There is no doubt to the fact that Obasanjo Regime has no other agenda than to conclude the Liberalization and Privatisation policy started some 16 years ago as stipulated by IMF and Western Financial Institutions. The Privatization and Commercialization Act of 1988 started most seriously the journey to the full-scale sale of Nigerian properties - this was under General Babangida.
The Privatization and Commercialization Decree of 1988 set up the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation (TCPC). The target was to privatise 111 public enterprises and commercialise 34 others. In 1993, the TCPC concluded its assignment and submitted a final report having privatised 88 out of the 111 enterprises listed in the decree.
To conclude the full-scale privatization, the 1988 decree was repealed and the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) Act of 1993 was promulgated. As a result of the political crisis and staunch oppositions from the masses, coupled with the loss of credibility on the part of the government, it became clear then that the Babangida regime could not go on with the assignment.
The Abacha regime that followed did not enjoy the support of the people even for one day. This made it most difficult for him to play any significant role in this direction, and it was becoming obvious to the ruling class that a new method of deceit was necessary to finalize this agenda.
Obasanjo came to power in 1999. Less than a month after coming to power, the Federal Government enacted the Public Enterprise (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act, which created the National Council on Privatization under the chairmanship of the Vice President. The World Bank itself had to surrender one of their chieftains, Mrs. Kojo, as a member of the Executive. All this points to the desperation of the ruling class in wishing to complete this looting and destruction of the collective wealth of the Nigerian people.
Why the Privatisation?
As McGrew argued, Privatisation and Commercialisation is a neo-liberal development strategy devised by the international financial institutions to incorporate national economics into the global market (World Bank, 2003). But what economy does not Nigeria have to incorporate into the global market? The primary reason behind this policy is to make available huge sums of money in the hands of the government to allow them to easily and conveniently service their huge debt.
Nigeria has a foreign debt burden of $32.9 billion, where servicing required in 2003 alone $2.91 billion. The figure for 2004 is $2.76 billion, and for 2005 it is $2.83 billion, and so on. Therefore no other option seems more attractive than this blood sucking policy of Obasanjo. The cost of debt servicing alone is more than twice the budget on Education and Health combined together. That is why the regime is not only privatising, but also cutting public spending on other amenities.
Another important reason for this policy is to allow the products and services from the advanced capitalist countries to find an outlet into the so-called “developing countries”. Capitalism has outgrown the limits imposed by the nation state. It has exhausted the local market not because it has fully satisfied the needs of society, but because effective demand of the people has reached its limit. For the survival of capitalism all barriers to the easy flow of products and services across the countries must be broken.
There is no doubting the fact that most government owned establishments are grossly inefficient and highly corrupt, like the government itself. This explains why most petty bourgeois and certain sections of the working class are presently supporting Privatisation and Liberalisation. But there is a problem. Statistics show that about 93% of what constitutes the present day ruling class in Nigeria either directly or indirectly at some time has worked in these establishments and made their first money directly through these establishments, either as civilians or military. It is not the public ownership of these parastatals that ruined them, but the management.
The case of RORO Port when it was in private hands is still fresh in our minds as a glaring testimony of the anathema of privatization. The RORO terminal, which was for many years managed by a private company, claimed to have generated a paltry monthly revenue of fifty four million naira (N54,000,000.00). Out of this amount, it claimed that about forty eight million naira (representing about 80 percent of the total income) was used to pay salaries and other sundry expenses. This left a profit of six million naira (N6,000,000.00), about 50 percent of which was paid to the NPA as profit. However, when the NPA took over operations, the NPA recorded a staggering sum of sixty million naira as revenue. Out of this amount, only six million naira was used for the payment of salaries and other overhead costs leaving a total of fifty four million naira in the coffers of government.
Any programme pursued by the Nigerian ruling class will always strive to defend its own local interest. Even when at times it leans on the Nigerian working class against the foreign powers, it still holds on to its own interests. At times it leans on the foreign powers against the working class as the case is now. In all this we can pinpoint various local interests of these mafias.
Most of these public properties are sold at throw-away prices, to themselves and their friends. The case of the 1004 housing estate is the most pathetic, with over 1,388 working class families living there as official quarters. The estate was sold for a paltry sum of 7 billion Naira to UACN, and immediately the company (UACN) put up an advert for the same property for 70 Million Naira per house! This is open robbery and a vituperative attack on our collective intelligence.
Equally pathetic was the sale of Alagbon Towers bought by NSITF. This was pathetic not because of the amount it was sold for, but simply because NSITF was presided over by Adams Oshiomole, the NLC president. He is supposed to stand firm in the interests of the working class, but what we are seeing is a class collaborative posture and an aggressive desire to get his own share of the national cake. What a pity for Nigerian Working class.
What are the effects so far?
The effects of these crimes are being felt in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. The most blatant is the astronomical increase in the gap between the rich and the poor. A Gini index of zero represents perfect equality while an index of 100 implies perfect inequality. Nigeria has one of the highest Gini indexes in the world. The Gini index for Nigeria is 50.6. This rates poorly in comparison with other countries such as India (37.8), Jamaica (37.9), Mauritania (37.3) and war torn Rwanda (28.9).
With privatization and public spending cuts, the worsening human resource situation in Nigeria will get even worse. The Human Development Index ranking placed Nigeria at 148 out of 173 countries in 2002. Nigeria hosts the third largest number of poor people after China and India. Statistics show that the incidence of poverty, using the rate of US$1 per day, increased from 28.1 percent in 1980 to 46.3 percent in 1985 and then to 65.6 percent in 1996. The incidence increased to 69.2 percent in 1997 and now it has been hovering around the 78% figure since 2003.
If the rate of US$2 per day is used to measure the poverty level, the percentage of those living below the poverty line jumps to 90.8 percent. What inhumanity against humanity, extreme poverty in the midst of plenty! With the continuous increase in the pump price of petrol there is no limit to the poverty level of Nigerians under capitalism.
The direct outcome of all this is mass unrest and explosions of anger incited by hunger. This explodes in the form of religious and ethnic killings. The cases of Plateau and the reprisals in Kano are a byproduct of the Nigerian ruling class Mafia policies. The regime is already becoming aware of the imminent mass opposition against its rule, and it has no alternative than to continue this programme. That is why it quickly slammed a state of emergency on Plateau state. It is not because of Obasanjo's love for the people of Plateau. He is preparing the ground to move towards a parliamentary bonapartist regime. This is the only system of rule that can permit him to conclude his dangerous agenda. Within two days of deliberation, the Senate passed a bill giving him the powers of emergency rule in any part of the country. This bill moved through the National Assembly faster than any other bill in the history of this regime. This is a pointer to the fact that he is not alone in this blood sucking agenda; it is the collective responsibility of all the bourgeois parties in parliament.
There is no alternative for the Nigerian working class under capitalism. For as long as the system remains, hunger, misrule, ethnic violence and religious intolerance will continue to haunt us. The Nigerian ruling class will plunge us more and more into havoc and the absolute destruction of both civilization and the basic means of livelihood. A Nationalized economy under the direct management of the working class is the only sure way to end our misfortune. Towards this end, a party of the working class with a socialist programme is very urgently needed and it should take power from this corrupt, imbecile and reckless Nigerian ruling class.