CHANGE: THROUGH REFORM OR REVOLUTION?
CHANGE: THROUGH REFORM OR REVOLUTION?
DSM National Meeting resolution on Nigeria, October 24-25, 2015
Politically, the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the March 28 presidential elections marks a new turning point for Nigeria. This political development together with the on-going economic crisis opens up an entirely new phase.
Without doubt, the Buhari government which was swept into power in an historic election continues, five months (5) after its inauguration, to enjoy perhaps the most widespread support any government has ever had. After 16 years of brutal assault on living standards and democratic rights and serial corruption by the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), there is an enormous and overwhelming outpouring of hope that with the allegedly incorruptible Buhari, the change Nigeria needs has finally come.
The masses’ expectation and hope are clearly understandable. After the trauma of the last 16 years which saw mass impoverishment in the midst of an over a decade-long boom, the working masses and youth of Nigeria are seized with an enormous hunger for change. But against the background of the failure of the labour movement to build a genuine mass workers’ political party that could articulate this desire, the All Progressive Congress (APC) was able to put itself forward as an alternative. This in addition to Buhari’s alleged incorruptible personae.
To many people, although not uniformly throughout the country, Buhari is a messiah armed with a magic wand. His body language alone is trusted to make things happen. According to a global survey firm, TNS, which conducted an opinion poll in August, as many as 80 percent of Nigerians are confident that president Muhammadu Buhari has the ability to fix and grow the economy. 91 percent support his anti-corruption crusade, 74 per cent think the president is performing, 55 per cent think the country is heading in the right direction while 74 percent and 78 per cent reported improved power and fuel supply respectively (Nigeria Watch – an online news medium). Similarly a survey conducted in June by NOI Polls, an opinion research agency founded by former finance minister, Okonjo Iweala, says 70 per cent of Nigerians approved Buhari’s performance in office (Punch, July 17, 2015).
These figures, overwhelming as they are, are replayed in real life during debates at bus stops, markets, workplaces, television and radio stations as well as the social media. For instance, on the occasion of Buhari’s 100 days in office, the Vanguard newspaper collated the opinion of Nigerians. One of the respondents made the following comments: “Buhari’s personality has inspired a new way of doing things in the power sector, where the fear of the consequences of under-productivity has become the beginning of wisdom. NEPA officials now realize that only doing one’s job well can justify one’s desire to keep it. Also, the improvement being witnessed in the power sector goes to show that the style and personality of a leader can make a lot of difference in a nation’s fortunes”. (Vanguard, September 5, 2015). This comment illustrates the enormous hope many people repose in the new government and how they are quick to ascribe any little change in living condition, even when accidental, on the genius of the “new sheriff in town”.
While taking note of these enormous hope and expectations, Socialists have a duty and responsibility to warn the working masses and youth of the dangers of entertaining illusions in a capitalist government, including one headed by an allegedly righteous and incorruptible president. Of crucial importance is the need to clearly understand what change really is or should entail; whether or not the change people overwhelmingly desire is possible by simply reforming capitalism (i.e. by making the system less corrupt and efficient) as Buhari has set out to do or through a thorough revolutionary change in the economic and political structure of society as Socialists canvass.
DEEPENING ECONOMIC CRISIS: BUHARI’S ACHILLES HEEL
There is no better place to begin an analysis of the Buhari government and its prospect than from a thorough examination of the on-going economic crisis which has significantly checkmated Nigeria’s growth.
From all indications, the Nigerian economy is not yet out of the woods. Though the official report from the third quarter has not been released, nothing suggests we have already seen the worst with the last quarter report. More than anything, it appears that high oil price, the major driver of the growth of the last 16 years, will remain a pipe dream for a longtime. The Chinese economy has continued to experience a slowdown and financial instability while the shale oil technology has come to stay even when the continued low price makes it expensive, a further advancement could help get round such a new challenge.
According to a report released by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on October 11 2015, the revenues from Nigeria’s oil sales “witnessed a sharp decline of more than 67 percent from September 2014, when the receipt was at its peak, to July 2015 with dire consequences to the federation”. The crude oil sales account for over 70 percent of the total country’s revenue and more than 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. Given the rate of the economic contraction, the possibility of recession, technically negative growth in two consecutive quarters, is now on the horizon. The governor of the CBN has already warned. The country’s official GDP growth rate declined from 6.23 per cent in third quarter of 2014 to 5.94 per cent in the fourth of 2014. The growth rate declined to 3.95 per cent in first quarter of 2015 and to 2.35 per cent in second quarter of 2015.
NO FISCAL BUFFER
Even if an immediate recession is averted – which is possible given a marginal improvement in electricity supply, the current adequate fuel supply, the settlement of salary arrears of public sector workers and recent release of the much delayed first quarter capital allocation, all of which could combine to increase aggregate demand – the current economic crisis cannot be fundamentally resolved. This crisis is not like what obtained in 2008 which was due to credit crunch and resolved globally with help of China and public spending in the US. Besides, the global succor, Nigeria also had strong buffers to weather the storm. Then, at the outset of that crisis Nigeria had $63bn and $21bn in its foreign reserves and excess crude account respectively. On the contrary now as of late September the country has about $31bn in reserve which is marginally higher than $29.8 billion, the figure as of April which was said could only support 3 months of importation (Vanguard, May 4, 2015). There was about $2.2bn excess crude account as of September which is about $4bn short of even the IMF recommendation as the fiscal buffer. This implies that the government has no access to savings to offset the decline in revenue.
It should be however stressed that excess crude account (ECA) purportedly meant for a rainy day or fiscal buffer for a decline in oil revenue is a treasure trove for the looting capitalist ruling elite in and out of the governments at all levels. It is shared between the federal and state governments in addition to statutory monthly allocation without appropriation and with little in term of developmental projects to show for the depletion of the account. According to Premium Times findings, between 2007 and 2014 alone, about $167 billion reportedly accrued to the account which was created in 2004 by Olusegun Obasanjo government (Premium Times July 16, 2015). However, only the $5.5 billion drawn from the account and invested in the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) as agreed by federal government and all state governments in 2009 that can be pointed out as the only expenditure with potential benefit to the economy. Nevertheless, the last government had started looking for buyers for the NIPP (power plants) most likely at give away prices as obtained with the privatization of the PHCN. And, given the commitment of the Buhari government to the electricity privatization, it is not ruled out that the NIPP built with huge public resources will be eventually transferred cheaply to the so-called private investors, who have proved to be unwilling to invest or have limited investible capital, something shown by the soft loans granted by the government to enable them to remain in business, for their super profits.
There was over $9bn in the ECA as of January 2014, while the oil price, which began to decline in July 2014 after being well above $100 for many months, did not start to go below the budget bench mark of $77.5bn until February 2015. Yet the last administration left $2bn in the ECA as both federal and state governments cutting across the two major parties (APC and PDP and APGA) shared a huge part of the savings apparently to finance 2015 general elections. This also shows why it is not enough to blame the slump in oil revenue for the inability of most state governments to pay salaries and pensions or for the federal government to borrow to pay salaries before the inauguration of the new government as there were adequate resources to meet the obligations to workers and pensioners as well as fulfilling other responsibilities of the governments.
The corruption and mismanagement of resources notwithstanding, the cash-crunch and the near-bankruptcy of majority of state governments’ expose the fundamental weakness of the capitalist political and economic system in Nigeria. Despite efforts at diversification in recent times, capitalism in Nigeria is still based around the oil and gas sector, the extractive industry and service sector, all of which create relatively few jobs. As a result, the entire political system made up of 36 states and the federal capital territory depends on the centre for monthly allocations from a single revenue pool. Once this source is affected as happened with the oil price decline, then trouble starts.
Not surprising that in the aftermath, a new cry has gone up on the need for the federating units (the states) to find a way to industrialize and develop their local economies instead of depending on the centre. But this is not the first time that such a cry has gone up. Initially after independence sections of the ruling class attempted to follow such a course, often using the state as a crutch to help the fledging Nigerian industry develop. But onset of the deep seated economic crisis in the 1980s and the dominance of neo-liberal ideas helped bury this approach. Now calls for industrialization are soon forgotten once the storm is over. This is because one obstacle to industrialization is, together with the lack of capable infrastructure, the “take the money and run” orientation of Nigeria’s capitalist class and the role of imperialism. Given the domination of the world market by big transnational corporations, it is difficult if not impossible for industries that produce finished goods to develop in third world countries. This is why capitalists, like Africa’s richest billionaire, Aliko Dangote, Otedola, Adenuga, etc invest majorly in such areas like cement production, food, oil and gas and telecommunications where they are assured of a protected market and do not have to come up in competition with big corporations.
Bailout for states: Can they really bail working people out?
In reaction to the cash crunch, when the federal government announced a bailout plan for embattled state governments, understandably there was a sigh of relief from workers and pensioners. According to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as at June 2015, 23 states owed workers’ salaries for more than three months. However, by September, 2015, 27 states had applied for federal bailout to pay salaries. This shows that within four months, more states have joined the list of debtors’ list. More than this, the ability of the state governments to sustainably pay salaries is greatly in doubt, as prices of crude oil in the international markets are not showing any sign of upward movement, at least, in the short term.
While this bailout may provide some relief for workers, pensioners and their dependants, it also shows the debilitating condition that the Nigerian capitalist political class has put the economy. Furthermore, it shows the direction of things to come. Nigerian ruling class is not prepared to move the society forward; on the contrary, they are bound, on the basis of the current manner they are running the economy, to further plunge the economy and the working people into more crises.
Even, in some states like Osun, Kwara, Oyo, etc., the pro-big business governments are trying to divert the bailout fund to other uses aside payment of salaries and pensions. In many states, governments are withholding salaries for months, thus putting workers into serious crisis. In the real sense, the aim of the bailout, as alluded to by President Buhari in his Independence Day Speech, is to prevent ‘social unrest’ arising from unmitigated suffering the non-payment of salaries has caused the working people.
According to Guardian newspaper, nineteen of the twenty seven states have collected N222 billion as bailout fund as at 30th September, 2015. However, the nature of the bailout implies that the working people and future generation will still bear the brunt of the mismanagement of fund by the state governments. According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which administers the money on behalf of the federal government, the bailout is a ‘soft’ loan with 20-year tenure and with 9 percent interest rate. This means that in the next eleven years, the states will have paid a double of what is supposed to be a bailout. Despite the low interest rate, this is still a usurious bailout that will be a future burden seriously affecting the working people and the youth. It will give new excuse for the state governments to shirk their responsibilities and place more burden on the working and already poor people, under the guise of prudency.
If the Buhari government is to really bailout the states in the interests of the working people and their dependants, it should have unconditionally paid salaries and pensions of workers and retirees without putting a usurious burden of interest rates that these state governments will use to further overburden the people. For instance, in Osun State, among several others, the government is using the issue of the interest rates to drastically limit what is paid to workers, while also introducing and enforcing new tax regime. Moreover, the Buhari government, with its anti-corruption posture, should have undertaken full probe of the accounts of these state governments with the aim of recovering the billions diverted to private ends by these state governments. But a Buhari government that belongs to the same party with some of these profligate state governments cannot carry out this task.
Moreover, the labour leadership need to get its priorities right. Rather than blindly support the bailout, the labour leaders should have also demanded that the bailout should attract no interests, while ensuring that salaries and pensions are fully paid from the bailout. Rather than doing newspaper “tiger-ism”, labour leaders should organize national mass actions to compel state governments to pay all the salaries. Furthermore, the labour leaders should lead the campaign for full probe and prosecution of all corrupt practices, at all levels, and recovery of all looted funds. Also, labour movement should reject any attempt to offload the burden of the economic crisis caused by the capitalist governments, on the working class and their dependants.
The current economic crisis has shown that Nigeria’s capitalist rulers cannot move the country forward politically, economically, socially and technically. They have stolen and wasted the revenue from the recent high oil price years and now expect the mass of Nigerians to suffer because the oil export price has sharply fallen. And, so long as capitalism remains, this will only get worse. By 2030, i.e. fifteen years to come, Nigeria’s populations is expected to have reached 260 million and 440 million by 2050, expectedly the third largest population in the world, with young people constituting over 65 percent of this population rise. This will mean more resources are needed to expand facilities, infrastructures and build a productive economy. But can the current set of capitalist politicians and capitalist big business undertake the task of building such a society that will cater for the expected population, when in 2015; they are borrowing money to pay salaries of workers?
CBN AND DEVALUATION
In reaction to the gloomy state of the reserves, the CBN has banned some 41 items from accessing foreign exchange from banks and BDC along with other restrictions on foreign exchange and thereby stem the slide in the foreign reserve. The alternative is for the CBN to further devalue Naira or allow it to depreciate having already lost about 23 percent of its value since last November. However, as is usual of any crisis of capitalism what it seems to be a solution throws up another crisis if it does not compound the original problem. It is a vicious cycle.
The CBN opted against the third devaluation of naira since the crisis started in order not to trigger further increase in prices of commodities as Nigeria is an import-dependent economy. But according to the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), many of the items banned are raw materials essential for their business. Therefore, the affected factories would either close shop with attendant job losses or source for the alternative foreign exchange at much higher cost which will lead to increase in the prices of their products.
Besides, many of the items which could be produced locally are costlier than the imported alternatives as a result of poor infrastructure and high cost of business in Nigeria. In other words, the option not to devalue Naira, which has also got the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, although appearing to be a lesser evil, cannot prevent high prices of commodities like rice which is a major staple food in Nigeria but affected by the ban.
Besides, apparently applying the capitalist textbook economics, the CBN has kept the base interest rate fairly high ostensibly to control the inflation in the face of the previous devaluation of naira. This will keep the already exorbitant cost of credits high with attendant high price of goods and services. In any case, banks hardly loan money to the real sector because it is more lucrative to loan it to government by buying the treasury bills issued by the CBN under the guise of controlling inflation by mopping the so-called excess liquidity. Besides, banks, which are in business essentially to make super profit and not to aid development of the economy, consider it too risky to lend money to the real sector in the face of infrastructural decay.
JP MORGAN AND SPECULATIVE INVESTORS
The option chosen by the CBN has drawn the opprobrium or ire of imperialism and their media who have called for the devaluation of Naira. For instance, the Economist (London) did a scorching and condescending article titled “toothpick alert” to ridicule the action of the CBN which also includes a forex ban on toothpick imports. As aptly put by Henry Boyo, an economist, “what is clear from the article is the overriding message that investors want more Naira depreciation, so that speculative overseas investors can readily expand their portfolio of Nigeria’s listed equity for less dollar values.”
It is in the same vein, JP Morgan, a huge US financial corporation, started to remove Nigeria from its Government Bond Index – Emerging Market (GBI-EM) after the country had baulked its threat to do so if Nigeria did not allow adequate liquidity and free movement in the forex market – a euphemism for a further Naira depreciation. Rather, the CBN introduced an order-based two-way foreign-exchange market to try to stabilize the naira, limit speculation and prevent round-tripping. In other words, the CBN has suspended the application of “free-market economy theory” in the foreign exchange market.
By the end of October when JP Morgan completes the phased removal of Nigeria from its index, $2.8billion worth of foreign holdings of Nigerian government bonds is expected to exit the market. This could appear huge to exit an economy under stress but it is significantly lower than a total of $8.0billion foreign holdings of Nigeria’s local debt (government bonds and treasury bills) that exited the market in September 2014.
The fact is that the majority of the foreign investments are from portfolio investors who gamble on financial assets such as government bonds, treasury bills and stocks because of the high price of crude oil. This is unlike foreign direct investment which means an investment in the productive assets, which cannot be easily liquidated. It also explains why $8.0billion out of $11billion foreign holdings of the local debt could easily be taken out of Nigeria once there was a decline in oil revenue.
So, when the government and its town-crier financial experts gleefully talk about Nigeria as the most preferred investment destination in Africa, it is the hot money that is bet on high oil price that is being celebrated. For instance, between January 2013 and June 2015 over 80% of the capital importation to Nigerian economy put at $47.4bn, according to figures released in August by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), was portfolio investment. This explains why the so-called huge investment has not created many jobs. Worse still, in the case of the bonds and treasury bills, the government is borrowing at high cost – Nigeria’s bonds, for instance, have one of the highest yields in the world – without anything to show for it in term of infrastructure development.
Rather, the figure the government annually budgets for servicing this foreign debt as well as domestic ones is usually higher than the combined capital allocations to many critical sectors like education, health care, works, transport and housing. Indeed, the situation is much worse in the 2015 budget where the debt service (N953 billion) is far higher than the entire capital expenditure (N557 billion).
In other words, the ordinary people benefit little from the so-called investment. It should be stressed that the parasitic character of the primitive capitalist ruling elite in Nigeria explains why they loot rather than invest huge resources of the country on infrastructure that can stimulate foreign direct investment and domestic productive investment, as against gamblers, speculators and short-time investors, and thereby create mass jobs even on the basis of capitalism.
WHAT IS BUHARI ECONOMIC DIRECTION?
Many economists and commentators believe that Buhari has not yet had an economic direction to guide the country out of this current mess. They have however reduced this to the absence of an economic team or a cabinet. In other words, they are suggesting that once a cabinet or economic team was formed everything will fall in place. But the reality is that the economic thrust of the government is clear. It is neo-liberal capitalism with some dose of statism. Perhaps, this reflects the character of the coalition that brought him to power described by a writer of the Financial Times, London, as hosting “an array of competing ideologies from unreconstructed statists like himself to free market ideologues who given half a chance would even sell of the state oil company and its assets.” (March 31, 2015) So far this has defined the direction of the government.
Apparently, strengthened by the fear of losing his support base among the masses, he has not given half a chance to who “would even sell of the state oil company and its assets.” For instance, despite pressure he has not accepted or supported the call from economists and elements within and outside the government for sale of refineries as well as removal of the so-called oil subsidy.
For an example, Ibe Kachikwu, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of NNPC revealed at an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, “Personally, I will have chosen to sell the refineries, but President Buhari has instructed that they should be fixed.” (The Cable, September 25, 2015). But how far can Buhari sustain his objection to the sale of the refineries is a moot question given the mindset of Kachikwu, a former executive of Exxon Mobil, who may be announced as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources . He added, “After they are fixed, if they still operate below 60 per cent, then we will know what to doâ€¦ The 90-day ultimatum for the refineries to be fixed will end in December and Port Harcourt Refinery looks like the only one that will meet the deadline, but we will wait and see what happens at the end of the 90 days.” At present, according to him the average refining performance is 30 per cent which is said not to be profitable.
Buhari seems to be strong on his position against removal of fuel subsidy and the need for an adequate local refinery capacity. He reportedly told the members of Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) who had apparently suggested to him to remove the subsidy, to come up with more humane proposals to rescue ordinary Nigerians from what he described as the “wicked manipulation” of the country’s oil industry by corrupt operators (Punch, August 26, 2015). He reportedly held that “the escalation of petroleum subsidy payments over recent years was due to the deliberate neglect of the nation’s refineries, oil pipelines and other related infrastructure to allow the importation of petroleum products and corruption to thrive.” (Vanguard, August 26, 2015).
Perhaps fortunately for Buhari the low oil price means that his government would ordinarily make less subsidy payment than the previous government apart from the much-touted measures to tackle corruption in the fuel importation. But the low price also means that on the basis of profit-first contract system there would be limited capital to turn around or rebuild the oil infrastructure in Nigeria.
Besides, some recent signs have shown difficulty or limited commitment to tackle the corruption in oil importation. For instance, the government had first cancelled Offshore Processing Agreements (OPAs) and Crude Oil Swap (COS) deals entered with 43 oil companies and re-awarded the contracts to four companies. However, it later increased the number to 16 which including many of the companies linked with the monumental oil fraud. It is in the same way the Buhari government lifted the ban it had placed on 113 oil vessels linked with oil theft after pressure from some western powers.
However, demonstrating its mixed grill of free market and statism, the government which is against the sales of refineries and fuel subsidy removal has supported fully the electricity privatization and increase in electricity tariff. Though, the privatization was started by Jonathan government, it has promised to complete the process including the sale of the transmission company, which at present is under a private management, and the National Integrated Power Plants, the only projects that could be shown for the excess crude account proceeds.
Though there has been a relative improvement in electricity supply, it has not ended the struggles in communities against the exploitation of consumers with estimated billing and fixed charge. With the support of the government for electricity tariff, it may draw its first ire of the masses. However, what the relative improvement in electricity has shown is that there are many communities which are in total darkness or not connected to national grid at all. It is also indicative of a very low industrial base of Nigeria. Indeed, 4,000 MW generated by Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its biggest economy, is said to be equal to the grid power of Bradford, a post-industrial town of less than 300,000 in the north of England. Worse still, many of the communities which have not enjoyed any power supply are still being made to pay outrageous bills including the fixed charge as shown by the recent protests of residents of some parts of Oshodi and Agege in Lagos and Aramoko in Ekiti (Punch, October 10, 2015).
The position of the government on electricity privatization and tariff increase also suggests that it could sell off some public assets at the expense of the working people and introduce high charges and fees on service like education and health care. This means that working people must not let their guard down but prepare for a fight back. Indeed, the continued decline in oil price shows that stringent austerity measures cannot be ruled out. For instance, the declining oil revenue has already led to loss of jobs in the construction industry as the government did not release the capital allocation for the first quarter of the year until September. In other words, there has not been capital allocation for the rest three quarters.
The Buhari government is under pressure to begin to implement cuts, either directly or indirectly, because of the fall in oil income. An investment banker, Johnson Chukwu, even described the new government’s policy as “a socialist economic orientation” because it had not removed the fuel subsidy and promised reforms (Vanguard, October 11, 2015). But this government is not pursuing socialist policies because it firmly rests on the capitalist system. This is why it may use the excuse of oil slump to attack the working masses or fail in its obligation to the working people.
From the foregoing, it should be clear that the on-going economic crisis afflicting Nigeria will seriously checkmate how much of Buhari’s promises he is able to fulfill. If Buhari had been elected in a period of economic boom, perhaps he could have had the opportunity of big reserves and savings to dip into to finance social programmes whilst preserving capitalism. But in a capitalist system faced with an economic crisis and a fast diminishing savings, Buhari will inevitably implement austerity measures which will severely hurt the working class, youth and poor masses. This is moreso because he is not prepared to look beyond capitalism. Meanwhile the economic crisis underscores the impracticability of the capitalist system and the need for an alternative that can ensure that economic growth impacts positively on the living standards of the mass majority.
Despite the abundance of all the human and material resources required to provide a happy and prosperous life for all its citizens, Nigeria is adjudged as one of the worst places to be born in. Nigeria is the biggest economy on the continent and 5th largest exporter of crude oil in the world. Yet at least 67.9 per cent of its over 185 million people live below the poverty line and about 50 million are unemployed. Blessed with more than 300 million square metres of arable land or 1.9 per cent of world arable land, yet Nigeria can hardly feed itself. 6 million out of the 36 million girls out of school world-wide are Nigerians.
Given that this is the situation after decades of capitalism running Nigeria, Socialists argue that all of the problems and challenges that confront Nigeria can be overcome if a government that is truly committed to the welfare of the people comes to power. To do this such a government would have to mobilize all of society’s wealth on massive public works programme to rebuild failing infrastructures like roads, rail, pipe borne water and hospitals, build homes for the homeless, schools for the 10.5 million out of school children; and improve generation and supply of electricity but also expand access to thousands of homes in the countryside that are still without electricity half a century after independence.
The agricultural sector which used to be Nigeria’s key foreign exchange earner can be overhauled in a couple of years through intensive state intervention. Such state intervention would include the provision of cheap credit, fertilizers, pesticide, seeds and equipments to farmers, a fair redistribution of land and establishment of model large scale farms to demonstrate the advantage of large holdings over tillage of small plots and to accelerate sustenance in food production and cash crops. This will open up a slew of new jobs not just in farming itself but in the agro-allied industries thus helping the thousands of trained engineers, scientists, agronomists, biologists etc who often have to settle for jobs other than their professional calling.
To be clear, several of Buhari’s promised programmes are not only laudable but possible. In fact in some cases, like education and healthcare, they are not even far-reaching enough. For instance, with Nigeria’s vast resources, there is no basis for that tragic clause “Nigeria shall provide free and quality education as at when practicable” to continue to exist in our constitution! Free and functional education at all levels is very possible now. It is also quite possible to provide decent jobs for all unemployed people. The textile sector used to employ nearly a million workers in the 1980s, now it employs less than 100, 000. With a population of over 185 million Nigerians who definitely must wear cloth, a government can pump money into reviving the textile sector without suffering any loss and yet creating massive job opportunities! Over 220, 000 teachers are needed to breach the phenomenal teacher shortage in the primary and secondary schools. Nigeria is not in short supply of graduates who can fill these positions.
Our hospitals are death centres. Thousands of Nigerians die annually as a result of the dysfunctionality of the health sector and because we do not have enough doctors, nurses and other medical personnel. Nigeria is a country of immensely talented people many of whom are doing great in their professions abroad. If the right medical facilities and training are provided, we can turn our health sector around in a few years. This will require massive public funding of the health sector, employment of more medical personnel, improvement in pay and working conditions and the provision of free health care to ensure that no one is unable to receive treatment because of inability to pay. Also it is entirely possible to pay a decent monthly allowance, better than the N5, 000 promised by Buhari, to all unemployed people. So also is it possible to pay decent pension to all retirees and establish state-funded old people care facilities all across the country to ensure our parents and grandparents live a decent life in retirement.
In spite of the on-going economic crisis, it is entirely possible to raise the minimum wage to a level where the most poorly paid workers can begin to see meaningful improvements in their living standards! A living wage, which presupposes an economy and society that works for people’s needs and not profit, is equally entirely possible. The school feeding programme is not at all an ambitious programme. With Nigeria’s agricultural potentials, there is no justifiable reason why a Nigerian, more so a child, should go hungry! Because of the backward nature of farming and the reliance on food imports, the cost of food items is abysmally high leading to constant rise in inflation. State intervention in agriculture could, together with job creation and serious anti-corruption measures, crash the cost of food items while substantially reducing the estimated cost of the school feeding programme.
However, for a government to succeed in doing all of these, it must do away with all pro-market policies of privatization and deregulation and instead be devoted to uprooting the capitalist system. Such a fundamental change would mean that the country’s resources would be used in the interests of the majority, not for the profit of the few. To achieve this would entail taking into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy starting with the oil industry, banks and the financial system and placing these under democratic control and management of the working people.
This is because the first question is: how will government pay for these limited social programmes if the economic levers of society are left in the hands of a tiny minority? For instance, for as long as Nigeria’s oil industry is dominated by a bunch of International Oil Companies (IOCs) alongside a few indigenous oil companies, no amount of clean up the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) receives would ensure Nigeria is able to earn enough from its massive crude oil resources. At current rate, the IOCs benefit the most and their profits are repatriated out of the country. Nationalizing the oil industry and other key economic sectors is therefore an inevitable step to ensure that far-reaching reforms in social conditions are able to succeed and sustained. However this has to be linked with a democratically managed socialist plan of the economy, which can rapidly open up the possibility of overcoming most of Nigeria’s socio-economic challenges in a few years.
Otherwise every progressive step to improve the living conditions of the working masses and youth will flounder against the barriers of the market system. Furthermore, by leaving the capitalist system intact while aiming to improve living conditions, a big chunk of society’s wealth is left in the hands of a tiny minority of enormously rich elite; meaning that not much is available to the government to carry out any of these progressive policies. Also by leaving the economic power in the hands of this tiny rich minority, a reformist government inadvertently digs its own grave. Even without control of an army or other instrument of coercion, under capitalism the rich elite and multinationals are still able to control the government because of the sheer wealth they have been able to accumulate and the role they play in the economy. With this economic might, they control political parties, parliament, media, and government institutions. And if they so decide, they can sabotage or bring down a government trying to work within the capitalist system once its reformist policies begins to threaten their profit margins and rule.
BUHARI: A CAPITALIST REFORMER DOOMED TO FAIL
Recently, Buhari declared he would continue with privatization policies – a corner stone of capitalism and the complete opposite of the oil nationalization he oversaw as oil minister in the late 1970s. And this is not a surprise. For all his righteousness, Buhari remains a member of the ruling elite, of the Northern ruling oligarchy extraction, and has no vision of an alternative to capitalism. His promised social reforms and purported Spartan lifestyle, laudable as they are, are merely products of his personal feelings that the system could be fairer and just. But this is at best a completely illogical expectation from a system that thrives on profit.
Buhari came to power in 1983 and left in 1985 – four good years before the Berlin Wall came crashing down and the cold war ended. In 1994, he also served under the widely-hated Abacha dictatorship as Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) â€“ an interventionist agency created to utilize excess income from oil to finance infrastructural projects. But since then, neo-liberalism or laissez-faire capitalism has taken over; largely fueled by the ideological triumphalism over the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union which the ruling class wrongly interpreted as the defeat of socialism. Having been relieved of the constant worry of a “communist” revolution, the defenders of the capitalist system are now able to go on a rapid neo-liberal offensive cutting wages and social programmes in their tow and even in the midst of economic growth. The result is a grotesque social inequality with just 85 individuals having the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people in the world.
In today’s capitalist system, reforms can only scratch the surface. Even in 1983 when Buhari was a military head of state and wielded far more powers, his war against corruption which included efforts to prevent hoarding of essential goods and attempts to curb luxurious spending came up against the brick wall of the system. This is aside the enormous human rights violations his regime committed that included soldiers flogging civil servants and members of the public as well as jailing of journalists and other opponents of government. In 1984, the Buhari/Idiagbon regime carried out one of the most far-reaching attacks on public education by dismantling the cafeteria system in the public universities. As far as the regime, which came into power also in a similar period of economic crisis as we have today, was concerned, all was fair game in its efforts to curb waste and corruption in the system. No distinction existed for Buhari between the corrupt elite and the ordinary people who are victims of the capitalist system. When he was removed in a coup in 1985, there was no report of a protest. Actually many heaved a sigh of relief.
But with the passage of years and Nigerians’ subsequent experience of large-scale mega corruption and treasury looting, Buhari’s modest efforts in the 80s to rid Nigeria of corruption and especially his purported Spartan life raises the hope of millions that perhaps he could be an harbinger of the change Nigerians desire to end the vicious cycle of mass poverty in the midst of abundance. Particularly, people hope he could help to deal with corruption. Unfortunately, save for a few efforts at probing a few looters and implementing some social programmes, Buhari is bound to fail and disappoint the vast millions that daily await the fulfillment of his promises. And the reasons are not farfetched.
One is that, apart from Buhari’s own tie to capitalism, he has also come into power on a platform that cannot bring genuine change. The tragedy of the current situation in Nigeria is that the government that is seeking to implement change is formed by a political party (the All Progressive Congress) dominated by all of the crooks who have contributed in one way or the other over the last 50 years to the terrible situation Nigeria and Nigerians have found themselves. As an evidence of the first-class crooks that reside in APC, recently there was a news report that alarmed the nation for its brashness. According to the Daily Post of October 4, 2015, the news went thus:
“Kogi State APC Chairman, Alhaji Hadi Ametuo, has assured Kogi people that his party’s candidate in the forthcoming governorship poll, Prince Audu Abubakar, would return the over N11 billion he allegedly stole while in office.
“Audu is being prosecuted by the anti-graft agency, EFCC, for misappropriating N11 billion of the state’s funds while he was governor between 1999 and 2003.
“Responding to the questions from the media regarding Audu’s 11 billion naira EFCC case, Ametuo said ‘Nobody is a saint. No governor can claim he has not done any malpractice or stolen anything during his time in the office.
” ‘We heard of Saraki’s case, even Tinubu is being accused of stealing funds but the truth is that Prince Abubakar Audu has pledged to return the money to the Kogi treasury when he gets elected on the November 21st, yes he will return the 11 billion naira or even more than that and that will add to the Kogi economy’.
“Ametuo, who rated Audu’s first term in the office more than the current government of Capt. Idris Wada, added that Audu deserved the electoral votes of the Kogi people due to his experience and achievements in his first time at the Lugard House”.
RIDING ON THE BACK OF A TIGER
With this kind of elements surrounding Buhari, lasting genuine change can never be possible under the APC. To ensure that a single social programme sees the light of the day, these are the kind of elements Buhari will have to first negotiate with, appease and satisfy. The trial of the senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) indicates just the sort of sordid and shady characters that are in control of state power and would have direct influence on the direction of governance. And to be sure, there are worse crooks than these in the APC who are not yet exposed to the public.
For instance, Buhari’s choice of ministers after a prolonged 4-month wait shows that regardless of Buhari’s famous inauguration day declaration that he belongs to everybody and to nobody, there is no way he can run his government without taking care of special interests. Many of the names he eventually nominated were so predictable that Buhari could have formed his cabinet a week after inauguration, instead of five months after. Many of Buhari’s ministers are the same elements who worked on his campaign and for months have been touted in public as possible nominees. No doubt there must have been many reasons for the long wait including the official excuse that Buhari needed to do some groundwork first before announcing his ministers. But also very likely is that Buhari came under intense pressure and that the process of negotiation and appeasement of the principalities and powers within and outside the party necessarily took months to accomplish before a satisfactory list could emerge. As Ayo Akinfe, writer for London-based Nigerian Watch, put it “Nigeria is yet to find a way to reward party grandees other than offer them appointments and government contracts” (Quoted in “Nigeria: Buhari’s government begins to take shape, but it’s not over yet” by Lagun Akinloye published in African Arguments October 6, 2015).
Even as a capitalist leader, Buhari may be sincere. But aside his ideological shortcomings, he has found himself on a platform where none of his aspirations are shared. For the grandees of the APC, Buhari was a winning card to claw their way into political power at the centre and once there, the whole lofty aspirations of change they publicly identified with during campaigns do not count anymore. What count now are their interests. For capitalist politicians, especially the sort on the African continent, political power is the pathway to wealth accumulation. They spent hundreds of millions on Buhari’s campaign; now is the time to be compensated. And where their interests are blocked or checkmated, they can go to any extreme including defying the party as Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives speaker Yakubu Dogara did during the national assembly leadership controversy. And they can do more in similar circumstances. Five months of the APC in power and all of these sordid characteristics of the Nigerian neo-colonial capitalist politicians’ lust for power as a means for personal aggrandizement has already manifested. How much more the next three and a half years? Buhari’s dilemma is akin to that faced by someone riding on the back of a tiger; he may end up as the tiger’s dinner.
This and many more is why Socialists continue to hammer on the need to build a mass working class political alternative to campaign for a socialist alternative to capitalism. Regardless of his alleged righteousness, Buhari is just a man. There is little, if anything, one righteous person can do in the midst of a thousand thieves! Achieving real change requires not just one righteous man but a mass movement of hundreds of thousands and millions who are committed to changing the status quo.
This is in addition to the ideological contradiction that could open up within the APC between the “Statists” represented by Buhari and those, apparently in the majority within the party, committed to lazzez faire capitalism especially anti-poor policies of privatization and deregulation.
A picture of this contradiction manifested recently when Buhari come out fully to declare that his government would not withdraw fuel subsidy because of its negative impacts on the poor and would instead work to improve refining capacity of the refineries so that Nigeria does not have to import petroleum products. This no doubt is significant for an incumbent president! But in the same breadth, the Buhari administration not only declared to continue with privatization but the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently told a gathering of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) that further increase in electricity tariff is inevitable.
More of these contradictions could emerge in the coming period. Among Buhari’s ministers are notable champions of neo-liberalism like former Lagos State Governor, Tunde Fashola. While pouring accolades on Fashola’s alleged performance as Lagos State governor, the media (especially foreign ones) often fail to mention that, very much like Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Fashola succeeded in building two Lagos one for the rich and the other for the poor. Under Fashola’s reign in Lagos, the living conditions of the working people and poor masses were relentlessly attacked under the guise of transforming Lagos into a megacity. To create room for development that benefits the rich, poor people’s homes in communities like Ijora Badia etc were demolished without compensation. Okada (motorcycle taxis) riders were banned or restricted from many roads leading to loss of income to nearly a million unemployed youth who take to this job for survival. In addition, Fashola’s flagship education policy was no other than the increase of fees at the Lagos State University from N25, 000 to N350, 000. It took mass struggle of the students and workers of the University supported by the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and other civil society organizations for this monstrous hike to be reversed three years later.
With these sorts of elements working with Buhari for the next three and a half years, it could mean that even Buhari’s resolve not to remove fuel subsidy might be defeated and a new policy issued which would see subsidy removed, refineries sold and fuel price hitting the roof. Already the government is taking serious flaks over its decision not to devalue the naira a third time. But all these could change when a substantive finance minister who is more amenable to the demands of the global capitalist system takes over. That Buhari cannot hold up against entrenched interests is shown by how fast the government retreated and unbanned 113 vessels it had initially banned from lifting Nigeria’s crude for involvement in oil theft. Moreso as the economic crisis worsens so also would pressure increase on Buhari to consider the advice and prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
However pressure from neo-liberal sharks would not be the only factor that will succeed in pushing Buhari government. Concerted pressure through struggles from the labour movement, students’ movement and communities can succeed in forcing concessions from him as well. The recent retreat of the government on the question of subsidy withdrawal is an indication of this. Obviously this will be temporary but it does show that struggle can win. Actually, Buhari government would be a very unstable one that would have to balance precariously between trying to satisfy the interests of millions of voters and meeting the mandates of capitalism. Especially as expectations are very high, the government will be careful not to disappoint at this initial stage.
This therefore provides opportunities for the labour movement to advance the interests of the workers and poor masses on a range of issues like the need for a new national minimum wage, provision of jobs for the teeming population of unemployed, increased funding of education and implementation of agreements reached with unions etc. But this can only happen, not through timid appeals to the conscience of the government, but if labour shows through its conducts and actions that it is prepared to go to any length to actualize these demands including calling a nationwide strike action and mass protest. We stress this point particularly because the way and manner the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has been relating with the Buhari government since its inauguration leave much to be desired. Recent public statements of the NLC in particular have tended to sow illusion in the ability of a capitalist government to resolve all of the contradictions and crises in which society and the working masses have found themselves. On the issue of corruption for instance, the NLC has assumed the unfortunate position of a cheerleader.
From all intents and purposes, it appears that the labour leadership believes that the Buhari government would yield to workers’ demands without a serious fight. This perspective is a dangerous one that if not corrected will in the long run spell doom for the interests of the working class and poor masses. What the labour leadership fails to understand is that against the background of the capitalist economic crisis, the Buhari government will, aside a few token concessions here and there, want to avoid meeting the most crucial demands of the working masses for improvement in their conditions. Especially when it comes to those demands that can directly threaten the interests of the profit system, the government will most likely resist meeting them. It is therefore essential that the labour leadership and labour movement understand that class collaborationism does not pay. Only spirited mass struggle and the preparedness of the powerful labour movement to bare its fang can win concessions and respite for the long-suffering workers, youth and poor masses of Nigeria.
However, on the basis of capitalism, whatever concessions are won would be temporary which raises the need for the labour movement to lead a movement to defeat capitalism and enthrone a democratic socialist alternative. To do this, the labour movement would have to revisit the question of building a mass working class political party that stands for the collective interests of the working masses. As presently constituted, the Labour Party (LP) does not represent the class interests of the working masses. To this end, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls for a conference of all trade unions, socialist groups, civil societies and pro-masses organizations to discuss and deliberate on the ways and manner a new mass workers political alternative could be built to lead the revolutionary struggle to change society.
But the labour movement will not be able to play the roles itemized above if it remains riven by unprincipled disunity and held down by pro-capitalist leaders. Almost every day it is becoming clearer and clearer that the workers’ movement in Nigeria requires a radical revival as the movement is in a parlous state. At a time when a new economic crisis is developing, tens of thousands of workers are not being paid, tens of millions are unemployed, labour is hardly doing anything. Yes, there are occasional press releases and protests, but only a few are serious struggles; more often than not they are token as we saw in a few states, like Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, around October 1. We are not seeing the Labour leaders striving to build a determined movement to defend living standards and to argue for the revolution Nigeria needs.
Instead we see the top bureaucracy of the labour movement running the unions aground through careerist ambitions, distorted labour ideals, undemocratic mannerism and ideological degeneration. Rank-and-file workers do not have a say, not just in the day-to-day decision-making, but also long-term policies and orientation of their own organizations, the trade unions. In most cases, these trade unions only act as “check-off dues collection machines” without leading basic struggles or campaigns to protect the interest of their members.
Tragically the sordid manner the labour union leadership handled the non-payment of salaries of workers put lots of workers in dire-strait. The NLC could not organize national actions to defend workers, while the various state chapters largely only looked on while workers’ living standards continue to plummet. This obviously horrible inaction of the labour movement is a product of the pro-capitalist outlook of labour leadership, of different hues and colorations, which makes them to accept the lame and obviously perfidious excuse of the capitalist class. It is crucial for socialist activists and working class elements to undertake a review of the state of the workers’ movement with the aim of drawing the tasks ahead in the struggle to rebuild the working class movement as a fighting mass organization of the working people. This is all the more important given the fact that the historic role that the working class would play in the coming battles against neo-liberal attacks.
This rotten state of the workers’ movement was further blown into the open with the largely unprincipled factionalization that rocked the foremost labour centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress, earlier this year. While there are signs that the two factions of the NLC have begun the process of reconciliation, it is apparently another issue what impact the reconciliation would have on rebuilding the labour movement as a fighting united working class movement that defends the interests of its members. Just as the fractionalization was not premised on any principle meant to rebuild the labour movement on revolutionary and fighting basis, the reconciliation is not premised on any programmatic policies meant to move the movement forward.
Press reports confirmed the process to reconcile the Ayuba Wabba-led and Joe Ajaero-led factions of the Nigeria Labour Congress recently. It will be recalled that the National Delegates’ Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress held earlier this year ended in chaos as a split occurred on disagreement over the results of elections into the leadership positions of the Congress. A Special Delegates’ Conference that was meant to resolve the impasse ended in a logjam with the emergence of Ayuba Wabba (the President of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria) disputed by Joe Ajaero, his contender and the General Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees. A subsequent factional National Delegates’ Conference by the Joe Ajaero-led faction in Lagos led to emergence of Joe Ajaero as the President, and Issa Aremu (General Secretary, Nigerian Union of Textile and Garment Workers) and Igwe Achese of NUPENG as Deputy Presidents. In fact, the May Day Celebration earlier in the year were held on factional basis, with the Wabba-led faction holding theirs in Abuja and the Ajaero-faction in Lagos.
However, the press reports confirming the reconciliation stated that the two factions have ironed out their differences and resolved to work together (ThisDay, August 21, 2015). But nothing exemplifies the unprincipled nature of the reconciliation than the fact that it was enforced on the two factions by National Industrial Court. The Wabba-led faction had dragged the Ajaero-led faction to the National Industrial Court at the peak of the disagreement over the contentious elections that ushered in the Wabba leadership. The President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Adejumo, when the matter came up for the first time, threatened to invoke the provision of the Constitution of the Nigeria Labour Congress for the appointment of Sole Administrator where there is disunity in the Congress.
The looming threat of an imposition of a Sole Administrator is arguably one of the reasons why the two factions of the Nigeria Labour Congress have resolved to unite. The reconciliatory meeting, which was reported to have been chaired by the Adams Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and incumbent Governor of Edo State, resolved for a seven-man committee headed by Hassan Sunmonu, another former President of the Congress. Press reports also stated that the seven-man committee has three members from each of the two factions. (Daily Trust, August 20, 2015).
From the foregoing, it is clear that the root of the crisis is an ego-tripping mission and tussle over leadership positions. The top layer of the labour movement is made of up of careerists and bureaucrats who count the capturing of lion-share appointments as a means of self-enrichment and self-perpetuation in the labour bureaucracy. However, the active participation of both factions at the joint action including protests and picketing of companies to mark this year World Decent Work Day suggests that big progress has been made in the efforts to reconcile them. But this is only a start. Socialists welcome a re-unification of Labour, but this must be a unification that will lead to the start of a serious, determined struggle to improve the lot of Nigeria’s workers and poor. A unification simply based upon the sharing out of top positions would not strengthen labour as a campaigning movement.
LABOUR’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN
Recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) held nationwide rallies to drum support for the purported anti-corruption fight of Muhammadu Buhari government. While we welcome a fight against corruption by the labour movement, we hold that such campaign should not be tied to the capitalist government’s so-called anti-corruption project, which in the real sense cannot achieve much under this neo-liberal capitalist regime.
This is because Nigeria’s socio-economic malaise including the insidious menace of corruption is rooted in the capitalist neo-liberal arrangement which places premium on profit over people’s needs. For instance, corruption is an inevitable corollary of an unjust capitalist socio-economic arrangement that makes a few individuals multi- billionaires while the mass majority wallow in misery and squalor. Fighting corruption as Buhari wants to do, without ending the system that breeds it is a futile venture that can only result in the trial and imprisonment of a few looters while the corruption continues to thrive. At the worst, the anti-corruption war may even end up as a tool to get at the regime’s political opponents rather than a sincere step to clean up the government. For if the anti-corruption war is to be really fought, perhaps not one politician of the APC including the ministerial nominees can emerge without blemish. But a real sweeping out of corruption can only be achieved by the mass of the population taking democratic control over society and the economy and thereby ending looting.
A genuine anti-corruption campaign by labour movement will mean leading independent mass movement against attacks on living conditions of workers, and fighting for massive investment in social services and public infrastructures, which will reduce the money available for politicians and their big business partners to loot. Moreover, labour movement will organize mass campaign for immediate full public probe, the opening of the account books for inspection by democratically elected bodies, the arrest and prosecution of all those involved on the mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds across the country.
However, this needs a labour leadership that is prepared to lead mass struggles to defend workers’ living conditions. Unfortunately, across the country, labour leadership from state to industrial and national levels seems to have reconciled themselves with the system and the ruling class. This explains why the non-payment of salaries, which is corruption of unimaginable magnitude, did not receive practical action from labour leaders. On many occasions, labour leadership has openly supported neo-liberal policies of privatization, commercialization, etc., which one way or the other deprive working and poor people better living conditions, while the ruling class get richer. More importantly, capitalism, a system that privatizes public resources for the rich few, is the mother of all corruption. Therefore, a serious labour leadership that wants to fight corruption must have an anti-capitalist outlook, not only in theory but in practice, that is by taking practical effort to build a political organization of the working and poor people that stand against capitalist system.
REBUILDING THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT: WHAT TASKS AHEAD FOR SOCIALISTS?
Consequently, the urgent task before workers and working class activists in the workers’ movement is to redouble the efforts to begin the process of rebuilding the labour movement on democratic and radical socialist basis. Fundamentally, behind the crisis of leadership in the labour movement is the undemocratic ways unions are run, coupled with lack of clear-cut anti-capitalist ideology and programmes in the labour movement.
Lack of democracy in unions has meant labour leaders not being under the control of members and thus allowing labour leaders to be distanced from their members. On many occasions, labour leaders declare and call off strike actions without workers being involved in such decision, while negotiations are made behind workers. This allows labour leaders to sell workers out. A mass-based and democratic trade union movement will be able to mobilize the mass support of members to defeat government and employers’ attacks on workers’ rights. However, where labour leaders estrange themselves from their members, they are forced, even with the best of intentions, to be under the pressure of employers and government. This clearly underscores the need for real democracy in unions, for the leaders to be subject to recall by the bodies that elected them and to receive the pay of a skilled worker, plus audited expenses.
The political and ideological orientation of the labour movement leadership has important role to play in the direction of labour movement and the ability of labour movement to defend the rights of workers. A labour leadership that sees nothing wrong in the unjust capitalist system, especially its neo-colonial version, cannot effectively fight in the interest of workers. It is the failure of labour leaders to stand on anti-capitalist ideology and programme that will make them accept the ridiculous excuse why, in spite of billions of dollars that had accrued to the country, workers had to be criminally owed salaries for months, or why public corporation will have to be privatized and thousands of workers thrown to the heap of unemployment.
To rebuild the labour movement on a fighting, revolutionary basis, there is the need to build left and socialist cells of working class cadres within the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement from the shop-floor level. This is with the aim of popularizing within the labour movement rounded-out revolutionary perspectives that can fight to reclaim the trade union movement as a united mass working class organization with a democratically-controlled and genuine leadership that can fight for the genuine interests of the working class people.
It is equally important that genuine socialists build pressure from below to force labour leaders into action. For instance, on the lingering issue of unpaid salaries, pressure is needed to be built from below with a campaign for a 24-hour nationwide strike action as the urgent and immediate step to be called by the labour leaders to force the defaulting Governors to pay their workers in their respective states. Such a one-day warning strike would serve an initial notice on the defaulting Governors that the entire labour movement would not take the struggle lightly. A basic demand and campaign for regular congresses in unions, so that workers can take practical collective decisions on how to take the fight to the doorstep of government is vital.
FOR A NEW NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE
More also, while there is a growing demand for a new national minimum wage, the labour leaders shy away from providing a scientific and coherent strategy for the struggle. This is added to the fact that the five-year period for the N18,000 minimum wage is due for renewal aside the fact that the current, very low, N18, 000 minimum wage has not been fully implemented by most state governments without any sustained resistance mobilized by the labour leaders. While labour leaders talk of the need for a new minimum wage, no practical actions have been taken to drive this point home. This is because the labour leaders have tacitly accepted the bankrupt excuse of the capitalist class that the country is in economic crisis. However, this so-called crisis has not stopped capitalist big businesses from making huge profits, while politicians in power collect millions of naira as emoluments.
Socialist activists must pose a scientific strategy for the struggle for a new national minimum wage by pushing that the labour leaders must be prepared to mobilize mass actions and must not yield to illusions that the Federal and State Government would agree or implement it by law. The demand for a new national minimum wage must be with the concurrent demand that no single worker should be retrenched by virtue of the new national minimum wage.
We hold that apart from the fact that the current minimum wage, which was last negotiated 5 years ago, is already legally due for a review, the excruciating high cost of living that has been worsened by the recent devaluation of the Naira calls for an urgent increase in the national minimum wage. We also note that while various leaderships of the trade union movement have argued for a new minimum wage, there has not been a harmonized demand let alone concrete steps on the struggle for its actualization. For instance, while the Joe Ajaero’s faction of the NLC has demanded N90, 000 as a new minimum wage, the Ayuba Wabba’s faction of the NLC has been mandated by its NEC to draw a proposal for a new national minimum wage.
The TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama was quoted to have said in August that, “The NLC and TUC have not harmonized our position or adopted a common position. The tripartite negotiations will commence this year. We are looking forward to having a joint position before the end of the month.” (Punch, August 12, 2015). However, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCN), an affiliate of the TUC, has demanded N46, 000 as minimum wage for workers.
We call on the leadership of the trade union movement to immediately come up with a harmonized figure which must take into account the devaluation of the Naira and the high rate of inflation. We recall that the NLC and TUC had demanded N52, 200 as the minimum wage in December 2010 based on the then prevailing economic situation and indicators before they succumbed a few months later to the Jonathan government’s offer of N18, 000. However, to date, even this low figure has not been fully implemented by all the states and most private sector employers. Given the high rate of inflation since 2010, we hold that the new minimum wage must be much higher than N52, 200.
To better protect the living conditions of workers especially in the current volatile condition of economic slowdown which is fast worsening almost by the day, the labour movement must not just fight for a one-stop minimum wage agreement that can only be renegotiated until the next five years but a sliding scale of wages that rises in tandem with the rise in inflation and cost of living. The current pattern in which minimum wages remain in force for a period of five-years before they are renegotiated, regardless of subsequent rise in inflation, currency devaluation and other unforeseen economic developments, is unreasonable and unacceptable. Instead of protecting workers, such a minimum wage arrangement stagnate wages for a long period thus ensuring that workers suffer atrociously at a period of economic decline and are not able to immediately benefit from periods of economic boom.
In fighting for a raise in the minimum wage, labour should aim to raise the condition of living of the mass of low paid and impoverished workers in the public and private sectors while at the same time closing the income gap and inequality in society which at current levels is alarming. Aside from political office holders who collect perhaps a hundred times more than an average civil servant, the reality is that top bureaucrats (directors, permanent secretaries, etc) in ministries and other government agencies and parastatals who are classified as civil servants already earn several times more than average workers.
Therefore, a minimum wage agreement that places both the poorest paid civil servant and the top bureaucrats on the same scale will only raise the pay of the lower cadres marginally while raising that of the top bureaucrats outrageously thus helping to maintain the income gap and inequality in society. More than that, it also plays into the hands of the government and bosses who can readily blackmail labour that they cannot afford a high wage bill thereby forcing labour to accept a lower minimum wage, like they did in 2010, to the detriment of the mass of low-paid workers in the public and private sectors. Socialists and working class activists must campaign for the labour movement to fight for a national minimum wage that aims to raise the pay of the mass of low-paid and middle level workers in the public and private sectors. This needs to be linked to a determined campaign to prevent any increase in the minimum wage leading to a wave of retrenchment.
Under capitalism where blind economic forces dictates the fate of society, the labour movement must fight energetically for the best possible arrangement that can ensure that workers’ welfare including wage and working conditions are insulated from the vagaries of a decayed and outmoded socio-economic system. This is why the struggle for a minimum wage is crucial.
However no improvement fought for and won can permanently insulate workers and the poor masses from ruination as long as the capitalist system continues to exist. Under capitalism the economy is run in the interests of the capitalists, not the mass of the population who are also the ones who suffer when capitalism goes into one of its regular crises. This is why only enthroning genuine working and poor people’s government that is prepared to run a planned economy and democratic socialist policies can begin to guarantee a permanent living wage and improved condition of life for workers and poor masses. This is the reason why, side by side with the struggle for reforms and improvements, there is an urgent task to build a mass workers’ political party to wrest for political power from the capitalist vampires.
However, it will not be enough to put forward a minimum wage demand for negotiation; the labour leadership must be prepared to struggle for it with a series of actions including mass protests and strikes. The fact is that without struggle the anti-poor politicians in government or the private bosses, who have not implemented the current minimum wage, will not willingly agree to an increase in wage. Increase in national minimum wage reduces the public funds they set aside for looting or the super profit of the bosses. As a starting point there should be a large-scale sensitization campaign to build a ground swell of support to national action to demand higher wages with no retrenchment.
NO TO BLACKMAIL
We urge the labour leadership not to accept the possible excuse of the government that the decline in oil revenue would not support an increment in national minimum wage or the threat that a rise means retrenchment. Despite economic crisis, the pay and profit due to politicians and bosses continue to rise. A few months ago, the members of the now defunct 7th National Assembly were settled with a princely N2.4 billion severance package. This is a country where pensioners die on queues waiting to be paid a monthly pittance that is rarely paid as at when due. Despite cash crunch, seven (7) State governments cutting across both APC and PDP own 11 private jets and helicopters which cost N6 billion annually to maintain (Punch, September 13, 2015). Osun State which as at June was owing 7 months’ salary owns a French-made Eurocopter ASS 355 helicopter acquired for N500 million ($2.538 million).
Rather, the government should be told to stop monumental wastages of public funds which are a permanent feature of government, scrap the odious security votes, cut the outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries, reduce the bloated political offices and end neo-liberal policies that guarantee profit for a few at the expense of the vast majority, and thereby free resources that would be used to implement a new minimum wage.
We call on labour activists and workers not to leave the demand and struggle for a new national minimum wage to the whims and caprice of labour leaders, who failed to fight for the full implementation of the current minimum wage. We need to start agitation and mobilization at factories and workplaces for it and thereby pile pressure on the labour leadership.
LABOUR MOVEMENT AND QUEST FOR A GENUINE WORKING PEOPLE’S POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
It is also important that the labour movement reappraise itself to the task of building a genuine working people’s political alternative with a clear programme of opposition to all neo-liberal attacks and policies. While there is an ongoing struggle for the control of the Labour Party between the labour leaders and the Labour Party leadership, it is entirely another issue whether such squabble can transform the Labour Party into a genuine working class political alternative.
Recently, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress resolved to position the Labour Party to “articulate and advance working class perspectives on the wider political and economic situation in the country”. This is after the original certificate of registration of the party was handed over to the NLC leadership by Dan Iwuanyanwu, the former National Chairman of the party.
In the first instance, the so-called renewed vigour of the NLC leadership towards LP is premised not on any well thought-out action plan but an accidental event precipitated by the fight between Dan Nwanyanwu and Salaam’s LP leadership. It will be recalled that it was the same Nwanyanwu who, as chairman of Labour Party for more than nine years, sold the party to all factions of the capitalist political class. His leadership destroyed the LP. In fact, the last convention that ushered in Salaam’s LP leadership was organized by Dan Nwanyanwu, against the wishes of the NLC leadership which opposed the holding of the convention in Ondo State, hosted by Olusegun Mimiko, then the LP and now the PDP governor of Ondo State. Interestingly, Nwanyanwu, after failing to continually control the party, both as chairman and Board of Trustee chair, played the fast card on Salaam leadership by handing over the party’s registration certificate to NLC, rather than to Salaam’s leadership. Even so, the handing over of the original certificate does not change the fact that currently INEC and indeed the Constitution recognize only the Salaam leadership as heading the Party.
Therefore, it will be erroneous to see the handing over of registration certificate to NLC as a sign of good omen. Since the NLC formed the Salisu Caretaker Committee for LP in the aftermath of the disagreement over the last convention, no reasonable step has been taken by the committee to mobilize rank and file workers to take over and transform the party, and begin the process of popularizing it as a fighting political platform of the working people. As we in the DSM have said severally, only a fighting programme that seeks to obtain real change can make the party popular among working people. For instance, if the NLC leadership was serious about rebuilding the party, the first step it should have taken is to convene a summit of labour unions, workers’ activists, socialist groups and pro-labour political parties, to discuss political orientation of the working class. This should be followed up at local and state levels. But this presupposes that the labour movement itself is ready to take on capitalist government at all levels. If for years, the present labour leadership failed to take up its position in the Labour Party NEC, and played no active role in the direction of the party, it would be unlikely for them to undertake any serious action now, more so that most labour leaders at all levels have taken compromising attitude towards capitalist bosses and governments.
A genuine approach to building a genuine working people’s political alternative would entail a conscious mobilization of the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement on a clear programme to build a democratically-run political movement funded by the millions of workers and not the millionaire looters, and that will bid for power on a socialist programme. The combustive events of the coming period would place this boldly on the agenda. While the opportunities to reclaim the Labour Party as such a genuine working class political movement is quite narrow, genuine socialists would keep up the campaign for a genuine working people’s political alternative.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and other working class forces, when eventually registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, would serve as a striking example within the broader trade union movement of the genuine approach to building a wider genuine working people’s political alternative. It will espouse a clear socialist programme and run working class candidates in elections without ties to big business and the bourgeois political elite. Genuine socialists, while battling for the registration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), would continue the campaign for a genuine mass-based working people’s political alternative.
BOKO HARAM AND THE NATIONAL QUESTION
Boko Haram and the condition of insecurity pervading the nation are creations of the terrible social conditions in which vast army of educated and uneducated youth roam the street unemployed and hungry, along with the state’s long history of repression. Alongside the Boko haram menace, violent robberies, arson, murder, ritual killings, kidnappings and all manner of violent crimes have also spiked in the recent period.
Against this background, while it may bring temporary relief, there is no amount of military effort that can permanently end insurgency and insecurity. This is already obvious from the way, after they were routed in Sambisa forest and other previously-held territories, the Boko Haram insurgency has now festered with the possibility of suicide bombings taking place anywhere. It is very unlikely that the 3-month deadline, which ends in December, given to the military to end the insurgency will be met. Unless, and this is a very remote possibility, government is able to reach a deal with the insurgents. It is remote because Boko Haram is already a fractured group with no obvious centralized command centre making the possibility of a deal very unlikely.
But Boko Haram is not the only menace claiming tens of lives daily. Across the country, Fulani herdsmen and farmers are in constant violent conflict over rights to pasture land and protection of farm crops. This is aside other violent conflicts between communities over land and other economic, resources, ethnic and religious issues. The call for Biafra (i.e. secession of the eastern part from Nigeria) has suddenly assumed a new resurgence in the South east of Nigeria. Nnamdi Kanu – the leader of a pirate radio that advocates the Biafran cause – is in detention and protests have been held in some cities in the east, some of which were heavily repressed by the police. All of these are indicative of the enduring impact of the unresolved national question – which arose over the undemocratic manner the British colonialists who created Nigeria merged together different ethnic nationalities without the democratic courtesy of giving them an opportunity in a transparent referendum to determine whether they wish to live together in one country or not.
Perhaps to ordinary working class and poor Nigerians, the ethnic and religious differences that undoubtedly exist do not constitute enough reason for violent confrontation. For example, we saw during the January 2012 general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal how workers, youth and poor masses across the country united in struggle. The iconic image of Christians forming a ring around Muslims praying at the barricade shows how instinctive class solidarity can overcome sectarian divisions.
It is the anti-poor politicians, as witnessed in the last elections, who regularly stoke ethnic and religious feelings to promote their own self-serving agenda to gain political power. For instance, the resurgence of the agitation for Biafra appears to have been fuelled mainly by fears among the south eastern ruling elites, many of whom supported the Goodluck Jonathan administration, that they would be marginalized under the new government which is seen as dominated by the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba ruling elites. Of course this is not to say that ordinary working class Igbo people do not have genuine grievances of discrimination just as their counterparts from other ethnic groups. The memory of the 1967-70 civil war in which the Igbo people suffered heavy losses is still much alive for some. It is such feeling that the south-eastern ruling elite, just as the ruling elite of all of the ethnic groups in Nigeria, frequently exploit to stoke ethno-religious crises in order to bargain for a bigger share of the pie. It is this, alongside the capitalist economic system which regularly employs nepotism, sectarianism and clientilism to sustain its rule, that has in turn preserved ethnic and religious division and hatred.
Therefore for a programme to change Nigeria to succeed, it must take as its starting point immediate measures that guarantee the democratic, cultural and economic rights of ethnic and religious minorities together with the democratic control and management of resources by communities and people, while creating a just and fair socio-economic system that guarantees opportunities and a happy life for all regardless of where they come from or religion they profess. One of this is that socialists demand the separation of religion from the State. Our schools and public institutions must stop the use of religion and religious materials. The same goes for sponsoring of religious pilgrimages. However, those who wish to practice any religion have the full democratic right to do so in their churches, mosques and other religious centres and they must not be exposed to any discrimination for doing so.
Also while socialists are not advocates of separation and recognize the advantages of big countries over small entities, we nonetheless stand for the rights of secession of any part of Nigeria so far that this is the expressed wish of the people of that part of the country. Our attitude to the agitation for secession is defined by our general democratic feeling that while staying as one is desirable; a nation cannot be run as a prison house for ethnic minorities. Rather than unity enforced by force of arms, only by recognizing the full democratic rights of all people and communities constituting the country called Nigeria and an honest approach to resolving legitimate grievances can an understanding for overcoming differences and learning to stay together as one be reached.
Ultimately however, only by building a genuine mass movement committed to ending the system that breeds crime and insurgency and taking control of society’s wealth and mobilizing this to provide jobs, homes, education, sustenance and a decent life for all can we begin to rid Nigeria of the terrible tragedy of insurgency and violent conflicts.
To be sure, socialists fight for reforms. This is the essence of our active and energetic participation in struggles against fee hike, for free education, for minimum age, against retrenchment, for defense of democratic rights etc. However, even while we fight for reforms and know that struggle can win concessions, Socialists are conscious of the fact that no real improvement in people’s conditions can be permanently won so far the capitalist system remains. This is why our struggle for reforms goes hand in hand with organizing for an end to capitalism and revolutionary transformation of society. Permanent and genuine change is impossible through reform, only through the Socialist revolution.
At present there is lull in political struggle in the labour movement apparently because of mass illusion or hope in Buhari government. But this will not last forever, socialists and working class activists have to continue to mobilize workers and sustain pressure on the labour leadership to fight for the interests of workers and masses as well as campaign for a mass working people party on a socialist programme. One major lesson, underscored by the victory of Buhari, is the readiness of the working masses to fight and vote a change. If such a mass working peoples’ party identifies with struggles of workers, youth and community people as Buhari inevitably fails to provide the real change, it will serve as the platform to challenge and change the Buhari government. Indeed, the failure of Buhari, despite his widely believed good intention, will spur some change seeking elements to begin to search for a genuine alternative outside capitalism and thereby get attracted to socialist ideas.
But as we have argued previously, it is not for the labour leaders and workers to show understanding or help resolve the crisis of capitalism. The government should not be allowed to make the working people and the poor pay for the crisis of capitalism. The trade unions and mass organizations must place the demands on the new administration and plan to resist attacks on the working people.
Already in his electoral promise, Buhari said he would use savings that arise from blocking leakages and the proceeds recovered from corruption to fund his party’s social investments programmes in education, health, and safety nets such as free school meals for children, emergency public works for unemployed youth and pensions for the elderly. But many state governments, including those of the APC, have recently increased school fees while some states like Osun which used to implement free school meals for children have cancelled the programme. This shows that Buhari may fail to deliver even on these promises. Therefore, the trade unions and other mass organizations of the working people must be prepared to force Buhari to fulfill his electoral promises while also explaining that a system change, i.e. a break with capitalism, is urgently needed both to guarantee any gains won now and for a viable future for working people.
However, the Buhari government already announced support for planned increase in electricity tariff is an indication of what more to expect. This will be seen as a big betrayal by communities already up in struggle for the past 6 months against distribution companies over crazy and exploitative bills. Many will rightly interpret it to mean that despite all its change mantra, Buhari government defends the interest of the private investors instead of that of poor people and communities. On this and many other issues like minimum wage, education and cost of living, struggles will break out in the coming period all of which will shake up mass consciousness allowing the working masses and youth to begin to draw revolutionary conclusions of the need for a socialist alternative.
Without mincing words, no meaningful and thorough-going change can happen unless the iniquitous economic and political system of capitalism is dismantled. As we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab spring in 2013, a successful revolt somewhere can be a lightning rod leading to movements breaking out elsewhere. With Nigeria’s massive population and economic weight, a successful revolutionary overthrow of capitalism here would possibly have a bigger impact in Africa and beyond leading to similar movements breaking out. This is essential because it is impossible to breach capitalism in one country without confronting the hostility of imperialism through economic blockade and even military invasion. Only by revolution starting in one country and leading inexorably to revolutions breaking out elsewhere will it be possible to put an end to capitalism in the world and begin to build a new economic system based on human solidarity and cooperation.