NIGERIA: MASS STRUGGLE
*For a mass working people’s party on a socialist programme
By H.T. Soweto
The rising spate of repression under the Buhari/APC administration reflects the mortar fear of the capitalist class of impending class battles and/or the sort of mass movements seen in recent months in countries like Sudan, Algeria, Hong Kong, Chile and France – the glaring signs of which were clear in the low turnout in the 2019 general election as well as in the mood of anger which currently simmer under a calm surface.
Five years in power, a government that came in on massive popular illusion has failed to transform hope into reality. All easy excuses have been exhausted. The recession ended and the economy has been growing, even if anaemically, for nine consecutive quarters. Only recently the Federal Government has admitted that “no fewer than 100 million youths are without decent jobs … Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, disclosed this yesterday. (He said) ‘Nigeria’s population is over 200 million and about 60 percent are youths who need employment. Unfortunately, only 10 percent have decent jobs.’” (Daily Trust, December 18, 2019). By ramping up repression, the regime hopes to dissuade revolt by criminalising agitation. But every measure is having an opposite effect – that is a further thinning out of the regime’s rapidly disappearing social base.
There can be no doubt that struggles and upheavals will break out, the only questions are how quickly they can grow, what is their character and how far they can go in winning demands and laying the foundation for charting a new course for society. This is against the background of the rank opportunism of the pro-capitalist leadership of the labour movement and the political confusion dominant among the awakening youth about what programmes and perspectives are needed for struggle to win.
NATURE OF CURRENT CONSCIOUSNESS
The preceding years have been years of learning by the working class. Tons of theory was not enough to warn the working class and youth that no section of the capitalist class could be trusted. It was absolutely inevitable that the working class went through the crucible of the Buhari APC capitalist regime and was seared in the furnace of its anti-poor economic policies, as well as its violent attacks on democratic rights, to become clarified and convinced that once again it had been conned.
Likewise, it was absolutely essential that bourgeois “progressive” politics as purportedly represented by Tinubu and other founding fathers of the ruling APC were put to the test of history for the masses to see them for what they really are. Experience is always the best teacher. The gentility of a tiger is not often a sign of weakness. The working class people is testing all wings of the capitalist class, all sections that claim to speak for the masses but only panders to their own interest, those who are parasites on the class but who appear as liberators, the working class is carrying out this test and examination and slowly drawing its conclusion.
In drawing conclusions from their practical experience of the brutal reality of the Buhari APC capitalist government, the advanced layers of the workers and the best of the youth will first be prepared to struggle and come to our side before the broad masses. However this advanced layer is currently enmeshed in ideological and political confusion. Under the whip of events, it is undergoing a purge of previously-held illusions in the so-called “progressive bourgeoisies” while struggling to find a clear understanding of what went wrong and how to not again become the pawn of the failed bourgeois capitalist establishment. In seeking these answers, a layer of the youth have momentarily found solace in spontaneity and petty bourgeois radicalism as currently represented by the detained Omoyele Sowore and the movement built around him. But despite some fine words petty bourgeois radicalism is itself unable to provide answers to the burning questions of the moment. This means that both a challenge and an immense opportunity exists as a policy vacuum continues to stay open for the Socialist left to fill – a vacuum which continues to widen in line with the shrinking social base of the Buhari APC government.
As experience has shown, consciousness does not grow in a straight line. Because of the legacy of the past (collapse of Stalinism, dominance of pro-capitalist ideas of social pacifism in the labour and students’ movement etc.), confusion is not only inevitable, the development of a clear class consciousness is likely going to be a long drawn process marked by sharp turning points.
Despite the prominence of agitations over attacks on democratic rights and looming civilian capitalist dictatorship, the root of the increasing loss of support for the Buhari/APC regime is economic, that is, growing disappointment over the regime’s disastrous performance on the economy and the failure of its strategy of using state measures to try to develop Nigerian capitalism, a policy that runs alongside its preservation and deepening of all the anti-poor policies of privatization and deregulation of previous PDP regimes. So even if it tries to make amends on its democratic image, as is being demanded by liberal commentators and embarrassed friends of the State, the regime is not likely going to be able to win back any sizeable support given the unstable economic situation.
STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Nigeria’s economy emerged from recession in fourth quarters of 2017 after contracting for 5 consecutive quarters. Despite this, the economic climate remains uncertain. This is due both to underlying contradictions of Nigeria’s economy and the unstable global capitalist economy. Sluggish growth has been the case since the end of recession. More so, the emergence from recession has come at a huge cost with a rise of the public debt to about $84 billion and half of revenue being spent on debt servicing.
While there has been a positive growth in non-oil sector in recent time, this has been partly due to a mild form of economic protectionism which is creating new distortions in the economy. For instance, food inflation is high, rising by 14.48% in November 2019, even while government celebrates success in local rice production. And this positive growth largely leaves out the manufacturing sector – the main plank for industrialisation and the only sector with the capacity to largely mop up unemployment in urban areas. Weaknesses in the banking sector and the stock exchange continue. The percentage of Non-Performing Loans (NPL) remains high.
Any shock from the world market, including a drop in crude oil prices which remain Nigeria’s economic mainstay despite growth of the non-oil sector in recent times, could set the economy reeling. Already there are signs of crisis ahead as oil prices are on decline, foreign exchange reserve shedding weight and the ordinary paltry excess crude account being drawn down. For instance, within a month between January and February 2020 the ECA was depleted from $325 million to $70 million due to a decline in oil revenue. The revenue crisis may force the Buhari government which has already increased VAT by 7.5% and increases electricity tariff to intensify capitalist attacks on the working masses and the poor including further underfunding of education and health care. Therefore labour and pro-masses’ organisations must be prepared to mobilise the working masses and young people to resist any capitalist attack of the government at all levels.
2023: INCREASED DIVISION AND IN-FIGHTING
Going forward, the Buhari regime is weak. It has lost much of its social base and finding it difficult to manoeuvre effortlessly as it was able to do in its first term. The resort to repression reflects this weakness on the one hand as well as a certain contradiction in the regime whereby different layers in the presidency, military and security institutions actually take decisions and pursue their own interests without recourse to the President. This makes the regime a potentially far more unstable one than previous regimes.
As the race for 2023 gathers strength, internal divisions and in-fighting will increase. The ruling class look towards 2023 with fear. With Buhari not going for re-election, the question of who wins the presidential ticket of the APC would either strengthen the party or lead to an implosion. Ethnic and religious agitation is likely to increase as each wings of the ruling class dig deep into primordial sentiment and existing fault lines in order to build artificial base of support in society.
This perspective is already being borne out by the formation of ethnic militias dressed up as community policy measures i.e. “Amotekun” for the South West and “Shege Ka Fasa” for the North, though this has not so far been embraced by the northern ruling elite. Other regions are already considering taking similar steps. These are being presented as measures to combat banditry, kidnapping and other crimes as the insecurity in the country is progressively getting worse something the police and military which are under control of the federal government have been unable to tackle. However, in the event of violent confrontations among the ruling elite over the question of 2023, Marxists and the advanced layers of the working class can be of no doubt that given the experience of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), these platforms would be armed and deployed into battle as ethnic militia.
With the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continuing to be a spent force not able to take advantage of the decline of the APC, we cannot rule out a new party being formed from a new coalition to try to defeat the ruling APC in order to try and repeat the same sort of formula that brought the APC into power in the first place. Such a new coalition will be made up of the same bourgeois elements. But, in order to deceive the masses they could try to annex popular sentiment by putting forward a supposedly anti-establishment element, a woman or a youth, as their candidate. But so far these elements stand on the same pro-capitalist philosophy and programme as the Buhari regime, they would not be able to resolve any of the socio-economic crisis afflicting the working and toiling masses of the country.
2023 may also see a renewed frantic desire by sections of the working class and youth to try to build a clear alternative to the capitalist status quo. This could initially take the form of a movement given the scepticism that exists towards parties. But such developments can provide an opening for left and socialist ideas to thrive. But unless the genuine forces of Marxism fill this vacuum, populism can again become dominant. This could be an intensification of the illusion in a youth Presidency or some other variants of it. But like the movement around the African Action Congress (AAC) and Omoyele Sowore’s campaign for presidency in the 2019 general elections, without basing itself on the working class and clear socialist programmes, these projects even where they succeed will not lead to any fundamental way out for the working masses and youth.
This is why even while energetically building the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and not shying away at all times to seriously discuss with any new political trend seeking a way out of capitalist crisis, Socialists will continue to campaign for the leadership of the labour movement and other forces of the oppressed masses to take the necessary steps to form a mass working peoples party on socialist programme.
THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
Rather than any repression or threat of it, what is keeping the regime together and giving it the appearance of strength is the docility and the pro-capitalist illusions of the leadership of labour movement. The Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), as well as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC), do not at the moment possess a coherent and scientific programme to defend the interests of the working class under the Buhari capitalist government. Rather all they do is reactive. This is because even though large layers of the working masses and youth have woken from their illusions in the regime and ready to do battle, the corps of the labour bureaucrats despite sometimes radical words remain tied to the government because of lack of alternative socio-economic programme or the preservation of their self-serving interests.
Suffice to stress that without the labour movement providing a way out, all kinds of forces including right-wing, nationalist, ethno-religious and populist forces can try to take advantage of the situation. Though, the Presidency is expected to come Southwards, it is not ruled out that Northern bourgeois elements may also put their hats in the ring. Hence, all the latent fault-lines can suddenly explode as different wings try to outsmart another.
However mass struggles will break out regardless of the hold of the labour bureaucrats on the movement. Sections of workers, youth, lumpen proletariatian elements incensed by the worsening situation will come out and try to confront the regime on all questions. A few of these actions could actually win some concessions. However for struggle to become generalised and possess the strength to win serious concessions and lay a foundation for a fundamental change of society, a fighting labour leadership with a Marxist programme is needed. In the 1990s, an anti-military struggle consisting of tenacious mass movement led by coalitions of bourgeois, radical petty bourgeois, youth and socialist elements was able to force the military out of power. But because it lacked an independent working class programme, this movement could not succeed in preventing another bourgeois government, adorned in civilian robes, from replacing the military junta.
Faced with a rising appetite for struggle, the labour bureaucrats have been known to rise up to the occasion and take leadership of the movement not to take it forward but in order to be in a position to limit, divert or betray it at the slightest opportunities. With this in mind, Marxists must always propose measures to counter negative influences by the pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy – the official police of the capitalist class – on struggle. These include demands for the setting up of rank and file democratic committees of struggles at workplaces and street levels, regular congresses to allow workers have a say in when a strike is called and suspended, right to recall any erring labour leader and a fighting labour leadership.
Until Marxism becomes a material force within the working class, the students’ movement and society as a whole, the task of Socialist revolution and the enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government which can permit the democratic control and management of Nigeria’s resources by the working people in order to better the lives of the mass majority will continue to be postponed ad infinitum. This is why we of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) are involved in various struggles to help win immediate demands of workers, youth and the poor masses and also to build the political movement necessary to transform society along a socialist line. While we continue to build the Socialist Party of Nigeria as a working people party we also regularly call on the trade unions, workers and broader labour movement to form and build a mass working people party on a socialist programme or join in the building of the SPN into a mass party.