Nigeria: Labour must defeat Obasanjo and the IMF!

After the four-day warning general strike, the Nigerian unions are calling on workers to resume strike action on November 16. This time it will no longer be limited to the issue of the price of fuel. The situation is becoming very tense. The workers have reached the limit of what they can take. They are putting immense pressure on the leadership of the NLC to act decisively.

After the four-day warning general strike, the Nigerian unions are calling on workers to resume strike action on November 16. This time it will no longer be limited to the issue of the price of fuel. News of the new strike pushed up the international price of oil even further. Shell is being particularly targeted as the Nigeria Labour Congress have branded the company an “enemy of the Nigerian people” and have also called for specific action against the oil giant. This is because the company has sought a court injunction to ban unions at its plants from striking!

The situation is becoming very tense. The workers have reached the limit of what they can take. They are putting immense pressure on the leadership of the NLC to act decisively. This explains why the NLC leaders now see disrupting oil production as the best way to increase pressure on Obasanjo. Adams Oshiomhole, president of the NLC, has declared that the next strike will be indefinite and total. This means bringing out the oil workers, which would hit production and export of oil.

On Wednesday, November 3, there were mass rallies in Nigeria, called by the unions. These were very successful. The mood was a very militant one. Things are moving fast in Nigeria. There is growing pressure on the NLC to call for the end of Obasanjo. The struggle is becoming more and more politicised. Faced with such a situation it is not even ruled out that even the ruling class could decide to remove Obasanjo. He could be brought down, as even the class he represents is beginning to see that he cannot hold back the working class.

In the past the NLC president has helped to prop up the regime by not bringing out the full force of the Nigerian working class. But now, not even Adams Oshiomhole, with all his authority inside the Nigerian labour movement, can hold the workers back for much longer. In this situation, sections of the ruling class must be looking for alternatives. They need something which can defuse the situation. But there is very little room for manoeuvre. Nigerian capitalism, together with imperialism, can only move in one direction: to attack the workers. Therefore any change at the top would only be cosmetic.

The workers can sense this and are determined to use all their muscle. The general strike that is planned to start on November 16 could go well beyond the limits that the union leaders would like to establish. The pressure is so big that this time it will be unlikely that it will be a sit-at-home, and it could last longer than planned. This is the effect of having gone through several general strikes that have only had partial results. The workers are drawing the conclusion that it is necessary to step up the mobilisation.

A movement of immense proportions is being prepared in Nigeria. It is a movement that will shake Nigeria and the whole of black Africa. What is needed is a clear programme, perspective and strategy. The workers of Nigeria need their own party. We are publishing here a statement of the Nigerian Marxist journal, The Workers’ Alternative, which has been distributed at rallies and strikes in Nigeria. Reports say that there was a thirst for ideas among the workers, who in some cases were queuing up to buy a copy. Little details like these reveal what is really happening among the Nigerian working class.

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Editorial statement of the Nigerian Marxist journal, The Workers’ Alternative, on the situation facing the workers in Nigeria. October 28, 2004

- Stand against fuel price increment, attack on Labour and IMF mispolicies!

- Demand for an ACTIVE General Strike!

- Set up workers’ committees of action to coordinate strike action!

- Boot out Obasanjo!

To say that the Nigerian working masses have the ability and enormous powers to resist tyranny and change the society is an understatement. The October NLC four-day warning general strike confirms these facts.

The four-day general strike is a prelude to the bigger movements of the working masses impending; it is the third general strike for the year and the sixth since 1999. The strike reflects the enormous pressures the workers are putting on the labour leaders.

The effect of the strike on every aspect of life was enormous. From the international price of oil and economy, to social engagements, to media reporting, to class relations, etc, the movement of the Nigerian workers changed the face of everything.

Empty streets

From the busy streets and roads of Lagos to the streets of Sokoto to the streets of Calabar to the streets of Taraba – north, south, east, west, and south south – the sit-at-home strike was effective. The streets were emptied out; the work places were emptied out. In most states, only the governors’ office and household were rendering partial services.

The workers simply stayed at home. Markets were closed, most buses were off the roads, factories were shut, schools were shut, lecturers down tools, government offices shut, etc. It is important to note that Obasanjo had ordered the people to stay at home two days before the strike (Saturday, October 9, 2004) for five hours to launch his immunization programme, nobody obeyed it. However, they stayed at home for four days in support of the strike.

The news media, international and local, could not deny the popular support the strike had. Some put support to as high as 85 percent.

Of course, in many areas, there were some activities as reported by both the government and private media, but they were not significant as they were very minimal. These are mainly in the areas of those selling food, okadas, few buses, etc. These are mostly small-scale ventures owned mostly by the poor who depend on daily income. However, the bulk of these people did support the strike.

The high level of support for the strike reflects the high level of anger against the Obasanjo regime’s IMF inspired reforms.

The most popular news media now are the most radical. The government news media are losing viewers. The conflicts in society and the hatred for the system can be seen in the news media in spite of the various limitations.

The screaming headlines now are: “Deregulation: the many lies of Obasanjo” (Insider), “The lying president” (The News), to mention a few.

In most of the phone-in programmes, they open calls for the removal of Obasanjo or verbal attacks on the regime dominate the waves. The case is the same in the print media. All these are happening in spite of the fact that these media are owned by the privileged in society.

Rich vs. Poor – growth in class consciousness

That “fingers are not equal” is an old saying that have been flogged into the consciousness of all within society. The general strike has amplified this wise old saying.

Workers are not the same as employers. Poor peasants are not the same as owners of big farming estates. The unemployed are not the same as “political jobbers”. In summary, the rich are not the same as the poor. Their interests, position in society and thoughts are not the same, in fact they are opposites and always in conflict with each other.

The rich bosses, top politicians, top government officials, the influential and privileged in society have serious contempt for the strike and struggles of the working masses. While the workers, students, rural poor and other poor strata of the society instinctively support the action; they constitute the overwhelming majority in society.

The minority rich are responsible for the economic woes facing society. What is happening is that they are shifting the burden of the crisis they created onto the heads of the working people. There is no end in sight to the crisis of neo-colonial capitalism. The conditions are bound to get worse.

Economic chaos

In all areas of life, the economic crisis continues to manifest itself and the condition keeps on going from bad to worst. Millions of people have no job. Millions live below the poverty line. Tens of thousands are losing their jobs on a daily basis. Pensions and gratuity are not being paid. Scores of factories are closing shop.

Government corporations and properties are being liquidated or sold off; tens of thousands of people are being thrown into a life of hell. The plight of Nigerian Airways workers and the residents of 1004 apartments readily come to mind.

The hospitals have collapsed and are still collapsing. Salaries are not being paid regularly, with a systemic wage cut taking place regularly. Education is in crisis. Education is going out of the reach of the poor at all levels – primary to tertiary.

Nobody talks about long-term plans; nobody has fate that tomorrow will be better except those looting. Most people are always complaining about their bad financial condition; their inability to pay bills, their huge debts, low pay, etc.

Heavy-duty corruption and mismanagement remain the order of the day. The corruption below reflects the massive corruption going on above.

Oil remains the binding factor. Without it, the country would go broke within 24 hours! It is responsible for close to 90 percent of government revenue. However, the communities where the oil is found, just like everywhere else in Nigeria, have nothing to show for it. Other industrial sectors have long collapsed due to corruption, mismanagements and IMF inspired policies.

In spite of these tales of woe, we find a very small minority making huge gains from the sweat and blood of the working masses.

Failure of “reforms”

“You have been asked many times in the past to make sacrifices and to be patient. I am also going to ask you to make sacrifices and to exercise patience. The difference will be that in the past, sacrifices were made and patience exercised with little or no result. This time, the result of your sacrifice will be manifest for all to see”. – Obasanjo (May 29 1999)

It just seems like yesterday when this declaration was made; of course, it is the same speechwriter. An exact declaration like this was made last year in October when fuel prices were again increased. It is now a daily saying.

The realities of today confirm the EVIL intentions of the authors of the statement. There is no better teacher than experience. The so-called reforms are nothing but a big FAILURE. They are just high sounding words and phrases – privatization, deregulation, commercialization, level playing field, etc.

THEY WERE NEVER INTENDED TO SOLVE ANY PROBLEM FACING THE SOCIETY BUT TO PUNISH THE POOR FOR THE CRIMES OF THE RICH.

The advocates of these so-called reforms are first class “CANVASSERS” in a 419 ring – FRAUDSTERS!

Five years after this statement by Obasanjo, nothing has changed one bit. More people have been turned to “Original Suffer-heads” – apology to Fela. It is still suffer now, enjoy in the undetermined future. Yet, they are still calling for patience and sacrifice.

The telecommunications sector (so-called gain of deregulation) is readily pointed to as an example of what is going to happen in the uncertain future. This is supposed to be a gain of deregulation. What about the textile sector, or the health sector, or agriculture, or production generally, etc, how are they doing; is there current state not a gain of deregulation?

The so-called GSM magic is nothing but a hopeless hoax. GSM in Nigeria is the most expensive in the world. The cost of making an average GSM call in Nigeria is nothing less than eleven times the cost of making an international call in the USA or in any advanced country! The services are poor; the technology that has been deployed is outdated in the advanced countries, and yet is it expensive here. Much of the equipment is “Tokunbo” (fairly used from Europe or America).

The monopoly telecom corporations involved, have made billions of Naira and dollars within the past three years. They have made much more than they have brought into the country in the first place. If the prices of cheap SIM packs are coming down three years on, they are not doing the people any favours. Nor do they reflect a gain of deregulation.

The call rates have remained unchanged and most subscribers cannot afford to buy credits to the phone; they rather use commercial phones services. Most still do not have phones. Those who have, they use them mainly as receiving machines.

It is rather absurd that a rip-off is being presented as a gain/benefit of deregulation. Of course, a minority has benefited from the juicy profits made. This is what we should expect for the fuel sector, huge profits for a handful at the expense of the majority!

The ruling elites have always been calling on the working class to make sacrifices from time immemorial. Obasanjo called for sacrifices in the 70s, the Sargari “civilian” regime introduced austerity in the 80s, Buhari continued with the policy in the mid 80s, IBB brought SAP, Abacha continued with it in his own way, Abdulsalami continued with it and now Obasanjo again.

In spite of their hypocritical call for sacrifices, they have amassed stupendous wealth. Meanwhile, the lives of the masses and the future of the unborn children are continually mortgaged!

The fictitious debts (foreign and domestic) have increased by $2 billion since last year! This is in spite of the fact that $1.809 billion was used to service the external debt in 2003. The refineries are working below capacity if they work at all.

For 2005, the regime plans to use N360 billion to service both external and local debt; this is much more than the amount to be spent on agriculture, education and health combined. It is more than 64 percent of the total vote for capital projects.

Whatever gain is made due to high oil prices internationally would inevitable be eroded by the heavy import bills. The regime makes claims that it wants to protect some local industries but it is a mere public relations stunt – a hypocritical cry. As all imports still find their way into the market.

Even the so-called manufacturers at times have diverted to importation. Some have closed shop to convert their factories to ware houses for imported finished products. The biggest consumer of foreign exchange now is imported fuel.

Suffering in the midst of plenty

The current increases in the international price of oil have meant more foreign exchange for Nigeria. However, instead of this changing the situation in the country the opposite is the case. It is estimated the Nigeria made over the past years more than $400 billions form oil. If we add what the oil companies extracting the oil make, it would be over $800 billion!

Obasanjo declared while reading the 2005 budget that the nation’s foreign exchange reserve has grown to about $12 billion and the excess revenue made from oil is now over N400 billion in the central bank. This is excluding the billions of dollars the multinational corporations in the upstream sector of petroleum industry made.

The price of oil has been high for the past years. This is due to various factors. This accounts for the jump in government revenue, not because of any initiative of Government.

However, in spite of the various oil windfalls, hell has been brought closer home to Nigeria. The country is now regarded as the third most corrupt country in the world and on the fail scale on other scales.

The logical question to ask is: where did the billions go and are still going?

These funds are in private pockets or in the vault of the big foreign multinational corporations or in the vaults of the big banks. High-level corruption and mismanagement of funds and resources are responsible for the disappearance of the funds. These are an inherent characteristic of the Nigerian ruling elites. It was recently estimated that the Nigerian elite have over $109 billion in various banks abroad.

However, to pay for the damage they do daily to the economy they impose insane measures to shift the burden onto the heads of the masses. The various IMF inspired policies are geared towards doing just that.

When Obasanjo and co say that there is no money for education, to build refineries, for health, for pensions, etc, what they really mean is that they don’t have money to spend on the working masses who happen to be the creators of this wealth. However, they have money for themselves and their various frauds.

Why Fuel price increment

Petroleum can be declared as the engine that powers the Nigerian economy and society. Fossil fuel powers practically everything in Nigeria, from cars to generators, pumps, most of NEPA power stations, etc. Due to this fact, it became a tool to extort money from the pockets of the masses to finance the damage done to the economy by the elites.

Over the years, the bankruptcies of the numerous arguments for the increment of the price of fuel have been exposed. It is easy to lose count of the various arguments and the numerous times the prices have gone up.

From the arguments on subsidy on fuel, to smuggling, to comparing prices, ending scarcity, that increment would bring development, the list of arguments for increment goes on. The emptiness of each has been exposed repeatedly.

Now the argument for price increment is that the downstream sector has been deregulated, like the telecoms sector. And that prices would go down in the future. The arguments still don’t add up. If the sector had been “deregulated”, why fix a higher benchmark price?

They claim that the cost of importing fuel has increased due to the increment in the price of fuel internationally. Whose fault is it that they have refused to repair the refineries and build new ones? Who could spend over N90 billion each on the hosting of a few Commonwealth leaders and elite, and African games? The list of wastes is endless.

The various figures released to justify the increment have been proven repeatedly to be fraudulent. Gari is more expensive in the international market; why can’t they say that we must buy gari at the international price.

The NNPC says that it sells crude oil for domestic consumption to NNPC (itself) at $34 per barrel, which is either refined locally when the refineries are working or exported to be refined. The other invented charges are paid to the government either as taxes or to departments in the NNPC! Who is fooling who?

From estimates, it costs less than $2 to produce one barrel of oil. The surplus made effectively pays for the imports. The NNPC is still responsible for the importation of the majority of the fuel coming into the country. They merely sell to the big marketers who now sell to the independent marketers and the public.

Fuel prices are increased to tax the working masses money to pay for deficits, debts, mismanagement, to enrich a handful of big oil marketers and other parasites.

“Pride cometh before fall”

The foundation of the Obasanjo “civilian” regime rests on chicken legs – very weak. These are men without hope or confidence in their future. They have become more morally degenerate and crude. The news media are full of stories of numerous scandals and atrocities.

The objective realities of the day point to the callous failure of all their policies and that the negative results remain the reality. They have become very unpopular; there is mass anger against them and the ruling elites as a collective.

It is only a matter of time before they would reach the threshold. A revolution is on the agenda in Nigeria today, as the ruling elites continue to plunge society into more crises.

Contrary to the impression Obasanjo want the masses to believe, his regime is quite weak. Its social base has been further eroded. The major factor kept it in power over the past period had been the inability of the NLC leaders to pose a clear-cut alternative to the current regime at all levels.

Obasanjo must go!

It needs no debate that Obasanjo and the current civilian administrations at all level have plunged the society into more crises and cannot resolve any thing. Their only remedies are IMF inspired attacks on the lives of the working masses.

Obasanjo made it clear that they are going to go ahead with various policies of attack and as far as they are concerned, there are no alternatives. He is ready to kill workers to continue with his draconian policies.

Therefore, the only solution is political. There is an alternative to the numerous insane policies and methods of the IMF – Socialism.

Workers have the strength to remove this regime. The struggle of the coming period would move along that line, as all other options are bound to fail. The only practical step for the working people is to boot him out!

Labour must demand his resignation! The removal of Obasanjo would be the first salvo of the revolution, as it would unleash the enormous powers of the working masses. If they can push out Obasanjo, they can push out others and change society!

For an ACTIVE strike

An active general strike, involving the massive mobilization of millions of workers would bring this regime to its knees. It would allow the working masses to feel their strength and move towards changing society. It would pose the political questions such as whether to continue with IMF policies, who owns what in the society, who is responsible for what, among other things.

The coming together of three centers of industrial unions in Nigeria – NLC, TUC and CFTU and some civil society organizations – under the banner of LASCO (Labour and Civil Society Coalition) is quite commendable. The unity of workers is a very progressive step; the coming together of the three trade union centers is a major step forward. However, for it to really have an effect, the rank and file workers must be mobilized as well.

The “civil society” cannot be mobilized at the expense of the workers. It is quite clear that the working class is in charge but workers are not really involved in decision-making. Committees of action made up of workers must be set up in every work place to coordinate the struggle.

An active general strike is not a sit-at-home strike; it involves massive protests rallies, marches, coordinated barricades, mass appeal to the rank and file of the police and armed forces, etc.

The situation in Nigeria now is similar to that of a super volcano that is about to erupt, it would blow off any thing that wants to hold it back. The economy is on a knife-edge and the future is quite bleak in spite of the false claims by Obasanjo.

Demands:

  • For the resignation of Obasanjo
  • For the reversal of fuel price
  • For a halt to the privatization and deregulation policies
  • Renationalize stolen corporations and the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control
  • For the confiscation of the properties of those who have looted the state treasury
  • Against the payment of fictitious debt; for the total repudiation of the debts
  • For a workers’ and poor farmers’ government