Nigeria: a big time bomb ticking very fast - A letter from Abiodun Oyeyemi in Lagos

The objective situation in Nigeria can best be described as a big time bomb ticking at a very fast rate. The Trade Union leadership is under a lot of pressure, as big revolts over wages and working conditions have broken out. They are still holding back the movement qualitatively but it is only a matter of time before it explodes on a higher level. Many of the big companies are now directly cutting wages by as much as 40%-70%. The pressures on the lower classes are mounting by the day. The stock exchange is always overheating. A crash is inevitable.

In Nigeria today the struggle for survival is taking up most of people's daily lives. Things are not getting easier at all, rather more problems keep on developing by the day. This is a general reflection of life here; as the crisis of capitalism continues to deepen, survival for ordinary working people (and also for more and more middle class people) is becoming extremely difficult.

The pressures on the lower classes are mounting by the day. More businesses are failing and unemployment is rising. The middle class is being hit by the day. Many now are being forced to wake up to the realities of direct wage cuts, longer working hours, and unbelievable demands from their employers. For the banks, oil industry, telecoms, etc, the story is the same. The prices of some goods and services are going down by the day due to overcapacity. Many of the big companies are now directly cutting wages by as much as 40%-70%. The stock exchange is always overheating. A crash is inevitable.

The objective situation in Nigeria can best be described as a big time bomb ticking at a very fast rate. The Trade Union leadership is under a lot of pressure, as big revolts over wages and working conditions have broken out. They are still holding back the movement qualitatively but it is only a matter of time before it explodes on a higher level.

The various local governments are having problems paying wages; workers are owed as much as six months salary. This is happening in spite of the high oil prices. The oil sector is in fact currently facing distress.

The situation is relatively the same in the private sector. The telecoms-IT boom is already coming to an end. It is only a matter of time before a bigger crisis comes. The financial sector is overheating; it is characterised by huge scandals and theft. The stock exchange is heavily overvalued and it has been sliding in value over the past weeks. The bourgeoisie are no longer confidant about putting their money in it.

When it crashes, heads will roll. There is no way they are going to meet up with the anticipated profits. Heavy-duty accounting magic is going on to give the impression that corporations are making big money. There is the case of a recently privatised petroleum distribution company where the new management discovered that a debt of over N25 billion was hidden away from them until they had taken over.

Many of the banks are cutting the wages of their workers and putting heavy pressure on the workers to meet up with the anticipated profits. The workers are to go and get new deposits from new clients. How they are to achieve this is none of the business of management. I know one bank worker, who is expected to bring in a deposit of N50 million Naira within three months. If he cannot make it he gets a query, if he makes it he has to get another N50 million within the next three months. Such targets can only be met easily by armed robbers!!

The regime has put a big squeeze on the foreign exchange sector, and this is an indication of the crisis it is facing. Nigeria's foreign reserves are going down by the day due to low income from the oil sector, which accounts for over 92% of foreign exchange.

The foreign exchange market is where the banks and financial institutions make huge profits. The banks and financial sector account for over 70 percent of the most valued stocks on the stock exchange. They are not supporting production. They are only interested in high short-term profits. The interest rates are very high.

The regime has continually devalued the Naira and it is tightening the ropes around the necks of the bank due to IMF pressures. The regime has defaulted on payments of the debt. The imperialists are putting more pressures on the regime but the regime is in no position to carry out their requests to the letter. This accounts for the serious conflicts that have developed with the regime. The British are getting more apprehensive. The British government and financial institutions own a large percentage of the debts.

When the regime defaulted some months ago, it is important to note that the BBC was first to report it. You can feel the bitterness in their reports. But the local bourgeois do not give a damn about how bitter the imperialists are because the regime is in debt to them as well. Billions of Naira are owed to local banks, corporations, contractors, etc. Most are also fictitious.

In spite of the high fuel price, the real income of the regime has gone down. This is because the high price regime was due to a qualitative cut in production by all OPEC members. This situation benefits the Gulf members of OPEC rather than the other members. The current price is very artificial and unstable. OPEC is currently producing at about 50-60 percent capacity. Before Nigeria produced about 2 million barrels per day. Right now, it is down to about 1.7 million. In spite of the high prices, there is a qualitative fall in income.

The oil sector itself is in crisis. Shell, that produces about 52 percent of Nigeria's crude oil, is having cash problems due to the inability of the regime to meet up with its financial obligations. Shell is having problems paying its contractors, to which it owes over $300 million.

All this accounts for the conflicts within the ruling class. Right now, the approved budget has been abandoned by the regime. The regime is having problems paying salaries.

The regime is also currently incapacitated due to the intense conflicts that have broken out within the ruling elite itself. They are split in all directions.

On the students' front, in spite of the right-wing robbers at the head of the NANS the students are moving leftward. Many movements have taken place within the past months. The leadership has been forced to go along with the ranks in spite of their insincerity. The landslide victory of a Marxist candidate at Ife confirms this leftward move. The Marxists dominated the debates at the last NANS senate meeting.

On the prospects of a movement of the working class. In the coming periods, the workers will move through their unions. And the question of a political voice for the working class will definitely grow.

The National Consciousness Party, regarded by some as a possible alternative, is already enmeshed in bourgeois politics. It is already supporting one wing of the bourgeoisie against the other and not providing a concrete way forward. It is also not immune to ethnic chauvinism, corruption and confusion. Also the NCP is very much based on one personality, Gani. If he were no longer around this party would collapse.

What is needed is a campaign inside the trade union movement for a Labour Party. The leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) keeps on toying with this question. Up until now it has resisted the pressures from below. It fears that a Labour Party would attract tens of thousands of workers pushing for radical socialist solutions to their problems. But they cannot hold back the tide forever. When pressure really builds up the leadership of the NLC will be forced to act. Of course they will do this in such a way as to try and hold back the movement. But the pressures are so great in Nigeria that the workers must sooner or later find a political expression, a party they can call their own. If this were combined with a genuine socialist programme then no one could stop the Nigerian working class.

October 13, 2002

PS The Nigerian articles on the web site and the election of a Marxist MP in Pakistan are really huge morale boosters for those of us who are trying to defend genuine socialist ideas inside the Nigerian Labour and Student movements.