Nigeria: the journey so far - Why the Nigerian ruling class is incapable of developing the country

The Nigerian ruling class is famous for its levels of corruption and incompetence. What is even more striking is the way it was created. The irony of the situation in Nigeria is that the working class came into being long before the “ruling class”. This was due to the colonial domination on the part of British imperialism. Here a Nigerian Marxist looks at this apparent contradiction.

A fool, they say, at 40 is a fool forever; Nigeria is unfortunately more foolish at 40 than at one year of its existence. At 40 it is still wobbling and fumbling forward in its attempt to realize Nationhood.

Nigeria as a geo-political entity was a direct product of the mechanical amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by Sir Lord Lugard. The interest of the colonial masters in doing this was then simply to make the administration of the exploitation of the natives very cheap, easy and more efficient.

Nigeria is a nation of close to 300 nationalities with different histories, cultures and geo-political structures, brought together by the colonialists and for the colonialists. As a result of this multitude of Nationalities residing in Nigeria, it was very easy for the colonialists to use the old and tested ‘divide and rule’ method of governance. They deliberately divided the tribes against each other all in the furtherance of human and material exploitation of the natives and their natural resources.

The economic intention of the colonial masters was to make Nigeria, like any other colony, a provider of raw materials for the huge manufacturing plants of Britain. Of course, this interest was a very narrow one. Why therefore the need to have a sophisticated political and economic structure?

The first company established in Nigeria (the Royal Niger Company) was mainly an agricultural establishment. Later we had trading companies like UAC and co. The trading companies became necessary to facilitate the exchange of farm products between the imperial powers and their colonies. It was obviously uneconomical to recruit workers from Britain to carry out these menial jobs; therefore the colonial masters forcefully eject natives from their farms and got them to work for them in the towns. This point is very striking and very important. This is undisputable evidence that, of all the Social Classes in Nigeria, the Nigerian Working Class is the oldest, most mature and the first to have borne the brunt of hyper-exploitation by the colonialists.

Schools were established to train a small layer of Nigerians so as to increase their productivity. Natives were employed as security guards in the industries and government offices, clerks were recruited and railway lines were built to ease transportation of agricultural products from one region to the other. The railway workers were mainly Nigerian and there emerged the most exploited and therefore the most revolutionary section of Nigerian society.

During and after the Second World War, the Labour Party came to power in Britain. This reflected the radicalization of the British working class. There was a general shift to the left internationally. This was also the case in Nigeria where we saw the vigour, determination and revolutionary potential of the Nigerian working class. In these conditions it became much more difficult for the imperialists to carry on with an open direct exploitation of the natives.

The major challenge confronting the Colonial masters in this period was to recruit administrators from among the native population, to carry on the political administration. The idea was to grant some form of political independance while the colonial masters retained their hold on the economy. The colonialists were highly successful in this regard; they recruited the most opportunistic, reactionary, and most unprincipled layers of the upper strata of Nigerian society as their political administrators. These administrators were to later become the ruling class of the country after the exit of the British on October 1, 1960.

The birth of this Nigerian political class was a necessity if the colonialists were to continue maintaining a hold over the economy. It also permitted them to retain a degree of political control even after their departure.

The Nigerian ruling class that emerged from this process posed the greatest obstacle to the wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian working class. The Nigerian workers fought for complete independence ‑ both economic and political ‑ but the Nigerian ruling class settled for a compromise solution, for a minimal say in the affairs of the state. Their aspirations were very narrow and similar to those of their former colonial masters; they were careerists who wanted to become white overnight. They envied the whites, loved their way of life, and were full of jealousy. At the same time they hated the Nigerian workers who they considered as extremists. The colonialists hurriedly handed over power to this hopeless class, so as to prevent their overthrow from below by the workers as had happened in other colonial countries.

Thus independent Nigeria was placed in the hand of this new, immature, corrupt, unprincipled, uncultured and belated ruling class, who were nothing more than the weapon of post independence exploitation in the hand of the colonialists.

This nascent ruling elite faced some key challenges: to unite all the nationalities and integrate them into one nation and develop a modern economy. The urgent task was to achieve real capitalist development and overcome the limitations of an economy based simply on raw material production as it was during the colonial era.

How far have the Nigerian ruling class gone since 1960 towards overcoming these challenges? The success or failure of this class can be measured by analyzing to what degree they have faced up to these challenges.

Uniting the Tribes

There are three major tribes in Nigeria (Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa). They were the major tribes that the colonial masters played against each other during the era of divide and rule. After independence, these tribes were more divided than during the pre-colonial era. There were three main political parties at the time of independence, the Action Group (Yoruba based), the Northern People’s Congress (Hausa based) and the NCNC (initially national in outlook, but later it became Igbo based). These three parties were completely tribal based parties. Their leaders rested on their individual tribes to achieve their own selfish national agenda. They incited their tribes against the others, thus proving unequivocally that they were nothing more than the continuation of their old master’s regime, except that they were a more undeveloped and unintelligent version of the former.

For the past 43 years, the Nigerian ruling class has successfully divided their people, pitting one trine against another, one national group against another. The degree of division is now even greater than it was under the British imperialists! They have organised one civil war and are always ready to resume armed conflict at the slightest provocation. There are inter-and intra-tribal wars ravaging the nation.

The question is: why have they failed? They failed because their interests are even narrower than those of their colonial masters. They desperately wanted to accumulate enough wealth so as to be able to wine and dine with the white imperialists. They groveled (and still grovel) before their masters. No matter by what means, their main preoccupation was (and still is) to carry out their own primitive accumulation. The only viable option they felt they could use to further their aims was tribal sentiment and they hurriedly grabbed at it and used it. They are even using it much more efficiently than their old masters.

Building a real capitalist economy

For the same reason analysed above, the Nigerian ruling class failed woefully to carry out any major economic development. Nigeria still remains a producer of raw materials for the developed countries. Agriculture, that was once the major backbone of the economy, was hurriedly abandoned for crude oil exploitation, having discovered the latter in the 1970s. The economy is now more one sided than ever before. Over 90% of government income comes from crude oil exportation. Manufacturing companies are producing at less than 26% of their capacity. Unemployment, high rates of inflation, a huge flight of capital and a valueless currency are the realities of the Nigerian economy. The Mafia methods, the greed and corruption of this worthless Nigerian ruling class have plunged the country into a deeper economic crisis than when it came to power.

Why have they failed? The present Nigerian ruling class started to emerge as a class after 1952. This was almost 40 years after the working class had first appeared actively on the scene. This nascent bourgeoisie came into existence when there were already on the scene two much mature and mutually opposing camps: the imperialists (represented by British colonial rule) and the Nigerian working class. This nascent ruling class was nurtured by the imperialists and for the imperialists against the Nigerian working class which was more enlightened and was also enjoying international sympathy and support at the time.

Unlike the Nigerian working class, this new ruling elite emerged not out of any economic necessity but simply to serve the reactionary agenda of the colonialists. Therefore, to hope that the Nigerian ruling class can play any independent progressive role like the Nigerian working class is utopian and unrealistic.

At its birth this class had two options, either to align itself with the workers against the imperialists or to align with the imperialists against the working class. It is a corrupt class, made up of careerists, opportunists and unprincipled elements that always line up with their masters. With the inexorable process of globalisation, privatisation and commercialisation they are moving together towards the total destruction of our heritage, of our remaining economic values and our very civilisation.

In Conclusion

The various social problems confronting Nigeria as a Nation are rooted in the very foundations upon which the national institutions and the country as a whole are resting. After 43 years since independence Nigeria uses over 40% of its budget to service its foreign debt and provide profits for the imperialists through Joint Venture Cash. There is no stable power supply, no efficient means of communication, no good road system. There is high unemployment, no decent educational institutions, no living wage. There are still high levels of illiteracy, high mortality rates, no health facilities. The manufacturing sector is crumbling, the banking system is inefficient and we have unfavourable foreign exchange relations. Side by side with this we have some very corrupt and rich individuals, some of whom are now richer even than some of their old masters. They have stashed their money away in foreign banks and still they are not satisfied, and want to squeeze the last drop of blood out of the working class.

Freeing Nigeria is our collective responsibility. The first task is to overthrow the present buffoons that are ruling the country. There is only one class that is capable of carrying out this historical task, and that is the Nigerian working class. Bt for this the Nigerian Working class needs its own independent political party with a socialist programme. It must take the power out of the hands of this degenerate, corrupt and callous Nigerian ruling class.