Nigeria: General strikes

How To fight and defeat Obasanjo’s anti-poor, capitalist government

The working masses have established, beyond any reasonable doubt, their readiness and determination to fight, till the end, Obasanjo’s anti-poor, capitalist government. If, we leave aside the abortive general strikes and protests of October 2003 and February, 2004, this readiness and determination were robustly demonstrated through the general strikes and protests against the frequent, neo-liberal hike of fuel prices in June 2000, January 2002, June/July 2003 and June 2004. The Adams Oshiomhole led NLC has led more general strikes than any other generation of Nigerian labour leaders.

Suffice to stress also that the general strikes/protests of the past four years have one remarkable feature: the active support and participation of the vast majority of non-unionised workers, petty-traders, self-employed artisans, the urban and rural poor in general. Precisely because of this factor, the repressive response of the capitalist state has been brutally brought to bear on all layers of the working masses. All these strikes without exception led to the arrest and detention of labour leaders and rank and file activists across the country. Aside from the arrest and detention of labour leaders, in Abuja, Lagos, Port-Harcourt and other cities, the June/July 2003 general strikes and protests claimed over 20 lives, as a result of police shooting of live ammunitions on strike pickets and protesters.

Unfortunately however, the results so far, achieved have not matched the above highlighted heroic efforts and sacrifices. The fact speaks for itself: at the end of June 2000 general strikes/protests, a litre of petrol, diesel and kerosene respectively was officially sold for N22 and N18. Now in June 2004, after three other general strikes/protests and two aborted general strikes/protests, against the same Obasanjo government, over the same neo-liberal policy of frequent fuel price hike, a litre of petrol, diesel and kerosene respectively now officially sells for 42.90k, N50 and N48! Diesel, widely used by industries because of unstable electricity supply and kerosene used by the poorest layers of the working masses have been surreptitiously dropped from the negotiation table by the government, thus leaving consumers to the untrammelled rule of neo-liberal deregulation.

There are two main conclusions that can be drawn from this experience. One, if the aforementioned general strikes/protests had not taken place, the over burdened working masses would certainly have been paying higher prices than what presently occurs. In other words, without working masses struggles, things would have been worse! Two, it is now self evident than ever that the working masses need a new orientation and strategy if it ever hopes to secure a permanent respite from the endless anti-poor, capitalist policies of the Obasanjo’s government.


Right wing ideologues of all persuasions have been attacking the NLC leaders for ever calling general strikes against an unpopular, anti-poor policy of the government. From their pro-capitalist point of view, the general strikes that have taken place were not only uncalled for but equally futile. This is a most outlandish conclusion that can be drawn from the tumultuous working class struggles of the past four years. Without these general strikes and protests, the capitalist class would have succeeded in driving the masses deeper into the abyss of misery and repression. But with over 70% of the population living below poverty line, with an average life span of 47 years and 49 years respectively for men and women, with the current rate of unemployment and under unemployment, with rapid rise in mass poverty and attendant phenomenal rise in crimes, prostitution, fraud, etc, the present situation is far from being desirable. Worse still, on the basis of the current neo-colonial, especially greedy and corrupt capitalist set-up, things can only progressively get worse for the vast majority of the working masses.

To reverse this vicious trend, the NLC leaders and other layers of labour leaders need to abandon their present collaborationist approach towards the capitalist class. They have to squarely face the fact that the present unjust capitalist system cannot be reformed in a beneficial way for the vast majority of the working people. Presently, most labour leaders harbour the illusion that if properly managed, capitalism can mutually serve the best interest of both capitalists and its victims, the working masses. This explains why a lot of illusion is being fostered by labour leaders in giving the impression that once the public refineries are fully repaired and functional, "fair", "just", acceptable fuel prices can be guaranteed. This, as we in the DSM often stated, is an illusion under capitalism. The fact that there exists some public refineries (which are only public in name but are run in quasi capitalist manners) in an economic and political environment whose ethos are predominantly profit driven will only constitute a small fraction ultimately in determining prices and availability of fuel products.

Anyone who may think that the above is just an abstract theory should ponder on the statement of Professor Jubril Aminu, former Minister of Petroleum and a leading politician of the ruling PDP: "Our refineries are older than they are on the book because of irregularity of maintenance. I think what we need to do is allow people to come in and build new refineries in Nigeria. Not everybody would agree to come and do that when they know that if they do, they would not be allowed to sell their products according to market forces. They can only agree to build new refineries if they would be allowed to sell according to the market price and that means the sector has to be deregulated. "There is a lot of deception in the building of refineries. There is this belief that if refineries are built, the price of fuel would be cheaper. That is not true. Refurbishing of refineries or building new ones would not bring down the price of fuel. That is the simple truth because if I build refineries, I expect to earn enough to buy my crude, to buy my consumables, to pay my staff, to repay the loan and earn dividend for the shareholders" (Vanguard, June 12, 2004).

Therefore if labour leaders are genuinely interested in solving the problem of fuel availability and affordability, if the labour leaders are genuinely interested in securing permanent respite in the living conditions of the working masses, then labour has to adopt an orientation and strategy which ultimately aims to totally replace the prevailing capitalist policies together with the governments and industries operating these policies. This is the time labour has to necessarily and boldly campaign for system change both in economy and polity.


Economically, the commanding heights of the economy has to be commonly owned as opposed to the prevailing capitalist system which is run to provide profits to the ruling elite and strives daily to convert the collective natural heritage of humanity into the property of a few individuals and corporations, in the name of deregulation! Nigeria has huge human, mineral and agricultural resources and under an economic arrangement where the commanding heights of the economy are commonly owned, planning and production of goods and services, could be used to provide and guarantee all the necessaries of life, including decent housing, food, health care, education, etc. to everybody in society. But as we often stated this end can only be actualised and sustained under an entirely new, working class polity. In other words, the rule of profit has to be replaced by a commonly owned economy which of necessity has to be based on complete working class democratic control and management. If this is not the case, such commonly owned economy would merely become haven of corruption and mismanagement by their unaccountable managers. It should be stressed that it was this lack of workers democratic control and management that led to the collapse of the economies of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and other places and was also a factor in the collapse of public enterprises in contemporary Nigeria.

However, to achieve fundamental success in this regard, labour needs to totally jettison its pro-capitalist strategy of mobilisation. Right now, labour invests too much in propaganda and strategy to win the support of pro-capitalist forces and institutions such as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Bar Association, the Senate, the House of Reps, traditional rulers, clerics, etc all in the name of building bigger forces that can fight and defeat the regime’s policies. This approach is laden with double tragedies. One, it is mis-educating the working masses by giving the false impression that these elements can be relied on as allies in the struggle to consistently fight capitalist policies, including its neo-liberal variant. Two, it is tragic because labour leaders often substitute this kind of elitist propaganda and trade union bureaucratic manoeuvre for the actual mobilisation of workers and the rest of the working masses in factories, communities, schools, etc.

Yet, without general strikes built, defended and democratically run by strike committees of rank and file workers and the entire strikers, labour leaders will always be left in a position where they are compelled to accept rotten compromises, either due to their ignorance of the potential power which the working people collectively possess if properly and democratically mobilised or as a direct result of the opportunistic policy which refuses to develop actual grass root mobilisation which is struggling to change capitalism.

We therefore consequently reiterate our position that labour leaders, leaders of pro-labour parties, socialists, etc should at local, state and national levels, as soon as practicable summon conferences to fashion out a coherent economic and political alternatives to the prevailing unjust capitalist order. If scientifically done, conclusions drawn from the general strikes and protests of the past four years, we believe, will largely impact more positively on the working masses struggles to defeat the Obasanjo’s anti-poor, capitalist government.

Presently, we propose that labour leaders and all pro-labour elements should commence preparation for a DAY OF MASS ACTION, involving a general strike, demonstrations and protests, rallies, symposia, etc. This should be built around demands against fuel price hikes, for a living wage; against education charges linked together with the need to break with capitalism and imperialism. Before and during such exercise, lessons of the past struggles must be frankly analysed while revolutionary economic and political changes needed for the emancipation of the working masses from capitalist bondage must be fully enumerated. Depending on the mood and consciousness at the end of A DAY OF MASS ACTION, further, far reaching mass actions should be democratically agreed upon while of course constantly making it clear to the working masses that the ultimate goal of these strikes, protests, etc is the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a workers and peasant government only which can potentially carry out and guarantee pro-masses policies.

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August 2004