Socialist Party
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6 November 2004


Fourth general strike in ten months

What Alternative To Obasanjo?

FACED WITH the Nigerian government's refusal to reverse September's 25% jump in fuel prices Nigeria's trades unions and radical opposition have called another general strike on 16 November - the seventh since June 2000.

Robert Bechert

A four-day general strike in October completely stopped the entire country and demonstrated how the vast majority of the population were united behind the labour movement in this struggle.

Most Nigerians do not see why higher world prices mean they, an oil exporting country, have to pay more for fuel; indeed a popular demand is that the price windfall is used for the masses and not stolen by the elite.

This time, unlike previous strikes, the unions will attempt to stop oil exports, especially those by Shell, a company described by the NLC, the main union federation, as an "enemy of Nigerians".

There is huge anger in the country, both at the fuel price rise and the Obasanjo government itself. It is widely seen as a corrupt government, in power because of rigged elections and in the service of the corrupt elite and imperialism.

A particular hate figure is the finance minister, the former World Bank vice-president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who is paid in US dollars, receiving $247,000 a year.

System change

The 16 November strike sharply poses the question of how the government can be defeated.

Obasanjo's government, backed by imperialism, gives the impression of standing firm. While offering a few "palliative" measures to "cushion" the impact of the fuel price rises, Obasanjo's tactics are to try to ride the strikes out and hope that the labour leaders will not be prepared to openly challenge the government. Added to this the government was prepared during the last strike to begin to try to use the security forces to harass and intimidate activists.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the Socialist Party's counterpart in Nigeria), played an important mobilising role in the October strike. It argues for socialist policies and also participates nationally in both the national discussions on what should be done and as part of labour's negotiations with Nigeria's rulers.

The new strike was called by the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO - the joint body formed by the NLC with other trade unions, radical political, social and community organisations) at its 31 October meeting.

This LASCO meeting appointed an eight-person committee to oversee the preparation of the strike. Segun Sango, DSM general secretary, is a member and has argued that LASCO needs to adopt a policy of demanding the end of the Obasanjo government and a real "system change" based upon breaking the chains of imperialism and capitalism.

The DSM's proposals were not accepted by the rest of the committee at its first meeting. However, the DSM will, alongside working to build the strike and reverse the fuel price rise, argue in the broad labour movement for the urgent need to bring to power a workers' and peasants government that would allow Nigeria's huge resources to begin to be used in the interests of the masses and not the local and international elites.