Nigeria: The 2015 general election and the gathering storm

With the oil price below $60 per barrel and with the significant collapse of Nigeria’s oil market as a result of the US’s zero importation from Nigeria since July 2014, it is clear that the Nigerian economy is facing a serious crisis. This situation has been made even more serious by the fact that the crisis comes at a time when Nigeria’s foreign reserves stand at less than $34billion.

Economy in turbulence

Nigeria revolutionThis significantly limits room for manoeuvre. Gross mismanagement through corruption and unequal distribution of wealth characteristic of capitalism, has led to a situation whereby enormous wealth that entered this country when the price of oil was over $100 only produced a handful of extremely wealthy individuals alongside the overwhelming majority of poor. The poverty rate increased over the period from 62% to over 70%, while on the other hand a Nigerian became the richest man in Africa and five Nigerians were rated among the richest black men in the world.

Significant reductions in dollar revenues have put enormous pressure on the value of the Naira, which is almost in a free fall. The Naira fell from N160/dollar in January 2014 to N250/dollar on the black market. The black market has become the dominant market for foreign currency exchange. The postponement of the election from February 14th to March 28th led to the biggest collapse in the history of the country of both the Naira and the stock market. This shows how precarious the situation is. Political instability is triggering economic instability and vice-versa.

But the Nigerian economic headache is not going to go away in hurry, as the Bloomberg article of February 16, 2015 “Get Ready for $10 Oil posit” states:

“At about $50 a barrel, crude oil prices are down by more than half from their June 2014 peak of $107. They may fall more, perhaps even as low as $10 to $20. Here’s why.

“U.S. economic growth has averaged 2.3 percent a year since the recovery started in mid-2009. That's about half the rate you might expect in a rebound from the deepest recession since the 1930s. Meanwhile, growth in China is slowing, is minimal in the euro zone and is negative in Japan. Throw in the large increase in U.S. vehicle gas mileage and other conservation measures and it’s clear why global oil demand is weak and might even decline.

“At the same time, output is climbing, thanks in large part to increased U.S. production from hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling. U.S. output rose by 15 percent in the 12 months through November from a year earlier, based on the latest data, while imports declined 4 percent.”

“Furthermore, the price when producers chicken out isn’t necessarily the average cost of production, which for 80 percent of new U.S. shale oil production this year will be $50 to $69 a barrel, according to Daniel Yergin of energy consultant IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Instead, the chicken-out point is the marginal cost of production, or the additional costs after the wells are drilled and the pipes are laid. Another way to think of it: It's the price at which cash flow for an additional barrel falls to zero.

“Last month, Wood Mackenzie, an energy research organization, found that of 2,222 oil fields surveyed worldwide, only 1.6 percent would have negative cash flow at $40 a barrel. That suggests there won't be a lot of chickening out at $40. Keep in mind that the marginal cost for efficient U.S. shale-oil producers is about $10 to $20 a barrel in the Permian Basin in Texas and about the same for oil produced in the Persian Gulf.”

Postponed elections and a shaky ruling party

As the general elections approached, it became increasingly clear to the PDP regime that it was going to be kicked out of power at the polls. It is paying for 16 years of ceaseless attack against the masses on behalf of the capitalist system. Additionally, the defection of influential PDP governors to the opposition denies the ruling party a significant portion of its local patronage networks.

Also, the standing army, which is supposed to intimidate the opposition and rig the elections, is itself riddled with crisis. In backward countries like Nigeria the state apparatus often plays the decisive role in which section of the ruling elites emerge as dominant at any given period. This would in normal conditions mean that today Jonathan and the PDP should have a huge advantage over the APC and Buhari.

boko haramHowever, it is the very economic and social crisis of Nigerian capitalism that has provoked a massive crisis within the state apparatus itself. Under the pressure of Boko Haram barbarism, which is in itself an outcome of bourgeois manipulative and religious politics, the standing army is splitting along class lines with mutinies and protests by the rank and file soldiers, while the top army chiefs are responding by handing down death sentences to the already traumatised rank and files soldiers.

The rot within the standing army is exposed especially by the fact that people's militias (the so-called Civilian JTF) in alliance with rank and file soldiers have proven themselves to be a more capable fighting force liberating towns the army had abandoned to Boko Haram. Additionally, troops from smaller and poorer countries such as Chad and Cameroon are "liberating" towns that Boko Haram had captured from the Nigerian army.

The decision of an army officer to secretly record and eventually publicly release the plot to rig the Ekiti State gubernatorial elections, reveals the extent of the disunity even among the army officers.

All this means that the coercive apparatus which Jonathan and the PDP need to rely on in the intra-class struggle is not the strong and united institution it used to be. The crisis of Nigerian capitalism has seriously damaged the reputation and capability of the standing army.

Under these circumstances it is only logical that the ruling party should try to avoid elections. One way to do that would be to convince the two chambers of the legislature to extend the elections using the excuse of the “war on terrorism”. However, the recently concluded ruling party (PDP) primaries were so badly managed that many lawmakers could not secure return tickets and are very angry; some even defected to the APC, giving it a majority in the lower chamber. So the door to legislative manoeuvring is effectively shut in the face of the ruling party.

The ruling party in a desperate push to continue hanging on to power at all costs, attempted to discredit the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), by presenting it as ill-prepared for the elections on the date (February 14th) already set a year ago. However, the INEC chairman did not see his fate as being tied to a regime which from all indications is a sinking ship. He came all out to clear his name and that of the INEC and clearly removed his hand from the antics of manipulative adjustment of the election date. This further complicated the PDP's task.

The PDP, however, found a willing ally in the top military hierarchy. The corrupt military command is in a position very similar to the PDP's; they are morbidly corrupt and are facing increasing rebellion from the rank and file soldiers. The fate of the top army chiefs is thus tied to that of Jonathan's regime. The army chiefs would like to rig the elections for the ruling party, but the military institution as a whole is too disunited and discredited and thus they opted for the postponement option.

That explains why the army chiefs wrote to the INEC chairman that they could not provide security for the elections if held as scheduled. The INEC chairman was thus forced to postpone the elections. The whole aim was to buy some time for the ruling PDP. Rather than strengthen the regime, however, this action has only further discredited it both internally and even in the eyes of their bourgeois masters.

The meaning and prospects of an Interim Government or Military Coup

While it is true that there is rapid maturation of the objective premises for revolution and a corresponding intensification of struggle within and between the classes, the situation has not yet pushed society beyond the limits of bourgeois democratic rule. Revolution has not yet broken out and the vast majority of the working and poor masses still have some faith in the electoral process as they see it as a way of winning concessions and relief. This explains why a significant section has rallied around the APC/Buhari deceit. With this deceit, the Nigerian ruling class is confident that the impending revolution can be delayed or derailed without overstepping bourgeois democracy.

This deceit is also further reinforced by their imperialist masters (especially the Americans and British) as evidenced by their condemnation of the PDP-engineered poll shift and their direct promotion of the Buhari/APC candidacy. This is because for imperialism and the section behind APC/Buhari, the electoral process would be used to delay or derail the impending revolution. Consequently, they fear that postponing the elections could complicate their task, especially because of the provocation it is seen as by the masses. In the language of the investors, it led to “political uncertainty”. Thus, objectively, overstepping the boundaries of bourgeois democracy, either through an interim government or a military coup is obviously not popular and would most likely lead to mass protests, rather than calming the situation for the ruling elite. That is why these two options are the least likely today.

Jonathan's regime and PDP are that section of the bourgeoisie trying to avoid elections for fear of defeat. There is in fact a leaked report that the regime has been planning to hand over to an “interim government”, but unfortunately for the regime, the same weakness that forced it to postpone the elections also makes it incapable of realizing an interim government. As earlier explained, the ruling party is so weak and discredited that it can no longer firmly control the INEC bureaucracy and other state apparatus.

In some quarters, especially among the “Lefts”, there is speculation about the prospect of a military coup. But, as was earlier explained, the standing army is no longer the “reputable” and united institution it used to be. An army which has proven to be inferior in capability to the people's militias and cannot guarantee a safe election, has neither the moral justification nor the public support to terminate the bourgeois “democratic” system. In addition to this, the international conditions are highly unfavourable for any military putsch. Consequently, rather than such arrangement serving to stabilise the situation, it would further accelerate the process of destabilisation and crisis.

What is to be done?

There is a high probability that Jonathan and the PDP are unlikely to be able to avoid the elections and their eventual defeat. On the other hand, the APC/Buhari are most likely set to emerge victorious from any election held soon. Although, one cannot rule out the possibility of a compromise between the two wings of the ruling elite as a result of the inability of the APC/Buhari to mobilise clear overwhelming and massive support to counter the likely rigging machine of Jonathan/PDP using state power.

The objective bases of the APC/Buhari deceit, i.e. the masses' desire for change after the 16 years of PDP rot in the absence of a genuine working class alternative, have already been explained above. The fact remains that APC state governments have carried out and are still carrying out the same anti-worker policies as the PDP. This is as much an objective fact as the 16 years of PDP rot.

In spite of all this, the APC has recorded considerable success in presenting itself as an alternative to some layers of workers and youth. This is made possible because of the lack of a working-class-based political alternative. Suffice it to say that the bourgeois opposition equally exploits the personality cult around the strong “incorruptible” Buhari. This necessarily follows the notion of reducing the capitalist crisis simply to the weakness and incompetence of President Jonathan. If the crisis is reduced to this personal level, the solution is also presented through the cult of personality of the former dictator.

Everything points to a gathering storm; the explosion is evidently imminent. Attempts to stabilise the economy, only lead to instability in politics and there seems to be no end in sight to this cycle. Dwindling incomes, s free-fall in the value of the currency, rising poverty and inequality, coupled with the insurgency ravaging the North East, all point to only one thing; Nigeria is on a knife’s edge.

The far-sighted sections of the ruling elite like Obasanjo and co. and their Imperialist masters in UK and USA, are fully aware of this and are truly worried and this explains their restlessness, but despite their worry, they seem not to be capable of doing anything about the impending catastrophe.

The Jonathan regime is pursuing sectional interests in the face of these complications and this is clearly accelerating the process and that is why his regime is opposed even by his own masters and colleagues, while Buhari/APC is seen as an alternative to slow down the process of social explosions and that explains their increasing support for him. However, whether the process is accelerated or slowed down, the final destination is inevitable and that destination is social upheaval, with a clash between the haves and have-nots, between the exploited and the exploiters.

The urgency of building a working class political alternative cannot be more over-emphasized. The last Nigeria Labour Congress convention of February 8th 2015, with 3119 delegates from 43 affiliated unions, was the biggest convention of the NLC in its entire 37-year history, also described as the most tumultuous in the history of this giant trade union federation.

When we look at all this, together with the open split in the Nigerian Labour Party between the “Labour Wing” and “Careerist Wing” of the party, what does it tell us? It indicates the future direction of events, where all organisations of the working class will be shaken to their foundations and through this process a genuine mass working class political alternative can emerge. The Nigerian Marxists must actively intervene in these developments and offer the only real solution to the present crisis, a socialist programme and a workers’ government to carry it out.