Nigeria: Fuel prices jump

Workers prepare for action

The past days have seen the minimum price of fuel in Lagos reach 41 naira (54 US cents) a litre, nearly 25% more than the 34 naira level the government agreed to maintain when trade union leaders suspended the general strike due to begin on October 10.

The Obasanjo government has gone ahead with removing the subsidy keeping fuel prices low, forcing the nationalised Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to increase wholesale prices to 34 naira, thereby jacking up the retail price.

President Obasanjo justifies this policy by saying that finance used for the fuel subsidy will now be go towards other government programmes. But the overwhelming majority of Nigerians know that this is a lie. What in fact it means is that there will be a greater amount of government money for the corrupt ruling class to loot for themselves. Nigerians could see the oil subsidy in low fuel prices, now large amounts of that money will disappear into the foreign bank accounts of the elite.

The fact that fuel prices are now a minimum of 41 naira means that Obasanjo has been able to overtake the price level he tried to impose last June. Then a proposed increase from 24 naira to 40 naira provoked an eight-day general strike that completely shut down Nigeria. That strike was suspended when the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) leaders agreed to a compromise price of 34 naira.

However at the very end of September Nigerians were outraged when the Obasanjo government made a renewed attempt to push the price up. The NLC called for a resumption of the general strike on October 10 and established a Labour-Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) of radical political forces, human rights, student and other bodies in order to widen the struggle. Both the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the Nigerian affiliate of the CWI) and the National Conscience Party (NCP, the radical party DSM members are active in) are among the members of LASCO.

Segun Sango, the DSM General Secretary, was a member of one of the national bodies LASCO 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. 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 stoppage was due to begin, the NLC leaders once again suspended the general strike as a result of assurances that the fuel would remain, for the time being, at 34 naira. However this was only a verbal assurance, in reality the fuel price rose. In a statement issued just after this deal the DSM already warned that “the NLC leadership should have insisted on actual implementation of the new prices as a condition for the suspension of the imminent strike.” (see the DSM’s website for the full texts of all DSM’s statements)

Now faced with new price hikes LASCO has taken up many of the DSM’s proposals for mobilising for a new struggle. However this week the DSM proposal that the general strike should resume on October 29th was not supported, with many LASCO members believing that a longer period of pre-strike mobilisation was necessary.

The situation is critical as attacks are continuing. The government has now reneged again on its promised 12.5% wage rise for federal government workers. Originally Obasanjo announced the increase on May 1st and said it would be paid from that date. Later the government got agreement from the NLC leaders that this wage rise would be paid from July 1st but then, at the end of September, decreed that it would only be implemented from October 1st.

At the beginning of October Obasanjo launched a vicious verbal attack on the NLC accusing it of attempting to take over the country. The NLC leaders denied that they wanted to do so, but the struggle over the fuel price is increasingly posing the question of who runs the country. Determined struggle can win concessions like preventing a particular fuel price rise, winning wage increases etc., but this year has illustrated again that so long as the existing ruling class remain in power they will resume their attacks when they feel they have the opportunity.

In the coming days the NLC leaders will decide their next steps. The DSM has put forward concrete proposals for remobilising the opposition movement including the production of propaganda material; holding of workplace and community meetings and the formation of action committees.

In public statements it has urged “the NLC leadership to, as a matter of urgency, call a conference of trade unions, students unions, professional groups like market traders associations, artisans groups, socialist groups, the NCP, PSD and other pro-labour groups to discuss and work out the strategy and tactics for the building of a mass working peoples’ political party.”

Faced with the implementation of the fuel price rise and the federal workers loss of five months’ extra pay the DSM has called for an early resumption of the general strike and argued that “ the NLC should commence mass mobilisation not just against the increment in fuel prices but the entire gamut of the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation which lie at the root of the incessant fuel price hike and retrenchment of workers. As experience since the introduction of SAP in 1980s have shown, these policies can never be made to benefit the working masses. Instead, they would cause further mass hardship and impoverishment.

“As alternative to these pro-rich, anti-poor neo-liberal policies, labour should campaign for public ownership of the petroleum industry and the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy but with democratic control and management by the working people. Through this arrangement, it would be possible to stop the wastage, corruption and mismanagement bedeviling the oil industry and run the industry and the entire economy to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of the society.”

To achieve this the NLC has the responsibility to “commence the building of an independent working people political alternative to the present self-centred and profit-driven neo-colonial capitalist system and the political parties, namely PDP, AD, ANPP, APGA, etc, which uphold it. To bring an end to the endless misery, poverty, oppression which the working people face daily, the NLC should be building for the coming to power of a workers and poor peasants government on the basis of a democratic socialist programme.”

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October 2003