Nigeria: 2023 general election; events, lessons and the way forward

By Dammy Owot

The much-awaited 2023 general elections have come to an end. Nigeria went to the polls on Saturday, February 25th. After three days (!) of vote counting, the candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party, Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu, was declared the winner. He polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat his counterparts, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Gregory Obi of the Labour Party (LP), who polled 6,984,520 and 6,101,533 respectively. These main 3 candidates won 12 states each (Federal Capital Territory included), while the candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), who polled 1,496,687, came forth and won one state. 

There was a very low turnout, as only 24 million people voted, representing just 25% of eligible voters, according to the report by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Abstention resulted from the general feeling of disbelief among ordinary people, who do not see in the establishment parties a way to end the horrors they face. The election also showed the anger of people, and especially the youth, against the ruling APC party; this was exhibited in the unusual high vote that the opposition Labour Party won in the two major cities, Lagos and Abuja. In Lagos, APC was defeated after over two decades. Instead, the Labour Party won this state, not only because of the presence of a big number of Igbo nationals in the area. It was mainly a reflection of the mass rejection of APC policies by the people. In Abuja, the federal capital territory, likewise, APC crumbled in the election. 

A divided Nigeria 

Another major factor that played a decisive role in this election was the ethnic and religious elements that characterised Tinubu’s and Obi’s campaigns. Particularly, the predominantly Christian Southern (Igbo) part of the country felt it is their turn to elect a president and therefore mobilized all their forces to achieve this. Peter Obi, being of an Igbo origin and a Catholic himself, won most of his votes in the South South, Christian populated area in North like Nasarawa, Plateau and South Eastern parts of the country, but the total votes polled weren’t enough to counter those from the far North where he had little or no popularity. 

Before the election, the South Western part of the country also felt it was their turn to elect a president and therefore mobilized to support Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is a Muslim. Governor Makinde of Oyo state and former Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, who both formally belong to the opposition party PDP, reportedly canvassed for Tinubu against the candidate from their party, because they are Yoruba. The fact is that different sections of the ruling class are divided and are currently regrouping, as they usually do during elections, in order to find the best way to serve their interests.  

Apart from the ruling elites, ordinary people across the country also canvassed for the candidates from their ethnic groups and bullied others who supported candidates from other nationalities. Nationalistic bigotry also played out in the fight between two popular musicians, Peter of Psquare and Seun Kuti. 

The new naira notes scarcity

Sections of the ruling class were also divided over the new monetary policy that has caused extra hardships for the people. The ruling APC party cited as one of the main reasons for this change, the bid to discourage vote buying. But this policy further increased the pressure and the burden on the backs of working people as cash remained very scarce. Citizens even resorted to buying cash at the black market, paying 30% of their money as a fee. 

Of course, cash scarcity did have indeed some effect on the elections, as there were fewer cases of vote buying recorded. However, ordinary people paid a huge cost in order to find cash to pay for transport, buy food stuff, pay for services and perform their business transactions. Many small businesses closed down as a direct result of this policy. Despite the Supreme Court order, the Federal Government refused to allow the acceptance of old naira notes. The new Naira note scarcity was added to the perennial fuel shortages, which have been going on for a year now. 

Tinubu presidency; any hope for the masses?

Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the person who was declared the winner, even though he got voted in by less than 10 percent of the total registered voters and less than 4 percent of the nation’s population. This is not what we call real democracy! 

But even that vote was fraudulent. What happened on February 25 was a clearly orchestrated plan to deprive Nigerians their civil rights through a sham-election. RSM believes that from the onset and contrary to the totally false and misleading statements of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, there was a lack of efficient planning and transparency to conduct this election. This was made manifest on Election Day in delayed polling processes and failure of the all-important BVAs (Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems) amongst others. 

Clearly, the INEC had all the time and resources it needed to do this election right. But it chose not to. For the record, INEC has a N40bn annual budget and over N305bn to conduct the 2023 elections. It also set the frame by reiterating that it was ready and that everything was in place.

Elections were so obviously rigged, with so many irregularities, that even the European Union said that they were “distorted”. The Economist refereed to the election as a “chaotically organized vote and messy count”. The Financial Times of London said in an editorial comment that our presidential election was “deeply flawed” and the winner “a wealthy political fixer.” The Guardian of UK described the winner as “an immensely wealthy veteran powerbroker trailed by corruption allegations which he denies.” The New York Times described him as “a divisive figure in Nigerian politics.” Robert Rotberg, founding director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s programme on intrastate conflict, wrote an opinion for Canada’s Globe and Mail; its headline: “Bola Tinubu’s election is another triumph for Nigeria’s corrupt old guard.” The Times of London used the phrase: “a wealthy kleptocratic ‘godfather’ of politics” to describe Tinubu. The Financial Times revealed that they “witnessed armed men remove a presidential ballot box in Surulere, Lagos” on election day. The characterisations of the press give a glimpse of the kind of person the president-elect is. 

Tinubu is wealthy politician that is in favour of privatization and commercialization. He was governor in Lagos state between 1999-2007 and he implemented anti-poor policies. Tinubu is known for being anti-working class throughout his life and political carrier. He consistently attacked workers and their organisations. The origins of his business empire suggest that he is extremely corrupt. During his campaign, Tinubu said that if he is elected, he will remove the fuel subsidy regardless of the protests by ordinary people. One of the things that Tinubu did when he was taking over as governor in Lagos State, in May 1999, was to sack thousands of public sector workers in the name of “rationalisation”.

Between 2001-2002, Tinubu sacked over 10,000 workers over minimum wage protests. This was after the Federal Government, led by President Obasanjo, had increased the minimum wage to N7,500 for the Federal Government workers and the oil-producing states. Lagos State trade unions demanded that they are paid at this higher rate as the State had more than adequate local revenue levels. A strike was organised with daily rallies. This was massively repressed. 

He sacked the leaders who organised these strikes. Most of the workers were eventually re-instated, after sustained legal and political struggles. But their late leader, Ayodele Akele, was never given his job back. He had been the state chair of the trade union AUPCTRE and the chair of the rank-and-file organisation Congress of Industrial Unions (COIU). Tinubu also massively increased the level of student fees at Lagos State University and the Polytechnic.

In 2015, the consultancy firm controlled by Tinubu, Alpha Beta, sacked 300 of its 375 workers for indicating that they wanted to join the Association of Senior Staff of Bank and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI). Two years later, in June 2017, 145 workers were retrenched from Tinubu’s television station, TVC.

During the #EndSARS movement, Tinubu and other ruling class figures in Lagos orchestrated the killing of un-armed protesters, on October 2020, at Lekki Toll Gates.

Over the last 20 years, Alpha Beta Consulting Ltd has held the exclusive rights to collect internally generated revenue, especially the Land Use Charges in Lagos State, in return for a commission. This is allegedly as high as 15%. However, as it is very difficult to account for any money until it has been paid into one of the Lagos State Government bank accounts, far more money could have been looted. According to the Premium Times in 2008, “Alpha Beta Consulting is widely known amongst Lagosians as the state’s preeminent tax consulting firm, amidst speculations that it is being used as a conduit for siphoning state funds into private pockets.”

In 2018, Oladapo Apara (former Managing Director of ABC), wrote a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accusing Alpha Beta of N100bn tax fraud and failure to pay his termination benefits. He also opened a court case alleging that Tinubu was concealing his control over the consultancy company. This case was eventually settled out of court in September 2022. 

Tinubu is as corrupt as any other business owner that siphons off state resources to build personal businesses. That means that the working masses and the people should prepare to struggle against the new President. 

Time for a Mass Workers Political Alternative  

The Labour Party, that was initially registered by labour leaders, is currently in the hands of opportunists and people who don’t share the same ideal with workers. 

The Labour Party, instead of moving in the direction of building a party of workers and poor, agreed to accept Peter Obi as a presidential candidate. Obi was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and also a former Vice-Presidential Candidate of PDP at the 2019 general elections. He joined the Labour Party after realizing he can’t be elected candidate of the PDP, because millions of dollars were put into the party primaries. Unfortunately, the Labour Party for years has been an electoral vehicle for bourgeois politicians and money bags who couldn’t run with the two ruling parties. Workers and genuine socialists were prevented to join the party. Those who managed to join were incapacitated by the party bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, the Obi candidacy gained traction because he was seen as a progressive opposition candidate. He came third in the election, with four Senate seats and thirty-four House of Representatives members.

Many of those elected with the LP are not known as being worker–friendly. They got their seats as result of Obi’s popularity and since the people are tired of the two main parties, they opted for the alternative that was available. The main labour unions supported the Obi candidacy despite him saying he will remove the fuel subsidy and even though he didn’t agree with the NLC’s Chapter of Demands. As socialists we believe that to genuinely build a workers’ political alternative, such party must be accountable to the workers and its members. Such party must openly oppose privatization and commercialization and be ready to clash with capitalists in order to fund a bold socialist programme. 

The nomination forms in the Labour Party were clearly very high, and that deprived the possibility for working class people to stand, while attracting opportunist elements who had money. Some socialists who joined the party were removed and replaced with candidates without history of working-class struggle, basically because they were ready to pay huge amounts in nomination forms. While there is a talk of “reclaiming” the Labour Party, ordinary people couldn’t afford standing, despite winning the party primary, because of the high costs involved. A party of that character cannot be attractive to genuine change seekers, but will be attractive to those who want to continue to run the party as a business and see political representation as another business venture. Based on this, we don’t believe that the LP candidates elected will be accountable to the party. Instead, it is possible we will see many of them even jump back to the PDP or the APC, to seal their chances in future.

RSM gave critical support to the Omoyele Sowore candidacy and the African Action Congress during this election. Sowore managed to score 14,608 votes and ranked 16th out of 18 political parties. This result was far lower than in the 2019 elections, when he scored 33,000 votes and came fourth. Although a part of this fall can be attributed to election irregularities and the general political situation, which is quite different than 2019, wrong method and tactics by Sowore -both on his thesis and on his way of organising- are also to blame for this. 

The Tinubu presidency needs to be met with resistance from the people. In order to help this struggle, a mass workers political alternative must be built. We are confident that workers and young people will find their way towards radical ideas to organise for system change.

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