African Hothouse

In 1957 Ghana became the first of many Colonies to achieve independence within the Commonwealth. Much has been said and written about these new Nations in the intervening period and those who were loudest in their support and praise have usually seen their hopes drowned in a welter of dictatorship and suppression.

Certain conditions must be fulfilled before the idea of Socialism can arise. Of paramount importance is a highly developed industrial society in which the propertyless mass of wage-slaves is increasingly forced into the consciousness that its interests are in conflict with those of the owning class. Some workers, hearing us say this, consider the backward areas throughout the world. They see those millions of primitives whose way of life has never changed in a thousand years and feel that all this renders Socialism, if not impossible, something for the distant future.

Is it really so hopeless? We think not. Therefore, a progress report is required to see whether things are as unchanging and permanent as they seem to be. A comprehensive survey of all the new States is beyond the space at our disposal and a skimped attempt would simply defeat our purpose. So we shall look at one country only, and the question now arises—which one? Ghana, with its 400 years of western influence, would be the easiest choice, but we are looking for something less obvious This presents itself in —the Federation of Nigeria.

Here, the barriers to Socialism seem insurmountable. The most densely populated African National—55 million according to hotly disputed Government figures—it was, if anything, even more backward than Ghana in the days of Empire and generally had little contact with the West until recent years.

In the more developed South (East and West Regions combined) the inhabitants are distinct from those of the Moslem-dominated North. The Southern City has many modern features, with the motor vehicle a common sight. The North, in contrast, is from the world of Arabian Nights with its Minarets and feudal Emirs. A Nation where, instead of one people sharing the same life, speech and background, there are over 250 different tribal groups with no common language and with vastly assorted stages of development.

As late as 1920, the Governor of the day, Sir Hugh Clifford, ridiculed the idea ‘That this collection of self-contained and mutually independent Native States separated from one another by distance, history and tradition, political, social and religious barriers, were capable of being welded into a single homogeneous Nation”. This was the picture up to Independence.

Independence was the culmination of half a century of demanding freedom from the shackles of Colonialism. The driving force was the urbanised African who had come to work in Lagos, the big trading centre. By 1896 he was protesting that most of his taxes were going towards improving European residential areas. Down the years he found himself debarred from real advancement because of his native origin and he resented serving under white men whom he considered his inferior. Strict segregation, plus the fact that everything luxurious was for Europeans only, heightened the desire to be rid of the British. The absence of a reactionary settler class—it really was the white man’s grave—prepared the ground for the inevitable. After the war the rising tide of Nationalism engulfed Nigeria just as it did almost everywhere and degrees of Self-Government were demanded and won until, in October 1960, British Rule came to an end.

In 1947, outside of textiles and palm-oil, only one factory existed in the whole of Nigeria. Between then and 1960 there was a dramatic increase in urbanisation, with an estimated half-million wage and salary earners. But the vast majority were, and to a lesser degree still are, subsistence Farmers. Some of them worked part of the year in the Towns or Mines, but living off the land was the main way of life. Unlike today, there was nothing else for it

In his increasing contact with the modern world it becomes clear to the native that there is more to life than the Village can offer. He may hear that the earnings for a few hours work in Town bring a return the equal of many hours of back-breaking toil in the fields. This, or the desire for education, among other reasons, send him into the City to begin the process of losing his backward past—that of “de-tribalisation”.

It starts the moment he parts from the controls of the Tribe and the ties of the Village. He must adapt himself to the new conditions in order to survive, and the changes are great. He walks on different ground and keeps different hours. The tools he uses have changed and with them his idea of himself. The traditional life of the Village with its protections and comforts are no longer his; instead, he is in a jungle where those things do not exist. New associations must be sought and these usually present themselves at work and are seldom from his particular background. Thus, new interests are created and when problems arise they may not be treated as personal or Tribal in nature but as social issues which demand new thinking. More, these new associates have different Gods from his own—or no God at all—so his acceptance of conventional superstition is challenged. To sum up, there is enormous pressure for re-examination of his beliefs, standards, values and aspirations. At the same time, the contradiction of a wage-worker’s life and the spectacle of immense wealth displayed in Stores, etc., leads to the development of the idea of crime. No longer can the Village expatriate simply pick up anything he wishes to make use of. Those things are now privately owned and must be paid for. He is living in a money economy.

What protection has he? The same as anyone else; he joins a Trade Union. Here again the story is one of a mushrooming under the conditions of emergent Capitalism. Pre-war, only Clerks and Administrative workers in Nigeria were organised. There was little compulsion to work for wages and jobs were only taken to supplement agricultural income while the depression reduced demand for labour in both Government and private sectors.

In 1940 only five Unions existed, claiming 3,500 members between them. By 1956 they numbered almost 200 with 170,000 members. Progress, if swift, was erratic with many Unions vanishing as quickly as they came. There were reasons for this.

    (1) Poor communications between Branches separated by great distances.

    (2) The small scale of industry—some Unions had only 50 members!

    (3) Seasonal nature of many jobs.

    (4) Large labour surplus.

Today, although still split by factional squabbles, the Movement continues to grow. In July 1964, a major strike involving a million workers took place over wage-rates and lasted two weeks despite everything the Government could throw at it. Threats to dismiss all strikers were ignored and with the country at a virtual standstill the Government was forced to accede to many of the strikers’ demands.

This growth in trade union strength has occurred in the face of Tribal loyalties and animosities. Does this mean Tribalism is a spent force? Far from it. In fact it has staged something of a come-back in recent times. Before I960, when Nationalist aspirations were rampant, differences of Tribe and Region were submerged in the unity of aim—independence. Nowadays, the political leaders, jockeying for position and power, are having to invoke all the old antagonisms—although the dangers of this are obvious and recognised. Also, as the demand for the more skilled type of labour—administration, education, etc.—slackens off, then those who have not yet landed a good position must exert pressure wherever they can.

In the long run the past will lose out to the demands of the new social order. Those who have spent much of their lives with the Tribe will remain under its influence to some extent, but the generations who know only City life and who receive a uniform education will have little interest in the ancient ties.

In any case, Tribalism is not confined to primitive peoples. It is present, although in modified form, throughout modern society and can be seen among Scots, Irish, Jews, etc. These groups who consider themselves different because of Nationality or Religion will still unite with outsiders for political or economic reasons.

And capitalist education is in Nigeria forging ahead. The Ashby Commission, set up at the time of independence to map-out the necessary rate of expansion, recognised that lack of skilled manpower was the biggest obstacle to development, and put forward “massive, expensive, and unconventional” recommendations which included four new Universities by 1980. Today, that target has been beaten. Four million children are already receiving Primary schooling and the plan is for an additional half million each year.

Everywhere the story is one of rapid “Westernisation”. The Lagos Sunday Times (19/9/65) provides the following sample. “The sleek Mercedes Benz saloon glides out of the corner. At the same time, august lady at the Bus stop flips out a miniature looking glass from the dazzling’ bag slung over one arm and after applying another layer of lipstick. smoothens down her skirl. With a screech of brakes the car stops and a not-too-young face smiles at the lady . .. Want a lift madam , . . and so begins yet another etc., etc. . . ” The article goes on to deplore faithless women in WIGS who leave “whimpering infants” and ‘‘good husbands” to indulge in affairs. True, this is more a picture of upper-crust life but the trend is unmistakably away from the old values and standards.

Ultimately, the greatest factor in the development of Nigeria’s working-class is that it is part of a world economic system, the effects of which it cannot escape. The catastrophic fall in prices on the world market of its chief export. Cocoa, has meant a large and increasing balance of payments deficit. The result has been to cut imports drastically of manufactured goods from those countries mainly responsible for the adverse trade balance, such as Japan. Thus, favourable conditions are created for the expansion of home-grown industry and one Company exulted in a full-page ad. in the Daily Times (21/9/65), “With the recent decision of the Federal Government to restrict the ‘importation of imitation jewellery from Hong-Kong and Japan, our factory has taken positive action to increase its capital investment by ordering more machinery, resulting in increased production capacity to cope with this restriction”.

The political upheavals which have been part of the Nigerian scene lately have brought forth suggestions that the Federation may be in the process of breaking-up into several smaller units. Even if this should happen the developments outlined above will continue to a greater or lesser degree, but the conclusion must be the same. That the part of Africa now known as Nigeria is advancing towards the image held out to it by the older, established Nations—that of an industrialised, class-divided. Capitalist society.

Vic Vanni

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