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Replacing the radical left with arm-chair revolutionaries: A legacy of structural adjustment

ALL manner of “activists” crawl out of the woodworks to make vague, empty statements (and this isn’t to say they don’t have a right to criticize government’s performance) but one wonders where many of these new voices were when things truly started to fall apart. It’s easy for the middle-class to join the bandwagon and cry out in alarm over the insecurity and violence in Nigeria, the state of the economy, etc. But the reality is today’s armchair activists either did not have the intellectual depth to realise (and therefore oppose) Nigeria’s gradual shift from production to consumption, or they benefitted in no small measure from a said move which also came with state-sponsored benefits and patronage for a small elite.

 structural

Nigeria is a society geared towards the consumption of imported products. The little we do produce finds few buyers and supporters unless it is marketed as a luxury product or one that provides comforts and privileges associated with the elite.

Comforts and privileges

To quote a song I heard on the radio one morning: “You no get money, you want to pop champagne, you no get pot you dey form stew gang, na your problem be that o”.

Our aspirational society, where the appearance of wealth matters much more than sustainably manufacturing tangible goods, isn’t just a topic to be casually laughed at when we discuss what “big boys” owe money to what bank or nightclub. It is, in fact, the would-be modernising premise upon which our economy is built and the foundation of any capitalist economy. Our problem (a global one with interesting peculiarities in our local context) is perhaps best understood by discussing the disappearance of the radical left.

The problems of unregulated capitalism are exemplified by African economies and societies: here, the capitalist experiment was the most extreme and untamed. I’m expecting the usual barrage of emails telling me “don’t blame the West for Africa’s problems” to which I’ll respond, as usual: “I don’t, or not entirely. I blame those of our leaders who played an active role in supporting economic imperialism.” We can’t talk about increasing poverty, violence or tribalism in Nigeria without going back to the period when Babangida and his successors essentially remade our political economy.

Why should you care what happened to the radical left? Because those were the voices who would have been best able to oppose and re-think today’s system, one which keeps people in poverty, where the wealthiest and most unproductive, who benefit the most from the system pay as little taxes as possible, and small business owners make up the shortfall. IBB’s war against radical professors “professing what they were not paid to teach” was in tandem, in Europe and America, with the slow, quiet disavowal of leftist ideas. While in the developing world the war against social justice was more brutal, it was possible only because of the demands of international foreign policy.

NASS: We won’t repeat mistakes of 2015 in 2019, Oshiomhole vows

During that period in Nigeria, some of the left’s most vocal voices were subdued by the military’s promise of wealth and appointments: Nigerians began to accept it wasn’t possible to beat the system, and intellectuals were ready to compromise on their ideas to join it, never mind successive governments’ collusion with global policies and ideologies crafted to ensure private profit at the expense of the African people. Structural Adjustment remade the Nigerian identity: it was the beginning of the collapse of our socio-economic arrangement. Those who tell us not to look at the past, or not to look too closely at the connections between our leaders’ local actions and the supposed needs of the global economy our country was literally created to serve, either don’t understand why things keep going wrong, are too afraid of what they might find or simply benefit from the status quo.

Our democracy doesn’t produce advantages for the majority because it is based on an SAP economy, something the National Association of Nigerian Students already said in the 1980s. Today’s NANs is a far cry from its predecessor. Like many civil society organisations who resisted consecutive hikes in fuel prices, government repression greatly impacted their ability to continue fighting to reform the accepted trade and power imbalance crystalised by SAP: we talk about Africa’s overreliance on our commodity exports without acknowledging who or what encouraged this. Trade liberalisation impacted food security and ensured our economies’ profits were distributed only at the top, and to those with connections to global conglomerates. In short, the 1980s and 1990s successfully made way for a corporate bourgeoisie (which in itself isn’t necessarily a problem), while completely shutting out both the urban and rural poor from avenues for personal growth and access to national wealth.

Tragically, by the time Nigeria returned to democracy, the political elite was frozen and arrested by this convergence towards neo-liberal ideology. One of its most ardent backers was former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Privatisation became an excuse to entrench elite interests, with the support of a middle-class eager for the supposed benefits of “trickle-down” economics. Fela said the military elite was beholden to global capitalism and Nigeria’s history gives us food for thought. We continued to unquestioningly outsource our national capacity to deliver any benefits to citizens, from the privatisation of healthcare, education and water services (we can’t drink our tap water, who does this benefit besides bottled water brands).

World Bank and IMF directed reforms have put most public services in the hands of corporations, reducing their accessibility and interestingly, their quality, given the state’s inability (or reluctance) to regulate them. Interestingly, the former education minister who nearly oversaw the sale of Nigeria’s unity schools (if not for public protest) has now been marketed as a “revolutionary” new face in politics, forgetting the policies she advocated during Obasanjo’s tenure which allowed the ruin of public universities.

These are the issues arm-chair revolutionaries must revisit and discuss. Analysts ignore class-based tensions, focusing only on ethno-religious problems: the former is the underlying dispute which gives rise to the latter, used as a means of mobilising society, precisely to hide that the real opposition is neither ethnic nor religious; it is an age-old struggle between those in power, their friends the global corporations and the rest of us.

Festus Keyamo

According to the official spokesperson of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 presidential campaign, “by the definition of school certificate or its equivalent, in section 318 of the 1999 Constitution, you don’t need a WAEC certificate to become President or Governor, but if you present a forged WAEC or another certificate to INEC for any office you will be disqualified”.

He continued: “Forgery occurs when the supposed author of a document denies ever making it or denies its authenticity. WAEC confirmed the authenticity of PMB’s certificate by issuing an attestation of it. In the #OsunCaseScenario WAEC denied the authenticity… the crux of the matter is that if you don’t have a WAEC certificate, there’s no need to go ahead and forge one in a bid to be Governor or President”.

Keyamo says years of service are, therefore, equivalent to paper qualifications, in order to qualify for leadership, according to Nigeria’s Constitution. It seems there was no legal basis for the 2015 “certificate saga” which attempted to disqualify the APC’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. As for writing off candidates who present forged documents, this explanation neatly does it.

Nigeria will survive

ONE should be amused by the numerous, omnipresent articles and position papers which every election season predict Nigeria’s doom.

Rather than analyse the real issues and reasons why governments find it near impossible to make real progress, they restrict their analysis to who won or who lost what position or opportunity to access public funds.

Such analysts bemoan Kingsley Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili, Fela Durotoye, etc., loss at the polls, emphasizing Nigerians’ supposed “lack of political sophistication”.

Never do they stop to think that many of these foot soldiers of the current order were not perceived as either revolutionary or fully competent.

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