Nigerians suffer a cost of living crisis – organise and mobilise for mass actions now!

Members of Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria), Oyo State Chapter, at a May Day event, earlier this month.

Ordinarily, Nigerians are no strangers to suffering. But if the truth must be told, the kind of suffering and misery being experienced by the mass of Nigerians over the past few months is second to none. The bitter truth is that the Buhari/Osinbajo All Progressives Congress (APC) capitalist government has failed and hunger now stalks the land. With the official inflation rate at 15.7%, many families face starvation as they cannot afford basic food items let alone clothing and shelter. Amid increasing signs of society disintegrating this suffering has now become unbearable! The masses cannot take it anymore. Something drastic has to be done to arrest the galloping inflation and ensure the poor are saved from starvation.

The masses are angry but there is no clear idea of what to do. While the APC has made life worse, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other pro-capitalist parties have no policies that benefit the mass of Nigerians. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls for mass action now to begin to demand a cap on price increases, reduce prices of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, increase wages, democratic distribution of emergency cash subsidies to the poor, end galloping inflation and massive public investment in the production of basic commodities. In every street, youth and working-class elements facing the pinch should come together to democratically form action committees to organise protests. As the October 2020 #EndSARS protest demonstrates, just one example of protest can spark a national movement and the action committees can become the democratic leadership of such a national movement. We need not wait a day longer! Let the struggle begin now!

High prices 

Prices of basic commodities including grain, cereal, milk, bread, palm oil, vegetable oil, vegetables, petrol, kerosene, cooking gas, firewood, transportation, detergent etc. have jumped by about 200% over the past two years. Despite all these increases, wages remain at the same level of N30, 000 minimum wage per month and even this is still not paid in some states three years after the passage of the new minimum wage. With naira devaluation and inflation, the N30, 000 naira minimum wage is worth less than half of its value a year ago. Many working families after buying a little foodstuff, paying utility bills and other essentials have either very little or nothing left of their salary or income to last the month!

The naira now exchanges on the black market at nearly N600 to a dollar compared to N268 Naira to a dollar 7 years ago. This is following multiple devaluations of the currency as well as a host of other ruinous economic policies. This has led to higher production costs in an environment which is already extremely difficult for economic production. Now producers and manufacturers are unloading the crisis on the shoulders of consumers whose purchasing power has collapsed with the fall in the currency’s value. On occasions where manufacturers refuse to increase prices for whatever reason, they make sure to severely reduce the size and quality of the commodity while selling at the same price. While hiking prices can bring to some extent gains and profit for manufacturers, importers and wholesalers despite the difficult economic climate, the same cannot be said of retailers and small traders who mostly survive on the basis of their daily earnings. Low purchasing power and high prices over time lead to a drop in patronage of commodities, including even the essentials. This invariably translates to low sales for small traders and their impoverishment alongside the rest of the poor.

Fight price gouging

While undoubtedly manufacturers, importers and wholesale traders are all feeling the squeeze, this does not fully justify the current exorbitant price increases of goods and services. Speculation, hoarding and price gouging are clearly a factor in some of the price increases. To give an example, around February this year, oil marketers unilaterally enforced an unofficial increase in the pump price of petroleum products following the government’s retreat from fuel subsidy removal which would have pushed fuel price to about N302 per litre. For about two months (February and March 2022), the marketers drove the pump price of fuel from N165 per litre to over N200 per litre. On the black market, it sold for N500 or more! There was no justifiable reason for this hike since the government continued to pay importers subsidies to compensate for price and exchange rate differentials. This singular action, a classical heist by corporate power, which is akin to economic sabotage is yet to be punished up till now. In fact, a recent probe by the National Assembly on an allegation brought by the federal government itself against some oil marketers for importing adulterated fuel in February which provoked fuel scarcity and price increase curiously found no oil marketer guilty!

This is a good example of how not all price increases are justified and why we cannot simply accept every price increase as inevitable. The truth is that the masses are actually between the grinding mill of the capitalist government and the capitalist producers, importers, wholesale traders and speculators all of whom are out to exploit the poor masses for every drop of profit possible. We need to know how much of the price increase on vegetables, tomatoes, grains and other food items is actually due to their increased cost of production and how much is due to the action of speculators who hoard farm produce in order to jerk up prices. This is why price control is necessary. In Lagos for instance, rents are going through the roof and many working-class and middle-class families are being forced out of relatively decent flats to rundown apartments because of a sudden 100% increase in rent. The question is why should the rent on a building built decades ago suddenly go up by 100%? How does inflation account for this when the building is not newly built?

This and many more is where we need democratically formed “Price Control Committees” formed at community levels to take up these issues and organise activities including mass meetings, petitions and protests to assure the supply of essentials, resist hoarding and unjustified price increases. At the same time, a really determined drive must be launched to increase wages and ensure that the poor have the basics on which to live. While price control cannot be fully achieved under capitalism because the capitalist class will always resist and find new ways around any control, such a campaign and struggle can help to expose the greed of the system, secure immediate relief and build a collective understanding of why an alternative is needed.

Unemployment rises

To make matters worse, unemployment is on the increase with many out of jobs or underemployed. Some of those who lost their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic have not regained them while the increase in the cost of production and other factors are forcing companies to retrench workers or close down. This state of affairs means even further pauperization for the unfortunate families whose breadwinners lost jobs. This has led to frustration with suicide rates and domestic violence increasing

In the past few weeks, Nigeria has been awash with news of unspeakable violence against women and the girl child. This is not surprising at all! As is often the case, women bear more of the brunt of the economic crisis as they become easy prey for letting out off frustration arising from economic difficulties faced by working-class and poor families. At the same time, given the severity of the crisis, many children of school age now go to school without lunch or pocket money.

Not “in this together”

Despite economic woes, the wealth of the richest Nigerian billionaires continues to increase. Forbes’ 36th-annual ranking of the planet’s richest people shows that three of Nigeria’s billionaires actually increased their wealth in 2022. Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote saw his wealth increase from $11.5 billion in 2021 to $14 billion in 2022. Also, Mike Adenuga, Nigeria’s second richest man, grew his wealth from $6.1 billion to $7.3 billion. Not to be outdone, Abdulsamad Rabiu, the third Nigerian on the list, saw his fortune improve from $4.9 billion to $6.9 billion. They are part of Forbes’ list of 2, 668 billionaires in the world who increased their wealth despite “wars, pandemic and sluggish markets” (Channels TV, 7 April 2022).

In their tow are the corrupt capitalist politicians who clearly are not feeling the squeeze of the economic crisis. At its National Executive Council (NEC), the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) fixed the price of its presidential expression of interest/nomination form at a whopping N100 million! Just this amount can meet the immediate needs of hundreds of working class and poor families facing starvation. Yet, there are tens of presidential aspirants, including serving elected officials and ministers in Buhari’s government, who are already snapping up the forms without question. According to reports, it “rained Naira” at a recent campaign meeting between Vice president Osinbajo, who is running for president, and Oyo state delegates of the APC as each participant allegedly got a minimum of N250, 000 each just for being present! This obscene display of wealth by capitalist politicians and business elite deserves the justified outrage of the hungry and dispossessed!

For a 48 hour general strike

We call on the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to quit the barren method of making appeals to a government that for all intent and purposes is deaf to appeals. It is clear that the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government has lost it. At the moment, nothing is working in the country. Public universities are closed for months while trains are being attacked by bandits and terrorists at will. As we write, about 168 passengers of the March 28 Kaduna train attack are still missing. Yet the Ministers for Transportation, Education and Labour responsible for these sad developments have declared their intention to run for president despite obvious failure!

That the NLC and TUC continue to believe this kind of roguish government will listen to appeals is surprising. As far as we are concerned, the only language the Buhari government understands is the struggle. If the NLC and TUC leadership are truly concerned about the suffering Nigerian workers and masses face as they have repeatedly said in their press releases, the best thing to do is to declare as a first step, a 48-hour general strike and mass protest. Such a general strike, if well mobilised, can galvanise a mass movement to begin to fight and make demands on the government in order to win some concessions for the suffering masses.

We, therefore, call for labour and civil society action committees to be set up to immediately begin to mobilise and plan for such an action. We urge that, unlike previous struggles which were hastily called off at the last minute, the decision as to when to suspend the strike be taken at democratic workers congresses and appropriate organs of the movement.

Build a workers’ political alternative 

Such a general strike can also lay the basis for the building of a mass movement and political alternative to kick out the Buhari/Osinbajo APC government and put in place workers’ and poor people’s government armed with socialist policies. Only such a government can take the needed steps to arrest the economic crisis to the benefit of the working class and poor masses.

This is because what the ongoing economic crisis proves above all is that capitalism will continue to result in deepening inequality, a race to the bottom and mass misery for the mass majority while a few have more wealth than they need. As far back as 2017, Oxfam declared that the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty in the country. This is even more true today looking at the huge wealth accumulated by just five Nigerian billionaires. This is why we need Socialism – a social and economic system based on common ownership of society’s economy and wealth under a democratic plan to meet the needs of all.

As far as we are concerned, while it is correct, as the recent NLC and TUC political conferences resolved, for the working class to participate in the 2023 general elections, it does not necessarily mean that the working masses have to bear the excruciating suffering for the next 13 months or so left in the life of this administration that is why action is needed now to defend and improve living standards.

But genuine workers’ participation in elections does not mean trade union leaders making deals to support opportunist or careerist politicians who say they support some of Labour’s demands. All too often on May Days or in elections we have seen politicians say they support Labour only to do nothing when they have been elected. In fact, it is necessary to urgently build a mass workers’ political alternative now not just to prepare for intervention in the next election but also to lead a mass struggle to rid Nigeria of the prebendal and corrupt ruling elite whose catastrophic capitalist economic policies is what has combined with external factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine to put Nigeria and Nigerians in the situation we are now.

Unfortunately, an attempt to start building such a force has been blocked by INEC’s recent deregistration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). Now some Labour leaders are talking about trying again to work with the so-called Labour Party, a party initially formed by the NLC but which was completely taken over by capitalist politicians willing to sell their support. If the 2023 general elections go ahead as scheduled, something which is not 100% certain, then there will be hardly any time to genuinely transform the Labour Party to make it a fully democratic non-monetized party purged of careerists which fights for working people.

Without a doubt, the victory of the APC, PDP or any new alliance in 2023 will not solve Nigeria’s basic issues as they all stand in support of capitalism. Yet the fact is that despite its enormous human and material resources, capitalism has failed to develop Nigeria and meet the basic needs of the vast majority of the people. Therefore, such a mass working people’s party must be built on a socialist program and be able to mobilise working people and youth to build a mass movement for a socialist revolution to defeat capitalism in Nigeria. This is so that with Socialist policies it can organise and use the enormous human and material resources of the country to begin to end the situation of mass poverty, inequality, insecurity, ethnic crisis, homelessness, joblessness etc.

We conclude by calling for mass actions in support of the following demands:

  1. For a cap on price increase. Set up democratic price control committees to ensure the supply of basic essentials and prevent price gouging. Massive public investment in the production of basic commodities
  2. Emergency cash subsidy to poor families as well as small and medium-scale traders.
  3. Reverse increase in petrol, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel prices; end to deregulation
  4. Reverse increase in electricity tariff. End privatisation of the power sector
  5. For an immediate crash programme to build new public refineries
  6. Increase the minimum wage to N100, 000 per month. Pay backlog of owed salaries and pension
  7. Reverse increase in school fees. Make public education affordable for all.
  8. Meet the demands of ASUU, SSANU, NASU, NAAT and ASUP. Reopen the Universities now!
  9. Pay monthly unemployment benefits to the unemployed
  10. Nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control and management

 

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May 2022
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