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28 October 2017
Nigeria's socio-economic and political problems seem to have no solution, over two years into the Buhari/APC 'change' government. In every sphere of governance, the government is struggling to maintain a balance, albeit an unsettled one. Economic situation, in spite of the official exit from recession, is getting worse and unmitigated for the working people. Every time official statistics are released, even with their conservative estimation, the worsening state of the economy is starkly exposed. The country's rapid population growth means that, even if the current official GDP growth figures are correct, per capita GDP is still actually falling.
The major victims in this situation are the working and poor people, who have been bearing the brunt of economic dislocation. For the rich class, especially those in the political and business classes, their ostentatious living conditions have hardly changed, and if it has, it has been on the upward. For instance, the incomes of in regular work, along with retirees, have stagnated in the last two years, even when cost of living has risen astronomically in the same period; yet the salaries and pensions have been withheld, unpaid, irregularly paid or paid in fractions across the country. On the other hand, salaries and allowances of political office holders have not reduced. Indeed, the excuse of inflation is being used to increase allocation to political office holders.
For instance, recurrent allocations to the Presidency have increased and the reason for this, according to the government's spokesperson is that there is inflation. In the 2017 federal budget, N123.2 million is allocated for meals in the presidency as against N96.2 million in 2016, while cooking gas and fuel will gulp N21.6 million in the 2017 budget as against N6.3 million in 2016 budget. These are just few examples of how of several other items in the federal budget that have insured the politicians and top bureaucrats at the federal level have insured themselves against the economic recession. Expectedly, at the state level, the story will be the same if not worse. While Dangote Industry continues to implement strict anti-worker policies, recent of which is the sacking of about 800 workers (truck officers) , the company's proprietor, Aliko Dangote, has maintained his seat as the richest African with a net worth of $15.4 billion (almost equals the total expected revenue of the federal government in 2017).
The 2017 budget, which was dubbed a budget of recovery, can only be recovery for the rich few. The failure of the 2016 budget to make impact on the lives of the working and poor people is a clear indication of the inability of the Buhari/Osinbajo government to resolve the economic impasse on the basis of capitalist economic program. According to government's statistical bureau, over 4 million of people that joined labour market in one year could not get jobs with the unemployment rate increasing to 14.2 percent as of the last quarter of 2016 from 13.9 percent previously. Government's solution was not to embark on massive employment of Nigerians for developmental projects, but to establish a volunteer scheme that only creates casual labour.
Even the so-called job creation of the Buhari government tagged NPower programme could only employ 200, 000 people, which is less than half of the over 500,000 people added to the jobless population in three months alone. Worse still, the volunteers were to be paid about N30, 000 per month, with no guarantee of regular employment. Although some will have benefitted from the NPower scheme it should really be categorized under underemployment. We in the DSM will have to organize campaign among the volunteers to defend their welfare and rights. Aside supporting their struggle for regularization and payment of stipends, we will campaign for decent and secure jobs for all.
The 2017 budget seems to follow the same pattern of the 2016 budget. Aside the fact that it was poorly implemented, the 2016 budget was based on the current capitalist arrangement and was contradictory, containing both promises of expenditure and neo-liberal policies. The government that wanted to spur the economy through an expansionary budget of over N6 trillion, at the same time implemented neo-liberal policies of increase in fuel price, devaluation of the currency and hike in electricity tariffs, among others, all of which collectively contracted the purchasing power of the majority of the population and further hiked the inflation rates. Of course, as we said in several of our publications that the economic crisis was not started by the Buhari government, as the previous governments, especially the Jonathan/PDP government, did not challenge the rotten economic foundation rooted in neo-colonial capitalism. Hit by the fall in the oil export price the Buhari government continued much of the same policies that caused the crisis in the first instance, irrespective of various cosmetics program being carried out.
The government's plan to ensure local refining of oil is not premised on massive refurbishing of state refineries and building new ones; rather it is based on allowing private refiners like Dangote Refinery, to build private refineries while government subsidizes their investments through various dole outs. While the government allows the state refineries to rot away, the private refiners are guaranteed huge profits through hike in fuel prices, which contributed to high inflation, shrinking purchasing power and weakening of the economy.
While N2.24 trillion, constituting about 31 percent of the 2017 budget is voted for capital projects, this may not actually lift the construction industry out of the woods, neither will it engender massive development of infrastructure. In spite of the huge capital outlay of the 2016 budget, there was very little that was achieved. Abandoned projects still litter the country. These results show the limits of trying to work within the confines of capitalism and the largely looting mentality of the ruling class. Rather than commit public resources to basic infrastructure through mass public works, the government is handing over the country to big time contractors, and multi-national companies Showing the commitment of the Buhari government to the super rich, the government reportedly signed a ten-year tax break agreement with Dangote Industries for the rehabilitation of Apapa-Oworonshoki road, which the government has abandoned for years. Multi-billion dollar rail projects are also being signed with Chinese firms. These projects, like under the Obasanjo and Jonathan governments, are unsustainable on the basis of capitalist arrangement, and will plunge the country into another round of debt, which the previous governments plunged the country into under similar arrangement.
Social sectors like education, health, etc., are in decrepit state. In the 2017 budget, only N50 billion was budgeted for capital vote for education, which is far below the N100 billion agreed with ASUU in 2013 as intervention funding to Universities alone. While the president went on an expensive but embarrassing medical tourism for months, Nigeria's health sector is on a tailspin. Just two weeks after president's return, resident doctors embarked on strike over pay and working conditions.
Only socialist economic planning, based upon the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, can liberate adequate resources needed to develop Nigerian economy and improve the lives of majority of the population. For instance, with nationalization of banks, government can start to plan on how to finance various developmental projects such as giving cheap or interest free loans to small farmers' cooperatives and supporting them with equipment, inputs, and extension services. This, alongside the establishment of big state farms across the country will not only provide millions of productive jobs, but will also make the country self-sufficient in food production, while laying basis for industrial development. It will also reduce pressure on the currency. It is only a government run a socialist program can implement these.
The so-called anti-corruption fight of Buhari government has so far proved to be much more of propaganda than a genuine effort to tackle a menace that compounds the crisis of capitalism in Nigeria. Many of the targets so far have been from the previous PDP administrations and ignored corruption involving APC stalwarts. For instance, the fact that the government has not begun to bring Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government Federation and a very close ally of Buhari, to justice many months after serious allegation of corrupt enrichment was leveled against him suggests that Buhari government fights corruption only when opposition politicians are involved.
Besides, the allegation by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources in the recent leaked memo to President Buhari that the Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) awarded different contracts totaling about $25bn without the consent or approval of the NNPC board headed by the Minister as required by law indicates that the state oil company remains a cesspit of corruption as obtained in the previous administrations. This development also reveals the self-serving division in the government, something which first came to the public following the refusal of the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Obviously, the corrupt politicians in the senate are trying to take their own pound of flesh from the executive for the embarrassment they have suffered through the very limited anti-corruption campaign of the Buhari administration. But the decision not to confirm Magu was premised on a report from the Department of State Services (DSS), which indicted Magu of corrupt tendencies and indiscipline. Interestingly, both the EFCC and DSS report directly to the presidency.
It will actually be illusory to expect the current set of capitalist political class to fight corruption genuinely, when the neo-colonial system they defend and their own route to power are rooted in brazen and fundamental corruption. Only a government that emerged from the people and rest solely on them can genuine end corruption and recover trillions of naira looted by political and big business class. But while ending corruption would provide important resources that could mean significant improvements, these would be limited. A fundamental change, can only come about via a workers' and poor government standing on socialist programmes that put the resources and wealth of the country under collective ownership, with planning by various strata of the society on a democratic basis. It is through this kind of approach that corruption can be genuinely fought. One of the major impulses for corruption is the underfunding of social sectors and privatization of the economy. When education, health care, and other social services are underfunded, more resources are freed up for looting. When public resources, infrastructures and economic entities are handed over to a handful of people in big business and politics, they become a tool of diverting public resources to private ends. These are the major routes of corruption, which this government, like other capitalist governments before it, has charted
Already the politicking for 2019 election has started taking centre stage in the polity. Of course it is now about fourteen months to the next general elections, specifically February 2019. There are already debates on whether President Buhari would seek reelection given his ill health that made him to spend cumulatively about ten months in Britain for medical treatment. No doubt if he does his health will become an issue in the campaign. But it appears the health of Buhari is the health of the ruling APC. If he does not contest the party may implode as its centrifugal forces go to war over the presidential ticket. The party seems to be just a special purpose vehicle formed to end the hegemony of the PDP. Beyond that nothing else seems to bind them together. Leaving aside a national conference, even to hold a NEC meeting has so far proved impossible. So, it is not impossible for many in the party to root for Buhari even if his health remains in question in order to stave off the danger of implosion.
Meanwhile, it appears whatever decision Buhari makes would not stop Abubakar Atiku, a perennial presidential aspirant, from throwing his hat in the ring as he has not hidden his desire to take over Buhari's job. Already, a serving minister in Buhari government has openly declared support for Atiku. He would likely seek the ticket of the PDP which is also desperate to have its candidate from the North. However, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state Southwest Nigeria and leading figure of the PDP has already declared his intention to contest for President on the platform of the party. It is safe to take Fayose's declaration with a pinch of salt. He may have another plan entirely up his sleeve. Even if he is serious with the declaration it will be extremely difficult for him to win the party ticket.
From all indications at present Buhari may win if he contests. Despite the fact that conditions of working people and the poor masses have gone worse since 2015, his support base has not significantly eroded especially in the north. Besides, his dwindling popularity has not translated to support for the PDP even in the Southwest. The serious revelations of monumental cases of corruption especially under the last PDP administration can hardly make people to wish their return to power so soon. Even though the Buhari government itself is dented with some scandals. However, the election may be characterized by a degree of apathy as a section of the electorate seriously dissatisfied with Buhari's performance will likely refuse to choose between devil and the deep blue sea.
Unfortunately, what is missing in this permutation is a genuine alternative of the working people. There is no mass working people party that can contest for power in 2019 elections. Sadly, the current leadership of the labour movement does not ideologically believe in the need for such platform. Even the leadership of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) who have openly argued for a socialist welfare state as the solution to the crisis of capitalism in Nigeria do not seem prepared to initiate steps towards actualizing it. Our calls on them to do something in that respect have only attracted a resounding silence. But we should not be tired of challenging them to walk the talk. Good enough, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) may be registered early enough to make some degree of intervention with a socialist alternative in 2019.
The growing economic and political crises, coupled with the failure of labour movement leadership to unite the working and oppressed people in common struggles against terrible economic situations, have engendered growing social crises across the country. Colonialism's legacy of unresolved national questions has added spice to the social crises with herdsmen-farmers conflicts in Kaduna, Benue, Taraba, Nassarawa, Oyo and elsewhere becoming a form of norm. The Ife communal crisis where simple disagreement degenerated into ethnic violence, where scores of people were killed and several properties destroyed.
The rapid unfolding of the latest Biafra crisis has further underscored this reality. More than this, it has also shown the backward and neo-colonial character of Nigeria's capitalist class. Rather than begin the process of addressing nationality question through a referendum being demanded by the separatists in the south east, the Buhari government unleashed military terror on IPOB and the south east. This led to death of score of agitators and militarization of the south east. Worse still, the government, in an undemocratic but repressive manner, proscribed IPOB and tagged it a terrorist organization. In order to militarily suppress the separatist agitations across the country, the Buhari government also introduced military exercises across the country. Also, in the president's Independence Speech, the government openly proscribed agitation for self-determination or so-called 'restructuring', maintaining that such could only be done through the rotten and corrupt national assembly, a bulwark of reactionary ruling class. This is not new, previous governments, including the Obasanjo, Yar'Adua and Jonathan governments, used repressive apparatus of the state to repress self-determination agitations, and social crisis. The Buhari government had earlier utilized heavy military power against Shiite in 2016 leading to the death of close to a thousand Shiites.
However, opposition to Buhari's repressive approach is not an endorsement of the reactionary and sometimes racist approach of the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB's secessionist agitation. Aside lacking any coherent pro-masses alternative social and economic programme, much of the IPOB leaders' agitation is rooted in hatred for other sections of Nigeria and supremacist orientation. As much as socialists support right to self-determination, we maintain that without such being done on a socialist basis, it will only represent replacement of one form of capitalist oppression by another. Since capitalist exploitation lay behind nationality crisis, it is safe to conclude that capitalist system cannot be the solution. Therefore, only socialist programmes rooted in democratic rights of the oppressed can fully address the nationality problem created by capitalism.
Therefore, it will be illusory to expect any section of the capitalist class to carry out genuine programme to resolve nationality crisis. It is a sovereign national conference of the working and oppressed people, which has power to discuss social, economic and political orientation of the country, that has the potential to resolve national question. But such a genuine sovereign national conference would be posed with the question of taking power from the hands of the capitalist ruling class. In this sense a genuine sovereign national conference's fate is linked to the creation of a workers and poor peoples' government. This is why all sections of the capitalist class are opposed to such genuine sovereign national conference dominated by the elected representatives of workers and the masses. They rather want a conference dominated by ruling elites of different ethnic groups.
In the same vein, those clamouring for "restructuring' only want redistribution of power base and wealth among various sections of the capitalist class, and not any genuine attempt at addressing nationality or any socio-economic problem. All of these sections subscribe to the current neo-colonial arrangement, and neo-liberal capitalism that has economically and politically disenfranchised the working and poor people. The various talk shows and confabs organized by different governments, from the colonial era, to military and civilian era are all aimed at resolving crises among sections of the capitalist class, and to divert attention away from the social agitation. This is why socialists are opposed to the elite restructuring being canvassed by some sections of the capitalist ruling class. The only way the country can be restructured in the interest of the poor masses is through a socialist program.
It is unfortunate that the leadership of labour movement has not risen to the challenges of defending the interests of workers and the poor masses who have been made to pay for the crisis of global capitalism in Nigeria. Even the May 2016 protest organized against fuel price increase was done sordidly and half-heartedly. Workers in many states as well as pensioners were owed many months of salaries and pensions. Yet, beyond occasional hot air by labour leaders, there have been no serious and coordinated responses to force the affected state governors to pay the outstanding salaries and pensions. Currently, the labour leadership has been unable to organize any mass action on new minimum wage which has been for review for well over a year. Beyond the annual ritual of decent work day marked on October 7 globally where few factories or workplaces are picketed in Lagos or Abuja, there is no organised and serious fight-back against casualization and other anti-labour practices that have become tradition in workplaces.
Recently there was a current wave of strikes especially in education and health sectors and also in a few states against non-payment of outstanding salaries. It is possible that the workers might have been encouraged to take actions by the recent modest rise in the oil price and announcement of the "end of recession". What this however underscores is the fact that the central trade union leaders are trailing the consciousness of ordinary workers and the resolve to fight for improvements
It is therefore no surprise that the Labour leadership that cannot defend basic interests and rights of workers at industrial level has not considered it imperative to initiate and build a working people alternative against neo-liberal capitalist program and also for political power. The bulk of the current Labour leaders are both reluctant to struggle and pro-capitalist. This is the exact opposite of what is currently needed. That is why our campaign for a mass working people alternative has to be linked with the campaign for building of fighting trade unions which have in leadership officers who are both class fighters and democratically elected but subject to recall by their electors, placed on average salaries of those they represent.
Nigeria's economic and social crises and problems have underscored the need to build a political movement of the working and oppressed people, which are the only platform that can unite the working people along ethnic and religious lines, and aggregate their struggles, yearnings and needs into collective struggle for change. It is this kind of political movement that can change the political landscape from the monetized and corrupt politics being practised by all ruling political parties. It is such a political movement with a mass party and a socialist program that can defeat the current set of corrupt and bourgeois political class, and start to use our enormous resources to solve our social, economic and developmental issues.
It is for the purpose of filling the gap created by lack of working people alternative platform, that we in the DSM are building the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). Though, at present a small party we intend to use the party, if registered, to demonstrate what is possible with a working people political party on a socialist program both in and out offices. Already without being registered yet we have been using the party to intervene in various struggles and on national issues and calling on change seeking people to join us.
It is possible for the SPN to be registered before the end of 2017 given that the Federal High Court has fixed November 2 for judgment in our case against INEC. Having SPN with official status may attract more people with diverse background to the party and this will place important task on comrades of the DSM to deepen and widen our work. There is need to build more forces of DSM as a way of maintaining the ideological and political sanctity of the SPN. It is however instructive to stress that with or without registration, we should continue to combine the independent initiative of building political alternative with the campaign in the broader labour movement for building a mass working people party on a socialist programme.
The coming period may see a spark in class struggles if the government, as likely, is unable to improve the conditions of workers and the masses despite the relative increase in oil prices and its celebration of impressive figures do not reflect in the reality of the working masses. The labour leaders cannot continue to put a seal on the bottled anger of workers against the government especially on economic issues like minimum wage. The growing pressure from workers will force them to lead a struggle. On political plane, more and more will become disillusioned in Buhari as he fails to deliver the change he has promised. And this may not translate to support for the PDP. This further underscores the need for a mass working people political alternative. We have to continue to position ourselves to intervene correctly in order to deepen our influence in labour movement, in communities and among the youths; put forward socialist alternative and make political gains including recruiting change-seeking and most combative young people and working class elements to the revolutionary ideas of DSM