The debate is on over the direction that the Nigerian economy should take in order to meet its present challenges in the overall interest of the majority of its citizens. This debate is certainly not new. Way back in 1986, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) through its organ, The Analyst, publicly made its position on this vexed issue clear. The arguments advanced in an editorial of the magazine in June, 1986 is still relevant to the on-going debate.
WHO OWNS AND CONTROLS THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY?
Two truths can be told about our country Nigeria. The first is that she is rich, in terms of the availability of human and natural resources. The second is that only a very, very tiny percent of Nigeria’s over 90 million people, and foreign business interests, actually have real access to, and appropriate these riches. This last is central to much that happens, or doesn’t happen, in this country. For one of the most fundamental and enduring truths about any human society is that politics is based on economics. Which is to say that those who control a country’s economy also control its politics and much else.
In this basic truth lies the key to the understanding of any society. And it is precisely why The Analyst, in this maiden issue, addresses the basic question to ownership in Nigeria. We in The Analyst believe that it is impossible to analyse our society, to understand its problems and suggest lasting solutions, or even to merely make sense of the on-going events in the country today without first asking and answering the question of who owns and/or who controls what in Nigeria. In this maiden issue we are tackling the issue of the ownership of the big companies. In other issues we shall tackle other areas.
And we believe too that given the centrality of this ownership question, it ought, rightly, to be the starting point of the on-going struggles and political debate about our future. For, to ask this basic question is also to ask about the configuration of forces in our society, about who really benefits or suffers from what, and about who is responsible for what?
We live in times full of crises. Of havoc being wrecked on the ecology by serious erosion in the forests and the galloping advance of the desert and animal diseases in the Sahel and Savannah – all posing direct threats to the lives and livelihood of millions of Nigerians. Of a battered and ravaged economy that wobbles, forcing even members of the middle classes back into the category of those struggling not for a decent living but merely to survive. Of a crushing but dubious external debt of about N20.00 billion, whose genuineness is in doubt, but whose servicing and repayment now mean increasing suffering and misery for most Nigerians. Of widespread official corruption that worsens our already critical situation. Of a rising crime wave and the disintegration of social and moral values that have engendered widespread fear and cynicism. Of political confusion and instability that has seriously slowed our progress, and in the form of religious slowed our progress, and in the form of religious and ethnic manipulation, threatens our unity, as a nation.
Yet, when one looks around today, one finds that in sharp contrast to the mass poverty and sufferings occasioned by these crises, a tiny minority of rich and powerful Nigerians and foreign multi-nationals, have benefitted, and have been benefitting immensely from the crises. At no other time than in these crisis-ridden years has there been as much concentration of wealth in a few hands. And at no other time than in the past few years have the profit margins of the subsidiaries of multi-nationals been so high, even as they retrench more and more workers and their turnover declines.
We are witnesses to how retired Generals come by sudden riches. We have seen and heard of a single businessman give N10 million at a go at an appeal fund launching, another build a private house that costs over N15 million, and yet another pays cash down for a jet that costs about N10 million, not to talk of those who buy hotels and estates in Europe and America that cost tens of millions of pounds and dollars.
As for the multi-nationals, the UAC’s case provides a good example. In the thick of the economic crisis UAC’s wages bill declined from N108.7 million in 1982 to N74.5 million in 1985, but it’s after tax profits rose from N26.55 million in 1982 to a whooping N38.61 million in 1985.
This development is best described by the popular sayings among workers, in Nigeria, that “Monkey de work, baboon de chop”, and its more recent and much sharper version, in Hausa “Muna yi, suna ci!” meaning, literary, “we are producing, they are eating!”
In order to hide the harsh truth of “Muna yi, suna ci!” the very people who have plundered this country and amassed wealth beyond dreams in Nigeria and foreign countries, are again whipping up religious and ethnic emotions to set the common people at each other’s throats, as they commit against God and man, and which they shamelessly exhibit in the opulence of the cars, palaces, planes and shops which they own.
Related to all these is another development: ownership of the means of production, of land in particular, and of such other important sectors as the media and the shipping and transport and food businesses, is becoming more and more concentrated in a few hands. Nigeria’s two most influential newspaper stables for instance, are now owned by two people, who also have substantial interests in other sectors.
The Analyst believes that these developments are ominous, especially for the masses and working people of Nigeria. As the struggle and debate over our future continues, The Analyst believes that the question of private ownership of property in Nigeria and its implications needs to be made central on the public agenda. This is a task that workers, peasants and the progressive forces in the country must now set themselves. For, clearly, private ownership of property and the capitalist system which operates on it, are the root causes of the crises, suffering and virtual collapse of our country.
The Analyst believes that the survival of the people of Nigeria and the continued unity and independence of the country requires that the type of economy we have now built on private ownership and private accumulation of wealth has to go. We have to dismantle it as it is leading to our destruction. In its place, we have to build a system of collective ownership of the wealth of the country and of collective control of its future by all its people. The Analyst believes that the peasants, workers, petty traders, artisans, professionals and intellectuals of Nigeria have no real alternative, if they want to transform Nigeria into a strong, united and independent socialist country, in which our wealth and destiny are firmly in the hands of all our people.