Nigeria: President Buhari Re-elected amidst voters’ apathy

President Buhari (photo: CC/Wikimedia)

President Muhammadu Buhari is the winner of the 2019 presidential election, held on February 23, having officially had 15 miliion as against 11 million votes garnered by his capitalist main challenger Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. Actually, there were 71 presidential candidates. But, electorally, the other candidates were hardly in contest as, contrary to social media frenzy, about 97% of the votes cast were shared between Buhari and Atiku. However, another main feature is the record low turnout put at under 36 percent which suggests a mass rejection of both APC and PDP by the electorate.

Now Atiku Abubakar has rejected the result of the election alleging rigging and manipulation in favour of Buhari and promised to challenge it at the tribunal. However, to virtually all the international observers, while there were many irregularities, their own euphemism for rigging, these were not substantial enough to alter the outcome of the election or detract from the credibility of the election.

Truly, there were riggings and malpractices in the election including ballot snatching, box stuffing, alteration of result, etc. It was both parties that rigged in their various strongholds. The APC, which controls the military and police, might have had the edge to outrig the PDP. In any case, both parties rigged out the so-called small parties, especially those that were not their surrogates, with loot from the public till that they deployed to their own undue advantage, including near monopolization of mass media in addition to outright riggings on the Election Day.

Nonetheless, the election result maps clearly suggest that Buhari won the polls. He had majority votes in four out of six geo-political zones including in North Central where pundits had thought he would receive thrashing because of herders-farmers’ crisis. Apparently the fact that Atiku is also a Fulani (ethnic group of most of the herders) like Buhari reduced the advantage the PDP could have had in states like Plateau, Benue and the north eastern state of Taraba which are the epicentres of the crisis that has recorded several killings. Remarkably, Buhari won in Nasarrawa, which also had a fair share of the crisis, for the first time ever since 2003 when he first contested.

However, Buhari and APC went into the poll without being sure of winning. Disappointment with Buhari, alongside the huge increase in unemployment and poverty, undermined the APC’s support. They were clearly in panic mode while Atiku and PDP seemed to exude confidence. The possibility of Atiku winning despite the widespread perception of him being an epitome of corruption, which is opposite to the contrived image of Buhari, showed the extent to which the popularity of Buhari had eroded going into this election. It can’t be ruled out that a bourgeois politician without a baggage like Atiku’s could have defeated Buhari.

Low turnout

Indeed, there was drop in the votes of Buhari in Katsina, Kano, Kaduna and Lagos which were APC strongholds in this election compared to 2015. For instance, he lost about 500,000 votes in Kano (from 1.9m to 1.4m) and over 200,000 votes in Lagos (from 792,460 to 580,825). In the entire Northwest the votes of Buhari plummeted from 7.1m in 2015 to 5.9m in 2019, losing over one million voters. This prompted a journalist with Guardian (London) to describe Buhari as “bad winner”.

However, the fact that Buhari had become less popular did not significantly translate into acceptance of Atiku and the PDP by broader layers of the masses. For instance, the votes of the PDP had in Lagos also reduced from 632,327 in 2015 to 448,015 in 2019. In Kano, the PDP only marginally increased its votes from 215,779 to 391,393. Indeed, in the Southeast which is traditionally the stronghold of the PDP in any presidential election, Atiku had fewer votes than Goodluck Jonathan got in 2015. For instance in Anambra, where the Vice Presidential Candidate Peter Obi hails from, the votes of the PDP dropped from 660,772 to 524,738. In the Southeast as a whole, the PDP lost about 800,000 votes (from 2.4m in 2015 to 1.6m in 2019).

Hobson’s choice

The fact of this election is that it was not only the APC and Buhari that were judged on their record, the performance of the PDP in 16 years they held power was also still fresh in the memory of the masses. The masses had become disillusioned in Buhari as social indicators – unemployment, poverty, etc. – kept getting worse under his watch. So it was nightmarish for the masses to think of going into “Next Level” with Buhari and the APC. “Next Level” was the slogan of the APC for the election.

But the masses also remembered that 16-year rule of the PDP was a disaster despite a huge oil revenue at their disposal. It was the mess created by the PDP that Buhari and APC made messier. Indeed, the election theme of Atiku and the PDP “Get Nigeria Working Again” was like insulting the intelligence of the masses. Nigeria did not work that was why they were voted out in 2015. Apparently, realizing the slogan did not resonate with Nigerians, the party started promoting the new slogan “Atiku and Obi for Better Nigeria” a few weeks to the election.

Besides, the fundamentally neo-liberal economic programme with which Atiku planned to “Get Nigeria Working Again” or “Build a Better Nigeria” could only worsen the quality of life of the masses and further hurt the economy. For instance, he planned to float Naira, which means free fall devaluation of naira, in order to attract the fabled foreign investors. Incidentally, it was the same policy of devaluation implemented by Buhari that worsened the economic crisis originally triggered by low oil prices. So, Atiku and PDP believe that deepening the same anti-poor capitalist programme that caused the problem is the solution.

Atiku apparently shot in himself in the foot by vowing to sell the national oil company, NNPC, something worsened by his Freudian slip that he would sell it to his friends. Many Nigerians have become distrustful of privatization policy given the monumental failure of the privatized public companies especially with current terrible experience with the recently privatized electricity company. Previously Atiku when Vice President in Obasanjo’s government superintended the sale at giveaway price of many of these companies whose situation worsened in hands of private owners or criminally had their assets stripped.

So for the vast majority of the electorate, the presidential election provided a Hobson’s choice and they decided to choose to do nothing by boycotting the polls. Despite increase in the number of registered voters from 67 million in 2015 to 84 million in 2019, fewer voters turned out this year than in 2015. Over 11 million of the registered voters did not collect their voters’ cards before the election. In other words, while about 32 million voted in 2015 making a turnout of 43.6%, about 29 million did this year, a turnout of 35.6%. The stats are much worse in Lagos which has the highest number of registered voters in the country but with the lowest turnout put at 17.5%. It is also instructive that Abia, a stronghold of the PDP recorded the second lowest turnout put at 20%. The fact that Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), eventually withdrew the election boycott order to his members in the southeast suggests that the voters’ apathy in Abia had much less to do with Biafra agitation.

Failure of capitalism

The masses are no more enamoured by the two main parties because of the failure of the 20 years of civil rule. However, it is clear that currently there is not an understanding that this failure is rooted in the subscription to capitalist philosophy by the two main parties and their surrogates as well as the neo-colonial character of Nigerian capitalist economy. It is the grip of capitalism that is responsible for the failure to transform Nigeria and meet the basic needs of the majority despite its huge human and material resources. With no significant forces explaining this there is a widespread belief that the country’s crisis is due simply to corruption alongside the failing of the individual occupiers of presidential office.

For instance, many believed the explanation of capitalist commentators, who wanted to save the face of their failed system, that it was the failure of Buhari to appoint ministers immediately when he assumed office, as well as his initial objection to devaluation of Naira, that plunged into recession. This is partly because the alternative programme of socialism and socialist analysis of Nigeria’s crisis has not reached a mass audience due to most Labour leaders’ supporting capitalism. This is one of the reasons we have consistently campaigned for creating a mass working peoples’ party which provide the huge prospect of reaching to the widest layers of the people with a pro-masses’ programme around which they can be organized to truly transform Labour and struggle for change with the aim of removing the ruling elite and taking over political power.

Sowore and AAC

Nonetheless despite the voters’ apathy shown by the result of the election, the electioneering was not completely devoid of electrifying atmosphere of people seeking change, especially the youth, from the old order represented by the rule of APC and PDP. The effort appeared more palpable on the social media than on the streets judging by the outcome of the election. No other contestant embodied that mood of change more than Omoyele Sowore who, despite the limitation of his essentially pro-capitalist programme, was able to attract many young people that wanted to do away with both the APC and PDP. This was as a result of his antecedents as a former radical student leader, publisher of Sahara Reporters that exposes corrupt practices at high places as well as his anti-establishment rhetoric. He got modest 33,000 votes and came 10th in the election. His position was even below some little known parties that were used by pro-establishment politicians who could not get tickets in APC or PDP.

However, It would be foolhardy if Sowore had thought he would win the election given the lack of real organization on the ground beyond social media activities, a few town hall meetings and street rallies as well as lack of quality time needed to truly build and win real mass appeal. So, what is important now for Sowore and his supporters is not the number of the votes, which may be depressing for many of his followers, but what he does with his party and thousands of his supporters henceforth. If he is ready to build the AAC as a party of struggle which, despite the limitation of its programme, is engaged with working people, youth and the poor in practical day to day battles and in major struggles, it would remain relevant as a platform for the change seeking people.

However, the major lesson for Sowore and his supporters is that to wrest power from the thieving ruling elite there is need for a mass party with firm roots, something that AAC is not at present. This is why the members of DSM and SPN, despite continuingly building the SPN, are still calling on leadership of trade unions and mass organizations of working people to initiate the process of building a mass working peoples’ party. At the same time we call on workers, youths, all the sections of poor masses as well as labour and socialist activists to join the SPN in order to build it as a force for change. However, the new mass party has to be built on socialist programme otherwise it would not be different from the APC or PDP if it takes over political power and tries to manage capitalism, something that has unfortunately been experienced with new, radical, parties in many countries.

Unresolved national questions

The fact that both Buhari and Atiku are of the same ethnic stock did not totally relegate to the backburner ethnic politics that are a regular feature of elections in Nigeria. This is partly due to the choice of their vice presidential candidates who are from two different regions and ethnic groups in the South. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is Yoruba from Southwest while the PDP’s Vice Presidential Candidate Peter Obi is Igbo from Southeast. Apparently desperate to deliver Lagos, which is in Southwest, for the APC, thugs allegedly sponsored by the party stormed some polling units in some areas dominated by Igbo people snatching ballot boxes or burning ballot papers in order to prevent their votes to count for the PDP. While the incidents were isolated cases even in the local government areas they happened, they have provoked some inter-ethnic tension between Yoruba and Igbo in Lagos.

The tension has gotten higher especially on the social media ahead of governorship election on March 9. Lagos, a largely Yoruba state, is controlled by the APC while a majority of Igbo people living in the state are believed to be supporting the PDP. Though most candidates are Yoruba, both parties are playing ethnic card, something that is characteristic of capitalist politicians in their rabid desperation for political power.

This is a foretaste of what may happen in the run-up to 2023 when, according to the informal deal between the rival factions of the elite, presidential power is expected to rotate to the south. In the absence of a mass working people alternative, the political situation could be dominated by an ethnically based struggle between Yoruba and Igbo politicians throwing their hats into the ring. In such a situation it is possible for the tension to develop and spiral out of control. This is why it is vital that the leadership of labour movement have to develop measures unite the working masses throughout the country around common struggles and political agenda such that they can’t become easy tools for self-serving capitalist politicians.

However, the victory of Buhari may lead to resurgence of Biafran agitation in Southeast especially the activities of IPOB who seem to have sympathy for the PDP. Also, the use of the military in general elections in Niger Deltan states to suppress the usual influence of armed militants on outcomes of any election in the region may now provoke resurgence of attacks on oil pipeline. Already, there have been attacks on military locations leading to death of some soldiers while some people, including militants, have also been killed by soldiers.

On top of these incipient security situation in Southwest and possible relapse in Southeast and Niger Delta are the raging herders-farmers conflict in Northcentral, banditry and Shiite protest in Northwest and Boko Haram insurgence in the Northeast. So Buhari may have his hand full of security challenges in the second term. The likely worsening economic conditions could become the oxygen to sustain the security crisis.

Attacks and struggle ahead

On the economy, the working masses should be ready to resist capitalist attacks that may be intensified. Nigerian economy is dependent on oil which accounts for over 80 percent of government revenue and over 90 percent of foreign exchanges. But the oil prices are currently still volatile given the global capitalist crisis that has refused to give way to a long period of upswing since its outset in 2008. The regime will henceforth consider it improbable to borrow to finance the budget as it did in the first time should oil prices fall close to 2015 level.

Already, the national debt has become a burden with debt service constituting close to 40 percent of the total budget at expense of funding of education, health care, etc. So, outright austerity policies that will worsen living standards cannot be ruled out as the Buhari government comes under pressure to reduce budget deficit by cutting public spending on social services including as well as increasing taxes. Already, there are talks about increasing the value added tax. The regime of budget cuts may also affect oil subsidy payment especially as governors will more vehemently protest the use of the federation account to subsidise fuel prices.

These pressures will not only come from the world and Nigerian economies, the rival imperialist powers are also intervening in the interests of their profits and competing strategic interests. Currently the different imperialisms tend to pursue different tactics. The western imperialists are emphasising further opening up the economy for their own companies’ profits while their Chinese rivals look more to securing deals with the state that also provide opportunities for Chinese firms. Buhari’s attempt to balance between the rival imperialisms was a reason why, before the election, many western pro-imperialist commentators regretted that the choice was between Buhari and Atiku. The Financial Times newspaper in London in its February 14 editorial titled: “Nigeria’s voters confront an uninspiring choice”, while supporting Atiku’s “more free-market approach”, argued that the “the best candidate … would have been Yemi Osinbajo”, clearly because it felt that he could have implemented pro-market policies without provoking the same backlash as Atiku would have done.

Against this background it is also not likely that the new minimum wage, whether N27, 000 or N30, 000, will be paid especially by many state governors. Many states are still owing a backlog of unpaid salaries. Unfortunately, the current labour leadership has refused for years to seriously fight for settlement of the salary arears. But as workers demonstrated recently in Ogun state and previously in many other states they are ready to fight for better pay and conditions if provided with leadership.

Socialist consciousness

Good enough, unlike at the inception of his first term, there will not be honeymoon for Buhari this time around. So it is very likely that any major capitalist attack such as an increase in fuel price will provoke a mass resistance. However, attacks on education, health care and other social service must also attract the attention of labour leadership.

The inability of APC and Buhari government to improve the conditions of the working people but rather worsen it side by side with lack of confidence in any of main capitalist parties will open the minds of the working masses especially at a period of mass struggle to searching for alternative that may lead a good number close to a socialist consciousness as they resist to be governed in the same old way.

But the masses will be helped to arrive at the conclusion if there is a mass party on socialist programme that intervene not at mass struggles but in daily struggles of massed and youths for improvement.

Unfortunately, there is no such mass party now. But, unlike in January 2012 when there was one of biggest mass protests and general strikes in history of Nigeria, there is Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) that can intervene with bold socialist alternative in any mass struggle with view of arguing what tactics are needed to succeed in that struggle while also winning change seeking elements to socialist ideas and also into the party as a step towards building a mass party of the working people.

Vote and join SPN

The SPN did not participate in 2019 presidential election because it is currently a small party. But we are contesting for some elective positions in May 9 State Elections in five states and Federal Capital Territory Abuja. These include the governorship position in Oyo state, eleven house of assembly seats altogether in Ogun, Oyo, Lagos, Osun, and Cross River as well as two chairmanship positions and six councillor seats in FCT Abuja. So far through campaign we have been able to reach out to wider layers of the masses through rallies, public meetings, house-to-house campaigning, leafleting in communities and workplaces, with a socialist alternative programme including immediate demands for improvement in both working and living conditions not only to win votes but also to begin to build a genuine working masses’ political alternative.

We call on workers, youths and the masses to vote the SPN candidates and also join the party in order to build it as a mass party campaigning for genuine change by ending the failing capitalist system.

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March 2019