Nigeria Labour Congress suspends general strike over government’s fuel subsidy removal

Gates of oil refinery in Port Harcourt, Nigeria

When the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) announced an indefinite general strike to respond to the provocative removal of petrol subsidy by the newly elected administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, we of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), despite our reservations concerning certain tactical questions, welcomed the step and urged the working and toiling masses to enthusiastically support the strike and make sure it succeeds. According to the strike notice or declaration issued by the NLC at the end of its leadership meeting last Friday, June 2, the indefinite general strike would commence on Wednesday 7 June 2023 unless certain conditions were met by the FG including reverting petrol prices to the old rates.

Unfortunately, without achieving the above-stated minimum condition of reversal of petrol prices to old rates, the Joe Ajaero-led leadership of the NLC went ahead to announce the suspension of the strike in the late hour of Monday 5 June 2023 following a meeting with the Federal Government. According to reports by the Vanguard newspaper (6, June 2023), the meeting with the government ended with a signed agreement which resolved, inter alia, that the federal government, the TUC and the NLC would establish a joint committee to review the proposal for any wage increase or award and establish a framework and timeline for implementation, review the World Bank Financed Cash transfer scheme and propose the inclusion of low-income earners in the program, revive the CNG Conversion programme earlier agreed with Labor centres in 2021 and work out detailed implementation and timing, review issues hindering effective delivery in the education sector and propose solutions for implementation, review and establish the framework for the completion of the rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries, provide a framework for the maintenance of roads and the expansion of rail networks across the country.

In short, the meeting agreed on nothing concrete but deferred further consultation till June 19. Indeed, the substance of the meeting was not any different from a similar agreement reached between FG and labour following the botched September 2020 general strike and yet nothing came out of that deal. Fuel prices have rocketed, yet the Ajaero-led NLC leadership saw the need to suspend the general strike without them coming down! It is also worrisome that there was no meeting of the NEC of the NLC, which originally mandated the strike before it was suspended to agree on this change.

The next day, June 6, the NLC NEC agreed to a resolution that, while agreeing to “commend and applaud” the Congress leadership, did not explain why those who signed this agreement had violated the NLC’s own declarations which clearly stated the minimum conditions for the strike to be suspended! In our view, the suspension of the strike without achieving the minimum condition of reversal of petrol prices to the status quo is, with all intents and purposes, a serious tactical mistake by the labour leadership. The NLC NEC’s resolution stated that its decision was based upon “Recognizing the willingness of government for continuous engagement through dialogue and to offer reasonable palliatives in due course to cushion the effect of its policies”. What does “in due course” mean? Right now millions are suffering because of the increase in fuel prices, are they meant to sit and wait? Does anyone really trust this government? Remember that the April 2019 30,000N minimum wage has still not been fully implemented.

This suspension resolves nothing for the working class and poor, especially as it does not help to address the pressing challenges of movement and commuting which have nearly ground to a halt over the past few days as a result of the leap in fuel prices. As things stand today, a de facto condition of a partial strike or shutdown already exists across the country due to the inability of workers and poor masses to get to work because of soaring fuel and transport costs. A litre of petrol is being sold at different petrol stations at nothing less than 488 Naira per litre – several times more than the price it was sold just over a week ago! As a result, the cost of filling the tank of an average vehicle, which may barely last a week of the daily commute in a city like Lagos, has soared from an average of 10,000 Naira to about 30,000 Naira – the exact amount of workers’ monthly minimum wage which is still unpaid by several state governments.

As the FG itself has made clear several times, provisions for payment of subsidy exist in the 2023 budget to last until the end of June 2023. Therefore, the current hike in petrol prices and suffering are uncalled for! What happens to the money already in the budget to subsidize fuel till the month’s end while people are suffering due to the inability to afford transport costs and increase in the prices of goods and services? According to the deal reached between the labour unions and the government, a new meeting is to take place on 19 June 2023 to agree on an implementation framework for the so-called agreements reached! Workers and traders have been finding it difficult to go to work for about a week now since the criminal policy was announced. There is a limit to human endurance, including in neo-colonial countries like Nigeria where the working masses have grown accustomed to adjusting to all kinds of conditions. Therefore, it is not likely that this situation will persist till June 19 without the risk of a social explosion or riot breaking out.

To this extent, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) urges the NLC and TUC to insist that the Federal Government must show faith in the negotiations by immediately reverting fuel price to old rates. Unless this is done, then the NLC and TUC should go ahead with the planned general strike or begin to prepare for a new one! It is a bad mistake that the NLC NEC resolution said that “all Affiliates and State Councils of Congress are hereby directed to suspend further action and mobilization until the outcome of the final negotiations”. This is the opposite of what should be happening. Mass mobilization with workplace meetings, leafleting, community rallies and marches should take place to maintain and increase the pressure on the government to reverse its decision. Remember that less than nine million people voted for Tinubu, millions actively opposing his decision can force a change, but inactivity strengthens the FG’s hand.

At the same time, we welcome some of the demands being put forward by the NLC and TUC. But we don’t accept that they should serve as a condition precedent for the removal of subsidy as they are things Labour should ordinarily fight for. Some of these demands include revamping the ailing public refineries and payment of N200,000 minimum wage. In particular, the demand for a N200,000 minimum wage is a very important demand which if implemented, without retrenchment, can help to provide some relief to workers impoverished by capitalist attacks over the past years. The DSM hereby joins the NLC and TUC to demand a N200, 000 minimum wage adjustable to the rate of inflation.

However, we must stress that on the basis of capitalism and in view of the multiplier effect of subsidy removal on the economy with regard to the rise in inflation and others, it is not likely that the expected positive effect of the N200,000 minimum wage on workers living standards will last for long. Hence the need for the labour movement to place at the core of its negotiations with the Federal Government the demand for the nationalization of the oil and gas sector as part of a wider programme for public ownership of the key sectors of Nigeria’s economy under democratic workers’ control and management. This is because without ending private ownership of Nigeria’s economy, otherwise known as capitalism, none of the aspirations of the labour movement for a living wage and a better life for the working masses can be achieved on any lasting basis.

But by organizing a serious fightback against this criminal policy of subsidy removal which essentially means forcing ordinary people to pay for super profits of oil big businesses including the Dangote refinery and other cronies of the government, and building a mass workers’ party with Socialist programmes, it is possible to put into power workers and poor people’s government. Such a government would go ahead to take Nigeria’s wealth, including its oil resources, of the one per cent and put it to use to begin to address dire infrastructural decay, poverty, unemployment and other crying needs of the working class, youth and poor.

Peluola Adewale

Organising Secretary

For the DSM



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June 2023