NIGERIA: Worsening Crises of Capitalism and Prospect for Class Struggle
- A Balance Sheet and Prognosis for the Next Period
- Economy in Troubled Waters
- A Failing State
- National Question
- EndSARS and the Re-entry of the Youth into the Arena of Struggle
- The Labour Leadership and Prospect for Class Struggle
- 2022: A year of Turmoil and Struggle
By DSM National Executive Committee (NEC)
On Saturday 4 December 2021, 15 NEC members and organizers of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) from different states and areas of work gathered at a hybrid (in-person and zoom) NEC meeting to take stock of the crises of capitalism in Nigeria over the past one year and lay out perspectives for the next period. The meeting began with a lively discussion on the “Unrelenting Crises of Capitalism and the Prospect for Class Struggle” and ended with discussions on organizational and building questions. The following report therefore claims to be nothing more than a summation of the lead off and contributions at the meeting. The organizational questions have been left out as they have been captured in an internal report which is already circulated to DSM members. We do hope this political report will stimulate further debates in the ranks of the DSM and also interest our collaborators in the SPN, labour, youth and student movements.
Economy in Troubled Waters
Nigeria’s economic woes continue to deepen due to a combination of internal contradictions of the neo-colonial capitalist economy and the slowdown in the world economy. Such is the intensity of the capitalist crises that within a period of 4 years, Nigeria’s economy experienced two recessions in quick succession. This is unprecedented and shows how fragile and unstable the Nigerian neo-colonial economy has become. The first recession was in 2016 when GDP growth progressively declined to 2.7% y/y from 6.2% y/y in the mid-2014. This was the first recession since 1991 and the worst in 25 years! But just as soon as Nigeria began to climb out of the crisis, another recession took place in 2020 when the economy contracted by 1.92%. While both recessions were driven by oil price shocks, the additional factor of COVID-19 played a crucial role in the 2020 recession. The health emergency and lockdowns provoked by the virus not only accelerated the economic crises, it also modified it and prolonged it in many ways. Now the emergence of the Omicron variant can again send Nigeria’s economy reeling.
Despite the recovery, economic growth remains low and sluggish with a prominent inflationary trend. According to Punch newspapers, prices of staple foods rose at an average of about 98.85% and 99.9% in the last one year alone. These include prices of gas and other basic necessities. Although inflation has been on a steady decline, it still stood at 15.99% as at October 2021 – a decline from the height of 18.12% it was as at April 2021. The crash in the value of the Naira has further intensified the inflationary pressure leading to skyrocketing prices of goods and services. The official inflationary figures however may not capture the reality of the crisis that most families, including layers of the middle classes are going through. For example, by the time the schools reopen next January many of them could go a borrowing to pay for increasing fees.
Similarly, unemployment has risen from 27.1% to 33.3%, the 2nd highest rate in the world, while youth unemployment is at nothing less than 42%. This translates to tens of millions, mostly young people, without any jobs at all and the number is rapidly rising every year. This is the harsh economic reality behind the youth outburst last year, especially by the way of the #EndSars protests. Now the World Bank in its latest “Nigeria Development Update” (NDU) titled “Time for Business Unusual” – a glib war cry by international capitalism for new attacks on Nigeria’s working masses – is set to light fire on the tottering economy.
According to the report, the World Bank recommends the following urgent measures for Nigeria; (1) Reversal of fuel subsidy (2) Reducing inflation through a mix of exchange rate, trade, monetary and fiscal policies (3) Catalysing private investment by enhancing foreign exchange management, easing trade restrictions and fostering a better business environment (4) Addressing fiscal pressures through enhanced domestic revenue mobilization and reducing reliance on CBN deficit financing.
Suffice to stress that none of these policies if executed can resolve the fundamental problem or prevent a new economic recession. Instead, they would lead to more attacks on the interest of the working masses and consequently a worsening of living standards. The proposal to reverse fuel subsidy in the absence of fully functioning public refineries will cause pump price of fuel to shoot through the roof. there is the speculation that a litre may cost as much as N340 should this policy be carried out next year. Likewise, the so-called enhanced revenue mobilization is euphemism for more crippling taxes while “Catalysing private investment by enhancing foreign exchange management” is a call for further devaluation of naira.
A New Public Debt Trap
Nigeria is potentially faced with a new public debt crisis. This is not an overstatement given how much now goes to debt servicing. Between July 2015 and September 2021, Nigeria’s total public debt stock rose from N12.06 trillion to N38 trillion. If ‘Ways and Means’, euphemism for CBN lending to the Government, and the private bad debts acquired by the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) are factored, the total debt stock is much higher. Meanwhile the borrowing continues.
On the basis of the superficial consideration of Nigeria’s debt to GDP limit of 34.3%, it would appear that there is nothing to worry about as government ministers, most especially the Minister of Finance, regularly argues. But given the declining public revenue, Nigeria now faces the confounding situation whereby between January and May 2021, 97.7% of government revenue was used to service debt (ThisDay 22/9/2021). This ordinarily means that the government must continually access new loans in order to shore up its revenue, pay contractors and even salaries. This is a debt trap which can at some point create conditions for a debt crisis.
Is Another Recession Possible?
On the whole, Nigeria’s economy remains in troubled waters. Now with the emergence of the Omicron variant internationally and the onset of a 4th wave of the coronavirus in Nigeria, the economic perspective for next year cannot but be one of recurring and unending crises with possibly more new Covid variants and an unstable world economy. Inflation may continue its steady decline but without necessarily leading to increased consumer spending or easing the desperate conditions that many working families and poor already face. With many out of jobs, a growing public debt and the value of the monthly minimum wage at rock bottom, it would take a faster and higher GDP growth to restore the economy back to pre-pandemic levels – something which is not guaranteed given the fragility of the world economy. At some point, a third economic recession can even become possible. This is because in the event of new lockdowns in Europe and/or disruption of production, crude oil prices could become even more unstable. Given the current fragility, a drastic fall in crude oil price will most certainly cause a contraction in the GDP and possibly a relapse into recession.
Suffice to stress that a major challenge for Nigeria as an oil-producing country is that both high and low crude oil prices bring economic woes to the country. Whatever is gained through higher revenue from higher crude oil prices is mostly often lost through subsidy payments to keep pump price affordable within the country while a crash in crude oil price means lower revenue, inability of the state to pay contractors and meet other social obligations though at the same the government continues to service its burgeoning public debt. Now in the event of the removal of subsidy, any increase in crude oil prices on the world market will reflect directly leading to astronomical increase in pump price of fuel. This will inevitably cause social turmoil as petrol as well as diesel is central to the survival of small, medium and large scale businesses given the comatose state of the power sector.
A Failing State
Alongside the economic plane, other crises of capitalism continue to worsen. Insecurity, euphemism for the barbarism that grips Nigeria, is on the rise. Banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen terrorism and herdsmen and farmers conflicts have all sharply increased over the past period alongside the decade-long war of the Nigerian state against the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram/ISWAP insurgents in the North East. Despite its promises and the initial illusions in Buhari as a former Military General, the Nigerian state has failed to defeat the Islamic insurgency. Daily Trust, a pro-Northern elite newspaper that initially supported Buhari, recently wrote a scathing editorial describing life as worthless under him.
Given the extent of the insecurity, commentators have begun to describe Nigeria as a “failing state”. Socialists accept this description as it best describes the complete lack of control by the Nigerian state over swathe of territories and highways in different parts of the country where other forces appear to have seized control. For instance, there are communities in the North Central and North West who contribute money to pay “ransom” to bandits and kidnappers in order to secure from them a guarantee not to attack the village or if you like, save them the trouble of having to do so. Of course, by so doing it also means the village saves itself from certain death and destruction which are the inevitable consequences of such attacks. In the North East, villages, farmers and fishermen around the Lake Chad know of only the government of Boko Haram and ISWAP and it is to these entities they pay taxes in order to secure farming and fishing rights or to convey their goods to the next town or market. But even in the cities which are considered relatively safe, the activities of “touts, “thugs”, criminal gangs, cult groups and even the lawlessness of the police like the now defunct SARS and other security operatives who extort, arrest, harass, maim and kill citizens with little or no consequence is in many respect also a manifestation of a failing state – that is, a state which neither has firm control over its paid officials and coercive apparatuses nor is able to guarantee any security of lives and property for its citizens.
But for balance it is also important to stress that this description by no means mean that the Nigerian state is substantially weak and unable to react to defend its interest when under threat or that it is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the crises. Nigeria is not yet at the stage Somalia was especially in the civil war period between 1991 and 2006. The clampdown on the #EndSARS revolt last year is an indicator of the power which the capitalist state still possess. Ultimately, it will take a social revolution to smash that state and its machinery of coercion.
There is no better description of the situation in Nigeria today other than barbarism. In many ways, Nigeria can rightly be called a “killing field”. For example, the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of the country is said to have claimed nothing less than 350, 000 lives while over 2.4 million have been displaced between 2009 and 2020 – a period of 12 years! According to a new report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), while the insurgency resulted to the direct death of 35, 000 people in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, an estimated 314, 000 people died from “indirect causes” in the entire North East region during the same period. Going further, the report establishes that “for each casualty caused directly by insurgency, an additional nine people, primarily children, have lost their lives due to lack of food and resources – and more than 90% of conflict-attributable deaths are of children under the age of five”. If this is not barbarism, then what is!
The main theatre of the insurgency by Boko Haram and other Islamic fundamentalist or jihadist groups like the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) is the Chad Basin which spans eight countries namely; Nigeria, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Algeria, Libya and Sudan. Therefore, a worsening of the Boko Haram conflict can have a big impact on these other countries.
Unfortunately, the Boko Haram insurgency is not the only barbaric conflict in Nigeria. Violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers have resulted in nothing less than 19, 000 deaths between 1999 and now. This conflict which sometimes appears as a one-sided campaign of terror by the herdsmen is at root a conflict over diminishing resources like water and land. Alongside the worldwide environmental impact of capitalism’s drive for private profit, this conflict is another manifestation of the failure of capitalism to develop Nigeria and the rottenness of the ruling elite. With increasing desertification in the North of Nigeria which has led to the shrinking of Lake Chad, herdsmen are compelled to lead their cattle southward to access food and water thereby trampling on and eating crops planted by farmers.
In the colonial and post-independence period, grazing routes were established which minimized conflict but this approach had become antiquated due to increased population since then and the encroachment of cities and unplanned settlements into grazing routes and farm lands. Also, because most farmers in North Central and Southern Nigeria are Christians and most pastoralists are Northern Fulani Muslims, this conflict has also acquired an ethno-religious colouration. Clearly, the only way to solve this crisis is through a democratic plan of agriculture and society as a whole – but this is not something the capitalist elite are capable of doing due to their embrace of capitalist philosophy of privatization and the likes.
Alongside this, there is also banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and ritual killings in Nigeria. Just to give an idea of the crisis, a report by Civic Media Lab, a non-profit organization in Lagos, reported that between January and June of 2021, bandits have killed over 952 people while over a thousand were kidnapped to be released after ransom is paid. In one month alone, June 2021, over 283 people were killed in different incidents. In February, 397 people, mainly school students, were kidnapped. In one instance on Monday 8 December 2021, nothing less than 23 passengers of a commercial bus travelling from Sabon Birni Local Government Area of Sokoto state were burnt to death after their vehicle caught fire when bandits shot at them!
Alongside the crisis of insecurity, the National Question has worsened substantially over the past 6 years of the Buhari All Progressive Congress (APC) government. For instance, in the South East of the country, agitation for a separate Biafran state has elicited bloody repression from the regime. In response to the state repression, different armed groups known as “unknown gunmen” have emerged causing all kind of mayhem with the working class and poor masses caught in the middle.
In many ways, IPOB and the ESN do not appear to be in firm control of the situation. This explains how and why the sit-at-home order every Monday of the week to campaign for the release of IPOB’s leader Nnamdi Kanu, is continually enforced long after IPOB had renounced this order. Now almost every week, horrendous atrocities and killings occur in the region which sometimes have all the imprints of self-determination agitation and sometimes look like revenge political assassinations and outright criminality but with IPOB denying responsibility. In a way this situation suggests that other forces both of a hard-line and criminal nature may have hijacked the process.
To give an idea of how bad the situation has become, in anticipation of December rush which often see thousands of easterners travel back to their hometown in the East to celebrate Christmas and New Year, Wakanow, a travel agency, put up an advertorial on its Facebook page offering a special package on trips from Lagos to any South-eastern states for N320, 000. “According to the travel agency, the money covers transportation in a Toyota Hilux vehicle, a driver and two mobile police officers as escort. A return trip cost the same”. In pitching this special package for a trip which ordinarily cost less than N20, 000 by bus, the travel agency made an allusion to “safety” in apparent effort to exploit the genuine fears and anguish of many Igbo people who desperately need to travel home in December. The Police authorities have been decidedly silent on this officers’ rental arrangement or privatization of police officers.
So no doubt, while agitations for self-determination has recently emerged in other parts especially the South West, certainly the South East is the epicentre of the National Question in Nigeria at the moment. Be that as it may, the November 6 Anambra gubernatorial elections show both how the 2023 elections can temporarily cut across this agitation and how the National Question can be have an electoral echo. As we pointed out in a separate material on the November 6 Anambra elections, the victory of APGA has more to do with the party’s identification with the struggle for self-determination being that it was formed by the late Biafran secessionist leader, Odumegwu Ojukwu.
On the other hand, it appears clear that a political solution is being sought for Nnamdi Kanu’s release who has been under arrest and standing trial for terrorism and sedition. This may and may not be part of the deal signed with IPOB to make them soften and allow the November 6 gubernatorial elections to hold. But it is clearly not an accident that soon after the November 6 Anambra elections, a delegation of Igbo elders under the auspices of “Highly Respected Igbo Greats” led by First Republic parliamentarian and Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, visited President Buhari in Aso Rock where they appealed for Nnamdi Kanu’s release. But what is not clear at the moment is whether or not the Buhari government will consider such a political solution. At the meeting, President Buhari had bemoaned the fact that the Igbo Elders request amount to asking him to interfere with the independence of the judiciary but he would “consider it” (The Guardian 20 November 2021). Should such a political deal materialize, it would most likely encourage similar agitations for the release of Sunday Igboho and others.
But what need to be stressed is that whatever happens, even if Nnamdi Kanu is released, anything short of addressing the genuine concerns and feelings of ordinary Igbo people who are still traumatized by the experience and memory of the civil war and as well as contemporary perception of marginalization and injustice will only temporarily halt the agitation without bringing it to an end. So, it is possible to have an ebb in the agitation during the general elections and even for much longer although given that the Igbo capitalist elite are not likely to achieve their aspiration of an Igbo presidency, potentially the general elections can also provide further stimulus for the crisis. This is because for most of the Igbo capitalist elite who are as self-serving, crooked and corrupt as their cousins from the North, South South and South West, the agitation for Biafra is primarily a bargaining chip for them to get a larger share of the national cake. So they support the agitation to the extent that they are positioned to profit from it. As soon as they get what they want, they will abandon the agitation and even be at the forefront of repression of the agitators despite being from the same ethnic group. This explains why the repression of Biafran agitators, albeit on a relatively lower degree, by the Jonathan government, in which Igbo elite occupied important positions, drew little or no outcry from the Igbo elite.
In summary therefore, so far the fundamental issues driving the agitations remain unresolved from the point of view of the working masses and poor, the National Question can erupt again and again. This is why the Democratic Socialists Movement (DSM) while arguing for and assiduously seeking every opportunity to build a united struggle of the working and toiling people across the country to jointly struggle against anti-poor polices and to overthrow capitalism, nevertheless support the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. In addition we call for the convening of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) dominated by elected representatives of the working people, trade unions, farmers and youth groups to democratically discuss whether or not Nigeria should remain as one and if yes, the social, economic and political system upon which such a united Nigeria should be built in order to ensure that all the exploitation, corruption, divisions, crises and violence that we have now do not reoccur in such a new Nigeria.
EndSARS and the Re-entry of the Youth into the Arena of Struggle
So far, the struggle and revolt of the youth have become the clearest expression of the anger in society for over one year now. In a way, this is a manifestation of the role of the youth in measuring the barometer of social consciousness. In addition, the youth are about 70% of Nigeria’s population of about 214 million. Even though they do not possess the enormous economic and social power of the more numerically small working class, there is no doubt that they are a huge force in society whose mood and political position can make or mar the process of revolution. After a long period since they ceased to be an independent force due to the historic decline of the student movement, the #EndSARS struggle last year marked the re-entry of the youth into the arena of struggle. There should be no doubt that the winning of the youth constituency will be a major ground of contest in the coming period between the forces of revolution and counterrevolution. The forces of Marxism must be prepared for this.
The above however does not mean that the working class is not fighting back. The working class despite its numerical weakness viz-a-viz other layers like the youth and the peasantry is by virtue of its role in capitalist production destined to lead other oppressed layers in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and build a new Socialist society. Over the past one year, we have seen a number of important workers strikes and struggles in the health sector, education sector, aviation, eruption of strikes and protest in factories, retirees’ protests in Osun state etc. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) continue to hold back from declaring a general strike and nationwide mass protest despite the harrowing and desperate conditions many working families are in. And it needs to be stressed that it was the failure of the labour leadership to go ahead with the September 28 strike last year that partly provoked the youth onto the arena of struggle.
Considering the above, it was not surprising that the youth struggle harboured all kinds of confusion and incorrect ideas of “leaderless protest” etc at the initial stage of its eruption. This is because of the anger and disappointment of the youth in the leadership of the labour movement and capitalist political parties who by the constant betrayals and corruption have helped to invest in the idea of leadership a negative connotation. So by going “leaderless”, the youth were only essentially striving to protect their movement from being betrayed. But now, a year after, the limitation of this approach is now being felt given the lack of cohesiveness and direction in the movement, while some ‘youth leaders’ are being incorporated into the system. As the DSM and its youth platform – Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) – has repeatedly explained, the only way to protect the movement from being betrayed is by democratically electing a leadership that is accountable and recallable by members. This is even now more required in order to strengthen and take the movement forward.
But despite any limitation, the fact that the #EndSARS struggle has lasted this far is a testimony to its potential and power. Now with the submission of the report of the judicial panel of inquiry in Lagos and the attempt by the government to undermine the report as well as the resurgence of police brutality, there is every possibility that the movement can erupt again. We have to deepen our intervention and prepare our forces. Alongside this is the urgency to expand the focus of the youth movement to now begin to fight on issues that go beyond police brutality like unemployment, education underfunding, casualization, plans to remove subsidy and increase fuel price etc.
One crucial factor in the brutal suppression of the #EndSars was that it was lost opportunity to address the precarious working and living conditions of the police rank and file and even the layer of officers. While the bosses continue to feed fat majority of policemen are ill equipped and live in shanties that some animals may even find unhabitable. To address these problems and others confronting the policemen and women, it will be correct to continue to put forward the perspective of union rights for rank and file policemen so they could have legitimate and legal channels to fight for their rights instead of venting their frustrations on ordinary people as they are sometimes wont to do.
The Labour Leadership and Prospect for Class Struggle
To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, the Nigeria situation as a whole “is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” (The Transitional Programme, 1938). The conservative and bureaucratic leadership of the NLC and TUC continue to hold back struggle while content with issuing occasional threats to fight but without any intention to carry it out. Under this kind of “kicking and kissing” approach of the labour movement, the Buhari capitalist government has been practically offered the license to ride roughshod over the wages and living conditions of the working and toiling people. It is significant that the Federal Government are offering some concessions to the union leaders themselves while simultaneously preparing to pass laws to impose state supervision of union leaderships and at the same time limit the right to strike. The confidence of the capitalist government at all levels to unload more and more anti-poor policies on the working people continue to grow with the assurance that the leadership of labour only barks without biting. This explains the new plan of the government supported by the World Bank, for subsidy removal and fuel price hike next year as well as the imposition of crippling taxes on the already overburdened working people.
But the objective conditions of decaying capitalism are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus. Coming attacks on the mass of the working and toiling people will create an outburst. Whether the bureaucratic leadership of labour is ready or not, spontaneous movement can break out on the streets this time involving not just youth but also a section of workers and other layers of the oppressed who are fed up with the poverty, unemployment and consistent attacks on living conditions. This could be provoked by any of the new attacks being planned for next year and also by actions of government like demolitions of people’s homes, shops and markets, attack on okada riders, police brutality and state repression, insecurity etc.
2022: A year of Turmoil and Struggle
Similar to how the #EndSARS revolt came about, a spontaneous eruption of the working class can also take place. It may not come through the issuance of official strike notice or even through the structures of the trade unions. Fed up with the inaction of their leadership, a movement can erupt starting at a workplace or factory and then spread as more and more workers try to emulate it. On the other hand, we could also see a situation where unlike how workers retreated when the September 28 2020 general strike was suspended at the last minute, a massive movement and unofficial strike breaks out in response to such a betrayal. Or we could see a repeat of January 2012 general strike whereby in answer to the call of the labour leadership to call off the indefinite general strike after about 9 days, some protesters in Lagos and a few other places defied this call and tried to continue the protest although they were quickly subdued by the police and the army. Only that this time around, in the context of the explosive anger that exist and the lessons of the youth revolt last year, such a mass defiance could prove harder to break and could last days. It is also not ruled out that self-determination or secessionist agitators could see such protest as opportunity to get back at the regime. If there is any truism about the Nigerian situation today, it is that there are multi-layers of anger against the regime.
The point we are trying to make here is that in a way the #EndSARS struggle has left a mark on consciousness and idea of how struggle should be organized. The rottenness of the labour leadership means many, including layer of workers, may look approvingly towards the examples and methods demonstrated by the youth revolt and may seek to emulate it in a period of deep crisis and anger towards the bureaucratic and conservative leadership of the labour movement.
To be clear, it is precisely the fear of the possibilities explained above of the movement getting out of the control of the leadership that is holding back the labour bureaucracy from calling even a “token general strike’. They fear that any call for action, even a token strike meant to diffuse anger, can easily open the gates for explosion of mass anger in which the labour leadership would be swept aside and which goes on to threaten the rule of capitalism. But given the objective conditions, it would not matter whether or not the leadership of labour calls for action next year. Most likely, their obstinate refusal to call for action while the working masses and youth continue to take fire from a relentless capitalist elite might be the spark for the mass eruption which impends. However, whether faced with a struggle which they have been forced to initiate or which has spontaneously erupted from below, the majority of the current union leaders will strive to contain the struggle and bring it to an end as rapidly as possible whether or not its demands have been met. Warning against this while striving to build both the struggle and a new, militant, leadership are central tasks for activists.
How Do We Intervene?
What the above shows is how events are not going to proceed in a straight line. Movements will break out but they are likely to be fitful and spontaneous outbursts. Official strikes when called may be severely guarded and managed by the labour bureaucracy under the so-called fear of “hoodlums” hijacking it. In this situation, even Socialists and workers activists arguing for a more effective method of struggle can be tagged as “hoodlums” and thrown out of meetings and protests, independent leaflets and publications may be banned etc. “Riots” can also become a more prominent element of the mass struggle in the coming period which will create new difficulties in terms of how we intervene.
So in all likelihood, the period we are entering could put enormous pressure on the small forces of Marxism. We will have to intervene in every struggle including spontaneous outbursts in a skilful way. Without sounding haughty, we would have to ensure we combine support for every actions no matter how limited or incoherent with a skilful proposal of the best methods and programmes to organize struggle to win. This is important given the rise in many confusing ideas among the new generation moving in the direction of struggle. This includes the ideas of spontaneity, leaderless protests etc.
While movements may begin spontaneously and even win some concessions, their only chance of survival and winning real change in the way society is run is if they become organized and develop a clear programme. Therefore Marxists must always stress the need, as soon as struggle breaks out, to democratically form strike and struggle committees constituted by members directly elected by strikers and protesters to provide leadership for the movement and create avenues to regularly review and discuss demands, programmes and tactics. Such a committee elected at protest grounds, communities, schools and workplaces as a way to involve wider layers can link up from state to state to become a national leadership for the mass movement. Members of such committees must work under the direct control of the movement and must be recallable. The absence of such a democratically elected committee was a major weakness of the #EndSARS struggle.
Under the impact of government propaganda, there is also the possibility of an “elitist” attitude developing especially among the middleclass youth who dominate the #EndSARS struggle towards the poor and declassed youth who are generally described as “hoodlums” by the state. Given their condition of life, these layers of youth admittedly have a different worldview and attitude but they are not automatically counter-revolutionary. There has to be discussions on how to involve more layers of youth, especially the working class and poor youth from communities, into the struggle and how to deal with riots as well as the deployment of a layer of youth as counter-revolutionary force against protests and activists. Alongside this is the need to involve in struggle workers in the informal sector, casual workers and the unemployed. Organised labour must try to organise and unionise these layers as well as intervene in the struggle and plights, otherwise unionised workers can be seen as an “elite” by those living from hand to mouth.
Alongside this is the need to intensify the campaign to rebuild the labour movement and rescue it from the conservative bureaucracy holding it to ransom. While spontaneous workers struggles can break out and even win concessions, without replacing the current set of pro-capitalist bureaucrats with real workers militants, very little will be achieved in terms of fundamental changes in the way society is run. Only a fighting workers movement armed with a programme of action and the building of a political alternative with socialist programme can help to end the capitalist-induced crisis of mass poverty in the midst of abundance.
Prospect of Military Coup
If the labour movement proves too weak to offer a political alternative to save Nigeria, then all kinds of forces can take advantage. This includes the prospect of a military coup. In a way, “democracy” is proving too difficult for capitalism to manage in Africa. In the last few years, we have seen nothing less than 4 military coups take place on the continent. This includes Sudan, Guinea, Mali and Niger.
With the Nigerian state weakening as a result of insecurity and violent crises and in the context of an electoral system that continues to witness mass apathy, a coup to defend capitalism and deal with the crises cannot be ruled out. It is still debatable how the population will respond to a coup. Already we saw in the 2015 general elections, support for Buhari (himself a former coup leader) coalescing around a desire for a “strong leader” who can deal with corruption and insecurity. We have also seen ordinary Nigerians wish for the military’s return because they believe the period of military rule is much better compared to what is happening now.
In addition, the bulk of Nigeria’s population at the moment came of age after the end of military rule in 1999 so that the habitual brutality of military rule is only a distant memory for them. Only the older generation can remember and may therefore immediately form an opposition to a coup. In this situation, there could be initial excitement and support for a military coup among a layer especially if at the initial stage coup leaders appear to deal with the most corrupt of the discredited elite and capitalist politicians. Although the mood soon changed, both the 1983 and 1985 coups initially were welcomed for removing first the corrupt Second Republic leaders and later Buhari’s authoritarian rule.
However, any initial illusion would soon give way to despair, anger and mass resistance as the coup leaders fully reveal themselves as no more than the armed wing of the capitalist class. In any case, the coming to power of the military will most likely also worsen the National Question in Nigeria as the coup leaders will be assessed in terms of where they come from. We should oppose military take over and warn of the dangers should it become inevitable
2023 General Elections
As the 2023 general elections beckons, the crisis of political representation of the capitalist class will intensify. This has already manifested in the loss of credibility of the main political representatives and parties of the capitalist class. Now they face a question of how to renew hope in the system by installing a new president who can enjoy some measure of support required to implement capitalist reforms.
In this regard, it would not be surprising if the capitalist elite try to gain from the popular desire for a “youth leadership” by putting forward a younger candidate or a woman in order to turn votes. But even this may not be sufficient to match the appeal and illusion that President Buhari managed to attract in the 2015 general elections due to mass frustration and anger against the 16-year rule of the PDP. In addition, conflicts, mergers and splits are likely to hit the two biggest capitalist parties – the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
But given its brutal legacy of failure which is still fresh in memory, it is not likely for the PDP to come to power at the centre in 2023 except they have a presidential candidate which is favoured by the national question or there is a devastating implosion in the APC. At the same time, given how Lagos has served as the epicentre of the youth revolt, the APC may face a stiff challenge in the next gubernatorial elections in Lagos state. The #EndSARS movement could have an electoral echo with a layer of young people and even workers and ordinary people wanting to use the election to punish the ruling party and Governor Sanwo-Olu who wants to return for a second term. The 2023 elections are also likely to exacerbate the National Question given the current agitations from the North against the zoning arrangement within the ruling party which ought to pass the baton of presidency to the South as well as the agitation for a president of Igbo extraction.
In all likelihood therefore, the 2023 general elections might witness even more apathy than the previous elections. As the INEC reported, the 2015 and 2019 general elections had lower than 35 percent voters’ turnout. In the absence of a genuine political alternative, we way witness a “civic rebellion” in the form of voters’ abstinence and apathy.
A Mass Workers’ Political Alternative
But the working class and poor masses also face a crisis of political representation. This manifests in the absence of a political party which stands for the class interests of the working and toiling masses in elections. This state of affairs has condemned the working people to continue to vote every four years for political parties and individuals responsible for their exploitation and oppression. As the 2023 general elections draw nearer and given the enormous anger and frustration that exist, the search for a political alternative to the capitalist parties will intensify among a section of the working class and this may produce varied and complex developments that the forces of Marxism will have to constantly discuss in terms of what the attitude should be.
For instance, should any of the celebrities who participated in the #EndSARS struggle stand as candidates in the 2023 election, this could have an impact on mass consciousness. Of course, our orientation would have to be guided by the political party upon which such a candidate is standing and the programme they campaign for. But the reality is that decisive sections of the youth could be mobilized by such an electoral intervention and the forces of Marxism will have to work out how to skilfully orientate to it. Alongside this is the question of what role Sowore and the African Action Congress (AAC) are likely to play in the next election. If he is able to stand as candidate, then significant section of the awakened youth and even layers of the working masses could look towards him. In this instance, we would have to discuss whether or not to call for a vote for him while of course critiquing the limitations of his programme.
What all these again demonstrate is that given the complex political situation that is likely to develop, we must adopt flexible tactics and approaches and always be prepared to be amenable to quick changes as events develop in different directions while upholding our principles and programmes. To address this kind of situation, we must always develop transitional demands that take root from our perspectives on the socialist transformation of the society. This will also mean getting our political and programmatic priorities right at every historical juncture.
This we have already demonstrated in the way we have in the past few months become active in a new coalition called The Peoples Alternative Political Movement (TPAPM) even while the struggle for re-enlistment of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) continues and we continue to be active in the Joint Action Front (JAF). Now the TPAPM has submitted a letter of intent to register as a political party to INEC. This means the process of transforming the movement into a political alternative has commenced. We of the DSM are committed to contributing to this effort while continuing to build our forces simultaneously.
However, activists also have to be prepared for the possibility that it could take a long legal and political battle to get TPAPM registered, as SPN’s own experience shows. In 2014 when the SPN also applied for registration, it took a three-year legal and political battle to compel the INEC to register the party. In this case, what would the left do in terms of the 2023 general elections? It would be important to try where possible to provide an electoral rallying point for sections of the working class and youth who might look towards the electoral plane in 2023 for a way out. This is why it is important for TPAPM to have a flexible approach by actively supporting other options that exist including SPN’s ongoing legal battle against its de-registration.
As things stand today, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) remains the only clearly socialist party in existence in Nigeria. It intervened in the 2019 general elections shortly after which it was deregistered by the capitalist state. But the party alongside with others has successful challenged it’s deregistration up to Supreme Court. From the point of view of law, it appears clear the SPN is likely to win against the INEC. This explains why the INEC continue to develop new subterfuges to delay the judgment of the Supreme Court.
If the SPN wins at the Supreme Court today, the question of which political alternative to utilize to intervene in the 2023 general elections would have to an extent been resolved. This of course is without prejudice to the ongoing effort to register a broader formation, TPAPM. something which the DSM is fully committed to.
At the same time, a victory for SPN at the Supreme Court does not mean the INEC cannot simply go ahead to deregister it again before the next general elections. This is because the right of INEC to deregister political parties has been legitimized in the constitution. What the SPN is challenging is the modalities for carrying out the deregistration. So, in a way, the question of political alternative for 2023 general elections remains unclear and uncertain. What is however important is that whichever way events turn, we must continue to be actively involved in the building of a working people political alternative.
In conclusion, the next period though turbulent will offer opportunities for the ideas of a socialist alternative to be argued. Hence the need to intensify the building of the DSM politically and organisationally to be able to intervene in the events and struggles that could unfold in the year 2022.