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15 June 2016

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NIGERIA ON THE CLIFF EDGE, ONLY SOCIALIST POLICIES CAN GET IT OUT OF THE WOODS

TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE CONVENED ON JUNE 16, 2016, BY THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF NIGERIA (SPN) ON THE STATE OF THE NATION AND ONE YEAR OF BUHARI'S ADMINISTRATION.

INTRODUCTION

We of the SPN have decided to convene this press conference in fulfillment of our historic and political responsibility to express our views and concerns at this important juncture in the state of affairs of our Nation. We also consider it imperative to examine and analyze the first year of the administration of the Buhari/APC government vis-à-vis its so-called change agenda and the impact on the working class and the poor masses.

Against the above background, we wish to begin by stating a fact which has now become undisputable, which is that the condition of living for the vast majority of Nigerians has become increasingly difficult due to rising prices of goods, commodities, food items, the rising cost of education, the rising cost of health care, insecurity and massive job losses, The resultant effect of this rising cost of living is growing poverty.

The second undisputable fact is that civil unrests, militant activities and ethnic agitations have brought to the fore once again the undemocratic character of the Nigerian federation and the unresolved nationality questions that has been there since the amalgamation of 1914 under Lord Lugard. Indeed, to say that Nigeria is on the edge of a precipice might be an understatement.

You will agree with us that many did not expect this to be the lot of Nigerians under a government that one year ago rode into power under the banner of change. But what the sordid state of affairs has so far shown is that the Buhari led federal government and the respective state governments controlled by the APC, PDP, and APGA obviously lack the capacity to resolve the myriad of economic problems and hardship confronting the vast majority of the working masses and the poor. Instead of the people they are supposed to be serving, their commitment is to capitalism and its agencies, the IMF and World Bank whose anti-poor policies of privatization, deregulation and cuts in social spending they have been implementing. Yet, fundamentally speaking, this in our view can only make an already bad situation worse.

What the state of affairs has also shown is that without both a democratic negotiation of Nigeria and putting control of its resources into the hands of working people, the Nation will continue to be hunted by the specter of disintegration every now and then especially whenever political power at the centre shifts from one geo-political region to another.

THE ECONOMY

Currently, 27 state governments out of 36 and Abuja, the FCT, owe their workers backlog of salaries even after they had been bailed out to the tune of billions of Naira by the Federal government. Lack of payment of entitlements also remains the lot of federal and state pensioners who are apparently dying in their hundreds. Yet high inflation has completely made mess of the national minimum wage of N18,000.

Workers and pensioners in their millions are therefore suffering for no fault of theirs other than the fact that key political office holders and the ruling elite have run the economy aground through outright looting, implementation of anti-people policies and award of jumbo salaries and allowances to themselves. This has worsened the impact of the continuing world economic crisis. Yes, the ongoing turmoil in world capitalism is a key factor in oil dependent Nigeria's crisis, but the continuing looting by the parasitic elite is making things even worse.To show the utter bias and flagrant disregard for the interest of workers and pensioners, even as the country's economy is on the brink of a technical recession, jumbo emolument of key political office holders (Presidents, ministers, legislators, governors etc.,) are guaranteed and paid as at when due while workers suffer. On the basis of capitalism, all animals are certainly not equal. In addition, the more worrisome aspect is the fact that government at all levels prioritises the payment of questionable debts owed to contractors,importers, banks and financial houses arising from inflated contracts and loans that mostly benefited friends and collaborators of key political office holders far ahead of workers' salaries and emoluments. The pattern is for the Banks to deduct huge sums of money at first line charge to the state revenues and these guarantees the interest of few privileged persons ahead of the suffering working masses. Workers are creditors to the state as well and need to be paid as at well due.

It is equally worrisome that whenever workers demand their rights through protests and strike actions, the ruling classes embark on ruthless attacks and suppression using the police and other state agents to harass, intimidate, arrest and detain.

An example – a bad one at that – was what happened in Oyo state where seven State leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and activists were arrested and detained at Agodi Prisons on the orders of the Ajimobi-led APC government. This was nothing other than the undermining of the inalienable rights to freedom of speech, thought and assembly. Once again, the SPN declares its solidarity for the struggle of Oyo state working masses against the totally irresponsible decision of the Ajimobi/APC-led state government to private public schools as well as for payment of backlog of salaries and allowances owed civil servants and pensioners. In addition, we strongly believe that the irresponsible act of clamping labour leaders in prison for challenging government anti-poor policies should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

The current rising cost of living is largely occasioned by crises ravaging the economy including but not limited to the collapsing value of the Naira. Many bourgeois economists have called for devaluation as the only way of stabilizing the Naira while the Buhari/APC government has studiously opposed this. Our position in the SPN is that neither devaluation nor maintaining the Naira at its current value would fundamentally resolve the prevailing conundrum. Indeed no solution can be found to the economic crisis ravaging Nigeria within the precinct of capitalism. Neither side in the divisions within the government over whether or not to devalue have an answer in the interests of working people as they all defend capitalism. The currency crisis represents the crisis of the national economy, not the other way round. The only way to address this problem is to begin a national planned economy, built upon public ownership of the key companies in the economy and national resources, that drives forward massive investment in basic infrastructures and industrialization that will move the economy forward while driving development. This is the only way to move the economy that is largely import dependent to a sustainable economy that will not be completely dominated by the imperialist dominated world market and forced torabidly chase after forex for the sake of importing goods that can easily be produced locally.

It is a shame thatNigeria is a net importer of food. Since the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the Nigerian ruling elite has neglected the agricultural sector which used to be the mainstay of the economy. Nigeria was the world largest cocoa exporter in 1960 but cocoa production has since nosedived to about 43% by the year 2000. Production and export of other cash crops like groundnuts, cotton and rubber has also plummeted. This increasing neglect of the agriculture sector is largely responsible for the rising cost of foodand the hunger that currently ravages the land. The much touted diversification of the economy into agriculture is a ruse and amount to grandstanding if the budgetary capital allocation to agriculture, which is a paltry N47 billion is anything to go by. To attain the much vaunted sustainable development the agricultural sector will require massive investment into the sector to set up public funded plantations, encourage cooperatives among farmers with active support of the government and link the agrarian revolution with industrialization.

In this regard the Buhari government's N500 billion social investment programme can only make very little impact. This programme is not only limited in nature, it is merely a makeshift intervention with no plan for long term sustainability. For instance, 500,000 graduates will be recruited and trained to work mostly in primary and secondary schools as teachers for two years and get monthly salary of N23,000. Firstly, N23,000 monthly salary is a poverty wage that can hardly meet some of the basic needs including education, health care, transportation, housing etc. Secondly, some of the applicants are not trained teachers and may not actually be motivated to teach but only applied just to temporarily escape the mass joblessness in the society. Thirdly, the scheme will only last for two years with no plan for its sustenance. Lastly even if implemented it will only make a small dent in huge numbers unemployed or under-employed.

Meanwhile many of the states have opted out of the school feeding programme because they claimed inability to meet their counterpart funding, which threatens the program. Similar fate awaits the teaching scheme if the states are obligated to partner in the sustenance or given other major roles to play. Schemes can only be used to address a temporary problem and not a long term systemic unemployment crisis.

The much touted private sector cannot sustainably develop the Nigerian economy because of its profit agenda. Many private establishments are sacking workers because of the rising cost of production due to forex crisis and huge infrastructural deficit. Banks alone have sacked about 2000 workers and threaten to sack more and it is the same sector that was given a bailout of over 3 trillion six years ago.

In view of all these we wish to reiterate our stance that only a nationalized planned economy under democratic management of workers and consumers that can develop the economy and create massive jobs, otherwise the collective resources of the society will continue to go to private pockets.

We therefore call on Labour to energetically demand the nationalization of the commanding sectors of the economy including oil and gas, solid mineral resources, banking etc. to be placed under peoples and public ownership.

This should be linked to campaigning for the following:

  • That there should be a public probe of all contracts and loans by elected panel of workers, pro-labour organisations and other social groups to enable the public ascertain the genuine nature of the heavy debt burdens by the states and the federal government and refuse to pay the false debts;.
  • That all workers and pensioners being owed should be paid without any further delay;
  • That the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) must organize sustained national mass action in response to the unpaid salaries crisis starting with a one-day warning national public sector strike.
  • That NLC should begin the struggle for increments in workers' salary across board to enable workers meet the challenges posed by the rising cost of living. The N18,000 minimum wage is not only a poverty wage, it is an aberration.
  • That NLC must ensure that any wage template that must be agreed upon should be living wage and must be increased in line with subsequent inflationary trend
  • That NLC should demand the reduction of unjustified jumbo allowances by political office holders across board down to the wages of an average skilled civil servant as we do not see the logic wherein an extreme few will earn jumbo salaries while the vast majorities are condemned to poverty wages.

NIGER DELTA MILITANCY AND BIAFRA AGITATION

Militancy has staged a dramatic comeback in Nigeria's Niger Delta. Between 2008 and 2009, it was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and now the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) who since February 10, 2016 have blown up one pipeline after another and forcing a significant reduction in the production of crude oil. The Nigerian military has also responded in typical fashion by militarizing the communities and claiming its readiness to crush the rebellion although the government has now announced a two-week ceasefire to negotiate with the militants.

Working people are already counting the costs of brutal invasion by the armed forces in search of the so-called avengers. As it is so often the case the people are torn between the devil and the deep sea as neither side are in the final analysis fighting for their interests but selfish interests at the centre of which is control of oil resources.

Oil spillage and pollution by the multinational oil companies have gone on unabated; according to "Poison and Fire" documentary 1.5 million tons of oil has been spilled into farms, rivers and forest since 1950s, thereby distorting the ecosystem and economic activities like farming, fishing etc. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientists discovered that at least 10 Ogoni communities had been drinking water contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons for years, and this is the fate of many communities in the Niger Delta.

Yet, it must be recalled that all previous policies have only scratched the problem on the surface including the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission in the year 2000 (a body funded to carry out some projects in the oil communities but which has also turned conduit pipe for some corrupt bourgeois politicians from the region), the 13% derivatives (earnings from oil) given to the oil producing states and the amnesty program that began in 2009 and which has since gulped over N250 billion targeted at mostly bribing some of top militants and their foot soldiers out of militancy.

Against this background no amount of repackaged amnesty as a fallout of negotiation will resolve the present problems except massive investment in basic infrastructure to create mass productive jobs, cleanup of the entire Niger Delta region by the oil companies, end oil spillage and gas flaring, pay adequate compensation to communities and families whose farm lands and fishing ponds/rivers were destroyed by oil exploration and the implementation of other pro-masses policies.

Regardless of the motives of the militants, what is indisputable is that the working masses of Niger Delta are suffering and they yearn for freedom from the destruction of their lands and their lives by oil multinationals guarded by the guns of the Nigerian government. Against this background, the SPN fully supports the agitation of the Niger Delta people for better living condition, clean up of the environment, productive and gainful employment for the teeming jobless people. In the pursuit of these demands especially against a violent capitalist state that has shown at different times that it is prepared to deploy the army and other instruments of repression to defend the profit interest of oil multinationals against the people, we recognize the right of the people to take up arms in order to defend themselves against the violence of the state. But this can only be achieved through building of mass movements rooted in the communities and not through individual terrorism which is the way to describe the method of the Niger Delta Avengers. We strongly believe that individual terrorism can never be a replacement for mass action and furthermore mass involvement and activity is essential if the different peoples living in the Delta are going to be united in common struggle. Therefore, we also emphasize that it is only the mass struggle of the people with socialist policies that can wage a spirited and sustained battle that will lift the entire Niger Delta region out of the bestial living conditions that prevails there.

SPN supports the agitation of the Niger Delta people for better living condition, clean environment, productive and gainful employment for the teeming jobless people including, when necessary, the taking up of arms to defend themselves. But we also emphasize that it is only the mass struggle of the people under democratic control armed with socialist policies that can wage a spirited and sustained battle that will lift the entire Niger Delta region out of the bestial living conditions.

Although the Niger Delta Avengers, like MEND, are demanding resource control among other demands so also are the ruling elite in Niger Delta and southern part of the country. Demand for resource control by a region or ethnic group does not answer the question of which class will exercise that control? The reality however is that under capitalism, the so-called resource control or increased funding for the states will not meet the needs of vast majority. In actual fact, these competing ruling elites are only agitating for increased funding that will guarantee their privileges and life of opulence. In reality, resource control is not possible in a situation where the profit of multinational and national oil companies dominate the production and exploration of oil. Only nationalization of the oil companies both in the upstream and downstream alongside the nationalization of other commanding heights of the economy under democratic management of the working class and communities can usher in genuine and democratic resource control of the vast majority of the people as against the current control by tiny multinational oil companies, their collaborating national companies and the ruling elite.

The killing of unarmed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Biafra Independence Movement (BIM) agitators by soldiers and police men on May 30, 2016 like the previous killings is mindless and the height of brutality by the federal government. At least 17 people were killed and 50 injured and according to Amnesty International researchers some of those killed were shot at the back, which is an indication that they were fleeing when they shot. We want to state that members of the IPOB, MASSOB and BIM have the democratic right to agitate for issues of concern to them including the right to secede. We condemn the heavy handedness of the Nigerian Police and Military that has led to the killing of innocent and defenseless protestors, arrest and detention of many. The Buhari government should be held responsible for the killings and attacks of innocent Biafra agitators.

When there is popular support and agitation for self-rule or secession then the people themselves should democratically decide their future via a referendum or other vote. The SPN supports the united struggle of Nigerian working people to fundamentally change the country but, insisting that unity must be voluntary, defends the right to self-determination. However we warnthat secession is not an end in itself but a means to an end, any self-determination struggle that does not pose an alternative socialist program including working class democratic control of natural and human resources to meet the needs of all will continue to grapple with crisis created by capitalism. In the east we do not share in the one-sided position that separation is an automatic solution to the sufferings of the mass of the Igbo people. Neither do we approve of hate propaganda and similar divisive rhetoric which tries to paint ordinary working people of other ethnic groups as potential enemies of Igbo people and, if any separation does take place, we fully defend all the rights of any peoples who are minorities in any new entities that are created.

Therefore the real cause of inequality and suffering is capitalism and it is this system of wage slavery that the entire working and poor people across the country should unite to defeat. Hence, a Biafra state under unjust capitalist rule would at best continue to sustain the present inequality, poverty and even attack democratic rights. Hence, we demand:

  • The immediate and unconditional release of NnamdiKanu and other incarcerated Biafran activists;
  • An end to further attacks on protesters across the country; and
  • the convocation of a democratic referendum or other vote on secession by everyone living in the concerned areas.

CONCLUSION

We are concluding this press conference with a position that one year of Buhari/APC administration has yielded no fundamental change for the working masses and youth of this country. Indeed compared to a year ago, the hunger, poverty and joblessness ravaging the land as increased. So also has the darkness as the privatization of the power sector has failed to address the crisis of power shortage. No doubt, it has been a year of unrelenting and endless suffering for ordinary Nigerians. In our view, the Buhari-led government will not meet the aspiration of Nigerians primarily because of the capitalist and pro-rich policies and programs (privatization, deregulation etc.) it has adopted. If these policies are allowed to continue, the already precarious socio-economic and political crises will further deteriorate. We have already seen how thousands of jobless youths and school drop outs have now constituted themselves into various armed gangs and cult groups terrorizing communities, robbing, kidnapping, maiming and killing. To avert the current danger and other ones that loom, what is urgently needed at this historical epoch of our country is the formation of a pan Nigeria mass working class party that will contest for power on the template of democratically using Nigeria's natural and human resources to meet the needs of all.

Segun Sango
National Chairperson
Chinedu Bosah
National Secretary