Nigeria: Country descends into the abyss

Only a socialist solution can save working people

The following is the opening statement made by Segun Sango, General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), at a press conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, on 9 November 2005, to publicise the conclusions of the DSM’s recent 16th National Congress.

Twenty-two journalists from thirteen media organisations were present. Represented were the newspapers This Day, New Age, The Sun, Champion, Nigerian Tribune, Comet, Daily Independent, Guardian and Punch. The radio stations present were Ray Power FM and Radio Lagos. TV camera crews came from MBI and LTV (8 television stations).

Country descends into the abyss

Between 22 and 23 October 2005, we members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), debated and discussed extensively in our 16th National Congress, socio-economic problems confronting the poor working masses in Nigeria and proffered a way out of these crises. This congress took place at a period when Nigeria is steadily falling into bottomless disasters – rampant ritual killings (for supposed wealth and prosperity), renewed ethnic militia activities, tragic killing of hundreds of people in transport mishaps etc. In a particular case, in Lagos, an eleven-year-old boy was lynched by a mob on the allegation that he was a kidnapper or luring people for kidnappers for moneymaking rituals. The mass resort to myth, superstition and ritual killings in the search for solutions to economic questions of poverty, jobs, security, reveals the growing frustration and desperation among layers of the poor working masses as living conditions become more and more terrible.

Again, on 23 October 2005, the nation woke up to the tragic news of the death of 117 passengers and crew aboard a Bellview 210 aircraft following a fatal crash. At about the same time, the wife of the President, Stella Obasanjo, died of complications allegedly arising from a cosmetic surgery in a Spanish hospital. Hundreds now die virtually every week from auto-accident largely due to death traps called roads. Sad as these events are, they yet throw to the fore the anarchy that pervades Nigeria’s neo-colonial, capitalist society. The Bellview plane crash has exposed the use of outmoded equipments and facilities, cut-throat competition and slack on safety measures etc in the aviation sector.

That public officials can travel, at will, for medical attention over even slightest ailment betrays the contempt with which the ruling class treats the country’s health sector, which indeed is in a prostrate state arising from government neglect. It is, therefore, clear that these shocking events are unnatural but preventable calamities thrown up by the prevailing neo-colonial capitalist system.

But, on the other side, events in the two years since the DSM’s last Congress (2003) has shown again and again the enormous capacity and willingness of the Nigerian working masses to struggle for a better future. However these two years have shown that willingness to struggle is not enough. Without a socialist programme and strategy to change society, the misery of life under capitalism will continue!

Sordid reality

Between our last Congress in 2003 and now, the living conditions of the average Nigerian have plummeted sharply. This is true also for the general economic performance of the country when assessed by real indices of poverty, health services, literacy level, employment and even economic output, notwithstanding that the Obasanjo capitalist government has raked in more money than any previous regime in the country’s history, particularly in the past two decades.

The government, for instance, amasses a minimum sum of $190 million per day from oil sales alone. In the past five years, the government has earned over $100 billion from oil sales. With the higher export price of oil this year, the annual income from crude oil sales is expected to be around $37.7 billion, and then rise another 9% to $41.1 billion in 2006.

This has not stopped the Obasanjo’s government from following the dictates of the IMF/World Bank and imperialism to impose economic hardship on the already pauperised Nigerian poor working masses via its neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, cuts in social spending, deregulation, etc alongside massive wastages and fiscal recklessness, looting and endemic corruption. The government has raised petroleum products prices seven times since 1999. The price of a litre of petrol rose from N20 in 1999 to N65 per litre in 2005. Whereas there has been no corresponding increase in workers’ wages since 2001 inflation has eaten deep into the income of the poor working people. So, without additional income, the working masses have had to pay more for transport, healthcare, education and other necessities, as well as to generate their own power and water.

This is because the government has shamelessly abandoned it responsibilities in provision of necessary services in line with capitalist, money-first, neo-liberal philosophy. The UN currently ranks the country 158 of the 191 poorest countries in the world. 70% of the population are said to be living below the poverty line (on less than US$1 or N146 per day). According to the United Nations Human Development report for 2004, only 10% Nigerians have access to essential drugs, while life expectancy is 51.8 and 52.3 years for men and women respectively.

Debt enslavement or debt relief?

The Obasanjo anti-corruption crusade has remained largely a charade. The same goes for the criminal deceit called ‘debt relief package’, just brokered with the Paris Club of creditor nations; the IMF/World Bank. The so-called debt relief is indeed second slavery in disguise. The Obasanjo government, for instance, claims to have spent over $700 million (about N100 billion) on the turn-around maintenance of the refineries, but this has only gone down the drain, as there is nothing to show for it. Yet nobody has been arraigned for misappropriating the resources.

The Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, an IMF/World Bank nominee, and the Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olu-Adeniji, were exposed as having drawn their salaries in US dollars, contrary to the provisions of the code of conducts for public officers. While Okonjo collects a whooping $247,000 (N33, 839,000) per annum, Adeniji gets $120,000 (N16, 440,000) per annum, aside “fringe benefits”. These figures are far above the N794, 085 per annum salary prescribed by Public and Judicial Office Holders’ (salaries, allowances, etc) Act No. 6 of 2002.

On the so-called debt relief, instead of demanding that imperialism repays at least some of the loot that it has stolen which could be used to begin to tackle the hydra-headed problem of absolute poverty, unemployment, lack of social and economic infrastructures, mass illiteracy, insecurity, declining life expectancy, etc, the government brokered an agreement which seeks to strengthen the imperialist plunder and economic domination of the country. A whooping $12 billion is to be paid to the Paris Club to enjoy a “relief” of $18 billion. But no one has bothered to query why Nigeria should still owe $31 billion to the Paris Club when it actually borrowed $13.5 billion and has cumulatively repaid about $42 billion.

As if this is not enough, the debt deal requires Nigeria, amongst other nations, to secure an approval from the IMF Board for its economic reforms and to submit to continuous economic monitoring. This implies that Nigeria must continue with the current neo-liberal capitalist policies of privatisation and liberalisation of the economy, with its attendant ruinous impacts on living conditions of the working masses. Despite the national grief of Bellview plane crash and the death of his wife, President Obasanjo was reported to have instructed Minister of Finance to quickly pay the Paris Club from the country’s external reserves.

Mass retrenchment and attacks on working conditions

The huge unemployment level is compounded by the government’s neo-liberal policies by mass sacking of workers from the public and private sectors, particularly in the banking sector as banks race to meet the new N25 billion ‘capitalisation policy’. The CBN [bosses’ federation] blazes the trail with the decision to sack hundreds of its workers in the spirit of “right sizing”. But the unemployment scourge spreads over all sectors – agriculture, production/manufacturing, and services. Most school leavers cannot get jobs many years after leaving school.

Sadly, however, the collaborationist and reactionary character of many trade union leaders renders workers more vulnerable and weakens their potential to resist management attacks. Despite the inflationary trend, workers’ wages remain at 2001 levels, while working conditions have deteriorated, in most cases to inhuman standards, especially in the factories. Against official labour laws, many factories operate predominantly with contract workers / casual workers, to cut costs and to enhance employers’ profits.

Education, privatisation and commercialisation

The education system continues its decline into chaos arising from government privatisation and commercialisation policies. The government’s neo-liberalism has meant that public resources will not go into public education. There have been massive cut backs in spending on education, and schools are responding by charging exorbitant fees that parents cannot afford. A new trend of an influx of students, mainly from a working class background, from private schools back into the public schools to escape from higher charges, has been noticed at the primary and secondary school levels. The result is over population and outstretching of existing facilities and manpower in the poorly funded public schools.

The higher institutions do not fare better. Of the over one million students that applied for spaces in the universities this year, only a paltry 147,000, or 15% of total candidates, will get admission as a result of government’s arbitrary quota system. To deepen the confusion and restriction, the pro-government committee of chairmen of university governing councils recently called on government to impose direct tuition charges in public universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, a proposal which government has pledged to consider. The government also sanctioned a criminal and extortionate multiple admissions examinations process, with the latest exams that are used by many universities to extort money from helpless admission seekers.

Government’s national monumental farce

As the DSM foretold, the huge expensive joke called National Political Reform Conference (National Confab), organised between June and July 2005, by the central government, ended as a monumental farce. None of the numerous so-called resolutions drawn by the Conference can fundamentally improve the economic, social and cultural condition of the masses; neither can they resolve the real political crises afflicting the nation. Worst still, most of these resolutions will never be voluntarily implemented by the powers that be.

But the alternative conference being organised by PRONACO (Pro-National Conference Organisation) will not fare any better. Rather than organised its activities on the basis of objectives and strategies which seek to resolve key issues concerning the masses’ welfare and living standards, including food, housing, education, social amenities, employment, etc, by ultimately posing an agenda for power, the PRONACO leaders and organisers are pre-occupied with narrow, elitist and well worn pro-capitalist reformist slogans of ‘resource control’, ‘true federalism’, ‘fiscal federalism’, etc. Suffice to say, these measures can, at best, from time to time, only serve the narrow interests of one section of the ruling class or the other, as they scheme for vantage position in the control of the nation’s wealth.

For the poor working masses, more money to a section of the ruling class (fiscal federalism, resource control, etc), rotational presidency etc, will not translate into better social and economic conditions.

PRONACO distances itself from the day-to-day struggles of working people, while posing as being concerned about crises confronting society. In the unlikely event that genuine pro-masses resolutions emerge from the PRONACO conference, the question then arises: which government or political platform will implement such resolutions? Surely, any political calculation that refuses to pose the question of political power from the point of view of the working masses, taking over the reigns of governance, starting with the formation of mass working peoples’ party, as 2007 [elections] approach, cannot best serve the interest of the masses.

Political alternative platform for 2007

If the current political trend continues, the 2007 elections will be cheerless. Notwithstanding the celebrated bickering among the various elements of Nigerian thieving elite, they are still going to be able to cling unto the power in the face of lack of formidable political alternative. The most likely response of the electorate to the elections is sound apathy, though massive figures of votes will be manufactured and allotted among the big pro-market parties, according to their respective spheres of influence.

But the working masses, youth and students are not helpless. In the face of the unrelenting assault by the ruling capitalist class on all fronts working people and youth have proved that, given the proper lead, they would fight to defeat the ruling capitalist government and its gamut of neo-liberal policies. This, they have demonstrated with their responses to the numerous anti-fuel price hike strike/protests and rallies called by Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO).

But a major limiting factor in developing the movements further has been labour leaders’ lack of preparedness to take the struggles against particular attacks on living conditions, like fuel price hikes, beyond symbolic strikes and demos, and their pandering to the capitalist system. This was particularly seen in the last minute call off of the November 2004 general strike and the decision to limit the recent protests simply to rallies.

In other words, the labour leadership has been generously wasting the rich opportunities the various popular struggles it has led have boldly offered for the formation of a genuine working people’s party to wrestle power from the representatives of parasitic and anti-people system sucking the country’s blood. In fact, the masses have already placed boldly the demand for a regime and fundamental policy change on the agenda of the struggle against anti-people policies of the government.

Seeing Adams Oshiomhole (Nigerian Labour Congress President) as the symbol of the struggle, in the last protest marches across the country, the working masses of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, resoundingly called on him to contest for President of the country, in 2007. This clarion call, which has only been acknowledged by Adams but without showing the political will to take up the gauntlet, is clearly indicative of burning desire of people for fundamental change in governance and their expectations from labour and mass organisations leaders. The reluctance/refusal of labour leaders, however, to take the bold initiative of convening a conference of labour and civil society organisations for the 2007 elections, and the need for a working peoples party to be on the agenda, is obviously the direct consequence of their pro-capitalist outlook and their eagerness to hang to the coat tails of capitalist politicians across the ‘political divide’, so as to be regarded as ‘responsible’.

However, it is instructive to state that as much as it is desirable to have a working people’s party, it is not automatic that such a party would continue to enjoy the support or guarantee fundamental improvement in the lot of the masses. For this to be, the party has to identify with the daily struggles of the working people, side by side with the quest for political power. More importantly, to succeed such party must be built on pro-people’s socialist programme, fundamentally opposed to the prevailing pro-market capitalist neo-liberal policies embraced and implemented by all the big pro-capitalist parties presently at the helm of affairs at all levels of government.

To improve the situation facing the poor masses and to set the stage for the fundamental development of Nigeria, the following must be achieved:

  • Repudiation of Nigeria’s fictitious foreign debt; total cancellation of Africa’s debt stock with no strings attached; repatriation of all Africa’s stolen wealth stashed in foreign banks by corrupt pro-west leaders; Africa’s resources to be totally committed to food, housing, shelter, education, decent jobs, etc for African masses.
  • An end to government neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, deregulation, cuts in social spending on education, health, infrastructures and utilities, etc.
  • A socialist transformation and overthrow of capitalism, along with its unjust social and economic relations, is needed to fight the chronic problem of economic under-development, mass poverty and imperialist plunder of Nigeria, on a lasting basis. To this end, we are renewing our call on labour and civil society coalition to facilitate the process of formation and to build a mass working peoples’ party with a genuine socialist programme and a clear agenda to fight for a workers’ and poor peasants’ government; public ownership of commanding sectors of the economy and the main resources of nature to be placed firmly under democratic control and management of the working people. This is the only way to harness the enormous energy of the masses and prevent a situation where working people and the poor are sadly exposed, like helpless souls, to the danger of choosing between one gang of capitalist rogue or another, in the 2007 elections.

We have, therefore, called this press conference with the purpose of reaching out to a wider layer of the people, especially, the poor working people, to discuss how they can struggle and defeat the regime and system that means poverty, misery, diseases, etc in the midst of abundant human and natural resources, and to replace this with a system that will guarantee better living and working condition – like free and qualitative education, affordable housing, healthcare delivery, social security, jobs, good roads and infrastructure, constant electricity and portable water etc. We, therefore, urge you to assist in giving this text a wider publicity in your media outfits.

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