TIME FOR A 48-HOUR GENERAL STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST TO TACKLE RISING COST OF LIVING AND UNEMPLOYMENT!
FOR THE BUILDING OF A MASS WORKERS POLITICAL PARTY BASED ON SOCIALIST PROGRAMMES TO KICK OUT THE APC, PDP AND ALL CAPITALIST PARTIES!
Aside the daily orgy of violence, abductions and killings in Nigeria, one other fact of everyday life is the rising cost of living and its attendant consequences on the already impoverished working people. Living conditions, for big portions of the population especially the working class and poor, have gone from bad to worse.
By H.T Soweto
In the last one year alone, prices of food and cooking gas have gone up by nearly 100% in addition to the hike in fuel price and electricity tariff! Cost of living remains high while at least one in three Nigerians are unemployed. With the National Minimum wage frozen at N30, 000 per month, something which many states have not even implemented, many working families are no doubt in desperate situation unable to afford the most basic essentials!
HUNGER, POVERTY AND UNEMPLOYMENT
The prices of major staple foods (legumes, cereals, proteins and vegetables) in Nigeria have risen at an average of about 98.85 and 99.9 per cent respectively in the last one year (Punch, October 1st 2021). They continue to remain high despite reported decline in Nigeria’s inflation rate for five consecutive months.
According to Punch newspaper of 15 September 2021, the Consumer Price Index which measures inflation rate fell to 17.01 percent in August down from the height of 18.12 percent in April 2021. But in spite of this general decline, the food index has continued to rise. In fact, the composite food index rose by 20.30 percent in August 2021. When compared on a month-on-month basis, the food sub-index is reported to have increased by 1.06 percent in August, up by 0.20 percent points from the 0.86% percent recorded in July 2021. This was reportedly driven by increases in the prices of bread and cereal, milk, cheese and egg, oils and fats, potatoes, yam and other tubers, food products, meat and coffee, tea and cocoa.
On top of this, unemployment is rising. A new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Nigeria and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that 20 per cent of the fulltime workers in Nigeria lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (Leadership, 22/9/21). Now the unemployment rate has risen from 27.1% to 33.3% – the highest in over 13 years and the second highest rate in the world (PremiumTimes, 16/3/2021). This translates roughly to about 23.2 million people out of jobs. Of course, youth unemployment is far higher. A majority of young people have lost hope in the country and in their own future.
This horrific economic situation is however not simply a product of the COVID-19 lockdown last year. With or without the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year, Nigeria’s economy which had barely recovered from a recession in 2016 was heading for the rocks one way or another. The warning signs were already obvious in the year 2019. The pandemic however accelerated this process of a new economic crisis thereby leading to a second recession in four years in 2020 from which the economy is still struggling to recover, despite the exit from the recession and five percent growth recorded in the second quarter 2021. But to show the pessimism and uncertainty that continue to exist, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has had to review downward its growth forecast for the economy for the year 2021 from 3.15% to 2.86%. Furthermore, as seen in the 2022 budget estimate, the Buhari regime only hope to reduce inflation to 13% in the 2022 fiscal year thereby completely abandoning its previous dreams of a single digit inflation rate.
Like we have previously argued, the sustained economic crisis afflicting the country is a product of the weaknesses and contradictions of Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist economy and the crises in the capitalist world economy. World capitalism is in a period of decline as it has become incapable of guaranteeing the sustained growth witnessed in the past. The system is stumbling from one crisis to another. Added to this is the unbridled corruption and profligacy of the local Nigerian capitalist elite. The Pandora papers have gone to great lengths to expose how Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elite are robbing the country blind while hiding their wealth in overseas tax havens by establishing shell companies which, for those of them who have held political offices, are not declared to the Nigerian authorities as required by law. The Pandora papers are a massive leak from firms that specialize in setting up offshore companies in territories such as the British Virgin Island and Panama and the leak exposes several hundreds of world leaders from Kenya’s leader to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Some of the Nigerian politicians and elite indicted in the leak include former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, Senator Stella Oduah, Mohammed Bello-Koko (Finance Director of Nigerian Port Authority), Osun state Governor Oyetola, Bola Tinubu and many others. The report also shows that in the last three decades, 137 Nigerians using anonymous offshore companies and fronts acquired 233 properties in the United Kingdom worth over 350 million pounds!
A factor in the weaknesses and contradictions of capitalism in Nigeria is the role played by the oil sector. The failed attempts to build a viable Nigerian capitalism have resulted in crude oil accounting for over 70 percent of government’s revenue and 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings. Therefore, any fall in crude oil price inevitably throws the entire economy into a tailspin. As the pandemic ravaged the world last year, one of its byproducts was sharp drop in crude oil prices thereby leading to a drop in the revenue and foreign exchange earnings of oil producing countries including Nigeria.
But now crude oil prices are again on the rise with Brent Crude trading for $79.71 per barrel as at Monday 27 September 2021 (Punch 28/9/21). But tragically for Nigeria, the country is a contributor to the global supply shortfall which is pushing oil price upward on the world market. According to latest OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR), Nigeria pumped 1.27 million barrels per day (mbpd) last month, lower than 1.38mbpd in July (Guardian, 27/9/21). This is, in addition to the oil production cut quota for Nigeria as agreed by OPEC +, a result of the age-long unresolved challenges of pipeline vandalization, sabotage, crude oil theft and bunkering, high operation costs, technical problems etc. afflicting the oil sector. There are other contradictions which reflect the neo-colonial paradox of Nigerian capitalism. For instance, President Buhari has made an astonishing revelation in his recent 2022 budget speech that despite the positive variables like the rise in crude oil price to over $70 per barrel per day over and above the benchmark of $40 in the 2021 budget, yet as at July 2021 the actual revenues realized for the current budget were 34% lower than target due to “underperformance of oil and gas revenue sources”. Invariably, what all this means is that even as crude oil price continue to rise, Nigeria may not gain as much as it should. This is even as high crude oil prices now also means higher fuel subsidy cost for the government which will further add to the pressure on the foreign reserve and the economy as a whole.
Not surprising therefore that the foreign exchange and inflation crises continue unabatedly. In fact, the country’s currency, Naira, has been heavily devaluated and exchanges at about N560 to a dollar at the parallel market while the official exchange rate is still fixed at N410 to a dollar as at first week in October. However, it is the parallel or black market where most people are able to access foreign exchange because of the restrictions, red tape and corruption in the allocation of foreign exchange through the official channels. Also, other factors, both economic and social like border closure, the ravaging banditry, herdsmen and farmers conflict and insecurity which have disrupted farming activities in the rural areas have combined with purely economic ones to give the current situation a rather terrible twist. This explains the steep hike in food prices – something which may last for a long time to come.
THE DEBT TIMEBOMB
However, while the objective contradictions of world capitalism provide the background for the present crises, the choice of ruinous and anti-poor policies made by the Buhari government have in turn worsened the crisis while creating entirely new contradictions. From a “messiah” sprung by the crisis and urgent needs of the capitalist system, the Buhari government has morphed into a Frankenstein monster not simply politically in terms of egregious clampdown on democratic rights, but most crucially economically in terms of its stubborn insistence on ruinous capitalist policies and programmes that have the potential, if not checkmated, of putting the entire system in danger. One of these is the enormous accretion of public debt.
6 years ago when the Buhari government assumed power following the 2015 general elections, the total public debt stock of Nigeria was put at N12.06 trillion (Vanguard, July 2 2015). Now as at June 30 2021, Nigeria’s Public Debt Stock has risen to N35.465 trillion (ThisDay, 22/9/2020). However, this does not include the new plan of the Federal Government to borrow an additional $4.054 billion, 710 million euros and, they hope, grants of $125 million (Vanguard, September 19, 2021) from the international markets as well as bilateral and multilateral organizations to fund the deficit in the 2021 budget. Similarly, a new borrowing plan of N5. 01 trillion naira is being projected to fund the deficit of 6.26 trillion naira in the 2022 budget now before the National Assembly!
While the ministers of the government defend this ruinous policy by pointing to the fact that Nigeria is still within safe borrowing limits since its debt is not yet above the International Monetary Fund (IMF) total debt-to-GDP limit of 34.3%, what they fail to admit is that with the current debt profile and low revenue the cost of servicing debt is outrageous and unbearable. For instance, between January and May 2021 about 97.7% of government revenue was used to service debt (ThisDay, 22/9/2021). At this rate, this means that there is hardly any chance of the country escaping this vortex of rising debt. As nearly every kobo of its revenue goes to servicing debt, the government would have to continue to borrow. And the continuing naira devaluation only worsens increases the burden. To show the severity of the problem, Dr. Doyin Salami (The Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the government) has noted that the country’s debt stock is estimated to hit about N54trillion when Ways and Means as well as the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) liabilities and projected fiscal deficit for 2021 are put into consideration!
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Workers, youth and the poor urgently need to begin to fightback. A 48-hour general strike and nationwide mass protest is urgently needed to raise demands on issues of rising cost of living, increase in and payment of the national minimum wage, provision of decent employment for all and payment of unemployment benefit, against fuel price and electricity tariff hike etc.
Pro-working people organizations like the Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR), Joint Action Front (JAF), TPAP-M, CORE, youth groups like the YRC, ERC etc. need to come together to work out a common programme of action to begin to mobilize for a fightback. Given the situation today, such an action can become popular and well supported.
However, unless the labour movement provides a lead through a general strike and mass protest, only very little can be achieved. Tragically, the leaderships of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) do not appear to be interested in any serious struggle. Now following the #EndSARS youth revolt last year, the labour leadership now hypocritically use the violence and destruction that occurred mostly after the youth protesters had been sent out of the street through police and army repression as an excuse to avoid calling for any action with the false argument that any protest will be hijacked.
But it was the failure of the NLC and TUC leaderships and especially their abrupt suspension of the September 28 2020 general strike and mass protest against fuel price and electricity price hike that made the #EndSARS protest to emerge in the way it did. If the labor leadership had not chickened out but had provided a lead in September 2020, the youth protest would have taken a different and more organized direction. But the failure and serial betrayal of the labour leadership discredited in the eyes of the youth the idea of centralized leadership and organization. The betrayal of the general strikes of January 2012 and once again September 28 2020 loomed large in the consciousness of the youth. They therefore, but wrongly as events since then have now confirmed, chose not to have elected leadership in order to avoid similar betrayal that is associated with the rightwing leadership of the labour movement. Unfortunately, this absence of elected and organized leadership only ensured that the youth struggle which started so gloriously had no clear strategy and ended in bloody repression and a nationwide orgy of violence.
In a way we are back to where we were pre-October 2020. If the radical youth wanted to solve the problem of the leadership of the class struggle by avoiding leadership altogether, now last year’s youth struggle itself shows why the question cannot be solved by simply ignoring it. So far the working class remain the only class capable, by virtue of its role in economic production, of uniting all other oppressed masses behind it for a successful struggle to overthrow capitalism, the question of the leadership of that class and its mass organizations cannot be ignored. Rather we need a campaign to call for a fighting and democratic leadership for the labour movement.
The starting point of such is by putting pressure on the labor leadership to act. Therefore, all genuine trade union activists need to take up within their union affiliates and workplaces the demand for the NLC and TUC to declare a 48hour general strike and mass protest. Activities like mass symposium, press conferences and leafletting need to be organized to drive and popularize this demand until the leadership becomes unable to ignore it or is replaced by one that will seriously lead a struggle.
In general, what the multifaceted crises afflicting Nigeria shows is the inability of capitalism to develop the country and meet the needs of the mass majority. For instance, despite the horrific situation confronting workers, the youth and poor masses, the richest one percent continue to see their wealth increase. According to Forbes’ 2021 World’s Billionaire list, the combined net worth of three of Nigeria’s richest persons, Aliko Dangote, Mike Adenuga and Abdulsamad Rabiu increased by $5.7 billion in one year to $22.5 billion. In fact, Dangote who is already Africa’s richest person saw his net worth jump to $11.5 billion from $8.3 billion in 2020 (Punch 7 April 2021)!
It is not accidental that two of the three richest Nigerians, apart from being citizens of a country considered to be the poverty capital of the world, also hail from the Northern part of Nigeria which is the most deprived and poorest section of the country. What this confirms is what Karl Marx said of capitalism as a system which guarantees accumulation and obscene wealth at one pole as well as poverty and misery on the other.
We cannot continue with this kind of irrational system. We need a common struggle of the working masses and youth and the building of a mass workers political alternative to overthrow capitalism and enthrone a workers and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies. Such a government will refuse to pay the usurious debt owed to parasitic international and local creditors while putting into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy, including banking, oil and gas, etc., under democratic workers control and management. This would release for public use the enormous resources belonging collectively to the people of this country but which are now held by a small minority made up of the self-serving capitalist elite.
It is only in such equitable conditions that free and functional public education and healthcare, decent jobs for all, payment of living wage and all other steps to make life easy and more fulfilling of the mass majority become possible. This is what is called Socialism but while it begins nationally, it can only succeed on a world scale. Therefore, a successful overthrow of capitalism in Nigeria will in turn lead to revolutionary uprisings across Africa and ultimately the entire world as the working masses elsewhere and everywhere hurry to throw off their yoke and follow the examples of the Nigerian working people. This would lay the basis for the global planning of the world’s wealth and resources and its democratic use to meet the needs of all instead of the greed of a few as we have presently.
CARDINAL DEMANDS AROUND WHICH THE NLC AND TUC SHOULD MOBILISE FOR A 48HR GENERAL STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST:
- Bring down prices of food and other basic amenities.
- For the setting up of democratically constituted price control taskforce composed by elected representatives of trade unions, farmers associations and cooperatives, small traders and communities to tackle hoarding and price manipulation.
- Implementation of the N30, 000 national minimum wage to all categories of workers. Payment of all owed backlog of salaries, allowances and pensions.
- Down with the obscene salaries and allowances of public office holders. No state officials to earn more than the average minimum wage
- Fulfil agreements with ASUU, doctors and all workers unions. Not to attempts to use the state and court to undermine workers right to strike.
- Increase the National Minimum Wage to N100, 000 and to be increased regularly to match the rate of inflation.
- Full and decent employment for all. End casualization.
- Payment of adequate monthly unemployment benefits.
- No to another fuel price and electricity tariff hike. For reversal of fuel price to N100 per litre and immediate crash programme to build public refineries under workers democratic control and management
- Reverse privatization of electricity sector and deregulation of the oil sectors. End all neo-liberal and anti-poor policies.
- For free, public-funded and democratically-managed public education and healthcare.
- For public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic workers control and management to prevent looting and plan its development in the interests of the majority.