Nigeria: One fuel price hike too many

Marxists often state that counter-revolution invariably always act as the whiplash of revolution. This is the best way to interpret the easy manner with which some of the slogans which were raised by the DSM were unanimously adopted at the meeting of the Joint Action Forum (JAF) which held on 31st August, 2005 in the wake of the hike of a litre of petrol price from N51 to N65.

For the ninth time in six years, fuel prices were hiked again in late August by over 20%. Paradoxically, the only reason given for the current increase is that the country is reaping unprecedented revenues from crude oil sales internationally! But instead of these revenues to be used to develop the economy and upgrade the living standard of the working people, the pro-imperialist self-serving government of President Obasanjo has characteristically only come up with another fuel price hike which going by the experience of previous increment, will only further depress the economy and worsen the plight of the working people.

Each time the regime had increased fuel prices, we in the DSM had always argued that this neo-liberal policy must not be treated in isolation from the totality of the anti-poor economic and political policies of the capitalist ruling class. Based on a socialist perspective, we had always argued that the anti-fuel price hike protests and general strikes be waged in such a way that it would take along all the myriads of pro-rich, anti-poor policies of the government and the capitalist ruling class.

Arising from socialist analysis, we had always advocated that mass protests and general strikes against particular anti-poor policies of the government and employers of labour be waged within the framework of a strategy which consciously fights to take political power from the self-centred capitalist elements by a working peoples’ government. Only such a government can have the interest and capacity to change the prevailing, unjust, profit-driven socio-economic system with a democratic socialist system where the main wealth and resources of society will be exclusively used to guarantee the need of everybody, unlike the current arrangement where only 1% of the society consume 80% of all revenues.

Unfortunately however, most Labour and civil society leaders in charge of the past protests and general strikes against the incessant hike of fuel prices had, at the best, always regarded these ideas as utopian. Even those sections of these leaders who for years now had come to the conclusion that a regime change is necessary had always treated the demand for a system change as something which, at best, is not necessary to safeguard the interest of the working masses. But under the relentless harmer of anti-poor pro-rich attacks, the indispensability of broad socialist slogans and alternatives are beginning to get reception of certain layers of activists and change-seekers.

From this perspective, the position adopted by Joint Action Forum (JAF) to henceforth embark on mass struggles for regime and system change is historic. Very significantly, JAF’s Chairman and General Secretary respectively, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Chima Ubani also acted as Chairman and General Secretary for the Campaign for Democracy (CD) in the mass movement that helped to chase out the Babangida military junta in the early 1990s. But while the CD at that time was fighting to terminate the Babangida regime, it went no further than the demand to de-annul June 12 10993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola, himself a prominent member of the capitalist elite. The CD had no conception of an independent role for the working masses in political governance, and neither did it raise any issue concerning the nature of the capitalist system and its ruling elite.

Today however, the combination of capitalist anti-poor policies and historic agitations of the DSM within the Labour and mass movement are beginning to have positive impact on the outlook and programme of certain layers of activists and change-seekers in general. JAF at a press conference on 31st August, 2005 amongst other things stated:

“We are therefore convinced, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the fuel price crisis cannot be resolved in isolation of the larger crisis of governance in which the country is currently mired. It is a crisis rooted in the continued imposition on the nation of a mercenary and unpatriotic elite driven only by the greed for power and ill-gotten wealth and seemingly bent on leading our country down the path of catastrophe by perpetuating social injustice and neglecting the people. Thus while we are committed in the immediate to joining forces with all other democratic forces, including organised labour and others, to mobilise the people to resist this and all future fuel price increases, we remain of the firm view that such harsh policies and the inhuman philosophies that underpin them will continue for as long as the current government, or any other made up of the same kind of elite, remains in power.

“The challenges currently facing us as Nigerians is thus no longer just the reversal of fuel price increases, for as past experiences have shown, the isolated struggles over fuel price has turned into a farcical and predictable cycle of steep increases, protests, insignificant reductions, end of protests, quickly followed by another steep increase. This kind of circular motion cannot resolve the grave situation at hand; a more decisive, far-reaching and fundamental approach to the problem is required. The task that we all must confront now is therefore how to bring an end to the disastrous Obasanjo government as quickly as feasible (certainly before 2007) and replace it, not with a government of the same kind of elite, but with a different kind of government that will be focused on harnessing our collective resources to meet the needs of the people for food, shelter, medical care, housing, education, functional utilities and infrastructure and other ingredients of fulfilled existence.”

The Chairman, the Deputy Chairman Taiwo Otitolaye, the General Secretary, the PRO Wale Okuniyi and Segun Sango, JAF’s Mobilisation Secretary and also the DSM’s General Secretary, were the spokespersons for the body at the conference. Journalists at the event asked whether JAF’s new posture means that it will no longer collaborate with Labour to fight anti-poor policies, JAF leaders including Sango said that they will always be prepared to collaborate with Labour and all strata of the society that are willing to fight all anti-poor policies but that unlike before, JAF will henceforth not limit its activities to only when its labour allies for instance are prepared to struggle and neither will it limit its demand and slogans only to what its allies are prepared to accept.

The mood among the mostly youth community activists present at the meeting was that of grim determination to take what was generally described as “holistic approach” towards the struggle to end permanent suffering in the midst of plenty. Therefore, the immediate challenges before us now are how to articulate and carry out series of mass propaganda agitations among the working class people at workplaces, communities, schools etc. We need to produce tens of thousands of leaflets giving broad socialist and struggle ideas in the course of mobilisation for mass resistance against the current fuel price hike with a view to reach out to mass of change-seeking elements and win them over to a rounded revolutionary, socialist option. As we write the report, the main trade union centres like NLC, TUC, CFTU, etc are yet to specify the mode of actions they intend to take against the current provocative hike in fuel price.

Nevertheless, the JAF is committed to carry out all possible independent and joint mass resistance with labour in the ongoing struggles. Depending on how events develop in the next few days, a major protests, strikes and resistance by the working masses across the country may develop after almost one year of no mass actions especially since after the call-off of the planned general strike against fuel price hike slated for November 16, 2004. Right now, JAF has called on the Nigerian people to organise Protest Coordinating Committees in their neighbourhood to ensure coordination of struggles in different areas. For us in DSM, the acceptance of this demand provides the rank and file working masses the opportunity to take concrete and real control and influence on general strikes and protests that will ultimately make it impossible for top labour and civil society leaders to run and end particular struggles in an undemocratic and pro-status quo fashion.

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September 2005