Sixty-three Years of Sorrow, Tears and Blood for the Working People in Nigeria

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In his first Independence Day speech as president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu claimed that his “government is doing all it can to ease the load” breaking the backs of poor working people. According to him, the anti-poor people reforms he has started implementing “may be painful, but is what greatness and the future require.” Therefore, “we must endure if we are to reach the good side of our future.”

But we have heard similar words time and again over the past six decades, particularly since the 1980s when neoliberalism was introduced first with austerity measures in the Second Republic (1979-83) and then with the structural adjustment programme under the military junta of Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. 

We must also not be deceived by the promises of the government such as “expansion of cash transfer programmes to an additional 15 million vulnerable households” and “provisional wage increment.” These are equally not new, nor are they meant to enable either our economic well-being or political emancipation. If these get implemented at all, the aim is to douse our anger. The ruling class realises that we can see those in government feeding fat on “tokens” of “prayers” in millions of naira like those the Senate President sends to senators, millions and indeed billions of naira that could otherwise have been spent on providing social services for the poor masses. They know that we can also see those in big business making billions in dividends, while hunger and deprivation stalk the land for working people. 

We, workers, farmers, artisans and other poor people can hardly breathe or feed. Nkeiruka Enwelum of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) informed the world in September that almost 18 million Nigerians go hungry daily, and the number is likely to increase to 25 million. Millions more cannot meet their nutritional requirement even when they manage to find something to eat. These include 35 million of the under-five children in the country who are malnourished. 

More and more people are getting poorer. At the end of last year, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics reported that more than 133 million Nigerians were living in poverty. The number would have increased tremendously over the last 10 months under the brutal hammer of fuel subsidy removal and the astronomical rise in the cost of living.

The poverty which working-class people are facing in the country is not a one-dimensional matter. Nigeria secured the pitiable position of being the country with the highest rate of multidimensional poverty in the world. And this terrible situation is only set to get worse. The World Bank has projected that not less than 13 million more people will fall below the poverty line by the beginning of 2025. 

Inflation rates also keep increasing, reaching an 18-year high in August, at 25.8%. The same goes for the unemployment rate, which the KMPG projects to rise to 41% by the end of the year. 

In light of this dire situation, there is little impact that the palliatives of the government can make on working-class people’s endangered lives. Similarly, the president’s declaration of a state of emergency on food insecurity in July is obviously not leading anywhere. 

Alongside the economic burdens we are bearing, physical insecurity remains a matter of key concern. According to the Punch “Despite tough words from President Tinubu and heads of security agencies, insecurity persists across the country, prolonging the misery of Nigerians.” The International Centre for Investigative Reporting reported that over 600 people were killed by insurgents and bandits within forty-five days after Tinubu came to power. And, according to a Global Rights report, within the first five weeks of his presidency, 257 people were also kidnapped. 

Working-class people in Nigeria have been suffering greatly under the “Change” regime of APC, led by General Muhammadu Buhari since 2015, and now even more so under Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But sorrow, tears and blood have always been our reality in one way or the other. And there is another side to that tale as well. It is things get worse for us, the rich capitalists become more prosperous. 

Nigeria was granted flag independence on 1 October 1960. This was after decades of struggle against colonial rule. From the late 1920s to the 1940s, workers, peasants, youths and women contested colonial marginalisation and exploitation with strikes and protests. Middle-class nationalists such as the “founding fathers” rose on the winds of these struggles. Instead of allowing the working-class people to determine the outcome of independence through struggle from below, the departing British colonialists decided to give power to the new ruling class, in defence of capitalism. By the 1950s, it was clear to the middle-class nationalists that the British favoured handing political power over to them. And they swiftly set aside whatever alliances they had had with the trade unions and other organisations of the working people. 

On taking political power from the British colonialists, the national bourgeoisie related to working-class people just like the imperialist that had left. They were not concerned about the well-being of workers. The trade unions had to organise a General Strike in 1964 to win improved wages. The capitalists continued to squeeze economic life out of the peasants with the marketing boards that the colonialists had established. While working people were groaning under the yoke of “their” capitalists, an increasing number of these capitalists became millionaires. Power was sweet and they fought for power to get the spoils which made it sweet to them. Their conflicts led to the first coup d’etat in 1966 and a Civil War that cost at least 2 million lives. 

When the military returned to the barracks in 1979, the civilian wing of the ruling class continued from where it had stopped in 1966, with vengeance. It introduced austerity measures for working people. But for the ruling class, it was time to enjoy the wealth created from by our labour and the resources in our rich lands. While these cash-and-carry national capitalists became millionaires in the 1960s, the 1980s was a period of celebrating their becoming billionaires. The national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which was the ruling party at the centre during the Second Republic even organised a party to mark his becoming a billionaire. And this was at a time when the naira was stronger than the dollar! His billionaire party was the talk of the town. He had custom-made champagne with his name flown in from France.

Since then till now, the trajectory has continued: a terrible life for the working people and prosperity for the capitalists. There has never been the so-called “good old days” for working-class people. It is only that the bad keeps getting terribly worse. 

It is clear enough to all but the most headstrong APC supporters within the working class that Tinubu’s government cannot in any way make life better for the poor masses. But the problem is much more than Tinubu. There can be no hope for bettering our situation and emancipating ourselves under the leadership of any member or section of the ruling class. The capitalist system which they represent can only bring us sorrow, tears and blood. 

We must break the chains of our suffering, to liberate ourselves. To do this, we must wage revolutionary struggle without ceasing until we overthrow this evil exploitative system and the capitalists who sit on top of it. 

by Baba AYE

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