THREE DECADES OF NEOLIBERALISM IN NIGERIA
THREE DECADES OF NEOLIBERALISM IN NIGERIA
ASUU HOLDS SYMPOSIUM IN LAGOS
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) organized a symposium on “Three Decades of Neoliberalism in Nigeria” at the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos, Akoka, on Tuesday September 6, 2016. The theme of the symposium was against the background of the imposition of the neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) by the Ibrahim Babangida military regime in 1986 and the fall-out of neo-liberalism over the following thirty years.
In his presentation Professor Omotoye Olorode, one of the speakers at the symposium, observed that unlike the 1984 â€“ 1985 scenario where the Muhammadu Buhari-led military regime was unwilling to take the IMF and World Bank loan, the paradigm shift to neo-liberalism in 1986 with the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme has led to a situation where the same Buhari-led regime, albeit in civilian robes, is executing full-blown neo-liberal policies. He submitted that neo-liberal policies are not just being implemented through government directives but through the ideological “media-evangelism” of the commentariat and intelligentsia of the ruling class. He quoted from the newspaper columns of right-wing commentators such as Lekan Sote of Punch and Sam Omatseye of The Nation wherein they justified the scourge of unpaid salaries in most of the states.
He underscored the fact that the current Buhari-led civilian administration is under the tutelage of Bretton Woods institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. He employed photographs of Buhari posting with Christine Lagarde, the IMF Director, during her visit to Nigeria as the starting point of the synergy between imperialism and the Buhari regime. He labeled the likes of Fashola, Kemi Adeosun, Fayemi as the “local evangelists” of neo-liberal pedagogy.
He argued that only socialist plan of the economy under the control of the working people can guarantee growth with stability.
Dr. Biodun Adedipe, a Financial Advisory consultant who made his presentation after Professor Omotoye Olorode, pinpointed the fact that Buhari in his first coming was confronted with a riveting debate on the IMF loan in 1984-1985. He observed that the period soon gave way to the adoption of the “Washington Consensus” which is a grand scale imperialist neo-liberal plan. He noted that the “Washington Consensus” included, but was not limited to, tax reforms and liberalisation of interest rates in the third world countries. He submitted that unlike in the late 1960’s (1968-1969) wherein the manufacturing sector contributed 10% to Nigeria GDP, the sector is nothing to write home about. He submitted that thirty years after, the neo-liberal policies of privatization, trade liberalization and deregulation is an evil wind that blows no good. He noted that between 2009 and 2014, the country has produced 5 dollar billionaires while 64.2% of Nigerians according to a recent United Nations Survey live in dire poverty. He called for the prioritization of the social interests of the people above the profit-first polices of neo-liberalism.
Professor Abubakar Momoh, who spoke next, delivered a paper on “Neo-liberalism: Governance, Public Sector Reform and Inefficiency in Service Delivery”. He noted that the intellectual crisis of capitalism ideologues and “theologians” led to the adoption of Keynesian and neo-Keynesian models. He observed that all through the pre-Washington Consensus, the “Washington Consensus” itself and “post- Washington Consensus”, the underlying aim of capitalism is the expropriation of the poor. He submitted that the adoption of the Structural Adjustment Programme has had its attendant effects of bolstering the local ruling elite in Nigeria that cannot develop capital. This is underlined by 73 million unemployed Nigerians. He called for a “developmental state” and “nationalistic and patriotic bourgeoisie”.
Dr. Onyekpere, a lecturer in the History Department of the University of Lagos, who stated that he is a Marxist Scholar faulted the idea of a “developmental state” as the state under neoliberalism will only ensure privatization, deregulation and embargo on jobs, etc. A former ASUU president, Dr. Sule Kano observed that there are fire variants of capitalism; Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, Oligarchic, State Capitalism and Chronic neo-liberal capitalism. He stated that the chronic neo-liberal capitalist variant is the one operating in Nigeria with its attendant crises.
Dr. Nasir Fagge, the immediate-past ASUU President, called for the unity of socialist movements to fight neo-liberalism. He also called for the Centre for Popular Education (CEPED), which is the political front of ASUU to be made to work and taken out of the hallowed chambers of University auditoria and to the mass of the working people to engage and mobilise an anti-neoliberal mass movement. He raised the need to mobilise a mass movement against the request by the Buhari-led regime for a $2 billion from China and another $2 billion from the World Bank.
Abiodun Aremu, the Secretary of the Joint Action Front, in his comments noted that in building a mass movement against neoliberalism, there is need for clarity on what neoliberalism constitutes. He noted that the fact that the army of 73 million unemployed young Nigerians are not on the streets in revolt is a reflection of absence of critical consciousness, which must be rebuilt.
In the question and answer session, a question by a student of UNILAG on the fate of the students’ union leaders victimized as a result of the protest by the mass of students was received by a loud applause by the mass of students in attendance at the symposium. He raised the need for ASUU to play a major role in supporting the struggle of students against attacks on welfare conditions and democratic rights.
In his response, Professor Olorode noted that three decades ago in the resistance against SAP, there was in existence in the students’ movement the likes of Chima Ubani and Bamidele Aturu, who were students’ cadres in the movement against neoliberalism. He also noted that there was a solid solidarity between the students’ movement and the workers’ movement. He observed that following the massacre of students at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Hassan Sunmonu, the then President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (who was also in attendance at the symposium as a Special Guest), declared June 4, 1986 a Day of Solidarity with Nigerian Students. He raised the need to reinvent the cadres’ movement in the students’ movement and the working people’s movement.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Dipo Fashina, who is also the chairperson of the symposium noted that the “politics of human rights” in the resistance against neo-liberalism during the military era retreated from building a mass political movement of the working people to take political power. He called for “class politics” in terms of political parties of the working people in which the working people and youth of the country regardless of their ethnicity and religion would participate.
Taken together, the symposium provided a good barometer to measure the level of consciousness and gauge the mood of the mass of working people at the face of the riveting economic crisis under the current Buhari regime which was ushered into power with overwhelming euphoria and illusions. The symposium also reflects the collapse of “subjective factors”, which were present during the introduction of neo-liberal SAP in 1986.
Then, there was a vibrant fighting students’ movement that led the Anti-SAP uprising, in the glorious era of NANS, which has now turned into a students’ wing of ruling elite parties. In the workers’ movement, as at 1986, there was in existence a fighting leadership under the leadership of Hassan Sunmonu which then even called for “socialist welfare state” in the NLC pamphlet, “NIGERIA IS NOT FOR SALE”. This was arguably a workers’ leadership with an anti-capitalist programme although then under the influence of those who rejected the idea of struggling for a working class led government and instead hoped to maintain the previous, more reformist capitalist polices which were then being undermined by economic crisis and capitalist globalization.
Today, the workers’ movement lacks a clear ideological alternative to the neoliberal policies of the ruling elite. This and other factors make it imperative for ASUU to begin to work towards making its Calabar 2015 NEC Resolution for a “socialist working people’s party” a reality by convening as soon as possible a working people’s summit to draw together trade unions, socialist organizations, genuine pro-working students and youth forces to put into shape a mass working people’s party on a socialist programme.
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Education Rights Campaign (ERC) intervened at the symposium including a UNILAG ERC member, a female member from the Agege DSM branch and a member who came from Ogun State. Hundreds of ERC leaflets calling for the reinstatement of the victimized students were circulated. 60 copies of Socialist Democracy and other DSM publications were sold â€“ the biggest sale of the current issue of the paper in Lagos at a single event.