Nigerian presidential elections: what do they reveal about the real situation?

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The political drama that unfolded with the April 2011 general elections turned out to be all revealing about the real nature and the deceit of the various sections of the Nigerian ruling class; and more obvious was the lack of genuine political alternative to the present rot in society, which a number of critical voters unconsciously sought during the elections.

In truth, the elections were mainly contested by the different sections of the ruling capitalist class in Nigeria, which have their individual pecuniary interests but who nevertheless, in the last analysis, are all committed to maintaining the present status quo that tilts property relations against the mass of workers and ordinary Nigerians.

 

Another thing that the elections have revealed is that, in the absence of a clear-cut working class based political party with a distinct class appeal to the downtrodden masses, the critical masses, looking for a way out of their daily miseries provoked by the crisis of the capitalist system, find themselves aligned according to the various fault lines of society, i.e. sectarian ethnic bias and religion affiliations. However, underneath the belly of this confused aggregation is their unconscious questioning of the present system that has plunged many into perpetual want and an uncertain future.

The presidential election – Jonathan the candidate of Big Business

In the last electoral contests, especially the presidential election which turned out to be a straight run between the ruling party’s (PDP) candidate, the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and General Mohammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change, what we have stated above finds its expression in the votes returned across the country. Although, there were others like the ANPP candidate, Governor Shekarau of Kano State, who mustered very little support across the country and Nuhu Ribadu of the ACN, whose key party hierarchy, the likes of Bola Tinubu etc., appeared to have traded off for President Jonathan’s election in Lagos State and others.

It would be broadly correct to say that the voters were presented with no class difference between the presidential candidates, especially between Jonathan and Buhari, since in the last analysis both are clearly members of the capitalist ruling class – one the incumbent head of state and the other a former head-of-state. However, the voters’ perception of these individuals differed.

In Jonathan people see the seed of deceit sown by the wider layer of the ruling class across the country. He rode to power on the basis of presenting himself as a candidate from one of the minority groups, an Ijaw man from the oil-rich Niger Delta, a man from a very humble background “who once had no shoes” and had to trek many miles to and from school (as if there have been no other rulers who have ruined the country in the past who did not have a similar “humble” background) and a meek peace loving former academician. He was the clear choice of the establishment, riding to power last year, first as acting President and later as the full-fledged President when the late President Yar’adua died in May 2010. He had since been ruling under the dictates of local capital and international finance capital, marshalling out the programme of privatization among many others.

However, this posture of deceit and the pockets of illusion will soon evaporate when it is time for him to start dishing out the bitter pills of the reforms inspired by the IMF/World Bank. In the immediate, the Jonathan regime is on the verge of commencing another round of increases in the price of petroleum products and also to start the sales of PHCN and the attendant increase in the electricity tariffs.

In the main, going by the declared open support and the billions of naira donated at the various fundraising programme of Jonathan, it is obvious that he was the preferred candidate of the widest layers and dominant section of the ruling class: the government contractors, the Dangotes, the Otedolas, oil companies, the manufacturers’ association, the association of importers and exporters, the renowned hangers-on to power and imperialism. These donations from the money bags and the state power with resources at its disposal clearly went a long way towards the mass media making a feast out of this limitless fund for the Jonathan election in the form of advert placements and airtime/newspaper page sponsorship.

However, in spite of all the moulding of public opinion through the barrage of media adverts cum sponsored programmes, and after more than 50 years of so called “nationhood building”, the spread of support of the contestants remained largely regional based as we see from the election result. For instance, some 50% of Jonathan’s votes came from the South-South and Southeast regions (11 out of 36 nationally). Ditto for Buhari, where about 80% of his recorded votes came from 12 states in the Northeast and Northwest.

The Buhari Phenomenon

The Buhari phenomenon with the spread of support especially in the north is worthy of evaluation. Mohammadu Buhari is a retired general of the Nigerian Army, a former military head of state, who led the coup that toppled the then civilian President Sheu Shagari in December 1983. He reigned for twenty months until he was displaced from power via a palace coup led by Generals Ibrahim Babaginda and Sani Abacha. Previously, during the Muritala/Obasanjo era as military heads of state, Buhari was the Military Administrator of Borno state and later he was appointed the Chairman of the state owned Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC). During Abacha’s reign as military head of state, Buhari was also made the Chairman of the fat-budgeted Petroleum Trust Fund, a so-called special intervention project that was involved in infrastructure support across the country. Clearly, he is a key member of the ruling class.

However, unlike his contemporaries who have held similar and less powerful and strategic positions in the past and are now known to be super-rich with properties and stocks in Nigeria and abroad, Buhari was not known to be stupendously rich. He adopted a seemingly simple lifestyle that apparently made him a pole of attraction to the plebeian mass in the north. These layers have not seen any change in their lives all these years; nothing but perpetual poverty have been their lot; it is estimated that more than 80% of the poorest folk in Nigeria reside in the northern part of Nigeria. At the same time, coexisting with these people is a class of a few individuals with immense wealth, i.e. the northern wing of the Nigerian ruling class – the politicians in government, the cronies-contractors and those occupying the parasitic traditional stools/emirate councils.

The above represent the existing background to Buhari’s foray into politics, first as the Presidential Candidate of the ANPP in the 2003 and 2007 elections and then as the CPC candidate in 2011. Interestingly, the CPC was only formed in a few months prior to the 2011 elections and not withstanding this, the party has still enjoyed such a wide spread in the north. This only serves to underline further the fact that a Party of Labour, seen by the downtrodden as their party, would have had a national appeal and more acceptability nationwide if it has been so promoted by the leadership of the trade unions.

It is on the above premise that Buhari was seen as a bastion of hope for a cross section of the masses in the north and a number of critical minds in other parts of the country who are looking for “change”. This is an explanation for Buhari’s movement across the north which saw the ruling party, the PDP, losing out in the presidential elections in most states of the north. As a matter of fact, Buhari’s campaign manifesto is really very short – Personal Integrity was the main trait of his campaign. How he will solve the socioeconomic crisis was not clearly stated, however. As to fundamentally change society, good intentions and “personal integrity” are far from being enough. Without commitment to the social reconstruction of society along the path of channelling the wealth produced in society for the common good and satisfaction of the basic needs of the masses i.e. socialism, a Buhari presidency would have amounted to nothing spectacular in spite of the personal integrity posture.

Post presidential election riots

Little wonder then, when it became evident that Buhari was going to be declared a loser in the election, the most frustrated section of the masses in the north, the acknowledged unemployed teeming youth, etc., found themselves on the street protesting against the manipulation of the votes returned during the presidential election. One interesting thing that cannot be denied, however, from the earliest reports on the protests is the fact that they were initially directed at the local politicians of northern extraction perceived to be agents of oppression and impoverishment in the north. Houses of prominent politicians, including those of the incumbent Vice-President Sambo Namadi and the palaces of the hitherto highly revered traditional rulers were attacked.

The Punch newspaper back page analysis of Thursday, April 21, 2011 put paid to this point in the following lines: “the agitated crowd of protesters probably feel betrayed, not by you or me or by any external body, but by their elite who they believe sold them down the river. That is why people who have always acted rather subserviently to their traditional [leaders] could turn on them”. This was no doubt a progressive ingredient of those protests before they got derailed into sectarian riots days later.

Another thing that the recent events around the elections also showed is that in spite of over fifty years of post-Independence history, the ruling class in Nigeria have continually exploited the divisive politics of North vs. South to seek for themselves their share of the national cake at the expense of the poor. This is the method used by all sections and regions in the country, where they incite the poor against fellow poor people in order to prevent the unity of the downtrodden across thin and ethno-religious lines.

Incidentally, the twelve years of civilian rule in Nigeria have amounted to nothing in the lives of the huge majority of the people in Nigeria with over 70% of the populace still living below the acknowledged poverty level, and incidentally the northern part of the country play host to more of these individuals. For twelve years of “democracy”, many have lived in a continuum of abject poverty; power outages still remain a daily problem encountered by everybody with no clear solution in sight of an uninterrupted power supply to the various homes and workplaces. The education sector remains comatose; the health of the people amounts to nothing in the equations of those in government and a large layer of the population remain unemployed, with youth unemployment presently standing at 40%. This is the basis for the spontaneous protests, demonstrations and rioting that followed the recent election of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Free and fair elections?

The returned votes for the PDP in the southeast and south-south have been rejected by Buhari’s CPC and the arguments are a clear indictment of President Jonathan and the PDP. These are objectively justified going by the fact that the recorded voter turnout of 90% plus in this region does not correspond with live televised reports on election day where the TV stations reported below average turnout; in some cases, the estimates were even noted to be less than that recorded for the previous weekend’s National Assembly elections. For instance, in Rivers State approximately 661,353 voted (about 34% of registered voters) in the National Assembly Elections, the figures were almost tripled in the presidential poll where 1, 817, 762 voted for the PDP, the ruling party… a record level of over 90% for Nigeria. The Rivers example is representative of the situation in most parts of the south-south and south east regions of the country. Similarly, the PDP too had made allegations of underage voters turning up in the northern part of the country, an attempt that seems to stress the fact that electoral fraud is a nationwide phenomenon.

How events will unfold

How events will evolve in the coming period will be a direct reflection of the prevailing background to the elections, starting with the voter registration exercise where it was recorded that some 73 million registered. What we saw was an uncommon enthusiasm among layers of Nigerians who somehow believed that registering to vote in the elections is another opportunity to use their votes in their desire for a meaningful change in the polity. Anyhow, for the individuals who voted in the last elections, what is certain is that they voted with great expectations that good things will begin to happen. For those who voted for Jonathan and with the increase in the political consciousness in the country, it will not be long before the patience of the workers and the critical masses will run out. The workers will sooner rather than later present the bill, and rise against untoward conditions in the workplaces, including the immediate implementation of the newly approved N18,000 minimum wage. The recent skirmishes in the north are an eye-opener to how the masses will respond to emerging attacks from the new government.

Although, the Jonathan regime over the last one year has been quite fortunate to be operating in an era of boom in the export of crude oil, this has however not been reflected in an improvement in the lives of ordinary Nigerians. The roads are still largely in bad conditions, the cost of obtaining meaningful education is sky-rocketing on a daily basis. The cost of pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education has been a heavy burden on the peanuts that most workers and the poor masses receive as income. In the same vein, the health sector remains a shadow of what it is supposed to be, with many people dying cheaply on a daily basis. This has been the situation for the last twelve years of an unending “nascent” democracy.

It is important to organize, organize and organize in order to make sure that victories are achieved in the coming struggles. If the leadership of the Labour movement has shied away from its historical tasks of orientating the working class and the poor masses on a distinct class based movement, and instead have acted as indirect and direct mobilisers for the election of another PDP government, history will not be kind or silent on their roles. Opportunities abound for the NLC and the TUC leaders to openly embrace and mobilise the millions of workers in their ranks into the Labour Party, which was originally formed by them but later abandoned for careerists and failed politicians who have now populated the party nationwide.

Reclaim Labour Party

Hence, it is important to note the fact that the struggle to change the polity in favour of the masses begins with the agitation to change the opportunist leadership of the trade unions and the campaign for Labour to purge and reclaim the Labour Party from the opportunist bourgeois politicians now in control of the Party. With the way events are developing, it is not out of perspective that different political formations might emerge with the critical masses following if the Labour leadership continue with their compromising role of collaborating with the ruling parties at the centre and state-wise.

The lessons to be drawn are basically as raised above. We need to start organizing campaigns and petitions on our various plights and challenges. Experience in the past has shown that Nigerian politicians, who are variously committed to the imperialist agenda of “government has no business in business”, cannot deliver the expected goods to the masses. Such policies that flow from the outlined philosophy imply more privatization and commercialization of government utilities, increment in electricity tariffs, increased school fees, higher cost for health, and reintroduction of toll gates/raised toll fees, increased taxations and rates collection etc.

This policy thrust remains the cornerstone of the newly returned Jonathan-led PDP government at the federal level. To them the burden of the crisis of their system must be borne squarely by the labouring masses. Even if they now claim they “once had no shoes”, their interest now tallies with the few and corrupt moneybags who bankrolled the elections. Workers and the other labouring masses must organize to purge the labour movement of the opportunists and the class collaborationists towards channelling an independent political aspiration for the masses that will guarantee the establishment of a genuine workers’ and poor people’s government, the type of government that will nationalize the commanding heights of the economy so as to use the returns from these corporations to build toll-free roads, more schools, hospitals etc., for the common benefit of the toiling masses.