2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR A GENUINE POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND THE SEARCH FOR A GENUINE POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
By H.T. Soweto
At the moment, all genuine change-seeking elements agree that unless a viable political alternative is presented, any faction of the decadent capitalist ruling elite that wins the 2019 presidential elections will spell further doom for the already traumatized working and toiling masses. This is predicated on the experience of the brutal 16-year rule of the PDP as well as the traumatizing and, for many, deeply disappointing three year rule of the Buhari/Osibanjo APC administration.
While there is not yet a broad Socialist consciousness nor a conscious understanding that the capitalist system is the problem and ought to be replaced, nevertheless the current situation opens up enormous possibilities for the popularization of a socialist alternative. People are more open for discussion about alternatives. Generally, there is a desire for something fresh, something different and something evidently anti-establishment in the coming elections.
In addition, many are desirous to use the 2019 presidential poll to punish both the ruling APC and PDP. But if there is no genuine opposition party/presidential candidate especially from a radical or left tendency to vote, many will just sit at home on Election Day and watch television. Of course in many parts of the North, the Buhari regime still retains a sizeable support base due to the role of the national question. Yet this would not be enough to prevent the 2019 presidential elections from witnessing mass apathy on a general scale.
Even in the 2015 general elections which was a popular general election because of the widespread illusion in Buhari, only 43.65% of registered voters voted. But now, such is the loss of faith in the Buhari/Osinbajo government and by extension all sections of the capitalist ruling elite that in the event of no radical or left presidential candidate, a greater number of voters may express their disgust by boycotting the elections altogether.
SOWORE AND RADICAL POPULISM
It is in this regard that the emergence of a number of new, “youthful”, outside-the-ruling establishment presidential aspirants wanting to contest in the 2019 general elections represents a new and progressive development in the political situation in Nigeria. Although neither of these aspirants is really a youth, nevertheless that they mostly are between the ages of 45 and 60 has captured the imagination of many because they sharply contrast with a 75 year old ailing President Buhari whose abysmal failure economically and politically is often, although erroneously, associated with his old age.
A major and most popular representative of this new phenomenon is Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters an online news medium which has made name for itself for its expose of corruption of the capitalist politicians. There are other aspirants like Fela Durotoye (motivational speaker), Prof. Kingsley Moghalu (former CBN Deputy Governor) and Tope Fasua of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP). But while all these could be viewed as younger layers of the same capitalist elite, Omoyele Sowore is being viewed by a layer of young people as a radical anti-establishment alternative because of his background as a former students’ union leader, pro-democracy activist and of course the role of his news medium leveraging on the power of social media in exposing corruption. There is also Jaiye Gaskia, a Marxist and leader of the “Say No Campaign” and “Take Back Nigeria” who is equally aspiring to contest the presidential elections come 2019.
But the Sowore phenomenon is creating ripples of excitement that Socialists cannot ignore. He has held a flurry of town hall meetings in Nigeria and abroad attracting hundreds in physical attendance and thousands of online views, if reports by the aspirant on his Facebook wall are any accurate. In many ways, he has equally succeeded more than other aspirants in posing as a radical, youthful alternative in contrast to the “old” Buhari. His campaign is also coalescing into a movement which is clearly dominated by young people with the singular objective to “take back Nigeria”.
To be clear, many of the elements, mostly young people, galvanizing around Sowore are genuine change-seeking elements who associate with Sowore’s aspiration an opportunity to take a stand and get rid of the failed and decadent capitalist political establishment whose rule has brought so much hardship and suffering. We therefore intend to undergo a cursory examination of Sowore’s programme with a view to analyzing how much this meets up with the aspiration of these change-seeking young people who are looking to take back Nigeria by disrupting the ruling class consensus that often dominates general elections in Nigeria and defining a new, just and egalitarian future for the country.
CAN SOWORE TAKE BACK NIGERIA?
In an exclusive interview with POSTERITY MEDIA which was published on the website of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore highlighted his programme in the following quotes:
“We have identified a number of critical areas of the economy that need to be addressed urgently. Power supply, security, and unemployment are major issues. There is no reason why Nigeria should have an almost 20% unemployment rate. We have tens of millions of willing, able and competent people who are waiting to be put to work, the best way to get them to work will be to provide at least 20,000 megawatts of electricity with the first three years of coming to power. I will turn Nigeria into a construction site, everything from roads, hospitals, schools, modern railways and highways will be built like never before. We have massive deficits in housing and infrastructure and my government will immediately move to address those deficits, generating jobs at the same time”.
On education, he outlined the following plans: “I plan to immediately employ up to 200,000 young graduates as teachers that will be deployed in cities, towns and villages and other under-served areas. They will be trained for six months before they head out to work”. On security, he said the following “Security is another major issue that I will address urgently… Safeguarding the security of lives and property will be a key focus of my government as I have stated earlier”. On corruption, this is what Omoyele Sowore has to say: “Corruption is another area that I will address with urgency… Corruption thrives because our leaders have lacked the political will to act against corrupt officials. I will act decisively to deal with this national cancer”. On the power sector, Sowore said “Energy is another area that I will be addressing with urgency. Our power generation capacity is less than 7,000 MW while our needs are at least about 20,000 MW. We do not even have enough transmission capacity to move the paltry levels of power we currently generate. Distribution is also comatose. I will move right away to roll out an expansion of generation, transmission and distribution capacity. We will expand the energy mix to include renewables like wind, solar and biogas. I will also be driving for more decentralized power systems. In order to fund these projects, I will be relying on a more judicious use of our existing resources as well as the judicious use of public-private partnerships (PPP)”.
YOU CAN’T TAKE BACK NIGERIA WITHOUT ENDING CAPITALISM
Evidently, every genuine socialist and change-seeking Nigerian will agree with nearly all of the objectives that Sowore has outlined above. For instance, his programme to turn Nigeria into a construction site is not only desirable, it is the key to rapidly ending the deficit in public infrastructure and job creation on a mass scale. This is very similar to the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) programme for a mass public works programme to build schools, hospitals, roads, rail and water transportation and electricity infrastructures, provide cheap and decent housing etc.
We equally welcome Sowore’s programme to recruit 200, 000 teachers to end the acute shortage in public schools. Likewise his programme for a N100, 000 minimum wage is very well achievable. Those who scoff at this programme are either apologists of the system or are ignorant of the enormous wealth this country has but which is trapped in the hands of a few. Just five Nigerian billionaires collectively own enormous wealth that can kick start these programmes. In fact, we in the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) have always canvassed for payment of a living wage without retrenchment to all categories of workers and a programme to provide free education, health care, cheap and decent housing in order to guarantee a real improvement in workers living standard. The only problem however, and a fundamental one at that, is that Sowore fails to articulate how each of these progressive programmes would be implemented and how they are even possible within the confines of capitalism.
For instance, how would it be possible to turn Nigeria into a construction site on the basis of the highly corrupt contract system? How would it be possible to employ 200, 000 teachers and begin to really improve funding to public education without ending all the capitalist education privatization and commercialization policies? How would it be possible to address the problem of the power sector “with urgency” and increase power generation from less than “7, 000 MW” to “at least 20, 000 MW” without first and foremost ending the privatization of the power sector and re-nationalizing it under democratic control and management? How would it be possible to begin to tackle insecurity without an overhaul of the police and the security agencies with rights of communities to control and manage the police, guaranteeing trade union and democratic rights for the rank and file as well as better pay and working conditions? And above all, where will money be found to accomplish all these progressive social programmes including the promise to pay N100, 000 minimum wage without taking the wealth off the one percent and beginning to democratically plan the use of the country’s resources through the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under workers democratic management?
PUBLIC WORKS PROGRAMME
For instance, so corrupt is the contract system that roads, schools and other infrastructural constructions have become conduit pipe for siphoning public wealth. These contracts are often awarded to private local and foreign construction companies on the basis of inflated sums in order to ensure that political office holders, ministers and directors get their cut. For instance, contract for the expansion of the Lagos Ibadan expressway which was divided between two companies has been on for more than seven years and it is still far from completion. During this period, the contractors have mobilized and demobilized to site, increased the contract sum severally and most times have failed to meet set targets without attracting any penalty.
The on-going construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge which has been on for years now and is to cost the country a princely sum of N210 billion is a perfect example of the fraud the contract system is. So fraudulent is the process that a political representative of the capitalist system, the chairman House of Representatives Committee on Works, Toby Okechukwu lamented in the following manner: “And why should you award four different contracts going through processes for the past three to four yearsâ€¦We’re not at ease with piecemeal award of contractâ€¦ “Why don’t you establish a framework for the completion of the project by awarding a contract? â€¦The bridge would have cost N60 billion about 10 years ago, now it’s going to cost well over N200 billion and if we leave it till next year, it’ll cost well above that” (Premium Times, May 23, 2018).
This is a colossal waste of public wealth that any genuine government wanting to genuinely take back Nigeria ought to put an end to. As an alternative, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) calls for a public works programme under which road, schools, housing and infrastructural projects will be carried out by public works departments which shall be democratically controlled by workers and properly funded, trained and equipped.
Sowore said “Corruption thrives because our leaders have lacked the political will to act against corrupt officials”. This statement is only half-true. It does not answer the question about why successive leaders especially President Buhari who won election on an anti-corruption ticket and who despite sharp decline in popularity is still largely seen as less ostentatious like other leaders has failed spectacularly to deal with corruption. While supporting every genuine efforts to fight corruption including arrest, speedy trial and heavy sentences for corrupt officials as well as seizure of their ill-gotten wealth, Socialists argue that without doing away with the capitalist system, no real anti-corruption fight can succeed.
That Sowore fails to commit to reversing the privatization of the power sector is a fundamental shortcoming of his energy programme, and shows his illusions in capitalism. The truth is that the privatization of the power sector in 2013 has become one of the most expensive on-going fraud and scandalous transfer of collective wealth to private hands. And what is the result? Payment for darkness, crazy billing and widespread protests in communities. But this is not a Freudian slip, it is because tragically, Sowore supports a role for big business in developing society. For instance, to fund his energy programmes, he said “I will be relying on a more judicious use of our existing resources as well as the judicious use of public-private partnerships (PPP)”. But it is exactly this model of development, Public Private Partnership (PPP), that has failed spectacularly over the past 19 years.
While Sowore’s social programmes are undeniably progressive, any attempt to accomplish them without ending capitalism will end up in a complete failure just as Buhari’s change agenda has ended. Like several radicals, Sowore apparently believes that under a strong and honest leader, capitalism can lead to social progress. As usual the easy examples are the Asian tigers. But these examples were only possible under a different period for world capitalism as well as the interest of US imperialism to establish rivals to China. Now in the era of capitalism in decline, such expectations of building a modern capitalist economy in a situation of imperialist domination sometimes dubbed “africapitalism” are completely unrealizable. But even if this were possible, it would not necessarily mean social progress as South Africa, the most developed capitalist economy on the continent and paradoxically the most unequal, amply attests.
Unless his progressive social programs are linked with a plan to end capitalism and transform society, a Sowore presidency would repeat the same pitfall of the Buhari administration. The reality is that Buhari’s campaign in 2015 had nearly the same social programmes that Sowore is pushing now. Buhari also promised to transform education, rebuild failed infrastructures etc. In fact, just as Sowore is promising to deal decisively with corruption, Buhari equally promised the same and even had a history of his first coming as a military head of state between 1983 and 1984 to show that he could make an attempt. But today all that is in a fiasco. And why? Exactly because Buhari hoped to accomplish all of these without doing away with capitalism and the structural inequality in which 80% of public wealth are cornered by a few while the mass majority wallow in poverty.
Sowore’s programme are radical and progressive but tragically inadequate. In Venezuela, the late Hugo Chavez had a more radical and progressive programme but without ending capitalism, that has led a social and economic cul-de-sac that has thrown Venezuela into immense social crises at the moment. The same also goes for Cuba where despite carrying out immense social programmes and standing up to US imperialism for decades, the inability to take the revolution forward not just in Cuba but the entire Latin America has created a cul-de-sac.
To truly take back Nigeria will require not just a radical populist programme. It will require a mass movement with a truly socialist programme to establish a workers and poor people’s government that would take the wealth off the one percent by putting into collective ownership the commanding heights of the economy under workers democratic control and management. Such a workers government armed with socialist policies will inspire revolutionary uprising in other African countries, as a prelude to the world revolution, which can then link up to establish a socialist confederation of African states under which Africa’s resources can be judiciously used under a socialist plan to end poverty, wars, forced migration and diseases. We do hope the best youth wanting to truly take back Nigeria will join us in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) where we have the most revolutionary programmes to truly achieve this.