2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS AND A WORKING CLASS AT CROSSROADS – THE IMPERATIVE OF CRITICAL SUPPORT FOR OMOYELE SOWORE
Less than 25 days to the 2023 presidential election, it is becoming glaring to even the most apolitical that Nigeria is doomed so far as it remains under the rule of the chronically inept, fantastically corrupt and rotten capitalist gangsters of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Statement of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
On top of an unrelenting economic crisis, rocketing inflation, soaring public debt and rising cost of living that have seen millions plunged into new levels of impoverishment and unemployment, new maladies of Nigeria’s inept ruling elite and the rotten capitalist system have surfaced such as the ongoing fuel scarcity/price hike and the shortage of new currency notes. These latest crises are slowly grounding society to a halt, disrupting lives and livelihoods while exacerbating the misery many already face and creating conditions for unrest and protest.
APC EIGHT YEARS OF CALAMITOUS RULE
As we predicted eight years ago, the rule of the All Progressive Congress (APC) government of President Muhammadu Buhari has led to greater suffering for the working people, the youth and the poor masses. Now, not even those who supported the APC in 2015 can deny that this is nothing but a government of calamity whose failure dwarfs the equally anti-poor People’s Democratic Party (PDP) regimes before it. It is a chronically inept government whose only role over the past eight years is reducing what needed to increase and increasing what needed to reduce.
On the one hand, under the eight-year rule of the Buhari APC government, mass poverty has increased, inflation has increased, public debt has increased, corruption has increased, attacks on democratic rights and police brutality increased while insecurity which used to be a by-word for Boko Haram insurgency in the North East has spread to almost all the nooks and crannies of the country. Death has become a national pastime with official estimates saying nothing less than 55, 430 people were killed between 2015 and 2022 while at least 3.2 million people are internally displaced as a result of conflict. Likewise, about 20 million children are out of school while youth unemployment is at 40%! Now Nigeria is facing its worst mass emigration crisis since the civil war with thousands of the nation’s young and skilled professionals as well as working class and poor elements fleeing the country both through the airports and the Sahara desert!
On the other hand, funding to public education, health and social services reduced, income reduced and alongside all these the quality of life of average Nigerians has reduced. The value of Nigeria’s minimum wage is less than the level of the 80s while workers and the lower middle classes are more impoverished than ever. According to Oxfam in its “Davos 2023 Inequality Report”, three of the richest men in the country are wealthier than 83 million Nigerians. At the same time, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says the number of Nigerians living in poverty has increased to 133 million out of a population of well over 210 million! This is the scorecard of APC disastrous rule over the past eight years!
WE CAN’T TAKE THIS ANY LONGER
Workers, youth and the poor masses cannot tolerate this grotesque inequality and misery in the midst of abundant resources any longer. Sadly from all indications, the 2023 general elections, if it holds, will most certainly produce the very same gangs of looters as leaders of a new government which means that the suffering of the masses will continue.
Very urgently, we need to build a mass movement to resist the current hardship and suffering and that would also be prepared to always organize and mobilize to challenge and fight against all anti-poor capitalist attacks that will be implemented in the aftermath of the 2023 general elections, linked of course with the building of a mass workers political alternative to fight for political power. A very volatile situation can develop, with many seeing that the elections have not provided solutions and therefore look towards taking matters into their own hands by struggling. Such developments can be the start of a movement for real, fundamental change. As we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have tirelessly argued, the only solution to Nigeria’s problems is a socialist revolution beginning with putting an end to the rule of the capitalist gangsters and replacing them with a workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist programmes which would take the key sectors of Nigeria’s economy into public ownership and democratic workers control in order to wrest from the clutches of the local and multinational capitalist gangsters the wealth of Nigeria that they have stolen over the decades and use them for the benefits of the vast majority.
THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS
Understandably, faced with these multifarious crises, some have turned towards the 2023 general elections to try and fight for a Nigeria that works. Unfortunately, a major shortcoming of this election is the absence of an outright mass working people’s political alternative. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) with which the DSM alongside some workers and youth activists intervened in the 2019 general elections was subsequently deregistered by INEC in order to block the possibility of such a party becoming an electoral rallying point for a mass uprising against the capitalist system.
Nevertheless, the DSM identifies with the desire of all those who want to use this election despite all its shortcomings to try to fight for a better future. For this to happen, there must be recognition of the fact that pro-capitalist politicians and political parties whose disastrous policies and politics led us to these impasse cannot be part of the solutions. Otherwise, we would be making the mistake of 2015 all over again.
Therefore, genuine change-seeking elements cannot lend support to pro-capitalist parties like the PDP, APC, ANPP, APGA, ADC and their candidates who are part and parcel of the problems of this country and whose policies when they emerge would be a continuation of the current disastrous policy of the Buhari regime. Hence, the DSM calls for no support for capitalist presidential candidates such as Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC, Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, Kwakwanso of the NNPP etc. Each of these candidates support anti-poor policies like deregulation, privatization, removal of fuel subsidy and underfunding of public education, healthcare and social services.
PETER OBI – A NEW BUHARI IN THE MAKING
A section of change-seeking people however believe Peter Obi, despite being a pro-capitalist element who supports the same anti-poor policies of deregulation, privatization and fuel subsidy removal that Atiku, Tinubu and others support, is different. For us in the DSM, we believe they are mistaken.
Yes we recognize that Peter Obi’s lacerating criticism of state corruption and the system of patronage is generally correct. However, as Buhari’s disastrous eight-year rule amply demonstrates, it is not enough to criticize corruption and promise to lead a frugal government. What is needed to make Nigeria work is the building of a movement to end capitalism and enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government that implement Socialist policies such as public ownership of the key sectors of the economy under workers democratic control, provision of free public education, health care and social services. Unfortunately, Obi is a capitalist who believes in the inequitable free market model that is responsible for global inequality, wars and diseases. Buhari failed disastrously essentially because he remained within the precinct of capitalism while claiming to want to fight corruption and develop a more independent Nigeria. Therefore, if Obi becomes president, his rule will not be different from that of Buhari, hence, the suffering of the people will not stop.
This is aside the fact that Obi was a pro-capitalist APGA governor of Anambra state a few years ago, an economic adviser to Jonathan PDP government, Atiku’s running mate four years ago and PDP presidential hopeful less than seven months ago. Obi was also indicted in the Pandora Papers scandal something which shows he is not as clean as he claims.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the labour movement offered the Labour Party (LP) to Peter Obi without any guarantee he would rule in the interest of the working people and poor masses. Now everyone can see the resulting absurd contradiction wherein the NLC and TUC claim to oppose fuel subsidy removal while Peter Obi, who is supposed to be the choice of Nigerian workers for President, continues to make promises on the campaign trail that he would remove fuel subsidy if he comes to power. This itself is a sign that if Obi emerges, there is no guarantee he would rule in the interest of the poor masses. Besides, Obi is basically trying to avoid clear commitments, except on a few things like removal of the fuel subsidy!
Aside this, the LP, despite its formal social democratic programme, does not stand in this election as a party representing the class interest of workers, radical youth and the poor masses. Rather the LP is being built as a second-eleven of the main capitalist parties while its presidential candidate espouses pro-market and pro-rich manifesto on its platform without a challenge. There is no real party democracy in the LP, at most levels it is run as a top-down operation with leaders being imposed and its electoral tickets sold on a cash and carry basis. Not surprising therefore that the party has become enmeshed in scandal something which shows that the party leadership and functionaries are as corrupt and rotten as the APC and PDP gangsters they want to replace in power. In most cases, leaders of Obi’s campaign and often also the LP in many areas are former members of these capitalist parties.
On the basis of the foregoing, the DSM urges all genuine change-seeking elements not to have illusions in Peter Obi but to join us in the effort to build a mass movement to resist all anti-poor polices that may be implemented by any capitalist government that emerges after the general elections. At the same time, we also urge these change-seeking elements to fight to clean the LP of all corrupt and capitalist elements and make it a real party that represents the interest of the working people.
This also means standing against those Labour leaders who, while not opposing the Labour’s official support for Obi, are in practice supporting the APC in this election. For instance, President of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Nasir Idris, is standing as the APC candidate for the Kebbi state governorship. Idris is also a Deputy President of the NLC and last June the NLC NEC officially decided to “organize a mega rally in Kebbi State in support of its Deputy President, Dr. Nasir Idris, who has emerged as a governorship candidate in Kebbi State and will also support its Chairperson in Niger State in order to ensure victory at the polls.” The Niger NLC Chair, Yakubu Garba, is the running mate of the APC governorship candidate there. This shows how, for all their fine words, the NLC leaders were never serious about “taking back” the Labour Party and did not mind Obi and a group of ex-PDP members taking over the LP’s election campaign.
VOTE OMOYELE SOWORE
In the midst of these cheerless features of the 2023 general elections as enumerated above and faced with the absence of a mass workers political alternative, only the manifesto of Omoyele Sowore, the Presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), offers a ray of hope. Sowore is the publisher of Sahara Reporters – a radical online news portal and a former student union activist. He was president of the University of Lagos Students Union (ULSU) in the 1990s. This would be his second attempt at running for President.
In his first attempt in 2019 where he won about 33, 000 votes (about 0.12 percent of the votes), his campaign succeeded in popularizing the word “revolution” and nudged a new generation into the arena of social and political struggle. He built his political contest around a youth-dominated Take-It-Back (TIB) Movement, which transformed into Coalition for Revolution (CORE), and has led some protests in the last few years. One of the protests earned him and his supporters’ state repression, leading to his prolonged detention, while his passport is currently seized.
In the 2019 general elections, we in the DSM did not support Omoyele Sowore because his campaign had no clear pro-working people ideological framework as it only focused mainly on how he could run Nigeria effectively because he is young, virile, urbane, civilized and progressive. This meant that he had no critique of capitalism as a global economic system that promotes inequality, while being critical of Nigeria’s inept ruling elites whom he rightly described as backward, corrupt and inefficient.
However, in the campaigns for the forthcoming 2023 general elections, noticeable shifts can be seen in Sowore’s ideas and programmes. For example, the AAC has publicly identified itself as “an anti-imperialist, Pan-African, and Eco-socialist party”. In the party’s 2023 election document titled “A Peoples Manifesto for Total Liberation – AAC Program for Revolutionary Transformation of Nigeria 2022”, the party declares:
“The Nigerian economy has been working for a handful of people who benefit from patronage, with little concern for investment in productive activities that result in gainful employment for the many and lifting people out of poverty…When we come to power, development will be driven by, and primarily for the benefit of, the poor working people. We will make the economy work for the many and not the few. Our economic policies will also go beyond “growth” and the building of a strong productive base. They will include environmental safeguards, to mitigate the climate crises and avoid environmental catastrophe. We will ensure a balance of the web of life between people and nature. We will promote system change and not climate change, as an integral element of our developmental strides” (www.aacparty.org).
Similarly, at the launch of his campaign in Kano, Sowore publicly pledged to form “a socialist government focusing on workers’ welfare, free education, job creation, and pension reforms”. In the same document, Sowore affirms that under an AAC government “the right of nationalities to self-determination, up to the right of secession will be recognized and protected. We firmly believe that people cannot be coerced into a federation, and there will be lasting peace and development. We also believe that a united Nigeria under a focused revolutionary leadership that we will provide will be stronger and all its peoples, and Africa as a whole, will benefit immensely. We will thus consistently advocate for the unity of the poor masses of all nationalities in Nigeria, based on mutual respect and shared values for a better world”.
Furthermore, the manifesto declares: “We will pursue the renegotiation of Nigeria in the interests of the poor working people, through a bottom-up process that will lead to the popular formulation of a People’s Constitution, which will herald the economic, social, political, and national restructuring of Nigeria on the basis of justice and equality for all.” The manifesto also pledges the following: “Our foreign policy, as AAC, will be aimed at breaking the chains of imperialism on our development. We will resist imperialist domination over the economic and political affairs of African and other Global South countries. We will establish relationships with countries and peoples which are based on solidarity, mutual respect, reciprocity, and the building of a new ecologically, economically and politically sustainable world.” Furthermore, an AAC government will “Promote international relations based on fostering the global struggle and solidarity of working-class people to defeat imperialist domination and win the total liberation of the exploited and oppressed people across the length and breadth of the world”.
Clearly, all these mark a crucial departure from Sowore’s previous campaign which then appeared focused on reforming capitalism. However from a Socialist point of view, there are a number of political limitations in Sowore’s programme some of which we endeavor to enumerate below.
SOWORE’S PROGRAMMATIC AND POLITICAL LIMITATIONS
Firstly, Sowore’s manifesto is limited in its socialist orientation as it only takes a few socialist programmes and mixes them up with capitalist ones. For example, the AAC manifesto promises to run an economy “which put people first before profit, without prejudice to the continued existence of a thriving private sector, which respects the new order”. These and many more are snippets and examples of the content of Sowore’s “Socialist” manifesto. They are a mixture of radical formulations that make correct criticism of the capitalist system, pledges very radical social reforms to address the ills of capitalist society but nonetheless put faith in the dominance of private sector’s role in economic development.
For instance, with regards to the power sector, the manifesto incorrectly ascribes the crisis of the power sector especially incessant partial or total grid collapses, 222 of which have occurred in the last twelve years to “centralization of power generation”, which creates chaos in the economy and social life of the country. In view of this, Sowore therefore promises to do the following: “We will decentralize power generation and promote distributed electricity generation to enable stable and adequate electricity supply. We will enact a policy to encourage industrial hubs establishment of Independent Power Project (IPP), with appropriate regulatory guidelines”. Thereafter, the manifesto goes ahead to promise to “establish and encourage regulated private sector investment in the establishment of solar plants within the first four years of an AAC government, focusing on states with high annual solar radiation”. In the entire length of the section on the power sector, it is only once that the manifesto identified the main issue in the power sector which is privatization. Here the manifesto declares “We will reverse the power sector privatization, without compensation. We will equally probe the process, including the subsequent subsidization of the power Distribution Companies (DISCOs), of up to N2.3 trillion…”
Instead of advancing a clear programme for re-nationalization and public ownership of the power sector under democratic control, not a return to the corrupt NEPA days, as an alternative to privatization, the manifesto proposes popular sovereignty and participatory governance. It notes that “Popular sovereignty and participatory governance are key pillars of the energy democracy approach which AAC adopts towards establishing and sustaining a green power sector. The people are the subjects of energy for social and economic development; as workers who produce, and as end-users. The AAC government will actively promote 14 information access, inclusiveness, transparency, and awareness raising on energy-related issues. Representatives of trade unions, professional associations, civil society organizations, communities, tertiary institutions and the organized private sector, who do not have any vested interests in the power sector will be involved to advise and hold our government accountable on the power sector policy process”.
As good as this approach is, even though it does not expressly mention democratic control and management, the failure to understand that the basis for any involvement of workers, youth and community people in the running of the power sector, is that the sector must be publicly owned is a major limitation. A basic law of political economy is that you cannot control or manage what you do not own. The entirety of the economic architecture of capitalism is based on the capitalist class owning and controlling the means of production. Therefore, popular sovereignty, so-called, is only realizable when the working people and oppressed masses seize control of the main levers of the economy, one of which is the power sector. Hence, Socialists support “democratic management” of the power sector or any of its subsidiaries but this is only possible after establishing democratic control through public ownership.
Also, under the section “Investment and Integrated Coordination”, the Manifesto states the following: “It is estimated that Nigeria will need not less than $410 billion spread over forty years to achieve universal access to clean energy. This will require public spending at all levels of government. But this will not be enough. AAC will thus explore an array of funding sources, including international development funding and responsible private sector investment. We will establish a Power Sector Sustainability Investment Board to integrate and coordinate the process. The Board will include representatives of trade unions, private sector and civil society organizations”.
Significantly, nowhere in the 112-page manifesto document is a consistent argument and programme made for nationalization and public ownership of the key sectors of Nigeria’s economy under democratic workers’ control. While it lists who would be on its proposed ‘Power Sector Sustainability Investment Board’ it does not say which would have control, ‘working people’ or the ‘private sector’. Meanwhile this is the cornerstone of the Socialist approach and strategy – something that marks a Socialist programme from the different layers of reformism on offer today.
Alongside the above is the seeming hostile attitude of Sowore to the mass organisations of the working class. For us in the DSM, while we agree with Sowore’s critique of the pro-capitalist and anti-struggle leaderships of the NLC and TUC, we nevertheless recognize that the working class is the only class capable of leading other oppressed masses to end capitalism and build a Socialist Nigeria. From our experience, we know for certain that Nigerian workers are always ready to struggle if they see a bold leadership. This explains our continuous role and involvement in the activities of the labour movement with a view to aid the struggle of workers to reclaim their unions from pro-capitalist elements leading them so they can become fighting organizations to end the condition of mass suffering.
Despite the above programmatic and political limitations of Sowore, the DSM nonetheless believes that Sowore’s candidacy is the only one that merits the support and votes of change-seeking elements in Nigeria today. In our view, Sowore’s programme though limited can serve as a starting point for conversations about what Socialism is all about and how a movement and party that stand for the programmes of Socialism can be built.
We hereby declare our critical support for the candidacy of Omoyele Sowore while urging all change-seeking elements who want to use the forthcoming election to take a stand and reject all capitalist and anti-poor parties/candidates to cast their vote for Omoyele Sowore. By critical support, it means that while supporting Sowore, we shall not refrain from openly and frankly raising our disagreements with some aspects of his programme and politics through discussions as well as our publications, with the aim of engaging in fruitful comradely debate and hopefully reaching common understanding on the key issues.
Whatever happens in the elections, what is clear is that given the unrelenting global capitalist crisis, Nigeria is entering a period of convulsions and storm. At the moment, spontaneous protests and riots have broken out in a few cities in response to the growing hardship. That this is taking place few days to a general election shows that many Nigerians do not look towards the elections for salvation. They have seen that the main capitalist political parties and candidates who dominate the electoral space do not represent them. Hence our tactics in the DSM is to engage with both layers of the masses who have illusions in the elections and those who have decided take their destinies into their own hands via the barricades. We have confidence that both lines will converge in the aftermath of the 2023 general elections in a storm of class struggle.
Without doubt, whichever government that emerges from the elections will be weak and hard-pressed to implement a combination of populist policies and pro-capitalist attacks, including even some form of austerity, in order to try to placate the masses while simultaneously trying to checkmate Nigeria’s collapsing economy. But this will not be enough to hold down the masses. Support for Sowore’s presidential candidacy in this circumstance is therefore a means to begin to rally and unite the forces that would be required to organize and fight-back in the post-election period.
Although it may appear farfetched, activists should not underestimate the fact that given how economic, political, social and security crises are converging, there is a possibility that the general elections may be cancelled or postponed at the last minute. But even if the elections go ahead as planned, there is every possibility that the outcome might provoke further instability and crises that could put Nigeria’s existence on the line. In fact, the possibility of a military coup appears more imminent than ever. However such a coup if it succeeds can quickly throw the country into an ethno-religious conflict given the ethnic and religious division in the country. In 1966, a coup organized by so-called radical young officers targeting the country’s corrupt political elite failed to unite the country behind it as it instead opened a Pandora’s box of a bloody counter coup and a 30-month civil war in which over 2 million perished.
This therefore means that the most urgent priority for revolutionary forces at the moment is to begin to organize and build platforms of mass struggle that can be used to organize resistance against the anti-poor policies that a new government will implement linked of course to building a mass working people’s political alternative armed with Socialist policies. This includes intensifying the campaign to rebuild the labour and youth movements which can put pressure on the leadership to fight and ensure that struggles are not easily betrayed as before.
We hereby invite all those who agree with the above perspectives to join us in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in our effort to build a revolutionary organization that can play an influential role in the storm and mass struggles that impend in Nigeria and Africa over the next period.