Nigeria: General Strike Suspended After Government Backs Down

IN LATE September, Nigerians were outraged when the government suddenly deregulated the price of fuel leading to an immediate 15% jump in prices. The combination of this latest price rise and President Obasanjo’s silence on the issue, provoked a huge wave of anger. Obasanjo was drowned out by booing when he attempted to give the official opening speech at the opening ceremony of 8th All Africa Games being held in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital.

Previously, at the end of June, the government attempted to increase the price of fuel by 54% from 26 naira (20 US cents) a litre to 40 naira. This led to a massive, eight-day long general strike which totally shut down the country between 30 June and 7 July, forcing the government to back down a little and reducing the price to 34 naira.

Faced with this new price hike the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria’s main trade union federation, called for an unlimited general strike to begin from 10 October. As part of the mobilisation for the strike a Labour-Civil Society Coalition was formed by the NLC with various political parties, human rights bodies, student and other organisations.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – the Nigerian CWI affiliate), as part of this Coalition, was playing a key part in the mobilisation both as the DSM itself and via DSM members in the trade unions, National Conscience Party and student bodies.

Segun Sango, the DSM general secretary, was a member of one of the national bodies formed to run the strike on a daily basis and DSM members were strike co-ordinators of two of the NLC’s four zones in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city and main economic centre. In the run-up to the strike date sales of the DSM’s paper Socialist Democracy rocketed, necessitating an urgent reprint.

At the last minute, only hours before the strike was due to start, NLC leaders suspended the action after the government agreed to withdraw the latest increase. But this battle is not over, currently in many areas of Nigeria it is not possible to buy fuel at the official 34 naira price. Clearly the government’s plan is to withhold oil supplies until the desperate consumers accept higher prices.

…But Dangers Of Attacks On Living Standards Remain

“Given the unrepentant commitment of the government to anti-poor neo-liberal policies and its insincerity and past record of not keeping to agreements reached with organised labour, we in the DSM feel strongly that the NLC leadership should have insisted on actual implementation of the new prices as a condition for the suspension of the imminent strike.” DSM statement

These extracts are from a DSM statement issued on 12 October 2003.

“The reversal of the unjust price hike represents a major victory for the Nigerian working people and a demonstration of their potential power. It is another proof that mass struggle is the best means to stop and/or defeat anti-poor policies of the capitalist ruling elite.

The massive support for the NLC’s action also again exposed the hollowness of the so-called landslide victory which Obasanjo, the PDP and the other major capitalist parties who claimed to have won in the last elections.

However, we in the DSM warn that the danger of attacks on the living and working conditions of the Nigerian working masses by the Obasanjo government in particular and the ruling class in general remains as real as ever.

The government and the petroleum marketing companies will merely wait for a new opportunity to increase fuel prices, probably using fuel scarcities to try to force acceptance of higher prices. Any hint of further attempts to increase fuel prices or any other anti-poor measures must be met by a general strike and mass protests.

The NLC and the Labour-Civil Society Coalition must continue campaigning against the neo-liberal policies of so-called “liberalisation” and deregulation.

Political power

President Obasanjo accused the NLC of an attempt to hijack power illegally through the suspended nationwide strike action. In reply, NLC president Adams Oshiomhole denied this and said that the labour movement is not interested in taking power. To us in the DSM, this is a wrong response. It is clear that massive rigging and corruption characterised the recent elections.

The NLC should tell Obasanjo and the ruling class that the labour movement and the working masses have the legitimate right to bid for political power and reorganise society in the interest of the marginalised and oppressed working people who are in overwhelming majority.

If the working people are producers of the nation’s wealth, why should they leave governance and the management and control of such wealth and resources in the hands of a tiny minority parasitic ruling elite? In actual fact, the NLC and the labour movement should be taking concrete steps towards the winning of political power by the working people. Our alternative to rule by any of the factions of the corrupt elite is a workers’ and poor peasants government.”

New developments

Since this report, six labour leaders were refused bail and sent to prison custody by an Abuja magistrate court on Tuesday, 14th October 2003. The Democratic Socialist Movement calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

New 15 October Statement at