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29 March 2018
The build up to the 2019 elections has begun with furious infighting amongst the ruling elite. Rivals are fighting and manoeuvring to gain personal advantage and to try to contain the growing popular disappointment with Buhari and anger at the conditions working people face across the country.
On January 9, 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC announced the release of the time table and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections. According to the information by the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the presidential and national assembly election will hold on Saturday 16th February, 2019 while Governorship; state assembly elections and FCT Chairmanship including councillorship election will hold on Saturday 2nd march, 2019.
But there is a brewing dispute over the order of the elections as the National Assembly is proposing that the other elections come before the presidential election, which the ruling APC is obviously opposed to fearing that it might undermine the chances of President Buhari. All this however is part of the intra-class political manoeuvring by the bourgeois political parties and have nothing to do with protecting the interest of the masses at the polls.
Regardless of controversy on which timetable will be used in 2019, the reality is that the announcement of the election time table and schedule of activities by the INEC has no doubt created fresh political frenzy, to which the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) cannot be indifferent.
The on-going theatrics around the 2019 general election was actually launched on the January 20, 2018 when some APC governors called on President Buhari to contest for a second term while the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amechi was appointed as the director-general of the campaign.
Barely three days after, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote an open letter to President Buhari advising him to quit after one term. The former President Obasanjo accused President Buhari of nepotism and mismanaging the economy in his letter after which he launched a new political contraption called Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM).
It must be stated that much earlier before all of these developments began to unfold, the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, had also taken a decision to defect back to the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP). Few weeks after the defection of Atiku to PDP, reports had it that there was a growing division within the PDP over its choice of presidential candidate for the 2019 general election leading to yet another round of calculations.
Going by this background, it is obvious that the growing division among the capitalist ruling elite has become so irreconcilable. But underlying this division is their inability to agree on a credible political representation for their capitalist system of exploitation and its basically neo-liberal policies which they hope to continue to force through the throat of the Nigeria working people after the 2019 general elections. The need for a new political representation for their system is actually informed by the growing mass discontent among different layers of working people across the country over the continuous failure of the Buhari-led government to resolve the fundamental problems of the working people. But it will be wrong for the working masses to put their faith in any of the capitalist contenders for power including APC, PDP and the SDP, which is now being touted as the third force.
Elected with great hopes after the Jonathan debacle, the Buhari-led regime has not only failed and betrayed the aspiration and expectation of mass of the Nigeria working people but it has equally shown beyond reasonable doubt that it is incapable of, or ready to, effect positive improvements in both the living and working condition of the Nigeria working people.
Since the second quarter of the year 2017, official data have shown that the economy which was said to suffer five quarters of economic contraction (from second quarter 2016 to first quarter 2017) is now out of recession. The Gross Domestic Growth, GDP, growth rate rose to 1.74% in the third quarter of 2017 from 0.72% in the second quarter of 2017. This represents a GDP growth of 2.04% over the contraction of 1.49% recorded in the corresponding year. However this GDP growth rate is lower than the speed at which Nigeria's population is growing, meaning that the GDP per Nigerian is actually falling. In effect Nigerians are getting poorer. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) often used to measure inflation rate has consistently declined for 10months. CPI dropped to 15.90% in November from 15.91% in the previous month after a decrease from 15.98% in September 2017. However food prices were still rising at a faster level, 17.59% in February.
CBN exchange rate of the dollar to the Naira has supposedly stabilised at inter-bank segment of the market at N360/$. This has resulted to an increase in the foreign reserve to the tune of N43.2billion in February, but foreign debt is also rising, it stood at $18.9billion at the end of 2017. Price of crude has risen far above $66 per barrel. This has no doubt boosted the income of the country especially because Nigeria is exempted from output cut by OPEC till the end of 2018.
Despite this reported improvement in the economy, the socio-economic conditions of the working people have continued to grow from bad to worse with no real hope of improvement in sight. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, over 158 million Nigerians now live below 2$ per day. This figure refers to over 80% of the entire population of 186 million Nigerians. Since December, 2017, fuel scarcity has been a major problem Nigerians have been grappling with in many cities and towns across the country. Marketers have taken advantage of the situation to make huge profit by jerking up pump price well above the official price. This is happening despite the removal of fuel subsidy in May 2016 which the government claimed would prevent scarcity. Meanwhile, workers in about 27 states are owed salary arrears that range from 5 to 15 months while negotiations for a new minimum wage continue to drag.
All of these formed the background for the mass disappointment and anger against the Buhari-led regime which clearly explains why the approval rating of the regime slumped to 45% in December 2017, from a high of 80% in October 2015. What this implies is that the political credibility needed by Buhari/APC regime to continue to preside over the capitalist system of exploitation and the fundamentally neo-liberal agenda of the local ruling elite and their imperialist masters has suffered a huge decline. Meanwhile, the ruling classes are conscious of the fact that without such credibility it will be difficult to sustain the implementation of the anti-poor policies and orientation of the government after 2019 general election without a massive resistance from the working people.
Previous working people's struggles have clearly showed that Nigeria has a powerful working class movement, and an army of young people who are ready to struggle but are being held back by the compromising labour leaders. If this force is unleashed under a leadership armed with socialist ideas and commitment to people's ownership of the commanding sectors of the economy, not only could Buhari's fate hang in the balance but that of the millionaire contenders for power. All the cries by elements within the thieving ruling elites like General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida for Buhari not to run are thus to deceive the masses by carrying out so-called 'change' at the top in order to prevent mass revolution from consuming the entire ruling capitalist elite. Again, we warn the masses not to be deceived.
It is also in the light of this crisis of absence of alternative political representation being faced by the capitalist, that explains why some governors, ministers, law makers and contractors whose political fate and present political survival are bound to Buhari's decision to contest for the second term continue to prevail on him to go for second term.
Unlike Jonathan in 2015, there still exists a prospect for Buhari's re-election in 2019 (that is if he does not succumb to pressure not to run on account of his age and health) despite the decline in his support base. Buhari hails from the hugely-populated North where he has a significant support base with huge existence of ethno-religious bias that has potential to attract big votes in his favour.
But whether President Buhari seeks a re-election or not, the 2019 general election might still suffer from apathy by many working people who may decide to boycott the election owing to the level of their distrust in the entire ruling class. Even in 2015, according to INEC's official figures, only a minority of registered voters, 43.65%, bothered to vote. It is however not ruled out that attempt to vote out the different sections of the ruling classes could lead to some young people showing interest in the polls. But in the absence of a working class political party like SPN coming into power, the election will as usual end up producing a government whose objective will be to continue to force down the throat of the masses, anti-poor, neo-liberal policies, while safeguarding the interests of big business.
More austerity policies await the working masses should this happen. Electricity tariff will be hiked again and its implementation will be forced on the people. Fuel price hike/full deregulation will continue to be on the agenda and even if new minimum wage is approved before the election its implementation will never be respected as backlog of salary arrears will never end up being settled. Surely, these attacks will meet mass resistance, as the labour leadership may be compelled to lead mass struggle. The masses, having exhausted all 'peaceful' means may move to the arena of struggle.
But without clear measures to fight back against these anti-masses policies by the labour leaderships there could be the danger of further slide into ethnic or religious violence or conflict, something which could be encouraged by the rival sections of the ruling elites.
In the absence of the leadership of the traditional labour organisation playing this historical role, the Socialist Party of Nigeria, SPN, a left political alternative formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in alliance with workers and youth activists, which was later registered by INEC after a three and a half years legal and political battle could become a rallying point for the mass of the working people.
The 2019 general elections will no doubt offer an opportunity for socialists and students, youth and labour activist to campaign and win support for a programme of free education, free health, payment of living wage, job creation, reversal of all anti-poor policies and collective ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and its democratic control. This is unlike 2015 when there was no such opportunity for the advancement of a left political alternative.
Although, the current political strength of SPN may not be sufficient at the present time to stop Obasanjo and other characters in the ruling class from again imposing either Buhari or another effigy come 2019, however, given the yearning for fresh ideas and alternative, it is potentially possible for the SPN to win a few seats at Local Government and Houses of Assembly levels. What is required is for the party to concentrate its small force and mobilise popular support in areas of significant presence and where victory is secured, use the opportunity to demonstrate what the party can do in power.
The SPN's impact could be far greater if the trade unions and other popular organisations joined in its work to build a working peoples' alternative. Unfortunately some trade union leaders look to follow Adams Oshiomhole's example of pursuing a political career in a capitalist party. Some simply support so-called "workers' friendly" capitalist politicians without seriously examining what they doing. Others talk about "taking back" the Labour Party without drawing any lessons from its degeneration or putting forward any coherent programme. At the recent NLC 40th anniversary celebration its president, Ayuba Wabba, spoke abstractly about "the need for the working class to wrestle power from the current political elites through the Labour Party" (BusinessDay, February 26, 2018), but the NLC leaders have done nothing seriously to put such radical words into practice.
This failure is a central reason why the SPN was formed and is attempting to take steps towards building a working peoples' party independent from the parties of the elite. Even in a situation where the SPN did not win any seat next year, its involvement in the coming election alone will help to popularize the fact that there exists a better but alternative way through which society can be organised for the benefit of all against the prevailing situation whereby the profit interests of the few members of the capitalist class determine the basis of running the society. It will also provide an avenue for activists who are enthusiastic about transforming society to gain useful experience and build their confidence which will be vital in terms of co-ordination, mobilisation and organisation of the mass of people during struggles that would inevitably break out in the period that will follow the 2019 elections regardless of who wins.
We believe strongly that political offices should be made unattractive to purge the system of careerism, desperation, primitive accumulation of wealth, self-serving interest and neglect of public interest. What is good for the working masses should be good for political office holders.