2023: No Genuine Alternative Amongst all the Capitalist Candidates
- Only a Mass Workers’ Party with Socialist Program can Save Nigeria
Given the seeming perpetual decline in the living conditions of the majority of Nigerians in the last seven and half years of the Buhari/APC government, it will be expected that many Nigerians will want to use the 2023 elections to punish the ruling politicians and parties and seek for a better deal. Also, given the gigantic struggle of the working people and youth against various anti-people policies, as seen in the various industrial struggles and the historic EndSARS movement, it would have been a positive development if a radical political party had emerged to mobilise the oppressed people for political change.
By Kola Ibrahim
Unfortunately, the 2023 elections offer little or no hope for the working people, youth and the poor. Indeed, unless the working people and youth are prepared for mass resistance, the 2023 elections will most probably usher in a new era of degeneration of living conditions and more attacks on the majority of Nigerians, irrespective of who emerges among the array of capitalist politicians at the federal and state levels. This is no doomsday prophesy, but reality from the various antecedents, politics and programmes of leading bourgeois parties and politicians. More than this, the new electoral reform will offer little gain to the working people and youth, inasmuch as the current political and economic arrangement is maintained.
THE MONETISED AND CORRUPT PRIMARY ELECTIONS
One of the signs that the 2023 elections offer little is the corruption-ridden primary elections of the main bourgeois parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Aside the fact that the elections were dogged by undemocratic practices that saw many contestants short-changed by the leadership of these parties, the cost of procuring the nomination forms was so high such that many discernible Nigerians had to conclude that nothing good could come from such primaries.
For instance, while candidates of APC paid N100 million and N50 million, the PDP candidates paid N40 million and N21 million for presidential and governorship nomination forms respectively. However, other pro-capitalist political parties are not seriously different. While Social Democratic Party (SDP) fixed its presidential and governorship nomination forms at N35 million and N16 million, a supposed youth-oriented Young People’s Party (YPP) fixed the cost of its presidential and governorship nomination forms at N20 million and N10 million respectively, with a so-called 50 per cent discount for youth candidates.
Given this background, it will be strange to expect the 2023 elections, which will be dominated by the candidates who emerged from these primaries, to offer any hope for the country. For one, the exorbitant cost of nomination fees in these parties reflects the pro-rich orientation of the parties and their candidates. Secondly, the wanton display of wealth through the payment for the costly nomination forms, which became a bazaar of a sort especially in the ruling APC, and the rain of dollars to bribe delegates and party functionaries, in the face of unprecedented economic hardship faced by a majority of Nigerians, show the level of contempt these parties and politicians have for the working people. It is not accidental that the period when these bourgeois parties raked in billions of naira coincided with the time the university lecturers’ union, ASUU, was on strike over poor funding and poor remuneration. Also, the heavy monetisation of primary elections by the ruling parties underscores the failure of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign, which has become a chicanery. Indeed so many dollars were bought to bribe delegates that a foreign exchange crisis developed.
It is however unfortunate that the Labour Party, which was supposedly established by the labour movement also joined this shenanigan with its presidential candidate paying N30 million as nomination form. This is a sad reminder that the party, not minding its nomenclature and the background of its establishment, has become, at best, the second eleven of the main capitalist parties, and worse still, a dumping ground for rejects in the ruling parties.
ECONOMY: A BLEAK FUTURE ASSURED
The 2023 elections will be taking place against a background of serious economic and fiscal crisis in Nigeria. No doubt, Nigerians have never had it so bad, as social and economic indices that affect the daily lives of a majority of Nigerians are in the negative. Currently, unemployment is at 33.3 percent as par last released figure by the National Bureau of Statistics. Inflation rose to as high as 20.8 percent in September 2022, highest in 17 years, with food inflation at 23.34 percent. Currently too, more than 20 million children are reportedly out of school, one of the worst in the world.
But the biggest sign of economic crisis is the fiscal and debt malaise afflicting the country, which has seen the country spending more than 114 percent of its revenue in the first quarter of this year on debt servicing. In the 2023 budget, the country will be spending over N6 trillion on debt servicing, more than 60 percent of expected government revenue. Worse still, government’s plan to rake in N10 trillion as revenue seems to be more of wishful thinking, especially, going by the experience of the previous budgets. This means that the budget deficit, currently put at N10.78 trillion, will increase, and thus raising Nigeria’s debt burden to about N52 trillion ($122 billion) from the current N42 trillion.
The Buhari government’s method of spending its way out of crisis by increasing fiscal outlay (budget) through massive borrowing, as it did when faced with a recession in 2016, has backfired. A significant percentage of the budgeted sums and borrowed funds found their ways to private pockets of the rich few and multinationals through outright looting, fraudulent contract system, bogus overhead for political elites, dole-out to big businesses (tax waivers, bailout funds, trade liberalization, etc.) and other capitalist policies. The simple implication of this is that the Buhari government was borrowing to fund looting. On the other hand, the mass of working people and the poor are being squeezed even more, through introduction of neo-liberal policies. The result has been a ballooning public debt and debt servicing without corresponding improvement in the economy, infrastructures, development, industrialization and better living conditions for the people.
Consequently, the incoming government will inherit a debt-ridden and unsustainable fiscal arrangement against the background of an international economic crisis. This is added to other problems the new administration will inherit. For instance, the Buhari government only made provision for petrol subsidy for the first six months of 2023, leaving the next government to face the social upheaval that subsidy stoppage will most likely provoke. Added to this is the poor condition of social services such as public education, healthcare, water and sanitation, and decrepit infrastructure, which have only received marginal attention in the eight years of Buhari government.
Alongside this is the fact that Nigeria has never been more divided and riven by crisis. There is no part of the country that is safe as boko haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, oil bunkering, armed separatist agitation and other forms of insecurity have become the norm. The national question is likely to worsen the more following the general elections thereby confronting any new regime with a confounding crisis that has so far defied any solution within the framework of capitalism. Only a government committed to dismantling the existing capitalist structure upon which Nigeria’s fiscal and economic policies are based, can effect necessary revolutionary changes that will transform Nigeria’s society and its people.
TINUBU, AND ATIKU ARE NO SOLUTIONS
However, on the basis of capitalist arrangement, a new government will have to either continue with the current unsustainable fiscal arrangement premised on heavy reliance on debt, or embark on budget balancing leading to full implementation of austerity policies, through shrinking of spending on social services, full commercialization and privatisation of social services like public education and healthcare, mass retrenchment, and imposition of heavier taxes on the majority of the population. Consequently, the two main capitalist presidential contestants vis-a-vis Bola Tinubu of APC, and Atiku Abubakar of PDP do not represent any viable alternative away from the current arrangement. Indeed, both of them have one thing in common: they are rabidly committed to the neo-liberal capitalist policies that have ruined the country in the last 40 years.
Bola Tinubu is a known anti-worker politician who, while governor of Lagos State, sacked labour leaders including Ayodele Akele over agitation for minimum wage. He is also a promoter of anti-poor policies as a prominent leader of the APC party. In his economic manifesto, he promised to create six new regional economic development agencies to promote industrial and economic development. However, on the basis of capitalism, this will not address any of Nigeria’s economic problems, because Nigeria’s capitalist class is too weak and short-sighted to commit to long term industrialization and investment. Also, global capitalism in its current state cannot commit to long term development of the third world, especially in an economically and politically unstable country like Nigeria. They will rather invest in short term investments. Tinubu’s solution to university underfunding is introduction of more fees, and student loans, a policy that has failed even in advanced capitalist economies. The policy of promoting entrepreneurship for young Nigerians and giving incentives to companies employing youth, are already tried but failed policies, in a country with backward infrastructure.
On the other hand, an Atiku or PDP government will solve none of the problems facing Nigeria’s economy, rather it will worsen them. Aside the terrible record of the PDP in its 16 years as the ruling party at the federal level, coupled with the records of its state governments, an Atiku government economic policy will rather throw Nigeria’s economy and society into a worse crisis. According to the economic manifesto of Atiku, adopted by the PDP, the government of Atiku will be a government of full-fledged austerity. The manifesto clearly states the agenda of the government to privatise all government enterprises and infrastructures. Despite the obvious failure of privatization in the electricity sector, the Atiku manifesto clearly notes its plan to privatise the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), which is still under government control, and remain the only marginally functioning part of the electricity sector. Atiku Abubakar, as a former vice president between 1999 and 2007, superintended over privatization of public corporations to private hands, mostly those close to the corridors of power. The state governments under PDP’s control are not different from their APC counterparts in terms of their attacks on the working people and youth. His plan to also privatise public universities will throw the education sector into serious crisis. Atiku owns a private university where millions of naira are paid as fees.
IS PETER OBI ANY DIFFERENT?
At the moment, some sections of Nigeria’s population including the youth look towards the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, either as a credible alternative or as a lesser evil. Some of his supporters are motivated by the ethnic sentiment that being an Igbo, his victory can help address the feeling of marginalisation felt by Igbo people, especially in the context of the past seven and a half years. However, quite a few others consider his candidature as an opportunity to end the monopoly of the two ruling capitalist parties of the APC and PDP on political power over the past two decades. Their prospective vote for him, therefore, is not so much an endorsement of Obi but a protest vote and a rejection of the political establishment.
Unfortunately, neither Peter Obi nor his party, the Labour Party (LP), fully measures up to the hope and aspirations that these sections of the population are investing in them. Peter was until few months ago, a staunch member of the PDP and Atiku’s running mate in the 2019 general elections. Aside from this, he is a capitalist businessman whose record of service as Anambra state governor between 2006 and 2014 was filled with anti-worker and anti-poor policies. But, the day after Obi joined the Labour Party, the Party leadership issued a statement that with this “the 2023 election is as good as won”, no attempt was made to ask Obi for a balance sheet of his record while in the APGA and PDP. Effectively he was immediately given the candidature upon joining the party, hardly democratic or principled politically.
While the leadership of the labour movement, especially the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which formed the Labour Party ab initio, has adopted Peter Obi, as their preferred candidate for President, this has not reflected in Peter Obi’s pro-capitalist programme, which in essence runs contrary to the NLC’s Workers’ Charter. Ever since he started his campaigns, Peter Obi has largely defended the same economic and political programme that Atiku and Tinubu stand for. In a celebrated interview on Arise TV, Peter Obi famously declared that he has no ideological difference with Atiku Abubakar! Yet Atiku is seen by many of his supporters as one of the architects of Nigeria’s economic misery who should never be allowed to return to power.
Similarly, in his speech at a Harvard University Programme, Obi stated that his government will “operate within available resources and strive for a balanced national budget as cost saving measures. Ending leakages – including the subsidy regime and improving our tax regime, should do the magic.” This clearly underscores Obi’s neo-liberal capitalist orientation, which may be worse than even the Buhari ruinous policies. While Obi is fixated on removing fuel subsidy, just like Tinubu and Atiku, which will lead to astronomical rise in fuel price, he said very little about reducing huge emoluments going to political office holders, who have become pests on national resources.
Obi’s tax policy will likely favour the rich, while the working people and the poor, already overtaxed, will pay the price. This conclusion is not hard to come by. Obi was one of those mentioned in the Pandora Papers, an international list of rich people who hide their wealth in tax havens to avoid paying fair tax. Therefore, should he emerge as president, he is likely to disappoint the masses of his supporters as he would sooner or later implement fundamentally the same economic and political programmes as the PDP and APC. This in a way would lead to a repeat of a similar process in 2015 when huge masses of voters, fed up with the 16 year dismal rule of the PDP, invested hope and aspiration in President Buhari and the APC only for the regime to fail disastrously once in power.
A vital lesson the masses must learn from the disastrous experience of the Buhari regime is that no member of the capitalist ruling elite can be trusted to save Nigeria. Also, the masses must also understand that only a government formed by workers and poor masses and armed with Socialist programme can truly begin to reconstruct and reconfigure Nigeria in the interest of the mass majority instead of in the interest of the rich few as we have currently.
A SOCIALIST PROGRAMME IS NEEDED
While it is true that Nigeria currently borrows to fund consumption, it is a fact that most of these consumptive spendings go to the super rich few and not ordinary people. Even the subsidy spending has been enmeshed in gargantuan corruption, with the amount of petrol the country is paying subsidy for reportedly inflated. Therefore, in order to resolve the absurd situation, the first thing is to end corruption and dole-outs to the rich. This will mean ending the fraudulent contract system; drastically reducing emoluments for politicians; ending the fraudulent trade policies that ensure trillions of naira of tax and tariff waivers to big businesses, among others.
On the other hand, by recovering trillions of naira stolen from public coffers, it can be possible to mobilise part of the needed resources to begin to build necessary developmental projects including adequate refineries, power plants, transport infrastructural (roads, rails, seaports, etc.). Also, by reviewing the country’s debts and repudiating unjustified, fraudulent and odious debts, it is possible for more money to be freed from debt servicing and repayment. This can be used as part of the fund for social infrastructure such as free and quality education, healthcare, water supply, etc., and development. These steps would be a start but most importantly is the need to put the economic mainstay (the mineral and natural resources, financial sector, industrial sector, agriculture etc.) under public control, ownership and management. This will allow the country to mobilise its resources and centrally and holistically plan its development.
However, Obi, Atiku or Tinubu, as representatives of the capitalist class, and members of the billionaires’ club, will never take this road. This places the task on the working people, youth and the poor, to prepare for gigantic battles against expected anti-poor policies to be offloaded on them by any of the capitalist politicians that emerges in 2023. Rebuilding the labour movement as a fighting platform is necessary in this regard. The illusion being sown by labour leadership in Peter Obi will soon vanish, as a government of Obi, if it emerges, will at some point launch more attacks on the working people, and the labour leadership may be compelled to lead the fight or be replaced by those who will.
INSECURITY AND NATIONALITY CRISIS WILL DEEPEN
Added to the challenge of the economy, which the 2023 elections will not resolve, is the persisting insecurity and national question. The seven and half years of Buhari has engendered worsening security situation. While Buhari’s emergence in 2015 was partly a response to the failure of Jonathan/PDP government to address the terrible security situation, especially the Boko Haram insurgency, the Buhari government has superintended over worse security situation, with every part of the country facing one form of insecurity or the other. While the Boko Haram insurgency is still raging, other threats including banditry, kidnapping, oil bunkering and theft, herdsmen-farmers’ conflicts, among others, have also taken prominent spaces in Nigeria’s security crisis. According to BusinessDay newspaper (30/05/2022), about 55, 000 Nigerians have been killed in the last seven years of the Buhari administration as a result various insecurity issues. In the seven months between December 2021 and June 2022, not less than 2,256 Nigerians were abducted, according to Punch newspaper (31/6/2022).
Behind all these security challenges are various factors, many of which actually predate the Buhari administration. However, the Buhari government has also significantly contributed to the worsening security situation, especially through promotion of parochial and sectional agenda. This has deepened existing fault-lines as seen in the increasing rate of herdsmen-farmers conflicts and violent degeneration of Biafran nationalist agitation. Also, the debilitating economic situation that has pushed more young Nigerians into crime is reflected in the increasing cases of kidnapping. Also, failure of the successive governments to seriously address climate and environmental crisis, especially in the north, has, alongside economic deprivation, worsened banditry and herdsmen-farmers’ crisis. More than this, pervasive corruption, which has deepened under Buhari government, and lack of faith in the country’s political leadership, has weakened the fighting capacity of the country’s security agencies, especially the army which, though reputed as one of the best trained in the region yet is unable to rein in the different bands of criminals and terrorists that have held the country to ransom for years now. Over N8 trillion committed to security sector in the 6 years up to 2021 has not yielded in any serious improvement in the security apparatus.
Unfortunately, none of the major capitalist presidential contestants has any serious programme of addressing the security challenges based on real factors behind them. On the contrary, their politics and policies will continue to contribute to the existing precarious national crisis, which is a major fuelling factor for insecurity. While Tinubu of APC cynically promised to ‘recruit 50 million youths’ into the security agencies, Atiku simplistically promised to ‘unify Nigerians’. Peter Obi on the other hand promised to modernise the security apparatus to respond to security challenges. Yet, all of them rely on ethno-religious base for support. While Tinubu’s ‘Emilokan’ (‘it is my turn’), is aimed at whipping up Yoruba nationalist sentiment, Atiku’s is also relying on northern vote bank.
Obi, despite not openly saying it, has been enjoying the support of pro-Biafra supporters, while a sizeable number of his support base is from the southeast where he comes from as well as Christians from other parts of the country. The defeat of any of these candidates therefore has a tendency of leading to post-election violence from their various ethnic support base, or deepening existing ethno-religious fault-lines, which can worsen insecurity in the coming period. Moreover, the various austerity and anti-people capitalist programmes of these candidates and parties will further plunge more Nigerians into poverty and want, which will increase rate of crime and insecurity.
Only a mass party of the working people based on socialist programme that mobilises the mass of working people, youth and the poor on a collective programme to end poverty, suffering and underdevelopment can fully resolve insecurity and the national question.
THE NEED TO BUILD MASS WORKERS’ PARTY WITH SOCIALIST PROGRAMME
A major tragedy of the 2023 election is the absence of a party raising socialist programme as against the pervading capitalist rhetoric of the major political parties. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), established by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and other activists and socialists, provided alternative socialist ideas in the 2019 elections, even though its forces and resources were limited. Unfortunately, the party has been undemocratically and unjustly de-registered by INEC, acting the script of main capitalist parties. On the other hand, the leadership of the labour movement, especially the NLC and TUC, are leading workers to a blind alley with their unprincipled politics. The same NLC leadership that asked workers to join Labour Party, is also supporting APC governorship candidate in Kebbi State (a deputy president of NLC) and deputy governorship candidate in Niger State (former NLC State Chairman). This is not a principled approach that can help build the LP as a serious party that stands for the interest of the working masses and youth.
Worse still, the directive for workers to join LP is not premised on any systematic approach towards rebuilding the party as a workers’ party, and reclaiming it from pro-capitalist politicians controlling it at all levels. Rather, the interest is towards mobilising support for Peter Obi. Indeed, many of the leaders of trade unions in various state and nationally are members of ruling capitalist parties in their various areas, as seen in the Kebbi and Niger State examples. It is therefore not surprising that many workers take the directive with a pinch of salt. Genuine activists and youth in the LP or those who are campaigning for Peter Obi must be prepared to organise to challenge this unserious approach of the labour leadership and party leadership towards building the LP. As first step, they must resist the hold of pro-capitalist politicians on the party and demand internal democracy, an end to monetarised internal party elections, a review of the party’s programmes and manifesto to ensure it contains programmes and policies that do no pander towards capitalism etc. This is the only way to ensure that the LP is salvaged and built as a serious party of the working class and youth both at the present moment and following the general elections.
Amidst this demoralising scenario is the candidacy of Omoyele Sowore, the presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC). While his winning chance is very slim, the fact that he stands for a radically different programme is a positive development. While Sowore is not a socialist, and his programmes even though formally regarded as “Socialist” is still largely limited within the framework of the capitalist system, his activist background and reformist programmes, coupled with the conscious building of a movement through the “Take It Back” movement stands him out. Sowore contested the presidential election in 2019 and had more than 30,000 votes that could have been a springboard basis for building a strong movement. Unfortunately, he has not been able to consolidate this base nor expand it.
The main undoing of the Sowore and his AAC party are the ideological and political limitations, which are reflected in his programmes and method of politics. While Sowore raised some useful programmes such as investment in infrastructure, payment of N100, 000 minimum wage, etc., his failure to fundamentally break with capitalism coupled with concessions to neo-liberal capitalism through his acceptance of public private partnership, even though he now belatedly openly identifies with some socialist measures, means that he was not able to distinguish himself fully on the ideological plane.
Furthermore, his politics have mostly centred on making himself attractive to all strands of classes including the business class, with a passive, if not antagonistic, attitude towards the organised working class and labour movement. However, one of the positives of the Sowore campaign and movement, aside providing a platform for radically minded and change-seeking youth, is the opportunity of serving as platform of resistance and protest movement post-2023 election. For the Sowore movement to be sustained, it needs to develop a thorough anti-capitalist, socialist ideological framework, and orientate towards the working class.
2023 AND BEYOND
Ultimately, given the limitation of the current LP, the task of building a mass workers’ party remains unsolved. Therefore, Socialists, working class activists, progressive trade unionists and unions need to come together towards building such a party. While there have been some progress in this regard, especially with the founding of The People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M), comprising activists and socialists, which aims to build a socialist and working class-oriented political movement, this movement needs to deepen itself within the platforms and struggles of working people and youth.
More than this is the need for workers and youth to rebuild their platforms, especially the trade unions. This is necessary given barrage of onslaught that will be launched by any government that emerges in the 2023 elections. Despite the prognosis that shows that not much fundamental change can be achieved through the coming general elections, activists must nevertheless recognise that events can rapidly change and new developments are possible including mass struggles developing against cost of living crisis and other attacks. This is because the crisis of capitalism continues to mature and worsen both in the advanced capitalist economy and in the neo-colonial world. The only solution to these perennial crises which throw humanity into new levels of poverty and impoverishment is to end capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist programme through a revolutionary uprising of the working class, oppressed youth and poor masses.
If such a government comes to power in Nigeria today, it can easily create a contagion with the masses rising across the region and continent to end the systemic misery in their own countries thereby raising the prospect of genuine cooperation across colonial borders to jointly plan the utilisation of Africa’s immense human and material wealth in the interest of the continents poor while serving as a fillip to the development of the world Socialist revolution.