At the end of September Nigerians were outraged when the government
suddenly deregulated the price of fuel leading to an immediate 15% jump
in prices. The combination of this latest price rise and President
Obasanjo’s silence on the issue when he gave his Independence Day speech
on October 1 provoked a huge wave of anger. Obasanjo himself was drowned
out by booing when he attempted to give the official opening speech at
the opening ceremony of 8th All Africa Games being held in Abuja,
Nigeria’s federal capital.
Previously, at the end of June, the government attempted to increase the price by 54% from 26 naira (20 US cents) a litre to 40 naira. This led to a massive, 8 day long general strike which totally shut down the country between June 30 and July 7, forcing the government to back down a little, reducing the price to 34 naira. (For more details read “General Strike against fuel price rise: The Lesson For The Working Masses” on the Democratic Socialist Movement’s website).
Faced with this new prise hike the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria’s main trade union federation, called for an unlimited general strike to begin from October 10. As part of the mobilisation for the strike a Labour-Civil Society Coalition was formed by the NLC with various political parties, human rights bodies, student and other organisation.
The Democratic Socialist Movement, the Nigerian affiliate of the CWI, was part of this Coalition and was playing a key part in the mobilisation as both as the DSM itself and via DSM members in the trade unions, National Conscience Party and student bodies.
Segun Sango, the DSM General Secretary, was a member of one of the national bodies formed to run the strike on a daily basis and DSM members were strike co-ordinators of two of the NLC’s four zones in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and main economic centre. In the run-up to the strike date sales of the DSM’s paper Socialist Democracy rocketed, necessitating an urgent reprint.
At the last minute, only hours before the strike was due to start, NLC leaders suspended the action after the government agreed to withdraw the latest increase. But this battle is not over, currently in many areas of Nigeria it is not possible to buy fuel at the official 34 naira price. Clearly the government’s plan is to withhold oil supplies until the desperate consumers accept higher prices.
The DSM issued the following statement on 12th October 2003. cwi online
General Strike suspended at last minute
Reversal of fuel price hike a victory for the working masses
As a result of this development, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has suspended the nation-wide general strike and mass protests which were supposed to commence on Thursday, 9th October 2003 against the anti-poor fuel price increment.
The DSM is one of the constituent groups in the Labour-Civil Society Coalition which had been mobilising the mass of the Nigerian workers and the oppressed masses against this unjust policy.
Though threat to national security was cited by state governors as the reason for the reversal of the price hike, the real reason was the obvious determination of the Nigerian working people to heed the NLC call and embark on strike and protests against the dastardly price increase.
In this sense, the reversal of the unjust price hike represents a major victory for the Nigerian working people and a demonstration of their potential power. It is another proof that mass struggles is the best means to stop and/or defeat anti-poor socio-economic and political policies of the capitalist ruling elite. The massive support for the NLC’s action also again exposed the hollowness of the so-called landslide victory which Obasanjo, the PDP and the other major capitalist parties claimed to have won in the last elections.
It is not all over
However, despite the current victory, we in the DSM would like to warn that the danger of the attacks on the living and working conditions of the Nigerian working masses by the Obasanjo government in particular and the ruling class in general remains as real as ever. The NLC and the Labour-Civil Society Coalition must continue campaigning against the neo-liberal policies of so-called "liberalisation" and deregulation. Any hint of further attempts to increase fuel prices or any other anti-poor measures must be met by a general strike and mass protests.
While the government has been forced by mass opposition and a looming general strike and mass protests to make a retreat from the fuel price hike, any relief for the masses from this decision can only be temporary as the underlying pro-rich, anti-poor policies of deregulation and liberalisation still remain the cornerstone of Obasanjo’s government and ruling class’ economic agenda. With profit maximisation for oil marketing companies lying at the root of these policies, fuel shortage will persist; many consumers would be unable to get the products at the official prices while another attempt to increase prices would be made sooner or later. The government and the petroleum marketing companies will merely wait for a new opportunity to increase fuel prices, probably using fuel scarcities to try to force acceptance of higher prices.
The NLC’s strike call received an overwhelming response from Nigerian working people. This momentum should be used to oppose the government’s neo-liberal, pro-imperialist policies. The labour movement should unambiguously reject and mobilise the working people across the country against the anti-poor, profit-driven policies of deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation, commercialisation of social services and retrenchment of workers. The NLC leadership should immediately withdraw its membership of the government’s National Council on Privatisation. The NLC should explain that the alternative to mismanagement and corruption in public corporations is democratic working class management and control of such public enterprises and not their sale to greedy imperialist exploiters and the ruling elite who looted and mismanaged these public institutions in the first instance.
Mode of suspension of the strike/protests
Given the unrepentant commitment of the government to anti-poor neo-liberal policies and its insincerity and past records of not keeping to agreements reached with organised labour, we in the DSM feel strongly that the NLC leadership should have insisted on actual implementation of the new prices as a condition for the suspension of the imminent strike.
We equally strongly object to the mode and manner with which the impending strike/protests were suspended unilaterally by the NLC leadership without even the courtesy of making telephone contacts, let alone having democratic consultations and discussions with leaders and members of the civil society organisations that were jointly mobilising with NLC for the strike and protests. This seemingly "use and dump" approach is not the best strategy to build a solid platform and solidarity with the rest of the working masses outside the trade unions in the inevitable struggles of the working people against capitalist and imperialist exploitation and oppression.
A working people’s alternative needed
The crisis over the prices and supply of petroleum products is a mere reflection of the general endemic crisis facing Nigeria’s neo-colonial capitalist economy characterised by massive unemployment, low capacity utilisation, poor living standards and relentless attacks on the living and working conditions of the masses through mass retrenchment, commercialisation of social services, privatisation of public assets, opening the way to further imperialist domination, hike in fuel prices and other anti-poor policies.
Therefore, to put a permanent end to the perpetual poverty, misery and suffering being experienced on a daily basis by the working people, the labour movement and the NLC should not just simply fight against specific anti-poor policies such as fuel price hike. Beyond this, the labour movement should stand for the complete overthrow of the capitalist system and put forward as alternative a democratic socialist ideology in which the commanding heights and collective wealth of the society will be put under public ownership, but with democratic control and management by the working people.
Under such an arrangement, petroleum, minerals, agriculture, manufacturing and other resources and wealth of the society will be used to provide for the basic needs of the people as against their being used to sustain the luxurious and opulent life of a small rich minority under the present capitalist system.
To achieve the social transformation outlined above, the labour movement and the NLC should commence as a matter of urgency the building of an independent working people political platform that would serve as alternative to the PDP, AD, ANPP and all the capitalist political parties, factions and individuals.
Towards this end, we in the DSM call on the NLC leadership to end support for the ruling class or any of its factions and their anti-masses policies. In the past four years, the NLC leadership has tried as much as possible not to been seen as antagonistic to the Obasanjo regime. But the ceaseless implementation of anti-working people policies, including incessant fuel price hike, and the vitriolic attacks on the labour movement and the NLC by President Obasanjo in his 8th October nation-wide address show that it is impossible for the labour leadership to appease the ruling class and at the same time meet the yearnings and aspirations of the working people.
President Obasanjo in his address accused the NLC of an attempt to hijack power illegally or unconstitutionally through the suspended nation-wide strike action. In reply, Oshiomhole denied this and said that the labour movement is not interested in taking power. To us in the DSM, this is a wrong response. It is clear that massive rigging and corruption characterised the recent elections. Adams Oshiomhole rightly said that "They have the guns, they have the police. Whenever they called on Nigerians to go back to work, Nigerians don’t listen to them. But whenever we tell our people to stay at home, they listen to us. So the question is who is in control?"
The NLC ought to draw the correct conclusion from this truth and tell Obasanjo and the ruling class that the labour movement and the working masses have the legitimate right to bid for political power and reorganise society in the interest of the marginalised and oppressed working people who are in overwhelming majority.
If the working people are producers of the nation’s wealth, why should they leave governance and the management and control of such wealth and resources in the hands of a tiny minority parasitic ruling elite. In actual fact, the NLC and the labour movement should be taking concrete steps towards the winning of political power by the working people. Our alternative to rule by any of the factions of the corrupt elite is a workers’ and poor peasants government.
Therefore, we in the DSM appeal to Adams Oshiomhole and the NLC leadership to immediately call a conference of trade unions, students unions, community associations, market traders’ associations, human rights and socialist groups and pro-masses political parties like the National Conscience Party (NCP) and Party for Social Democracy (PSD) to discuss how to build a mass working people’s political platform which can fight to end the misery and chaos of life under capitalism.