Whether Buhari takes the Nigerian presidency in next week’s hotly contested elections or Jonathan remains is all but irrelevant; real change will only happen when the masses band together, organize and demand better futures instead of lining up behind the rich and powerful whose futures are already secured.
After the unprecedented shift of the date of the general elections in Nigeria from 14 February to 28 March, many Nigerians are highly expectant. Plenty of people are arguing for and against both the All Progressives Party (APC) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). So many have different reasons and justified sentiments to vote for a candidate. Many of these reasons are on ‘performance’, while others, tragically, are on tribalism, religion and age.
But many, like me, are neither for PDP nor APC. Amidst these independent people, there are several factors forming their opinions. Some, because the governments at various levels under both parties are failures, decide to be non-partisan. Some feel the failures but believe in some other parties that may be in contention or don't have the political weight to contest. Finally, there are those that don't even believe in this electoral system and its pro-rich bias, especially in Nigeria where the election campaigns are more about buying votes than outlining political alternatives.
This piece, while recognizing these variants of opinions and stances, will concentrate on what the two big parties can do when they get to power using their manifestos and records as yardstick. It will be doing this from the point of view of the poor working people who make up the overwhelming majority of the population.
Recent debates were inspired by Chukwuma Soludo, who served as Central Bank Chief and included contributions from Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra state; Kayode Fayemi, also a former governor (of Ekiti); Okonjo-Iweala, the supervising minister of finance and the chief economist of the current Jonathan-led PDP government; Pat Utomi, a popular economist who is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Femi Fani-Kayode, the director of publicity of President Jonathan’s campaign team. The debate has included wealthy thoughts that show how stiff this election will be. Of course, the debates have less clear lines as the major root of the current quagmire in the country is not being touched. ‘Corruption’ and ‘incompetence’ are touted as the causes for concern. In contrast, neo-liberal policies that are reasons for the continued underdevelopment and mass poverty in the face of plenty are sacred cow and so not to be touched. What this means is that all the debaters are defenders of the current system of ‘bosses at the top’.
Also, the Chatham House speech of Major-General Buhari of the APC is a rich contribution to the electoral discourse as it can be said to have laid the APC manifesto on a global outlook. The big question is how the policies in this speech may be implemented, and so improve the lives of the ordinary poor scattered in the streets.
The many reactions to the speech are stretched upon basic realities that both big parties operate from, side by side with the socio-political and economic status of Nigeria, which in itself demands a thorough political overview, so as to properly understand the ideological context with which the two big parties represent.
The Jonathan-led PDP has been operating a ‘TRANSFORMATION AGENDA’ that has been generally described as a backward agenda resting only on the massive primitive accumulation of the country’s wealth by the few rich.
‘CHANGE’ is the single word that the APC has organised around. This carries a heavily pregnant meaning, which must be why the agenda is supported by the teeming mass of working people, many of whom are tired of the PDP governments over the past 16 years.
TRANSFORMATION VS CHANGE: ANYTHING FOR THE MASSES?
Total NO! And I can say it many times. Nigeria is split into 36 states, each with its own government. Many of the states have been ruled by APC governments for many years. People in these states understand that the difference between the APC and the PDP is really like the difference between six and half-a-dozen. Lagos state, after 16 years of APC rule, is still not a better place for the working people. After 16 years of PDP rule in the federal government, life for most people is still hell on earth.
Soludo, the former Central Bank Chief, seems to get this point, but what alternatives is he proffering? He obviously has none except running to some rhetoric of Keynesianism- ‘soon you will start asking the citizens to pay this or that tax, while some faceless "thieves" were pocketing over $40 million per day from oil alone?’ But we need to ask him the positive effects of the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) policy on the economic development of Nigeria and her working people. We need to make him know that the so-called banks he boasts of making big and stable financially were built at the expense of the majority who are poor. Public money was deployed by Soludo and his other economic ‘czars’ to save banks owned by a private few. What economic effect has that had on our education, health and social welfare system? Corruption is tied to capitalism, which Soludo and others defend. To remove corruption, capitalism has to be smashed!
Okonjo-Iweala's weak responses to Soludo's challenges can be understood. Here is a woman who celebrated Nigeria being ‘the largest economy’ in Africa, and within few months had declared austerity. The Value Added Tax (VAT) on all goods had been increased by 10 per cent. This will spell doom for the majority of Nigerians, and has prompted rejections by the majority of Nigerians. Indeed, VAT should not affect common goods but luxury ones. More importantly, the rich should be critically taxed and not the poor. For it is them the rich who are the ‘ogas at the top’ that have milked the resources dry even when oil was booming.
This does, then, make many Nigerians have some beliefs in the APC's agenda of change. Kayode Fayemi's response to Soludo has promised to ‘block wastages’ and localize production by looking up to other sectors other than oil. All these seem beautiful. But it will all be done in collaboration with the same corruption network called the ‘private sector’! Through this network, entrenched in our country since SAP, the rich people sink Nigeria's wealth into their pockets.
At Chatham House, Buhari made an intelligent speech trying to put some round pegs in some round holes. On the democracy in Nigeria, he tactically posits that it ‘is much more important that the practice of democracy goes beyond just allowing people to freely choose their leaders. It is much more that democracy should deliver on the promise of choice of freedoms, of security of lives and property, of transparency and accountability, of rule of law, of good governance and of shared prosperity.’ He emphasised that the real democratic ethos of ‘better life for the generality of people, is not delivered in breach’. These words, without querying the actual honesty behind them, carry a burden of reality as most of the cronies of Buhari, like Tinubu and Atiku, are elements who have over time denied the mass of poor people these ‘promises of democracy’. While Buhari talks about tackling unemployment, poverty and inequality through blocking ‘waste and corruption’, concrete reality shows that such action can never succeed when running a ‘private sector-led economy’, despite promising to ‘maintain an active role for government through strong regulatory oversight and deliberate interventions and incentives to diversify the base of our economy, strengthen productive sectors, improve the productive capacities of our people and create jobs for the youth.’ A ‘private sector-led economy’ is one that is based, simply, on the maximisation of profit by a few individuals. This is done by sacrificing the blood and sweat of working people who make the wealth being primitively accumulated while also constituting the majority, the 99 per centers!
Both the ‘Transformation’ agenda and that of ‘Change’ are in favour of the rich people. That is why neither is promising free education at all levels, full free health or the re-distribution of wealth. Neither is promising mass reduction of oil prices in Nigeria. Neither is talking of increasing the minimum wage. And neither is talking of cutting the earnings of public office holders, as our parliamentarians get the highest pay in the world.
The only agenda that will change Nigeria is an agenda that is fashioned, championed and implemented by the working people themselves. Not all these ideas of the ruling class.
THE LOOMING ELECTORAL VIOLENCE
The word ‘looming’ is rather not apt anymore as there are already spates of violence in most parts of the country. Attacks and counter-attacks on the campaign teams of both parties have been recorded in Rivers, Katsina, Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti and Kaduna, Bayelsa, Osun, Edo and Bauchi states. ‘The bosses’ parties are giving the illusions of making life better for the masses without changing the existing exploitative system, inspiring different sectors of poor people to line up behind them and kill each other.’ Because of the fact that the current capitalist order in Nigeria holds onto the prevailing idea, ‘accepting the social order as unchangeable’ becomes a ‘major obstacle’ to the fight for our self-freedom. The activities of working class organisations, which comprise labour and trade unions, revolutionary groups and parties, are marred with ‘ideological and political shortcomings’. Giving clear class directions to the mass of working people, thereby engaging the prevailing idea from above, suffers enormously due to this.
While the Socialist Workers League (SWL) calls for a mass engagement of the elections through ‘making working class demands’ by the mass of working people organised in labour and community unions, a majority of people are queuing behind the big parties. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have issued statements demanding a reduction in petrol price and increase in the minimum wage, amongst other demands. But since the paltry 10 naira reduction in the petrol price by the federal government, which was massively thumbed down, the unions have had less engagement.
So the political engagements with the neo-liberal policies of government have been weak. Privatisation and other anti-poor policies of government are having negative effects on the mass of poor people. The environment becomes quite ripe for what is popularly termed ‘stomach infrastructure’, where the big parties churn out cash and sachets of rice and kerosene to poor people in exchange for votes. The army of unemployed, which continues to grow en masse, becomes a reputable resource for thugs and brigands who are used to foment violence during elections. The military set up in the country are also conscious collaborators in this.
The ‘Abuja Peace Accord’, which was brokered by the international community with both Jonathan and Buhari signing, has been reduced to a paper work.
Trade unions and radical civil society need to start practical independent actions of mobilising youths against being used by the bosses’ parties as thugs, while also concretely providing political guidance to working people by intensifying the enforcement of the already-made demands and kick starting the campaigns against austerity and for a ‘fairer society’. These actions could well serve as pointers for working people dissuading them from ‘fighting behind one set of oppressors against workers on the “other side”’.
THE WAR AGAINST BOKO HARAM AND ELECTION POSTPONEMENT
Despite the strategic visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to prevail against the postponement of elections after it became ‘imminent’, as the National Security Adviser Ibrahim Dasuki has hinted, President Jonathan’s reply of ‘May 29 is sacrosanct’ seemed to calm some nerves. But the elections were postponed against all odds to March 28. The security report from the military played the joker. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was forced to postpone elections as the security forces gave the excuse of being busy fighting Boko Haram. All local and international outcries against the postponement were snubbed.
Experiences all over the world have shown that the war on terror is vehemently a fight against the mass of working people. The case of Baga is classic here. The first massacre in Baga was perpetrated by the Nigeria military in 2013. Aljazeera, after the attacks, called this ‘a silent war in Nigeria’. Evidence shows that the military has maimed and murdered just as many innocent people as Boko Haram.
The APC also continue the ‘strongman philosophy’ in Buhari as a possible answer to defeating Boko Haram. As Buhari himself has said at Chatham House, ‘what has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against insurgency’. He further says ‘we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas.’ He also promised to personally lead ‘from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in the regional and international efforts to combat terrorism.’
The allusion to ‘regional and international’ fights against terrorism further confirms the APC and Buhari’s loyalty to imperialist wars and such others that have been used to affect capitalism’s reign. The US war on terror has resulted in the plundering of Iraq and some other countries into more hardships than before.
So the war on terror is at best a ruthless onslaught against the mass of poor people. The immediate answer is to negotiate with Boko Haram while giving support to the Civilian Joint Task Force to ensure the self-defence of the working people themselves, as is shown in Maiduguri.
After two weeks of election postponement to concentrate on fighting insurgency in the North as the security forces proclaimed, Boko Haram has not been crushed. Biu in Adamawa state and Jos in Plateau state were attacked on Friday 27 February by suicide bombers, with scores dead and many injured.
Suspicions are rife all over that the ruling party may surf for another postponement. This is bound to cause crisis. Legal experts are wary of even the current postponement with the belief that there will not be enough time for legal tussles in challenging and defending the election results.
CONCLUSION,: WHAT ALTERNATIVES?
There are short and long alternatives to the current millieu. Other than APC and PDP, I prefer that Nigerians vote for National Conscience Party (NCP) with Martins Onovo as Presidential candidate. His party was formed by the late revolutionary lawyer Gani Fawehinmi and has a ten-point blueprint centred on ‘abolishing poverty’. Most on the left adopt this party as portrayed by the Joint Action Front. I must say that this party's structure may not be able to slug it out with the big parties.
But as part of the short alternatives, Nigerians should vote with all eyes open, and make concrete demands before voting.
For the long answer, we should start preparing for a country where ‘greed and power’ are crushed. This will be a hard road, but it is safer. We tried it in January 2012 during the anti-subsidy removal rallies. Those who were martyred during this period cannot be compared to the mass of people who get killed every day in the country by this horrible system imposed on us. About 110 women die every day during childbirth and other related issues.
For it is the capitalist system, which Sam Aluko called ‘kalokalo’ economics, that is the problem. It is a system that thrives on corruption through the compulsory ‘maximisation of gain’ and ‘primitive accumulation of wealth’ by its actors. To drive this through, this crude and wasteful system relies on ‘blood and mud’ to sustain itself. Only a revolution led by the working class in their collective self-emancipation can save Nigeria, and indeed, the whole world.
The 2015 elections are important as they are the first general elections after the popular January Uprising against fuel subsidy removal in 2012. It will be quite different from the 2011 elections, which were much more determined by some homophobia of ethnicity, religion and age. Though these divisive elements are still on the boards of public opinion, economic and welfare issues override them. Many Nigerians now see more of their class differences than other system-imposed differences. The headache now is that they will have to rely on any of the bosses’ parties to pitch their tents. This is tragic.
As we go to the elections, we must know that the point is to prepare to tackle any of the ‘devil's alternatives’ that emerge. We must know that the elections will provide few answers. And that we can only fulfill our collective destiny as a people when we realise that there are only two divides here: the rich and the poor. That realisation would always ginger us to struggle and organise beyond these elections to a totally different political system where our most common slogan would be ‘all for one, and one for all’!
*Kunle Wizeman Ajayi is a poet and ex-student-leader. He is a member of the editorial board of the Socialist Worker, Nigeria.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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