By Cesar Neto & Yves Mwana Mayas
For almost fifteen days the youth and popular sectors of Nigeria showed their anger against the Government of Buhari. Up against the wall, the government unleashed violent repression and the movement was defeated, but it is clear that the problems which caused the crisis have not been resolved, and there will be new struggles.
It is necessary to prepare for the new cycle to come. First, it is necessary to have a clear anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist program and simultaneously to build a leadership capable of guiding the masses in their struggles.
Many honest fighters blame corruption and bad governments for unemployment, lack of social rights and poverty; they imagine that just changing the government is enough. We want to show that the problem is much bigger and deeper.
For the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, countries rich in minerals or oil are experiencing a supposed “curse”1, as all of these countries suffer from “bad governments”. According to the IMF, it is corrupt governments that steal all national wealth and are responsible for poverty. In fact, when many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) campaign for “good governance”, they are opposing the development of anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist consciousness.
We want to explain another point of view. We recognize that corruption does exist, but it is not the main problem. The big problem is the exploitation of natural wealth by imperialist companies and the overexploitation of workers.
Reducing all problems to the issue of corruption is a way of hiding the character of imperialist exploitation, and more importantly, the colonial character of nations. It is not enough to change the president, oil must be 100% nationalized and produced by state-owned companies.
To achieve that, it is necessary to return to the streets and build from below against the Buhari government and implement a different program.
A little about Nigeria
Nigeria is the largest black country in the world2, with the seventh largest population on the planet, 200 million inhabitants are squeezed into a territory of 923 million km2. For comparison, Brazil has a population approximately 5% larger than Nigeria, which lives in an area ten times larger than Nigeria. (If Nigeria is the largest black country in the world, one might argue that Brazil is in second place.)
Nigeria depends almost exclusively on oil. This product has been, for the last 40 years, responsible for 95% of foreign exchange revenues and 80% of State expenses.
The volume of oil produced in 2017 by Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela is very similar. These countries produced 1,530,000, 1,640,000 and 1,970,000 barrels per day, respectively. The percentage of world production from Nigeria is 1.57%, Angola is 1.68% and Venezuela is 2.02%.
These are three peripheral countries in the world economy that have similar oil production, as well as other features in common: all three are suffering all the effects of the economic recession, of overproduction of oil, and problems to end the Covid-19 pandemic crisis.
Oil overproduction and global recession
In the last decade there have been important changes in the context of world oil. The first is that the USA, which for decades was the world’s largest oil importer, has started using new technologies that make possible the conversion of bituminous sand into oil. Thus, the USA, which was the largest oil importer, has become the largest oil producer and begun to export oil and its derivatives. Nigeria, which for many years had the United States as its main consumer, has since approximately 2012 not sent a single barrel of oil to that country.
Thus, in this context of overproduction, Nigeria had only the alternative of selling its oil to China and India. Because of world over-production and Nigeria’s imperative need to sell oil, the buyers imposed increasingly adverse conditions.
As the world’s oil overproduction was hitting Nigeria’s economy hard, the global recession reduced Chinese economic activity but the weaker countries, such as Nigeria, were even more affected by the effect of the capitalist crisis. Covid-19 also exacerbated the fall in oil sales in the country adding another element to the crisis. Thus, the slowdown in the Chinese economy since 2014 has led Nigeria to reduce the volume of production and sell its oil in even more devalued conditions. This process was also repeated in other ways, but with the same fundamental problems in countries like Angola, Ecuador and Venezuela.
Overproduction and World Recession Destroy Nigeria’s Oil and Rentier Economy
To understand Nigeria it is not enough to talk about corrupt governments, it is necessary to observe the world economy, the combined picture of global oil overproduction and the consequences of the economic recession, which have profoundly affected the peripheral economies with the characteristics of mono oil exporters and rentiers. This process is very visible in Venezuela and Ecuador, in Latin America and in Angola and Nigeria.
The IMF, which campaigns against “bad governments” and corruption, knows very well that the problem is different. In the face of the imminent crisis that was looming in 2017, Chistiane Lagarde, the then director-general of the IMF, was dispatched to Nigeria to impose an austerity plan that affects the entire population. Lagarde had a clear objective: to prepare the country for the enormous crisis that lay ahead and to be able to guarantee payment of the foreign debt. She was blunt in saying that : “The new reality of low oil prices and low oil revenues means that the fiscal challenge facing the government is no longer about how to divide Nigeria’s oil wealth revenues …” and added: “My policy refrain is this: act with determination – intensifying revenue mobilization. The first step is to expand the tax base and reduce losses, improving compliance and increasing collection efficiency” 3.
Thus, Ms. Lagarde was to impose measures that greatly affected the living conditions of the working class and the poor people. This meant an increase in the value added tax (VAT) from 5% to 7.5%, an increase in electricity of 70%, cuts in health and education spending and, finally, a general increase in the price of gasoline and fuels.
The IMF measures implemented in 2017 are not enough for the government, and it faces the huge crisis. At the end of September 2020, the Government of Muhammadu Buhari introduced a bill for the IPO (Initial Public Offerings) of the powerful state-owned NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation). In addition the project provides for the company to become independent from the government without state financing, that is, “a national oil company oriented to trade and for profit”4 ,as the project says. With such ‘Independence’ of NNPC’s capital, the prices of oil products will be determined by the market, and in this way the decade-long cycle of state-subsidized gasoline will end and Nigerians will start to pay the same prices that are paid in non-producing countries.
Scrap and sale of refineries:
There is, at the same time, also an ongoing process of scrapping refineries, whereby they are devalued and subsequently sold at low prices. This is because the government is not investing in the maintenance of refineries, nor fighting vandalism in the Warri to Kaduna pipeline, which consequently directly affects the important Kaduna Refinery.
As the joint communication from the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) says, “it should be noted that refineries have not been maintained for many years, despite the money budgeted to them every year by successive governments.” It continues, “our refineries cannot be sold like this, they are huge national assets; they must be revitalized for strategic and security reasons and operate profitably”.
The reader might ask why the government has a deliberate policy of scrapping refineries? This is because of the government’s current goal of importing gasoline. This begs the question, why import gasoline? The reader could ask this as well and we would answer the same: to import gasoline. Thus, an oil-producing country, with a very advanced refining park, will now import gasoline. The same process was observed in Ecuador with respect to the Esmeraldas Refinery and in Venezuela with the Puerto La Cruz and El Palito Refineries.
The vicious circle of neocolonial dependence has its price
There are several common features in the oil policy of Ecuador, Venezuela, Angola and Nigeria, but there is one in particular – the scrapping of refineries. The other tendency is financial inability to maintain and update the technology used. The governments of “21st Century Socialism” (Correa in Ecuador and Maduro in Venezuela), the MPLA dictatorship in Angola and Buhari in Nigeria have the same problem: they claim they do not have the economic and financial conditions to continue maintenance of the refineries.
The total technological dependence on the imperialist powers forces these countries to buy technology at exorbitant prices, so the problem is not the lack of money, it is the extortionate technological dependence.
The four countries mentioned above, regardless of the type of government they have, submitted to the impositions of foreign debt, greatly reduced funds for education and research and transformed universities into centers of reproduction of foreign science and technology. Thus, without quality education and research, they did not develop alternative technologies for oil and are prisoners of the big companies that supply spare parts in imperialist know-how..
Technological dependence is part of our colonial dependence. Without breaking with imperialism, without building a new independence, we will always remain technologically, culturally, politically dependent and as a consequence we are economically dependent.
The two arms of dependence: oil theft and overexploitation of workers
A scholar of oil exploration in Nigeria, shows how SPDC (Shell Group), from 1958 to 2012 accumulated a profit of around US $30 billion with oil, OLUWANIYI says “subordinating lives and the livelihoods of the local population through frequent spills oil, seismic explosions, gas flares and effluent discharges directly into their bodies of water”6. In this way, since 1958, when oil exploration actually began, the Nigerian State, regardless of which government was in power, created repressive laws to protect and allow “Multinationals profit by reducing taxes paid to the state, tax evasion, laws, such as the 1975 Anti-sabotage Decree, which imposed the death penalty or imprisonment for more than 21 years for activities that obstruct oil production and gross distribution, and the Land Use Law of 1978, which invested ownership of all land and resources in and within the state; and the militarization of oil blocks and companies”.
Oil exploration destroys the environment and worsens the living conditions of the population
In an area of 70,000 km², where 31 million people live, the large oil basin is located in the region known as the Niger River Delta. It is a swampy and fragile ecology region, with extensive tropical plains, fresh forests, aquatic ecosystem and rich biodiversity. Before the start of oil production, the community lived on subsistence agriculture, with its farmers, fishermen, traders, food processors, among others.
The occupation of the lands and the destruction of the environment by the oil companies caused an enormous deterioration of living conditions in that region. Oluwatoyin Oluwaremilekun’s study describes social conditions as follows: “As losers in oil policies, poor people look for alternatives to survive. For girls and women, the path to prostitution is the most profitable. Some girls rely heavily on relatively wealthy men, mainly from the oil and gas industry, to become ‘camp followers’ . Sometimes, they intertwine these men with pregnancy, who, most of the time, are rejected by their ‘supposed owners’, thus worsening the conditions of poverty. For men, the strategic alternative to survive varies from banditry, theft, oil supply to maritime piracy. The level of exploitation, marginalization and disempowerment makes the region a place of deep frustration and conflict.”7
The semi-slave condition of the oil worker
Nigeria is the most important economy in sub-Saharan Africa. It is among the 30 largest economies in the world and yet, when comparing the HDI (Human Development Index ), measured by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP-UN), of the 189 countries, Nigeria occupies 158th position. When comparing the economy with the poverty index, we obtain a clue to understand that the oil income is only for transnational companies and a handful of local bourgeois. This poses the task of reflecting on the overexploitation of the oil working class.
Thus, based on this reflection, we can conclude that the oil worker is a modern semi-slave. During the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland, Royal Dutch Shell was denounced for serious human rights violations8. And why denounce it to the UN? Because in Nigeria the Judiciary and the government are complicit in this situation.
The accusation states that 82% of workers are insecure and hired through labor outsourcing companies that operate “through a complex network of recruitment companies on behalf of Shell, making it extremely difficult for workers to organize themselves into unions and defend your rights”. So, the hiring situation shows the 82% are outsourced and the remaining 18% are directors, managers, highly specialized technicians and foremen with a whip in their hands.
The average salary is $137 per month and even then, there are delays in payment for more than six months. There is no guarantee of employment and anyone can be fired at any time without rights. Occupational accidents and illnesses are frequent as they do not receive adequate protective equipment. Persecution of workers is very severe, so if the worker complains about the salary, whether it is due to the amount or the delay, or even seeks out the union, he is summarily dismissed.
To try to defend workers there are two oil unions in the country, NUPENG and PENGASSAN which are programmatically limited. In a joint statement they state that: “workers have never opposed the complete deregulation of the downstream oil sector”9 even though, in relation to fuel policy, they are against “any deregulation driven by imports” .
And we can still see the limitations in the fight against police violence, the main slogan of the movement became: Out with Buhari. In that moment, PENGASSAN10 published a note “appealing” to the government to hear the voice of the people, end bad administration, lack of responsibility, poor management of resources and police brutality. That is, while the movement says ‘out with Buhari’, one of the oil unions wants ‘dialogue’ with the government.
However, we understand the great demonstrations in Nigeria show, as in the movie Battleship Potemkin, the water gradually heated up until one day it boiled and overflowed. That is the explanation for the October demonstrations.
Youth took to the streets and the dictatorship trembled
The youth said enough and remained on the streets for fifteen days. Everything exploded when a video started circulating showing the police arresting and kidnapping a young man who was tortured, and found dead.
Initially the uprising was against a section of the police known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad -SARS – a violent police group that used kidnaping, rape, theft of victims’ property and killing. However, the struggle soon turned against the Buhari dictatorship and its repressive laws that even include the death penalty for those who attack the private property of oil companies.
Gradually, other demands were added that have to do with the daily life of the working class, such as unemployment, which is around 27%, against the informality of work, the increase in gasoline and electricity and, above all, the food price.
By incorporating these demands, the popular sectors started to plunder the food stores. According to the government, the locations were stocks to face the COVID 19 pandemic but in reality, everyone knew that they were being saved for the exchange of electoral favors.
The Buhari dictatorship and state governors have intensified repression, and even so, youth and popular sectors have remained on the streets. However, without having a clear program and a strong organization to guide them, the movement ebbed little by little.
Divisions in the bourgeoisie and the betrayal of union leaders
A struggle of these dimensions divides society from top to bottom. Thus, the bourgeoisie was also divided, including sectors of the Army that were already questioning their superiors for the successive defeats they suffered against the Boko Haram guerrilla. During the mobilizations, they began to express their discontent. When the repression of those who closed the airport toll occurred, the division was also evident. The action was ordered by the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-olu and sectors of the Army acknowledged that there were indeed armored vehicles and special forces, but the massacre was carried out by paramilitary snipers in the service of Babajide Sanwo-olu. There are even reports of soldiers and police officers who began to deny participation in the repression, began to refuse to repress, or to deny having participated, or to accused another sector,
Oil industry workers looked sympathetically at the movement, but their unions called for calm. Moreover, these same unions called for dialogue with the murderers of youth. The NUPENG opposed any attempt to stop oil production. It says: “NUPENG supports young Nigerians against police brutality and calls for immediate and far-reaching police reforms, since our members are also victims of police brutality and abuse through extortion, detention, harassment and intimidation across the country. In the meantime, no one in our union has ordered the closure of fuel stations or oil installations.”11 Not content to disallow the possible paralysis, extension and deepening of the struggle, the NUPENG leadership once again said: “We ask our members across the country to be calm and safe in their various workplaces and to be alert while the leadership analyzes the situation.”12
The two central union centrals Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), a week before the start of the mobilizations, suspended the national shutdown scheduled for September 28, because they had achieved a commitment to reverse the increase in gasoline and electricity in the next two weeks.
Buhari’s dictatorship counter attack
As the movement ebbed, union centrals and oil unions negotiated with the government, and then Buhari went on the counterattack. The dictatorship of Muhammadu Buhari fomented terror through a series of arrests, seizure of passports, freezing of bank accounts of protest organizers among other measures. For the president of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the freezing of the bank accounts of activists, from the #EndSARS movement was necessary, as it is suspected that the protesters are ‘terrorists’13.
Arrests have been a constant in recent days. The Air Force, acting in conjunction with the police, seized activist Eromosele Adene at his home; even though he was ill, he was not allowed access to the doctor or lawyer.
In addition, a new Social Media Bill seeks to control the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other media by opponents. For the government, it is necessary to control the “negative effect of false news disseminated on social networks during the recent protests #EndSARS and the violence that accompanied them”14 .
In summary, when the movement halted, the dictatorship went on the counterattack by freezing bank accounts, making changes to the Information Law and countless arrests. It is like this in the class struggle: when there is no progress, there is a setback. If there was no progress, it was due to the isolation of young people and popular sectors.
Youth set off the alarm
A large proportion of Nigerian youth do not have access to universities and those who do, upon graduation, do not find work. Engineers, for example, when they get work in the oil industries, are in the condition of eternal and outsourced apprentice. In fact, that was the reason for the stoppage attempt at Chevron Texaco.
Yet another path is migration. Some manage to pay for a plane ticket, others risk their lives crossing the Atlantic.
As Trotsky would say: “In place of eternal prosperity they see only bankruptcy. The youth are seeking formulas to get out of this situation”.15 The youth struggle is a warning of the mood of the Nigerian masses. The struggle is not over because objectively the problems are not over. That is why we say that the struggle has just begun.
The Crisis Ahead and the Problem of Direction in the Struggle.
During the October mobilizations there were three major slogans: #ENDSARS, #ENDSWAT and #ENDBADGOVERNANCE. The first two were essentially correct, as they posed the problem of police violence. The third slogan #ENDBADGOVERNANCE is apparently correct, because it is about facing corruption. But as we said at the beginning of this text, the discussion of “good or bad governments” hides the centre of the issue, which is oil exploitation through imperialist companies and their national partners and, on the other hand, overexploitation of the working class.
It is necessary to build a fighting program that starts from the need for oil to be 100% nationalized and exploited by state companies. At the same time, it is necessary to face the overexploitation of the working class.
Workers, young people and the poor need to build their own political organization
When we talk about 100% nationalized oil, exploited by state-owned companies and facing the overexploitation of the working class for many, it may seem like a very distant project, almost a dream. The October mobilizations showed just the opposite. But it is necessary to first put down Buhari and the military dictatorship.
To bring down the military dictatorship, it is necessary to return to the streets and prepare for the 48-hour general strike. We already know that a fight of this magnitude will be violently attacked by the bourgeoisie and the dictator on duty. Dictatorial violence must be combated by self-defense committees built from assemblies in schools, neighborhoods and factories.
The action to overthrow the Buhari dictatorship must be accompanied by the convening of a constituent assembly that removes all laws restricting the political and social rights of workers, young people and the poor. Above all, there is a need to build a constituent assembly that guarantees the nationalization of oil and other natural resources.
All of these tasks, mentioned above, must be connected with the need for a different government, a government for workers, youth and the poor.
Nigeria, like any peripheral country in the world imperialist system, needs the support and solidarity of workers in imperialist countries for its struggles. It is necessary to encourage expressions of solidarity with the Nigerian people such as those that occurred during the #EndSARS struggles. Organizations and movements like BLM need to help workers in imperialist countries to understand that the fight against racism is part of the global struggle against imperialism and capitalism that oppresses African nations.
This program is only able to be applied alongside the revolutionary organization of young people, workers and popular sectors. Therefore, it is necessary to start building this tool now. We in the IWL are willing to assist in this great task for the emancipation of the Nigerian working class.
1 International Monetary Fund. Ghana: Will It be Gifted or Will It be Cursed? – 2011 .
2 SANTOS, Adriana Gomes ( org. ). Africa: colonialism, genocide and reparation. São Paulo: Editora Sundermann, 2019 .
4 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-30/nigeria-oil-bill-makes-provision-for-possible-nnpc-share-sale?utm_content=africa&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&cmpid%3D = socialflow-twitter-africa & utm_source = twitter & utm_medium = social
5 Executive Decree No. 1158, enacted by the President of the Republic of Ecuador, on September 24, 2020, opens the fuel business fully to the private sector, allows private companies to import fuels, regulate prices and use state infrastructure such as tanks, pipelines, etc.
6 OLUWANIYI, Oluwatoyin Oluwaremilekun. The role of multinational oil corporations in Nigeria: more exploration equates to less development in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta. Brazilian Journal of African Studies. V.3 n.6 Jul / Dec 2018
15 Discussions with Trotsky (page 276) Writings of Leon Trotsky (1939-1940) Pathfinder Press 1977.