16 June 2004

Nigeria, Democratic Socialist Movement Statement

GENERAL STRIKE AND THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION

The recent countrywide, general strike and protest called by Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) has revealed, with special clarity many crucial aspects of Nigeria's socio-economic and political situation. Many activists will have questions about what lessons can be learnt from what was the four general strike in fourth years and what should be the next steps.

One, if there was still any doubt about the readiness and determination of the working masses to fight the anti-poor, neo-liberal, capitalist policies of the Obasanjo regime, the 3-DAY solid, general strike under review completely wiped out such an unfounded doubt. A further indication of the militant mood on ground was that this strike took place less than a year since the July 2003 eight day general strike.

In most cities, the general strike was total with total paralysis of public institutions and key private sectors of the economy. "In Lagos, Abuja and various other state capitals, gates to major markets were under lock and key… And in a few instances where some markets opened, there were scanty or no buyers. Banks and other financial institutions did not also open for business. Ditto for factories. Aviation and maritime operations were equally affected. Airlines operated skeletally in Lagos. By noon Wednesday (the first day of the strike - ed) only four airlines could fly. The situation did not improve on Thursday either… Heavily-armed security men kept vigil at the Tin can port and Apapa Wharf but neither the dockers nor staff of the Nigeria Ports Authority reported for duty". (Vanguard June 12, 2004).

Here two remarkable features of this strike should be briefly highlighted. The general strike under review was unique because it was one strike in the recent years that took place without youths and pro-labour activists having to make bonfires on the roads. Notwithstanding, the strike was not only total amongst the workers in both public and private sectors, but equally solid amongst the students, self employed, artisans, petty traders, the urban and rural poor in general.

In this respect, the strike once again shows that the rest exploited and oppressed layers of the working masses in the urban and rural areas are prepared to fight anti-poor capitalist policies, if given decisive leadership by the working class.

So compelling was the strike waves that even significant layers of the capitalist elements and institutions were prepared to make verbal attacks against the fuel price hike which was the immediate reason for the strike. If the working masses had had a leadership with the correct and complete working class socio-economic alternatives, if the leaders of the general strike had had the determination to capture political power with a view to institute a workers and peasant government, the steadfast determination of the working masses across the country made this entirely possible.

Crisis of Leadership



However, when the conducts and policies of the LASCO leaders are scientifically examined, it is not too difficult to come to the conclusion that the general strike in issue was unfortunately another wasted opportunity vis-avis the defence and advancement of the working masses interests. Both in the mediate and long terms basis, the LASCO leaders had failed (and are still failing) to draw the appropriate conclusions from the issue(s) leading to the general strike and the key features of the strike. This precisely constitutes a serious obstacle towards the success of the working masses in their unavoidable conflict and confrontation with the incurably unjust capitalist system.

Suspension of the General Strike


All the particular and general theoretical premises outlined by the Adams Oshiomhole's NLC, TUC, CFTU, etc to justify the suspension of the general strike in issue are out of tune with reality, past experience and the primary interests of the working masses.

The first reason adduced to suspend the strike was that there has been "substantial compliance" by oil marketers to the court order asking them to return to February, 2004 prices. To say the least, this is a debatable point. Before the strike was called off, the NCP for instance was leading the position that strike suspension should be put on hold pending the time marketers across the country fully complied with the aforementioned court order.

In suspending the strike, Adams Oshiomhole amongst other things stated: "We appreciate that there are many parts of Nigeria that have not yet gotten the benefit of compliance".

We in the DSM therefore believe that it was wrong in the given circumstance to have suspended the strike especially against the background of ruling class betrayals of similar hopes in the recent past, without insisting on full and total compliance not just "substantial compliance" which even now only exists in theory since most stations are not yet selling.

The prevailing mood at the time also favoured the above position. An unprecedented crowd of strike activists, supporters and general masses thronged the Lagos NLC secretariat on June 11, the 3rd day of the strike, urging that the strike should go on.

But the leadership however, argued that unless the strike is suspended, the true extent of compliance cannot be accurately ascertained. To say the least, this attitude completely misses the point. Most of the general strikes of the past four years, under this same Obasanjo's government, over this same issue of hike of fuel prices had produced a price regime which only ended up being undermined sooner than later. Why is this the case? What, if any, are the guarantees that the fate of the current price regime will be different? Under the prevailing socio-economic milieu, it is just a matter of time before the current court "ordered" price regime is undermine to the detriment of the interest of the working mass and the economy as a whole.

If capitalism were to be a rational system, this precisely is the time when it should have been automatically possible for the system to impact positively on the living standard of the working masses. In the year 2004 budget, the income from a barrel of crude oil was based on an estimate of $25.00 market price. For most part of the year however, oil has been selling for over $35.00 per barrel peaking at $42.00 per barrel, in the month of May. But that precisely was the time the capitalist class decided to compound the hardship faced by the vast majority of the working masses via another arbitrary and astronomical increment of fuel prices.

Meanwhile, the point should be emphasised that it is these kind of anti-poor, anti-economic growth policies that dominate the regime's economic strategy on education, housing, healthcare, employment, wages, provision of necessary social needs such as water, electricity, etc. Between June 2000, when the Obasanjo government first hiked fuel prices and May 2004, there have been five separate increments.

It is therefore wrong and in certain respect, tragic for the labour leadership to have stated: "We hope that we will never have cause to travel this road again. But……in the unlikely event that the federal government fails to learn sufficient lesson and continues with this arbitrary price increase, we have no alternative but to continue to resist".

Bluntly put, this statement clearly shows that the NLC leadership has totally failed or refused to recognise the fact that Nigeria's neo-colonial capitalist system has no alternative than to continue to hike fuel prices and impose general attacks on masses' living standard.

The NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, has led three full general strikes, before the one under review, against hike in fuel prices. None of these strikes dissuaded the Obasanjo regime from subsequently hiking fuel prices. In fact fuel price rises have been relentless. It is less than a year since we held an eight day general strike to try to stop the Obasanjo government rising the petrol price from N26 a litre to N40. Then the NLC leaders accepted a compromise price of N34, now they have accepted a new compromise price of N43, nearly double the price we tried to defend last July.

So, on what premises are the "hope" that the Obasanjo government should have learnt sufficient lessons based? Assuming that the Obasanjo government refrains from further hike of fuel prices, is the NLC leadership suggesting that the issues of poor wages, unemployment, education and health care commercialisation do not deserve to be addressed with general strikes and mass protests even right now?

Resistance

Yes, labour in the above quoted statement pledged to continue to resist if the federal government persists to hike fuel prices. However, apart from the fact that no concrete programme of resistance has so far been outlined, labour's strategy for long term solution against the constant hike of fuel prices put forward has however clearly showed that labour will only be fighting with a blunted weapon, in the event that it fights at all!

According to labour leadership, government should call a meeting of stakeholders which will include manufacturers, business people, civil society, trade unions, students, etc to work out an agreeable policy. Economically and politically, these kind of mutually antagonistic interests and forces can never jointly work out an agreeable policy which will substantially benefit the working masses. Economically, the interest of the capitalist class primarily centres on profit accumulation. Consequently, even if all Nigerian refineries are functional or repaired, under this capitalist dispensation, profit will still come first.

Anyone who may think that the above is just an abstract theory should ponder on the statement of Professor Jubril Aminu, former Minister of Petroleum and a leading politician of the ruling PDP: "Our refineries are older than they are on the book because of irregularity of maintenance. I think what we need to do is allow people to come in and build new refineries in Nigeria. Not everybody would agree to come and do that when they know that if they do, they would not be allowed to sell their products according to market forces. They can only agree to build new refineries if they would be allowed to sell according to the market price and that means the sector has to be deregulated. "There is a lot of deception in the building of refineries. There is this belief that if refineries are built, the price of fuel would be cheaper. That is not true. Refurbishing of refineries or building new ones would not bring down the price of fuel. That is the simple truth because if I build refineries, I expect to earn enough to buy my crude, to buy my consumables, to pay my staff, to repay the loan and earn dividend for the shareholders".

On the basis of the above, an economic alliance between the working masses and the capitalist forces can only end in greater misery for the former.

Politically, it is equally misleading to place so much importance on the alleged support of certain sections of the capitalist class and institutions to the recent strike against hike of fuel prices. Most of the purported support given to the struggle by CNPP, ANPP, the Senate, House of Representatives, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria etc were insincere support. All of these bodies and institutions without exception back capitalism and its neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, commercialisation, etc. Suffice to stress, any political alliance between these capitalist forces and the working masses can only help to strengthen the political enslavement of the working masses. Now for their own opportunistic reasons the CNPP/NUD criticise the NLC leaders for calling off the strike, but workers must be aware of the motives of these false "friends". Even if some of their criticisms ring true, the CNPP's leaders' aim is to get into office so they can loot and if then labour threatens them they will fight us in the same way as Obasanjo does.

The entire capitalist elements in and out of office are irredeemably committed to capitalism and neo-liberal policies. This is not just an agendum set by the insatiable greed of members of the local capitalist class but also one primarily being demanded by imperialism.

WORKING CLASS SOLUTION

"Is the NLC president, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, at the conference of the African Privatisation Network; he should have come to listen to World Bank presentation that subsidy had made Nigeria to be backward" (Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Punch June 04, 2004).

On the basis of the above quotation and also going by previous experience, greater hardship via constant hike of fuel prices or via perennial scarcity of fuel products await the working masses sooner than the NLC leaders may want to concede. Already the "independent" oil marketers have declared that they would not be importing fuel and would only distribute whatever quantity of fuel they are able to get from the NNPC! Even right now that the NLC leaders are talking of "substantial compliance" many oil marketers, as at June 15, 2004, continue to sell petrol at between N49.00 and N50 per litre. Notwithstanding the NLC leaders doctrine of "substantial compliance" the Obasanjo's government and its colleagues in crimes, the so-called independent oil marketers, have continued to sell kerosene and diesel, widely used by most layers of the working masses and industries respectively, at above the court "ordered" rates. What all these show is that the capitalist system cannot be managed in a "rational" way whereby the working masses can enjoy "substantial" conditions. Only a comprehensive working class economic and political alternative can end the endless exploitation and oppression which will continue to be the portion of the masses under capitalism.

More than any other generation of labour leaders, the Adams Oshiomhole's leadership of the NLC has led more general strikes against anti-poor, capitalist policy of the ruling class.

Unfortunately however, for most part of its five years in office, the Adams Oshiomhole's leadership of the NLC has been studiously avoiding posing a working class alternatives to the endless horrors of living under capitalism especially for most layers of the working masses.

The central economic policy of Oshiomhole's led labour is at best utopian, at worst opportunistic. The leadership has repeatedly called for the repairs of the refineries or probe of those that got the multi-million dollars contract for the turn around maintenance of the refineries as the fundamental way to tackle the issue of high fuel prices. But as shown by Professor Aminu, this is a deception under capitalism, because owners of refineries, whether privately built or built from public funds are only primarily motivated by the desire to "earn dividend for the shareholders." While mouthing opposition to the deregulation of the "down stream sector" of the petroleum industry, the NLC leadership has repeatedly expressed support for the deregulation and privatisation of the other key sectors of the economy, including sales and distribution of petroleum products. Every average conscious working class person or youth knows that privatisation always bring doom via jobs massacre and higher prices for services and goods, yet the president of the NLC, Adams Oshiomhole, up till today occupies a seat on the National Council on Privatisation set up by Obasanjo's capitalist government.

Just before the last strike Oshiomhole gave an interview to the Vanguard (June 3) in which he accurately described what had happened during the price anti-fuel price struggles. This newspaper reported:

"Congress, he said, would not make the mistakes of the past in the execution of next week's strike in view of the past deceitful manner in which the present government had dealt with the NLC each time it called similar strikes.

"We also want to re-assure Nigerian people, Nigerian workers and our allies that we have learnt sufficient lessons from the manipulations of this government, which has led to some confusion in the past. We now know that signing agreement with this government need not translate to reality because they have not respected previous agreements.

"We now know that they may wait till the last minute before they will call us to a discussion where they might make undertaking that they may not implement, we want to assure the Nigerian people that errors of the past will not be repeated." 'We are better informed about the characters and the attitude of the government that we are dealing with and those lessons, those experiences will guide our prosecution of this final phase of our struggle' he said."

But what conclusions were drawn from this? Looking at the events of the past few days we have to say that the NLC leaders have learnt nothing from previous experience.

What all these clearly demonstrate is that the Oshiomhole's led NLC harbour the illusion or practice the deception that capitalism, even in its naked, neo-liberal fashion can be made to "substantially" benefit the working masses, if only the capitalist class will not be "heartless" enough to want to deregulate the "down stream sector" of the petroleum industry.

But this precisely is the crux of the matter. The capitalist ruling class has repeatedly shown its determination to deregulate and privatise all key sectors of the economy, including the petroleum sector, up and down streams. All the general strikes, including attempted ones, called by the Oshiomhole's leadership in the past five years were all severally and collectively provoked by the regime's "heartless" policy of deregulation and privatisation of the "down stream sector" of the oil industry. Therefore, any "hope" based on the Obasanjo's capitalist government expectation to stop its anti-poor, pro-capitalist policies, will produce no permanent improvement as it ignores the fact that these policies flow from the character of capitalist system itself.

In truth the labour leaders do not want to break with capitalism, the more corrupt are quite happy with it and many others see no alternative to it. But the history of the post-independence Nigeria shows that on a capitalist basis the country will not develop. So instead of a continuation of this obviously bankrupt, and sometimes, opportunistic perspective, labour needs a clear cut revolutionary break with the inherently unjust and self-serving capitalist economic strategy being defended by the ruling class and imperialism. In the midst of an inexhaustible human and natural resources, despite the huge billions of dollars being raked from exportation of crude oil alone, the overwhelming majority of the working masses, including wide sections of the middle class elements continue to go down the ladder of an irredeemable misery, while a few individuals and capitalist corporations wallow in needless, stupendous opulence. This situation is like putting reality upside down.

To set this situation right, the stupendous, inexhaustible resources of the society must be commonly owned, democratically run and controlled by the working class people, before the basic needs of the masses for food, housing, health care, education, water, electricity, functional and affordable transportation and communication networks, etc can be objectively guaranteed. Put simply, this will mean the public ownership and working class democratic control and management of the key sectors of the economy such as industries, including petroleum sector, banks and financial institutions, agriculture, social services, etc. Under this arrangement, economic development, strategy and provision of goods and services will be primarily based on the principle of giving decent living conditions for all sections of the working masses as opposed to the prevailing unjust capitalist dispensation which puts profit first, above every human consideration.

But as we in the DSM often explain, this desirable, achievable and necessary end can only be actualized by a labour movement imbibed with a new revolutionary socialist ideas, strategy and methodology. First and foremost, this will require a new layers of labour leaders who consciously pose the issue of revolutionary, socialist transformation of the prevailing capitalist system, as opposed to the hopeless perspective of looking for "pragmatic" ways to make capitalism work. Secondly, there is the need for new layers of labour leaders who would base their strategy on the industrial and political mobilisation of the various sections of the working masses as the central and most effective way to protect the interest of the working masses, as opposed to the self defeatist strategy of the current labour leaders who chose to keep quiet over act of electoral robbery by capitalist parties, all in the name of protecting democracy. Just imagine. "Our loyalty to the survival of the democratic project was demonstrated when despite the fact that the last general elections were characterized by a lot of anomalies, we remained clam and did not go on street to protest it". (Oshiomhole, Punch June 4, 2004).

We need new labour leaders who would consciously base their strategy on the construction of a pan-Nigerian working masses political platform completely independent of other capitalist parties in policies and organisation, whose central objective is the struggle to remove the capitalists from power with their replacement by a workers and peasants' socialist government.

Thirdly, we need new layers of labour leaders that concentrate on direct mobilisation of all layers of the working masses before, during and after strikes as opposed to the prevailing shambolism of a mobilisation strategy which focuses on diversionary and wasteful visits to capitalist leaders in the senate, house of representatives, governors, clerics, Manufacturers Associations, Nigerian Bar Associations, traditional rulers, etc. As we said before, all these layers of capitalist institutions and elements, may for one selfish reason or the other, today pretend to be fighting the anti-poor policy of the Obasanjo government. But to the extent that they all support capitalism and its neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, etc their interests remain, always antagonistic to the interest of the working masses.

Tragically, in the last strike against hike of fuel prices, labour leaders virtually concentrated all their propaganda and energy on these hopeless elements to the utter detriment of mass mobilisation of the working masses who actually effected the strike action and protests. There were no rallies and lectures organised amongst trade unions and in the communities. The few leaflets that were produced and circulated in a few cities like Lagos only came a day before the commencement of the strike. As in other general strikes led by the current labour leaders, no effort was made to create strike committees in the communities for the prosecution and control of the strike action with the resultant effect that most layers of the working masses were often totally left to only fragmented news from the bourgeois media to fathom what is going on.

Some organisations in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition criticized the trade union leaders for suspending the strike when many oil marketers had not yet complied with the court "ordered" sale price and when evidently significant sections of the masses were still proposing that the strike should go on. This in our view was a justifiable criticism. Unfortunately however, many of these organisations and individuals themselves failed or refused to see that unless a general strike is run and controlled by strikers and communal committees, an indefinite or prolonged strike becomes impossible to sustain either due to the conduct of labour leaders or as a result of the inherent limitations of a struggle mainly built on blind anger and spontaneity of the masses.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Far from being a "substantial" victory for the working masses, the last general strike against hike in fuel prices represents another missed opportunity by the working masses to put in place an economic and political arrangement under which its basic needs can be guaranteed. The main responsibility for this negative situation squarely falls on labour leaders who regard general strike as an instrument to get limited concession(s) from the ruling class rather than being seeing as a political process through which the working masses can realise its political and Organisational potentials in its historically conditioned struggle to overthrow capitalism.

While every key policy of the government across parties and across the country represents a vicious attack on the living standard of the working masses, the Oshiomhole's leadership has continued to give the impression that the regime's policy on oil is different from its policy on jobs, wages, health care, education, etc. Consequently, no general strike has ever been called or contemplated to fight the equally anti-poor, pro-rich government and employers policies on wages, job security, employment, housing, transportation, education and health care, etc.

In suspending the strike, labour threatens to resume the general strike if government and oil marketers failed to go back to February 2004 price of a litre of petrol. Unfortunately however, this threat was not backed by any concrete mobilisation of workers and members of the community for such an eventuality. Apparently aware of the weakness inherent in this kind of verbal threats, many oil marketers have continued to sell above the expected price.

There is therefore the need to begin practical acts of mobilisation such as rallies, symposia, lectures, leafleting, etc with a view to raise general level of awareness and organisational preparedness amongst the working people. To have prospect of maximum support and enthusiasm, the issue of fuel prices must be raised side by side with other key economic and political issues relevant to the emancipation of the working masses. In this respect, the issue of living minimum wage, functional and affordable housing, health care, education, unfettered right of workers to form and belong to trade unions and political parties of their choice, for free and fair elections, etc must be placed on the front banners of issues upon which new LASCO mobilisation and agitations should be based. This would prepare the ground for the next step we propose in reviving morale and confidence, a DAY OF ACTION including a general strike, rallies, protests, etc. with a view to highlight these and other necessary demands. This would strengthen the morale and organisational preparedness of the working peoples' organisations with a view to taking more far reaching and longer actions to both win immediate reforms and replacing capitalism with a democratic, socialist workers and peasants' government.

As we often explained, creation of an independent Pan-Nigerian working people's, socialist party is central to the task of revolutionary overthrow of the prevailing unjust capitalist order. In this respect, LASCO activists at local, state and national levels should without further delay put in motion a process to begin the creation of such a party outlined above. This can be started by calling for democratic conferences of the Labour Party, the National Conscience Party (NCP), Democratic Alternative (DA), Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), trade unions, student unions, market women and all those that claim to support the emancipation of the working masses to be organised at local, state and national levels. Such meetings should discuss and decide upon both what programme is needed and what next steps should be taken. If based on the day-to-day needs, aspirations and struggles of the different layers of the working masses, if consciously built as a platform to transform society, then sooner than imagined, such initiatives could begin to lay the foundations of a vibrant mass working class political party in Nigeria.

POLITICAL SITUATION

From the above explanations, the working masses both in the medium and long-term basis, will still be presented with the opportunity of transforming capitalist society along working class basis. This however, is not the only perspective, if the working class fails to take adequate advantages of its opportunity to transform society, the country and the entire working masses may find themselves engulfed by ethno-religious conflicts and even military dictatorship.

Already, the ethno-religious conflict is daily assuming an horrendous character. Between the months of May and June 2004 alone, over 1,500 Nigerians have been killed with tens of thousands permanently displaced from their homes and means of livelihood as a result of one ethno-religious conflict or others. Significantly, the last general strike against hike in fuel prices took place side by side with an ethno-religious genocide in Adamawa State. So serious is the danger of ethno-religious mayhem at the present time such that the Obasanjo capitalist government has been able to use that excuse to sack the elected governor and members of house of assembly with the imposition of a state of emergency in the entire Plateau State.

But as we in DSM often explain, these strong hand tactics will woefully fail both now and in the long run to address this age long crisis. Sadly, the labour leaders do not also have a working class policy and initiatives different from those being put forward by the Obasanjo capitalist government. Beneath the incessant, ethno-religious conflicts are age long unresolved nationality question arising from the arbitrary and undemocratic manner with which the country called Nigeria by British imperialism was created. It is equally important that this nationality question had always created passionate agitation including armed conflict both before and since after independent.

Of course, there can be no doubt that the frequency and mendacity of these conflicts have in the recent period, acquired an horrendous proportion as the living standard of most section of the working masses across the country become worse in the face of an unrelenting socio-economic crisis. Therefore, without willingness and capacity to tackle these crises historically and socially, the current strong hand tactics of shooting at sight as a central strategy is doomed to fail.

In this respect, it should be noted that all previous capitalist governments from colonial period up till present Obasanjo regime had always resorted to the use of one form of act of suppression or the other. Since colonial time up till now, the elite of the major nationalities had always ganged up to suppress the right of self-determination of the minority nationalities. There is therefore nothing new in the current futile venture called state of emergency.

Even in the events that sections of the capitalist class succeeded in bringing back full military dictatorship, the ethno-religious conflict will only, on the long run, become more ferociously morbid, with special calamitous consequences for the socio-economic and democratic rights of the working masses.

So, instead of labour leaders giving support to capitalist declaration of state of emergency as a central strategy to suppress agitations for self determination, independent working class policy which fully accepts the right to self determination of all minority, nationalities and religious groups should be counter-posed. Similarly, independent working class initiatives which practically encourages formation of joint committees of the different embattled nationalities and religious groups should be encouraged as a more effective means of checking mindless and needless killings of working class elements of all warring factions.

Some on the lefts have always argued that with a good government which is prepared to guarantee improved living standard for all across the country, ethno-religious conflict will largely ceased to be or become a thing of the past. There is an element of truth in this point of view. However, the issues involved are much more complex than this over simplified proposition.

In contemporary Nigeria, any left political party wishing to bring about a society where decent living standard is guarantee for all cannot get properly started to secure the support of the vast majority of the working class people of the different nationalities without a clear-cut democratic and sensitive policy on nationality question and self-determination. Such a party has to come up with a bold economic plans and policies which overtly seek to place the masses of the different nationalities across the country at the centre of economic planning and strategy, unlike the prevailing capitalist system which puts profit interest of a few above everything else in life.

This is not all, such a party has to make it theoretically and practically clear that it is not interested in the ethno-religious supremacy of one nationality or religious group over one another. Such a party has to be seen to be expressly committed to give full democratic, nationality and cultural rights (including cessation if democratically decided by any given nationality) to all nationality within Nigeria no matter how small numerically such nationality may be.

Thus, from every angle it is examined, socially, economically, politically, national question puts Nigeria on a brink of disaster. Fortunately however, there exists a prospect of a working class, socialist way out of this deepening disaster. Regrettably however, if the working class solution does not develop in the medium and long term basis, Nigeria and its working people will find themselves engulfed by socio-economic political disaster of unimaginable proportion that will make the tragedy in Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc appear like mere child's play.

Join the DSM in its struggle to defend and improve living standards, build militant democratic fighting trade unions, for a mass working people's movement/party, for a workers' and peasants' government and socialism.

Other material about Nigeria is available here

For the full index of SP/CWI articles