The Sowore candidacy and the 2023 Nigerian elections

RSM statement

Omoyele Sowore (born 16 February 1971) is a Nigerian human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. He is the founder of the online news agency Sahara Reporters which reports corruption in high places and repression by the security forces. In August 2018, he founded the African Action Congress party and ran as its presidential candidate in the 2019 Nigerian general election. He is also running for president in the February 2023 Nigerian general election. Sowore became widely known on 3 August 2019, when he was arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) for alleged “treason” after calling for a protest tagged RevolutionNow. He was arrested again and beaten during a protest in Abuja on 1 January 2021 and was also injured by a police officer during a protest in Abuja on 31 May 2021. He faced a great number of attacks, including deleting his National Identification Cards, which was later reinstalled. There have even been assassination attempts against him.

Sowore a consistent pro-democracy activist and resilient human rights advocate. In the 2019 general elections he came fifth with 33,953 votes. His programme and anti-establishment demands stood out against all of the other candidates. 

Few days ago, in Daily Trust Column titled Sowore: The Last Of The Radicals, Gimba Kakanda writes: 

“The most fascinating presidential candidate in Nigeria today is probably the African Action Congress flag-bearer, and it’s easy to tell he’s struggling to fit into a system where he’s expected to kiss the ring of certain self-styled gate-keepers and kingmakers to find a seat at the negotiation table. Omoyele Sowore established himself as a no-nonsense radical in the civil society, where his iconoclastic media organisation, Sahara Reporters, was the most dreaded watchdog, before venturing into the world’s most demystifying profession. But, unlike the comrades before him, he’s refused to doff his ideological beret to the political establishment”. 

It is true that Sowore remains uncompromising and indefatigable amidst all attacks against him. To many people of the younger generations who are just active politically and participating in the electoral process for the first time he is seen as the late Gani Fawehinmi or Fela Anikulapo of the present generation. On several occasions we have heard young people saying that they never saw Gani and Fela but they read and hear about them, but they see Sowore and believe in him.

SOWORE’S PROGRAM

The Sowore campaign has launched a Manifesto titled “A People’s Manifesto for Total Liberation”. The AAC Program explains what the government and the party will do if he comes to power. A careful read and digestion shows that this is a social democratic type program. Some interesting takeaways are that the AAC, if elected in government, will actively promote information access, inclusiveness, transparency, and awareness raising on energy-related issues. Representatives of trade unions, professional associations, civil society organizations, communities, tertiary institutions and the organized private sector, who do not have any vested interests in the power sector will be involved to advise and hold the government accountable on the power sector policy process.  Unfortunately, Sowore still believes in the private sector and supports Public Private Partnership. This is one of the reasons why many left formations don’t support the Sowore candidacy, even though they appreciate his consistency and courage. 

Despite this, Sowore is surrounded by young people that are coming out to be politically active for the first time in their lives. Many of these people want to create an honest and transparent organization, that Sowore himself envisages. That’s why we in the RSM supported Sowore’s past campaigns, protests and activities and are also calling for a critical vote for him and the AAC party in the coming 2023 elections.

The AAC is unfortunately nor a socialist party neither a workers party. It’s constitution and manifestos are just advocating a welfare state of a social democratic character. While a welfare state is certainly something worth fighting for, the AAC programme does not explain why we cannot achieve this under capitalism. In fact, the welfare state is receding even in the advanced capitalist world because of the capitalist crisis and the neoliberal policies.

Furthermore, the AAC supports public private partnerships and advocates the private sector leading the economy. If Sowore is elected in government, this policy will lead his government in crisis, as he will have to choose between serving the interests of the private sector or the interests of the working class. 

At the same time, Sowore has talked about nationalizing and allowing workers control in some key sectors of the economy. It isn’t clear how he plans to achieve that without a break with the profit makers that merely want to run these sectors to make a profit. 

On the other hand, the massive investment in infrastructure and the N100,000 minimum wage he advocates are important demands. Of all the presidential candidates, Sowore is the only one that has said he will not go outside Nigeria for medical treatment. Both the present and past administrations spend huge amounts of public resources on medical tourism for themselves and their families.

On the crisis in the oil sector and the perennial fuel shortage according to the programme of the party, the working class will play a central role in making the oil and gas sector work for the people. They claim they will include the oil and gas trade unions in every decision-making body in the sector. The use of contract staffing will be brought to the barest minimum. They also claim that they will foster relationships between the working-class and the communities of the Niger Delta, and ensure enhanced local employment, and the training of youths in the region for employment. 

All these sound good, but contradict the fact that Sowore does not have a problem with borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions that push for cuts in social spending.

Sowore has developed his programme beyond the 2019 elections. But with the present developments, Sowore chances are limited at the ballot box. Politicians with money bags have dominated the political space. In reality, the Sowore candidacy was also badly affected by the emergence of Peter Obi as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party. Huge number of those who are tired of the two parties, who could have supported Sowore in the election, are now supporting Peter Obi. Although it is understandable that a lot of people will vote for Obi with the hope of striking a blow to the establishment, as we have explained, this “hope bubble” will not mean a radical shift from the APC and PDP policies. In this sense, for us in the Revolutionary Socialist Movement, a vote for Sowore is a more correct choice to send a message to the establishment. A lot of Nigerians will abstain and not come out to cast ballots in the 2023 elections, because they are tired of the criminal behavior of those who got their votes in the past. At the same time there are reports that there is massive increase in voter registration, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). This is a sign that with the level of political instability existing today, many people would be willing to consider a credible alternative in the ballot box.  

If Sowore wants to build a credible alternative in the elections and beyond, he should organise at the grass-roots level, in a democratic and militant way. Unfortunately, the trade union leaders, even though they could play a role in this process, refuse to do so. As we write, the leaders of the labour movement, in this case of the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, have failed to offer a credible alternative. Instead the unanimously gave the Labour Party ticket to Obi and even jacked up the party tickets beyond what ordinary workers can afford. In this context, a huge vacuum has been created on the political front, as Mr Peter Obi is a bourgeois and a populist demagogue who supports capitalism.

WE NEED A SOCIALIST PROGRAMME

If Sowore wants to play a role in filling this vacuum, he should advance his programme to a socialist one, and democratically organise the rank-and-file, proposing radical methods of mass struggle.

We in the RSM believe that it is a crucial time to raise the banner of socialism as a reply to destruction capitalism of our epoch, with wars, hunger, crisis, nationalism, disease, unemployment, poverty, women’s oppression and racism. The 2023 elections are going to be a referendum for the APC. The ruling party has destroyed all aspects of the economy in the last seven years that they took over government. 

In the book The Transitional Program, the co-leader of the 1917 Russian revolution, Leon Trotsky, said 

“it is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demand and the socialist program of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat. Classical Social Democracy, functioning in an epoch of progressive capitalism, divided its program into two parts independent of each other: the minimum program which limited itself to reforms within the framework of bourgeois society, and the maximum program which promised substitution of socialism for capitalism in the indefinite future. Between the minimum and the maximum program no bridge existed. And indeed Social Democracy has no need of such a bridge, since the word socialism is used only for holiday speechifying”. 

As things stand today, it’s important to put forward a programme that is capable of opening up a debate among the conscious layers in society. This debate should be about how to stop barbarism from prevailing and how to unite in action the movement in order to build a powerful socialist alternative to present capitalist chaos.

Leon Trotsky explained further 

“To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one’s program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour of action arrives…” 

Today, the new generation of Marxists must inscribe these ideas on their banner in preparation for the monumental struggles to come!

In the coming period, it is required that we must fight for an egalitarian society where the abundant wealth will be used for the interest of the people. We call for nationalizing the major sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management with compensation paid to former owners only on the basis of proven need. We advocate democratic management and control of public companies and parastatals by committees comprising elected representatives of workers, consumers, trade unions and the government. We call for end to policies of privatization, commercialization, deregulation, hike in fuel prices, retrenchment of workers, etc which go contrary to the spirit and letters of Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution. Workers should not be retrenched but constantly retrained to be able to function in a changing environment.

We think that embarking on a public works programme to build roads, houses, railways, schools and hospitals in order to create jobs and develop public infrastructures is a burning need today. Making the interests of Nigerian workers and poor the primary determinant of government economic policies is totally needed. In order to do all these, we need to clash with the capitalist elites and their acolytes.

Corruption in Nigeria thrives when resources of the country are undemocratically and bureaucratically managed. Only open and democratic management of resources, production and services can guarantee accountability, transparency and probity. While it is reported that over $140 billion was looted between 1999 and 2009 in Nigeria by the political elite, it is noteworthy that this is aside the officially sanctioned pilfering, where 17,474 political office holders have collected or allocated to themselves as ‘salaries and emoluments’ over N6 trillion since 2006. This is not to mention corruption perpetrated through the privatization and commercialization policies, pro-big business trade and economic policies (e.g. bail out of banks, fraudulent loan policies, etc).

We need a radical workers government that will immediately implement the provision of Section 15 subsection 5 Chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution which expressly states that “The State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”. This will be achieved through the following policies: Democratically elected public tribunals comprising elected representatives of workers, peasants, farmers, students, professionals and the government to determine cases of corruption and prosecute indicted persons. We must reject all jumbo allowances and salaries of political office holders. Abolition of convoys and other means of unconscionable extravagance and wastage of the national wealth. All public office holders under a revolutionary government will earn the average wage of a skilled civil servant and have all expenses publicly listed and scrutinized.

We need democratic management of all public departments, agencies, and companies through committees comprising of elected representatives of workers and the government and so on. It is on this basis that we of the Revolutionary Socialist Movement (RSM) will stand and campaign now and in coming period.

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