Determined leadership and clear strategy needed to succeed
Faced with the government going onto an offensive to further unload onto working people and the poor the burden of the economy, the Nigerian trade unions and allies called for an indefinite general strike to begin today, 18 May.
This was immediately provoked by last week’s sudden government decreed 67% rise in fuel prices, at a time widespread fuel shortages were already bringing life to a halt.
The CWI in Nigeria argued that the labour movement needed to respond in a decisive manner, something which required both a serious mobilization campaign and a leadership willing to seriously lead a struggle. As a first step in an ongoing struggle the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) called for a 72 hour general strike (HIKE IN FUEL PRICE TO N145 IS THE HEIGHT OF INSENSITIVITY AND CRUELTY). But when the trade union leaders decided to call for an indefinite strike, the DSM worked to support that call while continuing to campaign for the struggle to have a clear strategy.
The government went onto the offensive, exploiting existing divisions within the trade unions, the still existent hopes that president Buhari, elected last year, would bring about meaningful change, and also a lack of confidence that the trade union leaders will, as previously, seriously struggle.
On the eve of the strike, one trade union grouping dropped its support for the strike on the basis that the government would, amongst other things, review the existing 11,000 naira (31 euro) minimum wage. This grouping has been calling for 90,000 naira (about 250 euro) but in a situation where workers in 27 of Nigeria’s 36 federal states are owed months of wages, it is utopian to think that, without struggle, the government will agree, and pay, a significant wage increase.
This situation has meant that the strike has got off to a patchy start and its further development is currently unclear.
One thing that is certain, however, is that DSM comrades are getting a very positive response from strikers and non-strikers to the special issue of their paper, Socialist Democracy, that they produced for the strike. The article below is extracted from articles in the paper.
Fuel price hike and electricity tariff
Fight until Total Reversal
Buhari/APC Change is anti-poor Change
Support Struggle for Socialist Change
There is no other way to describe the announcement on Wednesday 11 May 2016 by the Minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, of the government decision to deregulate the downstream sector and increase fuel price from N86.50k to N145 per litre than an insult on the collective intelligence of the working masses and youth of Nigeria. Considering the enormous hardship Nigerians have had to put up with over the last one year, this is nothing but a declaration of war against the working class and poor masses.
We therefore urge the working masses, youth, unemployed and poor masses to take over the streets in protests and demonstrations until the criminal increase is reversed. We welcome the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and civil society allies to declare a nationwide strike and mass protest starting from 18 May 2016. We urge that immediate preparation and mobilization for this strike and protest must commence at once. Democratic action committees for the enforcement of the strike must be set up at workplaces, communities and campuses to unite workers, poor masses, community people campaigning against epileptic power supply and crazy bill; students and youth in a mass struggle to defeat this criminal hardship imposed by the capitalist ruling elite. Our central demands are that the hike in fuel price and electricity tariff must be reversed. In addition, we reject deregulation and privatization. We call for reversal of all neo-liberal policies.
We remember January 2012!
The memory of how the then Abdulwaheed Omar-led leadership of the NLC betrayed the general strike and mass protest of January 2012 against the similar attempt by the previous Jonathan regime to remove subsidy and increase fuel price is still fresh in the minds of the working masses and youth. During that strike, which went on for six marvelous days, the chances existed for the working masses to win full reversal of fuel price and even to effect a change in government. But the labour leadership developed cold feet, panicked and stabbed the movement in the back! Now the leadership of labour is confronted with another opportunity to reclaim labour’s integrity and repair its damaged reputation by leading this struggle to victory.
To do this will require that the labour leadership do things differently this time around. Instead of the undemocratic way and manner labour often suspend strike actions without carrying along or discussing with the working masses on whose behalf the strike was called, this time around the labour leadership must give the full reins of the movement to the working and poor masses. The January 2012 movement involved the vast mass of Nigerians, most of whom were not trade union members. They must be actively involved in this struggle. This can be achieved through the democratic action committees which must be turned to real democratic assemblies for the mobilization of the working masses to struggle but also as democratic avenues for the trade unions, working masses, community people fighting electricity tariff hike, unemployed and youth to discuss and agree on every stage of the strike. To play this role effectively, the action committees must be linked up from communities to communities, at state levels and then up to national level and it is from the mass assemblies of the action committees and the trade unions, that all decisions pertaining to the struggle must be taken including decisions of when or whether or not to suspend the action.
This 67 percent increase in fuel price is coming on the heels of a 45 percent increase in electricity tariff, depreciating value of naira, inflation which has led to high cost of everything from food items, clothing and electronics, transport fares etc. Kerosene which is used by majority of poor people to cook has also been deregulated and its price has also gone up. It is the same for diesel. Because of the key role crude oil plays in the Nigerian economy, any increase in fuel price will lead to another round of increase in prices of food and other commodities.
All of these means that workers, unemployed, okada riders, bus drivers, market women, artisans, farmers, students and the poor masses, in general, who are already groaning under biting poverty, will find it increasingly harder to survive. Tomato, which is a staple food item, has greatly increased in price. Unless we fight, many poor families may face the prospect of dying from hunger.
Them and us
The decision to deregulate the oil sector and increase fuel price has one sole mission: to allow International Oil Companies (IOCs), fuel importers and other cartels and profiteers in the oil sector to rake in more profit by allowing prices of fuel to be determined solely by market forces. So if by tomorrow morning, market forces suddenly decides that a litre of fuel should sell for N1000 per litre, then so be it! The apologists for capitalism claim that this will lead to economic growth, but Nigeria’s productive economy did not grow during the years of the oil price boom, why should it do so now when the world economy is slowing down?
Deregulation has been the demand of the international representatives of world capitalism and their local collaborators since times immemorial. All through the Obasanjo and Yar’ Adua regimes, the international and local defenders of capitalism orchestrated many efforts to carry this out but were checkmated each time by strikes and mass protests of Nigeria’s powerful working class. Because it is an unpopular policy, the defenders of capitalism bided their time hoping to see opportunity to impose this anti-poor policy. This is why in 2012 they made a bold move to carry this out again hoping that Jonathan’s victory at the 2011 polls would work in his favour. However they were disappointed when tens of millions trooped out in the historic general strike and mass protest that shook Nigeria in January 2012. Now with Buhari in power and because of the huge hope apparently reposed in him, the defenders of capitalism believe that this is now their best chance to carry this out with little or no resistance. Recall that as soon as Buhari came to power, there were renewed calls for deep capitalist reforms in the oil and gas sector, as well as the foreign exchange market with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, at one point urging him to use his popularity to carry this out.
That Buhari has finally succumbed is not at all surprising. Long before now, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) had predicted that this would happen. A few days after the 2015 general elections which brought Buhari to power, we said the following: “The incoming government, in spite of Buhari’s self-righteousness, will also be a capitalist government i.e. a government devoted to making the rich richer at the expense of the poor majority through policies like privatization and commercialization and the so-called public-private partnership … This means that beyond some initial temporary concessions to appease the masses’ expectations, such pro-capitalist economic policies that defined past governments like privatization, deregulation, underfunding of education, tuition fee hikes would most likely be the hallmark of the new Buhari administration. This would mean that the condition of mass poverty in the midst of plenty which has been the lot of Nigeria since inception will continue indefinitely. (2015 ELECTIONS: RULING PARTY CRUMBLES IN HISTORIC ELECTION). All of the experiences of workers and poor masses since May 29 2015 confirm every word in the lines above!
N 145 per litre is just the beginning
The argument of the proponents of deregulation is that by subsidizing fuel, the government is limiting the profit that marketers can make but if government deregulates by allowing market forces to determine prices, this will encourage investment in the industry including the building of private refineries. This is aside the fact that many of the marketers have made enormous billions from the opaque subsidy scheme through round-tripping, diversion of refined fuel products shipments while still claiming subsidy payments, as well as other sharp practices. Up till now, the Buhari government has not been able to fully prosecute any subsidy thief. In addition, despite his alleged anti-corruption personae, the same fraud continues with the subsidy scheme, as well as in the operations of the state oil company NNPC.
Our position is that the fact that there is corruption in payment of subsidy does not justify removing it and increasing the burden of the masses through hike in fuel prices. What a pro-masses government would do is involve working people in identifying the subsidy thieves and deal ruthlessly with them. Also a pro-masses government would open the books so that the masses can monitor the subsidy scheme by knowing who is importing what and getting paid. But instead of dealing with the fraud in the payment of subsidy, the ruling elite hope to manipulate public opinion to support deregulation. It is the same way they have tolerated the scarcity of petroleum products for nearly a year now so that when they eventually decide to deregulate, the masses would be too frustrated to resist.
Now the new style is that government, through their mouthpieces like the House of Representative majority leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, is using a scare tactic by arguing that if it did not deregulate, the finances of the country would dry up in the next two months with no states being able to pay wages. We must not succumb to this argument. The labour movement and the working masses should demand that the government opens up its books so that we can all see the true state of the country’s finances, as well as the privileges due to businesses, corporations, political office holders and their cronies. Despite the economic crises ravaging the country, we have all seen lawmakers buying new luxury cars aside their jumbo salaries and allowances. We have all seen the budgetary allocation to buy books for the Vice President’s library dwarfing the entire allocation for libraries of many public Universities put together. It is only where the masses are concerned that the government claims there is no money.
There is an alternative to deregulation
The government is painting the impression that, faced with collapsing crude oil prices, foreign exchange crisis and massive looting carried out by past administration, there is no other alternative than to deregulate and load the burden on ordinary people. This is the logic of capitalism, to which we say no. There is an alternative. The alternative is to take the oil industry into public ownership, place it under democratic control, expel the International Oil Companies (IOCS) and marketers who are profiting from our oil resources, while the rest of us suffer. It is only by removing the profit interest from the oil industry that we can make it serve the interest of ordinary Nigerians. And it is only through this too that we can truly diversify the economy away from oil through public investment in alternative and clean source of energy, in order to halt the environmental calamity in the Niger Delta caused by frequent oil spillage and other activities of the oil companies.
By endorsing the decision to deregulate and hike fuel prices, Buhari has now cleared the controversy as to where he stands between the poor and the rich. By endorsing a policy that will only benefit the rich oil cartels, it is clear that Buhari has taken his position with the rich which includes many of the corrupt looters he claims to be investigating.
APC duped Nigerians!
For a government that was elected just a year ago on a mantra of “change” and an expectation that things would be better to now decide to increase the suffering of the poor masses by implementing the very same neo-liberal and anti-poor policies for which the hated Jonathan PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) regime was voted out, is nothing but a serious betrayal. Now bourgeois politicians like Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lai Mohammed, El-Rufai and others who were spitting fire when Jonathan removed the fuel subsidy in January 2012 have all backed Buhari in deregulating the oil sector and increasing fuel price.
All of these go to show that the APC (All Progressives Congress) is a party of lies and their government a government of fraud. They obtained peoples’ votes during the last election by posing as an alternative to the rotten PDP. All of their promises on jobs, social welfare and education have not been kept. Whatever are the economic arguments or mathematical calculations to justify this criminal policy of deregulation, the working masses cannot accept that it is logical for us to suffer and pay higher than other non-oil producing countries for a litre of fuel which is the byproduct of crude oil that our country is vastly endowed with. How can the children of a prosperous yam farmer go hungry? How is it logical for the citizens of a country that is the largest oil producer on the continent pay through their nose before they can benefit from the resources of their own country? This is irrational but it only reflects the fundamental irrationality of the entire system of capitalism itself.
The current crisis shows the severe limitations of attempts to tinker with the terrible effects of capitalist underdevelopment and crisis by subsidies or regulation. This is why, while opposing deregulation and other neo-liberal policies i.e. privatization and commercialization, we must demand that the oil sector be put under public ownership and control. This will mean democratic planning by elected representatives of the state, workers, oil communities, consumer groups and relevant professional groups. This is the only way the oil and gas sector and other vital sectors can be run in the interest of the society.
End capitalism! For a socialist Nigeria!
Thus our struggle will only be fully victorious when we end capitalism which is a system of inequality. Now more urgent than ever, we need to create and build an alternative to the parties of the elites. That can only be a mass workers party that truly reflects the wishes and desires of the workers and poor masses for a country whose wealth will be democratically utilized to ensure a better life for the mass majority. With this political party, which must have socialism as its guiding political philosophy and economic programme, the working masses can fight to take political power in order to rescue the country from the clutches of capitalist vampires. The members of the DSM have taken a step in this regard by forming the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). Unlike the APC, the SPN is not tied to the apathy of big business that ruled by oil marketer. The SPN is a party of workers, youth and the poor. We call on all those fighting to reverse the criminal fuel price hike, 45 percent electricity tariff and all those desirous of genuine change, to join the SPN so that together we can fight for a socialist change that can end the condition of mass misery in the midst of abundance to which majority of Nigerians are subjected.