Nigeria's trade union leaders have suspended the general strike as it was entering its second week. This comes after the government approved came up with a “compromise” on the pump price of petrol to 97 naira (about $0.60) per litre, instead of the initial 140 naira. This is still an increase from the 65 naira ($0.40). Here we provide eyewitness reports of the events over the past week, (written before the calling off of the strike) which clearly indicate a radical change within the Nigerian working class, something that is not going to go away whatever the ruling class or the trade unions agree on.
The revolutionary upsurge in Nigeria is coming to a head. The ongoing general strike and mass protests against the removal of the fuel subsidy has entered its 2nd week. Last week all through the 5 working days of Monday, January 9, to Friday, January 13, 2012, the general strike was solid and very successful in all regions across the country. A break in the strike was declared on Saturday and Sunday 14 and 15 January to allow for the struggle to rearm and the populace to restock. The strike and mass protests continue this week, starting today, Monday January 16.
The general strike was called by the two Labour centres – NLC and TUC – under the auspices of LASCO, a broad coalition that includes both Labour centres and the Joint Action Front (JAF), the coalition front of pro-labour civil society organisations. The first, second, third, fourth and fifth days have gone-by now and the Jonathan-led government has refused to budge. The regime insists on deregulating the down-stream oil sector, thereby increasing the pump price of petrol from N65 to N141, so as to make it extremely profitable for the big business people to come into the sector fully and sap the masses further. This adamant posture of the government has led to the collapse of the negotiation process between it and the leaders of organized labour.
All over Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of people continue to literally pour onto the streets in order to vent their anger and display their displeasure with the increase in the price of fuel. In Lagos a significant development is now unfolding before our very eyes: the Gani Fawehimi Freedom Park at Ojota, has been the focal point of the Occupy Nigeria movement, where hundreds of thousands of Nigerians protesting the increment in the price of petrol converge every day, with each successive day turning out much more protesters than the previous day; this indeed is the Nigerian equivalent of the popular Tahrir Square occupation in Egypt.
Equally worthy of note is the fact that replicas of the Occupation in Gani Fawehinmi Park are now springing up in many community centres and Local Government Areas within Lagos State and across the country.
At the Egbeda roundabout, the focal point of the Occupation, in Alimosho LGA, Lagos, where our comrades took an active part with other Joint Action Front activists, activities usually start around 6.30am. A podium has been constructed and a sound system procured for non-stop rendition of the revolutionary music of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and other radical lyrics-imbued music. The intervention of our comrades and other JAF activists led to this mini ‘occupation’ being the most qualitative of such around. Noteworthy is the fraternisation that was apparent between the masses and the police contingent stationed at this Roundabout that was occupied, to the extent that some of the policemen requested for and bought copies of our paper, the Workers’ Alternative. In all, almost 100 copies of the paper were sold in the first two days of the rallies and occupation.
Between intermittent renditions of Fela’s music, ordinary workers and youth were encouraged to air their views. The comments, contributions and questions voiced were indeed instructive. People were independently drawing the conclusions that the question begging for an answer was not just that of the fuel price but that of political power.
Many union leaders, especially those of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU, LASU branch) came to address the rally, ditto for several members of the Civil Societies, student activists and so on. A number of our comrades also spoke, putting the question of wresting power from the inept ruling class into proper perspective.
The highlight of the rallies, however, was on Day 3 of the general strike called by the Labour and Civil Societies Organisation (LASCO), when having gone on its daily sensitization Street March, the Alimosho Occupy group came face to face with the LASCO contingent, made up of the national and state leadership of the NLC/TUC as well as the JAF leadership, which was on its daily Strike Monitoring tour of the city, at Isheri Roundabout. The mammoth crowd of LASCO and the humble crowd of the Alimosho group merged and all marched back to Egbeda Roundabout. Needless to say, the ensuing scenario will not be easily forgotten by the people of the area as they had the opportunity of being directly addressed by the Leaders of LASCO.
The situation across the country in the first week of this indefinite general strike was a success story that surpassed the widest expectation of its organizers. At Abuja, the federal capital city, government and financial/commercial activities have been largely paralysed due to the strike and the daily mass protest led by the leadership of the NLC and TUC. This is ditto for all the other states across the country.
A major high point of this movement is the open engagement of ordinary people in the political discussions. Individuals who otherwise go about their normal daily chores without showing any interest in what goes on in the polity are now openly agitating politically and are asking questions as to why society is like this, when many lack the basic needs of life and the very few, especially those in government, have so much to spare. Openly, the masses condemn the billions of naira squandered by those in authority and the high cost of living, now made worse by the recent price skyrocketing caused by the increase in the cost of petrol by 130%. This has doubled the price of most commodities overnight. In other words, for most people this latest policy is tantamount to halving the value of their income and salaries.
This movement has also revealed the fact that when the working class moves all other oppressed segments of society will queue up behind it. At the various places of Occupation, you have all kinds of layers in society present and participating, openly supporting the strike demands. These include members of the middle class professional groups – lawyers, doctors, popular musicians, notable film stars and even the lumpenproletariat present in the freedom parks.
One other thing revealed in this movement is the conscious pull of unity among the various ethnic and religious groups participating in the mass protest and Occupation points. Muslims and Christians relate freely. One high point was on Friday, January 13, Day 5 of the strike at the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Park, when the Jumat Service was held at the location with other non-Muslims occupier agreeing to a break so that the Muslims could observe the Jumat service while they kept watch over them. This was the pattern all over the country at the various freedom parks. Interesting, all throughout the period of the first week of the strike, the activities of the Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram and other sectarian groups receded into the background in the face of the mighty working class led movement.
Also worthy of note are reports across the country that old traditions and beliefs are being challenged as they are confronted by the movement. In the North a number of the emirs’ palaces/other abodes of members of the ruling class and their convoys were attacked by the protesters leading to the declaration of curfews in some states in the North to pre-empt further attacks. Down South, similar occurrences took place; e.g., the Ikoyi, Lagos residences of Senator Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and those of billionaire oil magnate, Femi Otedola among others were attacked by protesters.
The scenario has lead to a situation where notable members of the ruling class, including former ministers, fearing for their heads and “collective interest”, are openly critical of the Jonathan regime’s policy and declaring support for the mass protests. Indeed there has never been a time in the history of Nigeria where this type of open division among the members of the ruling class has been so intense as what we are witnessing now. The Nigerian revolution is on course!
Source: Workers' Alternative (Nigeria)