SOME of us would have been surprised if the results of Nigeria’s 2023 general elections were not hotly disputed. This had been the pattern before, and since, the 1999 general elections. This is because political power, through electoral processes or through “the barrel of the gun” had been the instrument via which Nigeria’s constantly regrouping ruling class had amassed legendary wealth at the expense of the masses of the people.
We would also have been surprised if various factions of the Nigerian ruling class and the entire spectrum of their intellectuals and the middle class, generally, did not cash in reciprocally and multi-directionally on the “discoveries” and “rediscoveries” of “immoralities” and different sorts of forgeries including imagined forgeries by some of Nigeria’s literary giants; some propelled, especially and entirely, by ethnic bigotry and prejudices.
From the beginning, I want to be categorical about the allegations of forgeries against the President. If only a fraction of the allegations is true as they are presented, the president should save Nigeria further confusion by resigning. This is so because, in a polity where the ruling class has, with its institutionalised collective impunity, protected so much criminality within its class and against the people, all aspiring leaders, even for the credibility and legitimacy of their class rule, must save the polity the distraction of their individual immoralities and grandstanding on public morality.
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We insist that these allegations and counter-allegations of forgeries and other individual immoralities have become a strategic distraction, at least in the short run, from the task of exposing, the fact of the unity of Nigeria’s ruling class with regard to their social and economic policies that continue to increase poverty and inequality in our society. We are referring to social and economic policies that the military wing of Nigeria’s ruling class, under the supervision of IMF and the World Bank, imposed on our people especially since January 1984.
Below, we reflect on the actual, the fundamental, Chicago phenomenon which underlie the vision of Nigeria’s alleged leaders since the close of the 1970s. The same vision that underlie the manifestoes of the contenders for Aso Rock on February 25, 2023. None of the contenders or those elaborating their grandstands are talking about that Chicago – the Milton Friedman Chicago that had been reproduced in Harvard, Massachusetts, etc., and now being cloned in the universities of the peripheries of neoliberalism!
Before proceeding, some reflection on trending opinions concerning misconduct and criminality of public figures and leaders will be in order. This is because quite a lot of indignation about leaders’ forging documents, rigging elections, stealing or “mismanaging” public resources have been appropriated or understood as a blemish or stigma on all Nigerians or even on all black people.
While we must object to, and resist, the misconduct of our alleged leaders as vigorously as we can, we must reject the collective denigration of our people on account of the pervading and socially-infectious degeneracy of the ruling class. The observed degeneracies of course have concrete material base that is superintended by Nigeria’s rapacious ruling class. And if we struggle to transform that material base in favour of the masses of the people, we will be on the road to creating a new public morality that we will all be proud of.
A related issue in this regard is the obsession with the image of Nigeria and Nigerians beyond our shores. Again, having regard to frauds, forgeries, looting of public resources, etc., hardly any of the common off-shore models really have any morality lessons to teach Africans. The history of capitalism and capitalist accumulation, colonialism, neo-colonial exploitation, and violence across international boundaries are replete with genocides, criminality and criminal activities. And, in any case, what Samir Amir referred to as the “Liberal Virus” is what Europe exported to America where it mutated with renewed virulence. It is the Viruses, of metropolitan capitalism and capitalist accumulation, that are constantly cloned and spread in the peripheries like Nigeria! This much we try to demonstrate in this piece!
The neoliberal virus keeps raging in Nigeria since the late 1970s
As we write this piece, the neoliberal war against Nigeria and her people goes on!
In an online news outlet– legit.ng [Monday Oct. 16, 2023] – David Ibeniere reported: “CBN Defends Decision To Lift Forex Ban on Importers of Toothpick, 42 Other Items.
Restrictions imposed in 2015 stopped “importers of cement, rice, toothpicks, glass, and glassware, tomatoes, tomato paste, among others, from accessing the official [FOREX] market”
CBN claims this will “help price stability, boost liquidity in the Forex market on a Willing Buyer-Willing Seller principle”.
“Meanwhile IMF has commended the Central Bank of Nigeria’s decision to remove restrictions on 43 items previously restricted from accessing foreign exchange at the official window”.
And recently President Tinubu’s Chairman, Presidential Fiscal Policy and Tax Reform Committee (Taiwo Oyedele) was reported to have asked Nigerian people, publicly, to pray that government refineries don’t work. What further evidence do we need that privatization is looting?
Back to the Chicago Doctors’ Virus
Today’s world of increased poverty, inequality, state and other terrorisms, generalised fear and violence, owe so much to a “clergy” in Chicago led by a Milton Friedman who died on November 16, 2006.
Over the massive flooding disaster in New Orleans, (Louisiana, USA) of 2006, Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Naomi Klein, Penguin Books, 2007: pp. 4-15) observed in the middle of the catastrophic humanitarian crises:
“One of these who saw opportunity in the flood waters of New Orleans was Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hypermobile global economy…
“Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather “a permanent reform”
“In his view, the state’s sole functions were “to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow-citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets”. In other words, to supply the police and the soldiers – anything else including providing free education, was an unfair interference in the market [my emphases]”.
“I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism”
“For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the “reforms” permanent. In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.
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“When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable”.
“Many in [Pinochet’s] Latin America saw a direct connection between the economic shocks that impoverished millions and the epidemic of torture that punished hundreds of thousands of people who believed in different kind of society…according to the authors of the “Shock and Awe” military doctrine, [it is designed] to “control the adversary’s will, perceptions, and understanding and literally make an adversary impotent to act or react”
Those who have imposed the “Shock Doctrine” economic policies or what they call “Reforms” on the masses in Nigeria since the late 1970s and especially since 1999 have claimed that the “reformists” have no “play books” Naomi Klein showed that there is, indeed, a manual by the Chicago “Shock Doctors”! The post-flood New Orleans Shock Doctors’ palliatives of family vouchers to pay school fees in privatised schools with de-unionised teachers was typical. Wealthy property investors were ecstatic that public-housing systems would be “cleaned” and that “corporate lobbyists [were] helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations cheaper workers, and smaller safer city—which in practice levelling the public housing system and replacing them with condos”.
The mass demolition of poor peoples’ houses (they call the people squatters) at Maroko, and other locations in Lagos, the demolitions at Mpape, etc. in the FCT, the water-front in Port Harcourt, farmland and urban-land seizures by the rich across Nigeria, and even as is occurring currently in Lagos, Abuja and other places, are all echoes of the prescriptions of the Chicago Shock Doctors! The privatisation of education, the spate of fee increases in public universities under the regime of underfunding in the last two decades and the students’ loan gimmick equivalent of the New Orleans family school fees vouchers can all be seen to exhibit Chicago shock-with-palliative provenance!
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In Nigeria, the ominous disaster of capitalism proceeds apace with the masses of working people starving in the midst of plenty! What with most of working people deprived of the right to form or join trade unions, low wages across the board, unpaid salaries and virtual ban of strikes with the current knee-jerk invocation of “no-work-no-pay” – which is not just that the Nigerian ruling class retains the power to organise politically to defend its interests while working people are really under an economic regime of forced labour – an obnoxious encumbrance which Nigerian workers resisted even under colonial rule!
This was where we were on the eve of the February 2023 general elections and when segments of informed, progressive and patriotic opinions not only predicted the inevitable post-election crisis among the contending ruling class factions, but admonished the masses of the victims of unending capitalist accumulation crisis to prepare for protracted post-election intensification of policies that generate and aggravate poverty and suffering among Nigeria’s working people. We knew that just like the hurricane Catrina flood, the general elections of 2023 was bound to be a monumental disaster!
So, as Nigerians are enmeshed in the debate of whether Nigeria’s president went to school or not or whether there is a certificate or not; or whether the president is a woman or a man or both, the ideologues of the Chicago “Shock Doctrine’ are recommending intensified naira devaluation, higher school fees, auction of public assets, procurement of more debilitating debts, killing our local industries, distribution of non-existent palliatives, and so on. Meanwhile, appointments of Ministers, Senior and Junior Ministers, Junior and Senior Special Assistants to Ministers, Governors, Commissioners, Local Government Chairmen, etc., go on!
And all sorts of Nigerians from across the country with big certificates are angling for, and accepting, jobs from people with disputed and/or unverified and unverifiable certificates and “diplomas”!
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On the specific question of mounting demobilisation of local industries in Nigeria, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is cheering Tinubu’s Minister of Finance over the removal of restrictions on all sorts of imported items, including toothpicks, cement and tomato!
Like the rest of the world’s marginalised, the Nigerian masses and their allies must, without prejudice to the individual moralities of Chicago fallouts, get back to a comprehensive awareness of the unending siege of disaster capitalism, and the Shock Doctrine that sustains it. The disaster that the 2023 elections had been, was already foretold by 2022! The “shock and awe” generated by that election had reinstated, more concretely, the IMF Report [instructions to the Nigerian ruling class] of February 8, 2021 [nationalrecord.ng, February 11, 2021]: it [the report] was a follow up to a consultation with Nigerian authorities… asking Buhari government to contemplate increasing the rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) … of 7.5% to 10% by 2022, and 15% by 2025. The fund is prescribing, among other things further devaluation of the naira”.
We remember that among other things, Buhari was threatening “removal of petrol subsidy” in his October 1, 2022, Independence Day speech.
These had always been the same IMF/World Bank prescriptions that had ruined developing countries like Nigeria and that our alleged leaders had been implementing in the last fifty years. These were the exact prescriptions that were restated in IMF’s Article IV of February 2023, and were further restated in the report of President Tinubu’s Policy Advisory Council of May 17, 2023. These are the ruinous policies that are being implemented at a frenzied speed since May 29, 2023.
These policies of recolonisation had a continuity from the late 1970s! When Obasanjo came back in 1999 to resume where he finished in 1979, World Bank supervisors were seconded from Washington as Ministers, etc. The Bretton Woods money doublers not only have their former employees in Abuja, the current Minister of Finance is reported, a few days ago, to have been appointed by the World Bank to chair one of the Bank’s policy caucuses.
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Our strategic task today is confronting, head-on, the bigger Chicago issue (disaster capitalist siege of neoliberalism) and factor in all its components that have become nightmares for the masses of Nigerian working people: components that unite the ruling class parties against Nigeria’s working people – unending public debt burden, unemployment and slave wages, unpaid, salaries, destruction of the naira, auctioning of public assets, (privatisation), killing of local industries, complete neglect of the rural populace, retrenchment of workers, underfunding and privatization of social services (education, health, public infrastructures, security, environmental protection; etc.)
The foregoing issues and the struggle of the masses for their resolution in favour of the oppressed remain the task of all the segments of the movement of the Nigerian masses – labour, youth, women, peasants, the unemployed and marginally-employed, the professionals and all patriots. No matter which faction of the Nigerian ruling class “wins” in the post-election intra-class war, our struggle towards gaining strength and deepening solidarity across the country, through RESISTANCE AGAINST HARDSHIPS imposed by ruling class capitalist accumulation, must be renewed and advanced. That is the way to avoid the repetition of the 2023 disaster and its antecedents.
Emeritus Prof. Olorode, progressive intellectual and elder statesman, is a Member, Secretariat Collective, Campaign for Socialist Transformation of Nigeria (CAST-Nigeria) Campaign Organisation. He can be reached via email: email@example.com