CWI members in Nigeria
CWI members in Nigeria

Hear Democratic Socialist Movement leaders, Hassan Taiwo Soweto and Abbey Trotsky, speak

Coming up to the first anniversary of President’s Tinubu’s election victory, Nigeria is facing one of the gravest crises in its history as the economy founders and insecurity reigns in many parts of the country.

Once again the country is facing a currency shortage which is drastically effecting people’s lives and the economy. ATMs don’t work and those buying notes from point-of-sale merchants have to pay a premium to get hard cash. Nigerian students in Britain and elsewhere are also suffering as a result.

But the naira is hardly ‘hard currency’; since last year’s devaluation it has crashed in value. Currently it is around 1,400 to £1, a mighty crash given that the rate was roughly 550 at the start of last year. One result is a sharp cut in living standards as inflation leaps.

However inflation is not simply the result of the devaluation, it also is the result of Tinubu’s attempt to begin his presidency with an assault on living standards.

Tinubu attacks working class

The first warning of this was Tinubu’s impromptu announcement of the end of the fuel ‘subsidy’ in his inauguration speech. This sudden announcement, without any hint of any measures to soften the blow, meant an immediate cut in living standards. Last November food inflation was running at over 24% but in some states, like Kogi, Kwara, and Rivers, it was over 40%.

Overall the World Bank estimated in December that the number of Nigerians living in poverty had risen to 104 million, nearly half the population, as a result of recent developments. However, reflecting the international support that Tinubu has, the World Bank entitled its report ‘Turning the Corner’, something which many Nigerians would feel meant ‘Things Fall Apart’, to use the title of the famous novel.

System in question

The deteriorating economic situation, plus Nigeria’s totally inadequate infrastructure, has led to a series of multinationals, like GSK, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, abandoning local production and adopting a policy of selling imported goods.

All these come together to put the entire system into question. There is a growing desire for a change and the absence of signs of fundamental change is one reason for more and more seeking a way to leave the country.

Last year’s presidential election summed up the situation. Just 27% of registered voters actually voted and only a minority of these voters backed Tinubu who won just 37.6% of the vote. In terms of numbers, Tinubu’s 8,794,726 voters were a small minority of Nigeria’s roughly 220 million population at the time of the election.

Now, on top of the disastrous policies Tinubu is already enacting, we see how the new gang in power are moving against their rivals within the ruling elite. The usual charges of ‘corruption’ are made, many are true but they apply to all the main parties. Already under the current government there is the murky question of how  over 585 million naira of Federal money meant to provide “palliatives” to people to ease the current crisis was transferred into one individual’s bank account.

But the main candidates opposing Tinubu did not have a fundamental alternative. There was much noise about Peter Obi who, after failing to win the People’s Democratic Party’s nomination, suddenly switched in 2022 to the pro-capitalist Labour Party who rapidly made him their presidential candidate. While Obi gathered enthusiastic support in Abuja and Lagos, his base in other states was more limited and, despite his calls for the rejection of older leaders, his programme was not fundamentally different from most other candidates supporting, for instance, fuel subsidy removal.

Trade union fightback needed

The new Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leadership has sometimes reflected this anger in words, their press releases can sound militant. But, so far, this has not been reflected in determined action. We have still seen general strikes called without serious preparation, and are called off when nothing concrete has been decided beyond more talks. The result is that there is some scepticism whether the new NLC leaders are really different from the last lot.

Right now a key issue is what will be the new the minimum wage that was last set at 30,000 naira a month in 2019. Legally it is only increased every five years, a ridiculous situation given inflation. Such is the desperation now that the Federal Government and some States are giving extra wages as a temporary “palliative”. The popular pressure meant that Tinubu was forced to promise a “national living wage” in his New Year address, but already NECA, the employers body, are saying that this is not possible “at this moment” .

The trade unions are calling for a 200,000 naira monthly minimum, but have not begun any serious mobilisation on this demand. This is necessary both to win a significant increase but also to ensure its implementation. The 2019 minimum was not implemented throughout the public sector let alone in the massive private sector.

To win such a demand a serious struggle would be required, a struggle which also included demands for the wage to increase in line with inflation, not simply fixed for years, and opposition to any retrenchment if bosses say they have to cut the workforce in order to pay the new minimum.

Youth have also been included in the new government’s neo-liberal policies. The new student loan scheme is a vicious con aimed at further commercialisation of education. As the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) points out, it is only available to students whose parents’ income totals N500,000 or less annually, only cover tuition fees not the students’ other costs of accommodation, living expenses etc. and repayment has to start within two years of graduation.

Given the mass unemployment that Nigerian youth face, this is almost impossible to achieve yet non-payment will be a criminal offence and students will be “liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of two years or both”. As the ERC explains, this could easily become another source of oppression and extortion by the police and security services.

The ERC is one of the campaigns led by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) which strives both to win immediate improvements and oppose repression while arguing that Nigeria, like other countries, needs to break with capitalism in order to allow the use of the country’s resources to be democratically planned in the interests of the mass of the working people and poor. This could only be achieved by the creation of a mass movement that would be the basis for a government representing, and under the control of, working people that would carry out such socialist policies.

The DSM also leads the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) which is involved in workplace struggles and works to build campaigning and democratic trade unions that will take up serious struggle in the interest of all workers as part of building a movement to implement socialist change.

Come along to a meeting near you:

  • Leicester Tuesday 23 January, 7pm Secular Hall, Humberstone Gate, Leicester LE1 1WB
  • Peckham, London Thursday 25 January, 7.30 pm, Pelican Plus Hall, Pelican Estate, Peckham SE15 5NF
  • Bristol, Monday 29 January, 7.15 pm, St Paul’s Learning Centre, 94 Grosvenor Rd, Bristol BS2 8XJ. And Zoom code: 899 1011 5360
  • University of South Wales, Tuesday 30 January, 4.30 pm, Trefforest Community Centre, Dan-y-Bryn Road, off Kingsland Terrace, Trefforest, Pontypridd CF37 1AD
  • Cardiff, Tuesday 30 January, 7.30 pm YMCA Plas, 2 Shakespeare Street, Plasnewydd, Cardiff CF24 3ES
  • Manchester, Thursday 1 February, 7.30 pm Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent, Salford, M5 4WX