Nigeria Labour Congress suspends two-day nationwide protest – another missed opportunity!

We of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) consider the decision of the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to suspend the two-day nationwide protest of February 27 and 28, 2024 after only one day of protest as a counterproductive decision and a missed opportunity by the labour movement to roll back the avalanche of neoliberal onslaught of the past 9 months and win real concessions that can bring some relief to the mass of suffering workers and poor.

Given the enthusiasm with which the mass of workers trooped out to join the protest on the first day as well as the huge support the action elicited from commuters and members of the public, the least the NLC should have done is to allow the nationwide protest run its full course and then begin immediately afterwards to prepare for a general strike which it had said was the next step. This is the only way to fight and win against a viciously anti-poor capitalist regime as the current regime of President Bola Tinubu whose determination to force through its neo-liberal poison is not in doubt.

According to a communique released by Congress in the evening of February 27, 2024, the NLC NEC-in-session resolved “To suspend street action for the second day of the Protest having achieved overwhelming success thus attained the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day”. The communique went further to extend the seven days ultimatum initially issued by the NLC to the Federal government by another seven days, which now expires on March 13, 2024, within which the Federal Government is expected to implement all the earlier agreements of October 2, 2023, and other demands presented in labour’s letter during first day of protest.

To start with, we are shocked at the claim that the struggle has achieved the “key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day”. Which objectives do the NLC NEC mean? As far as we can tell, the crisis of fuel price hike, naira devaluation, hunger and inflation that is devastating lives, incomes and jobs for which the two nationwide protests were called is still very much there. Workers, traders, artisans, students and young people are still struggling to afford three square meals for themselves and their families due to the soaring food prices. The prices of cement and other commodities are still high while the naira is still on a free fall compared to its value 9 months ago. In fact, so desperate is the situation that some people were killed and many injured after they were trampled during a stampede at a customs facility in Lagos where they had gone to queue to collect free bags of rice. How many more Nigerians have to die from hunger and other crises associated with the cost of living crisis before the labour leadership understand that this is a struggle that needs to be waged with all the seriousness it deserves?

Of course, the claim that the protest achieved its objective on the first day is only a figment of the imagination of the labour leadership. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which together with the World Bank is behind the current neoliberal offensive in Nigeria, has pointed out, inflation will likely soar up to 44 percent by the end of the year. This shows how more devastating the situation can still be unless we continue the mass resistance now. If anything was achieved on the first day, it is that sections of the working masses used the opportunity to demonstrate their readiness to fight. A momentum was starting to build. In fact, so enthusiastic were several layers of the working masses about the struggle that a few activists and working class elements who did not participate in the protest in Lagos on Tuesday, February 27, turned up at Ikeja under bridge (the take-off venue of the protest) on the second day unknown to them that further streets protests had been suspended the night before! This shows that the protests would most likely have been bigger and much more successful on the second day than what we saw on the first day! Any idea of the NLC leaders that NLC state councils holding “simultaneous Press Conferences across all the states of the federation” was some kind of substitute for continuing to develop mass mobilizations is wrong. In fact the NLC leadership acted as a brake and made an emergency stop.

Now, suddenly, another excuse has emerged from the NLC leadership to explain their hasty retreat from the barricades at the very moment the struggle was about to win bigger support. At a press conference organized by the NLC on Wednesday 28 February 2024, Congress president, Joe Ajaero, said the government intimidated and harassed the union to suspend the action. “We were threatened with all manners of consequences that would be meted on us if we went ahead” (Guardian newspaper, 29/02/2024). While the issue of intimidation and threat is a serious one especially considering how the Congress president was brutally assaulted in Imo State last year during a strike action, yet we do not agree that this is enough reason to suspend action.

Both from a strategical and tactical point of view, the appropriate response to intimidation and threat of harassment or violence by the state is exactly what the NLC said before the February 27 and 28 nationwide protest when it warned the police and the DSS that if the state went ahead to attack the protest or sponsor agent provocateur to attack protesters, then the NLC would embark on an immediate general strike! Why was this bold and courageous approach not adopted in the current circumstance when threat and intimidation was perceived instead of suspending action that was on the verge of galvanizing huge mass support?

Why publicise the FG’s intimidation only after the action was called off and not use these threats as a further reason to continue to mobilise? It is clear that Tinubu’s base of support is weak. Less than nine million Nigerians voted for him last year, a small minority of the country’s roughly 220 million population. Many public sector workers are low paid and often paid in arrears. And even if some public sectors are regularly paid they suffer from the raging inflation and see how their families and friends are also suffering. So, a serious push by Labour could get mass support across the country. Even already some of Tinubu’s imperialist backers are distancing themselves from him, albeit hypocritically, telling him that the IMF purportedly wanted “adequate compensatory measures for the poor” before the fuel subsidy was removed.

But the truth is that the leadership of the labour movement have a penchant for making bold statements without any plan to actually put these words into actions. This is the only way to understand the shameful retreat of the labour leadership just at the moment of a great turn around in the class struggle. If the second day protest had gone ahead, there is no doubt that a greater  mass of the working people would have been drawn into the movement and by so doing, a solid momentum for a general strike would have been consolidated. By retreating, not only has the NLC leadership created further doubts in the minds of the working people in its sincerity to lead a consistent struggle, it has also given the capitalist elite more grace period to further consolidate their neoliberal assault while of course extending the excruciating suffering and anguish of the mass of the workers and oppressed masses. To be clear, without mass struggles very little progress will be achieved on any of the issues between now and March 13 when the new ultimatum expires.

By and large, the overall conduct of the NLC so far show that trade union leaders are yet to learn anything from the past especially our immediate experiences since the Bola Tinubu regime came to power nine months ago. Between May 29, 2023 and now, the NLC and TUC individually and collectively must have called nothing less than four actions (strikes and protests) against the neo-liberal policies of fuel subsidy removal with its attendant cost of living crisis. Each of these actions were either suspended before the D-day because the labour leadership needed to explore further talks with the government or where the actions were executed, the labour leadership had often expressed hope that the success of the action would compel the government to reconsider its disastrous policies only for this not to happen. Indeed from around June 6th 2023, the NLC and TUC have been in talks with the Federal Government on palliatives and other measures to purportedly cushion the effect of the cost of living crisis with no concrete actions taken by the government except for a few tokenistic steps that have failed to bring relief to the mass of the working people.

What we need at this point is a fighting labour leadership and coherent programme of struggle that involves both fighting  over anti-poor policies and the day to day issues with a view to win real concessions as well as making the necessary political and organizational preparations for the working people to seize political power from the capitalist vampires in order to establish a workers and poor people’s government that can run the country in the interest of all. Our experience over the past two decades of civil rule shows that no section of the capitalist elite can be trusted to run the country in the interest of the working people and poor. We need a sharp break from capitalism to pave way for a socialist transformation of the country.

The first step is for workers activists everywhere to begin to campaign within their unions for immediate preparations to begin now for a 48 hour general strike as soon as the 14-day ultimatum expires on March 13. This can take the form of organizing workers meetings at shop floor and communities to collect signatures in support of petitions mandating each industrial union to vote for a general strike as the next step. Workers must insist that the trade union leadership leads a determined struggle and those unwilling to fight because they are compromised with the ruling party and the state should step aside. There should also be a continuation independent actions by the working masses, youth and pro-masses’ organizations something that actually contributed to the pressure that forced NLC to call the nationwide protest February 26 and 27 in the first place.

We also need to call for either the rebuilding of the Labour Party as a democratic, non-monetized party or the forming of an entirely new mass workers party, in either case with a Socialist programme. After all is said and done, without the working class taking political power in its own hands, no real change can be achieved under the present capitalist status quo. With a workers and poor people’s government on socialist programme, it will be possible to begin to use Nigeria’s wealth to meet the needs of all and not the greed of a few by nationalizing the key sectors of the economy under democratic workers control and management.

This must be our ultimate aim!


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March 2024