Where is Nigeria Going?

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The situation is moving at lightning speed on a world scale. After the Arab Revolution, events followed in quick succession: the movement of the indignados in Spain; the wave of strikes and demonstrations in Greece; the riots in Britain; the movement in Wisconsin and the Occupy movement in the U.S.; the overthrow of Gaddafi; the fall of Papandreou and Berlusconi; all these are symptoms of the present epoch. (See Perspectives for world capitalism 2012 (Draft discussion document) – Part One); and, if we may add, there was the magnificent movement of millions of Nigerian masses in January of this year.

These sudden sharp turns indicate that something fundamental have changed in the entire situation. Events are beginning to impinge upon the consciousness of ever-broader layers of the population. The ruling class is increasingly divided and disoriented by the depth of a crisis they never expected and have no idea how to solve. Suddenly, they find themselves unable to maintain control of society by the old methods. This description succinctly captures the current Nigerian situation.

There is confusion everywhere; while the economy is said to be growing at an unprecedented rate, Nigeria is witnessing unprecedented political and social instability. The reformist leadership of the working class (NLC – TUC) is in a much greater impasse even than the ruling class; the reforms they were able to win in the past with just the mere threat of a strike, can no longer be won with even days of general strike; they are losing credibility among the rank and file and even their obnoxious compromises and weaknesses are not enough for the ruling elites who keep demanding more and more compromises from them.

The most influential sections of the Nigerian ruling elite have publicly expressed on various occasions that the Nigerian revolution is just around the corner, but unfortunately for them, they have no coherent programme and steps to prevent it, because there are none. This is a striking confirmation of what Trotsky wrote in 1938, “The capitalists are tobogganing towards disaster with their eyes closed.” The difference today is that the capitalists are tobogganing towards disaster with their eyes wide open.

State of Economy

Ironically, Nigeria is said to be presently the third fastest growing economy in the world: “This actually placed us as the third fastest growing economy in the world, the first being Mongolia with 14.9% real growth rate, then China with 8.4% real GDP growth rate followed by Nigeria with 7.68%.” (See ‘Nigeria’s economy third fastest growing in the world’). The growth was at its historical lowest in the last quarter of 2009 with 4.5% growth, but later grew to 7.45% in the first quarter of 2010 and since then, has never fallen below 7.35%; reaching its historical highest of 8.6% in the fourth quarter of 2010. By the end of this year, at least assuming oil prices do not collapse; Nigeria and South Africa should be approaching par in dollar terms: $370bn and $390bn, respectively. With Nigeria’s current growth, Nigeria could be ahead of South Africa in just a few years.

These impressive figures have been the source of anger and discontent among the Nigerian masses in general and the working class in particular. Why should they not be angered? Of what significance are these figures to them when the poverty rate has worsened? Since the mid-1980s the rate of poverty in Nigeria has been on the increase. For instance, in 1982 the rate was 28.1% and by 1996 it had risen to about 65.6% (FOS 199) and it has never fallen below this since then despite all the hypes of spectacular growth.

Out of over 160,000 kilometres of secondary and tertiary roads in Nigeria, with an average registered network of 4,000 kilometres per state, only about 10-15 per cent is paved. While a large proportion of this network remains in poor or very poor condition with only 15 per cent of federal roads in good condition despite this tremendous growth.

The statistics from the Manpower Board and the Federal Bureau of Statistics show that Nigeria has a youth population of over 80 million, representing about 60% of the total population of the country, and that also, 64 million of them are unemployed (80%), while 1.6 million are under-employed. (Awogbenle and Iwuamadi, 2010).

Despite its spectacular growth, Nigeria remains a net importer of staple foods; domestic production of rice has never been able to meet demand, leading to considerable imports which today stand at about 1,000,000 metric tonnes yearly. The imports are procured on the world market with Nigeria spending annually over US$300million on rice imports alone, and as a maritime state with a coastline measuring approximately 853 kilometres; of the 36 states of the federation, nine are located on the coast where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lap against the land, yet Nigeria imports between 700,000 and 900, 000 metric tonnes of fish annually to partially meet a shortfall of 1,800,000 metric tons, thereby spending $800million annually on fish imports alone. The question arises: why this paradox? In what does this contradiction consist? Bourgeois commentators are very quick to answer this; they have given us many reasons, except the real reason as to why we are where we are.

Rampant corruption and the bourgeoning crisis

On the surface, the cause of this unimaginable paradox, presents itself as rabid and uncontrollable corruption that has successfully eaten deep into the fabric of the whole of society. Corruption presents itself as the root cause and not as the symptom that it truly is. The average Nigerian believes that if corruption could be well managed, Nigeria could be made great. Why will they not say so?

The January 9th movement of the masses across Nigeria no doubt, was a movement against the cancerous level of corruption in Nigeria. The Nigerian ruling class responded to the last January 9th mass movement by constituting a parliamentary probe panel to investigate a series of shady deals that have been going on in the oil industry over the years. The findings of this probe panel only confirmed what an average Nigerian already knows. Over N1.067 trillion (about $6.8 billion) has been embezzled in a year in the oil industry alone. This amount is almost twice the GDP of Togo ($3.574 billion).

This published report only confirmed what motivated the last general strike and mass movement. Why should it take an ad-hoc probe panel to discover this huge leakage after five days of general strike and mass movement that took away the lives of five Nigerians? This immediately raised another important question; what is now the essence of the various anti-corruption agencies we have around? To fight corruption, the Nigerian ruling class setup EFCC and ICPC and empowered them with special powers to deal with any issue of corruption in any form, but it took a UK court to arrest, prosecute and jail James Ibori of Delta State who admitted stealing 250 million pounds from his state when he was governor!

Nigerians now correctly understand that corruption has reached a stage that society can no longer tolerate, but what they do not know, because it is not that easy to know, is that corruption is just a mere symptom of a deeper malaise. At the root of corruption is a socio-economic system that can only survive on the basis of corruption and violence. To simply say that corruption in Nigeria is caused by capitalism, will not educate much if it says anything at all, because Nigerians will immediately ask you; is it not the same capitalism in the US, UK or even in Ghana around the corner? Why is Nigeria’s situation this bad? What sort of ruling elite will dig itself as deep as this into the abyss of corruption and inefficiency? Nigerians are wondering, what kind of socio-economic arrangement could have sustained this magnitude of corruption as we have witnessed in the past 30years of blatant corruption? Even on the basis of capitalism, the extent of corruption in Nigeria looks unsustainable, but for over 30 years it has magnificently survived.

There are two available options to “legitimately” earn income under capitalism; either as profit on your capital or wages on your labour. The capitalists earn profits on their capital, while labour lives on wages. Nigeria shares a very peculiar characteristic with other developing countries; lack or insignificance of local capital. The preponderance of foreign capital within their economy has not significantly changed, despite the formal political independence.

According to the statistics supplied by Adenikinju (2002) domestic investment is mainly financed from external sources i.e. (equity and debt) when in 1986 the internal source was 16.87%, external was 83.13% and in 1998 internal was 19.96% when external was 80.34%. The privatization programme only worsened this balance. Consequently, the legitimate option under capitalism to get rich in “third world” countries is almost non-existent or very narrow, except through dipping their hands into public wealth. This explains why corruption is prevalent in most underdeveloped countries.

However, this explanation is still not sufficiently convincing. The question still remains: why has Nigeria’s case become so untameable? How can a society sustain this level of looting and corruption for decades without it disintegrating? Nigeria is not only a backward capitalist country, it is a country whose economy rests solely on oil, 90% of foreign earnings are from oil, while 83% of the government budget is from oil.

The combined workforce of four major oil giants, who produce over 90% of oil exports, is less than 10,000 workers. In a country of 150 million, just 10,000 workers create 90% of the state’s resources and almost solely maintain the apparatus of the state. Herein lies the uniqueness of our ruling elites. This creates an impression that wealth is actually “manna from heaven”. To them, there is no connection between wealth creation and its consumption; they feel it is all a free gift of nature. Life goes on; whether there are good roads, electricity or not, it does not matter, the wealth keeps coming in. But who is creating this wealth?

Lack of quality education and adequate health facilities does not affect the flow and consumption of this resource. The struggle for power is equivalent to a struggle for wealth and this becomes a do-or-die affair.

It is this socio-economic arrangement that divides and at the same time unites the Nigerian ruling elites. It defines them and makes them completely different from other ruling elites elsewhere. Ending corruption is therefore inconceivable without ending the socio-economic arrangement that nurtures it - capitalism. Ending this economic order must starts with making the wealth of the nation available for the betterment of the people themselves through the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy and thereby develop other sectors of the economy. Expecting the present ruling elite to conclusively carry this task out is like expecting a lion to eat grass. The capitalist ruling class is only an appendage of their foreign masters. They are incapable of breaking loose from the grip and domination of the foreign power that they are actually fronting for.

Where to go from here?

Obviously, Nigeria is now at a crossroad, at a stage where the masses can no longer tolerate the condition the ruling elite have put them in for decades and the ruling elite can no longer rule in the old way. It is becoming clearer everyday to the average Nigerian that if we leave the present ruling class to rule for another 500 years, things can only get worse. The demand for a mass political party of the working people has never been so loud as it is now. The working class has learnt its lesson over the years that the only way out for the masses is to take power from these charlatans and agents of imperialism.

The only obstacle to this rational and general demand of the working class is the reformist leadership of the working class itself. The leadership of the working class remains the major obstacle obstructing the emergence of a mass party of the working class. Under pressure from the working class, the leadership of labour formed a political party (the Nigerian Labour Party, NLP). They did not just form it; they funded it and hosted it in the NLC headquarters, but only to hand it over to the highest bidder. The party has lost its connections to the working class and is now in the hands of some of the most useless sections of the ruling class.

It is becoming more and more difficult for the labour leadership to turn a deaf ear to this popular demand, this explains why the leadership declared on May Day that it is becoming inevitable for the working class to have their own party. Marxists and other left elements within society have the duty of concretely advancing this public statement of labour leadership; thereby moving from mere words to concrete action. The most important lesson to learn from the previous attempts is to realize that the success of any mass working class party is to ensure that the rank and file workers and other oppressed strata of society are well mobilized into it. The social base of the party must be maintained and planted deep in the working class. This is the only guarantee against usurpers who are always ready to hijack the process. The party can only be successful as a mass party of the working class without the bosses and must have as its cardinal programmatic demand the nationalisation of the commanding height of the economy so as to ensure all-round development of the economy which is the only way we can end unemployment and guarantee living wages for the labouring masses.