Socialist Democracy July-August 2016 Edition
Socialist Democracy July-August 2016 Edition
One Year of Buhari ‘Change’ Government:
LIFE GETTING HARDER FOR WORKING PEOPLE
By Kola Ibrahim
The Nigerian voters that opted for change in the presidential election of March 28, 2015, could not have reckoned that their living conditions would be worse off just a year after. While many Nigerians knew that the country’s economic, social and political situations was bad and which informed their decision to vote for a new government, what they could not have known was that they would have to pay a heavier price for replacing one bankrupt, ineffectual capitalist government with another.
ECONOMIC WOES WORSEN
Perhaps the level of suffering and hopelessness has never been so bad that it can only be imagined. Should we talk about the workers and pensioners in 27 states who have been criminally denied their salaries and pensions by insensitive and wasteful state governments, or hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs in the last one year due to economic dislocation? What about the ever-rising inflation, which rose by 52.2 percent (i.e. from 9 percent to 13.7 percent) within a year. This has been further worsened by the hike in petrol price by more than 60 percent, and recent official devaluation of naira by the federal government. Many Nigerians have now been pushed deeper to the pit of poverty. The daily newspaper reports of people taking to petty crime to resolve basic needs shows that the country, on the basis of debilitating economic situation, is sitting on a keg of gun power.
Without doubt, Buhari’s government met a mismanaged and serially abused economy. The previous Goodluck Jonathan government, on the basis of its kleptomaniac and chronically corrupt nature, had bankrupted the economy of the country. Despite having the fortune of earning hugely from oil accruals, the Jonathan government, along with state governments populated by all the main ruling capitalist parties (PDP, APC, APGA), could not fundamentally improve the economy and shift it away from the mono-product basis. Infrastructures and social services were left in their rotten, undeveloped and underfunded state. This was in spite of hundreds of billions of naira committed to piecemeal and sometimes elitist projects by both the federal and state governments. The fraudulent contract system that ensured that billions of naira of public funds are handed over to private, often times political contractors and consultants, provided cheap loot for various politicians It is therefore not surprising that despite the three tiers of government earning over N41.6 trillion from crude oil, taxes and duties between 2011 and 2014, the country’s indebtedness grew significantly, with foreign debt increasing to over $11 billion from less than $6 billion in 2011 while domestic debt increased by over 150 percent to N8.5 trillion between 2010 and 2015. Yet, the socio-economic fundamentals did not improve.
Unemployment was rife while social infrastructures like schools, hospitals, water supply, etc., aside being in their dilapidated state are also unavailable and inaccessible to majority of Nigerians. On the other hand, instant billionaires were made from government businesses through the fraudulent contract system, massive looting of the country’s treasury, trillion-naira worth bail-outs and concessions to favoured big businesses, and huge emoluments for political officers, about 18, 000 of whom earn as much as N1.3 trillion annually.
The unraveling of the oil boom that provided cheap money for looting brutally exposed the backwardness of the ruling class and the chronic sickness of capitalism in Nigeria. Being a supporter of capitalism this was the awkward reality that the Buhari had to grapple with. But it was not as if the government was not aware of the enormity of the crisis. Indeed, the APC used the obvious unfolding crisis and economic woes to campaign for votes prior to the elections. Therefore, the excuse that the APC government did not know the extent of the damage the Jonathan government had done to the economy is an escapist lie to justify its own failure to improve the economy.
The fundamental reason why the living standards of the mass majority has continued to worsen is because rather than change the ruinous capitalist course charted by Jonathan government, the Buhari’s pro-capitalist government has maintained the status quo on many fronts. For instance, despite the obvious failure of the buyers of electricity companies to improve power supply, the Buhari government has maintained the privatization. More than this, the government has helped the electricity companies to further exploit Nigerians by increasing, albeit illegally, electricity tariffs by over 40 percent even when supply had nose-dived.
Also, the Buhari government has maintained the same old but worn-out argument of inadequate gas supply and vandalism to justify the epileptic power supply. It is shameful that in the twenty first century and despite Nigeria having the world’s tenth largest gas reserves, government can still not provide adequate gas for the already inadequate power plants. Even, the simple task of building sufficient strategic gas storage facilities across the country, which can mitigate the effects of vandalism, is not part of the ‘change’ programme of the Buhari/APC government. Now, Nigerians have been compelled to compare the current worsening power supply with what was obtainable under the corrupt and inept government of Jonathan.
While the failure and clear inability of the Buhari government to reverse the worsening power failure seems to be legendary, hiking of fuel price has shown the monstrous fangs of the Buhari’s capitalist government. Against obvious reality of mass suffering, the Buhari government hiked petrol price by over 60 percent. This was premised on the need to end scarcity and ease the pressure on forex reserve. However, as against the previous posture of Buhari that he was against fuel price hike and devaluation of the Naira because it will hurt the poor, the hike in fuel price and devaluation resulting from the capitalist crisis have worsened already bad situation with hyper-inflation especially of foodstuff and transport fare, hike in cost of living, mass retrenchment and increased and deepened poverty. This is coming at a period when salaries of over 2 million public sector workers and pensioners in states across the country are not being paid, while costs of accessing social services like education, healthcare, potable water, etc. have remained high. Therefore, within a year, the government has ensured continuous degeneration in the living conditions of majority of the population.
THINGS COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
It is the contention of socialists that one year is enough in the life of a government to begin to make some improvements in the living conditions of the working and poor people and lay the basis for massive development of the country. While we agree that the mismanagement of the economy under Jonathan government and the previous ones, coupled with the fall in crude oil price, affected the revenue due to the Buhari government, we maintain that by taking revolutionary steps in the economic, social and political structures of the country, this can easily be mitigated. For instance, a socialist government would have nationalized the oil and gas industry, banks, finance, the ports and other key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management, declare a monopoly of foreign trade and begin the democratic plan of the economy to meet genuine needs of the mass majority instead of the profit of a few. Under this condition, the government would be able to boldly endeavor to restructure Nigeria’s balance of trade which often times is in deficit by first and foremost laying the conditions for self-sufficiency in food production by creating and massively investing in large state farms and providing cheap, if not interest free, capital and free training for small farmer cooperatives across the country.
This coupled with provision of modern equipment and machineries, and extension services, will provide millions of jobs, significantly reduce cost of foodstuff. Moreover, by embarking on refurbishing and expansion of state refineries and building massive storage and distribution facilities for fuel and gas across the country, the country would have been on the road to being self-sufficient in local production of fuel by now. But the Buhari government still sustains the dominance of the oil and gas sector by narrow private interests and fears that taking action against them would set a ‘bad example’ in the sense of encouraging demands for measures against other capitalists. At the one year interview granted by the president to selected media, Buhari not only reposed his trust in privatization of refineries, but also wanted the government to use public fund to renovate refineries before selling them to private undertakers.
The government also seems to be relying on private oil refinery being built by businessman, Aliko Dangote, which when completed has the capacity to refine greater percentage of Nigeria’s oil. But a government seriously intending to implement change cannot be relying on private ownership of a strategic sector of the economy for the country to develop. Aside holding the country to ransom the same way the oil importers had done so far, the Dangote refinery will not provide the needed succor for the mass of people in terms of providing cheap fuel. Dangote himself affirmed that he would only sell at international price; more so that a significant part of the fund used in building the refinery was procured through bank loans that would have to be factored into cost of fuel.
In addition, by massively investing in and expanding infrastructures and social services, government would be enforcing a genuine programme to reverse the austerity programme of the past. For instance, if more schools and hospitals are renovated and rebuilt at all levels and mass water supply programme along with mass housing projects are undertaken, it will lead to massive provision of decent jobs for millions while also improving living standards.
Unfortunately, as it works within capitalism, the so-called ‘expansionary’ budget of Buhari government contains some of the worst provisions for education and healthcare. Just 3.65% of the budget is for health as against expected 15% recommended by Maputo protocol; while less than 10% of what teaching hospitals needed to operate is given to them (Punch, 20/02/2016). This will mean further commercialization of health, collapse of health facilities, inadequate medical staff and a spike in industrial crisis. Resident doctors have only just called off a strike action to protest poor welfare condition of doctors in public hospitals. Remarkably for a “change” government, the doctors were actually threatened with mass sack by the Health Minister. Also, “the total capital appropriation to each of the federal ministry of education headquarters and 19 federal secondary schools is more than the capital vote of the 39 federal universities, 24 polytechnics and 21 colleges of education” (ThisDay, 24/03/2016).
The so-called social intervention programme of the government aside being piecemeal and tokenistic is also threatened. For instance, the promised 500, 000 teaching jobs are only temporary jobs for two years, with those employed being paid poverty wage of around N22, 000 and without union rights. Worse still, most of the states are already bankrupt, and may not cooperate with the federal government on this scheme, which makes its full implementation doubtful. This is not the kind of arrangement that can liberate the working and poor people or provide the long term solutions to the economic quagmire facing the country.
Socialists believe that, as against the impression that the country is broke, there are many sources from where the government can recover public resources in private hands. Government’s genuine anti-corruption efforts by taxing the rich through property and luxury taxes, recovering lost taxes, reversing financial hemorrhaging of the country and recovering monies looted from public coffer, can generate trillions of naira into state coffer. Clearly this would not solve all Nigeria’s problems but could offer a start in alleviating some of the immediate issues. However, it seems the government, while it claimed to have got some money from its piecemeal anti-corruption campaign, is also using the campaign to resolve political issues. This has meant many corrupt politicians and big business people from ruling APC party getting a pat in the back through appointments and patronages, even when there are clear evidence that they contributed to the economic maelstrom the country find itself now.
As we in the DSM have said severally, the Buhari government, in spite of the huge illusion reposed in it at inception, will not be able to resolve the fundamental economic and social challenges that have held the country down for decades, for as long as the government is premised on the exploitative capitalist economic and political orientation of the past. We maintain that personal integrity of a Buhari, if there is any, is not enough to solve the myriads of problems confronting the country. The current economic crisis and woes, which have affected the working and poor people shows that only genuine revolutionary government, premised on socialist programmes of public ownership of the mainstay of the economy under the direct democratic control and management of the working people, communities and relevant professional groups can begin the process of fundamentally improving the lots of the working and poor people and developing society on a long-term and sustainable basis.
The Buhari government has also fueled growing social crises while latent centrifugal forces are being exhumed no thanks to the government’s insensitive, rigid and reactionary approach to issues of national question. From the killing of hundreds of Shiites, to the government’s carefree attitude to the killing spree by some Fulani herdsmen and the mass killing of pro-Biafra agitators, the Buhari government is showing its utter incapability to and disinterest in resolving issues of national question. The recent surge in activities of Niger Delta militants and government’s militarization of the region reflects the fire-brigade approach of the Buhari government to long existing issues.
President Buhari, in his one year interview, gave a simplistic answer to the question of Biafra agitation. Buhari is still stuck to the backward idea that Nigeria’s existence is non-negotiable, and anybody raising the question of Nigeria’s corporate existence is committing a crime. This reactionary position is the basis for the mass murder of pro-Biafra agitators in the south-eastern states.
We in DSM condemn this and support the democratic rights of people from any section of the country to secede if the majority so decide. We believe that Nigeria as presently constituted, despite being in existence for over a century, was not a product of the democratic wishes and aspirations of people of Nigeria, but that of the colonial authorities and the various but handful individuals in the corridors of power since independence. There was no constitutional process involving democratic debate and/or decision making. Furthermore virtually every national or constitutional conference always has ‘No Go’ areas that prevented discussion of basis of Nigeria’s existence or protected those in power. As much as we stand for working people’s unity, we maintain that this should not stop people from fully exercising their democratic rights including right to self-determination.
However, socialists warn that without self-determination being premised on socialist foundation where the economy is under the democratic control of the majority of the population, secession and self-determination can bring more woes to people seceding. The example of South Sudan, where internal struggle of various warlords has made the country worse than when it was under Sudan, easily comes to mind. In the south-eastern and south-southern parts of the country, the leading bourgeois politicians are as corrupt and anti-masses as the politicians and ruling class at the centre. Several billions allotted for Niger Delta through Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission and the 13 percent derivative have found their ways into the private accounts of big time politicians and big business people in the region. Therefore, secession requires a working class programme in order to have meaning for the majority of people. Moreover, socialists campaign that the full rights of minorities in areas that want to secede be protected.
Furthermore, socialists support the democratic sovereign conference comprising democratically elected representatives of workers’ movement, youth movements, communities, professional groups, ethnic nationalities (including minorities), etc. to determine the economic, social and political basis of Nigeria’s continuous existence. For socialists, this will mean the country putting the commanding height of the economy under democratic control and ownership. However, all sections of capitalist ruling class will oppose this programme, as it will take the power to control the economy away from their hands. Therefore, this programme can only be realized by a genuine working people’s government premised on harnessing the enormous wealth of the country for improvement in living conditions of the majority and full realization of human and material development of the country.
The current unacceptably terrible situations of the country again underscore the need to resist all anti-poor policies of the Buhari government, state governments and private sector. Currently, over 27 states owe workers and pensioners over three month salary and pension arrears, while costs of living have skyrocketed. Also, hundreds of jobs are being lost daily. This requires an organized and consistent resistance and struggle by labour movement by mobilizing the working people to the arena of struggle.
Unfortunately, the labour leadership does not seem to have confidence in the ability of the working and poor people to resist the anti-poor policies of the government. The shoddy manner the labour leadership prepared and conducted last May’s strike and protest against hike in fuel price coupled with its criminal silence or acquiescence to non-payment of salaries and pensions, as well as failure to fight the mass retrenchment and casualization in the private sector, has contributed to the degeneration in the living conditions of the working people. Clearly, the willingness to struggle is not in short supply from the working and poor people. The active participation of workers in many states such as Oyo, Osun, Ondo, etc. during the strike against fuel price increase, in spite of the odious roles of various sections of labour leadership, as well as recent mass revolt of working and poor people in Oyo State over further commercialization and privatization of education, shows that it is very possible to resist government austerity projects, through mass action. But this will require a labour leadership that believes in the power of the working people and is prepared to lead struggle against the government. In the absence of such an approach there is the danger that popular frustration and anger will be misdirected into the channels of ethnic and/or religious strife.
A further complicating factor has been the split in Labour since last year’s NLC delegate congress. We hold that this division did not occur on the basis of fundamental differences, however the fact that some unions did not support last May’s strike shows the danger that this split could take on policy differences. We stand for building unity in action and call on workers and genuine leaders at various levels to begin the process of building resistance against all anti-poor policies. We call for a one-day general strike and mass protest by the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to demand payment of salaries and allowances of workers and pensioners who are being owned in 27 states of the federation, meeting of the demands of other categories of workers like the striking doctors as well as to resist the gale of layoffs and retrenchment ongoing in the public and private sectors. More than this, there is need to pile pressure on labour leaders at state and national levels to lead struggles against the continuous degeneration in the living conditions of the working and poor people.
BUILD POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
However, ultimately there is the need to build a political alternative to the main ruling parties. The PDP, with its 16 years of corrupt and inept rule has been generally discredited while the APC (which also comprise many major participants in the PDP’s 16-year rule), within one year, has also shown that it is no real alternative to the PDP. Besides, the fading ‘Change’ mantra has shown that there can be no fundamental change under capitalism. Recently, one of the foremost left-leaning unions, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), called for “a Socialist Welfare State” as the antidote to the capitalist crises in Nigeria. While wholeheartedly welcoming this lofty declaration, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSMP) believes that this is only realizable by building a new political formation through which the working people can take political power. Therefore, the DSM calls on the leadership of the labour movement to take the lead and begin the process of building this political formation. A political summit of trade unions, pro-labour civil societies, left and radical political parties, left organizations, socialist groups such as DSM, youth and student movements, among others, can serve as a first step in this important direction.
The DSM has already taken a step by forming a political party, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), which aims to fill the gap created by lack of alternative platform. The SPN is in court fighting against undemocratic denial of registration by INEC. We enjoin all genuine change seeking working peoples, peasant farmers, professionals and artisans, students and youths as well as market men and women to join SPN in building a socialist political alternative even as DSM and SPN are prepared to work with other platforms including the labour movement in building a mass political platform of the working and oppressed people.
This is aside the weekly Friday talks through which students are engaged in discussions that enable them to become more critically aware of their society, their community and their role in making positive changes. Through this, some of the students have become more active later in life in activities aimed at transforming their community. This has always been the idea of the Free Summer Lesson organized in the poor community of Ajegunle. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC), campaigns that government should increase funding to education and extend funding and other supports to public schools in inner communities like Ajegunle in order to curb the growing rate of illiteracy in Nigeria.