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13 May 2018
Perhaps more than any written texts could have done, the events of the past three years in Nigeria have in immeasurable ways confirmed the teachings of Marxism. For Marxists, capitalism is the root cause of inequality, economic crises and lack of development and only the overthrow of the entire system, not simply replacing one set of the ruling elite by another, is the only panacea.
But in 2015, driven by anger over the 16-year misrule of the PDP, the working masses and youth pitched their tent with the so-called progressive wing of the capitalist class represented by the then opposition All Progressive Congress (APC). Partly this reflected a turn towards the ballot box after the January 2012 mass protest and general strike, despite being the ninth and most far-reaching general strike since 1999, had not removed the Jonathan presidency. The vote of much of the working masses for the APC was also due to the absence of a mass workers political alternative or any left or radical populist alternative at all, something that also blocked the working masses from reaching revolutionary conclusions as Marxists had already done.
"An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory" so said V.I Lenin. The abysmal failure of the Buhari/Osinbajo All Progressive Congress (APC) government on the economic and political fronts despite the hope and expectation of over 15 million voters, the rising poverty and inequality despite exit from recession, the selective and weak anti-corruption war of the regime, the largely unchanged privileged lifestyle of the president, his kitchen cabinet and political office holders, its series of blunders and errors, the elevation of state-propaganda above real performance, its attack on basic democratic rights and efforts to curb free speech and the social media, the crisis in the ruling party as well as the rising ethno-religious crises and killings across the country – all of these are the ounce of example that is demonstrating in the consciousness of a deeply frustrated, angry and disenchanted working class and youth that nothing has really changed.
The 2015 general elections saw for the first time the electoral defeat of an incumbent president. The ruling PDP which had hoped to rule for 60 years crumbled in that elections after just 16 years in power. The mass of working and poor people, whose attempt to transform the country was blocked by bureaucratic labour leaders during the 2012 general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal, had turned to the electoral plane in 2015 to finish what they started. But without a party of their own, the APC became the beneficiary of a burning anger against corruption, iniquity and failure of the PDP government. At the end of the elections, many looked on with hope to a brighter future. But three years after, many are now questioning whether or not putting the APC in power was not a mistake.
According to a survey carried out by CLEEN foundation, Practical Sampling International and AfroBarometer to assess public perception of economic conditions, access to public services and government performance, 60% of Nigerians believed the country is going in the wrong direction. But while 33% favourably rated the government anti-corruption war and 82% were optimistic that things would get much better in the next 12 months, 48% said the country's economic condition is worse or much worse compared to a year ago. In the last one year, about half of Nigerian population went without enough food, medical care, cooking fuel or water at least once and three quarters of the population went without cash income at least once (Guardian newspaper, 31 March 2018).
Inevitably, mass struggle will break out especially in the aftermath of the 2019 general elections regardless of whichever of the pro-rich parties win. In fact, a victory for the ruling party could accelerate this development as it would be obvious in the consciousness of many that much of the same anti-poor policies await them for the next four years. This struggle can develop from below just as happened in the 2012 general strike before the labour leadership acted. However in the absence of the labour leadership giving a bold lead, or if the fiasco of the 2016 general strike is repeated, there is also the danger that disappointment could lead to a rise of ethnic and religious tension across the country. In connection with this danger is that right populist forces (perhaps under religious banners) could emerge to explore the disappointment and the vacuum created by the mistakes and lack of a fighting strategy of the labour leadership. We should not forget that the sectarian and Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram developed with some success on the back of the anger of youth in the Northeast at the corruption of the western educated capitalist ruling elite and the mass poverty in the region.
In the same vein, the failure of the labour leadership can also inspire radical or "leftist" populist forces to emerge, some who could be genuine and others who may be sponsored by sections of the ruling elite to exploit the mass anger for their own purpose. During the 2012 general strike and mass protest, Tunde Bakare and the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) which had the covert support of the then ACN, tried although with only with little success to take the reins of the mass movement and direct it into 'safe' channels. Similarly in 2016, a popular musician, Tubaba, did try to detonate a movement only to pull back at the last minute. At the moment, there is the "Our Mumu Don do" movement led by Charly Boy and one Deji Adeyanju who is a member of the PDP and is associated with the Jonathan regime. Unless labour seizes the initiative, it cannot be ruled out that such a movement with obviously dubious intention and similar ones can attract the support of mass of angry, frustrated and disenchanted young people hungry for a fight back.
At the onset, the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government portrayed the building of a modern, diversified, industrialized, less corrupt capitalist economy as the solution to the problems plaguing the country. Three years after, this illusion is in total ruins. Despite anger, many cannot still rationalize why this so-called government of change failed abysmally.
Meanwhile over the last three years, we have written copiously about the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government and why it has failed. In fact, if the key texts of our perspective documents and numerous articles in our paper and on our website prior to and after the 2015 general elections were to be published, perhaps nothing new needs to be added. But as the popular saying goes; "So far bed bugs persist, there can be no end to blood stained finger nails". We will therefore reiterate in summary a few points about why it was inevitable that things are as they are at the moment.
The crisis of inequality, unemployment and underdevelopment in Nigeria is first and foremost a crisis of capitalism. Capitalism refers to a social and economic system under which the means of production and exchange (i.e. industries, oil and gas, energy, mines, commerce, ports, banks etc.) are under the control of a tiny fraction of the population while members of the working class can only survive by selling their labour power. By virtue of its ownership of the means of production, the capitalist class is able to corner over 80% of the country's wealth while leaving just 20% to the rest of the population. With, under capitalism, production being determined by the market and the profit-system the result is periodic crises which capitalism tries to make the working and middle classes pay for. Through its economic power, the capitalist class acquires the means to dominate politically by forming political parties and ensuring its representatives gets voted into political offices in order to implement policies necessary for the continuity of the exploitative system.
It is the unequal relation to the means of production that is at the root of inequality and underdevelopment. Therefore Nigeria's problem is not simply a product of corruption, non-diversification of the economy, lack of visionary leadership and all the pretty but empty phrases which local and international liberal commentators and tragically the leadership of the labour movement often use to hoodwink the working masses. To the extent that they are of any use to understanding the problem, all the aforementioned causes are merely the by-products, not the fundamental factors, of the crises of capitalism especially in the condition of a neo-colony.
As a neo-colonial capitalist country, Nigeria's economy is dependent on the world market in line with the global division of labour between the advanced industrialized capitalist countries and the periphery. Fundamentally, this is what informs the character of Nigeria's national economy with a mono-export product i.e. crude oil, low industrial base and weak public infrastructures that can support investment. Also it is this condition of dependence and the narrow limits for capital acquisition and investment that in turn determines the prebendalist and comprador character of the local bourgeoisie as well as its political representatives. Only the overthrowing of the system and its replacement by a democratic socialist system can begin to permit the use of Nigeria's enormous wealth to develop all parts of the country and improve the lives of the majority.
But even if Nigeria's capitalist economy were, by a miracle, to be well diversified, industrialized and the government endowed with sincere, forward-looking and visionary leaders, the result would still be the same in terms of inequality and mass poverty for the majority. A look at South Africa, the most industrialised and developed economy on the continent which paradoxically is also one of the most unequal, clearly proves that without overthrowing capitalism, an industrialized or diversified economy i.e. a modern capitalist economy, will not automatically mean an improvement in the conditions of the working masses. Part of the reason for this also lies in the current unstable situation of world capitalism which prevents long periods of stable economic growth.
Therefore the fundamental reason Buhari/Osinbajo APC government failed is because it implemented the very capitalist economic policies like privatization, deregulation, underfunding, Public Private Partnership which were the hallmark of PDP's 16 years misrule. Despite initial hints of possibly perusing limited "Keynesian" style policies this government was unwilling to go beyond the confines of capitalism by nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic control and management. The result was that the regime deepened the private ownership of the means of production by sanctifying privatization including that of the power sector carried out by previous governments while trying to accomplish its own in the aviation and other sectors. In doing this, instead of improving the lots of the people, the regime succeeded at deepening the grinding poverty and inequality afflicting the mass majority. To fully bring the understanding of our conclusions to light, we shall hereby proceed to examine the policies of the Buhari/Osinbajo government in the area of the economy.
Since the second quarter of the year 2017, official data have shown that the economy which suffered five quarters of economic contraction (from second quarter 2016 to first quarter 2017) is now out of recession. However the GDP growth rate is lower than the speed at which Nigeria's population is growing, meaning that per capita income is actually falling. In effect Nigerians are getting poorer. By 2019 Nigeria's population will be 200 million and, by 2050, it is expected to increase beyond 300 million. Meanwhile, growth forecast for the next few years are between 3.5% and 4.1% indicating that Nigeria is far from getting back the pre-2014 situation when the economy grew by an average of 6 and 7%. But even at this period, mass poverty was still prevalent as only rich few benefited from the economic growth. This shows the insoluble contradiction that Nigeria's economy is in regardless of the latest growth figures. A fair income distribution including provision of free and functional education and health care, decent mass housing, regular electricity and safe water would have meant that poverty rate at no time was on the rise regardless of the growth rate. However, achieving this is not possible on the basis of capitalism.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) often used to measure inflation rate has consistently declined for 10months. CPI dropped to 15.90% in November from 15.91% in the previous month after a decrease from 15.98% in September 2017. However food prices were still rising at a faster level, 17.59% in February. CBN exchange rate of the dollar to the Naira has supposedly stabilized at inter-bank segment of the market at N360/$. This has resulted to an increase in the foreign reserve to the tune of N43.2billion in February, but foreign debt is also rising, it stood at $18.9billion at the end of 2017. Meanwhile the export price of crude has risen far above $66 per barrel, far about the $47 benchmark set in the 2018 federal budget. This has no doubt boosted the income of the country especially because Nigeria is exempted from an output cut by OPEC till the end of 2018.
Despite this reported improvement in the economy, the socio-economic conditions of the working people have continued to grow from bad to worse with no real hope of improvement in sight. According to the African Development Bank over 152 million Nigerians now live below $2$ per day. This figure refers to over 80% of last year's entire population of around 190 million Nigerians. Since December, 2017, fuel scarcity has been a major problem Nigerians have been grappling with in many cities and towns across the country. Marketers have taken advantage of the situation to make huge profit by jerking up pump price well above the official price. This is happening despite the removal of fuel subsidy in May 2016 which the government claimed would prevent scarcity. Meanwhile, workers in about 27 states are owed salary arrears that range from 5 to 15 months while negotiations for a new minimum wage continue to drag.
At a recent NEC meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on February 27, 2018, a chest-thumping President Muhammadu Buhari boasted that his government has "slowly and steadily managed to stabilize the country and redirect the ship of the state". To justify this claim, he gleefully listed what he considered impressive economic indices such as exit from recession, increase in foreign reserve, stabilization of naira and slowing down of inflation rate. Apparently trying to take a dig at Buhari, Bismarck Rewane a popular bourgeois economist, likened the celebration of Buhari to having "scored an own goal, equalized and then took credit for a draw" (Financial Times, London, February 27, 2018). In other words, to Rewane, Buhari is repairing the damage he himself inflicted.
Actually, this analogy is really specious. First, Buhari has not been able to repair the damage he inflicted on the working masses with his economic policies. Yes, there are some improvements in economic growth. But to the working masses this is like a hungry person watching a buffet on their television screen. The daily reality of the working people and the poor is the drastic erosion of their quality of life in the last three years of Buhari government including the rising rate of poverty and unemployment. Due to the private ownership of the means of production and exchange, the new economic growth cycle is only beneficial to the capitalist elite. This paradox reflects the contradiction of the capitalist mode production and income distribution.
Secondly, to bourgeois economists like Rewane and international organs of capitalism like the IMF and Financial Times, it was the initial hesitation of Buhari to unleash the policies of devaluation of naira and deregulation of fuel shortly on assumption office and what was considered as half-hearted way it was eventually done that damaged the economy. This is false. On the contrary, it was the implementation of the policies of devaluation and hike in fuel price by Buhari government, touted as solution or corrective measures, which actually worsened the impact of the global crisis of capitalism on workers and poor masses in Nigeria.
It was true that Buhari, apparently because of how he emerged as President seen with huge illusions by the masses, initially opposed the devaluation of naira but he did not have any alternative programme or measure to it. Although, mass pressure from below could have won at least a few, probably temporary, reforms from the government, the absence of a serious struggle meant that there was no challenge to Buhari's programme which kept within the confines of capitalism in a neo-colonial economy. So it was like doing nothing while economic crisis kept deteriorating as inflation was hitting a multiple year high and high unemployment was worsened by increasing job losses and collapse of businesses. But rather than ameliorating the problem the situation got worse with devaluation of naira by about 55 percent.
What has recently helped improve the economic indicators is not the economic policies of Buhari encapsulated in ERGP or any other set of measures advanced by any section of bourgeois economists and institutions like IMF but the rebound of prices of oil which accounts for over 95 percent of foreign earning and over 70 percent of the government revenue. So, it is not hurrah as any disruption in oil prices and production can set the economy back on tailspin. Already, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its February Oil Market Report has warned that global oil market could slip into deeper oversupply on the back of non-OPEC production. The main factor," the IEA said, "is US oil production. In just three months to November, crude output increased by a colossal 846 kb/d, and will soon overtake that of Saudi Arabia. By the end of this year, it might also overtake Russia to become the global leader." (Oilprice.com).
Besides, it cannot also be ruled out that there could be politically motivated disruption of oil production in the Niger Delta in the coming period. However, it seems that, at the moment, the political leaders in the region have realized that any stoppage of oil production disproportionally affects the state where it occurs more than the entire country not only in term of environmental destruction but also the share of oil income. This is because the 13 percent derivation benefitted by oil producing states is worked out on the basis of volume of oil produced in the respective states. In any case, if the government is able to secure peace in Niger Delta even beyond 2019 elections, it cannot control the volume of oil it can sell or the price of oil. Moreso new intra-class rivalry pre and post 2019 general elections can provoke restiveness and militancy in the Niger Delta region. In other words, the health of Nigerian economy at present, on the basis of capitalism, is largely beyond any measure of the government.
While Buhari government has apparently learnt from the failure of Jonathan administration by building an external buffer against oil price shock in form of foreign reserve that recently reached a 5-year high of $46bn, the logic of capitalism means that the burden of any deepening crisis in case of slump in oil prices will be disproportionately loaded on the shoulder of the poor masses. Already, even the current relatively high oil prices have proved to be a mixed grill of both blessing and curse with the masses sharing little or nothing from the former but bearing most of the latter. The failure of the successive capitalist governments to build adequate local refineries in observance of the doctrine of market fundamentalism means that high oil prices translate into high landing cost of imported fuel. Indeed, Nigeria, the world's 6th largest exporter of crude oil, has an unenviable status of the biggest importer of petrol in the world, according to the state oil company, NNPC.
The official cancellation of subsidy means that marketers have almost totally stopped importation because of high price leaving only the NNPC, which is opaquely subsidizing the product under the guise of under recovery, as the sole importer. This largely accounts for scarcity of petrol and for a period starting from December 2017 pump prices higher than the official price across the country with exception of Lagos. From all indications, it is the fear of a grievous backlash ahead of 2019 general elections that has held Buhari government down from officially increasing the price of petrol.
The misfortune of the poor masses in Nigeria is that whether oil prices are high or low they are in the soup. Whenever oil prices are high they pay higher for fuel, and whenever oil prices are low they pay higher for goods including petroleum products as a result of imported price inflation caused by illiquidity of the foreign exchange market. Similarly, when the prices were low, the Buhari government argued that it had to borrow to finance the budget because of low oil revenue and the failure of the previous administration to prepare for rainy day despite huge oil wealth.
Now that oil prices are relatively high and it is accordingly easy to borrow at the international market, the Buhari government is raking up foreign debt under the guise of trying to rebalance the domestic and foreign debt profiles. In other words, the foreign debt will be used to refinance part of domestic debt in order to change the ratio of foreign debt to domestic debt from 20:80 to 40:60 and thereby doubling the foreign debt portfolio. This, according to the Minister of Finance Kemi Adeosun, will help reduce the presence and influence of the government at the domestic debt market and force the banks to lend money to the real sector of the economy.
Thinking that any technical manoeuvring will force banks to lend money to small businesses and manufacturing is day dreaming. Banks on the basis of capitalism are not agents of development but in existence primarily for super profit. They will rather adjust to the new government debt arrangement and keep the unused fund in their vault knowing that the Central Bank will come to pay for them with lucrative interest under the guise of mopping up excess liquidity. In other words, the same government will pay for the money which banks have refused to lend businesses. No doubt, capitalism is a madhouse. This is why Socialists demand that banks have to be nationalised under the democratic control of workers and customers in order to ensure cheap credit and make them finance development. But this is only possible under a working people's government on a socialist programme.
In reality, the inevitable consequence of the new debt strategy of Buhari government is a journey back to external debt crisis that was eased off with the gifting of $12bn to the Paris Club in 2005. Already public indebtedness has jumped from N6.537tr in 2012 to N21.725tr as at the end of December 2017, representing over 150 per cent rise. Out of this the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are indebted to the tune of N7.33trillion. According to a new report, if the states were to commit all their combined IGR to the repayment, it will take them nothing less than seven years to clear the debt! (Daily Trust 2/4/2018). Specifically, within the current dispensation from 2015 to December 31 2017, the total debt stock has risen by about N9.122tr, that is from N12.603tr in 2015 to N21.725tr in 2017. At the time of the Paris club debt relief of 2005, Nigeria's external debt was $31 billion requiring payment of about $1billion for debt servicing. Even though Nigeria's debt is still within GDP threshold, yet the enormous amount needed annually to service it will be to the detriment of capital and recurrent expenditure.
As noted by the IMF in its report following the conclusion of its recent "2018 Article IV Consultations with Nigeria", the recovery is fragile (Guardian newspaper editorial, 27 March 2018). Any factor, both external and internal, could provoke a new crisis. Particularly, the hangover of the crisis in terms of public debt accumulation and non-performing loans in the banking sector can provoke another chain of reaction leading to a collapse.
It is in this connection that adequate attention ought to be paid to the banking sector. Alongside the brewing debt crisis and the continuous spending of millions of dollars weekly to stabilize the foreign exchange market, the banking sector appears to be showing signs of stress. Last year, the Global Rating Agency, Fitch, in its overview of the country's banking sector alleged that banks were underproviding for bad loans in order to avoid violation of the threshold for Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) as determined by the CBN. Meanwhile if they were to fully provide for the bad loans in the system, some of the banks may require re-capitalization due to their exposure. Likewise, Deposit Money Banks in the country borrowed the sum of N27.5tn from the Central Bank of Nigeria through the Standing Lending Facility window of the regulator during the first six months of 2017, the CBN Financial Market Department report has showed. This represents an increase of over 450 per cent over the N5tn the banks borrowed from the CBN in 2016.
Similarly, the Nigerian Stock Exchange has been on a free fall for some time now. In February 2018, equity capitalization on the stock exchange declined by 1.13% from N15.477trillion to N15.302 trillion. In the days following the Easter break, the Vanguard newspaper reported further losses to the tune of N39 billion in one trading day in the equity market with capitalization falling further from N14.759 trillion to N14.720 trillion – a 0.26 percent decline. In connection with this, the delay in passing the 2018 budget as a result of the row between the executive and legislature will likely have negative impact on growth forecast for 2018.
By and large, the capitalist economic philosophy of Buhari means that it is the masses, who were made to sweep up the mess in the period of slump in oil revenue, are benefitting little or nothing at the present when the economy has shown some signs of recovery. Yet, the intractable crisis of capitalist cycle of boom and bust means that the current relative recovery of the economy spurred by oil revenue may not last long. It is only socialist planning of the economy including nationalization of the commanding heights of economy such as oil and gas, banking industry, etc. under democratic management and control that will not only end the cycle of boom and bust but also ensure the needs of the vast majority form the basis of governance and production.
At the on-set of the administration, the Buhari government promised a set of Social Investment Programme (SIP) which includes a monthly Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) of N5, 000 each to one million vulnerable Nigerians, school feeding and a job creation scheme called N-Power Volunteers Corps. According to an online news site, Naij.com, N-Power will engage and train 500,000 young unemployed graduates. The SIP also includes a micro-credit scheme which would see about one million small scale traders, artisans and market women get a one-time soft loan of N60, 000 through the Bank of Industry.
So far, all these promised social reforms have proven to be far below the requirements of the social crises of capitalism. Just like Sure-P which was established by the previous PDP administration of President Jonathan, the SIP has had little or no impact either on the poverty level or the rate of youth unemployment. Rather it has succumbed to corruption and cheap propaganda by government as current probe by the Senate is beginning to reveal. Unemployment is at 14.2%, 67.1% live below poverty line, illiteracy is at record levels. Resolving any of these issues would require mobilization of the wealth and resources of the country a substantial part of which often ends up in the bank accounts of multinationals, big business and politicians. In order words, there is little prospect of banishing poverty, providing jobs and improving living standards without nationalizing the key levers of the economy under democratic control and management and a socialist plan.
The impotence of the SIP is graphically illustrated by the following media report at the beginning of this year: "On Jan. 1, Nigeria welcomed 20,210 babies and accounted for the third highest number on newborns on the first day of the New Year behind only India and China. That statistic has proven yet another reminder of the population boom in Africa's most populous country. Much of the current data suggests the population growth spurt isn't slowing down anytime soon. A UN report last year projected that, by 2050, Nigeria will become the world's third largest country by population and one of the six nations with a population of over 300 million. The country, which currently has a population of just under 200 million, will contribute a significant amount to the 1.3 billion people projected to be added to Africa's current population in the same time frame. Under some circumstances, a country's population could be cited as a strength but when, like in Nigeria's case, population growth outpaces public infrastructure and development by far, then it's a huge red flag" (Quartz Africa, January 5, 2018).
Consequently, "Nigeria's university system is sorely lacking in capacity as between 2010 and 2015, of the 10 million applicants to Nigerian tertiary institutions, only 26% gained admission. Around 10. 5 million children are out-of-school-the largest number globally. For those fortunate enough to get through the educational system, unemployment remains a pressing concern. The latest data from Nigeria's statistics bureau shows the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since the end of 2015. Seeking proverbial greener pastures, desperate Nigerians are braving terrible odds and risking a life in slavery or being trapped in a sex trafficking ring to travel to Europe via the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean. In 2016, with 37,500 of the 180,000 total arrivals, Nigeria accounted for the most illegal migrant arrivals in Italy by sea - but many also drown in transit. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of Nigerian women arrivals in Italy increased almost ten-fold. But many also die trying to cross by sea" (Ibid).
The quotes above show the terrible disaster awaiting the country. Roughly, 80 million people, 41 percent of Nigeria's population, are under the age of 15. Anything short of redirecting economy away from profit to providing free public education, health care, decent jobs for all and massive public housing projects will be insufficient to prevent this disaster. According to the nation's Statistician General, Nigeria needs to create 2 million jobs annually to be able to reverse the growing rate of unemployment (The Cable, 15 December, 2016). Meanwhile according to Oxfam International, the combined wealth of five of Nigeria's "richest citizens (Aliko Dangote; Mike Adenuga; Femi Otedola; Folorunsho Alakija, and Abdulsamad Rabiu), put at about $29.9bn, could end extreme poverty in the nation." (Punch, 18 May 2017). It is this kind of injustice in wealth distribution, a key feature of capitalism that is behind the enormous poverty and lack of opportunity for young people. By taking the wealth off the one percent through collective ownership of key sectors of the economy under public democratic control and management, it will be possible to provide free public education, health care, housing and jobs for all.
At the moment there are no fighting youth movement. But this will not continue to be the case. The insoluble crises of the rotten capitalist system as it bears terribly down on young people will soon let loose a torrent of indignation and explosive anger. Especially in the urban areas where the youth bulge is most concentrated, combative mass protests led by young people can break out. Such protests, which could initially be sporadic and violent, will be based on social issues like lack of jobs, education, poor housing, against incessant arrest and killings by police, inequality etc. But because most young people are unemployed and also due to suspicion of official leadership, these movements will most likely develop outside of the trade unions. The bureaucratic labour aristocracy does not appeal to young people because of their betrayals of struggle and their lack of a fighting strategy. But while sympathizing with their correct suspicion of the labour leadership, it is necessary for Marxists to explain that the youth movement can only succeed not just in winning one or two demands but in transforming society if it builds strong links with the labour movement on the basis of a collective fighting programme and an agenda to root out the bureaucracy and transform the unions into democratic and combative platforms of struggle that they ought to be.
Unless a movement fighting for young people is hurriedly built, absolute anarchy and disaster awaits. The social crises of capitalism are worsening at a frightening speed. Over the past few years, we have witnessed the menace of gangs and gang wars in the urban areas including Lagos. Young people aged between 12 and 21 roaming the streets in broad day light and in huge numbers of as much as 100 with the intent to loot markets, snatch mobile phones, rape women and cause absolute chaos. In Lagos, some of the gangs are called "Awawa boys" and "One million boys". In Ibadan, they are called "Indomie boys". Female gangs also exist in like matter. In other cities especially in the East, they come under different names but the pattern is the same. These are children from extremely poor homes lacking education and care and who can only survive by letting themselves loose on society. It is not accidental that the universal symbol of the Awawa boys is a 'tear-shaped" tattoo drawn at the outer edge of their eyes. At bottom therefore, the gang phenomenon is young people's cry at their neglect by the profit-first capitalist system.
Unless there is a clear programme to collectively fight back, we can see further development along this line with the gangs growing and solidifying to become armed criminal outfits controlling sale of drugs, kidnapping and robbery and unleashing territorial wars etc. Already, the terrible condition has led to a growing drug epidemic - the proverbial "science students". Young people increasingly lacking confidence in the future are turning to drugs to either turn off or get high.
Against the background of the worsening social crises, we can see also the phenomenon of riots breaking out involving hundreds and thousands of youth with looting, arson and absolute anarchy lasting days and laying waste to communities and cities. The immediate trigger could be a police killing of a young person which is now so frequent. This kind of riots can easily spread from streets to streets and even cities to cities, especially in the era of cable television and social media, fuelled by looting and a burning anger to get back at a society that has neglected them. This was the pattern of events in the 2011 riots in England and it is a scenario that can break out here unless we begin to build a powerful movement with a fighting programme to demand increased access to free and functional education, jobs for all, an unemployment benefit, public investment in the housing sector to build decent houses in communities, establishment of libraries, youth centres and sport facilities in communities, a halt to police attack and harassment of young people etc.
One of the cardinal campaign agenda points of the Buhari/All Progressive Congress (APC) is the fight against corruption, reduction of waste and profligacy. Indeed, Buhari was elected on the basis of his assumed integrity and anti-corruption credential. However, three years on, the anti-corruption war has unravelled with no major convictions and discordant tune about asset retrieval. Neither has corruption and cost of governance sufficiently reduced. In the 2017 budget and the 2018 appropriation act, several billions were budgeted for kitchen utensils, food stuffs, feeding and maintenance of the presidency. Senator Shehu Sani's recent revelation that Senators each receive a whopping sum of N13.5 million monthly as "running costs" on top of their N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances has shocked the public. But this is another indication that nothing has changed in the cost of governance despite the so-called anti-corruption war.
The fact that the anti-corruption fight has been largely limited to corrupt elements within the opposition PDP party or those perceived to be opponents of the presidency in the ruling party has further undermined the limited anti-corruption campaign. For instance, about a trillion naira purportedly released as bailout funds and Paris Club refund by federal government to state governments have largely been mismanaged, with workers and pensioners still being owed salaries and pensions. Yet, hardly is anyone being prosecuted for this. Worse still, the fact that the so-called corruption fight has not made any meaningful impact on the economic lives of the majority of the population has made the anti-corruption mantra uninspiring for the majority.
In many ways, Buhari's anti-corruption plays the same role as the anti-graft campaigns of previous regimes – as a populist measure to garner public acclaim and as a tool to beat back opposition. Occasionally, the regime waste no time in reminding Nigerians that the corruption and looting experienced for 16 years under PDP rule is responsible for the economic woes of the country. Paradoxically however, the bulk of the key leaders and power blocs in the ruling APC and members of Buhari's cabinet are former leaders of the PDP and were part and parcel of the 16 years of corruption and treasury looting that the ruling party continue to blame for the economic woes of the country. In connection with this, the anti-corruption fight is largely perceived as a proxy war to settle political scores. As a result, the dragging of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false declaration of assets succeeded in mobilizing the Senate and to an extent the House of Representatives against the presidency. This was because it was perceived as a move to punish Saraki for defying the APC in 2015 to contest for the leadership of the Senate.
In retaliation, the National Assembly responded by blocking the president nominees for top posts. The fate of the 2018 budget which has still not been passed is partly linked to this conflict. So also is the refusal by the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). 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. Currently, aside the Senate president Bukola Saraki, more than 20 other senators and some former governors, are facing various cases of corruption.
But the executive itself is as enmeshed in corruption as the National Assembly. The corruption cases against former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, Mainagate as well as the NHIS director are just a few of the symbolic cases that show the contradiction that Buhari's anti-corruption war is filled with. The weakness of the anti-corruption fight and its outrageously selective nature has given rise to cartoons and jokes in the public to the effect that membership of the ruling party automatically confers sainthood on any corrupt politicians. Now the public is being treated to rather ridiculous exchanges between the ruling APC and the PDP over which party has the most corrupt members. When the PDP apologized to Nigerians and asked for forgiveness for certain mistakes it committed while in power, the Buhari government replied that forgiveness was not enough but the PDP should ask its corrupt members to return all their loots to the treasury. In a masterful retort, the PDP listed a few names of its former members now in the ruling APC and Buhari's cabinet and ask those to lead the way in returning the PDP's loot. This comics only hides the disgust with which both parties are being viewed by increasingly disenchanted populace.
By and large, Buhari's anti-corruption war is a charade. Many of the regime's ardent supporters are disappointed by its utter failure to take decisive action. But against the background of the approaching 2019 general elections, nothing rules out the possibility of the regime carrying out some populist anti-corruption measures and actions like for instance prosecution of former President Jonathan. This could be massively applauded because many associate Jonathan's regime in particularly with unbridled corruption. Already the former's president wife has had her bank accounts frozen by the EFCC. But the political and economic costs of this step are also heavy. If the regime goes after Jonathan, it would risk the possibility of militancy returning to the Niger Delta and stalling oil-production in the creeks.
Ultimately, it is illusory to expect any wing of the capitalist political class to fight corruption genuinely, when the system they defend and their route to power are rooted in brazen and fundamental corruption. Socialists do not deny that real action against corruption could free resources to implement some reforms. We indeed call for the prosecution and imprisonment of any looter, as well as the recovery of stolen wealth, notwithstanding the selective nature of the anti-corruption fight which we call to be widened. We equally stand for independent probe panels made up of elected representatives of the labour movement and the people to fully and openly investigate graft and recommend appropriate punishment. But, while welcome, such actions would not solve the fundamental issues of development and corruption. Capitalism itself is corrupt. Only its overthrow can begin to halt the looting of the country. Together with this, Socialists stand for democratic control and involvement of elected workers' representatives in boards and other decision making bodies of parastatals, agencies, departments and workplaces in order to guard against corruption and nepotism.
The present N18, 000 National Minimum Wage is nothing compared to the present economic reality. More so when the wage structure is statutorily long overdue for review considering the fact that the present N18, 000 minimum wage came into being in 2011 with an expiry date of 2016, but is yet to be reviewed more than two years after expiration. Review negotiation ought to have begun in 2015 with implementation by January 2016 but the present government deliberately refused to do this.
Paradoxically, many state governments are still owing workers' salaries and pensions to retirees based on the poverty stricken minimum wage of N18, 000. However, most labour leaders at all levels have failed to fight to get what is legally owed to workers despite the preparedness of workers to struggle to end unpaid salary regime. Fuel was increased from N97 to N145, Naira devaluation from about N200 to N360 to one US dollar, high cost of food etc., have largely undermined the value of workers' wages while privileged top earners have been able to sustain their wasteful lifestyle.
The Buhari-led government, just like the previous pro-rich governments, has presided over a lopsided wage structure that is skewed against the labouring masses and in favour of the privileged few. How would one explain the fact that top political office holders earn jumbo salaries and allowances in tens of millions of Naira on a monthly basis while workers are subjected to N18, 000 minimum wage structure - this is the height of inequality? Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that nearly 10 years ago, in December 2008, the NLC demanded a minimum wage of N52, 200 but since then has not lifted finger to win that figure.
Due to largely backdoor pressure from the trade union leadership and the approach of the 2019 elections, the Buhari-led government belatedly set up a minimum wage committee in December 2017 comprising representatives of government, businesses and labour. Unfortunately, the current negotiation committee is not fundamentally different from the one that gave birth to the 2011 N18, 000 minimum wage and so, if we are to see an improvement, it is going to be a small one. Now the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress have demanded a N66, 000 minimum wage while United Labour Congress demands a N90, 000 minimum wage but, so far, all the labour platforms have never attempted to translate this into reality by struggling for it. The labour leaders do not do much to pressure government beyond mere statements. Since the labour leaders could not forge a united front in the struggle for an improved minimum wage, government cashed in on it and used it to its own advantage.
As a result of the weakness of the labour movement, the minimum wage negotiation can be deliberately frustrated by government and private sector representatives. But also for political reasons (primarily because of the 2019 general elections), it should not be surprising if the government approves a higher minimum wage. After all, this is what Jonathan did in 2011. Already the Minister of Labour has been making loud noises in the media that this will happen latest September 2018. But this will not be with the intention of truly improving workers' conditions. As soon as the elections are over, then workers should expect the ruling elite and employers to renege on paying the full value of the new wage the same way they have largely done for the N18, 000 minimum wage. This is therefore the more reason why the trade union leaders should unite and mobilize workers and the general public on sustained mass actions (rallies, picketing, strike protests etc.) to pressure government and the private sector to review the minimum wage upwards to N56, 000 without any further delay or retrenchment.
Paradoxically, the new but still fragile shoot of economic growth while giving the government an opportunity to burnish its image could also become the harbinger of mass struggle. This is because with the growth, the masses would not be ready to accept the old excuse that the economy is bad and that is why the state cannot pay salaries etc. Now the masses would want to ask that the economic growth begins to be reflected in their living standards and that could pose a problem for the ruling elite as well as the pro-capitalist labour leaders.
Already we have seen important movement and strikes in the education sector – academic and non-academic staff unions in the public universities (ASUU, SSANU, NASU and NAAT) have organized strikes in the last one year over issues of funding and members emoluments. Public teachers in Kaduna state were on strike for weeks last year after over 20, 000 were sacked by the state government for allegedly failing an assessment tests. In the aviation sector, there is an on-going campaign against airport concessioning.
Also students have held important struggles in the past one year mostly against repression e.g. victimization of students and staff activists, proscription of unions etc. At the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), 5 students' leaders were held in detention for a week after protesting against management policy of forceful eviction of students from hostels. It took immediate protests at the court hearing and social media campaign before they were released after meeting the onerous bail conditions. Uptill now, three students' activists in the University, including DSM member and ERC national secretary, Omole Ibukun, are still on suspension. Before then at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), several students' union leaders were rusticated and it took an immediate lecture boycott and protest of students before the authorities backtracked.
The working class especially those organised in trade unions have a powerful tradition of struggle but unfortunately they are being blocked by the bureaucratic and pro-capitalist trade union leadership. Except occasional press statements, the leadership of the main trade union centres – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – are not prepared to mount a decisive challenge to anti-poor capitalist economic policies. This is in spite of the attacks on the working conditions in the workplace and anti-poor policies of fuel price hike etc. The continuation of mass unemployment, semi-employment and casual work pose an enormous challenge to Labour, without a conscious drive to win this layer, especially the youth, to its side then there is the danger of the ruling class attempting to use such elements against Labour.
The recent split in the ranks of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) following its delegate conference in 2015 which has now led to the formation of a new labour centre – the United Labour Congress (ULC) is a symptom of the growing crisis in the labour movement. The bureaucracy in the trade unions have become largely unaccountable to the members and they largely sustain their power and influence through state backing and by running the unions like mafias. The 2015 NLC delegate conference which witnessed all kinds of malpractices, saw a conflict break out between two wings of the bureaucracy led by Ayuba Wabba and Joe Ajaero over the question of who would lead the NLC until 2019. In the aftermath of the conflict and following the failure of appeasement by labour veterans, a new centre emerged called the ULC and led by Joe Ajaero. The ULC is made up of a number of private sector unions including those in the banking sector, oil and gas. But so far, and aside from posturing and using it as bargaining chip, there is little to show that the new centre can serve as a fighting platform for the long suffering working masses.
Unfortunately the May 2016 general strike called by the trade union federations (NLC and TUC) against increase in the price of petrol failed miserably as a result of the lack of serious mobilization by the trade union leaders. The trade union leaders thought that they could turn working class struggle on and off like a tap. But this is not the case. This strike, the 10th general strike call since 2000, was the first to fail to mobilize serious support, something that reflected both lack of mobilization and a serious strategy to win its demands. However, at the same time, the ULC then played a strike breaking role. It entered into the Federal government palliative committee set up supposedly to initiate programmes to cushion the effect of the fuel price hike. Two years after, there is no evidence of any palliative. However recently, and dictated by the logic of its own position, the ULC has embarked on activities to unionize and also challenge anti-labour practices.
But notwithstanding this and regardless of whatever claim of Joe Ajaero to a certain radical or left wing background, the current division in the labour movement is not a rightwing versus leftwing conflict. It is a conflict over the interest of either wings of the bureaucracy for control of the leadership of the NLC. Consequently, our attitude in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) towards the split is not to lean towards either of the bureaucracies but instead to be prepared to join forces with any of them that is prepared to struggle in the defense of the socio-economic rights of the working people while retaining our freedom of comradely criticism of the policies and strategies of the leadership. Together with this, we canvass for united struggle of the labour centres on issues of minimum wage, casualization, and against all anti-poor policies. Rank and file workers and activists in the trade union centres must maintain fraternal solidarity with each other and campaign for united action of the class at all times regardless of the division within the bureaucracy. In this regard, we salute efforts to see to the organizing of a joint May Day this year by the NLC, TUC and the ULC.
Regardless of the hold of the bureaucracy on the movement, this cannot last. When the masses are ready to move, the leadership of the trade union movement will face severe test. It is possible that action will initially develop from below, as it did to a certain extent in the 2012 general strike. The union leaders will at first try to demobilize the movement but when faced with the risk of being thrown aside, they will attempt to lead the movement so as not to lose face and also to be in a position to manage the movement and ultimately betray it.
Ultimately the crises in the labour movement cannot be resolved by the bureaucracy. Only the rank and file, politically conscious of its class interest, organized and mobilized can retake control of the union from the clutches of the labour aristocracy and transform it into democratic platform for the defence of members' interests through regular elections of officials, no privileges, workers' leaders on workers' pay, a trade union movement accountable to members etc.
Ethno-religious relation is rapidly deteriorating under the Buhari APC administration. The rapid manner different and assorted conflicts are occurring across several parts of the country in quick succession is phenomenal. It is a symptom of a society at the verge of bursting at the seam. Just in the last three years, the Buhari government which met a fiery Boko Haram insurgency has been confronted by new conflicts like the massacre of Shiites, IPOB and Biafra agitation, herdsmen versus farmers' conflicts and killings by militias and armed gang.
While the government claims to have "technically" defeated Boko Haram, the recent Dapchi abduction shows that the insurgency is far from over even if the insurgents are weakened. But at this stage of the insurgency, it cannot be entirely ruled out that some "solution" can be found leading an end to armed hostilities. In 2009, the late Yar' Adua PDP government granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants ending several years of militancy in the oil-rich region. This involved buying off militant leaders with juicy deals and contracts and placing the rank and file on monthly salary and opportunities for oversea study. But so long the parlous socio-economic situation in the North East remain the same then it is only a matter of time before violence breaks out again, just as in the case of Niger Delta situation with emergence of the Avengers.
At the moment, the hottest and bloodiest aspect of the national question is the herdsmen and farmers conflict. This conflict has left a trail of bodies, destruction and anxiety across communities in the North Central and North West zones of the country. In clear and unmistakable terms, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns the killings. We reject the attempts by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBA), Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore and other characters who claim to speak for Fulani herdsmen to justify the Benue killings.
At the same time, attacks by farming communities, including reprisals, in which ordinary Fulani people, herdsmen and their livestock have been targeted stands equally condemnable. While communities under attack have the right to defend themselves, with arms if necessary, by forming democratic defence committees, Socialists strongly condemn such reprisal attacks like the lynching of seven random Fulani men at a bus park in Benue State. Such methods that target all members of an ethnic group for crimes committed by a few will only convert what is clearly a dispute between crop farming and herdsmen communities into an ethno-religious crisis. The DSM believes that elements who foment trouble or engage in violence are often a minority of any community. Therefore we condemn those who seek to promote ethnic tension by tarring all Fulani people, whether settled or pastoralist, with the same brush.
In the meantime we call for joint, multi-ethnic and multi-religious defence committees comprising farmers and pastoralists and armed if necessary to defend their communities, people, farmlands/farm produce and cattle against attacks. This is not the same as the call by former Chief of Army Staff and defence minister TY Danjuma on people to defend themselves. In making his call Danjuma automatically believes that the pastoralists are the enemies whom the middle belt farmers should defend themselves against. This ethnic approach is not our method. Our approach is to build maximum unity among working class and peasant elements on both sides for the purpose of finding common solution to this conflict which has been forced on them by the contradictions in the rotten capitalist system. Only an independent class approach that aims to bring together farmers and pastoralist communities to discuss and democratically fashion out a solution, alongside with a programme to modernize agriculture linked with a socialist plan of the economy and society can bring an end to the crisis.
The herdsmen and farmers conflict is clearly a struggle for survival and economic sustenance by farmers and pastoralists. It is payment for decades of lack of plan for rational use of natural resource. Furthermore, it also reflects the limitation placed on capitalist development in a neo-colonial country like Nigeria by imperialism. It is not an accident that, 57 years after independence, agriculture just like other key sectors of the economy has remained largely underdeveloped. In both crop farming and cattle breeding, agriculture retains all its feudal and pre-capitalist features with antiquated tools and practices predominating. The ancient method of cattle rearing is therefore to animal husbandry what bush fallow, crop rotation, the hoe and cutlass are to mechanized crop farming. Both are antiquated farming practices which ought to have been replaced by modern methods which would allow for better utilization of farmlands and livestock, development of agricultural value chain, more revenue for society and improvement in the conditions of farmers and pastoralists.
In particular, the continuation of cattle herding despite all of the advantages of ranching shows the short-sighted and backward character of the neo-colonial capitalist elite some of whom possess large herds of cattle. While we agree with the proposal to establish grazing reserves within an agreed period of time, our stand on modernization of agriculture is not negotiable. This therefore means that whatever grazing routes/reserves are established subject to agreement with farming communities must be temporary measures to prepare for the take-off of a new period when ranching would replace herding as the predominant method of animal husbandry. Without ranching, any steps taken to resolve the crisis will only bring temporary relief. The government has to step in to establish public ranches for use by cattle breeders in exchange for a fee. Also dairy farms and other associated industries must be established in order to take livestock farming to a whole new level which can bring in more public revenue and better conditions for herdsmen. This must be combined with cheap credits and other support for poor cattle breeders. The same step must be taken by establishing big farming estates to drive crop production alongside with a program to support poor farmers with cheap credit, tractors, fertilizers and other modern equipment.
But none of these measures can be truly implemented or sustained so long as capitalism exists. Under the pressure of the world market it is not possible to really industrialise Nigeria and modernize agriculture. However even if these are done, the incursion of pastoralists from other African countries who are equally under pressure of climactic changes, will continue to threaten whatever progress is being made in a single country. No matter the measures taken to tighten border controls, they will continue to come just as border controls have not stopped human migration from Africa and troubled spots to Europe.
Therefore the permanent solution to end farmers and pastoralist conflict require the coming to power both in Nigeria and Africa of workers and poor people's governments based on mass movements and armed with socialist programmes of collective ownership of agriculture and other key sectors of the economy under working people's control and management. Such a government in Nigeria would set an example to follow in other African countries, thereby laying the basis for cooperation among African working people to find ways to curb seasonal migrations of cattle through public investment and modernization of agriculture linked with socialist plan of the economy across the continent.
True to type, the default response of the Buhari government to any ethnic or religious agitation is brutal repression. Indeed, there is a growing militarisation of the country featuring different operations and roadblocks in many parts, while the "civil" role of the armed forces is being publicised. It cannot be ruled out that the government may unleash military and police repression down on activists and political opponents as the 2019 elections approach.
It is against this background that the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra has been repressed as well as the brutal clampdown on members of a Shiite group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the arrest and detention of their spiritual leader, El-Zakzaky since 2015 after a clash with the convoy of the Chief of Army staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai. While the Shiites are a small Muslim group in Nigeria, they have close links with Iran. Their travail in the hands of a government led by Buhari, a Sunni Muslim, can easily lead to radicalisation of the sect, following a similar trajectory as Boko Haram, and the development of a fighting militia with support and funding from Iran of course.
In the Eastern part of the country, since the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu after a military raid on his family compound, the agitation for a Sovereign State of Biafra abated while some IPOB members are on trial. But this in no way should be interpreted that the agitation has disappeared. Definitely, both around the 2019 general elections and after, this agitation will once again rear its head. The agitation, based on familiar themes of neglect and marginalisation, is fuelled at bottom by the social crises in the East characterised by unemployment and declining opportunities in the trading sector as a result of economic crises. This is what has given the agitation the character of a mass movement that it has. At the top are members of the Igbo ruling elite who hope to utilise the agitation to negotiate a bigger share of the national cake. The manner of Nnamdi Kanu's disappearance itself suggests the connivance of top echelons of the Igbo ruling elite who clearly were initially behind the agitation but only began to fret when the movement appeared to be moving beyond their framework. Also top in their calculations was the 2019 general elections and the need to keep the East united behind the ruling APC. But this may prove unachievable given the current political situation. The failure of the Buhari government, the repression of IPOB and the deep-seated fear of domination by Hausa-Fulani could make the East not easily winnable by the APC and particularly by president Buhari except via massive rigging.
While not at this stage calling for a separate state, nonetheless the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) recognizes the right of Igbo people to self-determination. However we warn that separation is no automatic solution. The root cause of the crisis of underdevelopment and mass poverty bedevilling Nigeria is the inequitable capitalist system and only its overthrow and replacement by a workers and poor government armed with socialist policies can provide a solution.
Once again, especially as intra-class rivalry within the ruling elite intensifies, there are strident calls for restructuring. In the wisdom of a section of the bourgeoisie, a return to the regional system of government or a reworking of the political system to take more power from the centre to the states will automatically resolve the crises of poverty and underdevelopment bedevilling Nigeria. The Buhari government has responded with its characteristic nonchalance or outright rejection of the calls for restructuring. First Buhari claimed not to have read the report of the 2014 National Conference set up by former President Jonathan since he has no interest in implementing it. But this derisive response to the calls for restructuring is itself contradictory. The call for restructuring or "true federalism" used to be an idea and slogan that the "progressive" wing of the bourgeoisie who coalesced to form the APC was associated with. In fact "true federalism" was part of the electoral programmes under which Buhari ran for and won the presidency in 2015! Apparently realizing this gaffe, the ruling party in order to save face quickly formed a committee headed by Kaduna state governor, El-Rufai, to draw up the party's programme for restructuring.
The attitude of the Buhari government clearly shows it has no interest to even make attempts, even if symbolic, to redress the structural crisis in the political system. But even if it tries to, the reality is that no measure can ever make the rotten political system to work fairly. Previous efforts, including state creation, have only created new contradictions. For instance, just as too much power and resources are concentrated at the federal level it is the same way within the states, where state governments dominate the local governments, take their funds from them and completely deny them of their lawful independence and functions in violation of the constitution. Similarly, while Socialists demands that the police be put under the democratic control of communities, in the hands of the corrupt capitalist ruling elite, state police forces would become armed thugs to terrorize opposition, labour and students movement. Already we have seen how elections conducted by state electoral bodies are massively rigged in favour of the ruling parties. Socialists are not opposed to autonomy for states in a federation. However, we say this cannot provide a solution so far the capitalist system and the decadent political system is maintained.
The build up to the 2019 elections has begun with furious infighting and realignment amongst the ruling elite. Rivals are fighting and manoeuvring to gain personal advantage and to try to contain the growing popular disappointment with Buhari and anger at the conditions working people face across the country.
But there is a brewing dispute over the order of the elections as the National Assembly is proposing that the other elections come before the presidential election, which the ruling APC is obviously opposed to fearing that it might undermine the chances of President Buhari. All this however is part of the intra-class political manoeuvring by the bourgeois political parties and have nothing to do with protecting the interest of the masses at the polls.
The on-going theatrics around the 2019 general election was actually launched on the January 20, 2018 when some APC governors called on President Buhari to contest for a second term while the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amechi was appointed as the director-general of the campaign. Barely three days after, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote an open letter to President Buhari advising him to quit after one term. The former President Obasanjo accused President Buhari of nepotism and mismanaging the economy in his letter after which he launched a new political contraption called Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM).
It must be stated that much earlier before all of these developments began to unfold, the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, had also taken a decision to defect back to the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP). Few weeks after the defection of Atiku to PDP, reports had it that there was a growing division within the PDP over its choice of presidential candidate for the 2019 general election leading to yet another round of calculations.
Going by this background, it is obvious that the growing division among the capitalist ruling elite has become so irreconcilable. The internal crises in the APC which most likely would lead to the sacrificing of Party chairman Oyegun by May when congresses are held is symptomatic of the division. So also is the inability of the PDP to serve as a credible alternative. In fact despite mass disappointment in the ruling APC, many still view the PDP with justified disgust and indignation.
Underlying this division is their inability to agree on a credible political representation for their capitalist system of exploitation and its basically neo-liberal policies which they hope to continue to force through the throat of the Nigeria working people after the 2019 general elections. The need for a new political representation for their system is actually informed by the growing mass discontent among different layers of working people across the country over the continuous failure of the Buhari-led government to resolve the fundamental problems of the working people.
The Buhari regime's approval rating slumped to 45% in December 2017, from a high of 80% in October 2015. What this implies is that the political credibility needed by Buhari/APC regime to continue to preside over the capitalist system of exploitation and the fundamentally neo-liberal agenda of the local ruling elite and their imperialist masters has suffered a huge decline. Meanwhile, the ruling classes are conscious of the fact that without such credibility it will be difficult to sustain the implementation of the anti-poor policies and orientation of the government after 2019 general election without a massive resistance from the working people.
Previous working peoples' struggles have clearly showed that Nigeria has a powerful working class movement, and an army of young people who are ready to struggle but are being held back by the compromising labour leaders. If this force is unleashed under a leadership armed with socialist ideas and commitment to peoples' ownership of the commanding sectors of the economy, not only could Buhari's fate hang in the balance but that of all ruling elite contenders for power. All the cries by elements within the thieving ruling elites like General Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida for Buhari not to run are thus aimed to again deceive the masses by carrying out so-called 'change' at the top in order to prevent mass revolution from consuming the entire ruling capitalist elite. The masses must not to be deceived. It is also in the light of this crisis of absence of alternative political representation being faced by the capitalist, that explains why some governors, ministers, law makers and contractors whose political fate and present political survival are bound to Buhari's decision to contest for the second term continue to prevail on him to go for second term.
Unlike Jonathan in 2015, there still exists a prospect for Buhari's re-election in 2019 (that is if he does not succumb to pressure not to run on account of his age and health) despite the decline in his support base. Buhari hails from the hugely-populated North where he has a significant support base with huge existence of ethno-religious bias, in addition to his cult-hero status in Northwest and Northeast that has potential to attract big votes in his favour. Also the "success" of the government in fight against Boko Haram will equally count in its favour. Furthermore, unlike under Jonathan, the growing disenchantment in Buhari has not yet translated into a mass illusion in any other member of the capitalist ruling elite.
But it is not all certain that the North will act in unison as it did in 2015. Just in March, about 18 Northern groups including the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders Forum at a summit in Kaduna issued a communique in which they passed a vote of no confidence on Buhari and other Northern politicians. They declared: "No northern politician should expect to be voted for in the next general elections unless they demonstrate a willingness to champion a massive assault on poverty and underdevelopment in the North" (Vanguard newspaper, March 25 2018). Even though the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has distanced itself from the communique, yet this shows the deep division that exists.
Adding to the uncertainty over a united Northern vote for Buhari is the herdsmen versus farmers' conflict and the anger at how the Buhari government has handled it. Buhari's candidacy may face a lot of opposition in some North Central states and we cannot rule out Governor Ortom of Benue state defecting from the ruling party. It is equally possible that other Northern candidates like Atiku could benefit from this situation by garnering the Northern vote in these areas.
Moreso on the three occasions Buhari contested for presidency prior to 2015, the Northern vote was not enough to procure victory for him. It required the formation of the APC which brought together Buhari's CPC alongside his Northern stronghold, Tinubu's ACN with his control of the South West vote, the ANPP, a faction of APGA and another faction of aggrieved PDP members etc. for victory to be possible in 2015. This might be the reason for the on-going feverish realignment within the ruling party which has seen Buhari publicly oppose party chairman Oyegun's tenure elongation bid thus infuriating his diehard loyalists who rightly consider this move as pandering towards Tinubu. But Tinubu still has control of a massive political machine and a vast war chest.
But whether President Buhari seeks a re-election or not, the 2019 general election might still suffer from apathy by many working people who may decide to boycott the election owing to the level of their distrust in the entire ruling class. Even in 2015, according to INEC's official figures, only a minority of registered voters, 43.65%, bothered to vote. A further sign of this questioning of elections is that there are still 7.9 million people who registered before the 2015 general elections who have not yet claimed their permanent voters' cards (PVCs).
It is however not ruled out that attempt to vote out the different sections of the ruling classes could lead to some young people showing interest in the polls. In this connection, a number of new faces and young elements have thrown their hat into the ring. Notable is Sowore of Sahara Reporters who has announced his presidential ambition. Sowore has attracted a growing interest especially among young people who have become deeply disenchanted with both APC and PDP and don't share any hope in the "third force" contraptions of Obasanjo and other members of thieving ruling elite, but are rather looking for a better alternative. Therefore, despite the weaknesses in terms of programme and perspective, the contest of Sowore and other fresh elements in the 2019 general elections, is symptomatic of the new radicalization and awakening which we cannot ignore. We should have a sympathetic and critical attitude towards this new development and be prepared to have as many friendly discussions as much as possible without compromising our core ideas. The reality of course is that in the absence of a working class political party like SPN coming into power, the 2019 general election will as usual end up producing a government whose objective will be to continue to force down the throat of the masses, anti-poor, neo-liberal policies, while safeguarding the interests of big business.
More anti-poor policies await the working masses should this happen. Electricity tariff will be hiked again and its implementation will be forced on the people. Fuel price hike/full deregulation will continue to be on the agenda and even if new minimum wage is approved before the election its implementation will never be respected as backlog of salary arrears will never end up being settled. Surely, these attacks will meet mass resistance, as the labour leadership may be compelled to lead mass struggle. The masses, having exhausted all 'peaceful' means may move to the arena of struggle. But without clear measures to fight back against these anti-masses policies by the labour leaderships there could be the danger of further slide into ethnic or religious violence or conflict, something which could be encouraged by the rival sections of the ruling elites.
In the absence of the leadership of the traditional labour organisations playing this historical role, the Socialist Party of Nigeria, SPN, a left political alternative formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in alliance with workers and youth activists, which was later registered by INEC after a three and a half years legal and political battle, could become a rallying point for the mass of the working people.
The 2019 general elections will no doubt offer an opportunity for socialists and students, youth and labour activist to campaign and win support for a programme of free education, free health, payment of living wage, job creation, reversal of all anti-poor policies and collective ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and its democratic control. This is unlike 2015 when there was no such opportunity for the advancement of a left political alternative.
Although, the current political strength of SPN may not be sufficient at the present time to stop Obasanjo and other characters in the ruling class from again imposing either Buhari or another effigy come 2019, however, given the yearning for fresh ideas and alternative, it is potentially possible for the SPN to win a few seats at Local Government and Houses of Assembly levels. What is required is for the party to concentrate its small force and mobilise popular support in areas of significant presence and where victory is secured, use the opportunity to demonstrate what the party can do in power.
The SPN's impact could be far greater if the trade unions and other popular organisations joined in its work to build a working peoples' alternative. Unfortunately some trade union leaders look to follow Adams Oshiomhole's example of pursuing a political career in a capitalist party. Some simply support so-called "workers' friendly" capitalist politicians without seriously examining what they doing. Others talk about "taking back" the Labour Party without drawing any lessons from its degeneration or putting forward any coherent programme. At the recent NLC 40th anniversary celebration its president, Ayuba Wabba, spoke abstractly about "the need for the working class to wrest power from the current political elites through the Labour Party" (Business Day, February 26, 2018), but the NLC leaders have done nothing seriously to put such radical words into practice. However it cannot be ruled out that some union leaders may try to use the Labour Party banner both in attempt to cut across genuine moves towards a working peoples' party and also to have a bargaining chip to use with in negotiations with capitalist politicians.
The Labour Party's failure is a central reason why the SPN was formed and is attempting to take steps towards building a working peoples' party independent from the parties of the elite. Even in a situation where the SPN did not win any seats next year, its involvement in the coming election alone will help to popularize the fact that there exists a better but alternative way through which society can be organised for the benefit of all against the prevailing situation whereby the profit interests of the few members of the capitalist class determine the basis of running the society. It will also provide an avenue for activists who are enthusiastic about transforming society to gain useful experience and build their confidence which will be vital in terms of co-ordination, mobilisation and organization of the mass of people during struggles that would inevitably break out in the period that will follow the 2019 elections regardless of who wins.
On the whole, the perspective for Nigeria in the next period is one of mass struggle and turmoil. On the one hand, there will be enormous opportunity for mass struggle to develop and the ideas of socialism to get to a mass audience. But also on the other hand is the ever-present danger of Nigeria regressing into ethno-religious conflagration of immense proportion. The only way to avoid the looming danger is for the working class and its organizations to draw up a fighting programme to begin to resist all anti-poor policies and also a mass workers political alternative to take political power. No doubt, the work of the DSM and also of the SPN will be crucial in the events that will take place in the coming period. This is why the most important task is to prepare our forces ideologically and politically for the stormy period that is opening up.