Today 29 May, 2015 is historic in Nigeria being the first time an elected opposition takes over the mantle of government. The high expectation among the large layers of the populace from the new government of Muhammadu Buhari is palpable. Many people could not wait to see the back of Goodluck Jonathan government who proved to be a monumental failure, something that was excruciatingly manifested with an unprecedented total shutdown of the country in the last weeks of his outgoing government.
It is clear that many people hope for improvements from Buhari as a result of his anti-corruption image, something which is a rarity among the capitalist ruling elite in Nigeria. This is because many people have come to the conclusion that it is corruption that has made it impossible for successive governments to use the colossal wealth of the country, especially the huge revenue from the sales of crude oil, to guarantee a decent life for the majority of Nigerians. For instance, while Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy, it also has the biggest number of people living in poverty, something that has worsened under Jonathan.
Corruption is rooted in capitalism
It should be stressed that while it is possible for Buhari to make scapegoats out of a few corrupt individuals in high places, it should be noted that it is the iniquitous capitalist system, especially the neo-liberal economic paradigm which Buhari government from all indications will subscribe to, that provides the enabling conditions for corruption. Now, unlike when Buhari previously was in government, the grip of capitalism and imperialism over the world economy is much tighter. The result is that the capitalist ruling elite, especially in a resource rich neo-colonial country like Nigeria, largely exist to loot public resources. When they do invest, Nigerian capitalists concentrate on speculative developments or on products like foodstuffs and building materials which face only limited international competition. In truth Nigeria’s rulers do not invest in the country’s broader development, after all they have powerful generators and fly out of the country when they need medical treatment.
But the richness of Nigeria’s resources means that there is something to steal. So the top government functionaries allocate jumbo pay and expenses to themselves. For the capitalist ruling elite and top state officials the business of government is a big racket for their self-serving interests. Thus, if as against the principle of cuts in social spending, government votes money purportedly for public projects or interests, it is just to create another avenue for looting. This explains that while over $20bn has been spent on power in the last 16 years, the electricity situation has even gone worse. This also accounts for the monumental fraud that is associated with oil subsidies. But Nigerians should be warned that many of those who are today demanding privatization and de-regulation as a way to end corruption and waste are only aiming to open up new doors to enrich themselves. We have already seen that in the way in which the failures of the state owned NEPA and PHCN power companies were used to justify turning electricity over to the profiteers.
It should be noted that we of the Socialist Party of Nigeria support all the efforts to bring to book any corrupt individual. We indeed demand that the corrupt must be made to lose to the government the proceeds of their corrupt practices. We however hold that without measures that make corruption difficult such as subjecting affairs, spending and public projects to real democratic control by the working people, there can hardly be judicious spending of public resources. By democratic control, we mean that for the power sector for instance, its running and spending must be subject to a control by elected representatives of workers, consumers and relevant professionals who themselves are subject to recall by their voters. We, however, hold that such measures are hardly possible under a capitalist government.
This is why we of the SPN hold that the struggle and demand against corruption must be linked with the need for a mass working people’s political alternative to wrest power from the parasitic, corrupt capitalist ruling elites of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. This is with a view to forming a working peoples’ government run on a genuine socialist programme and thereby end anti-poor, corruption-prone neo-liberal capitalist economic programmes. This is the only way real change can be achieved, and not by the mere mantra of change by Buhari and All Progressives Congress (APC).
Prepare to Struggle
We call on working people and youth to prepare to struggle if they desire improvement in their conditions and economy under the new government. Action by the working masses is the only way to win change and then to keep any improvements that have been won.
It is unfortunate that many Labour movement leaders do not appear to be ready to confront Buhari, at least in the immediate period, with bold demands to immediately improve the lives of working people and the poor. Instead they share and indeed promote mass illusions that the new President will do something when already before the handover, Buhari and his supporters were warning, in the recent words of the APC National Chairman Oyegun, that “the days ahead will be tough”. While some small immediate measures on issues like salary arrears may be announced, the likelihood is that Buhari will use the mess Johnathan has left behind as an excuse to both delay and also to take steps towards de-regulation and privatization. But it is not the working people of Nigeria who have created this crisis and we should not bear extra burdens, this is why it is necessary that the labour leadership must mobilise support to confront the new government with some immediate demands and be prepared to struggle for their realisation.
For instance, struggles have broken out in communities against poor electricity supply and exploitation by private electricity firms and also in many states, controlled by both APC and PDP, against unpaid salaries of workers for many months. Many community people, having lived in darkness for several weeks and being asked to pay for a service not delivered, are coming to the conclusion that electricity privatization is a failure and calling on the new government take back the power sector. We call on Labour to support the growing popular demand for “NO LIGHT; NO PAYMENT” and for a serious electrification plan based upon the renationalization of the power sector, which in addition must be placed under democratic control of workers and consumers.
Labour must also insist that the Buhari government resolve the unpaid salaries. It is a liability that the new government has to bear. This is more so the case given that it is most likely that at least part of the money that should been paid to workers was diverted to Buhari’s campaign and other candidates of his party. For instance, Rauf Aregbesola, APC Osun State Governor, who has not paid workers’ salaries since November 2014 was the Southwest Coordinator of Buhari Presidential Campaign. With workers already on strike in some states, the Labour movement, meaning both NLC union factions and the TUC, must act urgently to unify and extend the urgent struggle to secure unpaid salaries across the entire nation.
The Labour leadership must also not allow the love fest with Buhari to make them deny workers better pay. In other words, they must demand a new national minimum wage as the current one has been rendered untenable by high inflation and costs of living, worsened by the devaluation of the naira currency. However, besides the economic realities, the current minimum wage is already legally due for a review. Back in December 2008 the NLC demanded a N52,200 (US$ 265) monthly minimum wage, now at this year’s May Day Joe Ajaero, leader of one of the NLC factions, called for N90,000 (US$455). Given that the N18,000 (US$90) minimum put into law over 4 years ago is still not being paid everywhere, to achieve a higher rate needs not just a new law, but a determined drive by Labour to fully implement it without workers losing their jobs.
It is also imperative that the working people are not swayed by any argument to allow a hike in fuel prices. While it is true that the so-called oil subsidy is fraught with monumental fraud, the poor and working people must not be made to pay for the failure and fraud of the capitalist ruling elite in government. The working people must demand effective repair of old refineries and building of new ones as well as placing them under the democratic control of workers and relevant professionals. Indeed, the recent strike by oil marketers over a fraudulent subsidy claim which almost totally shut down the economy and the country has further underscored the imperative of public ownership of the oil industry as it is too central and critical to be left to the whims of a few profit vampires. However, while the bosses’ strike has been called off, fuel is still being sold for as high as N150 a litre. The Labour leadership must demand that the government enforce the official price of N87.
By and large, notwithstanding the honesty attributed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the capitalist neo-liberal program that will largely drive his government means that it will require struggles of workers, youth and community people before any meaningful improvement is achieved in education, health care, electricity, infrastructure, living conditions, jobs etc. This is especially in the face of austerity measures brought on by a decline in oil revenue which the new government may impose on the working people and poor. Given Buhari’s record when he was military ruler in the 1980s, Labour and activist organisations will have to be on guard to defend democratic rights in case they come under attack. We of the SPN shall join with workers and the poor in their struggles for improvement and against attacks and continue to argue for the formation of a mass working people’s party by the broad Labour movement. We call on workers, youth and community people to join us to build a force of resistance and a working people’s political alternative.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) and other activists and is currently pursuing a legal case in Nigeria’s Federal Courts to win registration so it can stand in elections.