The fourth republic has failed. Over the past 23 years, the working people in Nigeria have witnessed drastic decreases in their incomes. A disgraceful lack of social and technical infrastructure in the rural areas, as well as land grabs by corporations, has worsened rural-urban migration with insufficient urban development to handle such an influx, leading to mass unemployment, homelessness, and inadequate social amenities.
Electricity generation has remained stagnant and outdated, and large numbers of people in rural areas are still not on the grid at all. Climate change has ravaged states in the northern region, increasing poverty and dwindling food resources.
This has caused or fueled pre-existing armed insurgencies. The state has become more and more emboldened, eroding labor and civil rights without regard for even the rights that are enshrined in the 1999 military constitution. Reactionary secessionist movements have sprung up everywhere like mushrooms, most notably the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the Southeast and the Oduduwa Republic movement in the Southwest.
This series of crises, happening all at once, has robbed an entire generation of its childhood. Young people born in the last years of military dictatorship or the early years of the fourth republic nursed on dreams and high hopes of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous country, have attained adulthood with the feeling that the ground beneath our feet is giving way.
This has led to a series of moral crises such as the wanton glorification of unhealthy work culture, or hustle culture because it is a necessity for survival; an unquenching desire to leave the country at all cost, with more and more young people deciding their career paths, what to dedicate their labor to, based on how easily such a career can aid their emigration; rationalizations of get-rich-quick schemes, including fraud; as well as deep cynicism toward the country and the potential for its betterment.
But this does not mean that there is no sense of urgency to turn the fortunes of the country around. Both societal expressions have continued to sit side by side in the mind of young Nigerians, leading this urgency to express itself in varied and sometimes contradictory ways, from the 2014/15 Buhari craze that helped sweep the APC into power to the 2020 EndSARS revolt.
But, the political ideology that dominates Nigerian socialization has heavily bogged down the tactics of political engagement, that youths have adopted. It is a political socialization that inculcates a bourgeois consciousness, that limits, at the point of imagination, the horizons of freedom and the tactics for securing this freedom.
The young Nigerian hopes dearly for a Nigeria that works, that cares for its people, and is safe. But they believe that the limit of their political engagement is voting. If they can just manage to get the right person into Aso Rock, if they can just get the right crop of technocrats in charge, their lives will change surely.
But this is a worldview that history has thoroughly discredited. It is dominant in Nigeria because the ruling class has put in immense effort to recreate the young Nigerian in its image, with a lot of success.
When we think of liberation, we think of individual liberation. Instead of imagining our poor neighborhoods finally getting the resources, they need to thrive, we dream of being rich enough to leave them behind.
Instead of dreaming of a world where we as a people are not crushed by labor exploitation and alienation, we dream of becoming rich enough to join the exploiting classes.
Instead of dreaming of a world where we would have a say over the day-to-day decisions that control every facet of our lives, we are stuck dreaming of the perfect group of technocrats that will dominate us in a way that is good and just. An individualization, so to speak, of the very hopes for liberation.
It is precisely for this reason that Buhari’s candidacy had so much appeal in 2014/15, and Obi’s candidacy has so much appeal now. We want a savior because our socialization has primed us to not see salvation in each other, in ourselves, in our collective will as a people.
We are broken up along so many planes of social identification and community building is so deemphasized that we not only find ourselves alone, but we unite mainly based on which other group we are against. Queer people, traditional worshippers, the homeless, the incarcerated, sex workers, other ethnic groups, the list is endless. And the Nigerian elite and its state fuel these antagonisms to their benefit.
We are stuck in a state of crisis. Capitalist indoctrination has kept us alienated and made us believe that voting, which is a form of political action where the odds are insurmountably stacked in favor of the bourgeoisie, is our only form of political action.
In fact, the Nigerian masses can only win against the capitalist class at the polls if we have already defeated them in other spheres of political battle, or at least fought them into an evenly matched position.
Because we are far from achieving this, every election cycle the Nigerian masses must, like Lenin aptly put it “decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them.”
The appeal of Peter Obi isn’t so much that he promises fundamental changes to the character of the Nigerian state or represents the hope of a worker’s state. It is instead that he is more articulate, better branded, and shows the most promise for technocratic rule. Our exultation of countries of the imperial core, the Germanies and Americas and Finlands, has found free expression in the Obi candidacy.
This is a fundamental problem for Nigeria’s left. As the crises of capitalism continue to worsen, more and more people are pushed to the right. The Obi candidacy, while it is as yet unlikely to reach Aso rock, is doing a lot to radicalize young people to the right, to rationalize the same policies of shock therapy that saw mass deaths in the immediate aftermath of the USSR’s transition to unfettered capitalism.
Policies like removing subsidies take precedence over, say, making our publicly-owned refineries functional so we don’t have to import crude products at all. Floating the currency, privatizing our secondary schools and universities, and providing public funding to aid private capital accumulation, have all come to take a new technocratic shine on Obi’s Labour Party platform, and because the Nigerian left is weak and even worse, disunited, this ideological rot is gathering a momentum that will last well beyond 2023, whether or not Peter Obi wins the presidency.
It is time for revolutionary activists to intensify the construction of a united plane of opposition that addresses the problem at its root: the capacity of the average Nigerian to imagine, and imagine beyond the limits of capitalist realism.
Engaging in the 2023 elections is an approach that can be deployed but it is wholly insufficient, especially if this engagement centers on a particular candidate and how “good” a candidate they are. We must counter the dominant common sense with revolutionary consciousness.
The message must be the truth: that only the people can liberate themselves. And only a political structure that seeks to unite all revolutionary elements of Nigerian society, build popular power under a revolutionary socialist pan-Africanist banner, and smash the bourgeois state, will be sufficient.
We must get to work figuring out how to, and intensifying our efforts to, build that structure. Nigeria is at a precipice with ramifications that will stretch far beyond February 2023. It is socialism or barbarism, and now more than ever we must build socialism into a counter-hegemonic force that lights a brighter path out of the crisis that is the fourth Republic.
by Kayode Somtochukwu ANI