Workers’ fury at government’s failure to reverse fuel price hike
The trade union led Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) has called for a general strike to begin on November 16 in protest at the government’s refusal to reverse the fuel price increases imposed at the end of September. If it goes ahead this strike will be the seventh general strike or national protest since June 2000 and the fourth this year. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the CWI’s Nigerian affiliate) has played a prominent role both in these struggles and in LASCO itself. We reproduce here an article form the November issue of the DSM’s paper Socialist Democracy on the situation in Nigeria and the tasks facing its labour movement. The entire text of Socialist Democracy and other material is reproduced on the DSM’s website www.socialistnigeria.org. socialistworld.net cwi online.
Unions call seventh general strike since 2000
Fuel price hike, mass poverty, unemployment
Kick Obasanjo’s government out now!
The PDP’s capitalist government headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo recently effected another hike in fuel prices. The working masses across the country, responding to an appeal by Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), embarked in October on a FOUR-DAY warning general strike/protest calling for total reversal of these increments. In all ramifications, the four-day warning strike was a monumental success in which all key economic activities in both private and public sectors were completely grounded to a halt while the struggle lasted. Sadly however, the Obasanjo’s government has ignored this clear demand made by the overwhelming majority of Nigerian people to reverse this anti-poor increment.
Government refusal to reverse this increment is the main immediate reason why LASCO has announced the commencement of an indefinite general strikes/protests across the country with effect from November 16th 2004. We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) pledge our total support and collaboration in the prosecution of this just struggle. We accordingly urge all sections of the working masses and youth to actively participate in the organisation and prosecution of the struggle. For us however, the struggle must be waged, not just to achieve the reversal of the recent hike in fuel prices but equally must be directed against all other anti-poor policies negatively affecting the living standard of the working masses across the country. The NLC (Nigerian Labour Congress, the main trade union federation) president, Adams Oshiomhole, was in our view very right when he said: "This struggle must now…..go beyond the issue of price to include all those problems associated with the growing state of hopelessness and the growing level of destitution and above all, the political regime that has made dialogue completely impossible". (Vanguard, November 1, 2004).
The October 11-14 national stoppage called by LASCO was a monumental success as far as the mass participation of the various sections of the working people across the country was concerned. Therefore, for the November 16 general strike/protests to be a vast improvement, our strategy and tactics must be designed in such a way that greater successes in different areas are achieved this time around. LASCO and all individual organisations within LASCO and those others in support of the impending action should begin to organise mass meetings, rallies, leafleting, etc among the different sections of the working people and youth in the communities, workplaces, schools, etc with a view to disseminate sufficient information and ideas on the issues at stake. Combined with this process, action/strike committees comprising all active elements in support of the impending mass action must be immediately constituted on an all local government and city wide basis across the country. The activities of these committees among other things will include proper mobilisation and coordination both before and during the mass action itself.
If mobilisation for the impending mass actions systematically developed along the above suggested lines, the November 16 mass action could even turn out to be more successful than that of October 11-14 2004. One, the impending mass action could be more successful in terms of conscious and massive participation of the working masses of different sections of the society. Two, it could be more successful in forcing the seemingly impregnable Obasanjo regime to reverse the recent hike of fuel prices. Both of these scenarios unfortunately however will be incapable of satisfactorily addressing the issues which gave rise to this general strike and those posed by the general strike itself.
If the forthcoming mass action attracts greater conscious participation of the masses, the question of what to do with the Obasanjo government in the face of such revolt will be squarely posed. If such a movement ebbs by leaving the Obasanjo government in power, can the masses consequently expect the regime to now adopt a different pro-masses policy? Based on our experience, the Obasanjo regime will only redouble its effort legally and politically to ensure that all those whom the regime sees as "ring leaders" within labour and civil society organisations are totally liquidated. On the other hand, if the impending mass action forces reversal of the recent fuel price hike, can the masses thereafter expect a permanent stop to incessant hike of fuel prices? Again the answer is capital NO. On the basis of the capitalist system which unabashedly glorify the opulence of a few in the face of mass misery of the multitude, hike in fuel prices together with simultaneous hike of cost of feeding, housing, education, healthcare, etc are bound to go up from time to time.
An irreconcilable contradiction
Every policy and conduct of the ruling capitalist parties/government across the country clearly reveals a bias for the rich against the poor. Politically, every conduct of these capitalists government equally reveal an attitude of total contempt and repression in their dealings with the masses. While they preach austerity for the masses, these self-serving elements continue to wallow in outrageous splendour. Obasanjo’s Minister for Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially earns a "modest" sum of $247,000 a year, in a country where the vast majority of the work-force earn less than N10,000 a month! In the year 2004 budget proposal, the price of a barrel of oil was put at $25. For most of the year however, oil has been selling at above $45 and is currently selling for over $50. Sadly however, the stupendous and unbudgeted money accruing to the government in this respect is only being shared by the imperialist’s corporations, and their local capitalist collaborators in and outside government. According to the 2004 United Nations human development survey, over 80% of Nigerians live on less than $1 (N135) a day for all their needs in the area of feeding, housing, healthcare, education, transportation, communication, energy, etc. Totally unconcerned with the plight of the vast majority of the working people, President Obasanjo is again planning to buy an additional jet running into billions of naira in order to assuage his fruitless, globe-trotting passion, falsely being presented as trips to woo foreign investors.
Politically, government across the country largely acquired their offices through electoral manipulations and rigging. For this reason, the feelings of the masses on any issue count for little or nothing to these elements. Whenever it seems that the masses feelings and conducts are blocking their self-serving objectives, they have always resorted to repression and violence. The proposed bill to amend the Labour Act, an amendment which in essence only strives to destroy every form of working class resistance is a clear proof that the current capitalist rulers are irrevocably committed to an economic and political regime which totally is at variance with the needs and aspirations of the working masses.
The palliative committee
So far, General Obasanjo’s government main response to the nationwide general strike is the setting up of a committee headed by Senator Ibrahim Mantu, the Deputy Senate President. This committee was saddled with the task of recommending palliative measures to cushion the effect of hike in the prices of petroleum products. First and foremost, the existence of this committee is an open declaration that the Obasanjo’s government has no plan to stop its anti-people’s policy including incessant hike of fuel prices. Before the October 11-14 national stoppage, both the Senate and the House of Representatives respectively passed resolutions calling for the reversal of the recent hike in fuel prices. In this respect, the existence of this committee constitutes an irrefutable proof that the regime gives little or no regard to the national assembly, a main organ of Nigeria so-called democratic dispensation!
After its first series of meetings, the committee among other things recommended that the government should either reduce or totally reverse the recent increment of fuel prices. In response, President Obasanjo wrote a letter to the committee stating that it had no mandate to discuss the issue of fuel prices and as such can neither recommend reduction nor reversal of the widely-hated increment. However, to give the impression that government was concerned about the plight of the working masses, a sum of N100million each was given to each state ostensibly to cushion the effect of the hike in fuel prices. Apart from the fact that this sum is too meagre to enable the implementation of any meaningful programme in favour of the masses, it will as usual be largely converted to personal benefit of state governors and their cronies who already were bitter about the fact that only President Obasanjo and the clique around him had access to the surplus money generated from the increment of sales of crude oil internationally.
As we go to press, the chairman of the committee, Senator Mantu, was quoted by the press stating that president Obasanjo has now given permission to the committee to discuss the issue of price stability on a long-term basis. This so-called new position is in actual fact a repetition of the old position that government does not intend to reverse the widely hated recent increment! The bitter conclusion that can therefore be drawn from all these, is that this regime and the unjust system which it defends have nothing positive to offer the working masses.
The way forward
Even if the forthcoming general strike forces the reversal of the said increment, future increments are inevitable as long as the profit-driven capitalist system dominate the Nigerian socio-political ethos. To guarantee availability and affordability of fuel products on a permanent basis to meet the basic needs and aspirations of the working people, the current profit-driven economies strategy will have to be jettisoned. Instead of a system which entrenches individual and private ownership of the commanding height of the economy, the labouring masses have to fight to fight for an economic arrangement wherein the commanding heights of the economy including industry, land, banks and financial institutions, etc are publicly owned and democratically controlled by the working people themselves and where the essence of production and organisation is to cater for the needs of all and not just the private profit of a few.
But as we in the DSM had always explained, this kind of economic programme can only be implemented by a revolutionary government of workers and poor farmers built on the basis of scientific socialism. Yes, this is an agenda that apparently goes beyond the capacity of conventional bourgeois trade unionism and it is precisely for this reason that we in the DSM have also been advocating that concrete initiatives be taken to organise a pan-Nigerian conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Conference of Free Trade Union (CFTU), Joint Action Forum (JAF), National Conscience Party (NCP), etc with a view to fashion out a working class political agenda whose ultimate goal will be capturing political power from the present ruinous capitalist class.
Politically, the capitalist proclaim democracy but in actual fact practice mass deception if not outright mass political exclusion. From working people’s point of view, real democracy will mean having actual and practical say on many key issues affecting their daily lives and conditions of living. How much revenue is being generated? How and on what is this revenue being expended? Who are the elements involved in carrying out this expenditures? Are they elected or appointed? If elected or appointed, do the masses have practical means of recalling this elements whenever these elements are no longer serving their interest? If contracts are given to companies, how would the working masses exercise control over their works?
Without this kind of revolutionary democratic approach, the current rot and looting of public treasuries by public officers will only escalate irrespective of those who may temporarily find themselves in position of power. Therefore, as we prepare for the November 16 general strikes/protests, there is the necessity to arm this working people’s movement with the relevant slogans of regime and system changes. Unless this approach is adopted, the current movement sooner or later will become disoriented and demoralized.
Suffice to stress, this, in consequence, will only deepen the agonies of the working masses as the country sinks deeper into destitution, ethno-religious and other forms of sectarian strives and conflicts.