Nigeria: Obasanjo Must Go! Build a Labour Party Now!

Nigeria is facing the worst crisis in its history. So-called "democracy" has not improved the lot of the Nigerian masses. Manufacturing industry is in a state of collapse. And now the financial sector is also on the brink. In the past two years we have seen two general strikes and practically every section of the Nigerian working class has taken part in strike activity. Even the police has been out on strike and built its own union. And now there are rumours of a mutiny among the soldiers. Nigeria is facing an Argentine-type scenario. From the Editorial Board of the Nigerian Marxist journal, the Workers' Alternative.

Nigeria is facing the worst crisis in its history. So-called "democracy" has not improved the lot of the Nigerian masses. Manufacturing industry is in a state of collapse. And now the financial sector is also on the brink. Added to this is the impact of the world recession on Nigeria. Demand for oil has gone down and thus the price has come down from $29-30 to $18-20 per barrel. This severely affects government income.

Furthermore we have the policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, which have forced the government to open up the internal market. But the low level of productivity of Nigerian industry means that its goods are more expensive and therefore they cannot face up to competition from foreign goods. This is reflected in a recent demonstration of the textile workers. They were holding placards that read: "No to the WTO", "Nigeria out of the WTO" and "No to European goods". Many factories have closed as a result of the so-called "readjustment" policies. These factories have now been transformed into warehouses for imported foreign goods.

A deep and widespread crisis

The crisis in manufacturing is now affecting the financial sector. The collapse of Savannah Bank is only the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper and widespread crisis of the banking system. The Savannah Bank is one of the biggest banks in Nigeria. As a result people are now more wary of putting their money in the banks and therefore the banks are facing a severe crisis. An Argentine-type scenario is being prepared for Nigeria.

Until recently there had been a boom in the financial sector, but sooner or later the crisis in manufacturing had to emerge as a collapse in the finance sector. Now most banks are in real stress. They were happily playing on the Stock Markets and speculating on currency exchange rates, while there was no real investment in manufacturing. This is not surprising considering that the interest rate on loans is over 40%. With the rate so high there can be no incentive to invest in industry as the rate of return would have to be greater than 40% just to pay the interest! The banks have begun laying off workers and the worst is yet to come. Added to this are the pressures of the IMF. If IMF policies were fully applied in Nigeria it would involve the collapse of half the banking system!

Obasanjo and the IMF

The policies of the present regime reflect its position of mere stooge of imperialism, this in spite of its recent decision to send an IMF team packing! The Obasanjo regime has been making a lot of noise about this conflict with the IMF.

Why is this happening now? The conditions imposed by the IMF on Nigeria were the following: privatisation of public utilities; retrenchment of government workers; servicing the external debt; removal of subsidies in petroleum products, electricity, agriculture and foreign exchange; reduce government spending; free entry and exit of foreign capital. Basically the government is to sacrifice everything in order to pay the interest on the foreign debt. That amounts to $3.1billion interest each year. This means the government has to set aside 65% of the country's capital expenditure simply to service the debt. This figure is four times the total provision for health and seventeen times that for agriculture! On this basis Nigeria would be forced to pay $28.4billion over the next ten years. This reveals what the real situation is. The amount Nigeria would have to pay in interest over the next ten years would be almost equivalent to its present debt. It is being forced to hand over a significant portion of its wealth in the form of interest. Thus more money is actually flowing out of the country than is coming in. The poor are financing the rich!

Now Obasanjo is being applauded by such people as the President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and organisations such as the Lagos Chamber of Commerce. The Nigerian press is full of quotes from eminent professors and economists who have welcomed the move by Obasanjo. But does this mean that now all the anti-working class policies of this government will be ended? Not at all.

What this move represents is the enormous dilemma the Nigerian ruling class is facing. If it continues to apply the policies of the IMF it will face a mass movement from below. Two general strikes and a wave of strikes involving practically every section of the working class are sufficient proof of this. The Nigerian ruling class fears that it could be facing a revolutionary movement of the masses. Therefore it needs to voice its opposition. Obasanjo is facing new elections in 2003. He wants to be seen as "standing up to the imperialists". But in reality he has no alternative policy. Sending the IMF packing involves some problems for the Nigerian ruling class. Without an agreement with the IMF it would be difficult for Nigeria to get a rescheduling of its debt. Its debt relief arrangement with the Paris Club could be put in jeopardy. Nigeria still has to pay its interest on its foreign debt. If it does not get a rescheduling agreement then it has to pay up the full amount due and will not be able to get any further loans. In these conditions we could see a worsening of the value of the Naira and a flight of capital out of the country. On a capitalist basis there is no solution. As John Odeyemi of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries pointed out, "the country would have to devise alternative policies to defray its external debt." What would those alternative policies be? Not much different from what is happening at present. The workers would be made to pay, through increases in prices and cuts in state spending. On a capitalist basis the foreign debt has to be paid, or at least it has to be serviced. Thus the people of Nigeria should not be fooled by Obasanjo's rhetoric.

For although Obasanjo may oppose the IMF in words, in his deeds he has done almost everything they asked of him. In the 1970s the regime, at least had an interest in creating industries and developing the manufacturing base of Nigeria, to a degree. The present regime has merely been carrying out the dictates of the IMF, which are that everything must be privatized.

The National Commission for Privatization was set up to manage the process and so far they have managed to privatize 80% of what they had planned to sell off. But they have only been successful in privatizing mainly the small companies. However, they have not yet managed to sell off Nitel (Nigerian Telecom), NEPA (Electricity company) or the Refineries.

The position of NITEL is indicative of the problems the government is facing. It did everything that it had agreed to do, but the only offer they got was from International Investment Limited for $1.2billion, which was much lower than the real value. And yet in spite of the government agreeing to such a bargain offer International Investment pulled out. When it comes to big sums of money the international investors are not prepared to risk their money in Nigeria because they don't see any stable prospects. They have no confidence that this regime can guarantee the necessary stability for them to make the profits required to get their money back.

The bosses also face a militant workforce in these industries. The NITEL workers are asking what will happen to their jobs and working conditions if the company is privatized. The same is true of the NEPA workers who are against privatization. But although the Trade Unions are against privatization the leadership of the NLC is supporting this mass sell off. Adams himself is a member of the National Commission for Privatization. Thus, on this question he has positioned himself on the other side of the barricade!

The militancy of the Nigerian workers

The Trade Unions have been more vibrant in the last two years. Although the January general strike was declared illegal this has not cowed the workers. On the contrary, new layers are coming into struggle.

Over the past two years there have been more strikes than in all the past history of Nigeria put together. Strike action has been shown to achieve results. The government workers - a large section of the Nigerian working class - have achieved wage increases. These victories have made strike action even more popular. The workers have had a taste of their own strength. They know they can achieve more.

It is true that the increase in the price of oil three years ago helped to temporarily stabilize the regime which was able to make some concessions because of the increased revenue. But this has not led to increased support for the regime. On the contrary, precisely because of the terrible crushing of the working class under the military regime, and because of the extremely low level of wages, the workers are demanding more. One success has led to another in a growing crescendo of strikes.

January 19 general strike

The recent general strike of January 19 was not the same as the general strike of 2000. Participation was not as high. But this does not reflect the real determination of the workers to struggle. The strike was called because of the enormous pressure which had built up from below. The NLC leaders did not want to call the strike. They were forced to by the workers. And they called it off as soon as they had an excuse. Obasanjo provided this by declaring the strike illegal, and Adams politely obliged!

The collapse of the general strike was not due to the strength of the Obasanjo regime. The Obasanjo regime is weak. The strike collapsed because the NLC leaders created the conditions for its collapse. This was not a defeat like the NUPENG (oil workers) strike of 1994. After that defeat the regime was able to clamp down and increase repression. This is not the case now. Almost immediately after the general strike was allowed to collapse there were new strikes, with new layers coming out. The most significant of these has been the Police strike.

The Police strike

This is the first time ever in the history of Nigeria that the Police have been on strike. The police have been clearly affected by the movement of the working class. The regime was taken by surprise. They thought it wouldn't take place. But where the strike was organized it was total! The Police are one of the most hated sections of the State and yet the strike received widespread support from the masses. Workers in Nigeria sympathized with the demands of the police. They are facing similar problems.

Now the contagion has reached the ranks of the army itself. The Nigerian press is full of reports about a possible mutiny among the troops. The ordinary rank and file soldiers have clearly been affected by what has been happening among the police. Now we have the incredible scenario of Army chiefs travelling around the country visiting the barracks with the aim of giving the soldiers ‘lessons in how to defend the constitution". This shows how worried the Nigerian ruling class must be. If the Police go out on strike and the soldiers mutiny, where will they get the forces to hold down the workers? Next time the Police are sent to control striking workers it will be very easy for the workers to appeal to them for support. The police will be more prone to sympathize for the workers' cause.

A maturing pre-revolutionary situation

There are sharp divisions emerging within the ruling class. They no longer know how to control the situation and are divided as to how to go forward. The assassination of Bola Ige, the Minister of Justice, (last year) is an indication of how deep these divisions run. It seems that the ruling party was implicated and this would indicate a political settling of accounts at the top.

These are the kind of events that indicate a regime in crisis. Obasanjo has no support in the South-West, or in the North, or in the East. He has lost any support he may have had when he first came to power. His position is so weak that at one point he even faced impeachment. The result is that now the people are more politicized than ever.

Obasanjo himself is aware of his own weak position, and this is shown by his attempt to introduce his Electoral Bill. It represented an attempt to limit the parties taking part in elections. Obasanjo was attempting to rule by decree, but he was forced to retreat. He did not even find support among the three bourgeois parties that presently make up the so-called "democracy" of Nigeria.

The middle classes are fed up. The collapse of the Savannah Bank has already meant many families losing their savings. Unorganized sectors of the working class are getting organized and the working class as a whole is prepared to struggle as two general strikes in less than two years, and a whole spate of strikes, have amply shown.

January 27 bomb blast

The mood among the masses was revealed at the time of the January 27 bomb blast in Ikeja (Lagos) when over 1000 people were killed and over 5000 made homeless. Everyone knew this could happen, because reports two years ago revealed the terrible state of the equipment in the army base. The blast epitomized the state of the whole infrastructure in Nigeria. When the blast took place people thought it was a coup with sections of the army fighting each other. Two years ago we could have expected a mass reaction against any threat of a coup, but here we see how there was no such reaction. Some people looked on the army with sympathy! The famous CNN report which revealed that there was support among some layers for the return of the military provoked an angry reaction from the regime, but their anger only serves to show that there was an element of truth in the report. This shows that among some layers the disillusionment with civilian rule has led them to see the military as an option. This shows how isolated the Obasanjo regime is from the masses. This process is clearly affecting the middle classes and the more alienated lumpenproletariat, the jobless and downtrodden lower layers of society.

The working class, however, is more conscious and has not forgotten the role the military played in the past. But the fact that layers of society can look with sympathy on the military shows how far the situation has gone. These layers are ready for extreme measures.

When Obasanjo visited the site of the bomb blast he was booed. The vice-president had to run for his life as he risked being lynched!

A process of radicalization is also taking place among the students. Left candidates are being elected in the students' unions and pro-regime candidates are finding it harder to be elected. The conditions on the campuses and student residences together with the threat of increases in student fees are preparing the ground for a new explosion of the student movement. In the next period we can expect to see the students coming out onto the streets. This will have an effect on the workers as we have seen many times in the past.

Labour movement must prepare for taking power

All this indicates that what is maturing in Nigeria is an Argentine scenario, a pre-revolutionary situation.

What this means is that all the conditions are maturing in which the workers of Nigeria could take power. If the NLC leaders were to call a general strike and show that they were determined to go to the end they would get a massive majority of the population supporting their action. They could easily appeal to the lower ranks of the police by adding the demands of the police to those of the striking workers. They could even win over the lower ranks of the army, as the recent rumblings of discontent among ordinary soldiers has shown. In these conditions who could stop the workers? If the workers occupied every factory, every office, if the students occupied every school and university, if the farmworkers took over the farms, without a police force and army how could the ruling class stop the workers?

Such a movement would follow the example of the Argentine masses. It would create committees in every workers' district and elect delegates to higher bodies on city and state levels. What we would see emerging would be the embryo of a new way of running society. The workers would create their own system of government. A workers' government based on such a movement would start by repudiating Nigeria's foreign debt. At the moment this stands at over $30billion. Each year Nigeria is forced to pay huge sums in interest on this debt. We should keep this money in Nigeria and not give it to the rich, the IMF, the World Bank and the various imperialist powers. Imagine what we could do with this money, how many schools, houses and hospitals could be built, and how many jobs this would create!

Nationalize the commanding heights

But it would not be enough to simply repudiate the foreign debt. The workers of Nigeria would have to take control of the country's resources and use them to the benefit of the ordinary working people. This means taking them out of the hands of the imperialists and their local stooges. Nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy would be the only solution. By placing the economic resources of the nation under the control of the workers we could begin to solve all the problems that the Nigerian ruling class have not been able to solve in the over forty years in which they have ruled the country.

All this would be possible if only the leaders of the NLC were prepared to mobilize the workers. The problem is "comrade" Adams feels more at home hob-knobbing with capitalists than organizing the workers. Therefore the question is posed as to how we get out of this deadlock.

The task is a big one but it is not an impossible one. The first thing we have to do is to transform the Unions into genuine fighting organizations. The workers must have full control over their leaders. These leaders must be elected at all levels and the workers who elect them should have the right to recall them if they do not carry out the wishes of the movement. Therefore we must begin a campaign in each union to bring the leaders to account. The aim must be to transform each union so as to transform the NLC itself. If Adams is not prepared to fight then he should step aside and let others take over.

Build a Labour Party with a socialist programme

Adams has raised the question of building a Labour Party. That is what the workers of Nigeria need. But even a Labour Party would solve nothing if it were based on the programme of Adams, i.e. privatization! A Labour Party must base itself on the programme we have listed above. With such a programme it would be possible to build branches of the Party in every factory, every school and district, every farm. With such a party at the head of the Nigerian working class no force could stop the workers from taking power.

This is what is posed. At some stage the workers of Nigeria must take power or face dire consequences. Either the workers achieve the greatest of victories or the most terrible of defeats.

The ruling class of Nigeria is biding its time by leaning on the NLC leaders, but if after a protracted period the workers are worn out by a series of strikes that achieve nothing then there is the concrete danger of a process of demoralization setting in.

Is a coup possible?

We have already seen how among some layers the return of the military is no longer viewed as it would have been two or three years ago. So the question is posed: could the military make a comeback? Could the ruling class opt for a military coup?

It would seem unlikely at the moment that the military could carry out a successful coup. The working class has not been defeated. The workers have an understanding that the January 19 general strike collapsed not because of the lack of will to struggle on the part of the workers. It collapsed because of the role of the leadership. Since then we have seen a whole series of other strikes. The movement of the working class is upwards, not downwards. Therefore a coup in these conditions could unleash the wrath of the working class and achieve the opposite of what the ruling class would want.

Therefore the most likely perspective is that of some form of continued civilian rule. But can they rule through Obasanjo? It seems unlikely. Therefore they will have to find another candidate. A Labour Party led by Adams would be an ideal candidate. Three years ago the masses had illusions in democracy and even in Obasanjo. Those illusions have gone. At the moment Obasanjo is resting on the NLC leaders. They alone are propping him up. But even with the support of the NLC he cannot last for long. Therefore the question for the ruling class is posed: what next? Adams in the government would be a way of holding the situation for a period. The workers would be prepared to listen to a government involving Adams, especially if it were through a Labour Party. The workers would see such a party as "our party" and would therefore be prepared to give it some time.

However, the creation of a Labour Party would have another side to it. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of workers would join such a party and would attempt to use it to achieve their aims. The leaders of such a party would find themselves coming under immense pressure from the workers. The workers and the leadership would find themselves pushing in opposite directions. The conditions would be prepared for a massive swing to the left in the ranks of the party once it became clear that leaders such as Adams offer no real alternative. Thus the ideas of Marxism would find a big echo and the conditions for the transformation of the party into a genuine revolutionary force would emerge.

Both the ruling class of Nigeria and Adams know this. That is why Adams talks about a Labour Party but takes no concrete action to create one. He may be forced to form one. But he may also decide to stifle such a process, precisely because he fears the workers that would join such a party. If that were to be the case then the pressures coming from below could lead to the formation of some radical bourgeois party that would attempt to lean on the masses. Whichever way it goes, the bourgeois need some vehicle with which to fool the masses for a further period. We can expect all kinds of new political formations in such a situation.

However, at the end of the day the masses' problems will not be solved on a capitalist basis. If after a period of such political manoeuvrings the conditions of the masses are not improved, and if the struggles of the workers lead to no concrete change, then the situation can be an extremely dangerous one for the workers.

So long as the workers' movement is going forward the ethnic question can be partially overcome. If the workers are led to defeat then the national question in Nigeria will raise its head to unheard of heights in a nightmare scenario. Recently after clashes between Yorubas and Hausars in Lagos we saw Hausars carrying placards which read "Democracy No, Military Yes". On this basis the military, in the long run, can make a comeback.

Therefore the task is an urgent one. The workers of Nigeria have amply shown that they are prepared to struggle. The conditions are extremely favourable for a transformation of society. No one could stop the workers if only they had the leadership. It is up to us, the rank and file members of the unions, the students, the unemployed, to work towards the formation of a workers' party with the aim of overthrowing this rotten capitalist system.