Labour should declare two-days of mass actions including general strike and mass protests
Although the Joint Action Front (JAF – made up of socialist left and civil rights’ groups and is the “civil” component of LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition) had previously fixed 3 January for mass action to kick-start opposition to the fuel subsidy removal in Lagos, the mass of Lagosians themselves showed their rejection of this latest anti-poor policy by taking part in a de-facto “stay at home” action. However, over 5,000 people, both working class and middle class, stormed the streets of Lagos in response to the JAF’s call for a protest march. The protest lasted about six hours and paralyzed activities including the movement of traffic.
Against its earlier pronouncement that this anti-poor policy would come into effect in April, the government, through the Petroleum Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPRA), suddenly announced the implementation of this hated policy on New Year’s Day. The pump price of petrol was immediately increased from N65 to about N150 per litre – a rise of 116%. President Johnson’s “New Year gift” was a manoeuvre to use presidential power to implement, during a holiday period, a policy which had not even been agreed by either the Senate or House of Representatives.
In Lagos, the usually bubbling commercial drivers took their buses off the streets. Lagos was, in reality, on holiday. The Lagos state BRT buses, apparently hoping to break the voluntary resistance of the people, flooded the city with their buses charging the old fares as opposed to private commercial buses and motor bikes, which have doubled their own fares in immediate reaction to the hike in petrol prices. Most significantly however, the BRT buses paraded the streets almost empty because most people chose to stay at home and away from work.
In other parts of the country, spontaneous mass protests broke out. The media had carried reports of spontaneous mass protests in Kano, Ilorin and Abuja the country’s capital on Monday 2 January. Equally, as the protest in Lagos got underway, there were reports of protests in Kogi, Kwara and Osun States. In Osun States, DSM comrades with other activists, organized community mobilizations and a press briefing. In Kogi State, a mass of poor people and youths blocked the Lokoja-Abuja expressway and similar mass actions took place in Ilorin Kwara State. Unconfirmed reports also claimed that one protester was shot dead by the police in Ilorin.
Against this background, JAF’s protests were enthusiastically received by the masses in their various communities. There was huge support from the public as crowds lined the sidewalks and flyovers. Celebrity musicians like Seun Anikulapo Kuti (son of the late revolutionary afro-beat musician Fela Kuti) and Banky W joined the protest.
Hundreds of copies of the Socialist Democracy (SD) paper were quickly sold by Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) comrades within a short space of time during Tuesday’s protest march. About 40 DSM members participated actively in the protest march led by Dipo Fashina, chairperson of JAF. Also in the forefront of this march was the widow of the late prominent human rights defender, Gani Fawehinmi, Ganiyat. During activities in the Ajegunle community of Lagos on Monday, DSM comrades also sold many copies of SD. All this shows the anger and radicalisation on the demo as well as on the streets. For many, actions bolder than a protest march were required.
Previously, as a dress rehearsal for the 3 January JAF action, Mrs Ganiyat Fawehinmi had led about a hundred-strong but combative protest on the last day of 2011. About 140 copies of SD were sold on that protest march, which lasted for 3 hours.
Quite conspicuously, one of the handwritten placards on display boldly called on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to immediately declare nationwide mass actions including strikes and mass protests. This was a very instructive message especially as both Issa Aremu (NLC Vice President) and Samuel Kolawole (TUC General Secretary) were present at the protest.
With the mood in town, the Labour movement no longer has an excuse not to come forward with immediate proposals for actions and mass struggles starting this week. Already sections of the masses across the country are expectantly looking towards Labour to show the way forward. The NLC has called its own NEC meeting for 4 January, while TUC leaders have also announced plans to hold their own meeting immediately after the new-year holiday.
The practical “stay at home” in Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country is largely due to the practical inability of most people to afford the huge increase in the cost of fuel and transportation, especially at the beginning of a new school term, when most parents are compelled to look for means to pay school fees for their children.
There is therefore the need for Labour to intervene decisively to give direction to the instinctive resistance of the ordinary masses and also to ward off any threat of a military coup.
FOR IMMEDIATE STRIKE ACTION
Good enough, the Labour leaders have for some time being verbally orchestrating their opposition and Nigerians, going by the un-official stay at home action observed in Lagos today, are eagerly awaiting the action. Immediately, a 48 hour general strike should be declared to bring together the spontaneous protests and stay-at-home that have already started. Such an action, backed up by serious mobilization, could give a concrete form to the protests and be a launching pad for a determined fight back to reverse this and the other government attacks.
The government’s arguments can easily be debunked; especially their claim is that this policy will ensure rapid growth of the economy and infrastructural development. In reality, just as in the past, this policy will only result in further decimation of the economy and widespread ruination of peoples’ living standards.
The cost of transportation has already risen astronomically and the cost of all goods, electricity generation and services will also go up to reflect the reality of the new price.
Consequently, the Labour movement must fight for a holistic approach to the resolution of the problem, primarily by placing the oil sector together with other key sectors of the economy under public ownership with strict democratic control and management by elected committees of workers and consumers.
In the final analysis, the issue of the perennial problems in the oil sector can only be resolved through such a democratic arrangement by the working masses themselves. This is the only practical way to ensure that public enterprises are run efficiently without bureaucratic strangulation and official corruption.
Presently all the ruling political parties are parties for deregulation; this especially raises the necessity and importance of building an alternative working class political party which would be interested and capable of implementing such a pro-poor working masses program.
FORM ACTION COMMITEES AT WORK PLACES AND IN THE COMMUNITIES.
The overwhelming majority of the working people are opposed to the current fuel price hike. However in order to ensure proper mobilization and coordination of the struggle to reverse this anti-poor policy we in the DSM call for immediate formations of action/struggle committees to implement the struggle in work places and communities. It will also enable the masses to make organized contributions to the protests including decisions on how to run and when to call off the action.
More than at any other time and especially against the background of rising sectarian violence in the country, the working masses across Nigeria need to be united in their resolve to reject and change the government of millionaires, which is responsible for their woes and miseries.
This will ultimately require the immediate building of a genuine mass workers’ political party armed with socialist policies, with which the working masses and poor can fight to dislodge the corrupt capitalist ruling elite and enthrone a workers’ and poor people’s government committed to using society’s resources primarily in the interests of the majority.