It is no news that the former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been declared the winner of the presidential election held on Saturday, February 25, 2023. However, it is instructive that the said victory is based on minority votes as he was voted against by a whopping 63 per cent of the few who chose to vote. He had about 8.8 million votes which is about 37 per cent of the total votes cast in the election. However according to the declared, but disputed, results his vote was spread more widely across the federal states than the other contenders. It is also significant that just about 27 per cent of the registered voters turned out to vote in the election, something which was a sharp decline from the 2019 figure of 35 per cent and the lowest in the Fourth Republic’s history. Indeed, this means that Tinubu was elected by less than 10 per cent of those who have permanent voters’ cards. Essentially, Tinubu will rule with an abject minority government which can, sooner or later, be faced with crises and mass opposition.
The low turnout largely shows mass disenchantment in the electoral process following the egregious failure of the Buhari government and its predecessors to provide for the most basic needs of the people, plus a lack of belief among the vast majority of the electorate in the leading capitalist candidates to do any better or turn around their quality of life. Even in Anambra the home state of Peter Obi, who was presented as the best among the capitalist candidates in local and international media and truly enjoyed support mostly based on illusions from sections of urban youth and middle-class people, the turnout was 24 per cent, less than the national average.
Obi’s slogan of moving Nigeria from a consumptive economy to a productive one, resonated with layers of the masses while his seemingly austere life in comparison with others was also a factor. But they cannot overlook his commitment to the pursuit of capitalist programmes which ultimately would translate into attacks on the working class and the poor. Another factor that may have contributed to the low turnout was the social and economic dislocation caused by the cash scarcity imbroglio arising from the sudden change of the national currency by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) acting on President Buhari’s directive. Many Nigerians who habitually travel to their voting areas were unable to do so while some just felt disgusted by the hardship and decided to stay home to watch television or idle away in other ways.
However, despite winning the presidential election, Tinubu lost in Lagos, the state where he holds a fierce political grip and is considered the lord of the manor. While Peter Obi who won the state has a mass base among Igbo people, his votes significantly cut across all the ethnic groups in Lagos, including Yoruba, who are all victims of bad governance and super-exploitation by the APC government.
Therefore, we call on working people and youth in the state not to fall for the machination of the reactionary forces to instigate ethnic tension or violence in the incoming governorship election and afterwards. We defend the democratic right to freedom of choice of everybody regardless of religion and ethnic background.
By and large, Obi’s victory in Lagos on the platform of a Labour Party (LP) is significant for a number of reasons. Lagos is not just the economic hub of Nigeria; it is the home of the organised working class and urban middle class. It was also the main theatre of the EndSARS youth revolt three years ago.
Unresolved National Question
However, outside Lagos which is cosmopolitan and a few other states like Osun and Benue whose results reflected the prevailing local politics, the result of the election significantly shows an ethnic and religious pattern. This shows how different sections of capitalist elites characteristically exploit ethnic and religious divisions accentuated by the unresolved national question to win support on a sectarian basis for their own self-serving interest. Obi was able to appeal to sections of urban youth and middle-class people, albeit with a message that he is different from other rotten politicians and that he can make the same capitalist programme that accounts for the monumental failure of the last 24 years now actually work. Yet, outside Lagos in the Southwest for instance he had less than 15 per cent in any state, much less than the minimum constitutional requirement of 25 per cent. Also, in the Muslim-majority Northwest and Northeast, his performance was abysmal, something akin to the outing of Buhari in Christian majority Southeast in 2015. His camp has claimed though that this was not the case as it plans to challenge the result in court, just like the PDP.
We note that the election was characterized by irregularities and pockets of violence including voter intimidation, vote suppression and physical assaults in many places, especially in Lagos, Rivers and Kano states. The inability of INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) to upload the results in real-time raises a serious question about the transparency of the process. The leading opposition candidates – Atiku Abubakar of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) and Peter Obi of the LP have rejected the results alleging rigging and manipulation by the APC and INEC. We condemn rigging, violence and other irregularities in this election. However, we hold that in reality, the electoral process was rigged in favour of leading capitalist parties at the expense of radical parties which could genuinely represent the aspiration of working people and youth like AAC which participated in the election and the SPN which has been undemocratically deregistered. Moreover, the process and outcome of this election have further underscored the incapacity of the system of capitalism, especially in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria with a backward and parasitic ruling elite to guarantee a free and fair election.
Nonetheless, the DSM stands for the rights of those disenfranchised from voting and those whose votes were not allowed to count due to manipulations, technical problems and violence. We also support any public meetings, rallies, protests and demonstrations alongside the judicial efforts to challenge the process and outcome of the election.
Sowore and Obi
During the campaign we in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, CWI Nigeria), while sympathizing with those who because of their burning desire to get rid of the rotten establishment invested illusions in Peter Obi for the transformation of Nigeria, did not call a vote for him. Given his history as a former state governor and a PDP leader until a few days to primaries before he joined the LP in May last year and his consistent pro-capitalist policies, Obi was not a real ‘friend’ of Labour let alone a workers’ leader. Instead, we critically supported and called for a vote for Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress (AAC) who in our opinion put forward elements of the Socialist programme needed to transform Nigeria. We still stand by our position and estimation of the two candidates, Peter Obi and Omoyele Sowore.
Of the two, Sowore had a pro-working people and left programme that can begin to address the systemic crisis Nigeria faces. Despite this however, we cannot dismiss the effect that Obi’s limited critique of corruption and anti-establishment rhetoric had on the working masses and radical youth both before and during the elections. Despite a largely ethnic character in his support base and his own pro-capitalist history and programme, a polarisation across ethnic lines between supporters of the rotten status quo and the ‘Obedient’ movement who sought a new deal was obvious during the elections. To be clear, the electoral turn of sections of urban youth and layers of the working people towards Obi shows the masses burning desire for a transformative change after eight years of Buhari’s failed regime. That a pro-capitalist Obi, and a Labour Party without real workers’ membership, has managed to become a symbol of this change-seeking mood is another testament to the complicated, yet revolutionary, potential of the situation. In the aftermath of the election, many who pinned the hope of transforming Nigeria on Obi are now sad, angry and resentful. Some young people who have the means are considering fleeing the country while those who have no means contemplate with dread the prospect of spending the next 4 to 8 years under a Tinubu government.
Also importantly, that Sowore could officially have a modest total of over 14,000 votes in the face of irregularities is a positive development. This is a number of voters who rejected every shade of establishment candidates including Obi and their neo-liberal anti-poor capitalist programme but were attracted to a radical and left programme put forward by Sowore. This number will grow in the barricade as the Tinubu government unleashes capitalist attacks in the face of an already terrible economic situation. Besides, it suggests that a mass working people party which rests on working-class people and with a socialist programme can attract mass support.
However, while the presidential election is over, the cash crunch as a result of the crazy cashless policy of the Buhari government under the guise of Naira redesign, which came to a head shortly before the election, is getting worse. Main Streets and markets are largely deserted not largely as a result of the post-election tension but due to lower economic activities caused by a shortage of Naira. A report in the Punch newspaper revealed that as of the end of January, the CBN had reduced the currency in circulation from N3.29 trillion in October 2022 to N1.38 trillion (Punch, February 28).
In a largely informal sector economy already afflicted with serious economic woes, the action of the CBN is akin to sucking blood off the sick. The acute shortage of Naira together with the fuel scarcity which has not fully abated has worsened the pre-existing economic hardship suffered by working people and the poor.
However, Tinubu and APC governors were against the policy not because they genuinely cared for working people and the poor but out of fear that the attendant mass anger could adversely affect the prospect of the party in the election. Indeed, given APC’s victory in the presidential election which could mean to most of them a boost for a favourable outcome in the coming governorship election, the chances are high that most of these governors will be less concerned whether or not the judgment is implemented
Sadly, the leaderships of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) refused to organise action over the deep hardship caused by the Naira policy as well as fuel scarcity or provide leadership when pockets of protest broke out across the country before the election. Now that the crisis is getting more excruciating for the working masses while there is no end in sight. We call on the leaderships of NLC and TUC to change their way and organize mass action, including a 24-hour warning general strike as the first step, that could force the Buhari government to end the current shortage of Naira as well as petrol scarcity. Though, the Supreme Court in its judgement on March 3 2023 has extended the expiration of old Naira notes as legal tender to December 31, without struggle Buhari may disobey the order. Furthermore, action is still needed as it is not clear whether this court decision will end the cash shortage as many of the old notes may already have been destroyed.
Resist Tinubu’s anti-poor policies
By and large, NLC and TUC, working people, youth and pro-masses organisations have to be prepared to resist the anti-poor economic policies Tinubu has stated in his election speeches and manifesto that he would implement. These include increases in petrol prices under the guise of deregulation or scrapping the so-called subsidy and devaluation of Naira ostensibly to close the gap between official and black-market rates. Under the so-called deregulation, petrol may sell as high as N800, which is the current price of diesel which has been deregulated but is likely to get higher in line with inflation.
The working masses must not also be deceived by the propaganda that private local refineries such as the Dangote refinery will mean low prices. A good example is cement which is produced locally but whose prices are much higher, beyond the reach of the working masses. The NLC and TUC must lead workers to demand that the existing refineries are put under the democratic control of the working people and that new public refineries are built and run in the same way. Also, the expected inability to significantly improve forex supply in the face of the global economic crisis and Nigeria’s oil production crisis means that devaluation is not likely to eliminate the multiple exchange rates. Yet, the Naira devaluation together with higher petrol prices will worsen the cost-of-living crisis.
Tinubu also plans to impose high tuition fees and introduce a student loan scheme ostensibly to tackle the crisis of funding of public universities and perennial workers’ strikes. This must be resisted by students, working people and trade unions as it will deny children from the working class and poor background access to university education or burden them with a lifelong debt albatross.
He is also an anti-labour politician as shown by the sack of the militant union leader Ayodele Akele and many workers over their struggle for the minimum wage when he was governor of Lagos state.
Most importantly, such a struggle against Tinubu’s anti-poor capitalist plan, which Atiku and Obi also fundamentally subscribe to, has to be linked with the building of a mass working people party on a socialist programme. We call for a conference involving NLC, TUC, individual trade unions, left coalitions, left parties and socialist organizations to discuss the country’s crises and what to do. This is in addition to now beginning preparation for the struggle to resist the current hardship and the planned attacks, to discuss the building of such a party or the possibility of rebuilding and democratising the Labour Party with a view of transforming it into a genuine, democratically run, mass workers’ party.
Labour Party and its elected representatives
We welcome the statement of Joe Ajaero, the new NLC President, that the NLC “will be involved in politics” and note his claim that the NLC “had a political party: the Labour Party”. But for this to really happen the NLC and TUC must ensure that the Labour Party has a clear pro-working class and poor programme, that it is fully democratic and stops the outrageous policy of charging fees to stand in any Party election, a policy which automatically excludes working people from leading and running the party. Ajaero has also rightly said that LP National Assembly members must work to “stop any anti-labour bills”.
Many of those elected on the platform of LP are former members of PDP or APC and do not share any working-class aspirations or radical programme. Indeed, there is no guarantee that they will stay in the LP. So, these elements must be tested to see where they really politically stand. This is why, as part of the process of rebuilding the LP, pro-working people’s demands must be put on LP members in the National Assembly by the NLC and TUC. This includes the support for the NLC’s modest “Workers Charter of Demands” in parliament and not accepting more than the average wage of a skilled worker with the rest donated to the party and the workers’ movement to aid the struggle.
LP representatives at all levels, federal and state, must be consistently called upon to be with the working class at the barricades during struggle and strikes and to resist all anti-poor policies, otherwise, they will be shown to be ‘Labour’ in name only. Moreover, if LP is to be transformed into a real workers’ party it would not form alliances with Obi’s former party the PDP or other pro-capitalist parties. Given the pro-capitalist character and the antecedent of some of the LP representatives as well as the rotten leadership of the party, there is no guarantee that they would embrace these demands and direction. But putting forward such a programme shows what a genuine LP representative should fight for. However, if it proves impossible to transform the LP, a campaign should start to build a genuine working people’s party.
Fight for Socialist Change
Stormy times are ahead. All classes and ages in Nigeria are fearful of the future. The imperialist powers worried, many supported Obi because they hoped he would be more efficient and different from other self-serving, openly looting capitalist politicians.
The DSM is not alone in seeing the many crises afflicting Nigeria but we have confidence in the ability of most Nigerians, especially the workers and youth, to struggle to both win improvements now and to support the idea of socialist change to get rid of the capitalist system that is both blocking Nigeria’s development and threatening the world’s future.