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22 May 2017

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NIGERIA: IS A COUP IMMINENT?

A Warning to the Working Class

The recent claim by Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to the effect that he has received information that "some individuals have been approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons", given the unfolding power struggle around President Muhammadu Buhari's ill-health, holds a sinister meaning. In the context of a heightening power struggle within the capitalist ruling elite over how and who replaces President Buhari in the event his illness does not permit him to complete his tenure or re-contest for second term by 2019, could the military intervene again?

By H.T Soweto

The background to the current coup scare is the uncertainty surrounding President Buhari's health and the power tussle it has reportedly created. Less than two months after he spent over 50 days abroad on medical vacation, on Sunday May 7, 2017, President Buhari returned to London again over an undisclosed ailment and with the length of his stay to be determined by his doctors. This has fuelled speculations that he might not be in the right shape to continue to fully perform his responsibility as president.

Ordinarily, the prospect that the military wing of Nigeria's capitalist ruling elite could again intervene in the polity by orchestrating a coup to overthrow a civilian government should be the remotest perspective for Nigeria given its history and bitter experience. Nevertheless, the Army Chief's claim deserves the attention of the working class movement, Socialists and all those seeking the revolutionary transformation of the country from years of capitalist exploitation and social rot.

In 1999, civil rule was restored after years of repeated bitter struggle and campaign of civil disobedience involving mass protests and demonstrations against the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections by the Ibrahim Babangida military junta and the continued stay in power by the Sani Abacha led military dictatorship. Many paid dearly for the struggle. Several pro-democracy activists, socialists, students' leaders, journalists and human rights campaigners were incarcerated, jailed, exiled and killed. By the time the military handed over in 1999, the mass movement had made a clear statement imprinted on the minds of the generation who went through that period: The military is not wanted again and forever!

The current democratic dispensation is the longest in the history of Nigeria. It has lasted 18 years despite all its ups and downs, partly because of the bitter popular memory of the Babangida/Abacha period. The only other democratic experiences were brief: The First Republic (1963 - 1966) and the Second Republic (1979 - 1983) both of which were terminated by the military. Nigeria has therefore witnessed military rule for more than half of its existence as an independent nation. But since 1999, all the promises that capitalist democracy held for the working and poor masses have also not been fulfilled.

Instead politicians, bankers, oil magnates and other crooks through a dubious 'public-private-partnership' have been the major beneficiary of the country's wealth which since the military left, has increased exponentially. Yet in 2017, workers live on a minimum wage which in dollar value is not higher than 1980s wages. So terrible is the income gap that recent Oxfam report shows that Nigeria's richest man, Aliko Dangote, earns 8000 times more in one day than a worker would spend on basic needs in a year!

Public education has collapsed with over 10 million out of school. Public health is unavailable such that even President Buhari, just like many privileged members of the capitalist ruling elite, has to regularly travel out of the country to consult doctors. 57 years after independence, Nigeria is still struggling unsuccessfully to keep electricity generation at 4,000 megawatts even after the privatization that was promised to provide power.

Despite enormous resources and big windfalls from periodic booms in crude oil prices, only a few road networks exist and these are often in decrepit conditions as a result of neglect and lack of maintenance. Consequently, traveling in Nigeria, for working and toiling people who cannot afford an air fare, is a terrible experience especially with the permanent potholed and armed-robbers' infested highways criss-crossing the entire country. Meanwhile, when the runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport in Abuja – the seat of power – needed repairs, it took the government less than two months to fix the problem so that politicians, business men and women, oil barons and crooks could travel with ease.

In the absence of social progress, regression along the lines of ethno-religious tension and conflagrations has spiked. The Boko Haram insurgency which has internally displaced millions of people with many facing famine is one indication of this phenomenon. In the same league are the herdsmen and farmers clashes and militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta region which are decimating the economy and peoples' live. In a sense, these insurgencies and armed rebellion have seen increasing reliance on the military by the civilian government thus suggesting in the mind of some that perhaps the country would have completely collapsed but for the army interventions.

The above-outlined tragic condition of Nigeria and its toiling masses is the handiwork of capitalism which both the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) embrace. Capitalism is a system of profit and in the context of a neo-colonial economy dominated by imperialism, the only profitable road to wealth is political power and influence. This is the reason why struggle for political power is often a "do or die" affair in Nigeria and other neo-colonial countries in Africa and elsewhere. Therefore unless capitalism is overthrown in Nigeria and the country's wealth commonly owned by all the people, there is no guarantee against power struggle at some point taking the road of military coups and other violent forms in the current situation and the foreseeable future.

Although Buhari, a Muslim and Hausa-Fulani from the North, transmitted a letter to the National Assembly for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian and Yoruba from the West, to act in his absence, this has not prevented rumours of deadly struggle for power and influence within the ruling APC. This reflects the continuing rivalry and clashes between different elites who unscrupulously exploit national and other divisions so they can manipulate popular feelings for their own private profit.

In the present situation, the Hausa-Fulani faction of the capitalist ruling elite may want to prevent a repeat of their experience in 2010 when President Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from the North, died in office leaving his Vice, Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian from the minority South South geo-political zone) to complete his tenure. Instead of allowing a Northerner to fly the then ruling PDP's flag for the second term ticket, Goodluck Jonathan allegedly went against an unwritten power-rotation agreement which stipulates that the "North" (i.e. the Northern elite) would hold power for two terms of eight years before other sections can aspire for it. He flew the flag of the ruling PDP thus shortchanging the northern ruling elite from access to the privileges and wealth that comes with power.

If Buhari is placed in a situation where he has to resign or is unable to complete his tenure, the expectation is that the Northern elite will have to reach a deal which would have Vice President Osinbajo as Acting President with a Northern Vice President. But this would not completely assuage the feeling of being cheated again unless the North is able to get a deal which would have Osinbajo complete Buhari's term and relinquish the position for the ruling party to choose another Northerner to fly the party's ticket for second term. There is no certainty that such deal will be respected, and it is for this reason that the fear may exist that if it becomes likely that it would be cheated out of the power game again, the Northern ruling oligarchy could lean on its officers in the army to act and defend its interests.

In the past, sections of the political ruling class had also called on the military to intervene after they lost out as happened in the Second Republic when the National Party of Nigeria ruthlessly rigged out the Unity Party of Nigeria led by popular Yoruba bourgeois politician, Obafemi Awolowo. Also at the height of the June 12 struggle, sections of the winning Social Democratic Party including Bashorun MKO Abiola himself and pro-democracy elements welcomed the Abacha coup under the false hope that it would restore the former's mandate, which of course it never did. Similar developments cannot be ruled out but must be opposed by working class elements.

However in the prevailing situation in Nigeria, a military coup if it ever happens will turn out to be a misadventure. Given the hopes many had in Buhari, a military coup could face immediate opposition if it was seen as the "old PDP gang" trying to regain control.

Even if new military rulers presents a "radical" face, by starting out with a new "anti-corruption" campaign, perhaps with a few arrests and even executions, they would soon be faced with the limitations capitalism imposes on the country's development. This would undermine any support which they may have initially gathered and, like previous military regimes, would sooner or later become deeply unpopular and confronted with opposition that could put the future of capitalism at stake. More so in the context of capitalism in crisis and faced with protests, a military dictatorship can ultimately only rule with measures of open terror. Thus it would attempt to embark on suppression of democratic rights and repression of dissent views in order to be able to keep the powerful working class and students' movement as well their organizations in check. Most likely, the trade unions would be emasculated or smashed and activists incarcerated, the media including the powerful social media would come under vicious attack to rein in the very vocal and fervent youth population.

Furthermore a military dictatorship will not succeed in resolving any of the socio-economic crises ravaging Nigeria. Indeed right from the start, military rule would, in many areas, be judged by the question of the new rulers' ethnic and religious backgrounds. In the absence of Labour leading opposition to a coup, protests to military rule could, in some areas, fall into the hands of local elites who feel they have personally "lost out" in a new dispensation. Thus such a regime would accelerate the political instability and ethno-religious tension ravaging Nigeria almost to the point of break up. In opposing any coup, Socialists would as usual call on Labour to defend democratic rights, explain that only the building of an independent movement of working people can stop corruption and, by nationalizing and managing the key economic sectors, ensure that the country's wealth is used in the interests of ordinary Nigerians.

Therefore whichever way one looks at it, the perspective of a military coup in Nigeria is one that holds very disastrous consequences for the country and the working masses. Yet the reality of these disastrous consequences may not be lost even on members of the ruling elite or the top brass of the military who are being reportedly courted or could even be the ones actually testing the waters to feel the pulse of the public.

But this is not the first time Nigeria's thieving ruling elite has pushed the country to the edge of the precipice. They can always do it again so far their rule is not being challenged. This again therefore raises the urgency of the labour movement quickly building a working people's political alternative to rescue the country from the clutches of the capitalist ruling elite by taking political power, ending capitalism and enthroning a socialist system under which the country's wealth can be commonly owned and judiciously used in the interest of all.