The past few years have been burdensome for the vast majority of Nigerians. Life has become one nightmare after another. But traditional politicians and big businessmen are less concerned about what we are going through. Their concentration has now shifted to electoral contests for political offices in 2023.
While insecurity and poverty reign supreme in the life of poor people, APC and PDP alike have started “spoiling” money. In a country with a national minimum wage of N30,000 and the president’s annual salary is N30 million, the presidential candidate form for the ruling APC is selling like hot cakes for N100 million, and that for PDP is N40 million.
An average of 14 people were killed by bandits each day in 2021, adding up to 5,067 thus killed last year alone. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The total number of lives lost to the pervasive state of insecurity i.e., banditry, abductions, militia herdsmen and gang clashes was up to 10,366.
Northern Nigeria, in particular, has been bleeding. More than 5,000 people were killed in the Northwest alone between 2018 and last year. But nowhere in the country is safe, particularly for poor people.
Physical insecurity has become the norm. In rural areas, people fear going to their farms for fear of being killed, maimed, or kidnapped. Traveling has become a dangerous venture, by road or rail.
Bandits have effectively taken over swathes of local government areas in the Northwestern and Northcentral regions. And kidnappers lurk in the forests and the built-up environment alike, across the southern geopolitical zones.
Ending insecurity was one of the three key campaign promises of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) when running for office in 2015, with the mantra of “Change.” The other two promises were economic recovery with the provision of jobs and stamping out corruption. He has failed on all three counts.
The “change” slogan has shown itself to be worse than empty. APC is, at best, essentially the same thing as the PDP. We, the classes of poor people; workers, farmers, artisans, traders, and our children, bear the brunt of the failed system that Nigeria’s rulers represent.
We are not happy about it. An African Polling Institute survey confirmed that upwards of 80% of Nigerians are fed up with the regime at the beginning of the year. The groundswell of support for pro-secessionist politics in the Southwest and Southeast also reflects spreading disenchantment.
But there is no evidence that separation would solve the problems of the exploited and oppressed people in any of the regions. Across all nationalities and ethnic groups, the wealthy elite has grown more prosperous, while the poor masses have been traumatized by insecurity, poverty, and repression.
This situation is unsustainable. We need to understand why misery has become the lot of working-class people and how we can break these miserable chains. Different sections of the ruling class have already started trying to fool us into queuing up behind one or the other as the 2023 elections draw near.
The increasing economic misery of the masses
Poor working-class families find it challenging to eat. We have been knee-deep in this terrible situation for a while now keeps getting worse under the current regime. Core inflation witnessed its highest year-on-year increase in February, shooting up to 15.7%.
And in a 12 March 2022 Business Day article titled “Nigerians’ misery rises as living standards fall,”Tochukwu Okafor informs that “experts forecast food scarcity by the middle of the year could see Nigerians witnessing the deepest living standard squeeze on record”!
While the costs of food, power, and electricity continue to climb higher, almost every day, workers’ real wages and the income of poor working-class people in the informal economy shrink at an alarming rate.
Numbeo, which is the largest database of user-contributed data about cities and countries globally, points out that without including house rent, an individual in most towns and cities in the country requires at least N184,169 minimum per month, to live a decent life. And for more expensive cities like Lagos, s/he requires N237,171, also without rent.
But the official national minimum wage is just N30,000! That is a mere 12.6% to 16% of what should be a living wage! Bad enough as this is, even the pittance of N30,000 is not being paid by at least five state governments and thousands of private employers, who use millions of workers as casual labor.
Still worse off is the army of unemployed people, mainly youths, who are left hapless and hopeless. Bloomberg reported in March 2021 that the unemployment rate in Nigeria, at 33%, was the second highest globally. By the end of 2022, this had risen to 35%, and it is projected to increase to 40% by 2023.
And mind you, these are just the official figures; the reality is worse! In fact, if we include the underemployed (and grossly underpaid), the statistics according to the National Bureau of Statistics are 55%, that is more than half of the workforce. This is a disaster. It is a disaster that has worsened the terrible housing crisis in the country.
The World Bank reported that 108 million Nigerians could be considered homeless in 2018. These included 25 million people with no roof over their heads and over 80 million people living in shacks, huts, and face-me-I-face-you buildings in the sprawling ghettoes across our cities.
Instead of implementing a massive housing scheme to address this problem, governments, particularly in Lagos, have been tearing down these informal settlements without providing alternatives. After doing this, the lands have been occupied by the rich “big men and women” who build huge mansions that are empty for most parts of the year.
The secret of our poverty lies in their wealth.
Nigeria has been working for a handful of people, the billionaire businesspeople and politicians. Come rain, come shine, they make more money than they and their generations can ever finish spending, while we, the poor masses who work to create the social wealth, die in poverty.
The number of Nigerian dollar millionaires rose by 305% during the pandemic, from 5,000 people before the pandemic to 15,400 people in 2021. They have a combined wealth of over $150 billion (N86.2 trillion). The wealth of the 15 richest of these super-rich people alone is $36 billion (N20.7 trillion). This is more than the country’s 2022 (or indeed any annual) budget.
We can see that not only are the few capitalist oppressors getting richer. There is also an increasing concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands as more and more millions of people are thrown into the abyss of poverty.
In 2017, the combined wealth of the five wealthiest billionaires in the country was enough to wipe out poverty. But by the end of 2021, it was the wealth of just the three richest, as documented in Inequality Kills, a report issued by Oxfam earlier in the year.
The capitalist billionaires and millionaires enjoy world-class health care across the globe and in expensive private hospitals at home. At the same time, working-class people die from preventable or curable ailments due to poor access to quality care.
The children of the rich attend the best schools, in Nigeria or abroad – we see them celebrating their children’s graduation ceremonies in Britain and the United States every year. Scores of private universities that charge hundreds of thousands or millions of naira per semester have sprung up across the country.
These universities do not condone unions, so there is never strike action. Children of the poor struggle to attend public tertiary schools as different fee increments creep in. And these young people spend years on end in school because the government’s “I don’t care” attitude toward teaching and non-teaching staff’s demands perennially leads to strikes.
On graduation, the well-connected rich people make sure their children get placed in lucrative public or private establishments, while the children of the rich who badly need jobs fill up the ever-expanding ranks of unemployed youths.
Politicians and corruption galore
The theft of billions, if not trillions of naira every year by politicians has become old news. It is an acknowledged fact that between $600 billion (according to The Economist) and $20 trillion (according to the EFCC) have been stolen from Nigeria by politicians since independence.
These are huge sums of money that could have been used to provide quality public healthcare, education, and housing for poor working-class people.
It is when these capitalists fight amongst themselves that revelations come out. Sometimes, especially when the big thief whose “authority stealing” is from a so-called opposition party, EFCC or ICPC is used to harass her/him.
We often do not hear anything about the case again especially if the big thief from an opposition party joins the ruling party.
Orji Uzor Kalu is an example. A high court judge ordered EFCC to stop prosecuting Kalu, who is now an APC senator, over N1.7 billion (part of what) he stole as PDP governor of Abia state. A more worrisome example is Godswill Akpabio, minister of the Niger Delta.
Akpabio is reported to have stolen N108.1 billion, as PDP governor of the oil rich Akwa Ibom state, between January and December 2014 alone. And he was governor for eight years! EFCC started probing him in 2015 when APC came to power; he had become a senator by then.
In 2018, Akpabio defected to APC and became a leader. He was supposed to use his clout in the Niger Delta region to secure votes for the ruling party in the 2019 elections. Not only was the case against him dropped, but he was also made minister of a very lucrative ministry.
Last year, he was fingered for appropriating N81 billion. But he turned it against the legislators, showing that they were “chopping” together.
It could be very well said that 99.9% of corrupt politicians go scot-free, even when there is abundant evidence of their mind-boggling pen robberies.
It is those who lose out of the power play like Rev. Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba state and Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau state, that go to jail.
Nyame was charged with stealing N1.65 billion. He admitted to stealing “only” N180 million naira. This, he said, was his share of a N250 million stationaries purchase contract, which was never executed. He was asked to return the money and jailed for 14 years in May 2018.
Dariye’s corruption was first put into the limelight when he was arrested in London in 2004 with huge sums of money. But he managed to survive any political backlash until 2006 when he was impeached, less than a year before he would have had to handover as governor.
He was subsequently charged to court by the EFCC, for misappropriation of N1.6 billion from the ecological funds received by Plateau state from the federal government. A federal high court sentenced him to 14 years in prison, in 2018.
On 14 April, the National Council of State granted full state pardon to both Nyame and Dariye.
Several politicians have also been indicted for money laundering overseas. These include DSP Alamieyeseigha and James Ibori, former governors of Bayelsa and Delta states respectively. “Alams” who embezzled upwards of $55 million from the Bayelsa treasury was arrested in Britain. He jumped bail and found his way to Nigeria dressed up as a woman, with a forged passport.
Ibori admitted to stealing at least $250 million from the state’s coffers, when he was put on trial for money laundering in Britain. He was convicted and jailed.
Alamieyeseigha was granted state pardon in 2013 by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who was Alams deputy governor when he was arrested. At the time, Festus Kenyamo, an ex-activist, and current APC junior minster for the Niger Delta, had this to say, via his twitter account:
“To GEJites: Give us 1 Good reason why pardon was granted to a convicted thief (Alams) when we are even looking for more ex-govs to send to jail.”
As we can see, once again, with the pardon of Dariye and Nyame, there is essentially no difference whatsoever between PDP and APC.
Corruption and big business
Corruption is systemic and cannot be wiped out piecemeal. We must kill the system which breeds it. The political system of patronage cannot be separated from the economic system of capitalism and rentier capitalism in particular.
Some ideologists of the system want us to believe that the problem is only with politics and the politicians. The private sector, they claim, is at least purer and more efficient. This has also been the argument used to promote privatization.
But the evidence shows otherwise. Privatization, even by the Bureau of Public Enterprise’s accounts, has not turned the fate of former state-owned enterprises around. At least 37% fail, and most of the “successful” ones are not doing better than when they were public enterprises.
Privatization is simply another form of institutionalized corruption, in which publicly owned enterprises are sold cheaply to the very rich, and their corporations. These private sector enterprises also continue to bleed the country dry without any enhanced delivery of services. A good example is the power sector. Eight years after privatization, electricity supply has worsened. But the distribution companies have been supported with over N6 trillion!
To understand the close corruption ties between politicians and big business, we must interrogate the wealth of “our” billionaires. There is hardly any one of them that has not become that rich through corrupt relations with those in government, one way or the other.
That is one of the reasons why most of them are in the oil and gas industry where government (and them) make big money. Just as with politicians, revelations often come out only when they fight amongst themselves.
A complaint by Abdulsamad Rabiu, who is now the second richest man in the country, made people start to look closer at Dangote’s story of his wealth. In 2016, Rabiu informed the world that Dangote was being given up to 30% discounted rates for dollars – any amount of dollars he wanted!
This led Moses Ochonu, who had earlier eulogized Dangote, to take a more critical look at the so-called paradox of the richest man in Africa. And he concluded that “Dangote is the poster child for patrimonial monopoly capitalism in Nigeria.”
Dangote “was a Nigerian billionaire like any other” before 2003, when he came to have “a built-in advantage with Nigeria’s government” according to Feyi Fawenhinmi. As we all know, he had had a head start through his grandfather, Alhaji Dantata, an economic collaborator of the British colonialists.
But his “investment” of N200 million to finance Olusegun Obasanjo’s re-election opened the doors to super-billionaire for him. Since then, his private enterprise has been fully supported with government largesse.
It does not end there. As Fawehinmi, who describes the country as “Federal Republic of Dangote” further notes:
“In 2013, an analysis of the world’s top 15 cement producers revealed that while Dangote Cement’s revenues of $2.4 billion represented 2% of the cohort, its profits of $1.2 billion represented 13% of all net profits in the group.”
While Dangote is encouraged by the government to make super-profits in cement, much worse will take place with his refinery, where the government has bought up overpriced shares.
Despite all these, Dangote pays just 1% tax! This is in a country where the personal income tax, that poor civil servants pay, is 24% and corporate income tax is officially 30%. But Dangote is pampered by government despite this illegality, which robs the government of resources for services delivery.
On the other hand, his workers face the most inhumane working conditions. He has a reputation for sacking workers at will and doing everything to smash trade union activities in his firms. At the beginning of the pandemic, he fired 3,000 workers, while making others work overtime. His company was exempt from most COVID-19 protocol to continue production. When the Nigeria-Benin border was closed for two years, his company also enjoyed the singular privilege of being able to move goods across the border.
Abdulsamad Rabiu himself is no saint. He has “paid a whooping sum of $20 million to (minister of state for petroleum Timipre) Sylva to hijack OML 110, an oil block rightly owned by Cavendish Petroleum Limited.”
He has, of course, denied this, allegation made by James Onyejekwe, Managing Director of Kainos Exploration. According to Rabiu, it is nothing but a campaign of calumny by his enemies.
Beyond billionaires’ exposés of their thief, thief, they also share contempt for their workers. Hamzat, a civil engineer who worked in Rabiu’s sugar factory for 14 years gives an insight into the disdain he has for workers.
Hamzat was disengaged in 2020, and for two years, his terminal entitlement was not paid. He had to cry out on twitter, in February 2022, thus: “I was disengaged in Nov 2020 and BUA has refused to pay me d promised terminal benefits it is stated in workers handbook.
Michael Adenuga, who is now the country’s third richest billionaire after Rabiu overtook him in January, has a long history of corruption. “The Bull,” as he likes to be called, made his billions in the 1980s, as a front man for General Ibrahim Babangida, one of the most corrupt heads of state in Nigeria’s history.
In 2006, the EFCC implicated and detained him for money laundering. As soon as he was released, he ran away to Britain. The following year the British government sought the federal government’s help to prosecute him on corrupt practices to no avail.
Instead, a few years later, he was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the highest order for a civilian. He also treats his workers as slaves, using the veil of labor contractors to cover his tracks. The courts have had to force him to pay some workers their entitlements.
Folorunsho Alakija, the richest woman in the country was also a protégé of Babangida. She became a billionaire a few months before Babangida was forced to “step aside”, when she was awarded an oil prospecting license (OPL).
Oil prospecting has played a key role in the murky waters where governmental and business corruption meet. In 2012, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma (retd.) boasted that he made $1 billion by selling an oil block the government had earlier gifted him.
We also remember the drama of Femi Otedola, another billionaire, with Lawan Farouk, a member of the house of representatives investigating oil subsidy scams ten years ago. Otedola managed to rope the corrupt lawmaker in a bribery sting operation. Nothing more was said about his own companies’ hanky-panky in the scam, which brought in huge amounts of money for him through Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd and Forte Oil Plc.
The corruption of big business does not end with partnership with government officials. They leverage on loans from banks. Monies that millions of poor people put in as deposits are borrowed from banks, and the “big wo/men” then refuse to pay up – something that poor and middle-class people dare not do, at the risk of losing their property or/and going to jail.
For example, in 2019, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria informed that these business men and women had drawn up to N5 trillion, in this way. And just 20 people, which included, Jimoh Ibrahim, Wale Babalakin, Ifeanyi Ubah, Chimaroke Nnamani and Josephine Kuteyi were responsible for 67% of these monies.
Quite clearly, these capitalists are not benefiting Nigeria. On the contrary, just like their counterparts in government, they are vampires sucking the blood of suffering working-class people. We cannot continue like this.
For as long as this class of vampires and the exploitative system they represent continue to exist, we – the working people – will continue to wallow in poverty while they keep getting richer on the wealth we create.
State power and repression
We know that the bosses and politicians comprising the ruling class are corrupt. We know that they exploit us. Yet they are few and we are many. They are barely 1% of the population. We are the 99%. So, how do they manage to remain in power, enjoying their ill-gotten wealth, while we live in poverty, deprivation, and hopelessness? Why is it that one set of these oppressors or the other always gets voted to run government?
Understanding this is crucial for us to emancipate ourselves from the modern slavery that we live in and change society. It is not enough for us to think that we can hold them accountable with our PVC. We need to look beyond the symptoms of the problem and get to its roots.
A crucial mechanism that the bosses use is the state and its power. “The state” is more than just government. It is the entire apparatus which a class in power, in a society divided along class lines – defining the rich and the poor – uses to rule effectively.
The state comprises all the administrative, legislative, judicial, policing, and military governance structures. The civil service, parastatals, and agencies (including the electoral bodies), the police (including the state security services), prisons, courts, federal executive council, national assembly, and army, are all machineries of the state.
We are told that these bodies serve all of society. But that is not true. They are established primarily for the interests of the ruling class. The imbalanced way justice is served gives us a clear insight into this fact.
For example, as African China once sang “poor man wey steal Maggi, you go see him face for crime fighters. Rich man wey steal money, you no go see am for crime fighters.” So, while poor people languish in prison for petty crimes (or in some cases no crime at all), or for standing up for their rights, such as during the EndSARS protests, those who steal billions of naira walk around freely.
If the rich get caught and imprisoned, they can get state pardon like Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye. But the poor does not have such hope. Hundreds of people detained over the EndSARS struggle remain in jails. The National Council of State would not order the release of these unjustly incarcerated youths.
Even the courts that we are told is the last hope of the common wo/man, are willing to commute the sentences of “big wo/men” who steal public funds. But to get same done for poor working-class people and youth, is almost impossible.
We also see the reality of imbalance in the rules established to administer different aspects of national life, including electoral politics. For example, N1 million naira has to be deposited with INEC to register a party, and proof of presence in states.
That is chicken change for billionaires. Some of them end up registering several parties, to keep options B, C etc., open if they lose out in the primaries of their preferred party. But it is not easy for a party of poor people to raise that kind of money and establish offices in all states.
As with electoral politics, so is the administration of labor relations. When trade unions go on strike because governments refuse to respect collective agreements, the National Industrial Court is quick to issue injunctions to stop such strikes. But it hardly ever orders the government to respect such agreements.
But despite the rules that the ruling class sets with the state, hunger and anger spurs working-class people and youth to combine and fight: for better wages, against anti-poor policies, against police brutality, etc.
When such fightback balloons into rebellion, and resistance grows into revolt or uprising, the ruling class becomes threatened. The state then brings down the might of its armed bodies: the police and army.
There is hardly any of the major mass protests accompanying general strikes in the 2000s that the police did not kill protesters. So, there is blood on the hands of every section of the ruling class. But the most brutal mass repression in Nigeria’s recent history was carried out by the current regime. This was the 20.10.20 massacre at the Lekki tollgate and several other places in Lagos and beyond.
The current regime is one of the most brutal we have ever witnessed. It has repressed press freedom. Several electronic broadcast stations have been shut down and/or fined for airing opinions that make the government uncomfortable. These include DAAR Communications, Channels TV and Nigeria Info 99.3FM.
Several journalists have been detained for no just cause. Reporters sans Frontiers confirmed that, “Nigeria is now one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists,” adding that they are “often spied on, attacked, arbitrarily arrested or even killed.”
Arbitrary arrests and detention of activists have been a norm. In recent years, no less than 107 members of the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) have been arrested.
In 2019, Omoyele Sowore, National Chair of the African Action Congress (AAC) and a CORE leader, was detained for five months by the secret police in contravention of court orders. In response, The Punch highlighted that this demonstrated “a pattern, a reflection of the Buhari regime for human rights.”
International outcry forced the government’s hand to release him. But after this, he was restricted for another year and a half to the Federal Capital Territory, in a form of “city arrest.” The reason for targeting the publisher of Sahara Reporters, is because he represents a revolutionary alternative, with a critical mass base, to the rottenness of the current system.
But repression alone is not enough to hold back the revolutionary power of the working masses. Sudan, Egypt, Burkina Faso, and Algeria were ruled for decades by some of the most repressive regimes in the world. But they were swept away by revolutionary upheavals between 2011 and 2019.
This happens when the people discover how great their power is, as they begin to take mass action, throw away their fear and envision an alternative to what exists.
Any party that genuinely represents a revolutionary political alternative must stand up and inspire working-class people and radical youths to lose their fear and tacit acceptance of the current exploitative system.
What is to be done?
As Nigeria heads towards general elections in 2023, the country is in a general crisis like no other since the Civil War. But the capitalist politicians are more concerned about retaining or winning back political office, as the leading capitalist parties square up to each other.
Insecurity is at an all-time high. People get killed or kidnapped in droves every month. The vast majority of the population is living in poverty. A few people, the ruling class of big business people and politicians have grown richer at the expense of working people.
Enough is enough. We must change this terrible situation. The social force that can bring about that change is we, working-class people, and youth. We have not been silent. There have been waves of strikes for improvement in wages and working conditions. Youths have risen against police brutality. Communities have stood up to demand better services such as electricity supply.
The different waves of our different struggles have been brought together into a mighty tsunami of working people’s power in the arena of politics. Elections are an important part of politics. But it would be a mistake to see them as the only, or even the main terrain of political struggle.
It would be worse to think that the way to intervene in the political struggle is with a shopping list to be presented to different parties of the ruling class. This is a major flaw of the position of some sections of organized labor which intends to “intervene” with a charter of demands for the bosses’ parties to implement.
On coming to power, both PDP and APC have always failed to implement any pro-poor social policy component of their programs, which they come up with, to woo us during elections.
We have to fight for ourselves, with our revolutionary program driven by mass parties of working-class people and youth, such as the African Action Congress. Experience has shown us clearly that we must have no faith in any of the bosses’ parties.
We cannot continue with the way our society is, today. We either fight to change it, or we perish. If we dare to struggle, we dare to win, at the polls and on the streets.