Following the most recent 25% increase in the price of fuel in Nigeria, the Nigeria Labour Congress has called for a general strike on 11 October 2004. The material that follows is the text of the special edition of Socialist Democracy, newspaper of the Democratic Socialist Movement, Nigerian affiliate of the CWI. socialistworld.net
Resist Obasanjo Anti-Peoples agenda now!
Nigerians have almost lost count of the number of times the price of these essential commodities have been hiked in the life of the Obasanjo’s led government. It is one increase too many. The official price of petrol for instance has been increased from N20 to roughly N60 in the last 5 years.
Short of argument to justify this current increase, the government brazenly has resorted to the option of ramming the new provocative and obnoxious price regime down the throat of the poor working masses through legal and judicial manipulations. To achieve this, it got a black-market judgement from one Justice Roseline Ukeje that states that it is illegal for NLC to lead the poor working masses against government’s crushing attack on their standard of living, particularly in relation to fuel price hike. It was no surprise that the current increase came 24 hours after the kangaroo ruling. So far, the NLC leadership’s resolve to place the judgement in its right place - the dustbin of history, its disregard of the threat of imprisonment and determination to continue to provide leadership for the masses is highly commendable. It must be prepared to ignore this ruling; one High Court judge cannot condemn the masses to a further cut in their living standards.
This government is one of the most anti-working class in the history of the country. It is hell bent to run roughshod over the rural and urban masses with no qualm. Year in year out, it keeps aggravating the suffering of the Nigerian masses, despite the ever increasing income accruing to the government. Just recently, the government announced that the foreign reserve of the country was over $ 13 billion. Not only this, since inception of the regime, the price of the crude oil in the international market has been much over the budget’s benchmark of $22 per barrel. It has never been less than $28 per barrel. In the last week of the September, the price hit as high as $50. This implies that the government has been enjoying fabulous budget surplus. The excess crude oil gain for this year (2004) alone is $4.7 billion. Unfortunately however, this windfall has not translated to any improvement in the welfare and living conditions of an average Nigerian. But it has provided more funds for looting by the government at all levels. A week after the government worsened the hardship and agony of poor masses with the fuel price hike, it shared among its tiers a part of excess crude fund, which is N318. 5 billion, in addition to the budgetary allocation, even without appropriation by the national assembly. While the masses are suffering in the midst of plenty, these looters in power are smiling to their banks, including foreign accounts.
Shamelessly, the government has been using the increase in price of crude oil in the world market, which has generated more funds to it, as one of the reasons why Nigerians must pay more for the fuel at home. This is a bitter irony! Instead of repairing or improving on the existing refineries and building more to adequately take care of the domestic need, it has opted for importation of refined products. This has only provided enabling platform for marketers and politicians involved in the importation to make cool profit at the gross expense of the people’s need. It has spent $700 million (about N 100 billion) on the turn around maintenance of the nation’s refineries, yet there is nothing to show for this. More so, nobody has been arraigned for mismanaging or misappropriating this resource, in spite of the much-touted anti-corruption crusade of the government. Worse still, instead of ploughing back part of the excess crude oil fund to cushion effect of its irresponsibility on the people, it has added salt to the injury with the increase in the fuel price.
Things will only get worse
As long as the capitalist system that runs on the motive of profit making continues to hold sway over the economy, so long will things continue to get worse for the masses. This explains why Obasanjo’s regime is unbothered by the pain inflicted on the masses as a result of the policy of incessant fuel price hike/deregulation, which has made life unbearable for the poor masses. Indeed, the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made sure before she took the job that she was paid in US dollars, not naira. So while the finance minister gets $247,000 a year, (equivalent to 33 million naira), the cost of living for the working and poor masses is unbearable.
Already not less than 75% of Nigerians live below N140 ($1) per day, according to a United Nation agency. The policy is increasing the depth of the impoverishment of the masses. The middle class is being eroded, thus expanding the impoverished camp and widening the gap between the rich and poor. Many car owners are giving up use of their cars, as their incomes cannot meet up with the increasing cost of maintenance and fuelling. The fuel price being the major determinant of the prices of other commodities, the new increment would further take food out of the reach of the common man, as prices of food items going up. As expected, transport fares have been hiked. The Manufacturing Association of Nigeria, MAN, is also complaining bitterly on the implication of the increase on the cost of production and maintenance, which has forced numerous factories to close shop with attendant job losses. The mobile telephone operators have given notice of a possible increment in their tariff with the increasing cost of running and maintaining their numerous standby generating sets and other related expenses.
As against the argument of the government and its lackeys that the excruciating pains being currently experienced with the incessant fuel price hike/deregulation and other anti-people policies of the government euphemistically dubbed "Reforms" will transform into gain in the future with improvement in the economy, the situation, in fact, will get worse. They based this on the premise that the policies would attract investment to the country. This is a blatant illusion! Five years into the regime, no serious investor has come to establish productive business in the country despite the billions of naira spent by Obasanjo and associates on globetrotting to meet and woo the so-called investors. The one exception of the mobile telephone operators does not produce any good or export. No serious investor will come into the economy with no adequate and functional infrastructures like constant electricity, water supply, good road networks, telecommunication system, skilled and well educated manpower, etc.
How to fight
The immediate rejection of the fuel price increase by the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, Congress of the Free Trade Union, the Civil Societies, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, National Conscience Party, NCP and other pro-people organisations is welcome and commendable. But their words must be matched with action. The NLC has already given a 14-day ultimatum to the government to revert the price to the old rate or face the strike action. If government fails to meet the demand, NLC has scheduled to commence a sit at home general strike from Monday October 11. Every individual and organisation must join force with the NLC. But we must not go to bed now waiting for October 11. The period before the deadline should be used to organise programmes and activities aimed at intensive mobilisation and enlightenment of all the strata of the working people in the markets, communities, schools, factories and other workplaces.
Successful fight requires first and foremost correct tactics and approach. The revolutionary and democratic approach should be adopted in the management of this struggle. Revolutionary and democratic in the sense that struggle itself must be built primarily on the strength and support of the workers, peasants, market men and women, artisans, youth, students and pro-labour organisations and their involvement in discussion on decision at every turn of the struggle. The NLC leadership has started well in this regard. It is set to prosecute this struggle with the civil society groups as usual. But beyond this, there is need for the formation of joint/strike action committees at the workplaces, communities, local government, state and national levels for the democratic prosecution of the struggle. These committees should be the forums for democratically organising the struggle; organising the maintenance of supplies like food and water, and to prevent any attempt to divide the movement by ethnic or religious clashes. With this, the struggle will be able to draw out the best out of the working people’s forces.
In this respect, we in DSM argue that the proposed general strike must not be just a sit at home protest/event. All forms of democratic expression of mass struggles such as rallies and peaceful procession and demonstration must be combined where and when necessary and possible with the general strike. We also propose a 72-hour (3 day) warning strike. But if by the end of the 3 days of strike and protests the government does not retreat, further far reaching mass action activities can be democratically agreed upon. Moreover, this is the only approach that can give room for proper planning and constant review of tactics and strategies that do not waste the strength and commitment of the masses to the struggle.
On September 29, NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, told PM News "We have learnt our lessons from previous nationwide strikes and this time around, we will ensure that all our goals are achieved before we call off the strike," These are fine words but only a clear leadership and democratic organisation of the struggle can make them a reality. Without this, we will again face the situation in which the labour leaders make a rotten compromise either due to weariness or inability to gauge correctly the extent of the commitment of the working people to the struggle. We in the DSM want the trade unions to have a fighting leadership prepared to seriously battle for the working masses. Any leader that does not want to struggle should be replaced by the one that will.
As the experience of the past five years has shown, if the working masses do not succeed in getting rid of this capitalist and pro-imperialist government with its anti-poor policies including the incessant hike in fuel price, sooner than later, there will be another increase that will necessitate another round of strikes and protests. This underlines the imperative need for regime change and fundamental policy change. The incessant increase in fuel price is in line with pro-capitalist and neo-liberal policies as dictated by the IMF/World Bank. A change of Obasanjo’s government and emergence of its clone or likes with similar policies will only lead the working masses to a dead end.
We therefore reiterate our long held position that the labour leaders, pro-people organisations and parties, change seeking individuals and socialists should, at communities, factories and workplaces, local, state and national levels as soon as practicable convene conferences to discuss and fashion out a coherent economic and political alternatives to the prevailing unjust capitalist order. To that effect, those conferences should be geared towards the formation of a genuine working peoples party with rounded socialist programmes. The most correct and scientific lesson that can be drawn from the general strikes and protests in reaction to the policy of incessant hike in the fuel price is that the ultimate goal of the struggle should be the overthrow of capitalism represented by Obasanjo, the PDP and other pro-capitalist parties and its replacement by a workers and peasant government which only can potentially carry out and ensure pro-masses policies.
We in the DSM fight for:
- A mobilisation of the working masses in action.
- Total Reversal of the present price hike·
- An immediate total withdrawal of the anti-labour bills from the national assembly
- Abolition of all fees under whatever guise in the public schools
- Adequate funding of social services like education, health care, transportation, power supply, etc
- Public Ownership of the commanding heights of economy with democratic management and control of the working people in order to be able to generate adequate resources to carry out pro-masses programmes, purge corruption and end looting.
- Immediate resignation of Obasanjo’s regime as well as that of the other pro-capitalist ruling governments at the state and local levels.
- For a workers’ and peasants government that will start the socialist transformation of Nigeria.
Socialist Democracy Special Bulletin/Leaflet Oct. 2004