A new Nigeria is possible - another look at an enduring problem

In spite of being rich in oil Nigeria is in a state of collapse. Healthcare, education, transport, pensions and so on are all coming under attack. Unemployment is growing everywhere. An explosive mood is developing from below, while at the top the political leaders offer nothing but conferences, talk shops and so on. And yet it could be different, very different. It is in the hands of the leadership of the labour movement.

The crisis in Nigerian politics has become a reoccurring headache for all the so-called stakeholders in the country. More than at any time in the history of the country, the socio-economic crisis has become acute in spite of all the economic and political trouble-shooting by those at the helm of government in Nigeria.

The poverty level, which is put at a conservative estimate of at least 75% of the population, is obviously the worst in the history of the country. The unemployment situation has never been this bad and yet more and more people are being retrenched from their places of work, a situation that is affecting all sectors of the economy be it public or private sector workers.

Another way of looking at it is this: the cost of “doing business” in Nigeria is apparently one of the worst in the world and this has inevitably led to the collapse of a number of companies operating in Nigeria. Particularly hit ‑ and this is instructive ‑ is the manufacturing sector, the so-called real sector of the economy.

This is the case because the majority of these industries have to get their electricity from petroleum powered generators, since the electricity supply from NEPA, now under the caretaker name Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) cannot guarantee a constant supply of power. All this has forced real businesses to go elsewhere leading to a worsened unemployment situation, thus leading to a spiralling circle of poverty. Incidentally, the recent rise in the cost of petroleum has further compounded this lamentable situation and it is bound to drive more businesses to their unplanned death.

In Nigeria, the social structures are fast collapsing. The educational sector, from primary schools, secondary schools and the tertiary institutions are all becoming a shadow of their old glorious selves.

The story is the same in the health sector. A majority of the public health facilities that serve the health needs of the poor and indeed majority of the population are in an abject state of decay. Most of these hospitals are at the very best mere consulting centres where you have some health professionals working without the necessary required tools.

The situation in the transportation system is another gory tale. The dreadful condition of the various intra and inter-states link roads has made them death traps for the road users. The latest statistics on road traffic accidents in the country show that the number of accidents in recent years is unprecedented in our history and yet there are no signs that things will get better. Linked with this is the complete collapse of he mass transportation system; key examples here are the stories of how ineffective management and lack of adequate investment for repair and renewals piloted the final collapse of the Nigeria Airways and the near grounding of the Nigeria Railway.

X-raying the on-going reforms

As mentioned above the Nigerian crisis is multifaceted. As a way out of this crisis, the present leadership in the country under President Olusegun Obasanjo has come forward with different reform options for the country. There is the economic reform programme encoded NEEDS, which from all aspects is an IMF/World Bank inspired formula in Nigeria and not qualitatively different from similar ventures like SAP etc, in which the central bearing is the philosophy of shifting the burden of the crisis of the present capitalist system onto the poor masses. The focus is that the government should have a hands-off approach in key amenities and in providing qualitative employment opportunities for the unemployed and the under-employed.

Predictably, NEEDS, like its elder brothers will not work in solving our enduring problems, neither will the political reform options of the Obasanjo regime solve the problems politically as the recent example of the National Political Reform Conference, popularly referred to as the National Dialogue, has shown. This is further enumerated below.

Let us recall that the National Dialogue was composed of 400 delegates. All the delegates were nominated: 50 by the President; 6 by each State Governor, totalling 216 for the 36 states; 6 by the Labour Unions; 6 by the Employers’ Groups. The rest of the delegates were nominated by the registered Political Parties (PDP – 12, ANPP – 4, AD – 2, the other 27 smaller Parties – 2), the academic community, Nigerians in the Diaspora, Women’s groups, Youth/students nominees among other so-called interest groups.

Although, the formal agenda for the conference included issues like fiscal policies, revenue allocation, federalism, types of political system at the centre and in the states, etc., a no-go area for discussion was on the unity of Nigeria, which the government says is not negotiable.

Similarly, the economic “reforms” of the government that are presently being carried out at the dictates of imperialism – as represented in the IMF and World Bank economic reform agenda for Nigeria – were not on the agenda. As far as the regime is concerned, the devastating ongoing anti-worker and anti-poor reforms of the economy are a fait accompli. However, the reality ‑ according to an old radical economist ‑ is that politics is in fact concentrated economics and that the foundation of any political system is the economic system it sets out to protect. No wonder, no enduring solution was forthcoming form the National Dialogue at the end of its deliberation.

Meanwhile, it is obvious that the reason why the National dialogue came into being was for it to serve as a safety valve in the face of a no-win situation for the government as far as the social crisis is concerned and also to arrest a potential restive mass movement from below.

As said earlier, the economic crisis over the recent period has worsened; the average industrial utilization capacity has remained as low as 35%. This is subsequently well reflected in the unemployment rate, which is at an all time high, and many Nigerians remain unemployed even many years after they have graduated from the schools.

The poverty rate in Nigeria remains at over 75%, and this oil-rich country ranks paradoxically among the poorest 13 countries in the world. Many Nigerians are not sure of where or when the next meal will come from. Preventable but infectious diseases remain the most rampant killing force, particularly among young children.

The situation is equally dramatic in the area of provision of social services and amenities. Health facilities owned by the government have largely collapsed and where they still exist have become wholly privatised and commercialised; making them unaffordable for the largely poor Nigerians. This situation has led to many avoidable sicknesses and deaths of many Nigerians, mainly because they cannot afford the charges at these hospitals.

The education sector is also in a state of decline; the public primary school system has virtually collapsed, the situation at the secondary schools is not much better either. Tertiary education in the universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, etc., is equally in a deplorable state with collapsed facilities and overstretched amenities. The various capitalist-induced crises that have virtually involved the whole education system are reflected in the symptomatic eruptions of violent protest against the unjust and callous privatisation of student hostels and other facilities, among others, on the campuses.

The multiple layoffs in the workplaces, anti-worker pension reforms, worsened working conditions, wholesome reduction in the salary packages of workers over the last period, are all signs of the sickness of the socio-economic system called capitalism in Nigeria, all of which have caused continuous unrest among the working masses.

Over the past two years, there have been continuous fight-backs by the workers by way of strike action in the workplaces against the government’s and other employers’ anti-poor policies, poor working conditions and pitiful income in the form of salaries and allowances. The strikes that have taken place in these places over the last two years can be said to be more than what had occurred in the previous ten years put together.

Similarly, on the national plane, there have been four general strikes in the last two years led by the NLC and the other trade union centres – TUC and CFTU – which have been in response to the callous increment in the prices of petroleum products. The price of petrol has increased by over 250% over the almost six years that the Obasanjo regime has been in power. The latest general strike was to commence in November 2004, before it was called off at the last minute. As a matter of fact, the idea of the National Dialogue was proposed by the regime less than a month after the strike was to commence. This on its own explains the note of urgency in the convocation of the then National Political Reform Conference.

The crisis is also reflected in the various youth protests in the Niger Delta and the multiple ethnic/religious bloody sectarian clashes across the country that have equally been very numerous since the inception of the Obasanjo regime.

The way forward

The socio-economic situation is in a critical state; no reform can solve the economic crisis on a capitalist basis or satisfy the interests of the poor working masses. As experience is showing, the present economic “reform” is leading to more impoverishment.

The only way forward is for the working class to strive for power and use this to rebuild society on a socialist basis, which will put the needs and the interests of the ordinary people at the top of the agenda by collectivising the available resources, through the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under the democratic control of the workers, and use this to provide appropriate social welfare and facilities in education, health, housing, good roads, massive employment programme, etc., which are largely lacking now.

A new Nigeria is indeed possible if the above outlined path is followed.