Without doubt the 2015 presidential election was a major turning point for Nigeria. For the first time in the country’s 55 years existence as an independent country, a ruling party - the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which has been in power for 16 years since the end of military rule in 1999 - was roundly defeated in an election. Although 14 political parties and candidates participated in the presidential election, the contest was essentially a two-horse race between two biggest elite political parties - the ruling PDP and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC).
The winner of the election is APC’s General Muhammadu Buhari - former military ruler and a Muslim from the Northwest region of the country. This election is his fourth attempt. He won 15, 424, 921 votes (54%) to the PDP’s incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s 12,853, 162, thus winning by about 2.6 million votes. This is not a wide margin when compared with past elections since the return of civil rule in 1999, yet it represented a significant defeat for the PDP. Now the PDP is a minority party in the next National Assembly as the APC, in addition to winning the presidency also won over 60 seats in the Senate and won a majority in the House of Representatives. Despite this however, the APC will still lack the two-thirds majority needed for key decisions.
Past elections frequently returned the ruling PDP which often used the power of incumbency, state funds, the police and the army to carry out massive rigging of polls in its favour. Such was the confidence of the PDP in its expansive rigging machinery that one of its past chairmen boasted that the party would rule for 60 years.
But these elections marked a shift of power from one section of the ruling class to another. For most of the Nigerians that partook in the elections, it was an opportunity to vote out a government that was much despised because of anti-poor policies despite initially coming to power on a wave of ‘relative popular support’. But barely a year after his election Jonathan’s surprise increase of fuel prices to N140 a liter from N65 was met with angry protests by millions of working people across the country in Nigeria’s largest ever general strike. Now the threat of renewed austerity after the benefits of high oil prices had been stolen by the apparent wanton corruption by the ruling elite, plus the government’s inability tackle insecurity as represented by Boko Haram, only added to the anger that was ultimately reflected at the polls.
Regardless of the fact that the winner is just another representative of the capitalist ruling elite, the working and toiling masses now feel the potency of their power to punish any party at the polls and effect a change of government. “If there is no change we will vote out the government in four years’ time” has become a common refrain among some layers.
For Socialists and working class activists however, the lesson of this election must not be lost. It means for instance that in the coming period, a genuine working class political party can emerge to bid for power and win. Although the chances that a real party of “change”, i.e. a mass worker alternative political party that can threaten the interest of capitalism and the corrupt ruling elite, would win in an election and the defeated ruling class party would simply peacefully concede defeat is slim. However the confidence which the working masses and youth who partook in this election now have will be pivotal in building such a mass workers’ political alternative.
As the last results were announced in the evening of March 31st, there were spontaneous jubilations in places like Lagos, Ibadan, Osogbo in the Southwest and many parts of the North. Not since the June 12, 1993 election, which was annulled by the military regime of General Badamosi Babangida, has there been an election that drew the attention of millions of Nigerians and elicited such celebration of its outcome. Certainly none of the general elections since the return to civil rule 16 years ago had the same electrifying impact. Nevertheless it should be noted that less than half of the registered voters, 42.76%, officially voted, tens of millions felt that the election offered no choice or was irrelevant to their lives.
The difference this time was a mix of different economic and political factors. One is the complete failure of the ruling PDP in delivering socio-economic dividends to the working and toiling people of the country. For 16 years and under the rule of the PDP, the working masses constantly endured worsening economic, social and living conditions in the midst of oil wealth. Despite the pre-2014 economic growth fuelled by crude oil export, greater inequality was the lot of vast majority of the people while government officials were engaged in corruption and looting of the treasury. According to the United States’ Department of Energy, Nigeria earned $424bn from oil exports between 2010 and 2014. But there was nothing to show for this huge revenue in term of infrastructural development and living conditions of the vast majority.
The second significant factor is the economic crisis into which the country has found itself since mid-2014 as a result of the collapse of the global price of crude oil. Suddenly, the country found itself unable to meet its basic obligations as a result of declining revenues. About 18 state governments, including those governed by the opposition APC, are owing workers’ salaries from between 5 months to 2 months. Nigeria derives 70% of its revenue and 90% of foreign exchange from crude oil. The decline of crude oil price led to the collapse of the Excess Crude Account and the Foreign Reserve which according to the most recent update by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has again fallen by 4.9% to $29.79 billion in March. This in turn has led to the free fall of the Naira which has lost about 20% of its value against the dollar threatening the performance of banks and operations of manufacturers and importers.
Just after the election the Economist magazine in London wrote that “inflation, now at 8.4% … could reach 15% before the end of the year” and that falling oil income means “more budget cuts will be needed. Road-building and other construction may be frozen because there is no money to pay contractors” (April 4 issue). All this has elicited worries among investors whose profitability is threatened and of course anger among the working masses who gained little, if anything, from the extra income when oil export prices were high but whose living conditions have taken a further plunge in recent times as a result of this crisis. It was a little surprise therefore that apart from Boko Haram insurgency, the most important issue that dominated the campaign were questions about the management of the economy as well as the corruption of the regime.
The third factor is the perception of the Jonathan’s presidency as the most failed capitalist government since 1999. The Jonathan Presidency was first popularly elected in 2011 with about 24 million votes. There was so much expectation from the working and toiling masses that this then little known figure in the PDP political machinery, and someone from a poor background who said he had no shoes to wear to school as a kid, would usher in a dispensation of social and economic development and progress for the country and its people. But just as the members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) predicted and warned, the Jonathan presidency worked in favour of capitalism and the interests of imperialism. Its anti-poor policies of privatization were a disaster for the working class and poor masses. So also was the government’s pervasive corruption and failure in all areas of life including in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast. Less than 8 months into President Jonathan’s presidency a massive nationwide movement and general strike spontaneously erupted in January 2012 when the government suddenly hiked the pump price of fuel and ended fuel subsidy.
Against the background of the failure of Jonathan’s government new divisions opened up in the ruling class and realignments took place between the competing cliques, something symbolised by Obasanjo’s shift away from Jonathan and the gale of defections from the ruling PDP. As Jonathan weakened the main imperialist powers also distanced themselves from him.
Regardless of the character of the winner of this election, Jonathan’s and the PDP’s defeat is a welcome development and a deserved loss. Already at the height of the protest movement in January 2012, the masses had called for an end to Jonathan’s regime. So in actuality, the anti-poor President Jonathan government should have been brought to an end since 2012 but for the pro-capitalist leaderships of the two trade union centres, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which, alarmed at the radicalization taking place and developing pan-nigerian revolutionary mood for change, called off the strike without winning even the basic economic demand for reversal of the fuel price not to talk of the political demand for an end to the government.
So actually, the March 28, 2015 election was not just a referendum on Jonathan’s presidency. In a way it was also a referendum on the ineffective and class-collaborationist methods and tactics of the labour movement leadership. In any case it is this political demand, issued since January 2012, that the masses, incensed and fed up with the anti-poor and pro-capitalist policies and failures of the Jonathan/PDP government especially in curbing the Boko Haram insurgency have now effected though the ballot box.
The fourth factor in this election was the candidacy of General Muhammadu Buhari - a former Military dictator who ruled Nigeria from December 1983 until August 1985 when he was removed in a coup. His then 20-month rule was characterized by attempts to curb corruption and waste but also reckless attacks on democratic rights, repression, banning of press freedom, strikes and demonstrations, expulsion of migrant workers, retrenchment of workers for embarking on strike. This was supplemented by a cocktail of capitalist austerity policies which tried to curb spending through vicious budget cuts.
Interestingly his regime broke ties with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when the fund asked the government to devalue the naira by 60%, yet the reforms he imposed on his own were as rigorous and vicious as those required by the IMF. One of such vicious anti-poor policies was the cancellation of subsidized feeding (cafeteria system) in the public Universities which drew mass opposition of the people especially students. In 1984, the Lanre Arogundade-led leadership of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) organized a nationwide boycott and mass protest to resist Buhari’s anti-poor education attacks. Other policies include ban on recruitment into the federal civil service and halt of capital projects.
Without doubt, the 1983-5 Buhari-Idiagbon regime carried out actions to stem corruption and curb waste. These include going after high profile treasury looters, speculators and money launderers, the passing of a decree prescribing death sentence for armed robbers which was applied retroactively in complete violation of democratic rights of the working masses. However and as is often the case with capitalist reformists, most of these actions failed because they did not address the real and fundamental source of corruption in the system which is capitalism itself.
Some of these actions were also selective and targeted at critics of his regime. Thus while the Buhari-Idiagbon regime claimed to be tackling corruption, he arrested the late Afro-beat singer and a prominent critic of his regime, Fela Anikulapo on September 4 1984 at Lagos airport as he and his band were about to embark on an American tour. Amnesty International described the charges brought against Fela Kuti for illegally exporting foreign currency which obviously was for the upkeep of members of his band as “spurious”. Despite protestations within Nigeria and internationally, Fela was jailed for five years. Meanwhile in the same year on June 10, 1984, the Emir of Gwandu, whose son was Buhari’s aide-de-camp, allegedly transported 53 suitcases filled with cash through customs without inspection on his return flight from Saudi Arabia. This is aside countless journalists like Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor of The Guardian who were jailed under the infamous Decree Number 4 - a repressive law to protect the officials of the regime from “false accusations”.
Therefore and unlike attempts by his party propagandists to prettify his past, the Buhari-Idiagbon military regime was one widely despised for its vicious pro-capitalist attacks on democratic rights, human rights and living conditions. Under the infamous War Against Indiscipline (WAI) launched on 20 March 1984 and meant to address the regime’s perceived lack of public morality and civic responsibility of Nigerian society, civil servants who showed up late to work were humiliated and forced to do “frog jumps” by soldiers, so-called unruly Nigerians were asked to form neat queues at bus stops and soldiers had the right to flog with horsewhips anyone perceived to be unruly.
However despite all these pro-capitalist and infamous characteristics of Buhari, he is largely seen by the poor of the North and now by a substantial section of the working masses and urban youth in the South, as an ascetic, austere and incorruptible person who had the chance to amass wealth while in government but instead lived a modest life compared to the opulence in which past rulers live. The poor of the North also see Buhari as not being a member of the establishment or what is called the Hausa/Fulani ruling oligarchy.
It is this perception of Buhari, coupled with the absence of a credible and genuine working class political alternative on offer by the labour movement, in the face of the monumental failure of Jonathan government that created the popularity and enthusiasm his campaign elicited. Therefore, the election outcome is not so much an endorsement of Buhari and/or the APC. Rather Buhari and the APC are beneficiaries of a burning widespread desire to kick out an anti-poor government which had failed in all ramifications. If a genuine mass working peoples’ political party campaigning on anti-capitalist and socialist alternative economic and political agenda had participated in this election, Buhari or the APC would not have been able to become such a rallying point. This is because people would have been able to see clearly that a real alternative existed to the rot, corruption and backwardness represented by the ruling PDP as well as the phony change of the APC. However faced with the monster of a PDP returning for another 4 years to superintend another round of anti-poor economic and political policies, the working masses reasoned that Buhari represents a “lesser evil” or as the Economist (London) puts it “the least awful”.
THE ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS LANDMINES
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s age-long ethnic and religious divide did not fail to play up in the elections. This of course does not mean that ethnic and religious factors dominated like previous elections. What it does mean is that as a result of the unresolved national question, this election again demonstrates that Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist ruling elite whether of the PDP or APC faction are incapable of forming a truly pan-Nigeria national consensus/agenda without the age-long ethnic and religious divide sticking out like a sore thumb. The voting pattern is where this perspective can be verified.
For instance except in the Southwest where both candidates had largely competitive votes, both Jonathan and Buhari got huge and decisive votes primarily from the region where they hail from. For instance, Buhari - a Northern Muslim - got 1.9 million votes from Northern city of Kano while Jonathan - a southern Christian - got 1.4 million votes from Rivers State. Also the turnout of eligible voters in both the North and the South were way ahead of the turnout in the Southwest.
In the Southwest for instance, aside from the ethnic and religious factor having very little appeal (except for reported cases of easterners, Niger Delta people and Northerners residents in the Southwest voting along ethnic leanings) for the simple reason that none of the presidential candidates hail from there, the working masses of this region have at different point in time experienced governments formed by both PDP and APC with similar devastating consequences. Indeed presently, four States of the region is governed by the opposition APC.
One of them is Lagos which has been under APC rule (under different names e.g. AD, AC, ACN and now APC) for 16 years with little or nothing to show in terms of improvement in the lives of the mass poor majority of Lagosians. While claiming that it wants to transform Lagos into a mega city, the APC government in Lagos has carried out several vicious attacks against the working masses. Motorcycle taxi (okada) riders have had their livelihoods taken from them with many lives ruined in the process, commercial bus and taxi drivers are constantly harassed to pay all kinds of levies, artisans, market men and women and shopkeepers are burdened by multiple taxes that ruins their small business, doctors in the State employment and other categories of workers have at different times gone on strike and sacked for daring to do so etc. Three years ago, tuition fee was increased at the State-owned Lagos State University (LASU) from N25, 000 ($125) to N350, 000 ($1,750). It took a mass struggle by students and staff of the University with the active involvement of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and Joint Action Front (JAF) for the government to back down on the fee. In other States like Osun State similarly governed by the APC, workers are owed as much as 5-months’ salary.
While the state governments put the blame on low allocation from the federation account as a result of declining crude oil price, yet the same governments have been financing the APC’s election campaign. All of these have created a feeling of near indifference or lack of enthusiasm for either the PDP or the APC among the working masses in the Southwest. This is reflected in the closeness of the votes garnered by both Buhari and Jonathan in most states in the Southwest, with just a few exceptions. The low turnout in Lagos where just 1,495,975 people voted out of the 5,827,846 on the register showed the disillusionment with both the APC and PDP, but no other force was seen as a credible alternative. While Buhari won 792,460 votes and Jonathan 632,327 in Lagos, the next highest candidate, the AD, gained just 4,453 votes.
Of course unlike 2011, the PDP/Jonathan lost many of the States they have often won in the North and South while, for the first time, Buhari got huge votes in the South including winning the most votes in five out of the six states in the Southwest. The change mantra of the APC/Buhari undoubtedly had an effect on voters across ethnic and religious divides. For instance, efforts by the ruling PDP during the campaign to scare Christian voters in the South from voting Buhari using the propaganda that Buhari would Islamize Nigeria had little or no effect.
It is instructive to note that Buhari had huge votes in the ‘middle belt’ states with significant Christian population where he won in four out of the six states. In these states, especially in Benue state with a predominant Christian population, the electorate put aside the ethnic and religious sentiments to punish the PDP government which could not pay teachers salaries and schools were shutdown for several months between 2013 and 2014 at a period when oil was still selling above $100. Going to the election the Benue workers were owed 6-months’ salaries. But conversely however, it was the huge votes Buhari got from his Northern stronghold that swung the election in his way. It is true that celebration of the APC and Buhari victory have taken place in all parts of the country including in Port Harcourt - the Rivers state capital in President Jonathan’s home South-South region. Yet this merely masks the ethnic landmines already planted.
Surprisingly, it was The Nation newspaper - the mouthpiece of the opposition APC - that first voiced this concern in the bourgeois press in Nigeria. Writing in the April 1st edition of the paper, its group political editor Emmanuel Oladesu made the following telling points: “Unlike the June 12, 1993 mandate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate, the late Chief Moshood Abiola, the mandate conferred on Gen. Buhari may not be viewed as a pan-Nigerian mandate, owing to the voting behavior along ethnic and religious leanings”. Arguing further, he wrote “the response from the Muslim-dominated North to the Presidential battle was obviously shaped by its clamour for power shift. Conversely, the voting behavior of the South-South and the Southeast was also influenced by ethnic and religious appeal”. Commenting on the new realignment of political forces that this election has created, Emmanuel Oladesu pointed out that “The seemingly natural alliance between the North and the Southeast/South-South, which predated the First Republic, was erased. For the first time, Southwest and the North were in political marriage”.
Even if muted for now partly because of President Jonathan’s immediate and publicized concession to the defeat in a phone call to Buhari even while the votes were still been collated, ethnic disaffection would inevitably come to the surface at some point. This is because capitalism - which Buhari and the opposition APC hope to continue once in power - is an inherently unjust system which does not permit equal distribution of wealth but instead concentrates it in a few hands. Only decisive action by the labour movement can lead united struggles of the working people, but in the absence of such united struggles discontent can take an ethnic or religious character. Rival factions within the ruling class can try to exploit ethnic divisions. It was not accidental that in his outburst during INEC’s announcement of the elections results the PDP National Agent, the ex-minister Godsdey Orubebe, accused Jaga, the INEC chairman, of being “tribalist”.
This could mean that at some point, the people of the oil-producing Niger Delta in the South will again start feeling marginalized and edged out of the scheme of things, despite the fact that the lot of the common peoples in the region did not improve for the better under Jonathan. In most states of the South-South, including Jonathan’s Bayelsa, majority remain poor while communities, that has long suffered from exploitation and repression by oil multinationals, lack access to electricity, roads and infrastructure. Many of the desperate youths have taken to illegal refinery business just to survive. The Financial Times (London) also pointed out: “There is also a strong risk, according to political leaders from the Niger Delta, that former militants, who have had it good under Mr. Jonathan will attempt to establish their continuing relevance by causing disturbances” (March 31, 2015).
NOT SO FREE AND FAIR
As most local and international observers reported, a feature of this election was the supposed minimal irregularities, rigging and violence. Yet this did not stop 50 people from being killed during the balloting on Saturday March 28 according to the National Human Right Commission (NHRC). There was reported violence in Rivers state as well where about four deaths including that of a soldier were recorded in election-related violence. This was in spite of 360, 000 police officers deployed nationwide at strategic areas with sniffer dogs etc as well as mobilization of the army.
In its report, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) observed other glitches in the elections to include late opening of polling sites, failing biometric voter verification, some regrettable violent incidents and re-polling on Sunday. According to the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), the votes from Rivers State and some South-South states (the stronghold of incumbent President Jonathan) appear to have been significantly inflated during collation. On Monday, protesters in their thousands laid siege on the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to demand that elections be re-conducted in the State. In one incident, a local office of INEC was torched by protesters in Rivers state. Also there were allegations of underage voting and inflation of accreditation and vote figures in the Northern stronghold of Buhari.
However one of the significant features of this election is the enormous amount of money spent by both the PDP and the APC. Of course the PDP, being a party in power at the federal level, had an almost inexhaustible source of funds to finance its campaign. Within the six-week postponement of the election (between February 14 and March 28), the ruling PDP spent multiple billions of naira on campaign adverts, rallies, meetings with interest groups, jingles and hate documentaries. However the APC was not too far behind. Billions of naira was equally expended by the APC dipping hands in the funds of States under their control. This also partly explains why many states, notably Osun state, governed by APC governors were behind by as much as 5 months in some cases in the payment of salaries. Even right from the onset, at the point of picking up nomination forms, both the PDP and the APC had determined the election to be a money contest between rival wings of the ruling elite with the working masses acting, unfortunately, as cheering spectators. Buhari despite his anti-corruption and “change” mantra picked up the APC presidential nomination form for N27.5 million ($137,500) while incumbent President Jonathan paid N22 million ($110,000) for the PDP’s form.
This is another reason why the masses’ illusion in Buhari’s presidency would most certainly come to naught. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. Buhari could not have run such an expensive campaign, far expensive than his three previous attempts put together, which saw him traverse the length and breadth of the country in private jets without substantial investments by many crooks and treasury looters who abound in the opposition APC. These elements will most certainly demand to be paid back or compensated with juicy contracts and favorable government economic policies once Buhari is sworn in. This would therefore mean, as has happened with previous government, that despite purported good intentions, monies meant to fund education, health and social services would find their way into the pockets and bank accounts of party backers and godfathers who would waste no time in extracting their share of the cake once the new government is sworn in.
PROSPECT FOR THE WORKING AND POOR MASSES
The working and poor masses, especially the sections that invested the most illusion in Buhari, are entering a new period where these illusions will be subjected to the most severe tests and verifications. It would be vital for Socialists and working class activists to use the current period to maintain and strengthen links with the working class, the youth and the poor masses as well as their organizations in order to jointly learn the lessons that the new period opening up in Nigeria has in store.
In the aftermath of the elections, some sobriety seems to be quietly overtaking the dizzying enthusiasm of the past weeks. Even Punch newspaper in an editorial on Thursday 2 April 2015 has recognized that “Nigeria has seen false dawns before, above all after the last general election in 2011, when voters swept Jonathan into office in a wave of sympathy following the sudden death of president Umaru Yar’ Adua”.
Most certainly the incoming government of Buhari is coming at a very bleak period for capitalism. Government revenues have plummeted on account of drastic fall in crude oil price. Before the election the Naira crashed in value while inflation is rising. Having squandered most of the proceeds of crude oil sale when the economy was buoyant, the new government will have relatively little for capitalist government to start life with. For a capitalist government on which the vast working and toiling masses have presently invested their hope and aspiration for a better life, the unfolding economic situation will constrain it seriously and force it to abandon many of its promises at a time when working people will be expecting “change”. Without doubt, Buhari’s government will be a government of crisis.
The incoming government, in spite of Buhari’s self-righteousness, will also be a capitalist government i.e. a government devoted to making the rich richer at the expense of the poor majority through policies like privatization and commercialization and the so-called public-private partnership. Forged two years ago from the merger of some opposition parties and defectors from the ruling PDP, the APC under which Buhari contested elections is a pro-capitalist party which subscribes to the same policies of privatization and deregulation as the PDP and has demonstrated in the State where the party has won election that it is a far more capable defender of capitalism. The Guardian of April 2nd 2015 reported the excitement in the market at the announcement of Buhari as winner of the election. According to the report the day after the election result was announced the market capitalization of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) soared by 8.5%, equal to N906 billion ($4.53bn). Operators explained that “since the history of stock trading with machine, the market has not recorded such significant improvement”. A stock broker described the improvement as “restoration of investors’ confidence”. Also events took a dramatic turn in the foreign exchange market with the naira gaining strength with other major currencies, to stem its hitherto sliding profile. Tunde Adanri, the Managing Director of Highcap Securities Limited, summed up the mood when he said he is hopeful that the new regime will sustain investors’ enthusiasm by implementing “market oriented economic policies”.
This means that beyond some initial temporary concessions to appease the masses’ expectations, such pro-capitalist economic policies that defined past governments like privatization, deregulation, underfunding of education, tuition fee hikes would most likely be the hallmark of the new Buhari administration. This would mean that the condition of mass poverty in the midst of plenty which has been the lot of Nigeria since inception will continue indefinitely.
Particularly as a result of the decline in revenue, the government will attempt to impose austerity while also possibly taking some high profile action against a few of the most corrupt. But against a background of falling oil prices, austerity will be the main course of action that is opened to the Buhari government. Austerity will lead to job losses, economic depression and worsening living standards. Corroborating this, the Financial Times (London) of March 31, 2015 had this to say: “having taken power at a similarly bleak period in the 1980s, Gen. Buhari has a record of imposing austerity”. However the working masses and youth whose power sent the Jonathan/PDP government packing will not be sitting idle while their living conditions are attacked. The Buhari’s presidency might therefore see an explosion of mass struggle. Mass protests and strikes could be on the agenda sooner than later
Struggles can unfold which, if decisively carried out, can win some concessions. But against a background of crisis these will only be temporary. What is needed is a movement which fights for a complete break with the capitalist system. As disappointment in the Buhari government spreads and the scale begins to fall from masses’ eyes, there will be frantic search for an alternative. But if the labour movement, socialists and working class activists are again not prepared with an alternative mass workers political party there is the danger that sections of disillusioned working masses and youth will put their faith in just another party or member of the capitalist ruling elite. In the States, we have seen power change hands between PDP and APC many times over with little or no improvement in the lot of the masses.
Therefore the best way to avoid a situation where the working class again has to put faith in rival wings of the ruling elite for its salvation is for the labour movement, socialists and activists to begin the important work of building a mass working class political alternative. We in the DSM and the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) repeat our call for the labour movement to hurriedly, especially in the aftermath of the 2015 election, convene a summit of trade unions, Socialists and civil societies where the question of building an alternative working class political party can be posed.