The general strike due to start on Tuesday, November 16, in Nigeria has been called off at the last minute. President Obasanjo had previously rejected demands to reduce fuel prices the pre-September levels. This would have meant bringing the price of petrol to the old N43 a litre.
Under pressure from the unions, Obasanjo decided to go for a compromise and reduced the price of petrol from N53 to N49. Kerosene (mainly used for cooking) and diesel were brought down to N51 per litre.
The workers of Nigeria were preparing for an all-out strike. The oil-workers were preparing to be part of the action this time. Enormous pressure was building up, and if the strike had gone ahead it could well have meant the end of the Obasanjo regime. That explains why in the end the compromise was reached.
We have seen this scenario before in Nigeria, when a strike has been called off at the last minute after the government had partially backed down. The mere threat of strike action has forced the government’s hand. The workers of Nigeria will draw the conclusion that the unions are strong.
However, the actual concrete result is an increase in the price of fuel from the pre-September level of N43 to N49. Thus the suffering of the Nigerian masses continues.
Now the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has given the Federal Government seven days to implement the price reduction otherwise there will be a resumption of the strike action. The NLC leaders said that although the level of reduction was not exactly what they had wanted it showed that the government cannot take the Nigerian people “for granted”.
The workers of Nigeria are not too happy with this outcome. There is frustration among the rank and file.
Lagos lawyers, Gani Fawehinmi and Femi Falana, advised the unions to call off the strike, arguing that the judiciary should be given a modicum of respect to, “save the country from degenerating to a land of jungle justice”.
It is important to note that Gani Fawehinmi is a very popular figure among workers and youth in Nigeria, for his record on human rights and also as the former leader of the National Consciousness Party. It is clear that he has used the authority he has built up to add strength to those calling for the strike to be cancelled.
These are not small details. It reveals the role these kinds of “radical” elements can play. While putting up an image of defending the workers and poor, they use their authority, when the crunch comes, to bail out the government.
This may have worked this time. But it doesn’t change the fact that the workers are now worse off. It does not guarantee against any further increases in the price of fuel in the future. It merely puts off the moment of reckoning.
Adams Oshiomhole, the president of the NLC speaking to a crowded press conference on Monday, told anxious workers, that they would not hesitate to call out the Nigerian workers again if the government reneged on its announcement. The moment they will have to do this may come sooner than they think.
This latest turn of events confirms everything we have said in previous articles. The workers of Nigeria need a more fighting leadership. The workers are more than prepared to struggle, but they do not have the leadership they deserve.
In the next few days we will be producing a more detailed account of what has happened and also reports from Nigeria.