NIGERIA: MASS STRUGGLE LOOMS
Perspective for the year 2020
The rising spate of repression under the Buhari/APC administration reflects the mortar fear of the capitalist class of impending class battles and/or the sort of mass movements seen in recent months in countries like Sudan, Algeria, Hong Kong, Chile and France – the glaring signs of which were clear in the low turnout in the 2019 general election as well as in the mood of anger which currently simmer under a calm surface.
Five years in power, a government that came in on massive popular illusion has failed to transform hope into reality. All easy excuses have been exhausted. The recession is over and the economy has been growing even if anaemically for nine consecutive quarters. Only recently the Federal Government has admitted that “no fewer than 100 million youths are without decent jobs … Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, disclosed this yesterday. (He said) ‘Nigeria’s population is over 200 million and about 60 percent are youths who need employment. Unfortunately, only 10 percent have decent jobs.’” (Daily Trust, December 18, 2019). By ramping up repression, the regime hopes to dissuade revolt by criminalising agitation. But every measure is having an opposite effect – that is a further thinning out of the regime’s rapidly disappearing social base.
There can be no doubt that struggles and upheavals will break out, the only questions are how quickly they can grow, what is their character and how far they can go in winning demands and laying the foundation for charting a new course for society given the rank opportunism of the pro-capitalist leadership of the labour movement and the political confusion dominant among the awakening youth about what programmes and perspectives are needed for struggle to win.
NATURE OF CURRENT CONSCIOUSNESS
The preceding years have been years of learning by the working class. Tons of theory were not enough to warn the working class and youth that no section of the capitalist class could be trusted. It was absolutely inevitable that the working class went through the crucible of the Buhari APC capitalist regime and was seared in the furnace of its anti-poor economic policies, as well as its violent attacks on democratic rights, to become clarified and convinced that once again it had been conned.
Likewise, it was absolutely essential that bourgeois “progressive” politics as purportedly represented by Tinubu and other founding fathers of the ruling APC was put to the test of history for the masses to see them for what they really are. Experience is always the best teacher. The gentility of a tiger is not often a sign of weakness. The working class is testing all wings of the capitalist class, all sections that claim to speak for the masses but only panders to their own interest, those who are parasites on the class but who appear as liberators, the working class is carrying out this test and examination and slowly drawing its conclusion.
In drawing conclusions from their practical experience of the brutal reality of the Buhari APC capitalist government, the advanced layers of the workers and the best of the youth will first be prepared to struggle and come to our side before the broad masses. This advanced layer is currently enmeshed in ideological and political confusion. Under the whip of events, it is undergoing a purge of previously-held illusions in the so-called “progressive bourgeoisies” while struggling to find a clear understanding of what went wrong and how to not again become the pawn of the failed bourgeois capitalist establishment. In seeking these answers, a layer of the youth have momentarily found solace in spontaneity and petty bourgeois radicalism as currently represented by the detained Omoyele Sowore and the movement built around him. But petty bourgeois radicalism is itself unable to provide answers to the burning questions of the moment. This means an immense opportunity, in other words, a vacuum continues to stay open for the Socialist left to fill – a vacuum which continues to widen in line with the shrinking social base of the Buhari APC government.
As experience has shown, consciousness does not grow in a straight line. Because of the legacy of the past (collapse of Stalinism, dominance of pro-capitalist ideas of social pacifism in the labour and students’ movement etc.), confusion is not only inevitable, the development of a clear class consciousness is likely going to be a long drawn process marked by sharp turning points. It is absolutely essential that the forces of the DSM position themselves appropriately in the New Year by swiftly reacting to all questions of the moment, increasing its propaganda, public and mass activities, providing clarity for the awakening masses and helping to generalise their experience as they continue to confront the regime in their own way.
Despite the prominence of agitations over attacks on democratic rights and looming civilian capitalist dictatorship, the root of the increasing loss of support for the Buhari/APC regime is economic, that is, growing disappointment over the regime’s disastrous performance on the economy and the failure of its strategy of using state measures to try to develop Nigerian capitalism, a policy that runs alongside its preservation and deepening of all the anti-poor policies of privatization and deregulation of previous PDP regimes. So even if it tries to make amends on its democratic image, as is being demanded by liberal commentators and embarrassed friends of the State, the regime is not likely going to be able to win back any sizeable support given the unstable economic situation.
STATE OF THE ECONOMY AND THE LIMIT OF PROTECTIONISM
Nigeria’s economy emerged from recession in fourth quarters of 2017 after contracting for 5 consecutive quarters. Despite this, the economic climate remains uncertain. This is due both to underlying contradictions of Nigeria’s economy and the unstable global capitalist economy. Sluggish growth has been the case since the end of recession. More so, the emergence from recession has come at a huge cost with a rise of the public debt to about $84 billion and half of revenue being spent on debt servicing.
While there has been a positive growth in non-oil sector in recent time, this has been partly due to a mild form of economic protectionism which is creating new distortions in the economy. For instance, food inflation is high, rising by 14.48% in November, even while government celebrates success in local rice production. And this positive growth largely leaves out the manufacturing sector – the main plank for industrialisation and the only sector with the capacity to largely mop up unemployment in urban areas. Weaknesses in the banking sector and the stock exchange continue. The percentage of Non-Performing Loans (NPL) remains high. Any shock from the world market, including a drop in crude oil prices which remain Nigeria’s economic mainstay despite growth of the non-oil sector in recent times, could set the economy reeling.
This uncertainty in the economy has created contradictions in the Buhari regime’s foreign policy. As a giant of Africa, the country ought to be the driver of continental initiatives like ACFTA. Indeed given the size of the Nigerian market, such project cannot succeed without its support. Yet it took the regime months to sign up for ACFTA but surprisingly, almost as soon as it did, the regime in a 180 degree about-turn announced closure of its borders with Benin Republic, Chad and Niger. This reflected the weakness of Nigerian capitalism and its inability to compete in the world, African and indeed Nigerian markets. This resort to economic protectionism has its limits. Politically, it can help in the short term to mobilise national sentiments and deflect attention from the regime’s pro-capitalist programmes as the main reason for the economic crisis. Especially in a situation where the regime’s social base has shrunk and the old message of change have lost their allure, the border closure helps to create some new confusion at least in the immediate term.
But in terms of its economic utility, capitalist protectionism has serious limits. What is gained on one hand is lost on another. At the moment, inflation is at 11.85% driven primarily by the border closure. For sure, even if all borders are closed, this would not artificially rebuild the public infrastructures like electricity, roads and transportation and provide cheap credit which the manufacturing sector and businesses actually need to thrive and the lack of which has led to a haemorrhaging of capital out of the country. Even in the case of rice production, the border closure while promoting an expansion of local production of paddy and processed rice has also provoked more ingenious and rapacious forms of smuggling the produce. This is because rather than crash the price of rice, the rice growers and millers with the support of the Federal Government are also scampering to become new layers of millionaires and multimillionaires by taking advantage of the border closure to increase prices. This has in-turn encouraged dare devil smugglers to continue to bring in the imported variants knowing that, despite the risk, once this rice arrives in Nigeria they are sure to make super profits. But capitalist free trade is no answer; generally it simply enriches another section of the capitalist class, namely those with closer ties to imperialism.
The above again confirms that capitalism is fundamentally an economic system that promotes and defends profit over and above human needs. The rice growers and millers are not growing rice for Nigerians to have more to eat but cashing in on a profitable venture in the same way that Dangote cashed in on cement production and now oil refining. By the time economic reality or political expedience forces the government to abandon the border closure, Nigeria may be left littered with abandoned rice mills and plantations and displaced agricultural workers as the profit hunters would have immediately moved to another sector or area which promises quick return on investment.
FASCISM AND THE NATURE OF THE BUHARI REGIME
In recent public statement, we have described the Buhari regime as a “Civilian Capitalist dictatorship”. This, admittedly insufficient terminology, was to delineate the character of the regime from the first phase when it carried on more successfully the pretext of appearing to be democratic and its current phase when it has now bared its fangs. It was also to distance ourselves more clearly from the more common, but ideologically erroneous, term of “fascism” which a layer of left and liberal commentators freely use to describe the regime.
Admittedly, a layer of young activists use the “fascist” terminology pejoratively and not in the sense of a scientific characterisation of what the regime has become. As Leon Trotsky pointed out, “liberals and even the most of those who consider themselves Marxists are guilty of using the word fascist very loosely today. They fling it around as an epithet or political swearword against right-wing figures whom they particularly despise, or against reactionaries in general” (Fascism: what it is and how to fight it). In characterising regimes and what they are just as it is in characterising social systems, Marxists have to strive to be exact. This is because different political, programmatic, strategical and tactical conclusions flow from a regime that is fascist compared to one that is just a dictatorship. Without doing this one is likely to mistaken the third month of pregnancy for its ninth with the result being an abortion.
To be clear, all capitalist states especially in a period of imperialist decay, including the most democratic, hovers between parliamentarianism and a certain form of Bonapartism in response to the rhythm of the class struggle. In Africa especially, military dictatorship often occurs as an intervention of the armed wing of the capitalist class to restore normalcy at the point when internal fighting among the civilian bourgeoisie or revolt by the masses, or both, threaten the entire fate of the system. But, despite the brutality of these regimes, they are not fascist, even if on some occasions they use fascist methods of repression.
A completely fascist regime denotes the overturn of all democratic rights, the smashing and destruction of the labour movement, the mobilisation of declassed masses in frenzied nationalism and belief in the all-powerful state and above all, the weakening and atomisation of the working class. Trotsky said fascism means first of all, “that the workers’ organisations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state; and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallization of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism”. It often emerges as a counter-revolutionary reaction in a period of intense crisis of world capitalism, revolutionary upsurge and class battles which though have succeeded in exhausting the democratic resources of the bourgeoisie but the working class, for a variety of reasons, is still unable to overthrow capitalism and take power. Fascism arises as a weapon to do the dirty work of the bourgeoisie for it.
As warned by Trotsky, fascism does not arrive just as soon as a capitalist state becomes despotic or attacks democratic rights. “At the moment that the “normal” police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship, together with their parliamentary screens, no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium – the turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralised lumpenproletariat – and the countless human beings whom finance capital itself brought to desperation and frenzy”.
None of the descriptions above however fits the current reality in Nigeria. Democratic rights are not entirely suspended, the regime decides which parts of the rule of law to enforce or violate depending on its immediate interests. In addition, the regime continues to defend itself against the call for revolution by branding its votes in the last election as a sign of its legitimacy which, as far as it is concerned, cannot be violated by appeals for extra-parliamentary means to take over power. Above all, the working class remains powerful with the trade unions and mass organizations largely intact, only that they are currently held down by pro-capitalist leaders. But despite this, the concession recently won on the N30, 000 minimum wage shows that the regime fears the latent fear of the working class and is ready both to give some concessions and attack it here and there, but without yet having the confidence to carry out an open battle against it.
The above notwithstanding, the Buhari APC regime has grown into a civilian capitalist dictatorship. Of this there can be no doubt. The current repressive methods which the regime has directed against journalists and activists will soon be used against the workers’ movement. This is why it is essential that while tenaciously supporting the campaigns for the release of Sowore and all other politically-detained journalists and activists, we must also continue to agitate for the labour movement to organise mass activities like public meetings, protests and strikes to begin to challenge the regime.
2023: INCREASED DIVISION AND IN-FIGHTING
Going forward, the Buhari regime is weak. It has lost much of its social base and finding it difficult to manoeuvre effortlessly as it was able to do in its first term. The resort to repression reflects this weakness on the one hand as well as a certain contradiction in the regime whereby different layers in the presidency, military and security institutions actually take decisions and pursue their own interests without recourse to the President. This makes the regime a potentially far more unstable one than previous regimes. When President Obasanjo sent soldiers to destroy Odi in 1999 and Zaki Biam in 2001 it was clear who gave the orders. But under the Buhari regime the ongoing repression, including the invasion of the National Assembly in August 2018, actually does not show a strong government but a divided one where the president actually rules by proxy.
As the race for 2023 gathers strength, internal divisions and in-fighting will increase. The ruling class look towards 2023 with fear. This partly explains the cacophony of calls for deregistration of political parties. With Buhari not going for re-election, the question of who wins the presidential ticket of the APC would either strengthen the party or lead to an implosion. Ethnic and religious agitation is likely to increase as each wings of the ruling class dig deep into primordial sentiment and existing fault lines in order to build artificial base of support in society.
With the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) continuing to be a spent force not able to take advantage of the decline of the APC, we cannot rule out a new party being formed from a coalition to try to defeat the ruling APC in order to try and repeat the same formula that brought the APC into power in the first place. This new coalition will be made up of the same bourgeois elements but, in order to deceive the masses, they could try to annex popular sentiment by putting forward a supposedly anti-establishment element, a woman or a youth as their candidate. But so far these elements stand on the same pro-capitalist philosophy and programme as the Buhari regime, they would not be able to resolve any of the socio-economic crisis afflicting the working and toiling masses of the country.
2023 may also see a renewed frantic desire by sections of the working class and youth to try to build a clear alternative to the capitalist status quo. An opening will remain for left and socialist ideas to thrive. But unless the genuine forces of Marxism fill this vacuum, populism can again become dominant. This could be an intensification of the illusion in a youth Presidency or some other variants of it. But like the movement around the African Action Congress (AAC) and Omoyele Sowore’s campaign for presidency in the 2019 general elections, without basing itself on the working class and clear socialist programmes, these projects even where they succeed will not lead to any fundamental way out for the working masses and youth. So we have to continue our campaign for formation of a mass working peoples party on socialist programme and spell out concretely how that can be achieved
At the same we have to continue to build forces and influence for the SPN through campaigns and interventions in the daily struggles of the working people and youth as well as by regularly commenting on political and socio-economic developments with a view to putting forward our alternative programme and calling for actions. We have to continue to combine the campaign for a mass workers party with the open call on workers, youths and the leadership of labour movement to join the SPN in order to build it as a mass working people party.
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
Rather than any repression or threat of it, what is keeping the regime together and giving it the appearance of strength is the docility and the pro-capitalist illusions of the leadership of labour movement. The Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as well as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC), do not at the moment possess a coherent and scientific programme to defend the interests of the working class under the Buhari capitalist government. Rather all they do is reactive. This is because even though large layers of the working masses and youth have woken from their illusions in the regime and ready to do battle, the corps of the labour bureaucrats remain tied to these illusions.
Suffice to stress that without the labour movement providing a way out, all kinds of forces including right-wing, nationalist, ethno-religious and populist forces can try to take advantage of the situation. Though, the Presidency is expected to come Southwards, it is not ruled out that Northern bourgeois elements may also put their hats in the ring. Hence, all the latent fault-lines can suddenly explode as different wings try to outsmart another.
While ethnic and religious agitations have recently taken a backseat, the reality is that the objective basis continues to exist. The war against terrorism has not been won with Boko Haram or ISWAP still active and carrying out regular attacks and kidnappings in the North East. The cost of this nearly one decade war which involves the rebuilding of war-torn towns and villages and resettling of displaced population is staggering. The herdsmen versus farmers’ conflicts, which at its root is a struggle for shrinking land and water sources, can resuscitate again. In the East, the agitation for Biafra remains unresolved while in the South West, kidnapping, armed robbery and violent crimes have become the order of the day. At some point, all of these problems can arise again.
The main point to emphasise is that Nigeria’s experience over the course of decades actually shows that capitalism is unable to resolve the national question, rather it exacerbates it. While supporting the right to self-determination, only a united struggle of the working class can cut across ethnic and religious divides and point the way towards the victory of a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist programme which alongside nationalizing the key sectors of the economy under democratic workers’ control and management, also recognises the rights of minorities.
However mass struggles will break out regardless of the hold of the labour bureaucrats on the movement. Sections of workers, youth, lumpenproletariat incensed by the worsening situation will come out and try to confront the regime on all questions. A few of these actions could actually win some concessions. However for struggle to become generalised and possess the strength to win serious concessions and lay a foundation for a fundamental change of society, a fighting labour leadership with a Marxist programme is needed. In the 1990s, an anti-military struggle consisting of tenacious mass movement led by coalitions of bourgeois, radical petty bourgeois, youth and socialist elements was able to force the military out of power. But because it lacked an independent working class programme, this movement could not succeed in preventing another bourgeois government, adorned in civilian robes, from replacing the military junta.
The spread of socialist ideas and building of oppositional groupings like the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) and other similar formations in the workers’ movement with the principal aim to rouse the rank and file to challenge the bureaucrats and insist on a programme of struggle, building a truly democratic and mass-based trade union anchored on an anti-capitalist policy are the urgent tasks of the moment. We have to be prepared to combine energetic intervention in all movements that breaks out with this all-important task as we go into the year 2020.
While doing all these, we also have to be prepared for all kinds of possibilities. Faced with a rising appetite for struggle, the labour bureaucrats have been known to rise up to the occasion and take leadership of the movement not to take it forward but in order to be in a position to betray it at the slightest opportunities. With this in mind, Marxists must always propose measures to counter negative influences by the pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy – the official police of the capitalist class – on struggle. These include demands for the setting up of rank and file democratic committees of struggles at workplaces and street levels, regular congresses to allow workers have a say in when a strike is called and suspended, right to recall any erring labour leader and a fighting labour leadership.
Until Marxism becomes a material force within the working class, the students’ movement and society as a whole, the task of Socialist revolution and the enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government which can permit the democratic control and management of Nigeria’s resources by the working people in order to better the lives of the mass majority will continue to be postponed ad infinitum.
We have to continue to arm and build our forces with correct ideas of Marxism in order to intervene correctly at this period of confusion and during the explosive situations which are coming inevitably with a view of popularising socialist alternative, establish influence in the wider labour movement and recruit the best elements to our organisation and ideas.
By National Executive Committee of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)