After Nigeria’s presidential election

It is no news that former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), was declared the winner of the presidential election held on 25 February. However, it is instructive that a whopping 63% of the few who chose to vote cast their vote against him.

Tinubu had about 8.8 million votes, 37% of the total cast. Only 27% of registered voters turned out, a sharp decline from 35% in 2019, and the lowest in the Fourth Republic’s history. This means that Tinubu was elected by less than 10% of those who have a Permanent Voters’ Card. Essentially, Tinubu will rule with an abjectly minority government which can, sooner or later, be faced with crises and mass opposition.

The low turnout shows mass disenchantment with the electoral process. Even in Anambra, the home state of Peter Obi – who was presented as the best among the capitalist candidates in the local and international media, and won support from sections of urban youth and middle-class people – the turnout was 24%.

Obi’s slogan of moving Nigeria from a consumption 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 the masses did not overlook his commitment to the pursuit of capitalist policies, which ultimately would translate into attacks on the working class and poor.

Another factor that may have contributed to the low turnout was the social and economic dislocation caused by the cash scarcity crisis. This arose from the sudden change of the national currency by the Central Bank, acting on former president Muhammadu 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.

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 Obi, who won the state, has a mass base among the Igbo people, his votes significantly cut across all ethnic groups in Lagos, including Yoruba, who are all victims of bad governance and super exploitation by the APC state government.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International – condemned the ethnic hatred and voter suppression against the Igbo people during the subsequent governorship election in Lagos, something which was promoted by the APC in their desperation to win. Working people and youth must reject any attempt by the reactionary forces, including opportunistic capitalist politicians, to instigate ethnic tension or violence in the coming period.

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 majority of the organised working class and urban middle class. It was also the main theatre of the EndSARS youth revolt three years ago.

However, outside cosmopolitan Lagos, and a few other states, the result of the election revealed an ethnic and religious pattern. This shows how different sections of capitalist elites exploit ethnic and religious divisions accentuated by the unresolved national question to win support on a sectarian basis for their own self-serving interests.

The election was characterised by irregularities and pockets of violence. The leading opposition candidates – Atiku Abubakar of the former ruling PDP and Peter Obi –rejected the results, alleging rigging and manipulation by the APC and the National Electoral Commission (INEC). The DSM condemns rigging, violence, vote buying 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 aspirations of working people and youth. Parties like African Action Congress (AAC), which participated in this election, and the Socialist Party of Nigeria, which has been undemocratically deregistered.

Moreover, the process and outcome of this election have further underscored the incapacity of the capitalist system – especially in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria, with a backward and parasitic ruling elite – to guarantee a free and fair election.

During the campaign the DSM, while sympathising with those who expressed their opposition to the capitalist establishment by supporting Obi, did not call for a vote for him. Given his history as a former PDP state governor, joining the LP just in time to be elected its presidential candidate, and his consistent pro-capitalist policies, Obi was not a real ‘friend’ of labour. Instead, we critically supported and called for a vote for Omoyele Sowore of the AAC who put forward elements of the socialist programme needed to transform Nigeria.

Of the two, Sowore had a pro-working people programme that began to address the systemic crisis Nigeria faces. However, we do not dismiss the effect that Obi’s limited critique of corruption and anti-establishment rhetoric had both before and during the elections. 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 four to eight years under a Tinubu government.

That Sowore could officially have a modest total of over 14,000 votes, in the face of electoral irregularities, is a positive development. These are voters who rejected every shade of establishment candidates, including Obi, and were attracted to a radical and left programme. This number will grow as the Tinubu government unleashes capitalist attacks in the face of an already terrible economic situation.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and TUC trade union centres, working people, youth and pro-masses’ organisations have to be prepared to resist the anti-poor economic policies Tinubu has pledged to implement. These include increasing the petrol price, under the guise of deregulation or scrapping the so-called subsidy, and devaluation of the Naira, ostensibly to close the gap between official and black-market rates.

Tinubu also plans to impose higher tuition fees and introduce a student loan scheme, supposedly to tackle the crisis of funding of public universities and perennial workers’ strikes. This must resisted by students, working people and trade unions as it will deny children from working-class and poor backgrounds access to university education or burden them with a lifelong albatross of debt.

Most importantly, such a struggle against Tinubu’s anti-poor capitalist plan, which both Atiku and Obi also fundamentally subscribe to, has to be linked with the building of a mass working people’s party on a socialist programme. We call for a conference involving NLC, TUC, individual trade unions, left coalitions, left parties and socialist organisations to discuss the country’s crises and how to respond. This should include discussing 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.

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.

Many of those elected on the platform of Labour are former members of the PDP or APC and do not share any working-class aspirations or a radical programme. This is why, as part of the process of rebuilding the Labour Party, pro-working people’s demands must be put on Labour members in the National Assembly by the NLC and TUC. This includes support for the NLC’s modest Workers’ Charter of Demands in parliament, and not accepting more than the average wage of a skilled worker. However, if it proves impossible to transform Labour, a campaign should start to build a genuine working peoples’ party.

Stormy times are ahead. All classes and ages in Nigeria are fearful of the future. Widespread poverty, mass unemployment, inflation and the absence of basic infrastructure characterise Nigeria’s situation. 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.

Peluola Adewale