NIGERIA: COVID-19, REPRESSION, RECESSION AND REVOLT
NIGERIA: COVID-19, REPRESSION, RECESSION AND REVOLT
A year of turning points
(Document agreed by the DSM National Committee Dec 12 – 13, 2020)
No doubt, 2020 has been an extremely eventful and unusual year in Nigeria and worldwide. The year started with the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic which led to about 5-months lockdown during which hundreds of thousands nearly starved. Many lost their jobs during the year, while several small businesses collapsed. This is aside many who lost lives and limbs, and also shops, to riots and arson following the #EndSARS protest. Now as the year draws to a close, an economic recession has been confirmed whose harvests of misery and turmoil will stretch far into 2021 and beyond.
In many ways, the year is a turning point for the class struggle. Like a bolt from the blue, the #EndSARS revolt has ruptured Buhari regime’s invincibility, shrunken its social support base and severely weakened it. More importantly, the youth revolt has placed the idea of revolution on the agenda. What is now left is the contest of ideas as to what kind of revolution, a mere regime change or a socialist revolution which leads to systemic change, is necessary to bring the much desired turnaround alongside the imperative of a mass workers and youth political alternative. The repression which now takes place is not a sign of strength but of weakness. While the march of events will go through twist and turns, including the possibility of descent into sectarian strife and ethno-religious conflict, it is now very clear that another opportunity exists for the working class, radical youth and poor masses to rescue Nigeria from the clutches of capitalist misrule.
The COVID-19 pandemic, whose effects in Nigeria are not the same as in other parts of the world, has further shown that with capitalism, the safety and health of the mass majority cannot be guaranteed. In particular, the delay of the Nigerian government in halting international flights in the first few weeks after the discovery of the first patient on 27 February, the weaknesses of the health sector in combating the scourge, the inadequacy of safety kits and late payment of wages and allowances of frontline health workers and the subjection of hundreds of thousands to starvation during the 5 months lockdown due to lack of access to food and other relief materials – all of these demonstrate a fundamental weakness of capitalism and also expose the Buhari government as clueless and inept, especially in a period of national emergency.
The discovery during the #EndSARS protests in October of warehouses and private stores in the home of politicians and business elite filled with hundreds of thousands of bags of food items and other relief materials which were meant to be distributed during the lockdown but were instead hoarded has created a national outrage. This has acted as another eye opener for many working class people confirming the “wickedness” and “greed” of the capitalist elite.
So far, as at 30th November 2020, the total number of COVID-19 infection was 67,557 and 1,173 deaths. Although in a country which has no accurate record of birth and death, these figures are clearly not fully representative of the scale of the COVID crisis. Testing has also being abysmally low with only 756, 237 tested as at November 30 since when the virus hit Nigeria 11 months ago. But when every known and unknown variable are factored, it is clear that for reasons not yet fully and scientifically verified, the virus has had very weak effect in Nigeria.
STROKE OF LUCK
The weakness of the pandemic’s effect is actually a stroke of luck for the regime. Given the decay of social infrastructures in Nigeria with tens of millions living in ramshackle dwellings and slums and a weak health system, the pandemic if it had the same effect as with the scale of South Africa, the US or Europe could have caused enormous infection and deaths in millions. This could have provoked a social crises, riots and revolts which could have fundamentally undermined the regime.
But despite reduction of infection rates in the past two months, it is not certain yet when the pandemic will completely be defeated. There is every possibility that cases of infection may continue to appear over the next period. Periodic outbreaks and new waves are equally possible which may compel the state to consider imposing movement restrictions and lockdowns. This could be the case when public universities reopen in the New Year. While for economic reasons, nationwide lockdowns may not be seen, lockdowns of communities and local governments which are centres of any outbreak could be attempted in such a situation.
The new COVID vaccines may not offer any respite for the pandemic in Nigeria in the immediate period. This is because their distribution is going to be a scene of international competition between national capitalist classes and corporations. We saw something similar during the peak of the COVID crisis internationally with brutal struggle for access to facemasks, ventilators and other gears and kits needed by frontline staff and citizens. As usual, countries in Africa, including Nigeria, cried foul saying they had been sold the short end of the stick. A repeat of the same situation is possible with the vaccine which if it is really effective may be aggressively sought by the national capitalist classes who are almost all discredited due to their mismanagement of the pandemic to try to stem the tide of the virus in their own countries in order to regain some support.
But even if the vaccines get to Nigeria, it will not be available for all sections of the population. During the COVID crisis, the class lines were further sharpened; not blurred. While it was true that there was no opportunity for the elite to globetrot to seek foreign medical attention and a number of political office holders and members of the rich elite died from the virus, the proportion is low compared to many middle class and working class elements who were either infected or died due to the virus. Also there was a world of difference in the medical care available to the rich compared to those available to middle class and working class elements. The late Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari, who died from the virus was treated at an expensive private medical hospital instead of a public hospital; but this was only started after his medical records were received from the expensive London private hospital where he was ‘normally’ treated.
For Marxists, the fundamental conclusion that can be drawn from the events of the past 11 months is the confirmation that the crises of capitalism are insoluble. So far the system is not replaced by a rational system of socialist planning and human cooperation, not only would all the political and economic decay be recurrent, new frightening developments are quite possible that would bring more misfortune to the working class. Hence the urgency of the socialist transformation of Nigeria, Africa and the world.
ANOTHER ECONOMIC RECESSION – THE WORST SINCE THE 1980’S
Nigeria’s economy was declared to be in recession in the third quarter after recording two consecutive quarters of negative growth, i.e. decline. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by -3.4%. This was mainly driven by a -13.86% drop in the performance of the oil sector. But the non-oil sector also took a hit, recording a negative growth of -2.51%. This development no doubt portends grave implications for the working class, youth and poor masses.
Given the scale of the public debt put at about N31.009trillion or 22.3% of GDP, collapse in the value of the naira which now exchanges in the parallel market at $1 to N500, high inflation officially at 14.23% and volatility in crude oil price on the international market, many working class and middle class families are going to be further impoverished. The poor masses who were already permanently in recession whether in a period of growth or economic crisis, are going to be pushed into starvation. All the social crises will worsen with street begging, prostitution, armed robbery, cyber fraud, gang violence, drug addiction and suicide increasing.
Food prices are shooting through the roof at the moment. This is not simply a product of the collapsed value of the naira or recession. The areas of the North East, North Central and North West where Boko Haram insurgency, herdsmen and farmers clashes plus banditry thrives are the food banks of Nigeria. The lockdown prevented many farmers from going to the farm at the beginning of the planting season to prepare the land and plant crops. Now after the lockdown, insurgency and banditry has made many farmlands inaccessible for harvest. The recent brutal slaughtering of over 43 rice farmers in Koshobe Borno state by suspected Boko Haram Islamic fundamentalist terrorists is a good example. Also there has been flooding this year in Kano, Sokoto and other states which has destroyed crops and is responsible for the astronomical rise in onion price.
This economic recession is not just the second in five years; it is also the worst in 36 years. In 1983, the country’s GDP dropped by 10.92 percent and 1.2 percent in 1984. In the present case, the GDP fell by 3.92 percent in the three months before September. But in quarter 2, the GDP fell by 6.10 percent. This explains the panicky way the government began to force the partial lifting of lockdown and reopening of the economy from around August even when scientifically, it was unsafe to do so.
Given the depth of the crisis, there is likelihood that, unlike the previous recession, this time around an offensive could be launched directly at the working class through downsizing or retrenchment of the workforce. This would most certainly be the case if the expected economic recovery does not happen in the first quarter of 2021 due to new volatility in the world economic and political situation. Also the N30, 000 minimum wage may not be paid in many states, already in November Niger state slashed salaries by between 30% to 50%. Nigeria is likely going to witness another era of non-payment of workers’ wages and pension for months which was the hallmark of the 2016/2017 recession. This will provoke strikes and protests in the labour movement, some of which could break out over the heads of the bureaucracy. Unemployment which is now at 27.1%, with youth unemployment at around 35%, will also increase and new youth restiveness and revolt are likely to break out again and again as the hardship bites harder.
At the same time, the regime would be at pains to preserve its National Social Investment programme on which it has spent over N300billion over the past three years. These tokenist programmes which consist of school feeding programme, a youth employment scheme, trader moni, farmer moni and other cash sharing schemes help the regime to maintain its social base which is now very shrunken. Interestingly, these schemes and policies have recently been severely criticised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) scribe, Emmanuel Ugboaja, as part of the wasteful ventures responsible for the economic recession but without offering any serious alternative.
On the basis of the new economic crisis, the regime which had initially shown indication of reluctance to embrace the IMF now appears to be more receptive to its austerity propositions. According to Oxfam, a recent loan of $3.4 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was contracted at the price of implementing austerity measures including cost-reflective tariff in the electricity sector, removal of fuel subsidy and increase in the Value Added Tax (Tax). These new policies which are now being implemented with dire consequence for the workers and the poor are telling indication of the trajectory the regime is travelling.
BORDER CLOSURE: TO BE OR NOT TO BE
With the economic recession, there are renewed calls for the reopening of the border and a halt to the ban of rice importation. At the start of the border closure, the DSM had argued that it would resolve nothing fundamentally especially because it would create new contradictions. Despite the border closure, the price of rice did not go down, rather it soared from about N13, 000 before border closure to about N26, 000 for a bag of N50kg. Meanwhile, those who gained the most from these price increases were the big farm corporations, large-landowning farmers and middlemen. They are the ones really “smiling to the bank” using the word of the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who is now opposed to border reopening. Most individual poor farmers tilling small plots do not even have bank accounts and often had to sell to these farming corporations and other middle men since they mostly do not have independent access to the city markets. Usually, these middlemen place the small farmers on a fraudulent contract wherein they provide money for seeds, fertiliser, labour and equipment the farmers needs at the start of the planting season with the understanding that part of all their harvest goes to the middleman at an agreed sum. This means that even if at harvest period the price has increased two fold, the farmer is unable to make any gain beyond what he has signed in the contract.
Today, Nigeria is neither more self-sufficient in rice production nor in automobile assemblage than it was before the border closure. As official data shows, whereas Nigeria’s annual demand is 720, 000 vehicles, the local industry can only produce 14, 000. Therefore, while closing the border solved nothing but succeeded in creating new problems including increases in the cost of production due to high cost of imported parts, reopening will only be of benefit to another layer of the capitalist class investors in industry and importation business. While there could be minimal relief for industry, problems with other factors of production like the perennial problem of high cost of energy and transportation problems will continue to ensure that production cost stays high and the production environment remains difficult.
For Marxists, the unfolding economic crisis while demonstrating the blind alley of capitalism is also an indictment of the Buhari All Progressive Congress (APC) regime which took power six (6) years ago from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with promises of transforming the situation. This is because the groundwork towards this second recession in four years was laid out and paved not only by the vagaries of the capitalist world market and the COVID-19 lockdown but also by the ruinous economic policies of the Buhari regime.
Government apologists have been trying to pin the economic recession on the COVID-19 lockdown and #EndSARS protest. Marxists disagree with this superficial analysis. In 2016 when there was no COVID-19 lockdown or #EndSARS protest, the economic plunged into a recession after shrinking by 2.1 % due to steep fall in global crude oil prices and reduction in production volumes. This is not to deny that impairment of economic activities, which a lockdown is, can negatively affect the economy. But an economic crisis such as a recession is caused by fundamental contradictions in the workings of the capitalist economy. This is why rather than a cause, COVID-19 is an accelerator of the economic crisis. Today most economies in the world have suffered a drop, something which began in late 2019 before COVID-19 plunged the entire world into a massive recession. In the case of a neo-colonial capitalist outpost like Nigeria which is largely an import dependent country, any serious collapse of crude oil price which is responsible for 70% of revenue and 95% of foreign exchange earnings can potentially cause a chain of economic reactions which can lead to a recession and at its worst a depression.
Indeed the signs of an imminent economic crisis had been on since last year given the volatility of global crude oil price, the rising public debt and other contradictions and weaknesses in the economy. For instance from the 2nd quarter of 2017 when the economy recovered from recession with a 0.7% growth, Nigeria’s GDP only grew anaemically. Without the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, Nigeria might still have plunged into a second recession; the only difference being the timing and depth. Therefore, the COVID-19 lockdown only acted as an accelerator of a crisis which was already on the way.
Exactly one year ago in December 2019, while analysing in a perspective document the nature and character of class struggle in 2020, we had written the following lines “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” (Nigeria: Mass Struggle looms, Perspective for the year 2020).
This perspective has been borne out in the turbulent movements we have witnessed in the last half of the year. First was the indefinite general strike and mass protest called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) against fuel price hike and increase in electricity tariff which was aborted on its eve leading to a howl of indignation and anger across the length and breadth of the labour movement. The second way this perspective was borne out is the #EndSARS protest which shook the Buhari regime for 13 days in daily protests of thousands and at its height put forward despite the apolitical middle class leadership bold political slogans demanding “Buhari must go” and “End to bad Governance”.
THE ABORTED SEPTEMBER 28 GENERAL STRIKE
As we have explained previously, the suspension of the September 28 indefinite general strike and mass protest by the labour leadership represented a defeat for the working class. This is especially because part of the deal reached between labour and government is recognition that government cannot sustain subsidy given present circumstance. This means that the labour leadership has practically endorsed the neoliberal policy of deregulation, a qualitative and significant step to the right. In a country where the broad masses have often times historically since the year 2000 united with the labour movement in several general strikes and mass protests, some having an insurrectionary nature, to resist fuel price increases and deregulation, this treachery and betrayal of the leadership is likely to diminish the stature of labour in the eyes of the broad layers of the oppressed masses thus creating new complications in mass consciousness.
But firstly, Marxists have to recognise that this defeat which the treacherous labour leadership have caused for the movement is political, not organisational. Despite being straddled by a compromising, pro-capitalist and treacherous bureaucratic leadership, the labour movement still retains its enormous powers as the highest concentration of the working class with trade unions organising tens of thousands in vital industries and arteries of the capitalist system. From that point of view, the trade unions are still vital in terms of our perspective as Marxists of how struggle will develop.
Secondly is that the treachery of the labour leadership neither overrules nor invalidates the centrality of the working class in the struggle for socialist transformation of Nigeria. This is due to the position and role of workers in the system of capitalist production – a position which gives it pre-eminence as the only class which has the historical duty to act as the “grave diggers of capitalism”. It is the working class that collectively can begin the planning of the nationalised economy that is required if Nigeria’s resources are to be used in the interests of the majority and not the profit of capitalism. All other oppressed classes or layers including the middle class, youth and peasantry can only help accomplish sustained revolutionary changes when a working class movement carries through a programme of socialist reconstruction.
A TRADE UNIONIST AND SOCIALIST NETWORK
From these two premises above, our task as Marxists is clear. As Spinoza admonished, ours is not to lament but to understand. There is a need to campaign to rebuild the labour movement on the basis of internal democracy, a fighting programme and bold and accountable Marxist leadership. Marxists, especially the forces of the DSM, will play a key role in this process which is why the DSM and CDWR will campaign for a “Trade Unionist and Socialist Network or Coalition” which would act as a campaigning and oppositional grouping within the labour movement to begin to challenge the bureaucracy on policy issues and questions of democratic traditions of the movement as part of the process of campaigning to rebuild and expand the movement on its fighting traditions. Such a network can also work to regularly put forward and campaign for slate of candidates in trade union elections on a fighting programme with a view to begin to rebuild the trade union movement and replace the champagne-drinking bureaucrats with real workers and class fighters.
In recent times, we have seen attempts by the NLC and TUC leadership to try to claw back some relevance by striking defiant postures towards the government. A few weeks ago, they walked out of a negotiation meeting with government in protest at new fuel price increase. Obviously no single worker believed these theatrics. But then it does show that public criticism of their treachery, even by newspaper editorials which are not left-wing, is beginning to have an impact on them.
This therefore raises the question of what would be our attitude if in the present circumstance labour should call an action, whether a protest or strike, against any anti-poor economic policy. Obviously in such circumstance, there would be public scepticism or even hostility to such an action based on lack of trust in the labour leaders’ ability to fight sincerely. But nevertheless, as Marxists who stand for the centrality of the working class in the struggle for socialist transformation, our attitude would be to challenge the labour leadership to demonstrate its willingness to struggle this time around by carrying out serious discussion involving pro-masses organisations and socialists to plan for the action as well as equally serious mobilization of its rank and file. We would also call for the formation from below of independent strike and action committees composed by workers and activists and linked up across factories, workplaces and communities to states and from there to a democratically elected national coordinating council to ensure that the fate of the strike is not placed in the hands of the pro-capitalist labour bureaucrats whose legendary treachery is a leopard spot that can only be removed through their complete replacement in the movement’s leadership.
#ENDSARS AND THE RISE OF THE YOUTH MOVEMENT
Elsewhere, especially in comrade LA’s article titled “#EndSARS uprising: Perspectives, lessons, tasks and the way forward for the revolutionary movement”, we have to some extent dealt with the main features of the youth revolt and lessons to be learnt. This document should be read in conjunction with Lanre Arogundade’s article which can be found on the DSM website as well as our perspective document for the 22nd congress of the DSM, held from April 14 to 15, 2018, which brilliantly anticipated the #EndSARS protest two years later.
In that perspective document, we wrote the following: “At the moment, there are no fighting youth movement. But this will not continue to be the case. The insoluble crises of the rotten capitalist system as it bears terribly down on young people will soon let loose a torrent of indignation and explosive anger. Especially in the urban areas where the youth bulge is most concentrated, combative mass protests led by young people can break out. Such protests, which could initially be sporadic and violent, will be based on social issues like lack of jobs, education, poor housing, against incessant arrest and killings by police, inequality etc. But because most young people are unemployed and also due to suspicion of official leadership, these movements will most likely develop outside of the trade unions. The bureaucratic labour aristocracy does not appeal to young people because of their betrayals of struggle and their lack of a fighting strategy. But while sympathising with their correct suspicion of the labour leadership, it is necessary for Marxists to explain that the youth movement can only succeed not just in winning one or two demands but in transforming society if it builds strong links with the labour movement on the basis of a collective fighting programme and an agenda to send out the bureaucracy and transform the unions into democratic and combative platforms of struggle that they ought to be…. Unless a movement fighting for young people is hurriedly built, absolute anarchy and disaster awaits. The social crises of capitalism are worsening at a frightening speed… Against the background of the worsening social crises, we can see also the phenomenon of riots breaking out involving hundreds and thousands of youth with looting, arson and absolute anarchy lasting days and laying waste to communities and cities. The immediate trigger could be a police killing of a young person which is now so frequent. This kind of riots can easily spread from streets to streets and even cities to cities, especially in the era of cable television and social media, fuelled by looting and a burning anger to get back at a society which has neglected them” (Buhari/Osinbajo APC Government: Why did it fail and how can a genuine pro-masses socialist change come about, DSM 22nd Congress, April 14-15 2018).
The #EndSARS protest, which though arose out of anger over police brutality especially the activities of the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), is a revolt against the Buhari government and capitalism. The demography of those who populated the protest is from the age of 20 to 35 – the youth layer which is most affected by the crisis of capitalism especially attacks on education and lack of decent employment. It is instructive to note that youth suicide had been on a sharp increase especially last year which demonstrates the depth of the hopelessness confronting young people. Middle class youth started the movement but they were soon joined by working class youth from poor communities. The entry of this layer began to spread out the movement and also politicise it with bolder slogans going beyond disbandment of SARS beginning to emerge. The 19th of October marked the peak of the movement in Lagos with a long and massive march from Alausa Ikeja to the Airport – all along the extensive route of this march, slogans of “Buhari must go” filled the air.
Despite not participating as a body in the protests, nevertheless the sympathy of the working class for the movement was unmistakable and is the reason the movement lasted so long. Right from the beginning of our intervention in the movement, the DSM had called for a general strike and mass protest to be called by the NLC and TUC but this was ignored by the treacherous leadership. But this obviously reflects the mortal fear by the ruling class of what a working class role in the movement could have meant. The self-appointed ‘non-leaders’ leaders of the protests refused to approach the working class for support, as well as refusing to take up the wider issues of jobs, wages and the fuel and electricity price hikes. In this they unwittingly played into the hands of the regime whose greatest fear was not the riot and arson which had started in a number of places but the possibility of the movement drawing in wider layers including the working class and taking the form of a struggle to end capitalist rule. Indeed given the paralysis of Lagos on the 19th of October. It was already clear that workers would not bother going to work the next day and this could have opened up the possibility of the working class joining the movement even without the frightened labour bureaucrats giving a lead. Attesting to this possibility was how DSM comrades were welcomed with dancing and songs when we descended on the working class communities of Agege in Lagos state on the afternoon of 21st October with a special edition of Socialist Democracy (SD) supporting the popular slogan “Buhari must go” but explaining how to build a mass movement and political alternative to achieve that.
The 20th of October repression was therefore meant to halt the movement from developing further and also stamp the authority of the regime. Like Buhari declared at a presidential broadcast before 20th October, the youth should not take the governments meeting of the 5 for 5 demands as a “sign of weakness”. This explains the sometimes incredible tale of excessive use of force by the army including in a place like Lekki toll gate which had not witnessed any violence throughout the 13 days of protest and was a place of merry and dancing.
The way the movement was violently put down in blood and anarchy reflects the confirmation of our warning that while the lack of an acknowledged leadership, even though a self-appointed ‘non-leaders’ leadership actually existed, obviously helped to prolong the movement as the regime could not immediately find anyone with whom they could buy the movement out, this could also fail the movement at its most decisive hour. With a democratic leadership elected by the movement, accountable to it and recallable at any time, it would have been possible to regularly discuss and plan what to do at each decisive stage of the struggle including whether to continue the protest or suspend actions in order to resume at another date especially at the point when curfew was declared in the afternoon of 20th October 2020. Unfortunately, this was not the case despite the warning of socialists, especially members of the DSM who intervened in the movement under the platform of the Youth Rights Campaign (YRC).
The youth, angered at the serial betrayal of the labour bureaucrats, students leaders and the capitalist establishment, felt the best way to insulate their movement from betrayal was by having no acknowledged leadership at all. But unfortunately what they succeeded in doing is robbing the movement of the spine with which it could have stood firm at a period of state repression and attack. But even now after the protest, the lack of an acknowledged leadership means that there is no authority to defend the movement against the slander of the state and also to collectively review the protest and plan on how to rebuild the struggle in future. Now individual unelected leaders of the movement have now taken positions in judicial panels supposedly representing the youth but without being subjected to any process of democratic control of what they do in the panel by the youth they represent.
ROLE OF THE YOUTH AND STUDENTS IN THE STRUGGLE TO TRANSFORM NIGERIA
The most important lesson that can be drawn from this movement is that while a protest could win one or two demands, it takes a greater effort and longer term struggle to achieve the kind of great changes including end to all forms of police brutality and “end to bad governance” that the movement was aiming for. For this to happen, a fighting programme from which a fighting strategy is derived is necessary. Secondly, a leadership or a democratically elected body is necessary for mass struggle to succeed. What should be done to avoid betrayal is to ensure that any leadership is democratically elected, recallable and under the control of the movement in order to ensure that those elected reflect the wishes of the movement at all times.
Now in the aftermath of the protest there is the need to set about the task of building a fighting, mass democratic and socialist youth movement which links the campaigns against police brutality, education and jobs with the necessity of a socialist alternative. The starting point of this can come about through individuals and youth groups like the YRC and others which played roles in the #EndSARS protest coming together in a united front to regularly organise campaigns and struggles to defend the right of the youth against police brutality and state repression, and to fight for better funding of education and provision of decent jobs. In building this kind of movement, there should be no wall between youth in the communities and those on campuses. Indeed the best way to go forward is to unite the youth across the two fields ensuring that the example and inspiration of the #EndSARS protest is used to begin to rebuild and reclaim the students’ movement on its ideological and fighting tradition.
Thirdly, another important lesson is that the youth alone cannot make a revolution, especially a socialist revolution which brings about real change in the way society is run. While the revolutionary youth can inspire a call for such a revolution, only the working class is capable, leading all oppressed masses, of overthrowing capitalism and enthroning a democratic socialist society. Despite their energy, the youth are only the light Calvary of the revolution while the working class is its heavy battalion. Therefore part of the task going forward is the reawakening of the labour movement and a struggle to reclaim the trade unions as fighting platforms for workers struggle. An important ingredient of this is the unity of the working class and the youth in struggle. As Marxists, our aim is to bring under the socialist leadership of the working class all layers of the oppressed masses including the youth and middle class the lower layers of which are regularly ruined by the workings of the capitalist system, not to promote illusion that due to the treachery of the labour leadership, the youth alone can act as a force to transform society. Such an approach which is evident in the method of some “left” organisations is alien to Marxism and will sooner than later lead to a blind alley.
Closely linked with the above is the need for the radical youth to combat the apolitical mood which is still quite dominant among young people. Though there has been some improvement especially towards the end of #EndSARS movement given the growth and acceptance of the recently formed Youth Democratic Party of Nigeria, albeit on social media. The party which bases its quest for political power on the energy and modernity of young people, not any idea, now has over 450,000 members on its social media platform. The reality is that no real change is possible without the working class, youth and poor winning political power. However, it has to be on a socialist program. 2023 will bring to power a worse capitalist government if the workers and youth have to once again vote for candidates of either the APC or PDP and other capitalist parties come 2023 general elections. Hence, the most important step going forward is for the labour movement, youth movement, student movement and Socialists to begin discussion on how to build a mass workers’ and youth political party armed with socialist programmes. In the meantime, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) is still, politically and ideologically, the best representative of the desires of the working people and radical youth for a new Nigeria. The SPN stands for a revolutionary transformation and reconstruction of Nigeria along socialist lines.
THE JUDICIAL PANELS AND THE FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
The #EndSARS movement may recede for a period but not totally disappear over the next period. New outbursts are possible either due to new cases of police brutality; also new cases of repression like the way the state has blocked bank accounts or seized the travelling documents of those linked with the protest and has been trying to clampdown on the basic rights to freedom of expression and assembly in the wake of the protest can provoke protests. Protests are now practically outlawed and even public meetings with any reference to #EndSARS are prevented by the police from taking place. The situation is pregnant with all kinds of possibilities including resentment at attacks on democratic rights linking up with rising anger over anti-poor policies and rampart poverty snowballing into an “Algerian-type revolt” or mass movement aiming to bring down the regime. Also the movement could find expression in new struggles like students struggles against fee hike; attack on democratic rights and for improved funding of education. This therefore raises the need to build the YRC and ERC energetically over the next period and also find means of regularly linking both campaigns together as a way of uniting the struggles of youth on campuses and in communities.
While ramping up repression, the state is simultaneously trying to give the impression that it wants to seriously deal with police brutality. This explains the judicial panels of inquiry set up across the country including Lagos state following the protest. Socialists must warn that nothing fundamental will come out of this panel especially with regards to the Lekki tollgate shooting given the fact that the panel itself was set up by the Lagos state government which is guilty of complicity in the event of 20th October. This explains the call of the YRC for an independent panel of inquiry or truth commission composed of elected representatives of youth groups, pro-masses organisations and socialist organisations, trade unions, professional bodies etc. This however should not be misconstrued to mean that it is politically wrong to engage with the panel as activists and lawyers are currently doing. The position of the YRC and DSM however is that such an engagement should have no illusion but instead be used to rebuild and reorganise the movement through regular online and physical public meetings/townhalls where lawyers and #EndSARS activists can report back what is happening and, most importantly, what needs to be done to ensure justice is done and repression etc. is brought to an end.
UNRESOLVED NATIONAL QUESTIONS
Despite the explosion of class anger, sectarian strife including ethnic and religious crises has continued especially in the North East, North West and North Central. The recent news of the slaughtering of 43 farmers at Koshobe, Borno state clearly shows that not only is Boko Haram not technically defeated but in many ways, the Buhari government has lost the fight against insurgency. This is inspite of heavy military spending and foreign support as well as successive battle victories of the Nigerian army which successfully pushed the terrorist group out of the cities.
Like we have pointed out in the past, it would take more than guns to beat the right wing Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. Without resolving the social roots of the insurgency which is located in the terrible conditions of inequality, mass unemployment, lack of access to public education and misery that envelopes the North, the insurgency will continue to find a fertile soil to grow. Even if Boko Haram is militarily defeated, this condition will create new right-wing fighting groups and militia. This is why the calls for removal of Service Chiefs only serve an emotional and optic purpose. On its own, the sack of the service chiefs will not change anything. What the Boko Haram insurgency and other violent crises have demonstrated is that no section of the capitalist elite has an answer to insecurity and the National Questions in Nigeria.
The Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and herdsmen-farmers clashes have blighted large swathe of the North throwing millions of already poor and neglected families into new forms of misery. There is, according to a United Nations Refugee Agency estimate at least 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in the North East alone with over another 684, 000 person displaced in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This is side by side with other problems like malnutrition, high maternal mortality rate and regular outbreak of diseases like polio, ringworm etc. At least some 3.5 million people also remain food insecure in the Lake Chad Basin region. In Southern Kaduna, the violent communal conflict has continued with regular killings and reprisals between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority. While herdsmen and farmers clashes appear to have subsided, the dry season could bring it up again as herdsmen migrate South ward looking for watering holes and green pasture for their cattle.
In a similar vein, the secessionist agitation in the East has not subsided. This year while Nigeria marked 60th anniversary of its flag independence, Igbo socio cultural organisations and groups as well as authors, literary groups and the secessionist IPOB also marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the 1967-70 civil war. This shows how the memory of the civil war is still alive for a layer of the Igbo population. Bereft of any means to placate this agitation, the state has ramped up clampdown on IPOB but this is having the opposite effect of further fanning the embers of crisis. The bloody attacks by the army under the command of APC President Buhari and at the instance of PDP Governor Wike of Rivers State, in the wake of the #EndSARS protest against Oyigbo, a local government in Rivers state, said to be dominated by people of Igbo extraction has drawn widespread condemnation. What happened in Oyigbo was no doubt mindless killing of innocent people under the guise of trying to fish out IPOB members who had allegedly killed 7 soldiers during the #EndSARS protest.
Nigeria’s National Questions are a knotty issue for the capitalist elite and on which they have always exposed their bankruptcy and incapacitation. No section of the capitalist elite has been able to find any solution to this crisis. This demonstrates the incurably self-serving character of the capitalist system and the weaknesses of the national bourgeoisie who are unable to carry out the necessary bourgeois democratic tasks towards the building of a real and viable nation. 60 years after independence, there is actually no national bourgeoisie in the sense of a truly patriotic capitalist elite which bears allegiance to the entire nation. Rather, every section of the national bourgeoisie rests on their own ethnic base and frequently runs under this identity once there is disagreement in the sharing of national spoils.
This also partly explains the rapacious corruption and looting of the Nigerian elite which is more akin to the sharing of spoils of war by a rampaging bandit. What is holding Nigeria together appears to be the oil wealth whose administration is located at the centre and this is why the prospect of a possible end to crude oil exploration over the next few decades fills the capitalist elite with gloom. But then this is not to say that an end to crude oil wealth would automatically mean an end to Nigeria as a nation. But it alongside other factors can easily threaten the corporate existence of the country.
But long before crude oil wealth ceases, the ongoing cacophonic secessionist agitations and ethno religious conflicts can cause a violent break up of Nigeria unless the working class is able to put itself at the head of a mass movement to defeat capitalism and enthrone a workers and peoples government which shall alongside socialist economic reconstruction of society end all national oppression and ensure the recognition of the rights of all national, ethnic and religious minorities up to the extent of self-determination. It is only such a kind of approach, alongside the convoking of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) dominated by elected representatives of the working class, oppressed masses and national minorities, rather than state repression, that can guarantee the unity of Nigeria on the long run.
From the foregoing perspective, it is clear that no matter how and from which angle we look at Nigeria, the continued existence of capitalism and rule of the corrupt capitalist elite will only bring more and more catastrophe of economic, political and humanitarian proportion. Capitalism on a global level is failing as it has exhausted its ability to develop humanity harmoniously hence the periodic economic crises following ever shorter cycles of growth. In the context of neo colonialism, the fate of humanity is even more hopeless should capitalism continue to exit. In a way, Rosa Luxemburg’s battle cry of “either Socialism or barbarism” is very true for Nigeria. As captured by a recent editorial of a foremost mouthpiece of capitalism, the Financial Times of London, Nigeria is “at risk of becoming a failed state” (23 December 2020 print edition).
Therefore there can be no hope, as some middle class elements entertain, of somehow ending corruption and developing capitalism in Nigeria in the same way as the Asian tigers. The condition for this which includes the Cold War era geopolitical conflict and the need to challenge China’s dominance which made imperialism, between the 1960s and 1990s, to allow some measure of rapid economic progress for the four countries of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong do not exist at the moment for Nigeria. Now weaker nations like Nigeria are even more dependent on the world market with ever increasing trade imbalance. At the same time, the US is not able to play the kind of role it used to play on the global scene. Now there is not one but several global powers, further complicating the situation. Against this background, the perspective for Nigeria over the next period is one of turmoil, upheavals and rise in the class struggle.
POLITICAL CRISES AS 2023 APROACHES
In the run-up to the 2023 elections, the crisis of capitalist political representation which was briefly resolved in 2015 will become acute. Given how the capitalist political establishment has been seriously discredited, no section of the capitalist elite especially the two major political parties, the APC and PDP, will be able to win any real electoral support among the people. Therefore the 2023 general election is likely to be more rigged and violent.
A fracturing of the APC is also possible on the basis of disagreement over zoning or choice of presidential candidate. The brutal fight to remove former labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, as the ruling party’s national chairman is a foretaste of the bitter rivalry that exist in the party. By 2023, the moral adhesive which Buhari provides will no more be there since he will not be qualified to contest again. This (along with many more issues) is part of the headache of the ruling elite as it tries to cobble together the APC as a ruling party towards the 2023 general elections. The PDP even fares worse than the APC as it is completely divided by crisis at the national level and also in many state chapters. Having lost out of power, the PDP has not been able to develop a political leadership with any real authority to define a direction. Their recent victory in Edo state was secured by poaching the APC candidate, the Edo state governor, who needed just any party to contest for re-election after his internal struggles with Oshiomhole cost him the party’s ticket.
Now alongside calls within the ruling party for former Lagos state Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu to run for president in 2023, there is now a new call outside of the ruling party for former President Jonathan to run. While the choice of Tinubu as a presidential candidate will not be acceptable to many in the ruling party, any talk of either the APC or PDP presenting Jonathan for President will certainly meet stiff opposition. While his public acceptance may have slightly improved given the failure of the Buhari regime, Jonathan and the South South capitalist elite as a whole are not liked by the Northern ruling oligarchy for how they rose to power following the late President Yar ‘Adua’s death thus denying the North the opportunity of finishing their term. Moreso Jonathan’s stint in power has not resolved the fact that political power is often passed among the ruling elite of the three dominant ethnic groups of the North, Southwest and Southeast and with the Southeast holding the shorter end of the stick even in that arrangement. It took the death of an incumbent president for a NigerDeltan to get into power – an opportunity that the Igbo bourgeoisie has not had a chance to have. Against this kind of background, a Jonathan candidacy could face stout opposition from the three major ethnic groups’ dominant in the leading capitalist parties.
However, a different mood could develop if a youth or anti-establishment candidate develops outside of the two main political parties or is successfully co-opted by any of them as a presidential candidate. This is linked to the potential for sudden mass upsurges on issues like attacks on democratic rights, corruption or any other of the myriad of ills effecting capitalist Nigeria. Marxists would participate in such movements, for example defending democratic rights and fighting corruption, linking such issues to the fight against capitalism. The potentially explosive situation in Nigeria, particularly its youth population, can lead to rapid developments.
This could be the basis for a new Sowore presidential campaign in 2023. Especially given how all sections of the ruling class have lost credibility, he could grow a mass following and support similar to that of Bobi Wine of Uganda. This could key into the “ageism” mood which exist among broad sections of the population, not just the youth alone. But then we have to warn that this will only end up as another illusion if beyond age, the political and economic programme of either Sowore or any other similar candidate or party does not go beyond capitalism. But then there is the question of under which party would Sowore contest given that the African Action Congress (AAC) is currently formally out of Sowore’s control but in the hands of a right wing and pro-state faction, although he could also develop a new formation. There is also the possibility immanent in the situation for new left formations emerging outside of the SPN to fight for political power in 2023. Already following the #EndSARS protest, there has been a number of initiatives and discussions around such a possibility which the DSM is involved in. One of these initiatives is the Movement of the People (MOP); a movement launched by late Fela Anikulapo’s in the 1970’s which has now been resurrected by his son, Seun Kuti together with the Pan-Afrikanist Naija Resistance Movement (NRM). Discussion about a similar initiative has also been started by Femi Falana and Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB). We address in more details the nature and character of these new initiatives and the attitude of Marxists in a separate document.
Despite being more to the right of the ideological spectrum, this potential electoral movement for change of the “old guards”, “a youth rising”, can also be reflected through the YDPN. If the YDPN successfully registers and actually gathers significant mass following, then Marxists would have to consider how to creatively intervene among those attracted to it without blurring the ideological differences or lowering the banner of socialism.
Suffice to note that any of the above perspectives can only see the light of the day if the Buhari regime manages to survive till 2023 – something which is not automatically guaranteed. The regime is very weak and has had its social base shrunken. With an economic recession, the regime can be further severely weakened. Repression can only succeed in delaying the outbreak of struggle for a period of time; it cannot annul class struggle. Very soon the mass movement of workers, youth and the poor masses will begin again. As we have seen in the youth revolt, a mood to push for an end to the regime and the rule of all looters can rapidly develop. This will be as a result of the fact that many do not trust that real change can come through a rigged electoral system so they do not want to wait till 2023. Such a situation can put revolution on the agenda and the forces of Marxism have to be prepared for this possibility as with all others.
At the same time, the threat of a military coup is always ever-present in any perspective about Nigeria’s future. The recent event in Mali is no doubt a warning of how the army can take over basing themselves on an impasse in the class struggle. Nevertheless, while we do not rule it out, we have to stress that a simple military take-over of power in Nigeria is the least likely choice for imperialism given the example it would lay for the region and the possibility that it could exacerbate and accelerate the breakdown of Nigeria. But even in the absence of a military coup, there is already an element of Bonapartism in the direction the Buhari regime is moving. In recent time, we have seen the military playing more roles in matters of internal security and new levels of state repression. The Lekki shooting, the killing of Shiites, regular attacks on IPOB by the army, periodic military operations (Operation Python Dance, Operation Crocodile Smile etc.) across the country – all these gives the impression of an army top that is practically in charge, even if not in power. Now in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protest, the Buhari government has progressed even more sharply in the direction of a civilian capitalist dictatorship attacking and limiting all democratic rights including attacks on freedom of the press and attempts to muzzle social media. In effect, what we already have in place are increasing elements of a dictatorship with a democratic cover.
While any of the above outlined perspectives contain varying degrees of possibilities, the main line of development for Marxists is the class struggle. As mass consciousness develops through twists and turns, the bankruptcy of the capitalist political establishment is becoming more apparent and this is making many working class people and youth to be more open to discussing new ideas and political alternatives. The forces of the DSM must engage with this new situation concentrating on the workers and the youth.
Despite our small size, our activities and intervention can exert a big influence on the situation. Our bold and successful intervention in the #EndSARS struggles shows what is possible. This must be replicated at all areas of our work including the students’ movement, the workers movement and our interventions in community struggles. We must set forth with the confidence that our political work together with the ever-deepening crisis of capitalism will create favourable conditions for re-building the mass organisations of the working class and the youth, the inevitable emergence of a mass workers political alternative and a successful revolution that leads to the overthrow of capitalism and enthronement of socialism.
However the foundation for any successful mass work and the socialist revolution itself is the building, education, expansion and strengthening of the forces of Marxism. In order words, going forward, we are confronted with a dual task of building the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) politically while simultaneously working tenaciously through our front platforms in the CDWR, ERC, YRC, CARE and CDCR, plus our activity in the SPN, to reach a wider audience and intervene in the activities and movements that could break out. Given the low level of consciousness and ideological confusion that exist now, how we are able to combine these dual tasks could be a key factor for the class struggle itself in the coming period. Hence, the need for all DSM members to utilise the occasion of this NC to rededicate ourselves to the ideas and programmes of Marxism and be ready to study, debate and work even more actively, contribute more financially and organise more effectively than before for the triumph of Socialism in the mighty events and storms that impends.