Nigeria’s presidential and national assembly elections, held on 25 February in the midst of a widespread crisis, have highlighted wider issues and divisions. And the aftermath could see more strikes and other mass revolts in a country of around 220 million people.
In the month before the voting, protests on the streets and in bank halls included people stripping naked. They were angry at not being able to change their old currency notes for new ones before a deadline of 10 February.
Official election results show that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was elected as president with 8.8 million votes. He is a former governor of the state of Lagos, which is the fifth largest economy in Africa, with over 25 million inhabitants.
The candidates of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP) and New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) secured 6.9 million, 6.1 million and 1.4 million votes respectively. All three say the elections were flawed and they have been robbed of victory. They are seeking to overturn the outcome in court. Obi said, “I will challenge this rascality for the future of the country.”
The elections revealed sharp divisions in the two dominant parties, starting from party primaries. Tinubu defeated vice president Yemi Osinbajo in the APC primaries in June, but eventually ran his campaign almost as an opposition party.
He sharply attacked president Muhammadu Buhari, whom he had been pivotal to bringing to power in 2015. Buhari had claimed the currency swap would stop vote-buying. But it was the poor masses who bore the “no cash” brunt. Tinubu argued that a crisis situation was contrived to make his presidential run unpopular.
The PDP main opposition party, is used to office. It held the reins of power for 16 years after military rule. It won every presidential election between 1999 and 2011 and was, until the 2015 elections, the governing party. But it is very divided.
Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who has run for the presidency thrice before now, won the primaries. But five PDP governors banded together in protest of what they described as a slight on politicians from the south, whose “turn” it should have been to run.
The “G5” as they were called were themselves not united on whom to support. But their leader, Governor Nyseom Wike of the oil-rich Rivers state eventually threw his weight behind Tinubu.
One of the most significant developments in these elections is the rise of the “Obidients.” This is the middle-class youth-driven movement behind the LP candidacy of Peter Obi. He is a billionaire businessman and former governor of the south eastern Anambra state, who was endorsed by The Economist magazine. Obi was the most prominent Nigerian listed on the corruption-revealing Pandora Papers.
In 2019, he was running mate on Atiku’s PDP ticket and left for the LP only in May 2022 when it became clear that he would not secure the PDP nomination.
As LP candidate, he has broken the APC/PDP two-horse race mould. He came a close third and also registered some shocking victories, such as defeating APC in Lagos state and PDP in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.
The elections do not reflect the people’s will, as the Socialist Workers & Youth League (SWL) points out. All four major parties rigged results as best as they could in their different areas of strength.
But more importantly, they all stand for taking even further the neoliberal policies of privatisation, liberalisation and cuts in public funding of social services that earlier governments. As a result, despite how keen the electoral contest was, voter turnout declined from 35 percent in 2019 to 27 percent. There has been a steady decline of voter turnout since 2003.
The simmering anger of working people and youth will definitely go beyond not voting in Nigeria’s elections in the coming period. A general crisis of physical insecurity, rising inflation, and high youth unemployment is driving disillusionment in the system and the ruling class.
This is what inspired the rise of the “Obidients” which included the moderate wing of the 2020 EndSARS movement against police brutality. But Obi showed the folly in reformist hopes placed on him, saying there was no difference between his programme and that of PDP’s Atiku. The trade union bureaucracy’s new-found support for the LP, did not inspire rank-and-file workers.
The most likely spark for a nationwide fightback by working people is a sharp increase in fuel pump prices. Tinubu, just like Atiku and Obi committed to this anti-poor people policy during his campaign. And he added that no amount of protests will deter him.
The only party with a revolutionary alternative that will be at the fore with the masses in the struggle that will unfold is the AAC. It has argued, like the SWL, that working class people cannot win their emancipation at the ballots.
Fanning the embers of resistance into fires of revolution is the way forward in the coming period.
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