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 organized by the leadership of the NLC in less than three years of civil rule. But the inability of the labor 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 privatization and liberalization, 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 commercialization 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 the 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 Organization. 18.6% or 24,180,000 million Nigerians are categorized 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 labor. 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 ₦6,500 minimum wage, was penciled 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-civilization 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.
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 programs in housing, education and health care. This is how they work out in reality! The cheapest house in Tinubu’s housing program goes for ₦2 million, in a state where annual minimum wage is less than ₦150,000. 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 4 July 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 ₦10,000 while a caesarean section operation costs between ₦30,000 to ₦40,000 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.