Faced with the Nigerian government’s refusal to reverse September’s 25% jump in fuel prices, Nigeria’s trades unions and radical opposition have called for another general strike to begin on 16 November.
October saw a four day general strike that completely stopped the entire country and demonstrated how the vast majority of the population were united behind the labour movement in this struggle. Most Nigerians do not see why higher world prices mean they, an oil exporting country, have to pay more for fuel. Indeed a popular demand is that the price windfall is used for the masses and not stolen by the elite. This time, unlike previous strikes, the unions will attempt to stop oil exports, especially those by Shell, a company described by the NLC, the main union federation, as an "enemy of Nigerians".
There is huge anger in the country, both at the fuel price rise and the Obasanjo government, which is widely a seen as a corrupt government that only came to power due to rigged elections. Obasanjo’s is seen as being in the service of corrupt elite and imperialism.
A particular hate figure is the finance minister and the former World Bank vice-president, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is paid in US dollars (receiving $247,000 a year) - one of the highest paid ministers in the world.
As NLC President Adams Oshiomhole explained: "We refuse to accept that Nigerians should continue to make sacrifice, because those who push the policy have shielded themselves from sacrifice. The finance minister earns in dollars. By the time they finish dealing with us with this policy of deformation, Okonjo-Iweala will fly back to United States to stay with her husband and children." (‘This Day’ 1 November 2004).
Talking about the new strike Oshiomhole added: "This struggle must now be deregulated. We must go beyond the issue of price to include all those problems associated the growing state of hopelessness and the growing level of destitution and above all, the political regime that has made dialogue completely impossible. Those issues will be articulated by the coalition and they would form the basket of our chatter of demands." (‘Vanguard’, 1 November 2004).
For an end to the government
The 11-14 October 11 stoppage was called as a show of strength that would also mobilise the population for further struggles if the Obasanjo government did not back down. The October strike was suspended for 14 days. The delay in its resumption was in response to Muslims asking for the strike to re-start after the Ramadan holy month had ended. Now the strike called to start on 16 November, effectively the seventh since June 2000, sharply poses the question of how can the government be defeated.
Obasanjo’s government, backed by imperialism, gives the impression of standing firm. While offering a few "palliative" measures to "cushion" the impact of the fuel price rises Obasanjo’s tactics are to try to ride the strikes out and hope that the labour leaders will not be prepared to openly challenge the government. Added to this the government was prepared during the last strike to begin to try to use the security forces to harass and intimidate activists.
The DSM, the Nigerian section of the CWI, played an important part in the October strike - by helping to mobilise on the ground; arguing for socialist policies, and also by participating nationally in both the national discussions amongst activists on what should be done and as part of labour’s negotiations with Nigeria’s rulers.
The new strike was called by the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO - the joint body formed by the NLC with other trade unions and radical political, social and community organisations) at its 31 October meeting.
This LASCO meeting appointed an eight person committee to oversee the mobilisation and preparation of the strike. Segun Sango, the DSM General Secretary, is a member of this committee and has argued that LASCO needs to adopt a policy of demanding the end of the Obasanjo government and for a real "system change" based upon breaking the chains of imperialism and capitalism.
The DSM’s proposals were not accepted by the rest of the committee at its first meeting. However the DSM will, alongside working to build the strike and reverse the fuel price rise, argue in the broad labour movement for the urgent need to bring to power a workers’ and peasants’ government. This would allow Nigeria’s huge resources to begin to be used in the interests of the masses and not the local and international elites.
For more details visit the DSM’s website: www.socialistnigeria.org.