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Nigerian workers' leader kidnapped
THE BEGINNING of July saw dramatic developments in the struggle for a higher minimum wage in Nigeria.(see below)
On 4 July Ayodele Akele, leader of over 40,000 striking Lagos State workers and a leading Democratic Socialist Movement member, was seized by men claiming to be from the State Security Service (SSS). However, the next day the state denied having arrested Akele, stating that his disappearance was an attempt to prolong the strike.
Eventually after 31 hours Akele was released on the outskirts of Lagos. He had been held in a house and told that he was being held to ensure that the strike would come to an end.
However the death of a striker, Adigun Popoola, the next day only reinforced the Lagos workers determination. Popoola, was killed during a mass protest outside the Lagos State Secretariat in Alausa.
Eyewitnesses and press reports described how the police attempted to stop him reaching hospital. Five workers arrested at the same time have been falsely charged with attempting to burn down the State Secretariat building.
Akele's abduction sets a dangerous precedent. This has been one of the first times in Nigeria that the seizure of an opponent of the ruling regime has not been admitted. Nigeria could now be joining the list of those countries where activists "disappear" or are dealt with by "death squads".
Since then the Lagos State Government went on a renewed offensive, singling out the Democratic Socialist Movement and its general secretary, Segun Sango, for attack.
The State government has waged a consistent propaganda campaign to try to isolate the strikers. The hypocrisy has been incredible.
The Commissioner for Information has claimed that the "union leaders are fighting for the elite" in demanding a 7,500 Naira (£47) monthly minimum, yet his monthly wage is 77,000 Naira (£482) plus allowances and expenses!
Clearly these officials are fighting to defend both themselves and the capitalist system they represent.
Significantly this propaganda campaign has not isolated the strikers. In fact these experiences are making more and more workers and youth attracted to the ideas of the DSM, especially its call for the creation of a working people's party and for a socialist alternative.
The text of all DSM statements, newspapers and leaflets can be obtained from the CWI at email@example.com
Nigeria: United workers action brings victory
FOLLOWING THE ending of military rule last year, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) launched a campaign for the 3,000 Naira monthly minimum wage to be raised to N20,000 (£125). A demand which, since the end of 1997, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM - the Nigerian counterpart of the Socialist Party) has been campaigning for.
This demand was actually quite a modest amount. Last May the leader of SESCAN, the union representing senior staff in the private sector, estimated that, if UN guidelines were followed, it should be N24,000. Similarly the minimum wage of N125 set in 1981 was then worth $221, at today's Naira exchange rate $221 would mean N22,100 - an indication of how far Nigeria has been pushed back in the last 20 years.
Facing mounting pressure President Obasanjo announced, on 1 May, a rise in the minimum wage from N3,000 to N7,500 for Federal workers and N5,500 for all other workers. Despite their earlier position the NLC leaders welcomed this rise.
Notwithstanding its low level, workers in the federal states and private industry were aggrieved at not receiving N7,500. Agitation began to win parity.
On 2 June workers in Akwa Ibom began a strike to win N7,500.
This movement was overshadowed when, on 1 June, a 50% rise in fuel prices was announced, immediately provoking national protests. Within days the NLC called a general strike which lasted five days.
The national stoppage was absolutely solid. Faced with this situation the government retreated and cut back the rise to 10% for petrol and zero for kerosene, the fuel used for cooking. (The entire rise could have been rolled back but the national union leaders did not, in the words of NLC President Adams Oshiomhole, want to "humiliate" the government.)
This victory gained by united action provided a real contrast to the increasing ethnic and religious tensions and clashes which have recently characterised Nigeria. It showed in practice how the working class, despite its small size in this country of at least 120 million, could unite the mass of the population in common struggle.
The success of the fuel price strike encouraged workers to press their demands for parity with Federal employees. A key role in this was the decision of the Lagos State workforce to come out on strike on 22 June. By the beginning of July workers in 12 of Nigeria's 36 federal states were on strike.
The NLC, while giving verbal encouragement to the movement, has not been prepared to pull these struggles together nationally. Behind the scenes its leaders are anxious not to undermine President Obasanjo.
The Federal government on 4 July, then withdrew its 22 May circular which gave States the option of paying a N7,500 minimum.
Not only is co-ordinated national action necessary but also the NLC needs to act upon its long-standing policies of creating a workers' party and campaigning for its objective of socialism if it is to provide a way out of the crisis which grips Nigeria.
In The Socialist 14 July 2000: