ABSENCE OF PRO-WORKING PEOPLE POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE SPARKS VOTERS’ CYNICISM
By Wole Olubanji, member of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) from Ekiti State
The recently concluded gubernatorial election in Ekiti-State held so much at stake for the Nigerian capitalist ruling class. Some pundits considered the election which was held on Saturday 14 July 2018 as a referendum on the performance and popularity of President Muhammadu Buhari. In the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Kayode Fayemi, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and a former governor and minister of solid minerals under the President Buhari administration, was declared as the governor-elect of the state. However, the election painted a graphic picture of voters’ frustration and cynicism, where voters figuratively had to choose between the Devil and a Beelzebub. Rather than reflect an endorsement of President Buhari’s APC, the election outcome showcased a lack of political alternative that could bring to fruition the people’s aspiration for jobs, decent wages and good standard of living.
Many capitalist media reported mass turnout of voters but this is not an accurate picture of this election. Based on statistics released by the INEC, 909, 585 persons registered to vote in the election, while only 44.6% of this number representing 405, 861 voters actually turned out to be accredited for the election. The governor-elect and candidate of the APC, Kayode Fayemi won the election with 197, 459 votes that represented only 48.6% of the number of accredited voters; while his closest rival, Kolapo Olusola got 178, 121 votes that represented 43.8% of the number of accredited voters. Although the percentage of voters who applied for the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) has gone up since the 2014 election in the state, the percentage of accredited voters for the just concluded 2018 election in the state at 44.6% was below the 50% of voters who turned out in 2014 to vote out the then incumbent governor.
Among the several ironies of the Ekiti 2018 gubernatorial election was the candidacy and eventual emergence as governor of Kayode Fayemi (flag-bearer of the APC), who had been rejected by voters in the previous 2014 elections and defeated at the polls despite being an incumbent. It is wrong the insinuation of the APC that Fayemi’s emergence was remorsefulness on the part of Ekiti voters for ushering in Fayose at the 2014 polls and his anti-worker policies and populist style of governance. The 4.8% margin of victory and the reduction in the percentage of voters’ turnout in 2018 compared to the more “popular” victory of the Fayose’s PDP in 2014 and the around 50% turnout of voters in 2014 reflect that any claim of remorsefulness cannot be backed up by the facts that emerged from the election. The absence of a genuine working people political alternative paved the way for Fayemi’s reemergence, and the widely reported incidents of voters’ inducement that characterized the election gives credence to this position.
PDP and APC in a Show of Shame
In reality, the victory of Fayemi and the APC does not translate to their endorsement by the people of Ekiti State. Rather it is a reflection of the frustration of the people who despite their anger and disappointment could not find a genuine alternative to the hated Fayose and the PDP. Actually, workers and people of Ekiti were more or less in the same situation they were back then in 2014 when they booted out Fayemi. For four years, they had been tormented by the anti-poor and anti-worker policies of the arrogant Governor Fayose who instead of paying workers salary and rebuilding public infrastructures wasted public resources on ego-tripping and self-glorifying projects including a comical presidential ambition, an airport project, stomach infrastructure which involves sharing money and food items to the people etc. In fact the Fayose administration has not paid a single month of salary to workers in the year 2018. The last time Ekiti workers received any salary was December 2017! Given this situation and the groundswell of disappointment and anger, the logical expectation is a heavy electoral defeat of the PDP. But instead of this, Fayemi and the APC won with just 20, 000 votes and that was even after spending heavily, in a stiff competition with the ruling PDP, to buy voters.
A section of the capitalist media and electoral observers were more realistic with their assessment of the Ekiti state election. Punch Newspaper of 15th July while announcing the winner of the election chose an instructive caption “Fayemi Wins as APC, PDP woo voters with cash”, which has since been corroborated by several Ekiti election observers, who gave worrisome accounts of the highly organized and systematic dimension of voters’ inducement that has been christened “see and buy” in the media. The same publication of Punch Newspaper reported concerning one of the polling units that “(a)t Ward 12 in Igbehin area of Ado-Ekiti, an elderly voter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused the All Progressive Congress of offering N5,000 to those who had the Permanent Voters’ Card to secure their votesâ€¦” The bribing of voters for their votes was not only brazenly carried out by the APC; the PDP was equally fingered in the same report to have engaged in such voters’ inducement. The Punch Newspapers wrote further that “(t)he Peoples Democratic Party was also accused of offering voters N3, 000 each to secure their votes. Apart from the reported N3, 000 allegedly paid to some civil servants and pensioners by the PDP-led state government, the party agents were accused of going to house to house, approaching voters who possessed PVC.”
Considering the figures that emerged from the INEC and quoted above, it is only appropriate to say that the candidate with the largest money-bag won. There was widespread disillusionment among the Ekiti voters that made more than half of the registered voters to stay back at home, while those who turned out to vote responded with the cynicism of gravitating towards the candidate that had the largest amount of money to bribe voters with. As far as they were concerned, whoever wins between the PDP and APC would mean another four years of misery so why not take whatever they can get now since they would get nothing for the next four years? However, the result equally demystified the populist image that the incumbent Governor, Ayodele Fayose, has cultivated, which is embedded in his policy of “stomach infrastructure”. Ayodele Fayose had sponsored his deputy, Kolapo Olusola, and ensured he secured the ticket of the PDP in an acrimonious primary election of the party. He had believed and boasted that his populist theatrics of handing out food items, riding on the back of public motorcycles and dramatic interaction with the poor in Ekiti had endeared him so much to the masses that they would vote for any candidate of his choosing. He was wrong.
Workers’ Anger Over Non-payment of Salaries Behind Fayose/PDP’s Defeat
Behind the loss of the PDP in the election and the participation of voters in the inducement of voters by the two leading political parties was the poverty that backward capitalist policies of government had plunged the state into. The outgoing Fayose-administration, which has the PDP candidate serving as deputy governor of the state, currently owes workers of the state as much as nine months arrears of salaries, including pensioners. If Fayose thought he could fool the Ekiti workers with N3, 000 to vote for his sponsored candidate when backlog of arrears remained unpaid, he has been proven wrong. In a state whose economy is majorly driven by the money spent by government employed workers, who are the largest workforce in the state, nonpayment of salaries has plunged people into acute poverty, including suicide as reflected in the case of Mr. Tope Afolayan who “committed suicide over alleged unpaid salaries and his inability to pay his huge debtâ€¦” (Punch Newspaper of 16th January, 2017)
When Ekiti electorate rejected Fayemi at the 2014 polls, it was against the backdrop of his anti-worker policies, which had many teachers, for example, demoted, while defaulting in the regular payment of salaries of government employees. But if the workers had thought voting in Fayose would bring about a change in their conditions, they were flatly disappointed. In an address delivered during the May Day celebration in Ekiti-State, Raymond Adesanmi, the Chairman of the Ekiti State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was quoted by Premium Times of May 1, 2018 to have described the agonies of workers in the state in the following terms: “Workers in the state are hungry, so I call on the governor to pay outstanding salaries owed the workers which include five months for the civil servants, eight months for the local government workers and six months for higher institutions in the stateâ€¦” Just as Fayemi blamed the federal government for the inadequate allocation coming to the state in the build-up to the 2014 election, Fayose equally rehashed this buck shifting.
Ekiti, an agrarian state, is among the states of the federation receiving the least allocation from the federal government. However, neoliberal policies of contracting government’s projects to contractor-friends of political office holders have engendered unemployment and exportation of funds to the bank accounts of privileged contractors, albeit these contracts being inflated well beyond their average cost. The capitalist character of the successive governments has also left agriculture which the state has a favorable climate and terrain for in backward conditions, due to lack of a government’s plan to mechanise farming and expand agricultural production in the state; the consequences of government’s disposition to agriculture has led to the decimation of agricultural production in the state due to migration of youths in rural settlements to the state capital in Ado, with the attendant consequence of high cost of food and living. All the governors of the state since return to civil rule in 1999 have embraced similar neoliberal policies that failed to maximize the state’s rich agriculture, human resources and mineral resources through democratic planning in order to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the state. It is therefore not genuine the excuse that the meagre allocation coming from the federal government is alone responsible for the deeply rooted poverty experienced in the state. More so that political office holders, with their obscene wages are not affected by this nonpayment of salaries, and continue to draw regular allowances and salary from the state’s coffer.
Absence of a Socialist Alternative
Against this background, when Ekiti people had to choose between politicians from different parties but with the same antecedents of anti-people policies, they opted to either stay away on election day or vote for the candidate that had the largest money to offer. The Presidency had capitalized on the victory of Kayode Fayemi to insinuate that it was an endorsement of President Buhari’s administration. But the President’s spin doctors were wrong as the election only rendered asunder the image of the anti-corruption crusader that the President had courted, because the President’s own party, the APC, embarked on a brazen campaign of voters’ inducements rather than a campaign of programmes.
Thirty four candidates contested in the Ekiti state gubernatorial election. What is worrisome, and which sheds light on the cynicism of voters towards the election, is the fact that all the candidates presented manifestoes full of similar promises regarding job creation, agricultural development, education and health care without the slightest explanation on how they intend to implement them. Also all of them hoped to achieve their promises within the framework of the capitalist system â€“ something which failed to resonate with voters and further increased their cynicism that nothing would change after the elections. With 2019 elections in view, the candidacy of some of these candidates is a sort of awareness campaign for their respective aspirations in the 2019 general election, when elections would be conducted for state House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate positions. For these politicians, positioning themselves for political offices due to the assurance of obscene wealth that comes with it is more important than lifting the people of the state out of poverty. When personal aggrandizement is the motive for seeking political offices, there is bound to be lofty promises with as much as no detailed plan on how they would be implemented.
Again what the Ekiti gubernatorial elections demonstrate is the urgent need for a combative working class political alternative anchored on socialist programmes. The combination of this kind of programme and a movement to implement it could resonate with the highly disillusioned working masses, not only in Ekiti state but across the country, who have tested different wings of the capitalist ruling elite and have heard different grand but deceptive electoral promises over the past 19 years. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) does not exist in Ekiti at the moment and therefore could not provide this kind of alternative in the elections. If the SPN had participated in the elections, even though not yet a mass party, it could have served as a rallying point for a layer of workers, youth and the poor masses who wish to carve out a better future for the state outside of the two mainstream anti-poor political parties and their minions. Therefore going forward, the most important task for all change-seeking people in Ekiti is to join the SPN and build it in all nooks and crannies of Ekiti state both as an electoral alternative but also as a platform of struggle to intervene in the day to day struggles of workers and the poor masses as well as in the big battles that may break out in the coming period under the Fayemi/APC administration.
Another four years of misery
Judging from the programmes of the two leading candidates in the election, that is Kayode Fayemi and Kolapo Olusola, governance in Ekiti after this election would be business as usual. This Day Newspaper of 4th July, 2018 wrote concerning the campaign programme of Kayode Fayemi (the declared winner of the election) that “Fayemi has promised to stick with the eight point agenda he instituted during his first term. These are: good governance, human capital development, infrastructure, tourism development, qualitative education, good healthcare delivery and commercial agricultureâ€¦” Meanwhile during his first term in office between 2010 and 2014, these agenda in practical terms meant, for example, distribution of laptop computers to secondary school students while dry laboratories and libraries, including nonpayment of teachers’ salaries, remained the ironic reality of the education sector. The governor-elect has promised to continue with his signature social welfare programme of paying N5, 000 to 25,000 elderly persons and N10, 000 to 10, 000 volunteers. This is a drop in the ocean of misery for Ekiti masses, with about a hundred thousand of unemployed people, who could do better for themselves and their family through gainful employments and create new economic value for the state. In reality, Fayemi is about to continue Fayose’s agenda of “stomach infrastructure”, which is only an embellished phrase for bribing a few section of the Ekiti populace while the government continues siphoning the resources of the state through inflated contracts
Only Mass Struggle Can Guarantee the Rights of the Working People Under Fayemi/APC Administration
There is no doubt that the emergence of Kayode Fayemi would not put an end to the oppression of workers through non-payment of their salaries or the raging unemployment in the state, because the Fayemi-APC has no intention of deploying and maximizing the resources of the state. The consequence of operating a capitalist economy in an agrarian settlement like Ekiti state, which entails that government folds its arms and await imaginary investors to maximize the state’s resources, would remain the suffering of workers and masses so that the contractors and their cronies holding political offices in the state continue to eat their fill from the meagre federal government monthly allocation that is the state’s major source of revenue. There is therefore the need for the NLC and TUC in Ekiti to be ready to struggle, and reject the frequently adduced excuses of meagre allocation as the cause of poverty and non-payment of workers in the state. Inevitably struggles will break out under the Fayemi/APC administration.
Unlike the Fayose government which emerged with a bigger mandate in 2014 and despite its ruthless anti-worker policies succeeded, throughout its tenure, at maintaining a base among the unorganized working masses and lumpen proletariat through the instrumentality of “stomach infrastructure”, the Fayemi administration has emerged with a smaller mandate of less than 50% approval and with a terrible antecedent that is still fresh in people’s memory. This means that this government is likely not to enjoy much honeymoon before workers and also other layers of the oppressed begin to rise on their feet. But if the leadership of the labor movement in Ekiti state does not abandon its rotten class collaborationist method which defanged the movement under Fayose/PDP’s administration, it could also mean that opportunities that could be presented in the coming period for the working and oppressed masses in Ekiti to win concessions and improvement in their conditions could either be missed or wasted. This can also give the Fayemi government an opportunity, to go way beyond Fayose, to smash the labour movement in the state by mobilizing artisans, farmers, frustrated youth and unorganized masses. According to Karl Marx, history can repeat itself first as a tragedy, second as a farce. Socialists, labour activists and rank and file workers have to begin to fight for the democratization of the unions and for a capable and ideologically clear-headed leadership that can provide bold and courageous leadership for the struggle that the future holds in Ekiti state.
Beyond this, there is the need for the working people in Ekiti to take initiative on behalf of the artisans, farmers, and unemployed youth by supporting a political party that has as its mandate the democratic management of the state’s resources. This is how the vicious cycle of replacing the devil with Beelzebub can be averted in future. This is why the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) was formed, in order to create an alternative for the working and poor people to democratically deploy society’s resources for the creation of new value, wealth and a standard lifestyle for the mass of people rather than the privileged politicians and their friends.
The Ekiti State election has revealed that in the desperate bid of capitalist politicians like Fayemi to hold political offices, they would go as far as bribing voters for their votes, with no regard, for example, for the APC’s vaunted anti-corruption crusade. But it is wrong the insinuation that the masses are nitwits who could be fooled with a few thousand naira to mortgage their future for the next four years after every election. In the 2015 general election, Goodluck Jonathan lost despite so-called federal might and vaults of money at his disposal, because the working people and masses fell for the falsehood peddled by the APC that his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari, would stamp out corruption and reposition the economic fortunes of the country. Albeit Buhari’s monumental failure which is being reflected by the day in every aspect of life of the average Nigerian, if there is no ideological and political alternative counterpoised to his capitalist policies, then we should expect a voters’ apathy or cynicism in the 2019 general elections on a more massive scale than reflected at the Ekiti election.