Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

2019 General Elections and the Working Masses

2019 General Elections and the Working Masses

Place no faith in Obasanjo or any member of the capitalist ruling elite

H.T Soweto

The public rejection of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term bid by former President Olusegun Obasanjo through a public statement is clearly an indication that a new crack has opened within the already divided capitalist ruling class. He accused the regime of “nepotism”, “clannishness” and “condonation” of corruption of errant members of its nepotistic court. The statement is the clearest evidence yet that all is not well at the top – both within the ruling party and the capitalist political establishment.

Long before now, a section of the media had been speculating about a rift within the ruling party particularly between leading figures like former Lagos State Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu and President Buhari. Obasanjo’s statement will further add fuel to the rumor that there could be many others in the party hierarchy who harbor similar sentiment. For instance, the President’s wife Aisha Buhari and Kaduna State governor El-Rufai (who is now a second term advocate) have both voiced similar criticism of the regime in the past.

Despite attempts to create an image of calm, the ruling party is roiling with internal dissension. A convention, which cannot be delayed beyond this year, may open the lid of disaffection. We may likely see in the coming period more APC politicians coming out openly to criticize the party leadership and the government. Some of these layers could also leave the ruling party to pursue their political ambitions via other political parties.

By openly expressing doubt in Buhari, Obasanjo has let out of the bag the fact that thinking sections of the capitalist class are worried about the implication of the failure of the regime for the future of both capitalism and Nigeria’s current form. Obasanjo’s call is not simply related to the questions over Buhari’s health. It is an admission that capitalism is again facing a crisis of political representation nearly as it did in 2015 when Buhari and the APC were promoted as the alternative to the PDP.

Of course unlike former President Jonathan in 2015, Buhari still has a sizeable support base and a geographic advantage i.e. he hails from the hugely-populated North where on the basis of ethno-religious bias he may still attract big votes. But compared to PDP’s sixteen year rule, the speed at which illusion in Buhari and the APC crumbled is phenomenal. On May 29 2015 as President Buhari was being inaugurated before an enthusiastic audience of Nigerians glued to their Television screen at home and abroad, it would never have occurred to the strategists of capitalism that they would have to start shopping for a replacement so soon.

Just as the wind blows the top of the trees first, revolution often starts from the top in the sense of cracks breaking out within the ruling class as the working masses begin to stir. A section of the ruling class smelling the molten lava of mass discontent boiling begins to feel that they cannot continue to rule in the old way. At the same time the different factions within the ruling class may seek to exploit this situation for their own ends.

According to Obasanjo, the “situation that made Nigerians to vote massively to get my brother Jonathan off the horse is playing itself out again”. This is very true. The public rejection of Buhari by Obasanjo and his call for an alternative is simply an attempt by the capitalist ruling elite themselves to provide a replacement for Buhari so that the working masses will not have to do it by themselves. Nigeria has a powerful working class, and an army of young people without proper education and jobs, which is only being held in check by the compromising labour leaders. If this force is unleashed under a bold leadership, not only could Buhari’s fate but also that of the capitalist system hang in the balance. But without such leadership or examples of struggle developed from below there is the ever present danger of ethnic or religious conflicts, something which could be encouraged by the rival elites.

At the moment anger is boiling on the street as a result of the worsening socio-economic situation, with no real hope of improvement in sight. Since December 2017, petrol scarcity has hit major cities and towns across the country. Marketers have taken advantage of the situation to make a profit by jerking up pump price well above the official price. This is happening despite the removal of fuel subsidy in May 2016 which the government claimed would prevent scarcity. A hike in fuel price was one of the factors that determined former President Jonathan’s fate and now many are livid with anger that the Buhari government cannot even fix this. Over the past few months, ethnic and religious tension has risen as a result of anger at the regime’s handling of the herdsmen and farmers conflict. Certainly, the 2019 general elections would provide an opportunity for many to vent their anger and this is what Obasanjo and his cohorts fear. But if given a bold lead, the working masses may not even wait till 2019 general elections before they attempt to challenge this regime of falsehood and propaganda. In fact as things stand, explosive movements of workers and poor can break out any time whether sanctioned by the trade unions or not.

In addition to the speed of the collapse of illusion in Buhari/APC regime, the present political situation is fast changing and unpredictable. Just a few months ago it seemed certain that if Buhari contests for a second term he would win. But now given the breakout of the herdsmen and farmers clashes and the worsening socio-economic situation despite news of economic growth, a dark cloud is beginning to gather around this prospect with many now openly criticizing president Buhari.

The truth now is that no one can be too certain of what will happen. At the moment, Buhari appears to be the only hope for the APC. His presidential candidacy in the last general elections was the sail upon which many of the current governors, ministers, law makers and contractors coasted to the corridors of power. Therefore they consider their fate bound with his and would move mountains to ensure he goes for a second term. Moreso, Buhari’s decision to contest is the only chance that the ruling party will hold together given the internal wrangling. But the same cannot be said of other party faithful some of whom feel uncompensated for their role in the last elections. These layers may oppose Buhari’s second term bid. But such is the scale of the credibility crisis and the uncertainty that now surrounds the question that we must also begin to consider the remote possibility that President Buhari could decide against contesting using his age and health as an excuse while the real reason would be because of his perceived un-electability.

Such is the extent of loss of credibility which the regime now suffers after just three and a half years in power that it would not be fully confident of winning 2019 presidential election without widespread rigging and electoral malpractices. While he may still get the Northern vote owing to ethno-religious bias, it may not be enough to guarantee him a victory. Indeed, many would boycott the 2019 general elections because they believe their vote would not count due to the absence of a mass workers political alternative. Even in 2015 officially only a minority, 43.65%, of registered voters took part in the presidential election. So therefore in this scenario, a Buhari victory in the 2019 elections would not be as a result of his acceptance by voters, but because there is no contender strong enough to challenge him.

But in the midst of so many uncertainties, one thing is certain. And it is that the PDP will not be able to benefit from the rejection of Buhari because it will not be seen as a credible alternative by the mass of voters. Such is the depth the former ruling party has sunk that not only did Obasanjo (PDP leader for eight years) tear up his membership card in 2015; he has also ruled them out even in the ruling class calculation for a saving grace come 2019.

Potentially therefore, a vacuum has opened in the political system. Unfortunately the failure of the pro-capitalist leaders of the labour movement to form and build a mass workers political party means that this space can be filled by any new political contraption (i.e. Coalition for Nigeria (CN), National Intervention Movement (NIM), etc.) forged by Obasanjo and any other bourgeois characters to again hoodwink the people and allow the ruling class to continue to rule whether with Buhari or another figure.

To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, the objective precondition for socialism has ripened and even began to rot in Nigeria, Africa and the entire world. But the lack of the subjective factor, or its relative immaturity, is what is holding back the class struggle. In particular, the failure of the labour leadership has become a major factor allowing the rotten capitalist system to continue despite numerous opportunities to transform society. Not only is the labour leadership failing to call for general strikes and mass protest despite the crying issues, it has also failed to work to inspire the working masses to build a political party through which they can seek to dislodge the corrupt and oppressive ruling elite.

But whatever new contraption or messiah the capitalist ruling elite put forward during the 2019 general elections, certainly the exploitation of the working class and looting of public wealth will continue. Yes, Obasanjo’s open call on Buhari not to re-contest echoes the sentiment of the mass of long-suffering working masses and youth who are appalled at the regime’s failure to fulfill any of its promises. But Obasanjo is one of the principal architects of Nigeria’s misfortune. He has ruled Nigeria on two different occasions both as military head of state and as a civilian president. On each occasion, his administration implemented neo-liberal economic policies that further deepened the socio-economic crises facing the working class. Moreso, the phenomenal looting that occurred while he was civilian president between 1999 and 2007 has earned him the epithet “father of corruption”. Such a character cannot be trusted to propose a workable solution to Nigeria’s problem. The same Obasanjo promoted Buhari in 2015, Jonathan in 2011 and Yar’Adua in 2007 and they all turned out disastrous. Therefore anyone who exhibits illusion that Obasanjo could have solution to Nigeria’s problems would have themselves to blame much sooner than later.

The choice in 2019 is not any option but Buhari. We should remember that the “clannish”, “inept” and “nepotistic” Buhari that Nigeria is saddled with today cam e to power as a result of the slogan of “any option but Jonathan” (aobj) which Obasanjo and co promoted in 2015. The choice once again is between the continuation of capitalist misrule and the coming to power of a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist programme. Unlike in 1999 when according to Obasanjo there was no choice “neither in the right nor left”, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) represents a left political alternative. This party, formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in alliance with workers and youth activists, has now been registered by INEC after a three and a half years legal and political battle.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on Nigerians seeking real and genuine change, trade union activists, students and youth activists, activists involved in community struggles and the broad left to rally round the SPN by joining it and helping to build it across the country. While still campaigning for the labour movement to form and build a mass workers’ party, the SPN can serve as an important electoral platform in the meantime. Labour activists and leaders wanting to build a workers’ alternative can join us in the SPN to start that task.

Even though for now a small force, the party can serve as a rallying point to mobilize those working masses and youth wanting to struggle for a real alternative to join with us to use the opportunity of the 2019 general elections to campaign to win support for a programme of free education, free healthcare, payment of living wage, job creation, reversal of all anti-poor policies and collective ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and its democratic control. Given the yearning for fresh ideas and alternative, it is potentially possible for the SPN to win a few seats at Local Government and Houses of Assembly levels. What is required is for the party to concentrate its small force and mobilise popular support at the most vulnerable seats in order to use these victories to demonstrate what the party can do in power.

Even though this effort will not be sufficient to stop Obasanjo and other characters in the ruling class from again imposing either Buhari or another effigy come 2019, it would help to popularize the fact that an alternative exists while also providing avenue for activists who are enthusiastic about transforming society to gain useful experience and build their confidence – something which would be vital for the mass struggles that would inevitably break out in the period following the 2019 elections regardless of who wins.