By Tabia Princewill
THE outcome of this election has revealed a division of public opinion on class lines: Looking at the electoral map, it seems President Muhammadu Buhari lost in many areas with a high concentration of affluent Nigerians and won in zones with a higher number of underprivileged people.
It also revealed the continuance of the deeply politicized and manipulated tensions and anxieties between the North and the South: many discriminatory, prejudiced comments were seen on social media, such as “the North likes poverty, they voted Buhari”: implying citizens in that part of the country were not capable of making rational choices based on their best interests (at least ethnicity couldn’t be said to be a factor, as both leading candidates for president are Muslim and Fulani).
Such comments also go with the polemical idea (often volunteered by Southern ethnic associations and politicians) that the North’s “backwardness” and reluctance to modernise is the root of Nigeria’s problems.
Diverging class interests
This narrative encouraging fear of the “other” is rooted in the colonial era: it was a strategy used by the British to stop the people of the North and South from uniting against them.
Modern day politicians have found it useful, a means of preventing the realisation that the real conflict isn’t between the North and the South but between the diverging class interests of the rich and the poor in Nigeria.
A poor man in Kano suffers from many of the same issues as a poor man in Anambra, despite surface cultural differences.
The little naira in both pockets is stretched in impossible ways because of economic and political decisions taken by a unified class of individuals even though they pretend to belong to different parties, or to dislike each other based on religion or other identities.
In the run-up to the 2015 elections, Patience Jonathan, reportedly described Buhari as “brain dead” (after which she avoided appearing at PDP rallies in the North) and said the North practices “born throway” referring to the “almajiri” population and the large out of school demographic in the core North. This idea that only illiteracy could explain support for a candidate like Buhari) is a cruder version of what is found in liberal, elitist circles where any attempt to defend the rights of the poor against the vagaries of the free market is seen as “illogical” or worse, a scam.
Rights of the poor
Turning the poor against each other, as well as turning them against policies and ideas which benefit them directly, in favour of amnesty for corrupt individuals or helping individuals whose greed and mismanagement cause financial ruin of banks and other enterprises subsequently bailed out using public funds, is a play straight out of the global capitalist agenda which most African politicians have been trained or unconsciously forced to accept as the norm.
No high-level executives were prosecuted following the fall of Lehman brothers (an American financial services firm) and the global financial crisis which ensued. One day this must become a subject of national, pan-African conversation: the template for African institutional dysfunction, which allows the rich and well-connected to take huge risks using depositors and shareholders funds, with the near assurance of “rescue” using public funds (while denying there is enough money to boost public education or provide universal healthcare) was developed in the West, from whence the alliance between political and corporate interests was exported to the rest of the world.
So, when so-called “modern” and “business friendly” politicians talk about privatisation and cutting government spending on vulnerable group’s access to public housing, food security and other basic needs, the average African might not fully make the connection between this discourse and the destructive structural adjustment programmes, but he certainly realises, even at an embryonic level, the difference between government spending on the poor and the absence of such spending.
The North represents the highest percentage of poverty in Nigeria. It also represents the consistent backbone of pro-Buhari support in every election he has ever contested in. In 2019, we witnessed the firming up of class solidarity: given the choice between two Muslim, Fulani men, the North apparently chose the one who presented a pro-poor outlook. What does this mean for the rest of Nigeria?
Violence, in these elections, was interestingly confined to the South. The South-East voted the Atiku/Obi ticket. The South-South and South-East have always favoured conservatives (or what passes for a conservative agenda in Nigeria).
A good number of its former governors were already “IBB Boys” and favourites of the military junta in the 1980s. Interestingly, politicians in that part of the country have sold the North as the South-East and South-South’s problem while consistently allying with the pro-North, Northern Peoples Congress, NPC (which morphed into the PDP) since the First Republic.
The South-West has been familiar with the progressive agenda since Awolowo. It was neither ready to turn its back on the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, nor on the welfarist policies whose introduction he oversaw.
Lasting progress in Nigeria will require the masses, in the future, in the North for example, to vote for a pro-poor candidate who comes from the South.
Initial support of the establishment
It’s much too early to encourage an Osinbajo candidacy, but if a Southern Christian candidate can win the North’s support we’ll begin the urgent work of unravelling the North/South divide.
You might say: “But former President Jonathan won in the North” or even, “so did Obasanjo” (which depending on who you ask is debatable, based on constantly resurfacing allegations).
Either way, the aforementioned were thrust into reckoning by the initial support of the establishment, rather than the support of the poor “talakawa”, the commoners.
If we can have a succession of men and women in public office whose struggle for national development the poor of every region can identify with and believe in, we’ll defeat tribal sentiment.
Class sentiment, in the not too distant future, will and must overtake ethno-religious alliances: a poor man is a poor man wherever he’s from, and the masses must realise who amongst their leaders works for national development, who serves the interests of a few, and also who serves the foreign business interests which have impoverished Africa.
THE US government called the 2019 elections “free and fair”. While one has no quarrel with foreign observers performing their duties, it’s interesting we’re still unable to judge the process ourselves and need foreign validation to feel we’ve done things “properly”. Who “checks” America’s voter suppression and fraud (in Alabama and Florida especially).
Africans must begin to question a global system where foreigners directly and indirectly dictate who becomes President in our countries and influence our policies based on their own interests, not ours. To quote Fela: Teacher don’t teach me nonsense.
CHAIRMAN of the PDP, Uche Secondus, refuted the results announced by INEC (even before the final result) stating the PDP had the “original results” which the international community was “aware” of. Interesting double standard: those referred to as “dictators” went to court three times and accepted their electoral loss.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.