Is Nigeria’s 2019 Elections A Referendum On Socialism?

A recent viral news headline attributed to the International Guardian profiled Nigeria`s upcoming elections as one between an established thief and a stingy rightwing dictator. This op-ed shows that the election is actually a contest between socialism and market forces.

The dramatic characterization of Saturday`s election in Nigeria as one between a stingy rightwing dictator and an established thief resonates with many public analysts but there is more to the matter than the sensational news headlines suggests.

Nollywood movies popularly depict wealthy Nigerians as money ritualists, armed robbers, corrupt politicians and so on. Indeed, many wealthy people in Nigeria came to be rich through illegitimate means and Nigerian politicians are particularly guilty of this. However, even if you are a successful business man, it is popularly assumed that there must be some untoward secret behind your success story. It is thought that wealth can only come from evil and that wealth is synonymous to selling your soul to the devil. Given that 67% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, it is no surprise that such a message resonates with the poor masses who are also largely illiterate.

To the poor masses, the road to wealth seem obscure, therefore wealth redistribution is a popular ideal. Politicians therefore deploy various forms of money sharing and vote buying tactics to attain or retain political power.

Similarly, politicians pander to socialist leaning policies that seek to provide free infrastructure and social services in return for stiff government control of the factors of production. However, poverty keeps increasing as wealth redistribution progresses.

Since her return to democracy in 1999, the socialist thinking in Nigeria reached its peak in 2015 when Nigerians elected former military head of state, Mohammadu Buhari as president.

Unlike former head of state turned democratic president Olusegun Obasanjo who led Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, privatizing several national corporations, president Buhari`s policies favour nationalization.

Whereas President Goodluck Jonathan was popularly chastised for celebrating the rise of private businesses such as the Dangote group as an indication of his government’s success, president Buhari was adored for his austere lifestyle and celebrated for being “poor”.

During the campaigns build up to the 2015 general elections, pictures of Buhari drinking sachet milk and tea, as well as his statements about how he called his bank manager in order to borrow the money used to purchase his presidential nomination form, further endeared him to the poor masses.

In the wake of his administration, many Buhari supporters bragged that top business men in Nigeria will be “cut to size” by government and indeed, hundreds of businesses totally collapsed with eight million jobs lost by 2017 according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics. When investors withdrew in the face of hostile government policies, it was alleged that such investors were aiding corruption, therefore, good riddance.

In 2018, Nigeria finally overtook India as the poverty capital of the world with 87 million people living in abject poverty and the figure keeps rising. Majority of those who are not in abject poverty, are living below the poverty line regardless. Government`s main response has been more wealth redistribution policies including sharing money to traders in the open markets, on the eve of elections.

It is now almost four years of the most socialist leaning leadership in Nigeria since 1999. Elections beckons in a few days and more than a dozen private business men are challenging the incumbent who is not known to have ever worked in the private sector in any capacity other than owning a collection of cows.

Notable amongst the challengers are CEO of Global Analytics, Tope Fasua; Business consultant, Fela Durotoye; Founder of Sahara Reporters media outfit, Omoyele Sowore and Founder of Sogato Strategies, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu who is also a former Central Bank Deputy Governor after retiring from the United Nations.

The most popular challenger however is former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who is the founder of American University of Nigeria, founder of Adama beverages Ltd, Co-founder of Intels – an oil servicing company amongst other top level businesses. Atiku used to be the Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation while serving as Vice-President to Obasanjo.

Atiku has chosen as his running mate, former governor Peter Obi who is a business magnate sitting on the board of several Nigerian companies as Chairman or director. He is a former chairman of fidelity bank, Chairman of NEXT International and so on.

A major highlight of the build up to the February 16, 2019 general elections was the grueling two hour interview of Atiku and Obi by Kadaria where the journalist was put on the spot by a question from Atiku who asked her almost disdainfully “Are you a socialist?” her response, was that she`s not a business person.

As Nigerians vote on Saturday, it is clear that the choice is between a socialism leaning incumbent and any of several capitalism oriented challengers.

Feyisade Charles Adeyemi

Feyisade is a trans-disciplinary educator, an academic staff at Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Academic Director, Students for Liberty (Africa) and the founder of Chale Institute.

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