Third general strike to rock Nigeria in three years

The workers of Nigeria are once again on the move with the start of today's indefinite general strike. This is a first report about what is happening there. Further analysis will follow in the next few days. The workers of Nigeria are once again on the move with the start of today's indefinite general strike. This is the culmination of years of frustration of the workers. They have fought several times but through a series of compromise measures the union leaders and the government have always managed to get the workers back to work. All this was doing was putting off the day of reckoning. The contradictions are too big for there to be any lasting compromise.

In the recent period there has been a massive wave of strikes in Nigeria involving many different sectors. In June 2000 there was a general strike against the government's attempts to increase the price of fuel. It was partially successful as it forced the government to drastically reduce the announced increases. Again in January 2002 the workers came out, but the strike was called off very quickly by the NLC leaders who had not wanted it from the very beginning. Every time the NLC leaders, in particular its president Adams Oshiomole, did everything to call off the strikes and reach some kind of compromise with the government.

The problem for these "leaders" is that this achieved nothing for the workers. It merely postponed the problems. Under pressure from the working class the government made concessions. But these concessions always involved reducing the amount by which fuel prices were increased. It still came down to an increase, albeit a limited one. It was inevitable that the government would come back for more.

Nigeria has a huge foreign debt of over $30billion. It needs debt relief and rescheduling. For this to happen it needs to re-establish relations with the IMF, which were broken off last year. This in itself showed that even the capitalists of Nigeria and their government were finding it difficult to apply IMF policies to Nigeria. To do so meant coming into conflict with the workers. It also meant trampling on the interests of a part of the Nigerian elite itself - that section that has made money from the state control of the oil industry in particular – especially among the enriched army generals.

Relentless pressures of imperialism

However, the logic of the world market is relentless. Imperialism wants its pound of flesh and Obasanjo; the newly elected President is under enormous pressure to abide by the rules of international finance. On Wednesday of last week the president appointed a certain Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the position of finance minister. At the moment she is one of the vice-presidents of the World Bank! That explains why the so-called "international finance community" were so enthusiastic. On of "theirs" has been put right at the heart of the Nigerian government to make sure their interests are well taken care of.

These pressures also explain his recent announcement to increase the price of petrol by 54%, from 26 naira (20 US cents) to 40 naira. The increase in fuel prices does not only affect petrol but also such products as kerosene, widely used for cooking in Nigeria. This would severely affect the pockets of the poorer layers of society in particular.

The reason for this announced increase is that the government wishes to reduce state subsidies. Obasanjo, in trying to fool the masses, has announced that he believes the subsidies would be better spent on health and education. This is absolutely laughable; especially when we consider the huge increases he has imposed on university fees. In reality what is happening is that the government is attempting to cut back in every field in order to channel money towards paying interest on the debt. As usual it is the poor who have to pay.

The governor of Nigeria's central bank, Dr Joseph Oladele Sanusi, has enthusiastically supported the government, revealing once again that they are all really the messenger boys of imperialism, and can have no real independent role.

Today's general strike a huge success

However, although the bankers may be pleased, the workers of Nigeria view the situation somewhat differently. The NLC has been forced to call a general strike against the government's measures after last minute negotiations failed. Today a general strike has started in Nigeria. First accounts indicate that it is hugely successful with very large numbers taking part.

Thousands of bus drivers and taxi drivers are taking part in the strike and this has led to paralysis in all the major cities. Government buildings are being picketed by angry workers holding NLC banners, and Lagos the biggest city has been brought to a total standstill. This shows the level of discontent that there is among Nigerian workers.

Obasanjo has declared the strike illegal. He backs this claim up with the fact that the NLC did not give the government the 15 days warning it is supposed to guarantee according to law. But how can the workers wait fifteen days? By then the increase will have been consolidated. The workers must fight now.

There is however a logic in Obasanjo's declaration. Last time there was a general strike, a few days into it he declared it illegal and the NLC "leaders" obliged by calling the general strike off! This time they say that nothing can stop the strike action. But can these leaders be trusted? At the same time as they are making these militant sounding speeches the leader of the NLC, Adams Oshiomole has announced that he will be meeting the president later on today, and that if Obasanjo comes up with a "reasonable" reduction in the amount of the increase then the general strike could be called off!

Thus we have here a combination of the tactics of the two previous general strikes; on the one hand pressures from the government quoting the law and on the other a leadership that is begging the president to soften the blow for the workers. This is not surprising if we remember that Adams supported Obasanjo in the recent (fraudulent) elections. Adams really does not have any major differences with Obasanjo when it comes to economic policy.

This time, however it may not be so easy to call off the strike. Proof of this can be seen in the behaviour of the government, which is discussing with police chiefs what measures should be prepared to deal with the strike. Riot police has already been sent out onto the streets of Lagos. Obasanjo has also threatened to use legal measures against workers picketing factories to stop scabs from going in. Thus the situation is becoming very tense and the next few days could see some major clashes in Nigeria.

Obasanjo was recently re-elected, but everyone knows there was massive fraud. Obasanjo, in spite of his huge majority, does not have the same authority as before. The elections have solved nothing for the workers. This explains why they are now moving once again on the industrial front.

The clash between Obasanjo and the working class was inevitable. He is under more and more pressure from the imperialists to come up with the goods. They are demanding he privatise and cuts subsidies. He has to hit the poor hard. This means war with the workers.

The problem of leadership

The problem of problems remains the leadership of the working class. Leaders like Adams cannot be trusted. The past experience is sufficient testimony to this. The workers of Nigeria need a leadership that is capable of the same fighting spirit as the rank and file. They need a leadership that does not cosy up to the likes of Obasanjo, but is ready to take him on. That means a struggle at all levels of the union movement to elect leaders that genuinely represent the workers. Together with this, the workers also need their own political voice. The recent elections showed quite clearly that none of the major contenders could be trusted. They are all part of the same gang of capitalists and their hangers-on. 

The unions must build their own party, a party of labour. Such a party, once built, would have to campaign on a programme of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, under democratic workers' control and management. This combined with a repudiation of the foreign debt would provide the workers with all the resources they need to solve all their pressing problems.