The past two weeks have been marked by interesting developments in Nigeria, signaling that the country is entering a new phase of crisis.
Despite pending court cases regarding the election result, the ruling class has proceeded with the transition to the new presidency. In the inauguration of Bola Tinubu on May 29th, the capital city of Abuja was adorned with celebrations, including drummers, dancers, and merrymakers. The event was accompanied by church and mosque services, concerts, and night parties, all aimed at creating a memorable occasion. Heavy security measures were put in place at Eagle Square, the venue of the inauguration, with the presence of various security agencies. The theme for the inauguration was “Nigeria: Better Together”. A few world leaders, including heads of states, were present.
Since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999, the country has had four elected presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), Umaru Musa Yar’adua (2007-2009), Goodluck Jonathan (2009-2015) and Muhammadu Buhari (2015-2023).
The Legacy of the Buhari Presidency
The Buhari presidency, which just concluded its eight-year tenure, failed to solve any of the countries’ economic problems. According to reports, during the Buhari presidency, three million were internally displaced and living in camps, and an additional 366,000 became refugees in neighboring countries. Furthermore, President Buhari implemented policies that favored the rich while burdening the poor.
One such example was the closure of borders for long and this affected the prices of so many valuable things become unaffordable by ordinary people.
In an attempt to showcase success in agriculture, Buhari constructed rice pyramids for photo opportunities, though they proved short-lived. Numerous unfinished projects were left unaccounted for, despite significant funds allocated to them. In a bid to create an impression of fulfilled promises, several projects were commissioned shortly before leaving office, including the Dangote refinery. The country’s external debt stood at US$41.69 billion in 2022, while Nigeria’s total public debt stock increased to N46.25 trillion or $103.11 billion as of December 2022.
Impact on the Working Masses
With such substantial debts to service over the coming decades, Nigerian working people will inevitably bear the consequences. The energy and the inflation crises, coupled with the coming slowdown in the world economy, will certainly be felt in Africa.
Privatisation and the dismantling of the state is an extra burden for working people. The situation of the health sector is dire. At the same time, the President himself frequently sought medical treatment in London, while millions of Nigerians were left to suffer from curable diseases.
The Buhari Administration left behind a record level of inflation, with the annual inflation rate reaching 22.22% in April 2023, the highest in nearly 18 years. Food inflation, which constitutes a significant portion of Nigeria’s inflation basket, rose to 24.61% in March.
Over 71 million people in Nigeria are living in extreme poverty, representing 32% of the population, as reported by the World Poverty Clock. The World Bank highlights that 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line, with limited access to education and basic infrastructure such as electricity, safe drinking water, and improved sanitation. Additionally, only 17% of Nigerian workers hold jobs that have the potential to lift them out of poverty.
Repression, infrastructure, brain drain, insecurity
During the previous administration, activists were arrested and detained, court orders were ignored, and political appointees lived extravagant lifestyles. This lack of accountability and disregard for the well-being of ordinary citizens is unfortunately not surprising, as capitalist politicians live at the expense of the working masses.
Major infrastructures such as railways, roads, electricity, and water, along with essential social services including healthcare, housing, child care and education are in very bad conditions across the country. Even in states governed by opposition parties, similar conditions apply.
Brain drain has significantly affected the healthcare sector, with thousands of Nigeria-trained doctors working in the UK and America. Health workers have gone on strike, and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a ten-month strike, which was only resolved through a court injunction that forced them to return to work, with their ten months’ salary withheld. The exodus of skilled professionals seeking better opportunities abroad has had a detrimental impact on various sectors in the country.
Insecurity has worsened, with bandits attacking villages and kidnapping thriving. The abduction of students, similar to the Chibok incident, has become alarmingly frequent. Schools have been attacked, and students kidnapped in various locations.
The Nigerian economy is currently crumbling due to neoliberal policies and capitalism.
Tinubu, one of the same
Bola Tinubu’s inauguration as president was accompanied by a dinner and gala night in the Presidential Villa in Aso Rock, Abuja. During the event, Tinubu made a statement saying, “Don’t pity me, I asked for the job, I won’t give excuses.” While this statement may sound confident, the reality is that governance is not about good intentions, even if we accept that he has these good intentions; it is about policies and their implementation. Tinubu is part of the ruling class. As a former governor of Lagos state, he is a strong defender of neoliberalism and capitalism. A glance at his 80-page manifesto reveals that it is driven purely by the motive for profits. Therefore, the working masses must be prepared to struggle against the impending onslaught.
During his campaign, Tinubu promised to remove the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, regardless of any protests from Nigerians. At the inauguration, he insisted on this. Since then, fuel scarcity has reemerged because traders are hoarding it in anticipation of being able to sell it at higher prices if the government allows them to do so. This is just the beginning; Nigerians must brace themselves for a struggle against the Tinubu administration on this issue. Since the announcement by the new president, fuel queues have reappeared in many cities, and petrol pump prices have increased from 194 naira to between 350 and 700 naira per litre.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) has increased prices of petrol (PMS) by over 200 per cent bringing the price of fuel to between N488 and N557 per litre.
A new pricing template was released to marketers by the NNPCL management to oil marketers. It directed that the new price adjustment come into effect from today.
Tinubu is one of the old guards of the political system. He has always defended the policies of past administrations and has promised to continue where they left off. Therefore, anyone expecting any significant differences in the Tinubu administration will be disappointed.
Nationalisation of the oil sector
The fuel sector has been plagued by massive corruption for decades, and time and again fuel prices are increased in the name of subsidy removal. The Revolutionary Socialist Movement (RSM) has consistently argued that the subsidy system is a fraud and that the pervasive and massive corruption in the oil sector can only be stopped through public ownership and democratic control of the oil industry. This would require the nationalization of the oil industry, along with other key sectors of the Nigerian economy, under the democratic management and control of workers, trade unions, professionals, and oil-producing communities. By doing so, corruption can be curtailed, resources can be freed up, and channeled into the development of society through massive public programs in areas such as rail, infrastructure, housing, healthcare, and affordable and quality education. It is also the only way to address the underlying environmental problems.
It is important to raise this issue now because investigations have revealed that subsidy payments were not transparent. Previous probes launched by different arms of the government in 2012-13 were seen as desperate attempts to quell public anger, as no one was held accountable for the corruption in the oil sector.
Through these probes and investigations, it became clear to the working class and ordinary Nigerian masses that if any subsidies were provided, they were merely subsidizing the corruption of the elites and their cronies in the oil sector, as part of the capitalist exploitation of Nigeria.
Unions and the need for struggle
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) have both voiced their opposition to the removal of fuel subsidy. The TUC demands that President Tinubu engage in dialogue and consultation to address the numerous issues surrounding the subsidy removal. They argue that Nigerian workers and the masses should not be made to suffer due to the inefficiencies of successive governments.
Similarly, the NLC has criticized President Tinubu’s stance on fuel subsidy, calling it hasty and not well thought out. The NLC President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, cautioned that the decision to remove the subsidy would have a negative impact on the country’s economy. Ajaero stated that Nigerians would voice their opposition in unison at the appropriate time.
Both trade union centers maintain that they will not support the removal of fuel subsidy until all of Nigeria’s own refineries are operational. They argue that if the refineries were functioning at their full capacity, there would be no need to export crude oil and import refined products. Currently, all the public owned refineries are not working. Meanwhile, capitalists continue to keep their businesses afloat through public funds and bailouts.
The recent commissioning of a refinery in Lagos by Dangote, Africa’s richest man, with 20 percent financial support from the government, further highlights the issue. Dangote has announced plans to sell its products on the international market. Therefore, this refinery is unlikely to solve Nigeria’s fuel crisis.
Unions must not sow illusions about the possibility that Tinubu can change the essense of his policies. Only through mass struggle there can be a change in people’s lives. Unions, movements and the Left must organise this resistance!