Nigeria: Fuel price increase

We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) strongly condemn the callous, provocative, entirely insensitive and anti-poor fuel price increase just announced by the Obasanjo regime.

Fuel price increase

Reject the callous attack on poor working masses

Our opposition to this price hike is based on the following reasons:

(1) The increment, through which petrol price goes up from N26 per litre to N40 per litre, diesel from N26 to N38 per litre and kerosene from N24 to N38 per litre will further add to the burden of the suffering working class majority. As usual it will cause a sharp increase in transport cost and in the prices of goods and services. Tens of millions of already impoverished Nigerians will again sink into greater poverty and misery.

Coming 23 days into the second term of the Obasanjo administration, this fuel price hike gives a glimpse of the enormous hardship and suffering which await the poor working masses in the next four years.

(2) As before, the only people to benefit from the higher prices increase are the owners and directors of multinational oil companies (Mobil, National, Unipetrol, Total, Elf, etc), which dominate the petroleum marketing sector and members of the capitalist ruling class that will have more money available to loot. The latest fuel price increment is in continuation of the liberalisation programme of the Obasanjo regime and the capitalist ruling class according to which market forces should determine the prices of fuel, telephone, transport, education, healthcare and other essential goods and services. The Obasanjo government and other advocates of liberalisation of the oil marketing industry always argue 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.

These arguments are a repeat of what has been regularly canvassed by supporters of fuel price increments and deregulation/liberalisation during the past 17 years, since 1986 when the Babangida junta increased fuel price as part of the IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). But not only has fuel price hikes and other neo-liberal capitalist policies not benefited the economy or improved living standards. In actual fact, the opposite has been the case as the people have been left poorer.

(3) This increment is the third since the Obasanjo regime assumed office in 1999. In June, 2000, the regime announced an increment from N20 to N30 per litre before it was reduced to N22 per litre after a nation-wide strike. On 1st January, 2002, the government raised the price again to N26. The spate of increase in fuel price shows that the argument that the liberalisation of the oil-marketing sector would lead to lower fuel prices is merely meant to deceive the masses.

By increasing fuel price and giving the oil companies the freedom to dictate fuel price, the Obasanjo capitalist government only wants to ensure even more super-profits for their local and foreign business friends to the detriment of the welfare of the working masses. Every year, the oil marketing companies (National, Agip, Total, Mobil, Unipetrol, etc) made billions of naira as profit.

Shortage of petroleum products

The government and its supporters always attribute the perennial shortage of fuel in the country to a so-called low price due to alleged government subsidy and the relatively higher price in neighbouring countries, which is allegedly responsible for fuel smuggling. In reality, the cause of the fuel crisis is the collapse of the country’s refineries due to criminal negligence by the ruling elite. Successive regimes, including the Obasanjo government, have failed to resuscitate these refineries despite billions of naira allocated for the purpose and the country have therefore relied on fuel importation. Importation of refined petroleum products has become a big business dominated by a mafia of government officials, capitalist businessmen and their friends.

For a 48-hour warning general strike

We call on the NLC and the industrial unions affiliated to it to wage a consistent mass struggle for the reversal of this obnoxious measure. The NLC should insist that the Obasanjo government immediately rescind the decision to hike fuel prices. 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.

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.

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. Therefore the labour movement should not just fight against fuel price hike but the entire policies of privatisation and commercialisation. The NLC leadership must end their support for the government’s privatisation programme and the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, should quit the government’s National Council on Privatisation.

For an independent working class alternative

Experience over the years have shown that 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 capitalist managements whose stock-in-trade is looting and nepotism run these corporations. 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. To achieve this historic goal, the working people must struggle to put in place a workers’ and poor farmers’ government on a socialist programme. The immediate challenge before labour and youth activists, the trade unions and the National Conscience Party (NCP) activists is to build an independent, mass-based and democratic political platform which alone can accomplish this vital task.

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June 2003