Nigeria: Three years of civil rule – Which way for the masses?

In a few weeks time, it will be three years since the military were forced out of power. Looking back, it has been a period of pains and pangs for most layers of the working masses. The period has been dominated mostly by infernal socio-religious strife and violent wars. Crime has assumed a more widespread and horrendous dimension.

 

Article from Socialist Democracy, the paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (Nigerian section of the CWI). From the May-June issue, printed and published in Lagos, Nigeria. Contact the DSM: dsm@beta.linkserve.com

CWI online

Three years of civil rule.
Which way for the masses?

Against the widely held belief that civil rule will ensure better living conditions and liberties, excruciating poverty and oppression remain the lot of the masses. Corruption, one of the most inglorious features of military rule, has not only survived, it has become more monstrous and widespread. Things have become so bad that even sections of the working masses have begun to develop a very dangerous illusion in the return of the military. Unfortunately however, the various economic cum political problems ravaging the working masses have not only survived, in several respects, they have become more intractable and burdensome.

More than at any other time in Nigeria’s post independence history, the economic features and orientations of the past three years of civil rule have clearly revealed the fact that there are only two options before the working masses: socialist revolution or the deepening of barbarism.

As at 29th May, 1999, when the present civilian section of the capitalist class replaced their military counterparts, oil, the main foreign exchange earner was selling at $9 per barrel. But by a stroke of luck this soon went up to over $20 per barrel.

But as usual, the more money the country makes, little or nothing was being spent to improve the living conditions of the masses. 0.2% or less than 10 million Nigerians have access to the minimum health care facilities recommended by the World Health Organisation. 18.6% or 24,180,000 million Nigerians are categorised as hungry by ACDESS. This is expected to increase to 27.8 or 36,140,000 million by the year 2015. 85.5 million Nigerians are too poor to afford the basic standard of living, good shelter, nutritious food and good education. 69% or 89 million Nigerians are living on less than a dollar per day.

Yes, governments at central state and local levels and private employers have had to increase the wages paid to their workers. But apart from the fact that this exercise covers only an infinitesimal proportion of the working masses, the overall effects of this increment itself had been cancelled by other pro-rich, anti-poor capitalist policies being implemented by governments, across parties and structures.

Not even governments of the so-called Awoist, welfarist, progressive Alliance for Democracy (AD) are left out of the implementation of anti-poor, pro-rich capitalist policies.

Today, hundreds of thousands, if not millions workers have lost their jobs as a result of claims of inability to pay this year 2000 minimum wage increase. The better to be forgotten era of accumulated, unpaid salaries and allowances are back again. For most pensioners, it is nightmare unlimited.

To the ignorant or fraudulent public commentators, Tinubu’s government in Lagos State is a success. Yet this same successful, Awoist government has sacked 15,000 public servants ostensibly because of inability to pay new minimum wage. To add insult to injury, the government has refused to pay these unfortunate workers their terminal benefits, one year after their unjust sack!

Osun State, another state headed by an Awoist, in person of Bisi Akande, has sacked about 12,000 public servants including teachers, in a state where government is the largest employer of paid labour. And for daring to continue to fight this unjust act, Dr. Oyebade Olowogboyega, the NULGE president in Osun State who spearheaded the struggle for the payment of N6,500 minimum wage, was pencilled down for elimination via assassination. On the 19th of July, 2001, gunmen were sent to his house at about 2.00 a.m. with a view to kill him. Although, Olowogboyega’s assailants did not succeed in killing him, they nonetheless left him with a leg irreparably damaged for life, as a result of gunshot.

In Lagos and Oyo states and University of Ilorin, several labour leaders and activists have been unjustly sacked for daring to fight for improved working conditions and against retrenchment of their members. Notable among these are Ayodele Akele (Lagos State COIU chairman), Femi Aborisade (National General Secretary of National Conscience Party), Taiwo Oloruntoba-Oju (chairman, ASUU, University of Ilorin and 47 of his members, and Dr. Olowogboyega earlier mentioned.

Take for instance, the people’s, action governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu. His government presently is said to be operating pro-masses, welfarist programmes in housing, education and health care! This is how they work out in reality! The cheapest house in Tinubu’s housing programme goes for N2 million, in a state where annual minimum wage is less than N150,000. Even the highest paid public servants could not afford the cheapest of government houses without bending the rules/or indulged in outright looting of government money!

In less than three years, the president Olusegun Obasanjo’s central government has increased the prices of petroleum products twice. Needless to stress, this as usual, has led to astronomical rises in the prices of housing, transportation, telecommunications, goods and services in general. In a situation where retrenchment of workers is seen as the best strategy to ensure balanced budget and at the same time enhance profitability, the fact that the overwhelming majority of able and qualified persons, most especially youths, remain jobless and have no prospects of gainful employment in the foreseeable future, needs no special explanation. Visit any government hospital, you are likely to see written on boards or at the back of files, announcements of free health services of different categories. There is one which promises free health services for children below three years of age, there is another which promises free medical care of 24 hours for accident victims, etc. For the few children that can be accommodated in the available bed spaces or attended to by the limited number of medical doctors, the usual practice is to ask the parents to provide most of the required drugs and medical facilities. For the accident victims, 24 hours free medical care means 24 hours of abandonment, after which treatment is based on ability to pay.

States like Anambra and Enugu are already in arrears of salaries and allowances of over six months. Things are so bad that even front line state apparatuses like the army, police, immigration, etc are increasingly finding it impossible to pay the salaries and allowances of its non-commissioned officers as well as the allowances of their pensioners.

Hundreds of billions of naira has been voted for electricity, roads construction, etc by the various tiers of government. Nonetheless, electricity supply remains epileptic for most of the 30% Nigerians that have access at all to light. As usual, most of the money voted for these projects has been looted by top government officials in collaboration with their local and foreign capitalist contractors. This is aside from the fabulous salaries and allowances that are being paid to top executives and parliamentarians across the country. While the masses groan under excruciating poverty government officials, from president to local councillors, continue to embark on frivolous foreign trips drawing large allowances and estacodes in dollars, from the public purse.

If you complain about mass unemployment of the employable, members of the capitalist class will say there is not enough money to provide job for every person in society. If you complain about mass retrenchment, the usual answer is that government and employers of labour do not have enough money to keep the retrenched workers in their jobs. If you ask them why they are hiking up the cost of food, housing, health care, education, telecommunications, etc in the midst of mass unemployment and mass retrenchment, where wages are grossly inadequate and yet never get paid regularly, as and when due, the standard ruling class response is that there is not enough money to attend to these needs.

However, no matter how deep the economic crisis is, no matter how high is the shortfall in revenues, members of the capitalist class in position of authority in public and private sectors have always have enough money to meet their own obscene, opulent life styles. Whenever they are not busy looting the treasury via fake and over bloated contract deals, with their local and foreign business partners and companies, they will be busy using their privileged position to award to themselves outrageously fat salaries and allowances. Governor Audu of Kogi State (one of the poorest states of the country) recently admitted owning a house each in Washington and London respectively. The one in the US is estimated at $1.7million. But if workers demand an increment in their wages, all bourgeois ideologues will instantly claim that there is no money to do this.

Privatisation

The central reason for this state of affairs is the neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation of public assets, commercialisation of social services, trade liberalisation and so on which all governments from the federal down to local government level have been implementing. Plainly put, Obasanjo and virtually all members of the capitalist ruling class across the parties see privatisation of the commanding heights of the economy and or the liberalisation of the entire economy in compliance with the dictates of imperialism and finance capital, as the best solutions to problems of economic decay and growth. If it may be stressed, there is nothing new either about this counter-productive strategy or its particular implementation in Nigeria. The only thing that could be said to be new is the unprecedented, neck-breaking speed with which the Obasanjo regime has been sharing/selling our collective resources and heritage to a few capitalist corporations, in the name of privatisation! The first three years of the Obasanjo regime was devoted to the sales of public corporations in several key sectors of the economy, including petroleum, construction, insurance, hotels, cement industries, telecommunications, etc. So far, only a meagre sum of N19 billion has been realised as proceeds from privatisation of assets that cost tens of billion dollars originally! If only for this fact, privatisation is nothing but an act of legal looting of public assets by a few capitalist elements and multinational corporations. Privatisation is nothing but a brazen act of robbing the poor to settle the rich.

Breaking with the IMF

However, the Obasanjo administration told the world on 5th March, 2002 that it has broken with the IMF monitored economic programme. The Nigerian masses should not be deceived by this so-called withdrawal as it will have little or no impact on their lives.

Elaborating later on the same 5th March, 2002, Finance Minister Mallam Adamu Ciroma stated that government has decided to formally withdraw from the IMF because it does not wish to continue with arrangements where only narrowly defined macroeconomic considerations come into play. Ciroma went further: The government owes it to the people of Nigeria and secondarily to its external partners to identify prudent economic objectives that the people of Nigeria can support.

But this is not the first time a Nigerian government has purportedly shunned the IMF. In 1986, the military junta headed by General Ibrahim Babangida launched a neo-liberal anti-poor, pro-rich economic agenda called the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). SAP was initially presented as a home grown alternative to the IMF preferred policies which the working people had resoundingly rejected in a government sponsored referendum. Of course, SAP turned out as the most coherent comprehensive pro- imperialist, capitalist, anti-working peoples agenda ever articulated and implement in Nigeria hitherto. In other words all the pro-rich anti poor policies of mass retrenchment, commercialisation of housing, health care, education, telecommunications, water, light, etc will continue as before, IMF or no IMF.

The DSM therefore calls for an end to anti-poor capitalist/imperialist policies of privatisation and commercialisation, retrenchment of workers etc. We demand for public ownership of the country’s vast resources and wealth under the democratic management and control of the working people. We call for democratic management and control of public companies and parastatals by committees comprising elected representatives of workers, consumers, trade unions, NLC and the government.

Political situation

Politically, the situation is equally dire as far as the interests of the masses are concerned. First, due to the unbridled and desperate ambition of the various factions of the capitalist elite to hold on to power at all cost, we are back to the era of political violence and thuggery. Lives have been lost in inter and intra-party conflicts in Osun, Ebonyi and Kwara states to cite just three examples. All the three ruling parties are riddles with unprincipled factions whose only disagreement is on the sharing of the spoils of power. As the 2003 election year draws nearer, there is palpable fear that it would be marred by political violence that may undermine or even torpedo civil rule.

Ethnic/religious agitations

The past three years have been largely dominated by ethnic/religious strife and violence. In the core north, there has been a geometric rise in Islamic fundamentalism. This period has also witnessed an astronomical rise in Christian fundamentalism across the country, most especially in the south. Perhaps more than at any other time in Nigerians pre and post independence history, the past three years has witnessed a more widespread clamour/agitation for the break-up/restructuring of the country itself. The first two years in particular witnessed the rise and phenomenal growth of nationalist organisations of all hues and cries such as the OPC, Egbesu Boys, Bakassi Boys, Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra Republic, Arewa Peoples Congress, etc. As at today intra/inter ethnic cum religions strife and violence has resulted in the premature death of tens of thousands of Nigerians. The fundamental cause of these ethnic and religious agitations and violence is the unresolved economic, social and national questions nationally and in many parts of the country.

As socialists, DSM supports the democratic right of nations to self determination up to and including secession if that is the democratic wish of people of a given nation or group of nations within Nigeria. However, socialists must not shy away from frankly telling the working masses that simply breaking Nigeria into whatever number of structures or independent units will not primarily address the problem of mass poverty which is primarily caused by the global capitalist system. Socialists must warn the working masses that it is possible to have a Nigeria broken into several independent national or geographical components yet still have widespread poverty in these respective entities/republics/ empires.

As socialists, we have always advocated the complete separation of the state from religion. We have always advocated against state religion. For years the DSM has been demanding immediate stoppage of the practice where government uses public money to build churches and mosques and or subsidies pilgrimages to Mecca, Rome, or Jerusalem.

In summary, because of the pro-rich policies implemented in the past two and a half years of their tenure, the Obasanjo regime, state and local governments and the three registered parties (PDP, APP, AD) have proved incapable of ameliorating the country’s socio-economic crises, with massive unemployment and grinding poverty. This is what lies basically behind the persistence of ethnic and religious riots, political violence, assassinations and the turning of the country into a land of ceaseless disasters, a situation that is gradually and dangerously eroding the confidence of the working masses in civil rule.

To reverse this dangerous and seemingly hopeless trend, the working people need to struggle to replace, as a matter of urgency, the neo-colonial capitalist system, the source of mass poverty and insecurity, with a democratic socialist system in which the basic needs and security of the masses will be the primary goal for the running of the economy and administration of society. Under this system, the wealth and resources of society currently monopolized by a rich few local elite and the imperialist multinational corporations will be put into collective public ownership and democratically managed and controlled by elected representatives of the working people. To achieve this objective, workers and youth must, as a matter of urgency, build a mass working people’s party with a socialist programme whose goal would be the formation of a workers’ and poor peasants’ government.

Labour and youth activists, the NCP, NANS and NLC should consider this as the most important challenge at this period. Labour, youth and fighters for a genuine democracy must devise and put in place policies and structures that will make it impossible to turn the understandable anger of the masses into perennial mayhem, in which only the poor belonging to different ethnic and religious backgrounds are the usual victims. This is an urgent task that should receive immediate attention from organisations like the NLC, NCP, NANS, etc.

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