Nigeria: United across the divide, tens of thousands demonstrate in Kano

Five general strikes in five years and still Nigerian workers and youth continue their struggle against fuel price rises

Tens of thousands of workers and young people marched ten kilometres in Kano, northern Nigeria, in the burning sun on 20 September to express their fury at the 30% fuel price rise implemented by the government at the end of August.

The corrupt parasites that form Nigeria’s political elite have used the world rise in oil prices as an excuse for this latest increase. But this increase, implemented in an instant, means devastating price increases for millions of Nigerians who are already living on the edge of starvation. Key government ministers are paid in US dollars by the bucketful – the fact that fuel prices have increased by 300% in the last five years passes them by unnoticed!

But what has enraged so many Nigerians is that they have seen absolutely nothing of the $10 billion in extra revenue raised by the government in the first eight months of the year as a result of the higher price Nigeria sells its oil at on the world market. Many Nigerians are quite rightly suspicious that these billions will be salted away into the elite’s secret Swiss bank accounts as has happened before.

For many of the politicians and even the bureaucrats in the Trade Unions this explosion of anger shown at rallies across Nigeria comes out of a clear blue sky. They never expected this response.

There have been five general strikes in the past five years in Nigeria on the question of fuel price rises. In all of them, the trade union bureaucracy, despite their radical words, have acted to derail the movement of millions of Nigerian workers and young people drawing behind them the urban and rural poor who have flocked to support these struggles.

Last November the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress called off a strike which was probably the best organised of all of them, fearing that such a movement would slip from their control. Following this setback there were signs of demoralisation and disappointment. Many Nigerian workers felt that while they hated the system and government policies, it was difficult to defeat the price rises.

But the latest price rises lit the fuse for the explosive discontent that lies millimetres beneath the surface of Nigerian society. Many in the trade union bureaucracy saw the rallies across Nigeria as a way of letting off steam on the question of the price rises. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) called for the rallies to be linked to a demand for the withdrawal of the price increase and a definite commitment for strike action if this did not happen.

The demonstration in Kano was of major significance. This city is in an area where Shariah law has been implemented. It is also a region which has seen a vicious ethnic tit-for-tat killings, between sections of the Christian and Muslim communities in the past. For example in May last year, 600 Christians were reported killed after ethnic clashes, following the reported deaths of 300 Muslims in nearby Yelwa.

However, none of this tension or division was visible on the demo. In fact one national newspaper commented “Unlike previous protest marches in Kano, the issue of religion and ethnicity, usually a source of discord…were not at play. Instead protesters from various political, ethinc and religious backgrounds were unanimous in condemning government action”.

This shows that given a guide to action even sharp divisions between the working class can be overcome through united action over issues which affect the majority.

But it is clear that those participating on the demonstrations are not satisfied in the least with just one protest. They want a political solution to the crushing burdens they face on a daily basis. The slogans on the Kano demo gave an indication of this “Down with the IMF, World Bank and their Nigerian agents in government” and “IMF, World Bank leave Nigeria alone”.

This was shown even more clearly in Yola, north-east Nigeria, where workers demonstrating called for the leader of the NLC, Adams Oshiomohle to stand as a candidate in the Presidential elections in 2007. Oshiomhole has explained the need for a political alternative in very general terms when he has felt the hot breath of the mass movement on his neck. However when the same demand was made in at a rally in Benin, incredibly Oshiomohle responded by saying that protesters should not introduce politics into the “serious issue of a campaign for justice and fairness in our country”.

But it is precisely a political solution that is necessary. DSM members have been arguing in the meetings of the trade union leaders and in the working class communities from the outset of this movement that corrupt capitalism is responsible for the chaos that is everyday life in Nigeria. The DSM has argued for the setting up of Protest Coordinating Committees in all areas to coordinate the build-up of this movement towards a general strike. Nigeria’s working class has the potential to overthrow the present regime and replace it with a workers and poor peasants’ government which can fight for a socialist society, This could lay the basis for a decent living standard for the majority whatever their ethnic or religious background. These ideas put forward by the DSM are getting more support on a daily basis. Over fifty people have applied in writing, by email or SMS, to join the party as a result of seeing the DSM’s participation in the movement against fuel price rises.

For more information go to the website of the DSM.

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September 2005