Nigeria: For a strategy and tactics to ensure total victory in fuel subsidy battle

For a serious fight against President’s New Year "gift". No rotten compromise!

The declaration of "indefinite strikes, mass rallies and street protests" by both NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress) and TUC leaders, against the so-called fuel subsidy withdrawal by the government, which instantly hiked the price of a litre of petrol from N65.00 to between N140.00 and N200.00, is fully welcomed by members of the DSM (CWI in Nigeria).

In fact, for a long time, we have been calling on both the NLC and TUC leaders to begin mass mobilizations and warning strikes, right from the moment the government made public its pro-rich plans.

In fact, since 2 January, a day after the government’s announcement, the country has been rocked by series of sporadic protest actions across the states. Way back in late December, the Joint Action Front (JAF), a coalition of socialist and pro-labour civil society allies of the NLC and TUC within LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition), had fixed a protest rally against the hated policy. Not surprisingly, when the rally and protest was held on 3 January, it was massively supported and applauded by Lagosians who mostly on their own initiative, appeared to be observing a stay-at-home action against the outrageous fuel price hike and the astronomic rise in the cost of transportation.

On 4 January, before the NLC and TUC proclaimed their decision to commence mass action against this anti-growth policy, Daily Trust, an Abuja based Newspaper visited the federal secretariat in Abuja and reported on the low turnout of workers in its 5 January edition. One of the senior civil servants interviewed said, "the effect will be felt more by civil servants who live on fixed incomes". A female civil servant said, "our salary does not make sense any more. Even the sinister N900.00 that President Goodluck Jonathan said he would give as an increase has not been paid". Another said: "I used to fill my tank with just N4, 500 but now I need over N10, 000 to fill my 70-litre tank. This is unsustainable for any civil servant and we are waiting for the Labour movement to give direction". Some of the few workers that reported for work on 4 January stated that they may not come to work the following day because "it wouldn’t be wise to spend the little money I have now because I want to use it to sustain my family during the strike that may follow".

Doubtlessly, against the above outlined background, the declaration of mass action by the Labour movement is not only welcome but long overdue. In fact, it will most certainly receive tumultuous support from the working masses including the middle-classes. In announcing the 9 January general strike/mass protest, the NLC and TUC amongst other things stated, "After exhaustive deliberations and consultations with all sections of the populace, the NLC, TUC and their pro-people allies demand that the Presidency immediately reverses fuel prices to N65. If the Government fails to do so, they direct that indefinite strikes, mass rallies and street protests be held across the country with effect from Monday 9th January, 2012. From that Monday, 9th January 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, and banks, amongst others, will be shut down. We advise Nigerians to stockpile basic needs, especially food and water… The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS (petrol) price to N65.00, restore normality and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians".

There are many positive features in the above-quoted statement. Unfortunately however, there are many key omissions and an improper organizational and political appreciation of the issues at stake. The DSM firmly holds the position that unless these omissions and inadequate demands are sorted out now, the current working masses’ movement will not be able to achieve all that it deserves and is possible, notwithstanding the obvious heroic and passionate support and involvement which these struggles have provoked across the country. In saying this, we are not making mere fault-finding criticisms. On the contrary, we are striving to avoid this struggle meeting the same fate as that of the many previous general strikes held since 2000 – namely, a rotten compromise with little or no gains for working people. Therefore, the DSM argues that Labour must fight within the framework of a revolutionary strategy and tactics that ultimately, can guarantee total victory. First and foremost, we hold the position that a general strike, especially one that receives mass support of the working masses across the country, is an expression of mass, general dissatisfaction with the state of affairs economically, politically and socially. Whether consciously understood or not by Labour leaders, a general strike fundamentally raises the question of who governs society during, and especially after, the strike. Beyond this general postulation, there are several important socio-economic demands or issues currently affecting the vast majority of working masses and Nigerians, which must be addressed in one way or the other.

For instance, there is the unresolved issue of the paltry monthly N18, 000 minimum wage conceded to workers after protracted agitation and struggles shortly before the last general elections. Sadly and very significantly, this agreement has never been implemented or fully implemented in any state of the federation, including the federal government. Currently, the entire university system in the country is shut down by an indefinite strike by the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU), fighting for better funding amongst other issues. In the pre-election period, politicians across the board made promises to improve the living standards of the citizens. In sharp contrast, after they have assumed mantle of office, they are presently busy implementing policies that most savagely continue to batter the fragile living standards of the masses, including middle class elements.

For a long time now, public electricity has virtually disappeared in Nigeria, leading to the relocation of many industries to neighbouring countries and abroad while the entire country is turned into a "generator republic", where individuals and corporate bodies generate their own electricity! Now, the ruling elites have devised more ruthless ways to attack the masses’ living standards. In the first quarter of this year, electricity tariffs are to go up astronomically. At the same time, the government hopes to fully sell the PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) and its entire assets to profit mongers in the name of privatization. The ACN government of Lagos State, the self-acclaimed progressive opposition party, recently increased astronomically and outrageously school fees paid by students of Lagos State University (LASU) from N25,000 per annum to between N200,000 and N350,000 per annum depending on the course of choice.

Both the federal government and many states of the federation have now openly renounced well-known traditional duties of governments, such as the provision of adequate infrastructure like roads, electricity, water, education, healthcare, etc. Under the guise of a deceitful, self-serving idea of Public Private Partnership (PPP), important roads like Lekki in Lagos are being farmed out to profiteers under the so-called "build-operate-transfer" arrangement that empowers the lucky private companies to charge toll gate fees for up to 30 years or more.

Currently, there is massive unemployment, not to mention under-employment in the country. Recently, the federal government bureau of statistics claimed that there is 40% unemployment among the youth, below 40 years of age. Unlike in the past period, when the state used to play a significant role in the provision of quality education for pupils and students from primary to tertiary level, Nigerians today have been forced to a level where they have seek resources to provide these services. Currently too, there is the escalation of ethno-religious conflicts ravaging parts of the country. There is the Boko-Haram element, an extremist, right wing Islamic group which is ravaging the country threatening to detonate the break-up of the entity called Nigeria. Lately, this right-wing religious extremist group has issued an ultimatum to Nigerians from southern part of the country to leave certain states in the north.

Only working peoples’ revolution can save Nigeria

Against the above enumerated examples, the declaration that "The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert to PMS (petrol) price to N65.00, restore normality and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians" is to say the least very limited. Yes, we are fighting against the fuel price hike, we strive to reverse it but this is not an isolated "bad" government decision. On the contrary, it flows from the plethora of socio-economic and political problems currently ravaging Nigeria which require a much more coherent revolutionary perspective and tactics before their resolution. Making limited demands when the masses are involved in a general strike and protest that challenges the right of the ruling class to govern is counter-productive. If the struggle is limited to this demand alone, it means that Nigerians and Nigeria will, at best, remain trapped within the prevailing unbearable socio-economic rot. It also means that the current set of capitalist gangsters and looters will be left in power to bide for appropriate time to reintroduce the very same anti-poor policy. It means that the government in power at federal and state level will be allowed to continue to mortgage the interests of the vast majority of Nigerians to satisfy the greed and vanity of the local capitalist gods and their imperialist masters and instigators. This of course would certainly mean that we have not reached the end of an era where the mass of Nigerians will be mobilized in struggle for one issue.

Government spokespeople have claimed that the current fuel price hike was as a result of the desire to save about 1.3 trillion per annum being paid to private importers to subsidise the actual cost to consumers. The labour movement and several informed groups have, on several occasions challenged the veracity of this claim. They have also repeatedly asked that the government build enough functional refineries that can at least produce sufficient petroleum products that are needed locally. There have even been revelations of the fact that Nigeria daily loses more oil wealth due to fraudulent and corrupt activities of oil companies and their collaborators within Nigeria, than the amount being allegedly spent on the fuel subsidy. There is therefore no iota of logic in limiting the demand placed before the working masses in action simply as "to revert PMS price to N65 per litre". Unless the labour movement frontally poses the issue of the necessity for the working masses to take political power to be able to reconstruct Nigeria’s economy and political system in such a way that will place the satisfaction of the economic and social needs of the masses as the primary reason for governance, worse prospects await the working masses in the immediate period after the struggle.

The only way to avert the looming disaster is the institution of a genuine workers’ and poor people’s government built on socialist foundations and which will be prepared to harness the natural and human resources of society in a democratic and just manner to cater for the needs of all and not just those of the rich few. For this objective, the working masses need to build their own independent political party that would be prepared to combine mass struggles with electoral interventions where possible to wrestle power from the thieving capitalist looters in power.

Build strike/action committee in work places, communities and schools

The NLC and TUC in this struggle outwardly appear determined and militant; hence, their directive for "indefinite strikes, mass rallies and street protests". However, based on our past experience, the DSM would like to reiterate the necessity of the formation of strike/action committees in work places, communities and in the schools to ensure full compliance with the NLC directive. We advocate that strike/action committees be immediately constituted by workers and activists. This is the only way that the airlines, oil production, sea ports, etc, will be properly shut down while the strike is on. Among other things, it will be the duty of such a committee to properly put across Labour’s position as against deliberate distortions that would certainly come from the government’s side. It will be the duty of such committee to democratically mobilize the support of the masses to voluntarily and consciously participate in the struggle. This is the only way to avoid the disgusting scenarios where a few activists will be attempting to prevent actions that could jeopardize the efficiency of the strike, especially after the first few days.

We do not want a repeat of the situation where Labour leaders declare, without preparation, an unlimited general strike, only to call it off within days. Since last year, the DSM has been calling for a 48-hour general strike as the next step in building a movement against the government’s policies. If properly carried out, this could have built a mass movement based in the workplaces and communities that could then have been the basis for a serious unlimited general strike. Now with the wave of nationwide anger against Jonathan’s poisonous New Year’s "gift" and the NLC/TUC strike call, every effort must be made to win this struggle.

Based on past experience during the protest against the annulment of the 12 June elections in 1993, there would be need for labour and struggle activists to work out a convenient approach of allowing limited trading activities especially by market men and women after the official work and business of the day has been effectively paralysed. This becomes essential against the backdrop of the request that "Nigerians should stockpile basic needs especially food and water". For the huge layers of Nigerians who earn their incomes on a daily basis, the assumption of having enough money to "stockpile" food in advance of an indefinite strike is unfounded. Unless this is properly solved, it could create a situation where these elements may appear to be breaking the strike as they push to struggle for their daily means of survival. Only a mass strike/action committee that is rooted properly in the masses can democratically sort out any contradictions and inconvenience which the current action may entail.

Finally, it is the active mobilization and direction of the struggle by workers and strike activists at the grass roots level that can ensure that the leadership is not isolated and intimidated when the ruling elite begins to invoke fear of Armageddon for the country and thereby pressurize leaders into make a rotting compromise. This is the only practical way that the current action will be able to achieve the best success without creating a political vacuum, which reactionary forces in the military can use to stage a coup with a view to coming back to power under the guise that the country is disintegrating into chaos and anarchy.

DSM DEMANDS:

(1) For a serious fight against Jonathan’s New Year "gift". No rotten compromise

(2) Reversal of the pump price of petrol to N65

(3) Immediate reversal of the neo-liberal and anti-poor policy of the fuel subsidy removal. No to the deregulation of the oil sector.

(4) Arrest and prosecution of members of the "cabals" responsible for the diversion of monies spent over the years on subsidizing fuel.

(5) A state program to make refineries functional and build new ones to ensure the local refining of crude oil.

(6) Public ownership of the oil sector under democratic control and management of committees of workers and consumers.

(7) Reversal of all privatizations and the public ownership of all state enterprises under democratic control of workers and consumers

(8) Cut in the outrageous salaries and allowances of political office-holders. For all political office holders to be paid the average wage of a skilled worker.

(9) A program to invest society’s resources in providing free education, health care, building decent public housing, rehabilitation roads and building of railways and other means of mass transportation

(10) A minimum wage of N52, 500 and the payment of unemployment benefits to all unemployed persons.

(11) Public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic management and control

(12) Build a mass workers party armed with socialist policies to take political power and form a workers’ and poor people’s government that can begin to run society in the interest of workers and poor masses.

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