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Nigeria: Ruling party crumbles in historic election
National executive committee, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria)
Without doubt the 28 March 2015 presidential election was a major turning point for Nigeria. For the first time in the country's 55 year existence as an independent country, a ruling party - the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has been in power since the end of military rule in 1999 - was roundly defeated in an election. The contest was essentially a two-horse race between the biggest elite political parties - the PDP and the All Progressive Congress (APC).
The winner of the election is APC's General Muhammadu Buhari - former military ruler and a Muslim from the northwest region. He won over 15 million votes (54%). Now the PDP is a minority party in the next National Assembly as the APC, in addition to winning the presidency, also won over 60 seats in the Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives. But the APC will still lack the two-thirds majority needed for key decisions.
Past elections frequently returned the ruling PDP, which often used the power of incumbency, state funds, the police and the army to carry out massive rigging of polls in its favour.
These elections marked a shift of power from one section of the ruling class to another. The anger reflected at the polls was due to a combination of factors. For example, there is the threat of renewed austerity. The benefits of previously high oil prices had been stolen by the corrupt ruling elite.
According to the United States' Department of Energy, Nigeria earned $424bn from oil exports between 2010 and 2014. But there was nothing to show for this huge revenue in term of infrastructural development and living conditions of the vast majority.
Another big factor is the government's inability to tackle insecurity, particularly the threat of Boko Haram terrorism.
The working class can now feel the potency of its power to punish any party at the polls and effect a change of government. As the last results were announced in the evening of 31 March, there were spontaneous celebrations. Nevertheless it should be noted that less than half of the registered voters officially voted - tens of millions felt that the election offered no choice or was irrelevant to their lives.
Since last year the country has hit economic crisis as a result of the collapse of the global price of crude oil. About 18 state governments, including those governed by the opposition APC, owe workers between two and five months' salaries.
The collapse of oil prices has led to the free fall of the naira which has lost about 20% of its value against the dollar, threatening the performance of banks and operations of manufacturers and importers.
Just after the election the London Economist magazine wrote that "inflation, now at 8.4% ... could reach 15% before the end of the year" and that falling oil income means "more budget cuts will be needed. Road-building and other construction may be frozen because there is no money to pay contractors."
This has elicited worries among investors whose profitability is threatened and, of course, anger among the working class. It was of little surprise therefore, that apart from the Boko Haram insurgency, the issues that dominated the campaign were the economy and the corruption of the regime.
The Goodluck Jonathan presidency was first elected in 2011 with about 24 million votes. There was much expectation that he would usher in a period of social and economic progress. But just as the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) warned, the Jonathan presidency worked in favour of capitalism and the interests of imperialism.
Against the background of the failure of Jonathan's government, new divisions opened up in the Nigerian ruling class and the main imperialist powers distanced themselves from him.
Another factor in this election was the candidacy of Buhari - a former military dictator who ruled Nigeria from December 1983 until August 1985 when he was removed in a coup. This 20-month rule was characterised by attempts to curb corruption and waste but also austerity policies, attacks on democratic and workers' rights, expulsion of migrant workers.
His regime broke ties with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when the fund asked the government to devalue the naira by 60%, yet the reforms he imposed on his own were as vicious as those required by the IMF.
However Buhari is largely seen by the poor of the north and now by a substantial section of workers and urban youth in the South, as an austere and incorruptible person who had the chance to amass wealth while in government but instead lived a modest life. It is this perception of Buhari, coupled with the absence of a credible and genuine working class political alternative, that created the popularity and enthusiasm for his campaign.
Most local and international observers reported that a feature of this election was 'minimal irregularities, rigging and violence'. Yet this did not stop 50 people being killed during the balloting.
In its report, the European Union Election Observation Mission observed other glitches in the elections, including late opening of polling sites, failing biometric voter verification, some 'regrettable' violent incidents and re-polling on Sunday.
According to the Transition Monitoring Group, the votes from some strongholds of President Jonathan appear to have been significantly inflated. On Monday, protesters in their thousands laid siege to the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) demanding that elections be re-conducted in one state.
The working class of Nigeria, especially the sections that invested the most illusion in Buhari, are entering a new period where these illusions will be subjected to the most severe tests. The aftermath of the elections, some sobriety seems to be quietly overtaking the dizzying enthusiasm of the past weeks.
The Buhari government is coming in at a very bleak period for capitalism. The unfolding economic situation will constrain it seriously and force it to abandon many of its promises at a time when working people will be expecting change.
Beyond some initial temporary concessions to appease the masses' expectations, the same pro-capitalist economic policies that defined past governments - privatisation, deregulation, underfunding of education, tuition fee hikes - will most likely be the hallmark of the new administration.
New party needed
However, the working masses and youth whose power sent the Jonathan/PDP government packing will not be sitting idle while their living conditions are attacked. Mass protests and strikes could be on the agenda sooner than later.
As disappointment in the Buhari government spreads and the scales begin to fall from masses' eyes, there will be frantic search for an alternative.
The best way to avoid a situation where the working class again has to put faith in rival wings of the ruling elite for its salvation, is for the labour movement to begin the important work of building a mass working class political alternative.
We in the DSM repeat our call for the labour movement to convene a summit of trade unions and socialists where the question of building an alternative working class political party can be posed.
See www.socialistworld.net for full version of this article
DSM and the Struggle for a Working Peoples' Political Alternative
Edited by Segun Sango
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The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) is the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated.
The CWI is organised in 45 countries and works to unite the working class and oppressed peoples against global capitalism and to fight for a socialist world.
In The Socialist 8 April 2015:
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