The Nigerian Worker, the State and Its Economy -By Sylvester Odion Akhaine

Filed under: National Issues |
Sylvester Odion Akhaine

Sylvester Odion Akhaine


…for too long have the workers of Nigeria waited for some Moses to bail them out from their endemic predicament; he has not come and will never come, I will have them make up their minds because there is nothing they cannot do for themselves.

It is common knowledge that Nigerian workers are in dire straits, being denied of their slave wages by the Nigerian ruling class. According to Nigerian Labour Congress sources, about 22 states of the federation, namely Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu Imo, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kebbi, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Yobe and Zamfara are in this loop. Only about 14 states have been able to pay salaries up-to-date. These states include Anambra, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Edo, the FCT, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto and Taraba. As at 2014, the domestic debt of states was put collectively at about N1.7 trillion by the Debt Management Office (DMO).

The reasons the defaulting state governors have advanced are twofold. One is the declining revenue allocation from the federation, a consequence of the declining price of hydrocarbon, Nigeria’s economic mainstay. Two, the financial profligacy of the central government, which is accused of the misappropriation of national resources. Some have been honest about it by admitting their failure and appealing to the workers to bear with them. The inability of state governments to pay their workers, talk less of pensioners, underscores the failure of governance and indicates a governance style of planning without facts, thanks to Messrs Wolfgang and Hansen.

I would think that the pay packet of workers ought to be a priority of any state structure even for the continuity of government activities. Government failure to meet this basic responsibility means the abdication of its responsibility. Imagine the plight of the workers and their many dependants. Children who have to drop out of school because of the inability of their parents to pay school fees; workers who have to be prematurely divorced due to the inability to play the role of the breadwinner; the crush of indebtedness by trying to survive on loans; the humiliation of evictions due to the inability to pay rents; the loss of dear ones because of unaffordability of healthcare; and the pangs of hunger and the sheer despondency of their situations. These are better imagined, yet they go beyond thoughts because they are real. The scenario painted has been the lot of Nigerian workers across the defaulting states. To Nigerian workers, the state assumes its Nietzschean façade, “the coldest of all cold monsters”. They encounter this monster daily in the work place, court rooms, healthcare centres and academia among other public spaces.

The state is often referred to as that entity which is endowed with a population, sovereignty and government and has monopoly over the legitimate use of force. To function appropriately, it has institutions which Ralph Miliband has identified as “government, the administration, the military, the judicial branch sub-central government and parliamentary assemblies.” Before proceeding further, it is pertinent to pose the question: the state for whom?

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic as amended in its Chapter Two, aptly dubbed the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State, Section 14 (2) (a) and (b) are quite instructive. The subsection states respectively that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority” and that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…” This will seem to accord to the social contract school on paper.

The social contract theorists in Western political philosophy see the state as above society for the interest of society, for example Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jacques Rousseau share this perspective. However, in their reflections, elements of authoritarianism, class interest as well as democratic perspective could be found. The class essence of the state only assumed it definitiveness in the Karl Marx definition of the state as nothing but the executive committee of the dominant class in society, usually the bourgeoisie or the property owners, which is why the superstructure is only the epiphenomenal of the substructure, that is, the economy.

Adverting to democratic institutions, Marx explains that: “the unrepresentative character of the so-called representative institutions—full of academics and businessmen—cannot be explained by the most minute examination of the constitutions, which unanimously declare every citizen of equal worth. It can only be explained by accepting that the State does not stand above society, but it is of society; and this makes it necessary to analyse social life.” The incumbent state actors, no matter their confession to commitment to the cause of the working class, are always hankering after their own interests. These are found in the genre of bourgeois socialism where the bourgeoisie, conscious perhaps of the historical role of the working class, say we are bourgeoisie for the interest of the working class. What an irony.

A quick glance at the relations of production in Nigeria reveals the bashers of the Nigerian economy—former army officers, politicians, oil marketers and incumbent states actor. They are ranged against the working class or the toiling masses of our people. This can only explain the morbidity with which they can cope with the sight of unpaid workers and the endless queues of pensioners. What have these set of class elements in our society done with our commonwealth—outright stealing—especially the proceeds from the exploitation of hydrocarbon. This is why despite an all-time boom in the sale of oil, too soon, the country is on its kneels and back to where we were in 2004 before the debt deal with the Paris and London clubs of creditors on Naples terms in 2005. Pathetically, the country is indebted to about $63b, both domestic and external. The implication of this is that bad times lie ahead for the Nigerian working class. There is no cause for alarm if they realise their historical role. That is our next pre-occupation.

There is no doubt that the working class in general are the creator of wealth. This has been affirmed by the labour theory of value. The historical role of the working class lies in the seizure of political power through the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois class. It cannot achieve this by agonising but through organisation of its rank and file under the most advanced cadres of the working class movement, that is, the communists—the true vanguard of the working class. Education for class consciousness is imperative so that the sprawling working class movement in Nigeria can simply stop being a class in itself through transformation into a class for itself capable of assuming the historical role of overthrowing the current bourgeois social formation. The Nigerian workers have waged struggles in the past, often in the mode of workerism, keeping body and soul together to be able to continue slaving for the owners of the means of production. While this is not totally bad within the limitations of the objective and subjective conditions of mobilisation, it amounts only to cold complicity in their enslavement.

In Marx and Engels’ often referred to exhortation to the workers in the nineteen century, “Workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains.” I will simply add through adaptation of Eugene Debs’ words that for too long have the workers of Nigeria waited for some Moses to bail them out from their endemic predicament; he has not come and will never come, I will have them make up their minds because there is nothing they cannot do for themselves.

Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a visiting member of The Guardian Editorial Board delivered this at the Annual General Meeting of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), June 27, 2015, Ikeja, Lagos.