SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 216 March 2018

Nigeria: rifts in the capitalist elite

The public rejection of president Muhammadu Buhari’s second-term bid by former president Olusegun Obasanjo is a clear indication that a new crack has opened in Nigeria’s already divided capitalist ruling class. He accused Buhari’s regime of ‘nepotism’ and ‘clannishness’, and condemned corruption.

Despite attempts to create an image of calm, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is roiling with internal dissension. A convention, which cannot be delayed beyond this year, may open the lid of disaffection. More APC politicians could come out openly to criticise the party leadership and government, or leave to pursue their political ambitions via other parties.

Obasanjo has let out of the bag the fact that thinking sections of the capitalist class are worried about the implications of the failure of the regime for the future of both capitalism and the Nigerian state in its current form. It is an admission that the system is facing a crisis of political representation in a similar way it did in 2015, when Buhari and the APC were promoted as the alternative to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Unlike former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Buhari still has a sizeable support base and a geographic advantage, hailing from the populous north where, on an ethno-religious basis, he may still attract big votes. Compared to the PDP’s 16-year rule, however, the speed at which illusions in Buhari and the APC crumbled is phenomenal. On 29 May 2015, Buhari was inaugurated before enthusiastic TV audiences of Nigerians 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.

A section of the ruling class smells the molten lava of mass discontent. 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. Obasanjo’s call for an alternative is an attempt by the capitalist ruling elite to provide a replacement for Buhari so that the working masses do not do it 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 was unleashed under a bold leadership, not only could Buhari’s fate hang in the balance but also that of the capitalist system. Without such leadership or examples of struggle from below, however, there is the ever present danger of ethnic or religious conflicts, something which could be exploited by rival elites for their own ends.

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. Marketers have profited by jerking up the pump price well above the official price. A hike in fuel prices was one of the factors that determined Jonathan’s fate and many are livid that the Buhari government cannot even fix this. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions have risen as a result of the regime’s handling of conflict between herdsmen and farmers.

No one can be certain what will happen. At the moment, Buhari appears to be the only hope for the APC. His presidential candidacy in the last general election was the sail upon which many governors, ministers, lawmakers and contractors coasted to the corridors of power. They consider their fate is bound with his and would move mountains to ensure he goes for a second term.

Such is the scale of the credibility crisis, however, there is also a remote possibility that he could decide against contesting, using his age and health as an excuse. Meanwhile, the PDP has sunk to such depths it will not be able to benefit from the rejection of Buhari. Obasanjo (PDP leader for eight years) tore up his membership card in 2015 and ruled it out as a saving grace for the ruling class in 2019.

Unfortunately, the failure of the pro-capitalist leaders of the labour movement to form a mass workers’ party means that this space can be filled by any new political contraption – the Coalition for Nigeria, the National Intervention Movement, etc – forged by Obasanjo and other bourgeois characters to again hoodwink the people and allow the ruling class to continue to rule.

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 leadership failing to call for general strikes and mass protest, it has also failed to inspire the working masses to build a political party through which they can seek to dislodge the corrupt and oppressive ruling elite.

Whatever the capitalist ruling elite comes up with in 2019, the exploitation of the working class and the looting of public wealth will continue. Obasanjo’s call echoes the sentiments of the mass of long-suffering working masses and youth appalled at the regime’s failure to fulfil any of its promises. However, he is one of the principal architects of Nigeria’s misfortune. He ruled Nigeria twice, as military head of state and as a civilian president. On each occasion, his administration implemented neo-liberal policies that further deepened the socio-economic crises facing the working class.

The choice in 2019 is not any option but Buhari. The choice is between the continuation of capitalist misrule and the coming to power of a workers’ and poor people’s government armed with a socialist programme. Unlike in previous elections, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) represents a left-wing political alternative. Formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI Nigeria) in alliance with workers and youth activists, it has finally been registered by the election commission after a three-and-a-half-year legal and political battle.

Trade union, student, youth and community activists can now rally round the SPN, helping to build it across the country. While campaigning for the labour movement to form a mass workers’ party, the SPN can serve as an important electoral platform in the meantime. Even though a small force, for now, it can be a rallying point for those workers and youth looking for a real alternative, using the election to campaign on a programme of free education and healthcare, a living wage, job creation, the reversal of anti-poor policies and the collective ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and its democratic control. It is even possible the SPN could win seats at local government and assembly levels.

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

HT Soweto,

Democratic Socialist Movement – CWI Nigeria

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