AS INFLATION DRIVES LIVING COSTS TO THE ROOF!
FOR A TWO-DAY GENERAL STRIKE AND MASS PROTEST NOW!
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to urgently set a date for a two-day general strike and mass protest as a first step in the commencement of a mass struggle against the cost of living crisis that has driven workers and poor masses into new levels of hardship.
By H T Soweto, DSM Executive Committee
At the moment, so bad is the situation in the country that many working-class families are in desperate conditions. The inflation figure of 20.77 percent for September is the worst in 17 years! This was triggered by sharp rises in the prices of gas, liquid fuel, solid fuel, passenger transport by road, passenger transport by air, garments, cleaning, repair, and the hire of clothing. Likewise, food inflation for the same period was 23.34%, caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, food products, potatoes, yams, and other tubers; meat, fish, oil, and fat. The food inflation will be exacerbated by the current flood disaster which has devastated several farmlands.
The drastic collapse in living standards has been numbing because of its speed and depth. It has seen fresh layers of the working class and the middle class as well, which used to manage to get by in the past, thrown into poverty. Between 2016 and 2021, price levels increased by about 126 percent doubling the cost of living within 5 years, yet the national minimum wage remains frozen at a paltry N30, 000 per month for the least-paid worker. To make matters worse, at least seven states’ governments have refused to implement the N30, 000 minimum wage. But even in the states claiming to pay, this is often not across the board.
FAILURE OF “BUHARINOMIC”
The rising inflationary trend reflects the ongoing crisis of Nigerian capitalism and the impact of the world situation, chiefly defined by an ongoing slowdown now pushed by the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine amidst other geopolitical tensions into a developing recession. This crisis which saw Nigeria enter into a recession first in 2016, the worst in 25 years, and again in 2020, has not abated. Rather it has grown in leap and bound. This is in spite of the series of economic and political measures undertaken by the Buhari government to rein in the crisis over the past seven years. These include the failed border closure policy of 2019, infrastructural investments, the series of Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) interventions to shore up the value of the naira and tighten liquidity, social investment schemes, and micro-loan programme for farmers and informal sector actors, etc.
The dilemma however is that every capitalist measure undertaken has further worsened the situation. For instance, the 2019 border closure led to a steep increase in the price of rice – the polar opposite of its intended benefits. Likewise, rampant insecurity especially in the South East, North East, and North Central, as well as other Southern parts, meant that import restrictions failed to significantly increase agricultural production. So also did CBN’s effort to stabilise the naira fail to prevent its collapse.
At the same time as this, Nigeria’s oil and gas sector ran into crisis with the divestment of IOCs and historically low production output due to oil theft, lack of investment, and other bottlenecks. Hence, despite the favourable situation that opened in the global market for crude oil when Russia invaded Ukraine, Nigeria has not been able to benefit because it has struggled to meet its OPEC production quota over the past years, invariably, reinforcing existing revenue and foreign exchange crises.
The resulting economic climate marked by rising public debt, runaway inflation, and low growth has put employers in panic mode. For instance, Gabriel Idahosa, the Deputy-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, fears there is a possibility of inflation getting out of control because “short-term measures are no longer able to stop it” (Punch, September 9, 2022). In the same vein, Ide J. C. Udeagbala, The National President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) warned of “a third recession of this decade by the end of 2022” (Vanguard newspaper April 29, 2022). In a “gloomy and more uncertain” world economic situation, the 3.2 percent IMF projected growth for Nigeria in 2023 (just a little below the 3.3 percent projection for 2022) might appear positive. In reality, however, nothing is positive about it for a country the size of Nigeria and one with a huge public debt and infrastructure deficit.
A TIP OF THE ICEBERG
If the above picture is horrifying enough, existing data, unfortunately, shows that things are likely to get worse. The combination of insecurity and flooding which have severely affected areas generally considered the “food basket of the nation” because of their huge agricultural outputs means that food prices have not peaked.
The 2022 flooding is widely acknowledged as the worst in a decade. At least 33 out of 36 states of the federation and the FCT are said to have been badly impacted due to torrential rainfall and the overflowing of the Lagdo dam in neigh boring Cameroon. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reports that about half a million people have been affected by flood-related incidents across the country since the beginning of the year. In particular, about 300 people have been killed while around 100,000 have been displaced. In Adamawa state alone, about 27,800 households and 89,342 hectares of farmlands were reportedly destroyed by flood. This is in addition to the about 172,000 farmers in 11 local governments who were affected.
The implication of this is that whatever farming activity insecurity was unable to disrupt has been lost to flood. This will have a ramification for already soaring food prices. Food prices remained high during the rainy season when they usually fall. Now as the dry season will start by the end of the year, prices are likely to continue rising. As Afolami lamented to AfricanCheck, an online magazine, “In many parts of Nigeria, farmers can no longer go to their farms for fear of getting killed. Farmers are not planting. So what shall we eat next year?”
WE ARE NOT ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
While admittedly the economic crisis has increased production costs, forced factory closures, and created other disruptions like the inability of foreign airlines and other players in the aviation sector to repatriate revenue and profit amidst other negative consequences, the profit of the capitalist elite remains largely unaffected. In fact, Nigeria has seen a further concentration of wealth.
According to data from the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), in 2017, when the total number of accounts in the deposit money banks stood at 99.1 million, the total number of customers with 500, 000 naira or less in their bank accounts was 97.5%. However by 2019, two years after, this increased to 99.4 percent even despite the total number of accounts increasing to 128.4 million (Vanguard newspaper, October 26, 2021). This means that in a space of two years, the proportion of the elite holding over 90 percent of total bank deposits shrunk from about 3 percent to less than 1 percent.
This is why labour’s approach of always, under the banner of ‘national unity’, seeking class collaboration in the vain hope that the working class and employers of labour are partners in progress is patently faulty and empirically false. Whether in a period of economic growth or economic crisis, the class divide between workers and the capitalist elite, a divide defined by their respective positions in the process of economic production, continues to hold firm. While a few members of the capitalist elite may lose some or all of their wealth in a period of crisis, the working class, and poor masses as a whole always fare worse both in a period of boom and most certainly in the period of bust.
From time immemorial, the only way the working class have ever won a pay rise and improved conditions is by organizing and fighting through strikes and protests. Now a fight back is urgently needed, Labour must not be inactive in this crisis. As Bob Crow, a well-known British trade union leader, once said “If you fight you might lose, but if you don’t fight you will always lose.” Now as the crisis of capitalism increases on a national and international scale, it is becoming self-evident to increasing numbers that the system is irredeemably broken. To show a way out of this disaster there is an urgent necessity of building a political alternative that links the economic struggle of the working class with a political struggle to end capitalism and enthrone in its place a workers’ and poor people’s government armed with Socialist policies.
WHAT SHOULD LABOUR FIGHT FOR?
The starting point for building a struggle around the cost of living crisis is that workers and the poor masses are not responsible for the economic crisis and therefore should not be made to pay for it. Consequently, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) proposes the following set of demands and programmes:
- Drastic government action to reduce prices of food, energy, and other basic amenities.
For the building of independent initiatives from below resting on the mass of the population to tackle hoarding, price gouging, manipulation, and to guarantee supplies of basic items to all.
- 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. Increase the National Minimum Wage to at least N100, 000. Regular increases to match the rate of inflation.
- Drastic reductions in fuel price. Immediate crash programme to build public refineries under workers democratic control and management.
- Reduce electricity tariff. For an end to the failed privatisation of the electricity sector.
- Full and decent employment for all. End casualization. Payment of adequate monthly unemployment benefits.
- End all neo-liberal and anti-poor policies.
- 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.
- A workers and poor people’s government armed with Socialist policies.