In his speech to mark Nigeria’s Independence on October 1, 1960, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa cheerfully said the new nation-state “now stands well-built upon firm foundations”. This might be true then and now for the rich bosses in and out of government. But that has never been the case for poor working-class people.
Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari’s opening statement in his 57th Independence Day broadcast that “October 1st remains a special date for all Nigerians as this marks the day when we attained one of the most precious of human desires – freedom”, rings hollow in the ears of suffering working-class people.
Our lot has been “sorrow, tears and blood”. And the burden of this lot has grown heavier over the years. We, working-class people remain fettered economically, socially and politically. We are yet to taste of freedom – we must emancipate ourselves, through mass collective struggle.
A United Nation’s report last year aptly captured the reality we face thus: “Nigeria is one of the poorest and most unequal countries in the world, with over 80 million or 64% of her population living below poverty line. The situation has not changed over the decades, but is increasing.”
The current APC government under President Buhari was voted into power over two years ago, because a significant proportion of the population believed that it would deliver change. With his anti-corruption posture, not a few believed, or at least hoped that there would now be a cause for the poor masses to cheer. His stated commitment to revamp the economy and ensure security of lives was also music to millions of ears.
But, the inability of this attempt at regime change to implement emancipatory and progressive change from the workers’ standpoint attests to the need for us to understand the systemic nature of our exploitation and the struggle from below that we must wage to break the chains of our oppressive marginalisation.
The monster of corruption
Corruption has always been a major cause of impoverishment in the land. In 2015, EFCC said about $20 trillion that could have been used to provide better healthcare, housing, jobs and quality education for working-class people and their children had been stolen by politicians since Independence.
Corruption is really a serious issue and cause for concern. But, different sections of the bosses’ class have only played politics with it, condemning other sections or their predecessors, while they are no better and the rot of corruption continued.
More importantly, the APC government’s avowed commitment to fighting corruption is obviously more of hot air and propaganda than real. Despite the presidency’s attempts at damage control, the leaked memo of Mr. Ibe Kachukwu, minister of state for petroleum resources points towards impropriety on the part of Mr Maikanti Baru, Group Managing Director of NNPC in disbursing $24bn from the coffers of the oil corporation. This is just the latest in a string of high profile corruption cases.
But, as serious as corruption is and must be genuinely combated, it is a symptom of the degenerate way capitalism works, particularly but not limited to resource rich and under-industrialised countries like Nigeria. Capitalism breeds corruption in different ways, in all countries. It is impossible to wipe this symbol of a system’s decadence, without overthrowing the capitalist system itself.
An economy for the bosses
Capitalism is an international system which rests on the exploitation of working-class people for the expansion of the profit of the bosses. It is not accidental that unemployment, poverty and corruption have been simultaneously on the rise, particularly over the last few decades.
When Nigeria gained flag Independence from the British, the interventionist state was a norm. In the advanced capitalist countries, this took the form of the welfare state which attempted to attain full employment, paid unemployment benefits and provided public healthcare for all.
Borrowing from this and considering their material weaknesses, the new native bosses in the newly independent countries of Africa and Asia made efforts to build developmental states which invested in healthcare, education, infrastructure etc.
Today, many people look back at that period as a model for the future. Such aspirations are part of the inspiration within some trade unions for debates on “restructuring”, with the developmental strides of regions in the first republic being presented as a success story.
However, apart from the fact that things were not all rosy for everyone even at that time, it was a moment in history that was one of compromise between the bosses’ class and the trade unions after mass anger at the great depression of the 1930s and then the second World War had thrown the capitalist system into the throes of a near terminal crisis.
By the late 1970s, less than two decades after October 1, 1960, the bosses felt strong and confident enough to get back on the offensive within their countries and to turn the screws on dependent countries with structural adjustment programmes. Why was this so, and how does it affect where we are now as workers in Nigeria?
When the Great Depression started in 1929, the working masses in Europe and North America were bold in demanding system change, as they organised mass demonstrations, sit-ins and other forms of strike. Socialism was seen and presented as an alternative to the obsolescence of capitalism.
The fact that the economy of the Soviet Union continued to grow while those of liberal capitalist countries contracted was proof of the superiority of central planning. It was thus fashionable to present it as an alternative to liberalism. This was why the bosses gave in to the compromise of welfarism. Better to give in to social-democratic reforms than have socialist revolutions on their hands.
The institutional powers of trade unions (through enhanced labour laws, collective bargaining and social dialogue in general) grew with the compromise. Less concern was given to the union’s organising power i.e. building workers’ power from below, which was the political force that made the bosses concede in the first place.
Further, the Stalinist bureaucracy’s authoritarian modernisation of Russia with “socialism” as an ideology made what was considered to be Communism less inspiring for a new generation of trade unionists. Many working-class activists became disillusioned when the Soviet Empire expanded or was consolidated as other capitalist powers did through military force such as in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The bosses in liberal democracies of advanced capitalist countries and in the new states of the Third World alike seized on this to demonise revolutionary socialists. Anti-communist laws were passed, including in Nigeria, banning socialist literature and organisation, at different times. Revolutionaries were hounded and in some cases assassinated and their organisations infiltrated.
By the time the next big global economic crisis after the Great Depression happened in the 1970s, the bosses, on a global level were confident to push for attacks such as privatisation, cuts in spending on social services and liberalisation of the economy, including of the labour market, as the solution to capitalism’s inherent crisis!
In Nigeria, a strong socialist current was palpable within the trade unions and working-class people in the first thirty years of independence. This could be attested to by the result of the 1987 Political Bureau debate where the bulk of Nigerians expressed their desire for a socialist social and economic system. This partly accounted for and was also reinforced by the interventionist use of social-democratic sections of the bosses to provide free education and free health care in some regions of the country.
APC lays claim to a social-democratic manifesto. The aspirations of its social intervention programmes which the President Buhari once again referred to in his October 1 speech such as home-grown school feeding programme, conditional cash transfer, n-power job creation, family homes fund and social housing schemes are reforms that working-class people could find beneficial.
But, APC faces a problem which even older social-democratic parties that had carried out welfarist reforms in an earlier period face in the age of neoliberalism as the consensual class project of the bosses. It wants to deliver palliative goals of social reforms with an economic strategy rooted in the defence of a rabidly “for-profit” logic. This attempt at squaring the circle is doomed for failure.
The context of a global economic crisis further condemns this attempt at a synthesis of Keynesianism and liberalism. Nigeria’s recent recession for example, including the collapse in oil prices is to a great extent a manifestation of the generalised problems of capitalism internationally, within the national economy.
What is to be done?
It is important for us to understand why and how we, as working-class people are pauperised, dispossessed and oppressed. But even more important is for us to know how to change world – emancipating ourselves from the shackles of this state of exploitation.
No section of the oppressor class of bosses will liberate us. This is a task that only we ourselves can carry out. And doing this requires our self-organisation, right from the grassroots. It requires resistance to every anti-poor people policy and programme of the bosses and their governments at federal, state and local levels of governance. It requires unabashed defence of our rights, while seeing beyond reforms we win.
In this light, we must start by rejecting the ongoing situation where we are being made to bear the burden of an economic crisis of the bosses’ system. There is no reason why workers in almost two thirds of the states or any state for that matter should be owed salaries, and for several months at that. As rank and file workers we must demand of our unions to take industrial action and call on the trade union centres to organise a national general strike for all outstanding wages to be paid, and a new minimum wage of at least N56,000 to be implemented.
Corruption thrives where there is lack of transparency, in financial dealings, including remuneration. Despite the Freedom of Information Act, a lot of the so-called business of government, and as well businesses of entrepreneurs are shrouded in secrecy. All financial books at all levels of governance must be opened. And those who claim to represent us must not feed fat while we workers live in penury. The income of all elected and appointed public servants must be no more than the average salary of a civil servant.
The spate of privatisation of social services must be stopped. Evictions of poor people from settlements without any decent social alternative must be resisted vehemently. All over the major cities, there are empty houses owned by rich people or huge mansions and estates with just a few people living in these. They must be taken over and housing provided for all.
The bosses will not grant us these radical reforms. Nor will they allow us to vote away their oppressive power. We must win with revolutionary action, with our power as working-class people and youth. We are many and they are few. Building a workers’ party with a socialist programme, a position which the NLC resolved upon fourteen years ago but has refused to actually take up would be essential for generalising our struggle and ensuring victory.
As we march, we march forward as part of the international working-class movement. At an hour of anger and confusion in the world. Where more and more working people are turning to socialist politics. But as well, where radical right-wing authoritarian ideas are also winning adherents. Buhari is just the first step in the route towards seemingly progressive fightback against corruption and “bad governance”, but which leads to authoritarian defence of the bosses as a class.
The recent declaration of one Major Ken Chioma Obi (rtd) for “about 150,000 retired military officers to join” him in agitating against the criminal pocketing of N50m by lawmakers monthly is an ominous sign of how further along that route we might be dragged in chains, if we do not act now.
The period of moderation or “dulling” is gone. Audacity! Audacity!! And yet still audacity must be our watchword as we fight for our self-emancipation. Every generation, as Frantz Fanon once said must find its mission, fulfill it or betray it. Generations yet unborn will never forgive us, if we do not rise now to break our chains, and rebuild society anew. Workers and youth, unite and fight!