Classes, Poverty, and Failed Governance: The Call for Restructuring and the National Question in Nigeria

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Comrade Gaskia

By Jaye Gaskia

Historical context and background
IT is important to begin by setting this discourse within a clear historical, socio-cultural, political and economic context.

Historically, national question took root within the context of conquest and empire building at the height of feudalism, and arose as a political, ideological and organisational phenomenon in the context of the emergence of capitalism, and the transformation of the inherited feudal empire into the vast colonial empires of the new dominant capitalist states.

In this situation, nationalism arose and evolved as the preferred ideology of the elites and emergent proto ruling classes of specific social groups, who seek to govern a politically defined social formation that has been so designated as a nation by the group.

An Ethnic Map of Nigeria: Source: Premium Times

The ultimate aspiration and focus of the nationalist formation and its nationalism is usually to take control of a state and or establish state structures and mechanism in order to assert political and economic control and hegemony over the ascribed territory of the prescribed nation.

Against the background of colonial conquest and domination, there emerged the struggle for national liberation, often driven by the ideology of nationalism, including its revolutionary variant, and making the demand for national independence of the dominated and colonised nation.

Historically therefore, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the struggle for national liberation and the demand for national independence prompted the framing of the right to national independence of oppressed and colonised peoples and nations within the framework of the right to self-determination of nations.

The right to self-determination of nations was thus enunciated within the context of colonisation, domination, oppression, exploitation and repression of one nation by another, of one people by another. This often presents as the domination of an exploited nation state by another more powerful and repressive nation state. It may also present as the domination within the confines of a supra nation state of minority nations or nationalities by a majority nation or nationality that exercise hegemonic control of the state and deploy state power in its own exclusive interest, thus requiring the state-aided suppression of the interests of the dominated minority nationality or nationalities.

In very specific terms, the right to self-determination arose and was codified with the emergence of the League of Nations, and later of the United Nations global mechanisms of bourgeois capitalist coordination, in the context of colonisation and decolonisation, framed by the emergence of national liberation movements demanding and struggling for national independence.

What is important to note here and what is central to the question of the right to self-determination therefore is the existence and presence of national domination, exploitation and oppression.

From the late 20th century into the 21st century however, the claim to self-determination has often been made more within the context of more or less privileged and relatively affluent social groups seeking to establish exclusive states for the purpose of assuring exclusive zones of exploitation in the context of the intra class rivalries of ruling capitalist classes. This has been the mode of presentation of the national question in Nigeria over the last three decades.

Classes and the national question
The national question is posed, and usually emerges within the context of the existence and consolidation of a system of capitalist mode of production that entails the group domination of one nation by another, and is often also the manifestation of the failure of nation building by the ruling classes within the context of the historical construction of the nation and nation state.

The posing of the national question in Nigeria and the agitation for restructuring is crafted by the ruling class primarily and solely in ethnic terms, hence when they ask for restructuring, they are asking for ethnic restructuring; and when they talk about regionalism, they are talking about ethnic regionalism. Thus, the agitation for restructuring is geared towards consolidating the ethnic federation which was crafted under colonialism, and inherited at independence, and consolidated in an atomised manner by the military.

Nationalism, given its historical origin and evolution is the ideology of the ruling or emergent and proto ruling classes of capitalism, and it is the ruling class that promotes the politics of nationalism. But although the ideology and politics of nationalism is deployed by the capitalist class, it is the exploited and working classes that are mobilised and galvanised into action in supporting nationalism and the nationalist movement. Without the working classes embracing nationalism, it lacks the capacity to become a material force, and lacks the ability to pose a potent threat to the state and the existing political and socio-economic order underpinning the nation state.

In relation to Nigeria, the national question has emerged and has been consolidated within the context of the failure of nation building and state construction beginning in the colonial period and extending into the post-colonial period.

The modern Nigerian state is of colonial origin, and its purpose was to extract surplus value from the people in the territory of Nigeria. This state was established to superintend over the socio-economic exploitation and political repression of the people and working classes, by the ruling class, colonial and post-colonial.

Thus, when factions of the Nigerian ruling class pose the national question, it is often in the context of the intra-class struggle to capture and control the state and exercise hegemony over the collective treasury and the allocative and extractive roll of the state; while also being posed against the backdrop of the failure of the ruling class at the task of nation building.

The various factions of the Nigerian ruling class characteristically deploy nationalism as a weapon to blunt the inter-class struggle while waging the intra class struggle. The strategic focus is always to divide the working and oppressed classes and prevent or mute the potency of the class struggle against class exploitation and oppression by the ruling class, while strengthening their factional hands and leverage in the contest for control of state power.

Class, poverty and the national question
Whereas the fact of class exploitation is self-evident, the fact of national domination is more difficult to substantiate in Nigeria.

For instance, according to a survey by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released in May 2020, over 40% of the Nigeria population, that is more than 82 million Nigerians, live in abject poverty and survive on less than $1 a day. The figure for relative poverty is even higher, and is closer to 69% of the population, measured as those living on less than $1.5 per day.

While Nigeria is now home to the largest population of poor people in the world according to the world poverty clock, it is also home to some of the richest people in the world, with the richest African, and the richest black woman being Nigerians.

Official statistics also indicate that as at the end of Q2 2020, in the general population, one in two persons are unemployed (55%); while among the youth aged 15 to 35 years, slightly more than three in every five youth is unemployed (at 63%).

Furthermore, Nigeria’s housing authorities report that the nation has a 20 million housing deficit, such that over 120 million Nigerians live in poor and inhumane housing, if we take the average household size to be 6.

Overall, poverty, multi-dimensional poverty, unemployment, housing deficit, have all been rising over the last several decades, while access to education, healthcare and basic social services and infrastructure have witnessed a precipitous decline over the past decades as well.

It is also important to point out that this unequal distribution of wealth is evident across the country, and is not the exclusive preserve of any geo-political zone or nationality.

It is in this context therefore that the primary divide in Nigeria is that of class, and the primary exploitation is equally that of class.

Since the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999 for instance, there has been no state, and no local government that has been governed by none indigenes, nor has federal authority and power been exclusively controlled by any one nationality.

There is nothing wrong with regions, states, provinces as basis of federalism! What is wrong is to posit and establish this on the basis of ethnic character. It excludes others, and constrains the citizenship of the federation outside the ethnic base, and eventually leads to disintegration because what it does is to consolidate the differences, rather than build on what unites citizens, which is the socio-economic character, the social and class questions.

The call for restructuring
The call for restructuring, and even the agitation for separation, is predominantly framed in ethnic context, in the perspective of ethnic domination; and is thus promoted as a counterweight and response to national domination by the ethnic fractions of the Nigerian ruling class.

In this regard, restructuring is posed as the panacea to so-called national domination, deliberately underplaying and denying class exploitation and domination, and falsely promoting among exploited classes the notion that this is the only pathway to social justice.

That is why a critical analysis of all the various proposals for restructuring hinge exclusively around creation and establishment of exclusive spheres and zones of socio-economic exploitation and political domination for the ruling elites of certain nationalities within certain geographical territories.

Ultimately what the various ethnic and nationality fractions of the ruling class want and are canvassing for is the reorganisation of the Nigerian state along ethnic lines, to guarantee ethnic control of the reorganised state in different territories by the elites of the dominant nationalities of those territories.

That is why the various fractions have come up with different proposals for the country to be restructured into a number of regions – 6, 12 and 18; each with its own full complement of regional governments (executive, legislature and judicial arms); with each region as the federating unit, being composed of states and local governments, and imbued with the power to create or merge the states and local governments within its regional territory.

Furthermore, these regions are to be based on ethnic and nationality identities, thus excluding other Nigerians.

In these ethnic based regions, and nationality framed federation, it is the indigenship of the region that will be the basis of organising life and society within the regions, rather than the citizenship of Nigeria. This proposed restructured Nigeria, will simply carry over into the new framework, the current practice where residency rights are constrained and eclipsed by indigenship of the regions, and where citizenship of Nigeria and the rights thereof is defined by and based on a person’s region of origin. Thus, the citizenship rights of a Nigerian, residing outside their so-called regions of origin will become somewhat diminished and undermined. This is akin to establishing an even more rarefied systemic ethnic state in the country.

It is in this sense that this proposition for ethnic federation, or a federation based on nationality identities is dangerous, injurious to the building and emergence of Pan Nigerian citizenship, and undermining of nation building. Besides, it does not address, and is not intended to address, the question of class exploitation and domination, nor that of social justice and inclusion.

The restructuring that working classes require
In contrast to this self-serving, elite-motivated and ruling class-driven ethnic restructuring, what Nigeria’s working and poor peoples and classes require is a restructuring of the state and governance that ensures and assures the radical redistribution of wealth in favour of the working people; through the democratisation of the economic and political systems and structures of the country.

This will require the establishment of mechanisms for democratic control, ownership and management of the economy by the working people through their accredited representatives, chosen by themselves and elected from among themselves.

Politically, this will require that the state is structured in such a way that elected representatives of workers and the poor exercise state power across the levers and arms of government. That these representatives are elected with mandates, and are recallable by their constituents, defined not in exclusive geographical terms, at any time, even before the end of their defined tenure.

This restructuring will require mechanisms to enable bottom-up democratic self-government and organisation from below, at factory and community levels.

Furthermore, restructuring of the state will have to be undertaken in such a way as to ensure that basic social services in health, education, housing, among others are accessible to and guaranteed for all citizens and residents; while universal citizenship on the basis of residency will also be guaranteed for all.

Conclusion
The posing of the national question in Nigeria and the agitation for restructuring is crafted by the ruling class primarily and solely in ethnic terms, hence when they ask for restructuring, they are asking for ethnic restructuring; and when they talk about regionalism, they are talking about ethnic regionalism. Thus, the agitation for restructuring is geared towards consolidating the ethnic federation which was crafted under colonialism, and inherited at independence, and consolidated in an atomised manner by the military.

Through all these, what has held the ethnic federation together is the presence of a strong and dominant hegemonic force; first represented by the colonial authority, and then much later by the military.

In other ethnic federations like Ethiopia, the hegemonic centre was held by the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Force (TPFF) and its leadership of the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Forces, which won the war against the Mengistu regime.

There is nothing wrong with regions, states, provinces as basis of federalism! What is wrong is to posit and establish this on the basis of ethnic character. It excludes others, and constrains the citizenship of the federation outside the ethnic base, and eventually leads to disintegration because what it does is to consolidate the differences, rather than build on what unites citizens, which is the socio-economic character, the social and class questions.

Unless we can reach a consensus on citizenship in a manner that citizenship is defined and realised as “All persons born and naturalised in Nigeria, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of Nigeria, and the state (or region, province, etc.) wherein they reside”, then what we will be establishing would be ethnic regions, ethnic provinces, or ethnic states, and not administrative entities that serve the interest of all citizens.

In all of these instances, as soon as the hegemonic force was removed or weakened, the ethnic federation began to unravel, as we are currently seeing in Ethiopia, and as we saw in Yugoslavia and in the Nigeria of the First Republic.

Thus, in the words of Comrade Jibo (Jibrin Ibrahim), in a recent article in Premium Times titled; “The Challenge of Ethnic Federalism,” it is important to emphasise that, “Ethnic Federations, by definition focus on ethno-linguistic differences alone and are usually held together by a hegemonic group that is able to lord it over the others. The hegemonic hold is difficult to sustain as differences, not similarities, become the sole object of focus and concern until the system cracks at the seams.”

From the foregoing, it is clear that the national question as posed by the various fractions of the Nigeria ruling class is an ideological tool, deployed politically to divide the working class, enhance access of ethnic fractions to levers of control over ethnically partitioned state structure, and prevent a class challenge of the working classes to the power of the ruling class.

It is also clear that the restructuring that is required by the exploited classes and oppressed peoples of Nigeria is one that assures the redistribution of wealth, the democratisation of the society, the democratic control of the state and ownership and management of the economy by the working people; thus enabling a radical social transformation of Nigeria and the emergence and building of a society based on social justice and social inclusion.

Achieving this end requires the united and collective struggle of the exploited working classes and oppressed peoples across Nigeria, mediated through their democratic self-organisation and mass mobilisation.

The discourse around restructuring is a class discourse, its current near-exclusive proposition as the answer to the National Question is a manifestation of the ideological domination of the ruling class fractions, and indicative of the class bias of the ruling class fractions.

The response of the working classes need to be posed clearly as a class response, and requires the opposition and ideological contrast of the Social Question to the National Question.

For the exploited working classes and social formations and their organised social forces in Nigeria therefore, the concern and engagement with the restructuring discourse should be more about the content of the restructuring agenda than about its form; as well as more about the essence of the outcome of restructuring.

To conclude, it is important to note that all of the major intrusions of the working masses unto the historical stage, from the anti-SAP Uprising of 1989, through the January Uprising of 2012, to the #EndSARS Youth Uprising of October 2020, have been accomplished by, and demonstrated the fighting unity of the oppressed, the common and universal citizenship of Nigerians from all nooks and cranny, and from all walks of life.

They underpin not only the social and economic character of the national question, they also point the way to the type of restructuring that is required – the redistribution of wealth and return of the commonwealth to the democratic ownership, control and management of the working masses.

Comrade Gaskia, a member of the national leaderships of the Alliance For Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Socialist Labour (SL) and Convener of Take Back Nigeria Movement (TBN), made this presentation at a Webinar organised by Oyo State Chapter of ASCAB.

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