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17 July 2017
Socially, economically and politically, Nigeria is faring worse than two years ago. Every segment of the polity reeks of crises and instability. Responsible for this calamitous state of affairs is no other factor than the neo-liberal capitalist policies of the Buhari/Osinbajo APC administration as much as that of previous administrations. Apologists of the status quo a.k.a Buharists will not like this but truth, as they say, is concrete. Strikingly, according to Sahara Reporters, a twitter poll conducted by the ruling party via its handle showed 54% rating the government poor!
On the economic front, the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government has failed woefully to the consternation of millions that initially put their faith in Buhari. As we have pointed out severally, it is true that the People's Democratic Party (PDP)-led Goodluck Jonathan government standing on the shoulders of the looting and mismanagement of the past, created the conditions for Nigeria's crash into the pitfall of the worst recession in 25 years. But what is also true is that when it came into power on May 29 2015, the Buhari/Osinbajo APC capitalist government helped to drive the nail into the coffin of our beleaguered economy by its calamitous policy choices which included devaluation of the naira, increase in fuel price and electricity tariff. The result was, and still is, stagflation double digit inflation and low growth.
Even now, while several assessments point in the direction of economic recovery perhaps by the fourth quarter of the year, there is no doubt that this would merely reflect in growth figures and nothing more. Going by the collapse in living standards and the fragility of the expected recovery, for many years to come, the overwhelming reality for many working class families, and even certain layers of the middle classes, will be one of grinding poverty.
Few days to the two years anniversary of the regime, its spokesperson, Garba Shehu declared "If election is held today, we will win. This administration will win resoundingly...There is happiness in the land." (Daily Trust, May 23 2017). Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. The rising molten magma of popular anger and discontent is there for all to see. The working class and the poor, the hardest hit and the most impoverished over the past two years, are livid with rage against a regime they thought would resolve all the socio-economic problems. February's protest first called by popular musician Tuface before he tried to call it off as well as the eruption of anger at May Day venues in Abuja and across the country shows the rising temper.
Youth unemployment has increased exponentially over the past few years on the back of the economic crisis. Unable to access foreign exchange in the context of rising cost of production, the few manufacturing companies in the country fled or shut down production leading to about 4 million jobs lost over the past two years. The resultant job losses have created a domino effect spreading misery in ever expanding concentric circles. At clusters of factories in Lagos for instance, thriving markets of vendors often develop selling anything from food to drinks on credit to workers. But in a scenario of factory workers, normally low-paid and casualized, being laid off in hundreds, these small businesses are collapsing with the vendors, many single mothers, plunged into debt. Against this background, the celebrated Social Investment Programme of the government, which envisages, among other things, temporary employment of young graduates on poverty wage and in teaching and agricultural extension services of the government, is just like a drop in an ocean of misery.
The twin impacts of hike in both fuel price and electricity tariff further increased the cost of production and acted as additional dis-incentive for investment whether foreign or local. The entire informal economy depends largely on electricity and fuel for survival. Increasing these two factors of production especially in the context of dwindling profitability was all that was needed to send this sector into a tailspin.
Food prices and commodities rocketed as vast majority found themselves unable to afford the barest means of survival. A bag of rice, a staple across the country, went soaring so high beyond the affordability of working people. Price of garri (cassava flour flakes) whose lavish consumption used to define a certain depth of poverty soared so much that even middle class people were caught complaining about inability to afford it. The result was a further deepening of the economic crises both for businesses and households. Household income, calculated at the rate of N18, 000 minimum wage, has been wiped out as inflation soared over the past two years on the back of a chaotic foreign exchange market, only to cool a bit in recent months. Now the new economic reality means that the N18, 000 minimum wage's official dollar value, $59, is worth little more than a quarter of the N125 a month minimum wage in the 1980s that was then equal to over $200.
In the context of unpaid salaries and pensions in more than 20 states across the country, several working families face conditions not too far from a famine. Despite two different bailouts and a Paris Club loan deduction refund, the crisis of non-payment of salary and pension have only worsened as state governors prefer to service debt instead of paying workers.
Over the last two years, the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government has succeeded in deepening the ethno-religious tension in the country. While Boko Haram terrorism still rages despite their so-called "technical defeat", other sources (Fulani herdsmen and farmers' clashes, Shiite, Biafra agitation, Niger Delta militancy etc.) of instability have either emerged or re-activated. Across the country, temper is rising and it is threatening to erupt. The only thing holding anger in check is the docility of the bureaucratic leadership of labour which is not prepared for a serious struggle against the regime's anti-poor policies not to talk of providing a political alternative to the rotten status quo.
Once again, the anti-corruption war has become both a propaganda machinery to buy masses' waning support and encomium in the midst of virtually little or no economic success story as well as a tool to beat political opponents into line. But as the recent unveiling of the SGF, Babachir Lawal and the NIA Director Wale Oke in corruption saga worth several hundreds of millions of dollars show, both the executive and the legislature are chambers of corruption and treasury looting. All of these have helped to expose the APC, despite the borrowed robe of "progressives" it used to dress itself, as not different from the PDP. Meanwhile in the context of a PDP which is itself riven with crises and litigations, the APC has effectively become both the ruling party and the party in opposition. The developing political crisis within the two main capitalist parties is bound to intensify in the run-up to 2019 with the risk of an implosion.
Against the above-outlined analysis of the failure of the Buhari/Osinbajo government, the response of the leadership of the labour movement has been disastrously docile and impotent. Unlike the past when the bureaucratic leadership of labour tried to challenge government anti-poor policies even though without a serious commitment to win real concessions, the current set of labour leaders do not bother to keep up any pretense. In their speeches and conducts, the leaders of the labour movement leave no one in doubt that they have completely capitulated to the pro-capitalist ideology of the ruling elite that, especially in a period of recession, workers have to bear with the government in order to ensure recovery of economic activity.
This capitulation is what reflects every now and then in how the labour leadership has failed to seriously fight against irregular payment of workers' salary and pension in about 20 states across the country as well in the demand for a new minimum wage. Bereft of any idea or conviction of an alternative away of running society other than the profit-first capitalist system, no other course of action is open to the labour leadership except capitulation and betrayal, at every point in time, of workers interests. This is the only way to adequately understand the disastrous failure of the general strike and mass protest called last year May against the decision of the Buhari government to increase the pump price of fuel to N145 per litre.
So ineffective was the strike that many affiliates of the NLC failed to mobilize their members and implement the strike. The NLC leadership often likes to blame the disunity in its rank for the failure. Yes it is true that the leadership of the then faction of the NLC, now the new labour federation called the United Labour Congress (ULC) led by Joe Ajaero, played a strike breaking role, but the real reason why the strike failed was that on the one hand the NLC was ill-prepared for the strike while on the other hand, they had lost any popularity both with the average workers and the poor masses since the betrayal of the mighty general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal in January 2012.
More than ever before, Socialists and trade union activists must now rededicate themselves to the task of rebuilding the labour movement on the principle of solidarity and struggle. This must begin by building from below a movement within the trade unions to begin to challenge the bureaucracy and demand that labour rolls out a plan of action including a warning general strike and mass protest on the question of unpaid salary as well as the demand for a new minimum wage of N56, 000. Without building such a movement from below within the labour movement involving rank and file activists, there is no guarantee that future struggles will succeed or win real concessions.
As things stand today, disappointment in the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government is forcing some to begin to question the possibility of change. Given the level of disappointment, resignation in the possibility of truly altering the condition of mass poverty in the midst of plenty would generally grow among a section, especially the middle class. But inevitably, many will also begin to search for a real alternative. As we have consistently argued, real and genuine change can only begin with the coming to power of a workers and poor people's government armed with a socialist economic programme entailing, as a starting point, the common ownership and democratic control and management of the commanding heights of Nigeria's economy.
Regardless of the persistent failure of its leadership, Socialists have no doubt that the working class is the only class that can lead the revolution to end capitalism and enthrone a socialist society. This is true both for the advanced capitalist countries as well as the neo-colonial world. Even in countries where numerically, the working class appears to be small, its position and weight in the economy makes it the only class that can provide the leadership for the struggle of the oppressed masses to effect revolutionary change. But without replacing the kind of rightwing and pro-capitalist leadership that exists both within the labour movement and in the general working class movements, the working class will continue to find itself unable to fully confront the capitalist system and overthrow it. Just as Leon Trotsky pointed out over 7 decades ago, the historical problem of the working class is its leadership.
A central task facing working class activists, change-seeking young people and Socialists is to rebuild a firm, capable and organized leadership of the working class armed with the revolutionary ideas and methods of Marxism. This is why the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has continued for the past three decades to defend the ideas of Socialism both against revisionism and attacks of the capitalist ruling elite. The rapid social and economic progress witnessed in Russia in the aftermath of the October 1917 revolution, whose centenary is this year, provides clear testimony of the superiority of a workers' government and a democratically planned economy over and above capitalism. Even though some of these gains were soon wiped out by the monstrous Stalinist bureaucracy that developed afterwards in the aftermath of Lenin's death, all those seeking real change have a lot to learn from the Russian example.
One of those lessons is that for real change to happen in Nigeria, the working class needs its own "Bolshevik party" a mass working class political party armed with socialist programmes and rooted in the struggles of workers and oppressed masses. Unfortunately the labour movement has failed repeatedly to fulfill this task. But while we continue to call on the leadership of the NLC, TUC, ULC and the mass organisations of the working people to fulfill this task, the DSM has equally taken a step of forming the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) which at the moment we are still campaigning, legally and politically, to be registered by INEC.
For all those who are disappointed and angry at the anti-poor capitalist policies of the Buhari/APC government, you have a choice. Do not resign to fate. Take a bold step today; join the DSM and the SPN so that together we can fight for real and genuine change.