Nigeria at 63: Uniting Working People’s Perspectives on the Evolution and Development of Nigeria

Omotayo Olorode

*(Colonial and Post-Colonial Nigeria)—Setting the Records Straight.


Omotoye Olorode


The theme of our discussion in this 63rd Anniversary of the independence of Nigeria assumes, correctly, that the unity of working class people, Nigeria’s working class, is a required condition for carrying out the struggle for the development of Nigeria: for creating conditions for satisfying the economic social and cultural needs of the masses of working people and for building a future that is pivoted on the agency and autonomy of the masses of our people, their security, solidarity, freedom and equality.

The theme assumes the imperative of the sovereignty of our country and people. These were all issues that underscored anti-colonial struggles and erected the promises of independence.

With regard to the aspirations of our people in the anti-colonial struggles, and notwithstanding some of the post-independence gains, the promise of independence had remained unfulfilled after sixty three years because of the replacement of colonialism by neo-colonialism. Decolonisation was, as we observe below, a tactical necessity for colonising powers to enable exploitation of colonised territories continue. The departing colonial authorities retained economic and elements of political power without responsibility, to paraphrase 2 Kwame Nkrumah and as the current spate of coups d’état in some the French sub-Saharan neo-colonies amply exemplifies.

The matter of “setting the records straight”, of course, underscores the need for Nigeria’s working people to be on the same page regarding the forces and processes that have checkmated the promises of independence; the internal and external forces that have continued to reproduce exploitation, poverty and disunity among the working class.

The evolution of the political structure of Nigeria was shaped by the administrative convenience of the colonial authorities and their indigenous collaborators. Similarly, the templates especially of economic development, was laid more than a decade before independence by external imperialist forces that have retained their hegemony since then; again in collaboration with indigenous forces of exploitation.

The major consequence of the contributions of working people in Europe and ordinary peoples of colonised territories including Africa was the Post World War II anti-colonial agitations and demands not only for decolonisation, but also for socialist and humanistic transformation of the World.

That was what forced the triumphant hegemonists to embark on the reset which generated the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), the tactical retreat of colonialism and, more importantly, the foundations of “development” and development strategies (Development Decade Strategies) of the UN under the control of the United States and Western Europe and supervised by the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) which were birthed in 1944.

The World Bank, the IMF and related Bretton Woods’s institutions had become more and more blatant and more audacious seconding their agents and employees to Nigeria and other former colonies like Nigeria as Ministers, technocrats and “advisers”! That is exactly what had happened to Nigeria in the last twenty years especially.

That is where we still are! That is the foundation of the current neocolonial control from the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) in the early 1980s, and entrenched on fresh illusions like Vision 2010, Vision 2020, NEPAD, NEEDS, MDG, SDG, etc. It is the foundation of the permanent social and economic crisis that had been imposed on countries like Nigeria.

Colonisation, Colonial Conquests, anti-Colonial Resistance and Neo-colonialism. Colonial conquests were aided of course, in many instances, by internal conflicts among indigenous African hegemonies and between developed and less developed or less organised/weaker hegemonies. Internal imperialisms and colonising regimes were established both in many parts of northern Nigeria (Tiv and Jukun), revolutionary Madhism in the North East, the Arochuckwu hegemony in the South East, Nupe and Fulani imperialisms in central Nigeria and northern Yorubaland, Benin imperialism in Eastern Yorubaland and Ibadan and Oyo imperialism in Central and North Yorubaland. Historical accounts are well known of collaboration of indigenous ruling classes with marauding, European coloniser’s across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

We shall return to some of these issues especially concerning some of the current contrived narratives that seek to promote, and re-write histories and promote the myths of, coherent separatist ethnic nationhoods or even stereotyped cultural identities of certain ethnic groups as arguments for separatist projects and against the possibilities of the emergence of a Nigerian nationhood that guarantees economic well-being, solidarity and equality among Nigeria’s working people.

Let us for example restate that, beyond the convenience of colonial administration which indigenous collaborators enabled, the evidence for the claims that the British colonialists forced our peoples together is tenuous! The truth is really that before the establishment of colonial rule, different ethnic nationalities were already in varying degrees of 4 political, commercial and cultural contact and collaboration. The first generations of Nigerian nationalists who were domiciled largely in Lagos actually made anti-colonial resistance across Nigeria (in Bida, Calabar, etc.) their legitimate concern. In 1946, when the British colonial authorities sought to impose a regionalist constitution on Nigeria, the more conscious Nigerian nationalists like Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Hadjia Gambo Sawaba, Michael Imuodu, etc., mounted a vigorous campaign around Nigeria against what they saw as a strategy of weakening Nigerians by dividing them.

The truth is also that colonial conquests were helped and aided largely by individual indigenous populations exploiting existing antipathies amongst themselves while colonial exploitation bloomed through the deployment of colonial political power and military force to control commerce, agriculture, and industry; and to impose taxes and extract forced labour. These all were conditions that created, and still promote, venerate, and enforce, colonial culture.

Resistance by beleaguered native populations and collaboration, by local agents were, of course rife in Ijebuland, Benin, Arochukwu in many other parts of Nigeria (East Delta, Delta, Bonny, Borgu, Opobo, Iseyin, Satiru, and in the mines on the Plateau—in what they called “Pacification”.

Decolonisation democratization, adult suffrage by colonising forces in colonial territories, were all elements of tactical withdrawal especially with the state of wars of independence after the 2nd World War in Viet Nam, Haiti, and Algeria for example, the dramatic events in Cuba in 1959, and the general anti-imperialist militancy in the colonies led largely by working people and the youth like Nigerian Youth Movement.

The Nigeria Labour Movement and Organised Labour especially since 1978.

Needless to emphasise, exploitation of labour engenders organisation for resistance through time and space in human history. And in general, we can be categorical that the labour movement and 5 organised labour in Nigeria did give a credible account of itself as a critical component of the labour movement and as a conscious movement with its role as part of the vanguard of the oppressed and in spite of its numerical limitations that had been, in part, assured by legal encumbrances. The anti-labour laws: Trade Unions (Disqualification of Certain Persons) Act 15 (1977) by Obasanjo’s military dictatorship leading to the 1978 Trade Union (Amendment) Decree 22, of 1978, reorganisations, and the organisations themselves, assured the current bureaucratisation and other limitations of organised labour so thoroughly that it appears clear that the 1978 Decree was, and remained, essentially an instrument of control by the Nigerian ruling class rather than empowerment of organised labour and Nigerian working people.

To be sure, between 1978 and 1988, the leadership of the mainstream organised labour, NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress under Hassan Sunmonu and Ali Chiroma), being politically committed to working class ideology, fought brilliantly on the sight of Nigeria’s labouring masses (organised labour, women, the students and the youths and socialist and progressives intellectuals academics, professionals— lawyers, doctors, students, journalists, etc.). These were the years of definitive inauguration of neo-liberalism—SAP, NEEDS, NEPAD, SDG, MDG etc. Then the total eclipse of the NLC until 1998!

Since then, against all odds and obstacles; segments of the left in the labour movement struggled diligently to strengthen organised labour especially via engagements with the NLC headquarters, and with industrial unions at state council and Local Government Chapter levels building vertical and horizontal synergies.

We can, and we must, assert without any fear of contradiction that the keeping at arms-length of a significant segment of labour activists (students, intellectuals, etc.) from the bureaucracy of organised labour and from actual day-to-day organising, worker education, etc. had enabled organised, labour at all levels to deprive Nigeria’s working people of the consciousness and capacity for self-organising, class consciousness and class-oriented politicisation. The situation has 6 also enabled the bureaucracy of organised labour, especially since 1989, to shut out the afore-mentioned categories of labour activists form political organising in the movement!

The leadership of organised labour had thus kept the “political project” of the movement entirely in its custody (some say privatised) with all the consequences of the embarrassing responses of industrial unions and state councils to the question of working class pursuit of state power in the last decade or so. The siege is total and against all generational and other demographic categories! Yes!

Although the effects (and their intensities) of the siege have specific characters on different categories. It is the total character of the siege that must persuade us that in responding to the specifics of the disabilities of marginalised groups, the disabilities must be addressed only in the context of an overall economic and social transformation strategy that reject capitalism and neo-liberalism.

Having regard to the foregoing, we need to unify our perspectives on the attempts by all and sundry in bourgeois and not-so-bourgeois political and generational formations to cash in on the anger and frustration of “the youth” as a demographic category. Our position and experience on this, since the 1980s is that the interests of “the youth” and the “old” generation regarding the neoliberal siege cannot be antagonistic. Consequently, we opine that the mutual blackmail between “the youth” and the “older generation” cannot be more than distractions. In any case, old or young, the world-views and existential condition in either category is not monolithic; they are determined by social class interests!

We need to underscore the central import of the character of capitalism and capitalist exploitation in generating class divisions and intensification of poverty. In every demographic group which is a victim of marginalisation, there is class differentiation. The large majority of the marginalised (youth, women, the physically challenged, ethnic minorities, children, girl-child) are the poor. This 7 clarification is essential for seeking solution to the eradication of marginalisation. The solution is the eradication of capitalism and capitalist exploitation which generates and reproduces poverty!

The main role and consequences of the responses of Nigeria’s local bourgeoisie to colonial and neo-colonial situation.

We already referred to the dominant influence of imperialism and specific imperialist metropolises in the institutionalisation of underdevelopment especially since about 1944. The role of Nigeria’s indigenous bourgeoisie had altered very little since then having arrived the current paradigm of complete neo-liberal control of policies and programmes. It is this commitment to the same neo-liberal policies that underscore the electoral promises and actual practice in power of the mainstream political parties. The main purpose of the link up of the indigenous bourgeoisie with imperialism and its program arises from the desire of the indigenous ruling class, and the indigenous elite generally, to profit from the head start and hegemony of the bourgeoisie of the metropolises—this is the origin of dependency which is reinforced by cultural institutions (education, religion and material culture, etc.). This material and cultural dependence of the indigenous bourgeoisie is at once the origin of their class identity and interest and the source of intra-class competition, conflict and violence that Claude Ake (1978) identified as the result of the pre-occupation, among the bourgeoisie, with accumulation. The second consequence of bourgeois class preoccupation with accumulation is the class war against the masses of the victims of ruling class accumulation.

The basis of the unity and identity of the various segments of the ruling class is their collective dependence on imperialism and the social and economic policies that victimise the oppressed (in favour of accumulation) across the country irrespective of ethnic, sub-ethnic, religious or geo-political differences among the victims.

Ruling class hegemony, liberal democracy and the weaponisation of ethnicity, sub-ethnicity, religion and region in the 2023 General Elections Liberal democracy had enabled two important processes in Nigeria especially since 1999. First, it has enabled the Nigerian ruling class to sustain its hegemony via intra-class negotiations involving largely transactional factions (which they call political parties) which subscribe to the same visions of society via similar economic and social policies. Even the alleged owners of the Labour Party could not assert the façade of the alleged differences from the other bourgeois party formations! Secondly, the electoral process enabled the bourgeoisie to negotiate an illusion with the victims of neoliberalism—the illusion that palliatives exist for the pains of neo-, liberalism and which Nigerians must accept.

But beyond these two processes, the main achievement of the 2023 General Elections for the Nigerian ruling class is the further deepening of the divisions among Nigerians, and especially the oppressed, via mobilisation of ethnic and confessional antipathies. The constellation of the party leaders were all thus settled on the basis of ethnicity, and religion; and all these dominated supports and rejections. All these were not surprising as separatist groups have been promoted across the country over time although the electoral campaigns and the actual elections shifted somewhat from North/South to SouthEast/South-West! We may just add that there exists a plethora of violent sub-ethnic and intra-ethnic and intra-religious conflicts that the ruling class and the media managed to keep away from general public view but which were decisive in the 2023 elections as they always did.

It is important to underscore the continuing role of various segments of the Nigeria elite in the promotion of ethnic nationalist and religious antipathies and separatism. And our understanding is that they, not the 9 masses of the oppressed across Nigeria are the beneficiaries of the attendant intra-class negotiations. The elite, the middle class, the have-something-want-mores, especially and including group and individual unilateralisms that enable us to join the accumulation and power trails of the ruling class, are the beneficiaries of sinecures and political appointments in the bureaucracies, in the parastatals, the armed forces, etc.; they are beneficiaries as contractors, consultants, middle-women and middlemen and of the pillage in policies like privatisation, and general access to the levers of state power. Some of the intelligentsia in, and outside, the academies provide and spread false and tendentious stories, half -truths and view- points; avoiding alternative narratives and actual (including easily accessible) facts, about Nigeria’s history—about the history of migrations and admixtures among our peoples; about internal wars, colonialism and brutality and betrayals inside hegemonies language groups instigated and supervised by, and for the benefit of, the ruling class. What is to be done? Reinstating the struggle for uniting the masses, for the sovereignty of Nigeria and the working people.

In the last six decades or so, the political power and the authority to formulate and implement economic and social policies had been exercised by, and in the interest of, Nigeria’s ruling class, on one hand, and international finance capital on the other. Engineering the contrary of that (subsisting) situation is the task of Nigeria’s working people in collaboration with their allies on the left. That can safely be said to be the general perspective that unites the Nigerian left—the allies of Nigeria’s victims of neo-colonialism. And we can say that the left had struggled since colonial days to actualise working class power. Why had it not happened? We need to confront this question urgently. 10 Various proposals for, and summits of, left unity have failed to stop the proliferation of “small storms in small tea-cups”! We need to keep working at this unity in spite of the obviously true, but quite often dismissive, admonition that “unity cannot be mechanical”!

There is, of course, the pivotal role that organised labour can, and must play in the struggle for working class power. While we acknowledge the efforts of a segment of organised labour in this direction, and notwithstanding the problems of opportunistic and contrived internal discords inside it and overtime, we must be categorical that organised labour at all levels can, and must do, much more for substantive advance of our movement. The time for ad hoc responses is over! These are issues we have worked diligently to raise directly at local, state and national encounters with organised labour! We shall continue to raise them especially because organised labour is the baby of our movement! Only a deepened struggle of the victims of the current unending hardships of capitalism can build the conditions for a new society.

And only those who actually bring about that new society can, and will be able to defend, defend it. The central and urgent task of our movement is to unite in order to raise and galvanise the consciousness of the victims of capitalism and bring about the Socialist Transformation of Nigeria by all means necessary!

* Omotoye Olorode, Member, Secretariat Collective, TPAP-M Campaign for Socialist transformation of Nigeria, e-mail: