On Monday 24 January 2022, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Minister of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Zainab Ahmed, announced the postponement of the planned removal of subsidy on petroleum products till further notice. Following this, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, called on labour to suspend its planned protests on January 27 and February 21st describing these actions as ‘Unnecessary”. At its emergency virtual NEC meeting on Tuesday 25 January 2022, the NLC decided to suspend its planned mass actions of January 27 and February 1st 2022.
We of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) acknowledge the fact that the decision by the Buhari-led government to postpone the take-off of the subsidy removal policy is a partial victory occasioned by the regime’s fear of organised labour and the working masses. However, it is our belief that the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) ought not to have suspended the planned actions. Instead, it could still have gone ahead with the 27th January and 1st February planned actions in view of the government’s retreat to demand an end to deregulation as well as other anti-poor policies like electricity tariff hike and power privatisation, non-implementation of the N30, 000 (US$73) national minimum wage, high cost of living etc. The suspension of the planned action gives a false impression that all is now well and that the issue of subsidy removal is now gone. Unfortunately, this is not true!
This is because, firstly, the statement from the Minister of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning is very clear that the government is merely postponing the policy of subsidy removal. In our view, postponement is not equal to ending the policy of subsidy removal. It is merely a shift of the evil day. So far, the policy of deregulation, which entails the removal of fuel subsidy, as encapsulated in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021 subsists. At one point or the other, when the government feels confident enough, this brutal policy will still be imposed on the mass of workers and the poor with brutal consequences for their living standards and wellbeing.
Secondly, this postponement three days to the commencement of the mass protest being planned by the NLC should be seen by the leadership of the labour movement as a sign that struggle can win. Given the prevailing anger and disappointment among the masses, the Buhari regime is obviously afraid of the possibility that the planned protests of January 27 and February 1st can detonate a bigger movement on the scale of the January 2012 movement. The regime also fears the likely electoral repercussion for the ruling party, should it go ahead and impose such an anti-people policy especially when the 2023 general elections are very close. This is a temporary retreat on the issue of subsidy removal and SPN once again acknowledges it as a partial victory. However, we hold that the labour leaders and activists should understand that this is not the time to go back to bed with confidence that all is now well. Instead, the labour movement needs to be brainstorming now on how to utilize this temporary retreat of the government to try and win more concessions for the working masses and oppressed youth.
In fact, as against the postponement of the planned January 27 and February 1st protests, if the leadership of the labour movement is seriously committed to improving the lots of workers and poor masses, the actions should have been used as a launchpad for an aggressive campaign against the deregulation of the oil and gas sector, privatization of the power sector, casualization, mass unemployment, high cost of living and all anti-poor policies as well as attacks on democratic rights by Buhari government including continued detention of many young people arrested during the EndSARS protests. This is because the economic and social problems affecting the working masses and youth at the moment are multi-dimensional. The hardship and misery have gotten to a very excruciating stage.
More than ever before, we need a united mobilization and plan of struggle that bring all the issues, encapsulated in a charter of demands, to the front burner. This is the only way to win more concessions that can lessen the present enormous burden of the working masses. The government retreat is a glimpse of what Labour, working people and youth can achieve. Take for instance, if a planned two-day protest could force the government to postpone fuel subsidy removal, imagine what a 48-hour general strike demanding an end to deregulation of the oil sector and privatization of the power sector, end to mass unemployment and high cost of living can achieve. It is on the basis of the aforementioned that we are suggesting an urgent meeting of the NLC, TUC, Socialists and pro-labour civil society organizations should be held to discuss what needs to be done and draw out a plan of action to deepen and intensify the struggle.
More importantly is to note that, the latest retreat by labour leaders and the previous ones show the need to build an active base that can both mobilise wider support and work to block further retreats. Hence, we call on workers and trade union activists to prevail on labour leaders to withdraw their support for deregulation, privatization and other anti-people policies and also lead a mass resistance including general strikes and mass protests against the policies. This will also require labour leaders and Nigerian workers to lead a political movement by building a pan Nigerian mass working-class party built on socialist programs and ideas as a means of defeating the self-serving capitalist ruling elite and changing society fundamentally in a Socialist direction.
SPN DEMANDS THE FOLLOWING:
- No to hike in petrol price. Reduction of the prices of diesel, kerosene and cooking gas to an affordable level.
- No to hike in electricity tariff. Reversal of electricity tariff to N12 per Kilowatt and renationalization of power sector under democratic control of workers and consumers
- No to imposition of obnoxious taxes and levies on the working people.
- An end to neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatization, commercialization
- Down with Petroleum Industry Act (PIA). For nationalization of the oil and gas sector under workers’ democratic control and management and the building of new functional public refineries and repair of the existing ones.
- Adequate funding and democratic management of public education and health care.
- An end to attacks on democratic rights. Adequate compensation of all victims of Lekki and other acts of oppression by state forces. Immediate and unconditional release of EndSARS and other democratic rights protesters still in detention.
- Massive public investment in infrastructure, agriculture and industries as a means of creating gainful employment for teeming jobless persons.
- Nationalisation of the commanding heights and key sectors of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working people.