The poor masses in Nigeria have never had things so bad. Poverty, insecurity, corruption, and repression have become the order of the day. But we are not powerless. We can break these shackles, emancipate ourselves and transform society.
We are at a crucial juncture where terrible waves can bury us and generations to come if we fold our arms. Or we can organize, mobilize, and fight. To do these, we need to think critically, reflect on the current situation, and collectively take decisive action.
The current national situation
We must ask why it is that life keeps getting worse for us daily. The government says that this is because of the economic crisis. But a handful of rich people in government and big business have become more affluent, while we, the masses who work to create the wealth they enjoy, have grown poorer.
An increasing number of working people and youth find it increasingly difficult even to feed. The prices of foodstuffs have shot through the roof. The real value of workers’ wages and the petty incomes of millions of people trading in the informal economy have sharply declined.
Hundreds of thousands of workers have been sacked by governments and private employers over the last year. Youths from poor working-class homes cannot find jobs after years of struggling to get an education which has become increasingly expensive. But children of the high and mighty automatically get well-paid jobs in the Central Bank, NNPC, and other juicy parastatals and private establishments.
Insecurity has also become the order of the day. Almost four thousand people were killed in the first half of the year, and more than three thousand were kidnapped. We can hardly travel on the highways out of fear. Our children and siblings cannot go to school with peace of mind. The government has not been able to arrest this awful situation.
While bandits walk about freely and some take pictures with governors and other people in the corridors of power, unarmed citizens are arrested with impunity. Strikes and peaceful demonstrations of workers, youths, and ethnic-nationalist groups are brutally dispersed or suppressed.
People are arrested for social media posts, in some cases simply for abusing the president, governor, ex-presidents, or some other “big men.” Homes of activists and agitators are raided, and media houses are fined or gagged.
This state of insecurity which makes us poor working-class people sleep with one eye open is despite massive amounts allocated to defense and security. In the past six years of the Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) regime, at least 11,420 have been killed by insurgents and bandits of all sorts. In the same period, the regime has appropriated more than N5 trillion for defense!
This amount is separate from the N1.45 trillion appropriated as “security votes” by executives in the federal and state governments and Local Government Council chairmen. These so-called security votes, as we all know, are not accounted for by anybody. They are pocketed by the ruling elites of APC and PDP alike across the country. It is all part of the unlimited corruption business of the ruling class.
Corruption has gotten so terrible under this regime that even Maj Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) can express alarm. Babangida’s military junta was notorious for promoting the “settlement” culture that institutionalized corruption. But he could now boldly say that “I think we are saints when compared to what is happening” under the current regime.
As he further said in an interview with Vanguard in the first week of August, “those who have stolen billions…are now parading themselves in the streets”. A few of them have been taken to court when they fall out of favor with the regime or due to mass outcry, as was the case with Babachir Lawal, the disgraced former Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
Many more like Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state, who was caught on video receiving huge wads of dollars as a kickback, and Godswill Akpabio of the Niger Delta Commission, who spilled the beans on misappropriation of billions of naira at parliament, have not been arrested.
Indeed, it is as clear as daylight that Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) has failed on all three pillars of his APC campaign promises. Their “change” mantra has shown itself to be nothing but deceitful posturing.
He promised to address the economic crisis and the attendant rise of unemployment. But what we have seen is a worsened economic crisis for the poor and ever-increasing unemployment rates. He declared that he would end the Boko Haram insurgency within months and guarantee security.
But the masses have never faced a state of insecurity as terrible as what we are now going through. Considering how generalized the state of insecurity is today, we can say the national situation is worse than during the Civil War.
Buhari projected himself as an anti-corruption crusader. However, corruption now reeks to the high heavens. Haven woefully failed to deliver its campaign promises; the regime has resorted to lies and brutish repression. The State Security Service (SSS), army, and police, who are impotent before bandits and insurgents, now arrest and kill defenseless poor people with impunity.
The massacre and detention of EndSARS protesters is the most graphic example of this new repressive normal. Despite the many-colored lies of the regime, it has now been established with autopsy reports that at least a hundred people were killed in Lagos state alone. But the October Rebellion partly shows us the way forward towards liberating ourselves from the clutches of the regime and the oppressive capitalist system it represents.
What is to be done?
Poor working-class people across the country are fed up. Different social forces have put forward several alternatives on the way forward. These include separatism and electoral politics. But both roads lead only to dead ends.
Those who exploit and oppress us are from all ethnic groups. For example, the governors, members of state houses of assembly, and local government chairs across the country are also part of the corrupt and repressive ruling class.
They all come from the same ethnic group as the poor masses they exploit. Likewise, the billionaire business people who own the banks, companies, and factories where workers are treated like oranges that are sucked dry and then thrown away are from all the ethnic groups.
If Nigeria is divided into several new republics based on the existing ethnic nationalities, these are the same people who will continue to rule. This is apart from the fact that secessionist agitations are likely going to lead to avoidable wars where the poor working people and their children will die.
Apart from those agitating for secession, some believe that all we need to do is organize to vote out the exploiters. As we get closer to the 2023 elections, there will be more seeds of such electoralist illusion. This is always the case, and we have seen even some socialists joining that bandwagon already.
Workers and youth activists cannot afford to revel in such an illusion. In the first place, the electoral process is a sham. Rigging starts long before the elections. Second, the cost of elections is such that it is almost impossible for radical parties that sincerely want to make transformative changes to win.
This does not mean that we dismiss elections. They are essential, but radical and revolutionary parties cannot win through the ballot without first being a compelling mass force of the people on the streets, in our communities, and in workplaces.
It is only with the struggle that such a force can emerge as a sustained movement. The October EndSARS rebellion, like the 2012 January Uprising against fuel pump price, gives us glimpses of the real power of working-class people and youth.
Drawing lessons from these movements, we see the importance of concrete demands. We must present demands to roll back the poverty, insecurity, and repression which define our existence at the moment.
For example, workers cannot live on the N30,000 minimum wage. This is the time to demand a national minimum wage that workers can live on. Rank and file workers have to put pressure on the trade unions’ leadership to do the needful.
We must resist call out the corruption of the regime and resist its repression. We must make it clear that enough is enough. We can also see that the regime cannot safeguard our lives. We need to build self-defense militias of the masses in our neighborhoods.
Even General Bashir Magashi, the minister of defense, called on Nigerians to defend themselves. That is a confirmation of the regime’s inability to provide security. We must now demand arms and training for every Nigerian of voting age for us to defend ourselves.
There are two more lessons to draw from the January Uprising and October Rebellion that could guide us on the way forward. First is the centrality of the working-class power for the victory of the poor masses as a whole.
The 8-day general strike at the heart of the January Uprising in 2012 brought the Goodluck Jonathan regime to its knees. The organized working-class was the missing force last year. Rank and file workers need to call out and push forward the trade union bureaucracy to act. Workers and youth need to unite and fight.
Second, while singular demands spark uprisings, this must be brought together like several rivers flowing into an ocean that challenges the regime for power. We will end our poverty and overcome the bandits in government and the bushes only by overthrowing the regime.
Our self-emancipation and building a better society for us, our children, and generations to come will be won only with the cleansing fires of revolution now! Organize, mobilize, agitate and fight to make the revolution – onward forward until victory!