The Nigerian working class has the power to struggle against Buhari’s anti-working class policies. Massive pressure should be placed on the leaders of the trade unions to mobilize the masses in a struggle against this government and the capitalist system which lies at the heart of the poverty and deprivation.
Wole Olubanji (Engels), Movement for a Socialist Alternative (ISA in Nigeria)
President Buhari has unleashed blow after blow on the working masses of this country as a means of saving the profits and luxurious lifestyles of the country’s capitalist elite in the face of a recession which the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened.
Buhari’s regime has done nothing of consequence to alleviate the suffering of the masses, yet has not hesitated to give state handouts to aid big businesses, which has billionaires smiling all the way to the bank.
This is a consequence also of the regime’s submission to the will and diktats of imperialism as represented by the IMF and World Bank.
Buhari’s government hopes that the leaders of the working class political organizations and the trade unions will acquiesce to their pro-big business policies and thus attempt to hold back working class people from struggling against this barrage of attacks on their living standards.
Nevertheless, the regime has shown that when workers protest it is prepared to use the police and the military to oppress those that dare stand up to them. Peaceful protests by the members of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the East and those emerging in Northern Nigeria, considered to be the base of President Buhari, were attacked by state forces. Similarly, state repression was meted out against protests organized by the Socialist Party of Nigeria, Joint Action Front, and #RevolutionNow protesters, in Lagos.
The working class has the numerical strength and power to oppose this repression and struggle against Buhari’s anti-working class policies. They should place massive pressure on the leaders of the trade unions to mobilize the masses in a struggle, not just against this government, but against the capitalist system which lies at the heart of the poverty and deprivation they suffer.
The Buhari regime has exhausted all of its goodwill with the working class and poor masses and has demonstrated that it is no different from previous regimes. The so-called slogan of “change” has now been exposed to be fake, given that the regime continues to put the interests of the capitalist class and the profits of big business before the needs of the majority. The regime has arrived at the same dead-end as previous capitalist regimes before it. It has now resorted to the same lies, policies of privatization, and deregulation that they claimed to oppose whilst in opposition. The government’s failures and deception have left the working-masses with no other option than to act collectively as a class to take control of the country’s wealth and resources. Nigeria needs a Workers’ and Poor People’s government that will implement a socialist plan for the economy, under the democratic control of the working class to meet the needs of the people. The continued domination of the capitalist elite can only have one outcome the condemnation of the masses to a perpetual life of penury and poverty.
A barrage of attacks
In the first days of September, ordinary people were hit hard by an increase in the price of electricity and petrol. Both are the major sources of energy for average Nigerians to power their houses and businesses. Any increase in either has a knock on impact on the price of goods in the markets and these increases have pushed prices to unaffordable levels for the average family. Prior to the latest attacks, the government had already increased Value Added Tax (VAT) and stamp duties.
The Buhari’s regime has tried to spin these attacks as changes that will benefit working class people! They claim that the VAT increase will result in more resources for the state and local governments.
Yet nothing has changed in Nigeria’s 36 states when it comes to providing resources for local communities, and exchequer funds, via an elaborate patronage system, are still being siphoned off by the political elite.
The same logic was applied to the recent increases in electricity and petrol prices with propaganda portraying the increased hardship on the people as the lifeline required by Nigeria’s economy to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. However, this is not new; the same lies have been employed by previous regimes, both military and civilian with the same outcome, an increase in economic hardship for the working class.
“Facts are stubborn things” as the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) damning outlook of Nigeria’s Human Development Indices shows. Presenting its assessment of the unemployment situation in the country, the NBS reported that 21.7 million Nigerians remain unemployed, (Nairametrics, August 14, 2020). Analysis of the NBS figures further shows that only three out of 10 young people are fully employed; the remaining seven are either unemployed or unable to differentiate their status from unemployed people. Bear in mind that the NBS is not an independent body, which explains why the indictment of the regime by this agency cannot be ignored. It exposes many truths for the common people, beyond the lies peddled by the regime’s torchbearers. This is the worst time to be a young person in Nigeria and Covid-19 is not responsible for the failure of the Buhari regime to improve the living standards of Nigerians or to industrialize the country’s economy. Mass unemployment and an underdeveloped economy are due to the corruption and failures of successive regimes.
Nigeria not working for the majority before the pandemic
The regime has labored to provide excuses for the recent increases in the prices of petrol and electricity. One of the excuses, for the increase in petrol prices especially, is that the previous prices were sustained by a corrupt oil subsidy regime. The government’s agents go on to argue that stopping the payments of oil subsidy, costing the country billions in naira, is important at a time the country is cash strapped from the impact of Covid-19 as the funds saved from this will be invested in infrastructures and other social projects.
The corrupt oil subsidy regime was organized and perpetrated under the nose of the Buhari regime. Before 2015, when the All Progressives Congress (APC) politicians were in opposition, the poor people might be carried away by the talk of a conspiracy between the government and the oil marketers to defraud Nigeria of monies disbursed for oil subsidy. But with Buhari returned to power for a second term, any talk of a corrupt oil subsidy scheme is an indictment of the regime by the regime. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is in charge of this scheme under the direct supervision of the President who appointed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources.
There is no doubt about it that there is an established corruption in the administration of subsidies, but it is a corruption that must necessarily involve the President down to the lowest hierarchy of power distribution in his cabinet.
Speaking of corruption and the Buhari regime, the drama around the investigation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the accusations and counter-accusations of fraud, are as recent a marker one can point at to show how entrenched corruption and diversion of public funds are in the Buhari’s government.
In reality, the regime of oil subsidy in an OPEC country like Nigeria is an abnormality. Nigeria is subsidizing fuel because the successive governments, Buhari’s government included, have repeatedly failed to facilitate the country to refine its vast deposit of crude oil for domestic consumption at least. Nigeria has the tenth largest oil reserves in the world. Instead, promises to resuscitate Nigeria’s four refineries to meet local demands have become licenses of embezzlement for government officials and contractors. With more than Naira 2.3 trillion (approximately $6 billion) spent on rehabilitating the refineries between 1993 and 2016, the project has become the proverbial attempt to fetch water with a basket (The Guardian Nigeria, September 22, 2019). The so-called market economy, aka., capitalist democracy, repeatedly stole the money meant for the expansion of Nigeria’s refineries, so that the country could meet its local demand for fuel without the cutthroat prices associated with the importation of the refined product. This act is an indication of the failure of capitalism to develop this country’s industry long before the pandemic.
While the regime was hatching the plan of removing the fuel subsidy, the Punch newspaper, May 10, 2020, reported that the refineries had refined no petrol or other products in eight months. Any attempt by the regime to grandstand as a champion of the people must be rejected. The working class must now begin to seek solutions to the problems facing Nigeria from within their class, by taking over the oil sector, which has become a source of illicit wealth for a few, privileged cronies and fronts for political officeholders.
At a time when the government is complaining of being cash strapped, it is only the people that can conduct a much-needed investigation into the trillions of naira that have been wasted in the name of Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) on the refineries that are central to resolving the problem of fuel scarcity. These are critical times, but they demand radical approaches that only the working class can be trusted to carry out.
Buhari belongs to the super-rich
A couple of policies announced by the Buhari’s regime in the first week of September clarify who the President represents. At the inception of his administration in May 2015, Buhari had laid claim to populist centrism, saying he belonged to nobody and everybody. But drawn tightly between the masses of the working people in need of concrete social support during the worst humanitarian crisis in a hundred years and the billionaires afraid of losing some of their vaulted wealth, President Buhari confirmed his allegiance to the billionaires.
The power sector provides a veritable example. In 2019 the 11 electricity distribution companies, the DISCOs, were fingered by the government’s regulatory agency as inept, and grossly incapable of distributing the limited energy generated by the electricity generating companies (GENCOs). Both the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), owned by the government to provide some regulations and control over the privately controlled DISCOs and GENCOs, clearly stated that the owners of DISCOs lacked the requisite capital to take up the strategic function it had greedily arrogated to itself. It is now urgent to renationalize the entire power sector to stop the greed of the billionaires holding the country to ransom. The workers in the power sector must oversee such re-nationalization and place the sector under their democratic control to prevent the ministers from turning the sector into a cash-cow.
While the DISCOs were distributing darkness across the length and breadth of Nigeria, they were also conducting an extensive fraud against the poor. Neighborhoods populated by working people, artisans, or the poor were and are still left unmetered; this left the calculation of power bills to the estimation of the DISCOs. The class basis of the Nigerian society quickly made itself felt in electricity bills as the well-to-do could easily procure meters; the few working-class neighborhoods that got meters had to pay for them despite the law providing for the free allocation of meters. The oppression of the poor and working people in this area of metering and electricity distribution also meant that the metered areas were allocated more hours of electricity for them to exhaust their subscriptions than the unmetered houses who have estimated bills imposed on them by the DISCOs profiteers. Scandalously the unmetered houses, with fewer hours of electricity supply have bigger bills.
It is against this oppressive and exploitative background that the Buhari regime sanctioned a 100% increase in electricity tariffs. To give an impression of consideration for the poor, the government announced that it has pleaded with DISCOs not to extend the price increases to the poor. In reality, urged on by the regime, the DISCOs have been efficient in imposing this price increase, while electricity supply has been reported across the country to be poorer than before.
Fighting back: A socialist revolution and alternative
The conditions of working people will not improve under the Buhari regime. The working people and poor must take a stand for radical change to their lot. Right now, the regime has indicated the readiness to introduce more taxes. But the people are not taking these attacks lying down. The working-class movement is presently characterized by clusters of industrial disputes, warning strikes, or strikes. But these are limited to individual unions like ASUU, NARD, the unions of Nurses and Midwives, and the combined unions of the non-academic staff of universities. This is an indication of the storm to come.
The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) are “missing in action”. Young people have taken to social media with petitions that call on the President of the NLC to declare a general strike against this myriad of attacks. This is a recognition of the vital and qualitative role that the labor leadership has the potential to provide for the struggles of the oppressed people. Pressures must continue to be piled on the leadership of the organized labor movement to abandon its complacency and take to the streets.
The regime has revealed its fear of the resistance of the population against its latest policies. The pockets of protests organized by socialist and civil society organizations, like the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) and the Joint Action Front (JAF), were forcefully dispersed by armed state forces. These protests are mobilizing people and putting pressure on the labor movement to provide leadership. The Central Working Committee (CWC) of the NLC and the leadership of the TUC have also issued a two week ultimatum to the regime to reverse the recent increases in the prices of petrol and electricity.
It is impossible at this time of a sustained attack on working people for the labor leadership to avoid struggle because the attacks are yet to reach their peak. The failure of state-governments to pay the minimum wage, which will further hamper the purchasing power of working-class families.
Following the coup in Mali, some commentators have raised whether a military coup is now on the agenda for Nigeria. Such a coup is not impossible, considering the fatigue and problems with the frontline soldiers battling the Boko Haram insurgency and conducting police work across the states hit by banditry. Soldiers are killing their senior officers or committing suicide to avoid the stress of the war. The commanding staff of the military has remained unchanged for five years, fueling agitation for them to be replaced and these ideas may have impacted inside the military itself. All these factors, combined with the fact that the rank and file soldiers are not insulated from the social crisis in society put the possibility of a military coup on the table.
However, it is important to dispel any illusions that may exist that a military coup can put an end to the problems caused and perpetuated by capitalism. The working masses must place no trust in any gang of generals or the armed forces to end this crisis. The military brass are part and parcel of the regime and have benefited most from the defense budget increases for the war against Boko Haram, which in reality has allowed the military tops to line their own pockets.
The possibility of elements from the junior officer’s corps seizing power is equally not a positive for the working class as history has proven such interventions at the end of the day go against the interest of the oppressed for liberty and economic development.
The problems bedeviling Nigeria can only be solved by the working class themselves, independent of all other forces, united in a struggle against capitalism and for socialism.
Build a mass working class political alternative
A major challenge that faces the working-class movement in Nigeria is the need to build a genuine working-class political alternative. This crisis becomes more deepened as the ruling class spreads the illusion that the working people have no choice at the end of the day than to vote for any of the bourgeois parties that are different in nothing but name. The ease of crossing from one bourgeois party to another is phenomenal and it indicates the understanding among the ruling class that they have no disagreement over programs, but about who shares the national cake at a particular time.
The Labour Party, formed by the top bureaucrats of the labor movement, has become a “second eleven” to the dominant capitalist political-parties in the country. It does not intervene in the day-to-day struggles of workers, students, and youth and serves as an alternative for right-wing politicians, who lose out in the battle to be candidates for the pro-rich political parties. Labour does not orientate towards recruiting rank-and-file workers into its ranks or seek to deepen its roots in working-class communities. The vacuum of a mass working people’s political alternative is deep and pushes the mass of the oppressed to not vote during elections, as reflected during the 2019 general elections with its unprecedented low turn-out of voters since the return to civil rule in 1999.
However, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), formed by genuine socialists and rank-and-file trade unionists and workers, poses a clear alternative with its program of socialism for Nigeria. While at this stage a mass working people’s party has not emerged, the SPN provides a veritable platform for genuine socialists, including the forces of the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA, the ISA in Nigeria) to campaign for such a broader party and spread the ideas of a genuine socialist alternative in working-class communities, while standing in elections.
Yet, the SPN must engage in regular interventions in the day-to-day struggle of the working people, while raising its banner to increase its profile in the arena of struggle. The party must also be ready to employ every advancement available to a 21st century Nigeria to promote socialism and reach the swathe of young people that have demonstrated their attraction for radical ideas in the new feminist movement and the #RevolutionNow movement about the country. This must be combined with aggressive party-building efforts in the communities. This can lay the basis of strengthening the campaign for a mass, working people’s alternative on a socialist program.
Presently, Nigeria’s political elites are thinking about survival and understand the danger a party like the SPN represents to the survival of its class. The national assembly in 2007 clandestinely amended the constitution of the country to enable the country’s electoral commission, INEC, to deregister political parties on the criteria of electoral victory or the number of votes amassed in an election. In a country where vote-buying and mass apathy have been a feature of every election since 1999, the de-registration of political parties is targeted at parties like the SPN that pose an ideological challenge and existential threat to the ruling elite.
A Federal Court of Appeal has since declared unlawful the de-registration of the SPN, but the INEC has ignored the ruling and is appealing to the Supreme Court. The ruling at the Appeal Court was technical, which accepted the powers of INEC to deregister the party, but ruled that the criteria set out by the constitution were not met before the de-registration. The struggle of the SPN against this ruling must challenge the basis of the undemocratic constitutional amendment that empowered INEC to restrain the rights of Nigerians to their choices of parties and ideas, and mobilize working class people to its defense.
The problems of unemployment, low wages, out of school children, infrastructural decay, deindustrialization and poverty are created by capitalism and the contentment of Nigeria’s ruling class with the role of middlemen it plays in the global capitalist system.
This role of a middleman is prevalent in Africa and other neo-colonial countries, where a few billionaires can emerge from extracting raw materials and selling them off to industrialized countries or simply providing services to their population. It inhibits the creation of wealth that can be utilized to develop technology, education and economic and social advancement in neo-colonial countries. This corruption and cronyism is inherent in capitalism and it is deeply imbedded in the neo-colonial world, it enriches a tiny elite and brings barbarism to the population afflicted by it.
The task, however, before the working people of this country is to put an end to this rotten system. Working class people need to take control of Nigeria’s vast resources through the nationalization of the economy under democratic working class control, and implement a socialist plan to transform the lives of its 200 million inhabitants. The Covid-19 pandemic has once again brought out into the open that we cannot continue to allow our lives to be dominated by the profiteers and the corrupt super rich elite.