7 million voters were disqualified shortly before the election last week by the electoral commission” (obviously what’s good enough for the USA is good enough for Nigeria!).
In actual fact, imperialism is quite happy with the regime in Nigeria. It has become a country ‘fit for democracy’, because all those who might challenge imperialist interests in that country have been eliminated or intimidated during the long years of military rule and are not to be found standing in elections. Since it is a matter of indifference who wins the election, it is equally a matter of indifference how the election is won: According to Rory Carroll in the Guardian of 19 April (‘Tension runs high as Nigeria votes’), “The Lagos newspaper This Day said all sides would try to cheat in the vote, but that should not void the result because, imperfect as it is, the candidate with the most votes was likely to win”.
There is no point, in the view of imperialism, in challenging the result of the election, notwithstanding all the rigging, because the “consequences of destabilising the region by dubbing Nigeria’s government illegitimate are too awful to contemplate …” (ibid.). In other words, since the winner, Olugesun Obasanjo, and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are tools and puppets of imperialism, why rock the boat?
As This Day correctly said: “It is bad for people to rig elections. But life in Nigeria is rigged. The electoral process, the political parties, the governance structure, the entire system, everything is decidedly rigged against the ordinary person” (quoted in the Guardian, ibid.).
Elections in Nigeria are a jamboree only for those who strive to be imperialism’s highly remunerated chief flunkeys and have, for that purpose, to be able to demonstrate to their masters that they can keep the population under control – preferably through deception, but by use of force if necessary. A little electoral violence is hardly going to cause imperialism to turn against its chief hatchet men, provided reaction to that violence doesn’t lead to loss of control.
The chief contenders in the election, Obasanjo on the one hand and Buhari on the other, are no strangers to violence. They have both been in power before, as a result in both cases of military coups. The only difference between them is, in the words of the Financial Times leader of 17 April 2003, that whereas “… Gen Obasanjo, who was put forward for the job [of military ruler] when his predecessor was shot, made way in 1979 for an interlude of civilian government … Gen Buhari, by contrast, came in through a coup and – after some particularly repressive measures – was ousted by another coup. His power base is much more narrowly regional than Mr Obasanjo’s and on his past record he has few credentials to be a champion of liberalisation or consensus”. Nigeria until 1999 suffered 15 years of brutal military regimes. During the time that Obasanjo and Buhari respectively were in power, imperialism was happy, but the ordinary Nigerian people decidedly were not, as neither had anything whatever to contribute to the wellbeing of the Nigerian people. Nor have matters improved in the years of civilian rule under President Obasanjo. Chinedu Onyejelem in the Irish Times of 18 April (‘Incumbent set to win ‘battle of generals”) spells out the sorry tale:
“Millions of ordinary Nigerians who do not have faith in the political system due to corruption and maladministration will also not be voting … Many of them regard the election as the scramble for the control of the nation’s natural resources, and the election means nothing to people battling poverty.
“Some states have not paid workers their monthly salaries since December 2002. Electricity and water are in very short supply.
“Though Nigeria, a country with a population of over 120 million, is one of the top 12 producers of oil in the world, it has continued to experience a scarcity in all basic needs”.
Thus Nigeria, which should be hugely rich, is devastatingly poor. It not only has oil and gas, it has also tin, columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead and zinc. 33% of its territory is arable land, 44% pastures. It produces cocoa, peanuts, palm oil, corn, rice, sorghum, millet, cassava, yams, rubber, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, timber and fish. 13,000 sq km of its total 910,768 sq km contain water in the form of lakes or rivers. Yet life expectancy is only 51 years, and infant mortality is 73 per 1000 live births.- about one child in 14. More than 1 in 20 of all adults is affected by HIV/AIDS. 45% of the population was said in 1997 to be living below the poverty line, but the United Nations Development Programme has recently revised that figure to 70%. The lowest 10% of the population receiving by way of household income 1.6% of the total, while the highest 10% receive 40.8%. And according to Rory Carroll (op. cit.), “its per capita gross national product of $260 … is lower than it was at independence from Britain 43 years ago.”
While in time-honoured fashion the appalling state of Nigeria’s economy is blamed on the undoubted corruption of its ruling politicians, the true culprit and cause of Nigeria’s economic ills is the corrupter and not so much the corrupted. One service the flunkeys of imperialism have to perform for their master is to take the blame for the poverty caused by its depredations. True, they are deserving of blame, for they are the ones who facilitate those depredations, but it still has to be remembered that the wealth that they accumulate for themselves in their various Swiss bank accounts is as nothing compared to the wealth that imperialism, especially US and British imperialism, are accumulating for themselves as a result of the exploitation of Nigeria’s natural resources, especially oil and gas. The oil sector provides 20% of Nigerian GDP, 95% of foreign exchange earnings and about 65% of budgetary revenues. And yet the oil is sold for next to nothing. Much of it goes to the United States, 10% of whose oil imports come from Nigeria. And, of course, Nigeria’s oil does not belong to the Nigerians but is controlled by Royal Dutch Shell, the dominant power, with Chevron Texaco and Exxon-Mobil beginning to muscle in to share the booty. While selling petrol cheap in the United States, these imperialist concerns are still able to make record profits – while Nigeria gets poorer and poorer. Technically the oil exploitation is done in ‘joint ventures’ with the Nigerian national oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, but it is obviously imperialism that holds the whip hand.
Because of the low prices paid for oil, and to a lesser extent the high prices paid to influential kleptocrats, Nigeria never has any money to provide not only for people’s basic necessities, but even for infrastructure such as reliable electricity, telephone and water supplies, public transport, decent roads, etc. At various times it tries to get out of its difficulties by instituting projects that necessitate borrowing money from imperialist banks – it is currently in debt to the tune of $28.5 billion, as a result of which debt servicing (i.e., the payment of tribute to imperialism) sucks up a huge slice of the relatively little Nigeria is able to earn from the export of its oil. Furthermore, if the imperialist banks are prepared to lend money to a third-world country, it is generally on condition that various imperialist concerns land lucrative contracts and are able to corner a goodly share of the borrowed money. Moreover, the projects which are approved are projects which can never set Nigeria on the path of economic independence and self-sufficiency. According to Anthony Goldman and William Wallis in the Financial Times of 9 May 2002, ‘Gambling with the future’, “Despite declining standards in health and education, the government has felt able to afford a $330 million national stadium, a $94 million space programme and to resume spending this year on the Ajaokuta steel mill. After $5 billion or so of state investment over 20 years, Ajaokuta has yet to produce a single roll of steel”. Ah, but what profits imperialism would have made, and what kickbacks its flunkeys would have received!
Naturally the flunkeys forever seek to increase Nigeria’s debt, while imperialism in turn is nowadays making further loans dependent on “economic reform” in the direction of privatisation of its industries – i.e., their transfer to foreign hands. Cement and petroleum marketing companies as well as banks have already been privatised. Electoral considerations, however, are causing a temporary glitch in the privatisation programme – and holding up release of further loans from the IMF! According to William Wallis in the Financial Times of 9 May 2002 (‘Sell-off plans reach critical juncture’), “This year… officials acknowledge that political imperatives will probably bring a new phase of planned sales which includes fertiliser companies, heavy industries, ports and airports to a halt.”. With the elections safely out of the way, however, privatisation will no doubt resume full steam ahead and include Nepa, the state-owned electricity company, which officials “plan to divide… between generation, transmission and distribution companies this year and sell off at least part of the latter” (ibid.). In Nigeria, as in Britain, public support for privatisation of national assets is “won” by under-investing to such an extent that they cannot perform their functions properly and then promising that on privatisation they will become ‘efficient’ because of subjection to ‘market forces’. Efficiency, however, depends not on market forces but on adequate investment – and the question arises, where is that investment to come from? Privatised industries, as we in Britain know only too well, either deteriorate still further on privatisation (which is what usually happens) or they become infinitely more expensive. Either way, it is bad news for the masses of the Nigerian people whose condition is already appalling.
As the weight of the oppressor becomes heavier and heavier, the oppressed cannot help but to fight back – they have to in order to survive – notwithstanding the dedication of the various regimes to the elimination of all potential anti-imperialist leadership over the years since independence. Anthony Goldman and William Wallis note (op. cit.) that “poverty is fuelling social tensions. In three years, some 10,000 Nigerians have died in ethnic and religious fighting or fallen victim to soaring crime … The police went on strike last month, for the first time, demanding payment of pension and salary arrears. Officers say discontent in army ranks is also rife”. There are ongoing campaigns of sabotage by local people of oil pipelines in the south. Imperialism and its flunkeys use every available opportunity to channel this resistance into communal conflict – inter-tribal hostility and religious bigotry: The flunkeys have the additional incentive that by leading communal rebellion they are simultaneously passing on the blame for their own failure to right the economy, as well as building up a mass following that will help them to establish their credentials with imperialism as influential flunkeys who are to be supported in gaining or maintaining political power. “In the predominantly Muslim north, opportunist politicians have bent to popular demands for the imposition of Islamic Sharia law. This has sparked an explosive dispute with Christians, who are themselves inclining towards less tolerant forms of the faith.” By encouraging various sections of the most downtrodden and oppressed to blame and fight each other, imperialism and its flunkeys expect to be able to retain control notwithstanding the increasing hardship that they are inflicting on the Nigerian people.
Nevertheless, although opponents of imperialism have been murdered and the Nigerian people’s attempts to build a revolutionary leadership meet hurdle after hurdle and obstacle after obstacle, the necessities of the situation are glaringly obvious. However many revolutionary leaders the flunkeys murder, the increasing despair of the Nigerian people leads more and more to arise to take the place of those that are gone. The reactionaries will fight with might and main to keep their hegemony over the Nigerian masses, but with nothing to offer them, it is only a matter of time before their effort proves futile and the Nigerian people stride forth on the path to liberation. We confidently expect to live to see the day.