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30 March 2017
Except for those who either are still under illusion or benefit from the status quo, growing number of people are drawing conclusions that the Muhammadu Buhari/APC capitalist government has failed woefully in transforming the lives of working and poor people. Data after data demonstrates that conditions of workers and ordinary Nigerians are far worse than before. Inflation, higher food prices, drugs, transportation and energy prices, job losses and fall in the value of workers monthly take home pay have decimated living standards. As a result, many poor families are unable to afford three square meals. Nearly two years into a government that promised change, many are hungry - and justifiably angry.
According to the Guardian newspaper (19/2/2017) "The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had noted that the 18.72 per cent rise in inflation rate in January makes it the 12th straight monthly increase in the inflation rate and the highest in more than 11 years, and was driven by surges in food, transport and electricity. A separate food index also rose to 17.82 per cent from 17.39 per cent in December, the statistics office said. According to the Bureau, the faster pace of growth in headline inflation, year on year, were recorded in the following products; bread and cereals, meat, fish, oils and fats, potatoes, yams and other tubers, wine and spirits, clothing materials and accessories, electricity, cooking gas, liquid and solid fuels, motor cars and maintenance, vehicle spare parts and fuels and lubricants, for personal transport equipment, passenger transport by road".
However in February, there was a slight dip in the annual inflation rate to 17.78%, but the month on month rate continues to rise. Also naira has gained at both the official and parallel markets. But at the same time, the price of crude oil which went up is again on a downward trend. This poses the possibility that the little improvement in inflation rate and foreign reserve accretion may soon be jeopardized.
Since the economic crisis started, about 5 million jobs have been lost due to the terrible operating environment caused by mounting energy cost amidst other instances of growing cost of doing business. Manufacturing companies are folding up or relocating elsewhere leaving a trail of job losses and broken dreams in their wake. According to NLC President Ayuba Wabba (ThisDay newspaper 18/3/2017) 3.7 million jobs were lost in 2016 alone! Even airlines are caught in the web because of rising aviation fuel, something that compounded the problem of Arik Air, Nigeria's biggest airline, forcing government to take over it some weeks back. But it is not only high energy cost that is the headache of businesses. The steep drop in purchasing power as a result of the devaluation of the naira and inflation eating into real income means that it is harder for commodity producers and importers to attain the same level of profitability. Despite a 17.78 percent inflationary rate, public sector workers still earn a miserable N18, 000 monthly minimum wage - although that is something rarely paid by the state governments. Now over 27 states regularly owe workers backlog of salaries and were only able to keep paying at all due to bailouts from the federal government.
So bad has the situation become that in January 2017 when school resumed into new terms, huge numbers of working and middle class families reportedly withdrew their children from private schools and enrolled them into public ones because they could no more afford the cost. This goes to show that not only is the Buhari capitalist regime incapable of delivering on the promises of economic prosperity with which it campaigned but that if unchallenged it will only succeed in returning living conditions of the mass majority to a new low level. Kerosene, largely used for cooking by millions of poor households, has increased in price so much that many can barely afford it. As a result, we now have the grotesque spectacle of increasing number of working and poor families having to do their cooking with coal and firewood - reminiscent of the inglorious regime of late General Sanni Abacha in the mid-90s. For many who stayed out in the sun on March 28, 2015 to vote out the corrupt 16-year rule of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), the Buhari/APC regime is beginning to appear as a brutal disappointment - one they will not forget in a hurry.
However, Buhari's failure is ultimately a failure of the system of capitalism. As the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has tirelessly argued, changing a country, especially one like Nigeria that is riddled with corruption, profligacy and mass penury in the midst of inexhaustible potentials requires as a starting point a revolutionary programme to create a planned economy based on the common ownership of the commanding heights of the country and their democratic control and management by the working people. Unfortunately, the programme of President Buhari and APC is at best a reformist one based on the grand illusion that capitalism can work for working people.
Irked by its lack of meaningful performance, the government spokespersons and supporters are quick to point to the terrible looting of the treasury by the immediate-past Goodluck Jonathan PDP regime as well as the on-going economic recession as the reasons why Buhari appears not to be performing. Yes, for 16 years, the PDP gutted the country and set the economy irrevocably on the path of recession the worst in 25 years. What however is often not mentioned is that many who now are in the ruling APC and even in Buhari inner circle were equally part of the looting spree of the past 16 years. In the same manner, states governed by political parties that made up the APC also contributed to the economic crisis confronting the country through various anti-poor policies and outright looting.
For socialists and working class activists, these excuses are trivial. The only reason millions of Nigerians called for change and voted for the APC in 2015 was because everyone knew things were so bad and that something urgently needed to be done to fix the country. In fact the terrible state of the economy was the centerpiece of Buhari and the APC campaigns in 2015. By the time the Jonathan government left, the signs of an economic recession were already there for everyone to see. Therefore the government cannot legitimately claim to have been surprised by the subsequent turn of events. What was required at that time, and even now, were emergency economic measures unapologetically pro-poor and aimed at dismantling the capitalist system upon which the PDP's empire of corruption and looting had been built. The reason the Buhari government failed was precisely because it failed to do this.
Rather when it got to power, Buhari government working under the failed capitalist philosophy that the private sector is the driver of economic development embraced the same ruinous anti-poor economic policies of the past capitalist governments. Despite promises of some reforms, the Buhari government has continued to implement mainly the very same neo-liberal economic policies of the past regime despite that these were the same economic policies that enabled corruption and the condition of mass poverty in the midst of abundance in the first place. The privatization programmes fast-tracked during the 16 year rule of the PDP were left unchanged by the Buhari regime. Instead they were sustained and consolidated. Now the electricity sector has collapsed as a result of this. The oil sector continued to be run by the same International Oil Companies (IOCs) while the private marketers are still given a major role to play in fuel distribution. Today Nigeria's refineries are still not working at optimum levels and there are no plans by government to build public refineries so that the age-long problem of fuel importation, associated subsidies, scarcity and periodic hike in fuel prices remain.
Therefore what is lacking in the Buhari/APC government, which is one the reasons the economy went from bad to worse, is the vision of an alternative way of running society other than capitalism. With a clear revolutionary programme to take over the oil and gas sector, ports, solid mineral sector, banks and other key sectors of the economy under public ownership and democratic management, it would have been possible for the government despite the recession to arrest the downward spiral by creating a planned economy under which resources can be better accounted for and deployed to develop public infrastructures, set up public companies to create jobs, develop mechanized agriculture, fund public social services like education and health, raise the minimum wage and meet people's needs.
The current economic crisis very sharply poses the fact that no genuine solution can be found under capitalism. Very instructive is that confusion reign supreme within the capitalist class about the solution to the crisis of their failed system. Both the government economic strategists and members of the private sector who have struck a stridently critical attitude towards the regime because of their investments have not succeeded in showing any real divergence of opinion. At the onset of the foreign exchange crisis, the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Lagos Chambers of Commerce as well as notable economists argued for devaluation. Despite initial rebuffs, the regime finally floated the currency. Not only did naira nosedive terribly in the aftermath, none of the acclaimed advantages of devaluation has manifested. The so-called foreign investors (portfolio investors inclusive) are still nowhere to be found and cost of living is still at an all-time-high.
The only other segment of the ruling elite critical of the Buhari regime is the People's Democratic Party (PDP) but they are advancing no different economic and political formula to save Nigeria. In any case if they had any superior programme in the first place, they had 16 whole years to prove their mettle. Instead they ran the country aground. What all these demonstrate is the reality that no solution can be found under capitalism and that neither can any member of the capitalist class offer a way out. Only the working class leading other oppressed masses and armed with a clear-cut socialist economic programme can save Nigeria. This requires the building of a mass movement and a mass workers party to take political power and begin to implement pro-poor socialist policies. But as the current labour leaders have not tried to form such a party, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and workers activists have taken practical steps by forming and building of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a platform which can start this process.
We in the SPN call for united action and mass struggle to stop these attacks on the poor by the task force and government. We call on trade unions and civil society organizations to build a concrete action plan involving protests and demonstrations to resist the attacks of the task force.