“The history of all hitherto existing societies is a history of class struggle”.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Nation-states emerged with force as creations of a local ruling class or colonising powers in furthering capitalist development. They are held together by one form of nationalist ideology or the other. Nigeria is not an exception. Like many other nation-states, different sections of the ruling class have had to negotiate on how best they can ensure the poor working people are divided while the bosses benefit from capitalist development on a lasting basis.
The early negotiators for this country became its founding fathers. These included Dr Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Sir Ahmadu Bello, and Chief Dennis Osadebey. These nationalists were also capitalists as entrepreneurs or mercantilists. Nigeria was incorporated into the global capitalist mode of production by the colonialists during the 100 years of domination from 1860 to 1960.
This incorporation included franchise to education as many agile young Nigerians went overseas to study and aspired to live like the “white man”. This craving for Western education led to an exodus to America and England of many Nigerians in the 1930s. Some of these early “Nigerian argonauts” in search of the golden fleece, as they were called, were Dr Azikiwe, Chief Awolowo, Mazi Mbonu Ejike, Dr JBC Etuka Okala, Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani, and Dr Nwafor Orizu.
On returning from abroad, where they were “baptised” with the capitalist ideology, they joined hands in the negotiation of the Nigerian State. They became, to a great extent, the first set of the capitalist class in Nigeria, starting from the colonial period. Class relations are contradictory relations marked with conflict and antagonism. Thus, under capitalism, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, which are the two major classes, stand in conflict with each other due to the contradiction of monkey dey work, and baboon dey chop. Contradiction is real because what is socially produced by the working class (i.e. the proletariat) is privately appropriated by the capitalists (i.e. the bourgeoisie).
At independence in 1960, Nigeria witnessed the transfer of political power from the foreign bourgeoisie to the emerging local governing class, who used their newly gained power to accumulate wealth for private purposes through the instrument of the State.
Politics is a struggle over who gets what, where and how. The capitalists are politically united against the working people in collectively getting the lion’s share of available natural resources and in exploiting us by appropriating the wealth created by our labour. But there is also intra-class politics between them. Different sections of the ruling class attempt to get more than the others. State power is an instrument of the rich and the ruling class, against the have-nots, the propertyless, the exploited; working-class people who constitute the immense majority of the population. The Nigerian economy is largely based on rents from the oil and gas sector, which is dominated by foreign capital. The nature of the economy enables a few multinational corporations and local billionaires to get richer, without much added value to production, whilst most people get poorer. Despite the humongous abundance of mineral resources, 80% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, while its rulers are enmeshed in opulent and affluent lifestyles.
Classes exist in every society. They enter into conflicts in the arena of politics, as we earlier noted, to promote and defend their interests as classes or fractions of the ruling class. In doing this, they deploy several ideological elements. One of the strongest of these is ethnic identity.
Another major cornerstone of diversionary ideology and political strategy which the capitalists use and which is closely aligned to the instrument of ethnic identity is what Richard Joseph described as prebendalism.
Put simply, Joseph argues that prebendalism is the fundamental principle of political organisation and behaviour in Nigeria, where an individual seeks the support and protection of an “oga” or godfather while trying to acquire some social and material goods, e.g., loans, political posts, plots of land, employment and promotion. By implication of the above, a person who supports the party and oga in office will be rewarded with contracts and other political benefits.
Claude Ake, a renowned political economist, shared the above opinion by saying
”The Crux of the problem of Nigeria today is the over-politicisation of social life. We are intoxicated with politics. The premium on political power is so high that we are prone to take the most extreme measures to win and maintain political power at all costs and thus a desperate struggle to win control of State power ensues. Since this control means all powerful and owning everything, politics becomes a warfare and a matter of life and death”.
This over-politicisation to ensure the rule of a few over the many did not start just yesterday. It had been a part of the agenda of the class in Nigeria right from the start. This spirit was captured in the words of Chief Awolowo in 1961:
“It must be realised now and for all time that this articulate minority are destined to rule the country. It is their heritage. It is they who must be trained in the art of government, to enable them to take over the state…the broad masses in Nigeria, especially the peasantry, are ignorant and will not be bothered by politics. Their sole occupation is the search for food, clothing, and shelter of a wretched type. To them, it does not seem to matter who rules the Country, so long as they are allowed to live their lives in peace and crude comfort.”
Chief Awolowo was not insane when he made the above statement. It was a sincere expression of his position as a capitalist. inclination which alienates him from the natives who invariably are his kinsmen. If Awolowo’s statement is hard to swallow, then consider the words of Dr Azikiwe.
“The educated African should assume leadership. Such an educated African is mentally emancipated and politically resurgent. Those who work the land, the peasantry, were men and women who did not survive the Darwinian Struggle”.
But the contrary is the truth. It is labour that creates social wealth. It is the physical and mental efforts of workers, peasants, artisans and other working people that produce the goods and services which the so-called leaders, the capitalists, appropriate. The capitalists are parasites. We can do without them. The so-called “articulate minority” are the problem and not the solution. We must not be deceived by their lies. We must organise to emancipate ourselves.
by Alpha MARSHALL