HOW WILL NIGERIA FARE UNDER TINUBU PRESIDENCY?
Urgent Tasks before Workers, Youth and the Poor Masses
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, appears set to be sworn-in on May 29, 2023 as Nigeria’s 5th civilian President since the restoration of civil rule in 1999. Tinubu was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the highly disputed February 25, 2023 presidential elections after getting about 8.8 million votes – 27 percent of the total votes cast. But shortly after, the two runner-ups, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) rejected the declaration of Tinubu, and subsequently approached the court to nullify Tinubu’s victory.
By H. T. Soweto
While there is no certainty that the court will overturn Tinubu’s victory, it is important to note that already pockets of protests have emerged challenging the election’s outcome with some calling for the enthronement of an ‘Interim Government’. In fact, some protesters marched to the military headquarters in Abuja calling on the army to take power, prompting the Department of State Security (DSS) to issue alarm of an insurrectionary plot.
Whether real or imagined, this brazen and open call for truncation of the current democratic order and invitation to military rule is condemnable. As much as the elections represent a new low in democratic transition in Nigeria, invitation of an undemocratic contraption as a solution to a government clearly lacking popular support is retrogressive and reactionary. This is different from the mass of working people, youth and oppressed, across ethnic and religious divides, rejecting a Tinubu government and deciding to form a democratic revolutionary government of their own.
However, in the main, these developments alongside the rising ethnic tension confirms the prognosis of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) that the 2023 general elections would offer no solution to any of the problems facing society; rather, the poll would most likely lead to social and political upheaval as well as the exacerbation of all the centrifugal forces threatening to pull Nigeria apart.
This is because despite winning the election both the turnout and actual votes show that the ruling APC and its newly elected President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, continue to be hated by vast majority of Nigerians due to the abysmal failure of the party over the past eight years of President Buhari’s government. In 2015, mass of Nigerians invested enormous hope in the APC by voting massively for President Buhari in the first ever defeat of an incumbent, that is, the erstwhile government of President Goodluck Jonathan, thereby putting an end to the 16-year rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Eight years after, none of the socio economic and insecurity problems that mobilized the masses to put an end to PDP’s 16-year rule has been solved. Instead new ones were created with Nigeria, in 2018, becoming the poverty capital of the world despite the existence of the material resources and wealth to end poverty.
This explains why only 27 percent (24 million) of 87.2 million eligible voters bothered to vote out of which Tinubu was elected by a mere 8.8 million votes. Over 63 million registered voters simply decided to stay at home on Election Day – a remarkable abstention rate that will have telling implication in the weeks and months to come.
In 2015 following the APC and Buhari’s victory, millions of Nigerians eased a sigh of relief and looked towards the next four years with hope. Buhari had one of the longest honeymoons of any elected government in Nigeria’s history since 1999. But the victory of Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the 2023 general election has produced the exact opposite. Many Nigerians are not only afraid of their future under a Tinubu Presidency; the youth in particular are talking about restoring “Japa plans’, in other words, plan to flee the country en masse.
BAT: A TRUE PROGRESSIVE OR ANTI-POOR CAPITALIST POLITICIAN?
This fear of the future is however not surprising considering Tinubu’s reputation as one of Nigeria’s corrupt political fixers and his open support for anti-people pro-capitalist philosophy and programmes. But attempts have been made to present Tinubu as a progressive due to his role in the struggle for the restoration of civil rule. However, the truth of Tinubu’s political history proves otherwise.
Tinubu, having participated in the military-truncated short-lived Third Republic as a Senator from Lagos, won election as governor of Lagos State in 1999 under the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The AD was very popular among the working people because it claimed to stand on the welfare-state programmes of Obafemi Awolowo such as free education, free health and minimum state intervention in development. However, by 2002, the party became unpopular as a result of introduction of anti-worker policies such as mass retrenchment and intensification of capitalist policies. Tens of thousands of workers were sacked in the six AD-controlled southwest states. In Lagos State, Tinubu government not only retrenched over seven thousand workers, but also sacked the late Ayodele Akele, the fiery labour leader who led minimum wage and anti-retrenchment struggles, while workers’ protests were repressed.
TINUBU’S RECORD IN LAGOS
Tinubu’s record in Lagos state in particular shows him to be not only an anti-poor capitalist politician but also a virulent enemy of the working class and the labour movement. To start with, despite having access to more funds, the two terms of Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration failed to measure up to the landmark achievements of the UPN regime of Lateef Jakande between 1979 and 1983, a period of about 4 years.
For instance, the Lateef Jakande government achieved many infrastructural feats such as building thousands of mass housing units, schools, hospitals, and hundreds of roads, through public works. The same cannot be said of the Tinubu government in Lagos state which utilized the fraudulent and corrupt Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as the mechanism to drive its public infrastructure development initiatives. This effectively meant that private contractors were engaged to fix roads and other public infrastructures at cost that were sometimes five times more than the real cost of the projects. The result of course was that public resources that ought to be enough to fix all public infrastructures became inadequate and unable to go round due to the wastage, kickbacks and corruption associated with PPP. Instead many politicians and members of the ruling party became overnight billionaires through juicy contracts from the government. Also most of the infrastructural projects were substandard while many, like the so-called public housing and markets, were put at cost beyond what ordinary working class people could afford.
WHAT TO EXPECT
On the basis of the foregoing, a Tinubu presidency should not be expected to run a government that would be interested in investing public resources in funding public education, healthcare, and social services. Although Tinubu’s 80-page manifesto document, tagged “Renewed Hope 2023 – Action Plan for a Better Nigeria”, promised to “foster a new society based on shared prosperity, tolerance, compassion, and the unwavering commitment to treating each citizen with equal respect and due regard”, it has to be pointed out that there is no guarantee that this objective will be achieved, given that firstly, Nigerian politicians are notorious for saying so many lofty things, and doing the exact opposite; and secondly, the pro-capitalist ideological and philosophical paradigm embraced by Tinubu and the ruling APC, will never allow this to be realised.
This is because the fundamental problem with Nigeria is capitalism – a system of production and exchange which places priority on profit of a few over the needs and welfare of the mass majority. This is in addition to the kleptomaniac character of Nigeria’s bourgeois political class, which sees public resources as free automatic teller machine. This is why despite Nigeria’s humongous wealth in natural, human and natural resources, the state of public infrastructure and the wellbeing of Nigerian working and toiling people have always been in doldrums. Meanwhile, a tiny percentage of the population continues to see their wealth balloon to the extent that the richest person in Africa, Aliko Dangote, comes from Nigeria.
Therefore, so far a Tinubu presidency will pursue the same capitalist economic programme of privatization and deregulation just as previous governments; there is no material basis whatsoever to expect any positive change in the fortunes of Nigeria over the next 4 years. Rather, given the severe crisis Nigeria’s economy has fallen into over the past eight years with rising inflation, humongous public debt and the unfolding global economic turmoil, there is every possibility that things would get worse under a Tinubu presidency.
Already Tinubu himself had assured Nigerians during his campaign that his first mission as Nigeria’s president would be to remove fuel subsidy, whether labour protests or not. This, if he succeeds, would lead to a further sharp rise in fuel prices thereby increasing the inflationary trend in the cost of goods and services to the detriment of the long suffering masses. While prices may eventually marginally fall after a period of time, the truth is that they may never fall back to their previous levels or to a level affordable by workers and low income earners who constitute the majority of Nigeria’s population and labour force.
Suffice to note that, unless the Buhari government carries it out before departing on May 29, it is not at all certain that Tinubu would be able to remove the subsidy immediately he gets to power. Due to fear of provoking mass angst, especially with existing unpopularity of Tinubu and APC, a Tinubu presidency could once against postpone the removal and carry out other populist economic measures to buy support. This however will only be akin to postponing an evil day. However, the Tinubu government can remove the subsidy with the aim of buying international support for his government or yielding to pressure of capitalist elite locally, especially if the Dangote refinery starts commercial refining of crude oil, something already billed for sometimes this year.
A key highlight of Buhari’s eight-year regime is the worsening of the National Question with religious and ethnic relation among Nigeria’s major and minor ethnic nationalities at their worst level ever in the last 24 years. Sadly, there is no prospect that a Tinubu presidency would be able to do any better. This is because the Tinubu presidency is coming to power with the taint of religious and ethnic intolerance. First, Tinubu ran a presidential campaign with a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Nigeria’s population is nearly evenly distributed between Christians and Muslims, and there is a long history of religious intolerance and crisis. Therefore, there was always the ever-present concern that such a ticket can raise the fear of religious marginalization and this was the case during the February 25 presidential elections won by Tinubu. There is now a palpable fear, whether real or imagined, that “Christian interests”, even though this is a formulation that has nothing do with the real needs of the poor and workers, would be undermined under the incoming administration. Unlike what Tinubu supporters say, the Muslim-Muslim ticket of MKO Abiola and Kingibe of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the June 12, 1993 election did not produce the same division and fear for the simple reason that at that stage. Then, the most important thing for the working people was the urgent necessity to end the rule of the Ibrahim Babangida junta. However if the election result was not annulled and Abiola had been sworn-in as president, it was not impossible for religious sentiment to arise at some point due to the potency of the National Question.
Secondly, the competing factions of the ruling capitalist elite, including Tinubu, mobilized ethnic sentiments during the elections to safeguard their political interests. This ensured that ethnic tension was heightened during the election and on voting days, there were ethnically-motivated attacks in some parts of the country including Lagos State. The Igbo people became a target for instance in Lagos state because of the candidacy of Peter Obi of the Labour Party who hails from the South East. Although Obi won Lagos state, Tinubu’s stronghold, during the presidential election in a major political upset, the seed of ethnic baiting and suspicion that was later sown mainly by the ruling APC in their panic to turn the tide at the gubernatorial elections two weeks after, something which is likely to grow into a menacing plant of ethnic crisis and violence over the course of the Tinubu presidency.
Unfortunately this ethnic chaos and conflict may not be restricted to Lagos state given the fact of the existence of Igbo’s clamour for an independent Biafra Republic in the South East which has escalated into an armed conflict. How a Tinubu presidency deals with this including the continued incarceration of the leader of the IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, will determine what happens. Most likely, the Tinubu presidency may release Kanu and carry out other populist measures to try and buy support, but this would most likely not fully win the support of majority of Igbo people who may continue to regard the government with suspicion.
Thirdly, Tinubu is coming to power to meet unresolved insecurity crisis like the ongoing war with Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP) and other offshoots in the North East of Nigeria. In the North Central and North West, the crisis between herdsmen and farmers, bandits and kidnapping gangs continue to fester. Unless the Tinubu presidency takes a different route other than the approach of simply deploying the army without addressing the root causes of conflict, then there can be no hope that these multifaceted crises would ever abate in the next four years.
However, even if the Tinubu government charts a new path, such as negotiated settlement with the various tendentious forces, this will not be sustainable on a long term basis, as the Niger Delta crisis, which despite various settlements (NDDC, ministry of Niger Delta, Amnesty Programme, etc.) has not stopped militancy, criminal gangs and armed oil bunkering. Only a revolutionary programme that aim to liberate mass of people economically, socially and politically, and which is committed to fast-tracked infrastructural and industrial revolution can begin to resolve the national question.
ONLY MASS STRUGGLE CAN WIN THE MASSES ANY REPRIEVE
The most fundamental conclusion from the foregoing is that despite his promises, a Tinubu presidency is likely to be a continuation of the same rotten past with the result that the working people and toiling masses may end up not experiencing any fundamental improvement in their condition over the next four years.
This however does not mean there would be no differences in one thing or the other between the Tinubu government and the Buhari government or previous administrations. For instance unlike Buhari who spent nearly a year before setting up a cabinet, a Tinubu presidency may set up a early cabinet, especially with a new constitutional amendment that mandates setting up federal and state cabinets within few months of inauguration. Also instead of the studied aloofness and insensitivity that Buhari has come to personify, a Tinubu presidency might be more reactive on issues.
All these can create a feeling of a breath of fresh air and despite widespread suspicion; it can even create new illusion among the broad masses that perhaps a Tinubu government can re-create the alleged Lagos magic at the national level. But at the end of the day, none of this would count. This is because in the real sense what is needed to begin to solve Nigeria’s problems – which is putting an end to capitalism and implementing a Socialist programme – is beyond the reach of Tinubu. For Tinubu to carry out such a revolutionary programme, he would have to commit class suicide – that is oppose and work against the interest of the class of the rich that he represents.
Therefore, the only way workers, the radical youth and the toiling masses can hope to see any improvements in their condition over the course of the next four years is through mass struggle involving strikes and protests on industrial/workplace issues as well as broad economic and social policies that affect the wellbeing of the working people.
NEW TASKS AND CHALLENGES
This however will not come easy. The new conjuncture has thrown up new situation, challenges and tasks. For instance, while on the one hand, a new leadership with radical and fighting potential has emerged on the platform of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) headed by Joe Ajaero, on the other hand, a new situation has been created wherein labour’s struggle can easily be undermined by the ruling elite through the deployment of ethnic tropes and blackmails to divide the working class and isolate the leadership. Also, the Tinubu government can paint any labour’s attempt to mobilize against its anti-poor policies as simply an extension of labour’s support for Peter Obi and the Labour Party in the election. They can say that labour is hostile to Tinubu presidency because the candidate it backed lost.
This much can be seen in the cheeky response of Festus Keyamo, Buhari’s minister and leading member of Tinubu’s presidential campaign council, to Labour’s threat to challenge an attempt by Tinubu to remove fuel subsidy. Keyamo called out the NLC saying it cannot mobilize against Tinubu when its own candidate in the election, Peter Obi, supports subsidy removal. While Keyamo’s argument may sound logical on its face value, especially given the NLC’s and TUC’s uncritical support to Peter Obi, it cannot be used as a reason not to fight the removal of the subsidy, a policy that would mean a further cut in real wages and living standards. Unfortunately, this kind of threat and blackmail will become rife under a Tinubu administration, especially with Tinubu’s politics of assimilating ex-activists, trade unionists and journalists and using them as attack dogs.
Socialists and change-seeking people ought to discuss and prepare how to respond to this. Going by his history in Lagos, Tinubu is a sworn and formidable enemy of the working class. No doubt, his regime is likely to be the most challenging for the labour and youth movements. Hence, the need for a summit of the workers, radical youth and toiling masses convened by the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to review the 2023 general elections and how to prepare for the class battles ahead. This kind of summit will also afford the labour movement the opportunity to discuss how to rebuild the Labour Party (LP) as a genuine, democratic working peoples’ party and challenge its elected representatives with the programmes, activities and struggles of the labour movement.
Sadly, Keyamo is right that it is incongruous for the labour movement to be fighting a policy its presidential candidate also supports. The NLC and TUC must insist that Peter Obi and the elected candidates of the Labour Party (LP) should act as genuine representatives of the party of the working class by using their political status and elected positions to speak for the working class and the suffering youth and poor masses. Otherwise, they quit their positions and membership of the party! The National and State Assemblies ought to be turned into theatres of class battles with LP lawmakers organizing in parliament and outside of it to stop every anti-poor policies of the Tinubu government and all capitalist state governments in their tracks. Given the antecedent and pro capitalist character of many of the LP lawmakers, doing this is not likely. But it is the only way the LP can justify the support the radical youth and other change-seeking elements gave to it and its candidates in the 2023 elections and build the party as a mass force capable of mobilizing support across the nation.
The future of the Labour Party is open. If it proves impossible to transform the LP in this way then trade unions, pro-working people organisations, workers, youths and socialists must begin building a mass working people’s party with a socialist programme to consistently resist economic hardship and be prepared ahead of 2027 election