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For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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NIGERIA:

CIVIL RULE IN DANGER

A DSM PUBLICATION

AUGUST 2002

 

INTRODUCTION

In this pamphlet, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) x-rays the three years of civil rule in Nigeria and looks at the likely course of events in the coming years. Most importantly, we explain what the working masses and their organisations need to do to get the country out of the precipice it is heading as a result of capitalist misrule.

As we were going to press, the controversy over issue of the two weeks ultimatum given to President Olusegun Obasanjo, by the House of Representatives to resign or be impeached was still raging. The president was accused of "monumental inadequacies, ineptitude, persistent disrespect for the rule of law and the obvious corruption being perpetrated in the presidency which exposes Mr. President's inability to steer the ship of the state as its president".

As true as the accusations are, it will however be erroneous to think that removing Obasanjo will make any better change or that those behind the attempt are acting in the interest of the society. The reality is that we are confronted by the grave crisis of a neo-colonial capitalist state operated by anti-poor political elites both in the legislature and the executive. Giving the unprincipled character of the members of the National Assembly, the whole impeachment threat may be another ploy to extort more money or other concession from the executive as it had been several times in the past three years.

But in the event Obasanjo is impeached, the country will only be plunged into deeper crisis. In the first instance, this present dispensation cannot yield any better alternative. In particular, should the current vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, succeeds an impeached Obasanjo, this will further heighten the nationality question. The result will be greater instability that will further threaten the fragile civil rule.

As we explain inside this pamphlet, neither Obasanjo and his cabinet nor members of the National Assembly or any section of the capitalist class can guarantee democracy and decent working and living conditions for the masses. These can only be attained and sustained by the mass struggles of the masses and conscious efforts of trade unions, students' organisations, community groups, NCP, etc. Such efforts must be galvanised into an independent mass working people's political party whose goal will be to end the misrule of the capitalist elite and to transform society along socialist lines. It is how this objective can be realised that should preoccupy labour and youth activists.

19th August, 2002

 

CONTENTS

Chapter 1- General Overview

Chapter 2- Failure of Neo-liberalism

Chapter 3- Breaking With IMF?

Chapter 4- Will There Be A Coup?

Chapter 5- National Question

Chapter 6- The Labour Movement

Chapter 7- NCP and 2003 Elections

 

 

CHAPTER ONE- GENERAL OVERVIEW

It is now over three years since the military were forced out of power in Nigeria.

Looking back, it has been a period of pains and pangs for most layers of the working masses. The period has been dominated mostly by infernal socio-religious strife and violent wars. Crime has assumed a more widespread and horrendous dimension. The various economic cum political problems ravaging the working masses have not only survived, in several respects, they have become more intractable and burdensome.

Against the widely held belief that civil rule will ensure better living conditions and liberties, excruciating poverty and oppression remain the lot of the masses. Corruption, one of the most inglorious features of military rule, has not only survived, it has become more monstrous and widespread.

In fact, if the current trend persists, then the future of Nigeria is at stake. The endemic economic and social crises, and rise in ethnic nationalism these have engendered, mean that a break-up of the country in the coming period cannot be ruled out. Even more frightening is the increasing prospect that ethnic wars which have recently ravaged countries like Rwanda, Somalia, Congo and Yugoslavia, and in which millions of lives could be lost, could take place here.

On the good side though, the working masses have not just meekly reconciled themselves to their artificial, capitalist-induced plights. Apart from series of industrial strikes and mass demonstrations that have rocked the different sectors of the economy and society, two nation-wide general strikes have been organised by the leadership of the NLC in less than three years of civil rule. But the inability of the labour movement to give a real alternative has led to growing despair, and the search for short cuts in the form of nationalism, religion, corruption, crime or migration.

But to the capitalist politicians and their cronies, the past three years are seen as Nigeria's best moment, in the recent period. When grudgingly they concede that the living conditions of the masses leave much to be desired, invariably, this will be attributed to the fact that too much damages had been wrought on the economy and polity during military years, than can be tackled in a four-year tenure. Thus giving the impression that things will get better for the masses if the current policies and their makers are given another four-year terms of office!

But we ask: can any good thing ever deliberately come out of the gang of capitalist vampires presently holding sway at the central, state and local government levels?

GOVERNMENTS OF THE RICH

In all the tiers of government, the reigning philosophy is this: the rich to become richer while the masses can go to blazes. Under the bogus terms of privatisation and liberalisation, collective heritage and social wealth are being handed over/sold to a few private local and foreign businesses, at give-away prices. At the same time, the governments have intensified commercialisation drive which means that only those who have sufficient money deserve to have food, water, housing, health care, education, electricity, telephones, etc. Can these counter-productive approach and policies ever pave way for mass prosperity and political freedom?

In the history of post-independent Nigeria, no sitting government had ever conducted free, fair and acceptable elections, even going by bourgeois standard. Are there indications that this time around things will be different?

What factors lay beneath Nigeria's ceaseless ethnic and religious crises? How can these problems be permanently and positively solved in the interests of the working masses?

Things have become so bad that even sections of the working masses, including some trade union and socialist activists, have begun to develop illusion in the return of the military. Can the military come back now and if so, can that bring better living conditions and democratic rights to the masses?

Is it true that there is no viable alternative to the prevailing global capitalist exploitation and oppression? If there is, as we socialists have always insisted, what are the basic economic and political features of this alternative? Put differently, how can the working masses put in place an economic and political alternative that will guarantee their own basic needs and aspirations?

SOCIALIST REVOLUTION OR THE DEEPENING OF BARBARISM

More than at any other time in Nigeria's post-independence history, the economic features and orientations of the past three years of civil rule have clearly revealed the fact that there are only two options before the working masses: socialist revolution or the deepening of barbarism.

As at 29th May, 1999, when the present civilian section of the capitalist class replaced their military counterparts, crude oil, the main foreign exchange earner, was selling at $9 per barrel. But as a result of developments in he world oil market, this soon went up to $20 per barrel.

But as usual, while the country makes more money, little or nothing is being spent to improve the living conditions of the masses. Less than 10 million Nigerians have access to the minimum health care facilities recommended by the World Health Organisation. 18.6% or 24,180,000 million Nigerians are categorised as hungry by ACDESS. This is expected to increase to 27.8% or 36,140,000 million by the year 2015. 85.5 million Nigerians are too poor to afford the basic standard of living, good shelter, nutritious food and good education. 69% or 89 million Nigerians are living on less than a dollar per day.

Not surprisingly, life expectancy at birth in Nigeria is put at 47 years and 52 years for male and female respectively. The figures for the developed capitalist countries are 73 years and 80 years for male and female respectively.

Yes, governments at central state and local levels and private employers have had to increase the wages paid to their workers. But apart from the fact that this exercise covers only an infinitesimal proportion of the working masses, the overall effects of this increment itself had been cancelled by other pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist policies being implemented by governments, across parties and structures.

Today, hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs as a result of claims of inability to pay this increment. The better to be forgotten era of accumulated, unpaid salaries and allowances are back again. For most pensioners, it is nightmare unlimited. To the bought press and ignorant/fraudulent public commentators, Tinubu's government in Lagos State is a "success". Yet this same "successful", "Awoist" government has sacked 15,000 public servants ostensibly because of inability to pay the new minimum wage. To add insult to injury, the government has refused to pay these unfortunate workers their terminal benefits one year and a half after their unjust sack!

Osun State, another state headed by an "Awoist", in the person of Bisi Akande, has sacked about 12,000 public servants including teachers, in a state where government is the largest employer of labour. And for daring to continue to fight this unjust act, Dr. Oyebade Olowogboyega, the NULGE president in Osun State who spearheaded the struggle for the payment of N6,500 minimum wage, was pencilled down for elimination via assassination. On the 19th July, 2001, gunmen were sent to his house at about 2.00 a.m. with a view to kill him. Although Olowogboyega's assailants did not succeed in killing him, they nonetheless left him with a leg irreparably damaged for life, as a result of gunshot.

In the last three years, the President Olusegun Obasanjo's central government has increased the prices of petroleum products twice. Needless to stress, this as usual, has led to astronomical rises in the prices of housing, transportation, telecommunications, goods and services in general. In a situation where retrenchment of workers is seen as the best strategy to ensure balanced budget and at the same time enhance profitability, the fact that the overwhelming majority of able and qualified persons, most especially youths, remain jobless and have no prospect of gainful employment in the foreseeable future, needs no special explanation.

While wrecking unprecedented assaults on public housing, education and health services, while accessibility to electricity and telephones remain in pre-civilisation threshold, while less and less proportion of roads are being tarred/maintained, when compared with even with the most inglorious civilian regimes of the past, government propaganda through the bought bourgeois press, have come up with glowing but virtually non-existing achievements.

TINUBU'S "MIRACLES"

Take for instance, the "people's", "action" governor of Lagos State, "Asiwaju" Ahmed Bola Tinubu. His government presently is said to be operating pro-masses, welfarist programmes in housing, education and health care. This is how they work out in reality! The cheapest house in Tinubu's housing programme goes for N2 million, in a state where annual minimum wage is less than N150,000. Even the highest paid public servants could not afford the cheapest of government houses without bending the rules or indulging in outright looting of government money! But hang on a moment; government has devised an ingenious way to dress up this apparent fraud in a pro-masses garb!

In place of religious miracles, government has introduced lottery a game of chance. And as it does sometime happen, a thirteen-month-old child of Mr. And Mrs. Kayode Davies, a poor working class family has become an owner of a two bedroom flat. (The Guardian Sunday April 7, 2002). Quite rightly, the boy's parents have described the whole episode as a miracle. But as it is to be expected, government propagandists see it as a victory for governor Tinubu's pro-masses housing policy. All hail "Asiwaju", the "people's" governor!

Visit any government hospital, you are likely to see written on boards or at the back of files, announcements of free health services of different categories. There is one which promises free health services for children below three years of age. There is another which promises free medical care of 24 hours for accident victims, etc. For the few children that can be accommodated in the available bed spaces or attended to by the limited number of medical doctors, the usual practice is to ask the parents to provide most of the required drugs and medical facilities. For the accident victims, 24 hours free medical care means 24 hours of abandonment, after which treatment is based on ability to pay. There is supposed to be in existence a free maternity and child delivery service. Officially, expectant mothers are not supposed to pay any money. However, in reality, they have to purchase every item that would be used for their deliveries, ranging from drugs, gloves to ordinary needles and syringes. In the final analysis, a normal delivery costs up to N10,000 while a caesarean section operation costs between N30,000 to N40,000 under this Tinubu's free medical service.

Education has not had it so bad. 48 public schools which tens of thousands of pupils used to attend have been handed over to private, profit merchants, masquerading as missionaries. The direct effect of this elitist education policy is the resultant over- crowded classes and staff rooms of the remaining public schools. Apart from the fact that little or no meaningful learning can be done in the prevailing uncongenial atmosphere, teachers face the risk of mass retrenchment either before or after 2003 elections. This is because it is almost certain that government will say that it cannot justifiably retain same number of teaching personnels when there are 48 less schools! A typical example is the situation in Tolu Schools Complex in Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government area. Here, the demolition of one secondary school and six primary schools to make way for houses for the elite has led to the merging of several schools. As a result, it is now the pattern to see about 150 students crammed into a classroom originally built to accommodate 40 students!

The failure and hypocrisy of Tinubu and other AD governors in the south west enumerated above is equally applicable to all other governors elected on the platforms of all the registered political parties across the country. For instance, most of the northern governors have failed to uplift the living standards of the masses in their domains. Meanwhile, they have sought undeserved popularity by pretending to be religious by introducing the Sharia Islamic code. Similarly, most of the south-east and south-south governors have been pretending to be championing the interests of their people by leading crusades for "Igbo presidency" and "resource control" respectively.

CHAPTER TWO – FAILURE OF NEO-LIBERALISM

ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADE?

During his campaigns and at the early period of his tenure, President Obasanjo was waxing eloquent on the need to stamp out corruption in government. This is a mere verbal crusade as the corruption "business" continues to flourish, as usual. While a few minor government officials have been arrested and put on trial, the big-time corrupt politicians and public servants are still treated as sacred cows. A graphic example is Lieutenant-General Jeremiah Useni (rtd), the former minister for federal capital territory and close ally of the late General Sani Abacha. Though he confessed to having unjustly acquired dozens of choice landed properties in the federal capital city, Abuja, he has never been prosecuted. Equally, General Ibrahim Babangida, who presided over one of the most corrupt regimes in Nigeria's history, still lives freely in his 50-room mansion in Minna, Niger State and even visits Aso Rock to consult with President Obasanjo. Also, in a very rotten and disgraceful deal, the Obasanjo government has agreed that the Abacha family should keep $100 million out of the money looted by the late dictator and his cronies from the Nigerian treasury.

Hundreds of billions of naira has been voted for electricity, road construction, etc, by the various tiers of government. Nonetheless, electricity supply remains epileptic for most of the 30% Nigerians that have access at all to light. As usual, most of the money voted for these projects has been looted by top government officials in collaboration with their local and foreign capitalist contractors. This is aside from the fabulous salaries and allowances that are being paid to top executives and parliamentarians across the country. While the masses groan under excruciating poverty, top government officials, from president to local councillors, and their wives, continue to embark on frivolous foreign trips drawing large allowances and estacodes in dollars, from public purse.

ENDLESS NIGHTMARE

Overall, economic life and prospects have remained in a state of stupor and decay. The real value of naira continues unabated along the path of systematic decline. In May 1999, when the Obasanjo regime came to power, N85 was needed as an exchange for $1. Today $1 exchanges for N145. At 35%, the prevailing bank exchange rate forecloses the possibility of long term borrowing by the real sectors of the economy. There have been reports that industrial capacity utilisation has risen slightly from about 34% to 40%. But this calls for no cheer as it must be evaluated against the background of the reduced capacity caused by the closure of several factories and plants over the past two decades that the economy has been in recession. ThisDay newspaper of 13th April, 2002 reported the president of Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria, Charles Ughwu, as saying that Nigeria's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 3.8% in 2001 according to official estimate. But this figure falls far short of the national plan target of 10% growth rate.

It is significant that this year is the 20th anniversary of the ending of the "oil boom" and the first austerity package of the Second Republic announced by the then President Shehu Shagari. The history of the whole period since Nigeria's so-called independence in 1960 has been capitalism's inability to develop Nigeria. Even technically simple things like providing clean water, sanitation, continuous electricity and good transport have proved too much for weak Nigerian capitalism to provide and not profitable enough for imperialism to invest in.

But the leaderships of the six registered political parties (PDP, ANPP, AD, UNPP, NDP and APGA) have said, times without number, that "market force", private enterprise and foreign investment will continue to constitute the central planks of the country's economic strategy.

PRIVATISATION

Plainly put, Obasanjo and virtually all members of the capitalist ruling class across the parties see privatisation of the commanding heights of the economy and the liberalisation of the entire economy in compliance with the dictates of imperialism and finance capital, as the best solution to problems of economic decay and underdevelopment. If it may be stressed, there is nothing new either about this counter-productive strategy or its particular implementation in Nigeria. The only thing that could be said to be new is the unprecedented, neck-breaking speed with which the Obasanjo regime has been selling collective resources and heritage to a few capitalist corporations in the name of privatisation! Of course, more than ever before, the Obasanjo regime and the Nigerian capitalist elite in general, have been under pressure from imperialism to "open up" the economy further.

A major factor for this is the change in world situation. When Nigeria's oil industry was nationalised in 1975 the Nigerian bourgeoisie, like others in the neo-colonial world, was able to a limited extent to balance between the two super powers. But, following the collapse of the USSR, imperialism has dominated the world. Although it may be possible, in the future, to play off one group of imperialists against another, this will really only be possible when serious conflicts develop between the different bandits, and even then it will have the character of only getting brief breathing spaces. In the 1990s we have seen the general drive of all the imperialist countries to open markets etc. The key point for a country like Nigeria is that it cannot follow the same path of development that western Europe, the USA and Japan undertook. This is because today the imperialist countries already dominate the world economy and developing countries are faced with already developed competitors. Countries like South Korea and Taiwan that have developed in the last period were exceptions because there were strategic political reasons for the main imperialist powers to encourage their development. Of course the imperialist countries can undertake operations or production etc. in the neo-colonial world, but they are only subsidiaries.

The first two years of the Obasanjo regime was devoted to sales of public corporations in several key sectors of the economy, including petroleum, construction, insurance, hotels, cement industry, telecommunications, etc. So far, only a meagre sum of N19 billion has been realised as proceeds from privatisation of assets that cost tens of billion dollars originally! If only for this fact, privatisation is nothing but an act of legal looting of public assets by a few capitalist elements and multinational corporations.

The inefficiency, poor performance and corruption that characterise public corporations such as NITEL, NEPA, Airways, etc, are what are being used as pretexts for their privatisation. But the capitalists who are selling and buying these public assets are the ones responsible for their failure in the first instance, through their acts of under-funding, mismanagement, nepotism and looting. Having run these public assets aground, they now want to sell them to themselves cheaply at rock-buttom prices!

Privatisation is thus nothing but a brazen act of robbing the poor to settle the rich. Never be deceived that the privatisation programme was designed to rid government of unproductive and unprofitable ventures. In practice, it is usually the other way round. Ponder this quotation from page 42 of The Guardian of March 24, 2002: "NICON for ten years had been the most successful business. In 1999, NICON was posting a profit of N1 billion. While big insurance companies were selling out to competitors, NICON was expanding its trading interests in hotels, manufacturing and other areas in Nigeria. NICON is the largest insurance company in Africa with assets in excess of $1 billion. When the Yorkshire Insurance Company, a British firm in Nigeria, fell into bad times, NICON bought it over and made it a profitable business concern in the name of Niger Insurance Company. Why then must this company be privatised?"

This and other lucrative ventures and resources must be privatised because privatisation, first and foremost is an organised racket wherein the most powerful foreign and local capitalist elements rob the public of its resources and wealth for little or nothing. Nothing shows this negative syndrome better than the recent purported sale of NITEL.

NITEL's total purchase price was put at $1.185 billion. By the sales agreement, the successful bidder was expected to pay a sum of $136.7 million i.e. the equivalent of 10% of the purchase price as advanced payment. The rest 90% was to be paid after purchase agreement has been duly concluded and signed by the parties. However, when this was done, the successful bidder, Investors International London Limited (IILL) neglected/failed to pay the balance of the agreed sum. Certain reasons including political instability, sluggish economic climate, etc have been cited, amongst other things, as reasons why this company could not even pay the highly under estimated purchase price!

Even the 10% paid was gathered from different other capitalist corporations obviously looking for easy profits. First Bank of Nigeria Plc gave this fictitious parasitical company called IILL a huge sum of $96.2 million without consultation or permission of depositors, most of whom are middle class and working class people. Continental Holding SA of Hamburg put down a sum of $10 million, while SIOTEL Limited and Sunny Odogwu contributed $20 million.

Meanwhile, the original idea sold to the public was that these commanding heights of the economy would be sold to "core investors" who are expected to have sufficient technical know how and financial muscles. But what happens in reality?

Those that bought government shares in UNIPETROL are the ones bidding for government shares in AGIP. Their simple plan is to secure a loan of about N8 billion, which they will need to buy Agip, from bank(s). As soon as the deal sails through, the corporate headquarters of AGIP will be put up for sales to partly repay the purchase loan.

All these reveal how, under the guise of privatisation, capitalist elements and their finance institutions buy public assets with public money and turn them into their own private properties.

It must always be stressed that the cardinal objective of privatisation is to open new ways for profit making by the multinational corporations and their local allies. This will further deny the working masses and the poor segments of society access to the basic necessities of life such as food, education, medicare, jobs, etc. Thus, privatisation is a recipe for permanent social crisis and violence amongst classes and nations of the world or that of a given country like Nigeria.

For instance, the world richest individual, Bill Gates, and other 2,999 super rich individuals are said to be richer than the poorest 2 billion people on earth. But according to United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), a sum of $40 billion, judiciously spent, is enough to wipe out curable diseases and illiteracy from the surface of earth. This US$ 40 billion is also less than the amount by which President Bush is increasing US military spending in the aftermath of the 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. The privatisation drive is not concerned with the issue of how this sum can be raised but how to transfer the natural and human resources of the universe into the hands of a few super billionaires. Hence, the road of privatisation is the road of mass poverty and the concomitant social crisis and violence.

TRADE LIBERALISATION

The other central plank of Obasanjo's economic strategy is called trade liberalisation. This is the same ruinous, counter productive policy usually preached by international business monopolies and their cronies in governments and institutions such as World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Bank and the IMF. The conventional argument is that trade and investments, and through this productivity and profitability, will only flourish when there is little or no trade and economic restrictions, by the different countries of the world. So everybody should be free to sell and buy from anywhere in the world. But in practice, this policy has shown to be more beneficial to the companies and countries of the advanced capitalist world to the utter disadvantage of the underdeveloped countries like Nigeria.

Under the guise of liberalisation, the nation's commanding heights of the economy are sold at give away prices to the highest bidder invariably a foreign company or local company backed by foreign business concern!

Simultaneously, the feeble local industries are usually destroyed by the more efficient and cheaper foreign competitors. This explains while a large proportion of so-called local industries and corporations do little these days beyond acting as conduit pipe for the importation and sales of goods produced outside the country. This is the basis of the perpetual low level of capacity utilisation, as well as massive unemployment in society.

Yes, the economic and social emancipation of the working masses and mankind in general is a task that can only be fully actualised within the framework of international economic and social integration. However, this integration can only be able to attain its true, selfless potential only if the entire natural and human resources of the universe are democratically planned for the use of entire mankind and consideration for the environment as opposed to the prevailing practice of seeking to appease the insatiable and irrational profit greed of a few super billionaires.

This is the basic contradiction facing the working masses today. If the universe resources is not owned, controlled and managed democratically by the working people of each capitalist country and jointly in collaboration with the working peoples of all countries, it will inevitably be owned, controlled and dominated by a few capitalist corporations and their directors. This of course, as it had been pointed out before, can only be a recipe for perpetual misery and instability.

 

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