Nigeria: Fight fuel price hike

The latest increase in the prices of petroleum products by the Obasanjo government has justifiably been received with opposition and condemnation by most working people across Nigeria.

NLC must call a 48 hour general strike! No to liberalisation and other anti-poor polices!

This increment, announced at the peak of New Year festivities, saw the price of petrol increased from N22 to N26 per litre, diesel from N21to N26 per litre and kerosene from N17 to N24 per litre. This increment, according to the government, marks the beginning of the liberalisation of the oil marketing industry. The government’s Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Committee headed by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi (a minister of National Planning during the General Abdulsalam Abubakar military junta) announced that the increment is partly informed by the fact that the price of crude oil sold to Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for processing for domestic consumption has now been doubled from $9 to $18 per barrel by the government. In the same statement, Chief Gbadamosi made it clear that the new prices do not even yet take care of certain costs and taxes. The implication of all these is that an era of incessant increases in prices of petroleum products has now arrived.

An anti-poor policy

We in the DSM joins the working people in condemning in its entirety this callous, insensitive and anti-poor fuel price increase.

As with past increments, this latest increase has led to steep rise in transport cost across the country, with fares rising between 50% – 100% in both rural and urban areas. A general rise in the prices of goods, services and accommodation would surely follow leading to dramatic rise in the cost of living. As a result, tens of millions of already impoverished Nigerians will sink into greater poverty and misery.

As in the past, the only people who would benefit from the new price increase are the owners and directors of multinational oil companies (Mobil, National, Unipetrol, Total, Elf, etc) which dominate the petroleum marketing sector (who would achieve a dramatic rise in their profits), and members of the capitalist ruling class who would have more money available to loot.

For a 48 hour general strike

Based on this reason, we call on the NLC and the 29 industrial unions affiliated to it to wage a consistent mass struggle for the reversal of this obnoxious measure. To this extent, the DSM commends the 7-day ultimatum and nation-wide strike action notice given by the NLC to the Obasanjo government with the demand for the reversal of this latest attack on the working people.

The NLC should insist that the Obasanjo government immediately rescind the decision to hike fuel prices. Rather than just saying that the NLC is opposed to the price increase because it was not consulted before it was imposed, the NLC leaders should, for the reasons which we stated above, oppose the price increase as a matter of principle. Congress should not negotiate for a reduction in the prices but instead insist that the prices be restored to the previous amounts because there was no reasonable justification for any increment in the first instance.

Methods of struggle

To ensure the success of the struggle, we call on the NLC and the industrial unions to commence immediately a mass mobilisation campaign, with leaflets, posters, rallies, mass meetings, in order to mobilise and organise workers, traders, students and other layers of the working people to resist this latest fuel price hike.

Action Committees should be set up by the trade unions, and labour, youth and community activists at national, state and local levels and in every workplace, school and community to organise the rallies, strikes and protests and to coordinate the struggle in order to ensure its success.

The Action Committees would ensure that the strike is observed everywhere and in line with working class discipline to avoid a situation which anarchists or agent-provocateurs will use the labour action to carry out looting, extortions and unnecessary violence.

Also the NLC leaders should not undertake the tactics of having an indefinite "stay at home" strike. From experience, this type of strike will only isolate workers in their various homes and make it possible for the employers to weaken the strike through the different false propaganda and threats, that would inevitably be issued by the government, the employers and their supporters. Workers would not have the opportunity to hold mass meetings, solidify their ranks, discuss the progress of the strike and further steps to take to ensure its success.

Instead of an indefinite "stay at home" strike, we in the DSM propose that the NLC should in the first instance organise a 48-hour nation-wide general strike to compel the regime to reverse this anti-poor measure. If at the end of this first strike the regime still refuses to yield to workers’ demand, the unions and the NLC should organise more mass meetings and rallies, intensify the mass mobilisation with the objective of getting more workers and other layers of the working masses such as traders, commercial drivers, students, artisans, etc, to take part in the strike action and protests. Another date will then be fixed for another round of industrial actions and protests. Instead of an indefinite stay-at-home strike that will gradually weaken and lead to a defeat or a partial victory, the method which we suggest will allow the labour movement to boldly but systematically mobilise its forces to achieve the goal of the struggle.

Emergency services

Furthermore, the NLC and activists would also need to consider the provision of certain emergency essential services during the strike, especially if the strike action becomes protracted. This is to ensure that while the strike should paralyse industry and all the institutions through which the capitalists make their profits and exercise control over the society, certain essential services like water, medical emergencies, sanitation, etc, are maintained to some degree. Which of such services to provide and to what extent would be democratically decided by the trade unions and the NLC. These emergency services would show the working masses that the labour movement is not just simply interested in paralysing society and it would increase support for the strike action by various layers of the working people in urban and rural areas. It would also show that the working class could on its own organise society better than the selfish capitalist rogues.

Liberalisation – Robbing the poor to further enrich the rich.

The Obasanjo government and other advocates of liberalisation of the oil marketing industry are as usual, arguing that this policy is the only way to ensure regular fuel supply and attract foreign and domestic investments into the industry. Competition, according to them, will soon lead to lower fuel prices. The recently introduced GSM mobile phone technology is given as an example of the benefits of a liberalised economy.

These arguments are the same always canvassed by the supporters of fuel price increments and deregulation/liberalisation during the past 15 years, since 1986 when fuel price was increased by the Babangida junta as part of the IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Yet there is no evidence to show that fuel price hikes and other neo-liberal capitalist policies have benefited the economy or improved living standards. In actual fact, the opposite is the case.

Like all neo-liberal capitalist policies (e.g. privatisation, commercialisation, retrenchment of workers, etc.), liberalisation is meant to make the rich richer and the poor masses poorer. As statistics provided by the NLC clearly shows, oil marketing companies and the NNPC already made a lot of profit even at the old prices. Yearly, the oil marketing companies (National, Agip, Total, Mobil, Unipetrol, etc) made billions of naira as profit. By increasing fuel price and giving the oil companies the freedom to dictate fuel price, the Obasanjo capitalist government only want to ensure even more super-profits for their local and foreign business friends to the detriment of the welfare of the working masses.

The argument that the liberalisation of the oil marketing sector will soon lead to lower fuel prices is merely meant to deceive the masses. Only mass resistance by the masses, against high fuel prices can check the profit greed of the oil multinationals and their government.

The GSM experience

The experience with the newly introduced GSM mobile phones in Nigeria also shows that liberalisation is not the solution to the inability of the masses to have access to efficient and affordable telephone, electricity, fuel and other basic necessities of life.

Yes, because it is relatively easier and cheaper to acquire than NITEL lines, more people have now gained access to telephone courtesy of GSM. But the cost of its acquisition and its tariffs being charged by the GSM companies are still so high that it would for long, if not for ever, remain unaffordable to overwhelming majority of the populace.

Secondly, the service being offered by the GSM companies is very poor indeed. It is often difficult to make or receive calls. Most of the time the response is the familiar "all trunks are busy, please call back later".. The major reason for this is that the private GSM companies (Econet and MTN) have in reality invested very little in technology. The equipment which they have installed cannot cope with the number of subscribers. Rather than investing in technology, each of them has been busy spending millions of naira on advertising and marketing in other to win more subscribers. Like all capitalist enterprises, their primary goal is not service but profit. The same thing will happen in a liberalised oil marketing industry.

For a publicly-owned, democratically-managed oil industry The solution to fuel scarcity and other problems facing the oil industry lies not in privatisation and liberalisation but in massive investments and democratic management and control of its affairs by the working people. However, there cannot be any efficient management in NNPC and other public corporations so long as these corporations are run by capitalist managements whose stock-in-trade is looting and nepotism. Also it would be impossible to eradicate corruption in NNPC and other public and private institutions when workers’ salaries are grossly inadequate to take care of even their basic needs. Finally, adequate and affordable fuel will remain a mirage so long as the capitalist system in which most of the wealth and resources of the country are owned and controlled by a few capitalist elements and multi-national corporation remains in place. So long as this oppressive and exploitative arrangement persists, it would be impossible for NNPC, NEPA, NITEL, water corporations, schools, hospitals and other social services to have sufficient resources to deliver quality service to the masses.

Therefore, not only must the working masses struggle against privatisation and liberalisation of oil industry and public utilities, this struggle must be linked to struggle to change society. The capitalist system needs to be replaced by a democratic socialist system in which the commanding sectors of the economy such as oil industry, banking, manufacturing, etc, are put into public ownership with democratic control and management of the economy and society by the working people.

This is the policy which the NLC and the trade unions should be advocating. Unfortunately, rather than having a firm and consistent opposition against privatisation, deregulation and liberalisation, the NLC leadership supports the privatisation of NEPA and NITEL, and says that it supports the "liberalisation" and not "deregulation" of the oil industry when in actual fact the two terms are just two sides of the same coin.

A working people’s party needed now

The latest hike in prices of petroleum products is a graphic illustration of the fact that so long as capitalism holds sway, anti-poor socio-economic and political policies by the capitalist elite belonging to all the capitalist political parties and currents would remain the lot of the working people, whether under a civilian administration or a military dictatorship.

The spate of political violence in recent weeks, the crisis in Osun State, the assassination of Bola Ige, and ethnic and religious conflicts in Benue and Taraba states have again confirmed that peace and prosperity will continue to elude the society on the basis of the neo-colonial capitalist arrangement which prevails in the country. The obnoxious and undemocratic Electoral Act which the Obasanjo regime and the three registered political parties are trying to impose on the working masses shows there is no hope for the working masses so long as the present self-serving political contractors remains in power.

Therefore, the DSM urges the NLC, that while fighting against this fuel price hike, it must also begin, much more seriously, the process of building an independent political party of the working people with distinct programmes and policies different from those of the capitalist ruling class.

Such a party will lead to the struggles against the capitalist attacks on the living standards and rights of the working people. It will fight against the ongoing looting of public wealth in the name of privatisation, fuel price hike, retrenchment of workers and commercialisation of education, healthcare, housing, water and other social services.

Instead of the present anti-poor policies of all the capitalist parties and governments, such a working people’s party will use the nation’s abundant resources to implement programmes such as provision of free and qualitative education, free medical service, decent and affordable mass public housing scheme, cheap and efficient mass transport system, full employment and welfare benefits for the sick and the elderly. By eliminating mass poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and diseases, the party will remove the real causes of armed robbery, prostitution and ethnical and religious crises. Also, by ensuring that adequate wages are paid to workers and that public enterprises are democratically controlled and managed by elected representatives of the working people, the endemic corruption which continues to afflict the country can be drastically reduced if not totally eliminated.

But in order to achieve these lofty objectives on a permanent basis, the party will need to struggle for the abolition of the present unjust and oppressive capitalist order and for its replacement with a democratic socialist society whose hallmark will be common ownership of the commanding sectors of the economy, with production based on human needs and not profit greed, and the democratic control and management of the economy and society by the working people. This goal the working people’s party will realise by putting into power a workers’ and poor peasants’ government that will implement a socialist programme.

We in the DSM call on the leadership of the NLC and the various unions to take a much more serious effort towards the formation of such a party by calling as a matter of urgency a conference of labour, youth and community activists, trade unions, students’ unions, artisans’ and traders’ associations and socialist and pro-labour organisations. The NLC should also work together with an organisation like the National Conscience Party (NCP) towards the attainment of this objective.

The leadership and members of the NCP also need to redouble their efforts towards building the party and orient it towards the working class.

Unless the labour movement and the NCP take this vital historic step now, the growing mass disenchantment against the civilian politicians will either be diverted into greater ethnic-religious conflicts and mindless political violence as witnessed in the past two and a half years or it will be utilised by the military wing of the ruling class to attempt to stage a comeback at a stage as it happened during the first and second Republics in 1966 and 1983 respectively with devastating consequences for the working masses and the society at large.

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January 2002